Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Books They Should Have Read

By Cornelia

In honor of Halloween,

I'd like to list a few "guess it's too late now" titles that the dearly departed might have benefitted from, if only they'd read them in time.

If only Jean Harris

had switched to

If only Lizzie Borden

had taken up

If only Jimmy Hoffa

had understood the principles of

If only Lady MacBeth

had studied up on

If only Anna Nicole Smith

could have found within herself:

If only the Duke and Duchess of Windsor

had discovered the joys of

If only Richard Nixon

had learned the basics of

If only Orson Welles

had learned

If only Napoleon Bonaparte

had consulted

If only Jonbenet Ramsay

had been old enough to tackle

If only Amelia Earhart

had packed

If only Marie Antoinette

had perused

And if only Jerry Falwell

had been given a copy of

READING: The Life You Save
Could Be Your Own!

Bouquets & Brickbats

By Paul Levine

We all get fan mail. These days it's mostly e-mail and fairly predictable. Fragrant bouquets of praise as the writer has touched something in the reader. Why else go to the trouble to pen a note when you could be watching pay-per-view Ultimate Fighting?

Authors never get tired of the compliments. My favorite mail, however, is the offbeat and the unusual. Give me the whiny complainer or the galoot swinging the brickbat, and you've made my day.

Herewith, some actual excerpts, pro and con, from recent e-mail, along with my replies.
I believe the books are getting thinner? What’s up with that?
Publishers stopped paying by the word.
I'm now an ex-fan of your books. I liked your Jake Lassiter series, but don't know why you see the need to turn to vulgarity, poor language, bad spelling, and ridiculous dialogue. No woman can stand a man whose every phrase tries to be a joke, like your Mr. Solomon does.

No wonder Renee gives me grief. Wait! There's more.
Keep on laughing all the way to the bank, Mr. Levine, and on your way there, stop at the post office and mail me the $9.00 that I threw away on your “Deep Blue Alibi” trash, that I put in the garbage pail after the first pages I suffered.
It was only $6.99, but I’ll send you a check if you give me your address. This offer not valid in Alaska.
Enjoyed “The Deep Blue Alibi” so much and will look for others you have written. BUT...I do have one question about something that really caught my attention! Where in Florida can we find a coral snake that is as "thick as her wrist"?

In back of my old house, on a canal, Tagus Avenue, Coral Gables, FL.
I've read all four of the "Solomon vs. Lord" novels and now you've resurrected my long ago Bar Mitzvah association with Hebrew and Yiddish expressions. Your use of ethnic humor, sayings, have brought your characters to life for me.
--Stuart (Marietta, GA)

A sheynem dank, Stuart.
My husband is recovering from some serious brain injury, due in part to your books. He reads every night, and I love to hear him laugh out loud (uncharacteristically) as he enjoys the characters and their misadventures.

Janet (Angel Fire, NM)

I see a lawsuit brewