Friday, September 28, 2007

My First Week at Hogwarts

from Jacqueline

I bet more than a few of you are having a grand old time at Bouchercon! Patty and Cornelia, remember me as you’re raising those glasses, won’t you?

I’ve been having a different kind of week, though quite exciting, in its way – I went back to school. Seriously – back to school to embark upon work on a graduate degree in the sort of subject that, had I chosen it at eighteen my parents would have told me I’d never get a job with a degree like that: Mythology and Depth Psychology. Someone at the orientation said that instead of trying to describe the degree, just tell people you’re studying at Hogwarts. So, here I am, embarking on an intense course of study at Hogwarts at a stage in my life when it I can quite easily spend an hour looking for my car keys. Can’t wait to get my broomstick!

Seriously, it was pretty exhausting, though I loved every minute of it. There’s the challenge of having to read and digest academic texts critically again – the previous experience was over thirty years ago – along with the mind-numbing process of so much information being dumped into my un-nimble brain in one fell swoop. Phew. Frankly, even though I am a writer who is desk-bound for a personal minimum of 1500 words a day, I had forgotten what it was like to sit down for so long without moving – I was half-asleep by the first afternoon! Clearly things have changed since that first ever day at school ....

But it’s been interesting, hearing the sort of comments received when I’ve told people I’m going back to school. Most are supportive, excited, and say such things such as:

“Wow, that’s so brave.!”
“Good for you!”
“That’s so amazing.”

Then there’s the:

“What the bloody hell do you want to do that for?”
“At your age?”
“If you’re that interested in mythology, why don’t you just read a book on it?”


“That’s remarkable!”

Which brings me to my next point in this post today: The way we use words without thinking about what we say. We all do it, and I am always so aware and often embarrassed when I’ve said something dramatic without thinking. For example, me going back to school is not brave or remarkable. The young woman in my class who’s a single parent with three kids and a full-time job is the remarkable one. And it’s not brave – putting on your camouflage and your Kevlar vest, picking up your rifle and ammo and going out on patrol in Baghdad or Afghanistan is brave.

Perhaps someone will correct me and tell me it’s all relative.

I remember seeing Jane Fonda being interviewed at the height of her feel-the-burn aerobic dance phenomenon days, when the interviewer told her she was an amazing woman. She became rather serious and bluntly said, “Let me tell you what amazing is – amazing is a single parent with two kids who’s working two jobs and going to school at night to try to make life better for all of them – that’s amazing. Not me.” Even though I have never been a big fan, I remember thinking, “Good for you, Jane.”

I thought about my own flippant use of language at the weekend. I was entered in a small dressage show close to my home – nothing huge, but I haven’t really competed before (love the training, but I am sick with nerves before events, so have shied away from the show arena – if you’ll forgive the pun). In the warm-up ring, I was at once beset with misgivings, and said to my trainer, “I don’t know if I’ve the courage for this.” She naturally told me not to be so stupid, of course I could do it, however, I took myself to task for my use of language. Courage? Who did I think I was – courage to ride a horse in a little competition on a Sunday afternoon? I don’t think so. What Jim does takes courage. Firefighters have courage, as do so many people in the arena of public service. The kids with disabilities who clamber on horses and compete at the highest levels are brave. And they’re remarkable and amazing – all of those people who demonstrate the magnificence of the human spirit.

Who was it who said, “Freedom is a word I seldom use without thinking.” (Might have been Joan Baez). There’s another word that’s subject to frequent abuse.

So, here’s a question – what do you hear yourself or others say that makes you wonder if any thought has gone into the comment? What overly dramatic misuse of words irks you when you hear it?

Once again, have a lovely weekend. On Monday I’m off to London and France for just over a week (specifically the Somme Valley - research for another Maisie Dobbs novel), so if I can twist his arm, I’m hoping that the one and only James Grippando can sub for me next week.

And just so you have an idea of where I’m going, the photos below show The Sunken Lane near Beaumont-Hamel in the Somme Valley. The first photo shows the men from the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers waiting to go over the top on 1 July 1916. The second photo is the lane today.

See you all in a couple of weeks!

Thursday, September 27, 2007


We all mark milestones in our lives. Some are significant like the birth of child, a marriage and, of course, a death. Some are minor; a new job, a new car or a graduation from a state school.

This week I had one of the more minor milestones; A birthday. Not even a big one that ends in a zero or even a five. It’s fewer than Paul Levine but more than Cornelia Read. Regardless of the number, it’s not a big deal. My one birthday wish was no party or presents. I got some of it.
But it made me think as some real milestones which have occurred to people I know or respected this past few weeks.

While at the Decatur Book Festival, I spoke with Marjory Wentworth, which I wrote about in this spot two weeks ago. One of Marjory’s friends in Charleston, where she lives, was Jim Rigney who wrote under the name of Robert Jordan. The Wheel of Time fantasy series is one of the most popular in history. Someone gave me the prequel to the series, A New Hope, this summer and I liked it enough to buy the first in the series, Eye of the World. It is not only a good story, well written, it shows the imagination and intelligence or a talentend man. Unfortunately a man I never got to meet in person. One of the few regrets I have from my short writing career. Mr. Rigney died last week at the age of 58 from a rare blood disease. By everyone I knew who had met him, Mr. Rigney was a fine, gracious, all-around good guy. That is what’s really important but the fact that he wrote an enjoyable series of novels is why any of us know him.

Another milestone is more personal but still related to the literary community. Carl Crantz died in Los Angeles last week of a long-term lung disease. I met Carl two years ago through a mutual friend, author W.E.B. Griffin. Much like Griffin’s larger-than-life characters, Carl was a decorated soldier who was well respected in the Special Forces community. Carl was a serious, group-email guy, sending me a message at least five times a week. I enjoyed seeing a view of things that isn’t always represented in the general media. It was not always a view I agreed with but he said it with such authority and intelligence it made me think about everything from the role of the military to why there is such
a divide in the country between left and right. His motivational posters and photos from the soldiers he knew that were serving in Iraq were inspirational and often funny. I will miss him and his e-mails very much.

A happier milestone is one celebrated by author Dave White. Dave’s first book came out earlier in the week. When One Man Dies already received a starred review from PW. I’m waiting for my copy now but knowing Dave it’ll be great.

What would you consider an important milestone?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Alaska, Baby!

By Cornelia

Off to Anchorage for Bouchercon today, yee ha!

And here are some Things Alaskan to get you in the mood:

1. Lyrics and melody for the traditional tune, "Precious Caribou":

2. Model of a Netsilik kayak (front and rear views):

3. Inuit "Amazing Grace"

4. Traditional shipping service for all those books you're going to buy:

5. Inuit rap video:

6. Banquet footwear for the fashion-forward:

7. A shaman's spell:

8. If anyone else remembers the Film Board of Canada film series about the Netsilik (part of the 1970s California Social Studies curriculum), "Every woman has an ulu..."

9. From one of those films... "At the Winter Sea Ice Camp"(these guys are seriously amazing--here building an igloo):

10. If you're not going to Alaska, I offer up this podcast of me and the inimitable Angie Johnson-Schmit, on her new weekly mystery roundup In For Questioning:
what I sound like in real life, kind of (except for the cordless phone static.)

Have a great week!!!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ken Burns' "War" Is Well Done, But...

From Paul Levine

Have you seen the first two episodes of Ken Burns’ “The War” on PBS? It's the start of a 14-hour documentary, a smart, polished, and informative take on World War II, as experienced by townsfolk and soldiers from four different American cities. It’s hard to criticize a project that is so nobly intended and so well executed.


Yes, there’s a but coming. First, however, this fine account of the more graphic sections of the mega-series from Glenn Garvin in The Miami Herald:

The dead are everywhere in The War: burned corpses, mangled corpses, frozen corpses, bloated corpses, corpses bobbing in the sea and corpses rotting in jungle clearings, corpses dangling from ropes and corpses piled in unruly stacks. American soldiers watched their friends be killed, and killed remorselessly in return. They did it until they were killed themselves (average life expectancy for junior officers during the Battle of the Bulge: 17 days) or went insane. The most harrowing moments in The War are film clips of the mumbling, twitching victims of combat fatigue, a military euphemism for nervous breakdown. ''I can't stand seeing dead people,'' pleaded one.

One of every four men evacuated from battle zones, The War reports, was a victim of combat fatigue. The surprise is not that there were so many but that there were so few. ''I live in a world of death,'' a fighter pilot wrote home to his fiancée. ``Like everything else around me, my dreams are dying, too.''

Okay, now the but...

If you’ve read your history – and there are hundreds of books on World War II – or if you've watched the History Channel, or even thumbed through a series of Time-Life pictorial renditions of the war, you’ve got a good sense of this story already. Most well-read Americans know about Bataan and the Battle of the Bulge, about Tarawa and Iwo Jima, about North Africa and Italy, about B-17's hitting Germany from England and B-29's hitting Japan from Tinian. They know about D-Day, if only through seeing “Saving Private Ryan.”

I wonder if the money and time and skill that went into this project might have been better spent on the Korean War, that nasty little conflict that cost more than 54,000 American lives. It’s long been called “the forgotten war.” Many of you know there’s a new book out, “The Coldest Winter,” by the late David Halberstam.

Just a guess, but I'll bet you a dozen Krispy Kremes that many more Americans can ably describe the events of June 6, 1944 on the beaches of Normandy than they can the Battle of Inchon in September 1950.

What do you think?

The most inspiring news story of the week comes from the Wall Street Journal's Jeff Zaslow. His profile of Randy Pausch, a Carnegie-Mellon professor dying of pancreatic cancer, is a true profile in courage. Please check out "A Beloved Professor Delivers the Lecture of a Lifetime" for both the story and a video excerpt.


I haven’t read this book, but I love the title and the first paragraph:

"Some Like It Hot-Buttered"
By Jeffrey Cohen

The guy in row S, seat 18 was dead, all right. There was no mistaking it. For one thing, he hadn’t laughed once during the Blind Man scene in Young Frankenstein, which was indication enough that all brain function had ceased. For another, there was the whole staring-straight-ahead-and-not-breathing scenario, and the lack of a pulse, which was good enough to convince me.


Last Saturday, which happened to be Yom Kippur, The Miami Herald reported that Barry Kutun, 66, city attorney for North Miami, was sentenced to probation and house arrest for having sex with a 16-year-old prostitute. He claimed he thought the girl was 18 but nonetheless pleaded guilty and avoided jail time.

The judge's sentence is a legitimate subject of debate. Too lenient? Did a well-known lawyer get a break from the system? Fertile topics for informed discussion.

But the Internet fosters a different kind of "letter to the editor." On the Herald’s web site, we find these anonymous remarks:

“Another pervert Jewish lawyer gets off the hook."

Posted by: Correctional Officer

“They let him go because he's a joo and we have a jewdicial system."

Posted by: Billy

And this clever fellow:

“I am hearing too many jewxcuses and jewstifications for this schmuck's behavior.”

Posted by: Marty

Ah, the beauty of the 'Net. The ability to display your ignorance and hide your identity simultaneously.

(Click the envelope below to send this post to a friend).


Monday, September 24, 2007

Jennifer Garner's T-shirt, Cabot Cove, Sprained Ankles and more

Patty here…


I went to a screening of THE KINGDOM on Saturday night at the Pacific Design Center. The film, which opens next Friday, stars Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, and Chris Cooper. On the surface, it’s a story about a special team of FBI investigators who travel to Saudi Arabia to find the men behind a terrorist attack on an American compound in Riyahd, but in reality it’s a high-octaine cop buddy movie. You know the kind I’m talking about. Two mismatched investigators (Foxx as the FBI guy and Ashraf Barhom as a Saudi police officer) find common ground and friendship while solving a crime. It was a fun ride even though the filmmakers asked me to believe that the FBI would send Jennifer Garner to a devoutly Muslim country in a tight t-shirt that hugged curves like a German sports car. Talk about (willing?) suspension of disbelief.

I have only one beef about the film. I couldn’t understand 50% of the dialogue. Okay, so maybe my hearing isn’t what it used to be. Too many loud rock concerts in my misspent youth, but the background noise seemed excessively loud. Second, the actors mumbled. I know, I know. They were trying for improvisational reality, but what happened to ENUNCIATION, people???!!! Action movies don’t feature much dialogue, so of the words spoken, I want to hear all of them in case they're germane to the plot. In one scene, the actor playing a newspaper reporter kept her hand over her mouth most of the time so not only could I not hear her, I couldn’t even read her lips. Harrumph.

Amateur Sleuths

Speaking of willing suspension of disbelief. On Sunday I was part of a hilarious panel at the monthly meeting of the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America with three of my favorite author-people: Susan Kandal, Harley Jane Kozak, and Robert Levinson. We talked about the challenges of writing a series featuring an amateur sleuth and how we try to earn the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief (think Jennifer Garner in a tight t-shirt) when our heroines discover body after body. My friend Tom Sawyer was at the meeting, too. He’s a novelist and former head writer for the hit TV series MURDER SHE WROTE, which managed to kill off over two hundred people in its successful run on the small screen. He has a coffee mug he uses every day, one of the many gifts given to the cast and crew. One side says “Cabot Cove Coroner.” The other side says something like “If you lived here, you’d be dead by now.” I like the idea so much I may just steal it.

From left to right: me, Harley, Susan, Bob

Physical Therapy

I sprained my ankle about a month ago. It’s getting better, but my doctor thought I needed some physical therapy. She said when your ankle sustains a bad sprain it forgets how to walk properly. I wasn’t sold on the concept, but I made a PT appointment nonetheless.

Enter Ingrid-from-Sydney. She made me stand on my left foot for thirty seconds with my eyes closed. I wobbled but managed to keep my balance. Then she asked me to do the same, standing on my right foot (the sprained ankle). I lasted five seconds. She told me torn ligaments leave scar tissue. She had to apply ultrasound and then massage my foot. So far so good.

“It will hurt.”

“Um…okay,” I said, looking at Ingrid’s slender fingers and thinking: How bad it could be?


That’s how bad it could be. The only reason I didn’t bawl like a baby was I didn’t want Ingrid-from-Sydney to think I was a wuss.

“You’re a crime writer,” she said, as I gasped for a pain-free breath.

For a moment, I was flabbergasted and somewhat distracted because I didn’t recognize her name from my mother’s Christmas card list.

“Yeah. How did you know?”

“I used to work in a bookstore in Sydney. I recognized your name.”

“No kidding? When did you work there?”

“Nineteen ninety-six.”

And I thought the foot massage was painful. “My first book didn’t come out until two thousand four. You must be confusing me with Jane Smiley.”


Gak! Nothing like physical therapy to make you humble.

North to Alaska

I’m off to Anchorage, Alaska on Wednesday to attend Bouchercon, The World Mystery Convention. I’m on a panel about—what else?—blogging. "The Author and the Internet" features authors Jason Pinter, Patricia Smiley, Aliza Sherman Risdahl and Frank Wydra talking about how 21st century tech affects a profession invented in 1350. Moderator: L.C. Hayden, Thursday, 11 a.m. in Cook. Hope to see some of you there!

Meanwhile, Happy Monday!

Friday, September 21, 2007

That Rejection Thing

from Jacqueline

One of the closing sessions at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference is on setting some writing-related goals for the coming year, yet at the same time, realistically taking in aspects of life such as the day job, aging parents, demanding teens, the kitchen remodel, etc., etc. Its important to bring in the reality check, because we can get so gung-ho at times, we set unattainable goals and then throw up our hands in despair when it doesn’t all go to plan. But that’s not the point of this post, thrilling though it might seem ....

Having the courage to send out your work to agents and editors is something we look at in the session, and it’s at this point that I tend to bore everyone with the story of how a riding accident led me to finish the book I’d been lingering over, and within a year that book was contracted and in production. I tell that story, not just because I present that session, but because, having gone through an arm-threatening accident and surgery, I had absolutely no fear of an editor telling me my book wasn’t any good, or an agent sending me the “it’s a subjective decision” letter. As I say to our attendees, what the heck could those agents and editors do – find me and crush the other arm if they didn’t like what I’d written?

In telling this story, I try to take away some of the awe with which we hold those decision-makers. Sure, agents and editors are important people, but they aren’t the last word on your destiny as a writer. That’s up to you. And as we all know, they don’t come knocking at the door asking if we’ve got a book (OK, OK, so they do if you’re Dan Brown, John Grisham or a literary luminary), so it’s up to you to take the leap.

Just can’t help it – love the horse pics. Now then, moving on ....

I always found the challenges endured by the most famous authors when taking their creative wares to market to be pretty inspiring, in a Warped Winspear sort of way. The first time I visited Jack London’s home on his Valley of the Moon property in Sonoma County, California, I was more than interested to read some of his 600 or so rejection letters. And the guy just kept on writing and writing and sending those stories out. Ah-ha, I thought, this is just like working in sales – it’s a numbers game. Keep on hitting those agents one after the other with your work and something will stick soon and you’ll be in the game. And I still think that, but you have to keep hitting your work with the same energy, learning as you revise and rewrite, so that you are going out there with the best writing you can possibly forge.

So it was with a degree of mirth that I read this week another article on revelations from the archive of Alfred A.Knopf, considered one of the great literary publishers of his time – and, it turns out, a pretty interesting rejector of promising manuscripts. At the University of Texas at Austin, where the Knopf archive is held, there is a veritable treasure trove of copies of rejection letters sent out between the 1940s and 1970’s. Here are a few authors, and the key reason for rejection of their work:

SYLVIA PLATH: 'There isn't enough genuine talent'
JACK KEROUAC: 'Frenetic and scrambling'
ANNE FRANK: 'Very dull'
GEORGE ORWELL: 'Impossible to sell animal stories'
JORGE LUIS BORGES: 'Utterly untranslatable'
ISAAC BASHEVIS SINGER: 'It's Poland and the rich Jews again'
ANAIS NIN: 'No commercial advantage in acquiring her'

The good news is that in each case, someone, somewhere in a publishing house, saw the literary light and took a chance. Remember that. Remember Jack London’s hundreds of rejection letters. Let that be your call of the wild. And if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

And in closing, I am sure at least one of my fellow Naked Authors has written on this subject before – there’s bound to be a bit of overlap somewhere – but it was worth giving it another crack of the whip.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

To Read or not to Read.

by James O.Born

I attend a lot of writer’s events. The mystery book store near my house, Murder on the Beach, hosts a number of signings which I enjoy. Often I share a venue at various library groups with other authors, from all different genres. Usually I agree to these appearances if I know the other author or I’m a fan.

One of my strengths is public speaking. As part of my duties, I have, from time to time, been a spokesman. I have chaired many a press conference and will admit to saying the wrong thing on occasion. Early in my management career I had a great boss who realized I was a little hesitant about speaking in front of the cameras. He patted me on the back and gave me one of his patented, sly smiles then said, “Don’t sweat it. No matter what you say, they won’t kill and eat you.” It made me chuckle. More importantly it made me realize he was right. Sort of like the old advice to “picture the audience naked” while you’re speaking. Over the years any concern I had about speaking in public faded.

One of the things I generally avoid is reading in front of a crowd. One reason was that with Walking Money I had a hard time finding a passage I could read in front of a crowd without apologizing for the language. Also, I have attended too many events that ground to a halt while an author read their work. I always assume people at a book event can read. I understand the theory that it gives people a taste of how an author writes. I just disagree with it. They can pick up a book and glance through it quickly to get an idea of the style of a book. My preference is to hear about the author and how they write.

This is all a big lead in to the exception to this rule. The weekend before last, British thriller writer Zoe Sharp and her husband, Andy, stayed with us while on the South Florida leg of her tour for Second Shot. We attended a library event together with Christine Kling and Neil Plakcy (Try spell-checking that name) on Sunday which Zoe moderated with great skill. Before hand we discussed reading versus speaking and all opted to speak. Now here is where my whole “speak don’t read” theory gets blown out of the water. I went to Zoe’s signing at Murder on the Beach September 10th. As usual it was a nice event with a friendly crowd. A crowd which I was familiar with because they are the dependable regulars of the store. Zoe spoke, then read the first page of Second Shot. I have no idea if the writing, her speaking ability or her fantastic British accent made the reading the best I had ever heard. The book is super and well written. She is poised in public with a great demeanor. I am even trying to discount the fact that she’s my friend. She was just phenomenal and the reading made it even better.

How’s that for a mixed message today? How do you feel about “readings? What do you want out of an author event?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Requiescat in Pace

By Cornelia

The last time I talked to Larry was maybe a month ago, and I wished for the entire hour that I could hang up on him, except I knew that one of his sons had tried to commit suicide the day before, so that the reason he was being so nasty on the phone was probably his way of venting, even if it felt like just more of his typical baseless anti-semitic neo-con misogyny spew, at the time.

He had a voice like cough syrup running slow over gravel, and a great deep ballsy laugh, but it's hard to listen to somebody ranting on and on about how "Those Harry Potter books are all agenda--she just wants to turn children away from God and toward evil," or "If I had a gun, I'd shoot those Democrats you picked out there to run California--Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Boxer and that other one, because they're all just [insert plural of bad C-word for the lady parts here]."

I mean, I have things to do, you know? I have to get up in the morning and make lunches for school and keep Lila from rubbing dishsoap and yogurt in her hair and what have you, so it's not like I relish getting yammered at after ten at night by someone drunk as shit who's really my husband's friend anyway. And then there were the parts where he'd have to brag about himself--how great he was at scientific measurement, like parts per billion of some chemistry stuff I could not care a whit about if someone threatened to light me on fire over it; and how great he was at farming at his new girlfriend's place up in Maine, and blah blah blah blah. Ridiculous, really. Who cared? Why make so much bluster over all this stuff, especially to me?

This was not a guy whose company I'd enjoyed a lot, over the years, in many instances, though he could turn sentimental and charming, and was fiercely loyal to our family as a whole, especially my Intrepid Spouse, even if he thought me responsible for the downfall of Western Civ, as one of "those idiot pinko types."

Plus which, he always seemed to grab my ass, in passing, even back when I was pregnant, and you could tell he was the kind of guy who thought he was doing me a favor by it. I hate that.

In fact, the first time we ever went to his house in New Jersey, back when he was still living with his wife, it was for an informal company Xmas party , and when I went upstairs to get my coat off his and his wife's bed so Intrepid and I could drive home to Manhattan at the end of the evening, he followed me up, pushed me down into the pile of coats, and started humping my leg. I think I kneed him in the balls at the time, but I was pretty drunk so I might have just bit him--don't exactly remember, except that I escaped with my coat.

So, it was like that, with me and Larry, and yet he was such a good friend to Intrepid I kind of had to love him for it, just grit my teeth and ignore all this other stuff, because through work he was first a mentor and then a peer and then Jim was his boss, over the years, and Larry was nothing but proud of him throughout... called him "Egg-Mon" and slapped him on the back and told him he was the greatest, when Jim needed to hear it most. And he adored our girls--got down on his knees and made funny faces when they were tiny, and told us they were lovely and wonderful every chance he got, and told them, too, even though Lila probably didn't understand it too well.

He'd come over and cook for us--great passionate elaborate Italian meals, or hand-rolled sushi he slaved over for hours. He wanted to take care of us, all the time. Even me.

Saturday morning he was shot to death in Maine, right in the chest with a .22 rifle by his new girlfriend. Supposedly in self-defense, though I don't believe that. As hammered and coked-out as he ever got, Larry was never in a fight, which is saying something. We probably won't ever know what happened, really, just the version the New Jersey cops gave when they came to his estranged wife's door, early Sunday morning.

He was fifty years old.

I hope he's found peace.

Goddamn... I'm going to miss the old bastard, after all.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"Be in a Movie. Ten Shekels."

From Paul

Sorry for the two-week hiatus, but I’ve been under the weather and limping. I’ve suffered a summer flu bug; my formerly good knee is clicking like an old teletype with bone grinding on bone; and I can’t seem to write anything except checks to Los Angeles Water & Power. [In August, air conditioning cost more than my first car. And no, Jim Born, it wasn't a Model-T].

Many thanks to Jim Grippando for ably filling in last week.

Today, let's talk about some really talented people. For starters, how about David Mamet, Otto Preminger, and Christopher Hitchens?


This comes from David Mamet’s “Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business.”

In 1960, Otto Preminger lacked the budget to hire the 10,000 extras he needed to shoot a huge crowd scene in Jerusalem in “Exodus,” the movie about Israel’s fight for independence. So how did he get the extras?

“I charged them,” Preminger explained.

He papered the town with posters: “Be in a movie, ten shekels.” As Mamet comments, “That’s what I call a producer.”

My favorite Preminger film is “Anatomy of a Murder,” released one year before “Exodus.” It’s widely available on DVD, and I recommend it highly.

Many years ago, I was a pen pal of the late John Voelker, the Michigan judge who wrote the novel that was the source material for the movie. In one letter, I asked Voelker (who wrote under the name “Robert Traver”) if he was upset that Preminger, though faithful to much of the story, completely revised the ending. Voelker’s reply was, “Yes, Preminger changed it quite a bit. Made it better, don’t you think?” Unusual reaction for an author. Clive Cussler recently sued the studio over the adaptation of “Sahara,” which is sort of like complaining that the Dumpster messed up your garbage.

The film version of “Anatomy,” though tame by today’s standards, was something of a sensation nearly 50 years ago. The words “rape,” “girdle,” “panties” and “bitch” were pretty racy at the time.

There are a lot of quotable lines in “Anatomy of a Murder,” including this wonderful soliloquy about juries by the old, boozy lawyer Parnell Emmett McCarthy (Arthur J. O’Connell):
“Twelve people go off into a room: twelve different minds, twelve different hearts, from twelve different walks of life; twelve sets of eyes, ears, shapes, and sizes. And these twelve people are asked to judge another human being as different from them as they are from each other. And in their judgment, they must become of one mind - unanimous. It's one of the miracles of Man's disorganized soul that they can do it, and in most instances, do it right well. God bless juries.”

I agree...unless the Phil Spector jury returns an acquittal (highly unlikely) or cannot reach a verdict (a possibility).


Here's a wonderful courtroom colloquy between defense lawyer Paul Biegler (James Stewart) and witness Alphonse Paquette (Murray Hamilton).

Biegler: “Mr. Paquette, what would you call a man with an insatiable penchant for women?”

Paquette: “A what?”

Biegler: “A penchant... a desire... taste... passion.”

Pacquette: “Well, uh, ladies' man, I guess. Or maybe just a damn fool!”

Judge: “Just answer the questions, Mr. Paquette. The attorneys will provide the wisecracks."

“Anatomy” was nominated for a passel of Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor (James Stewart), Best Supporting Actor (both George C. Scott and Arthur J. O’Connell), Best Adapted Screenplay (Wendell Mayes), Best Cinematography (Sam Leavitt), Best Film Editing (Louis Loeffler), but didn’t win any. Of course, 1959 was a banner year for films, including “Some Like It Hot,” “North by Northwest,” “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “Room at the Top,” “Compulsion,” “Rio Bravo,” and Jim Born’s favorite movie, “Pillow Talk.” The winner in the Best Picture category was “Ben-Hur,” with Charlton Heston riding his chariot to the Best Actor award without the use of any firearms.


I've been reading about religion lately, a first for me. So, today's question for readers. Does God exist? We report. You decide.

"You're born. You suffer. You die. Fortunately, there's a loophole."
–The Rev. Billy Graham

“Religion is man-made. Even the men who made it cannot agree on what their prophets or redeemers or gurus actually said or did.”
–Christopher Hitchens, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything”

“Reason is the devil’s harlot, who can do nought but slander and harm whatever God says and does.”
–Martin Luther

''In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me -- of God not being God -- of God not existing.''
–Mother Teresa’s private journal, 1959

“I am a man of one book.”
–Thomas Aquinas

“Cave ab homine unius libri.” (Beware the man of one book).
–Latin proverb.

Finally, in news from the world of sports & religion, Notre Dame is 0-3 with an offense that has yet to cross an opponent's goal line. That's right. Touchdown Jesus is AWOL.

(Click the envelope below to send this post to a pal. It won't cost you a shekel).

Vive, vale...


Monday, September 17, 2007

Whales' bad breath, a writing metaphor

Patty here…

On a recent passage across the San Pedro Channel on my way to Santa Catalina Island, I was standing watch alone in the cockpit of my sailboat, hoping to avoid a collision with the large oil tankers and container ships cruising toward the Port of Los Angeles.

The swells were minimal, the winds light. A marine layer covered the sun, rendering sky and sea a uniform gray. Quite suddenly, I was engulfed by an unfamiliar odor that can only be described as a combination of sewage and decay. I scanned the surrounding waters, wondering if a container ship had dumped its holding tank before entering port, but I found nothing to support that theory. The smell dissipated and the boat sailed on.

Sometime later, the stench returned, only stronger this time. My gaze traveled full circle around the boat. Then it stopped. Not twenty feet from the starboard quarter, something monstrous was rising out of the deep. It was the back of a gray whale.

I've seen Pacific gray whales before. They migrate between Alaska and Baja twice a year passing through Southern California waters. I’ve watched their water spouts from a distance, but I’ve never seen one so close to the boat.

Even though the gray whale is considered the friendliest of the Pacific whales and will sometimes surface to be petted,

they are also LARGE. I held my breath (literally and figuratively) and waited for disaster to strike.

Not too many months before my whale sighting, an acquaintance was bringing his sailboat back from Hawaii when he encountered a pod of whales (orcas not grays). As he edged closer to get a better look, one of them impacted the side of the boat and within a few minutes it was sinking and he and his crew were in the water.

My whale swam away. Maybe the smell got to him. Maybe he thought it was ME!!!! I planned to Google “What do whales smell like?” but I got too busy editing my fourth novel.

About a week ago I was reading an article in the Los Angeles Times titled “Gray whale recovery called incorrect.” According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the whale population has not recovered from near extinction and in fact the population is only one-third to one-fifth of its historical levels. The article goes on to say:

Even judging by anecdotal sources, the current gray whale population is a far cry from the past. When French explorer Jean-Francois La Perouse sailed into Monterey Bay in the 1700s he complained that gray whales were so abundant that the stench of their breath fouled the air.

Here’s a link to the article, but it's sad so don’t read it if you’re prone to depression.

Finally I had an answer to what caused that odd smell: Whales have bad breath. Who knew? I’ve been doing a lot of hand wringing about my writing lately, so I started to think of this whale experience as a metaphor (you know how much I love them). Here goes...Writing a fourth novel is like setting off on a sailing adventure. Even though you’ve plied the waters before, perils still await. Sometimes you encounter a stench so pungent it makes you wince. If you’re lucky, the odor dissipates and you sail onward. But sometimes the smell heralds a bigger problem. Sometimes a whale bumps the boat and you have to abandon ship. Maybe you have to reach shore in a life raft or perhaps a friendly fishing boat saves your butt. Sheesh! You know what I mean.

Several friends have suggested I write a story about the sea. It’s an interesting idea. I may do it someday. Meanwhile, here’s a spooky true sea story I love. And the Sea Will Tell by Vincent Bugliosi. And a really scary sea movie with Nicole Kidman and Sam Neill, "Dead Calm." Loved the PBS Horatio Hornblower series about C.S. Forester's swashbuckling hero of the high seas, starring Ioan Gruffudd.

Got any tortured metaphors or sea stories you want to share? Or an Ole and Lena joke? I spent the past few days in Minnesota, so I'm primed and ready.

Happy Monday!

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Fear Of The Incomplete Manuscript ... and a few other things.

from Jacqueline

The most scary thing about receiving galleys to check is knowing that Advance Review Copies are compiled from this version of the book, warts and all. And those same ARC’s go out to reviewers and all sorts of people. I finished going through galleys of my next novel (AN INCOMPLETE REVENGE, to be published in February ’08) on Wednesday and packed them off to my publisher. Just. In fact, I finished going through them on Monday, then as I was about to zip off to the post office, I changed my mind and asked my husband to have a quick read through (“Hey, Hon, got a minute – wanna read through four hundred pages in the next few hours?”). Thank heavens – I had read the thing so many times my eyes were seeing words that weren’t there and, more to the point, missing words that were there and shouldn’t be. So, I finally let it out of my sight yesterday and took today off. Sort of.

Two points here: First – it is soooooo hard to release the manuscript and let it out into the world. On the one hand, I have a sense of relief, and on the other, I think of all the things I’ve missed. Apparently, E.B White was known to have such remorse from the moment he took the final version of his manuscript to the post office. It is said that he forged an agreement with the postmaster to the effect that he would never give back the package containing that manuscript, no matter how many tantrums Mr. White threw after handing it over to be mailed. And apparently that postmaster stoically refused impassioned entreaties to return the manuscript and took all manner of abuse while keeping his side of the bargain.

That's E.B. as a young man.

Second, the issue of a day off. Writers, in general, do not have days off. I may be able to plan my own day, a gift if ever there was one, but as a writer with deadlines and contracts, I put in the hours. We all do. And I rarely have a whole day off from the business of writing – a business that consists of writing, research, emailing, telephoning, copywriting and all manner of tasks that go with the territory. But I tried to have that day off today, and I couldn’t do it. I ended up working on a couple of scenes to add to a new manuscript in progress, and then doing some preparatory reading for a visit to the Somme area of France next month. See, can’t leave the work alone, always got to be tinkering. We’re all like that.

So, I arrived back from Costco – the great expedition of my day off – and there was the ARC waiting for me. I know, it sounds biblical. But it was exciting, as it always is. When my first book was published, my husband told me to cherish every moment of it, because I would never publish my first book ever again. Wise words, however, I still experience that blend of fear and thrill when I have the first copy of a new book in my hot little hand – it’s sort of the lull before the storm, the time you have with the new baby before the visiting starts.

But time moves on apace, and I want to finish this other manuscript prior to starting my new academic venture in about ten days time, and before I know it November will be here and I have a goal to start the next book in my “Maisie Dobbs” series on November 1st. No days off on the horizon for me.

On to other things. I don’t think I’ve quite finished with the topic of life lists – you remember in my post a couple of weeks ago, I talked about that list of big to-dos we have (or don’t have, as the case may be) – going to Bhutan was one of mine, along with taking my parents on the QM2 across the Atlantic. As I was driving back from my little day-off jaunt today, I was thinking of the things we’d really like to do but know we couldn’t. I was listening to an Amy Winehouse album at the time – great big voice, great talent, just a pity she’s so messed up. I started thinking about my dream of having a really powerful voice and being able to stand on a stage and belt out a song – maybe I’ve already written about my inner Chrissy Hynde. I love listening to female vocalists with strong voices – from the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, to Annie Lennox and Julia Fordham, and I have this dream of being able to have that kind of voice. Only one problem – I am completely tone deaf when it comes to my own voice. I could not hold a tune if my life depended upon it, and I even mime in church so that I don’t spoil the hymns. So, that’s my unrequited dream. What’s yours?

Not that I’m a big sports fan, but I wanted to draw attention to two truly international sporting events currently in progress that seem to have missed out on the big press: The FIFA Women’s World Cup football (soccer), and the Rugby World Cup – the latter played by men. Big men, many without their own teeth. I won’t give out scores because whatever is true at time of writing will be superceded by events by the time you read this. I think we should all try to take in a bit of the Women’s World Cup because there isn’t anyone called Beckham either on the field or sitting up on the stands in way too high heels, and we should at least try to catch a glimpse of the Fijian rugby team who always seem to make it look so easy, and of course, the pre-match Maori “Haka” dance performed by the New Zealand All Blacks. Go on, give it a whirl.

That’s my round up for the week – have a lovely weekend.


Last week I attended the Decatur Book Festival just outside of Atlanta. One of the perks of having books in print is that you occasionally get to travel to places you might not have gone otherwise. You also meet people you wouldn’t have met if not for a publishing contract. The weekend trip to this little Georgia ‘burb is a perfect example.

The festival director, Daren Wang, runs a marketing company and is involved in publishing through a company called Verb. It revolves around recording the author reading a chapter of his or her book. Then these clips run as apart of a quarterly audio magazine. That’s a cool idea and Daren impressed me with it at the Southeastern Independent Booksellers show two years ago. On top of producing the magazine he organizes the festival. The energy of these festival directors amazes me. It’s not hyperness, is that a word? It is a focused beam of concentration and determination that would wither the soul of the average person. From a succinct, funny introduction to keynote speaker Kinky Freidman to a friendly, open attitude toward the attending authors, Daren set the standard for cool under pressure.

I also ran into the South Carolina Book Festival Director Paula Watkins Millen and author wrangler Mary Harris. As usual, these two lovely ladies made me feel like a fellow South Carolinian. This time they added South Carolina’s Poet laureate Marjory Wentowrth and her husband, independent film maker Peter Wentworth. I could have languished the entire weekend in my room or off on my own but this group got me up, out and into the festival.

My panel included crime writer and good guy, Con Lehane and mystery writer Jaclyn Weldon White. We had fun and the moderator, Dana Barrett, did a great job. We fielded questions as diverse as “How do you come up with ideas?” To “Where did you find an agent?” A good, engaged crowd. I may have inadvertently started the rumor that Con Lehane was my father. I doubt that it’s true.

I got to meet one of my favorite authors, Terry Brooks. It is so nice when your expectation of someone is fulfilled. He is a nice, funny man and that’s pretty much all I look for in people anymore. He was the model many authors should follow while signing books. The line to buy books after his talk lasted at least two hours. He was as gracious and pleasant to the first person in line as he was to the last. Always smiling and chatting, he is a guy who hasn’t lost the connection between readers and writers. In fact, he impressed me so much with his demeanor that when I returned home and recovered from the devastating loss of Florida State to Clemson, my meeting with him was the enduring memory from the festival.

Do you have any strong impressions, good or bad, of an author you met? Let’s hear them.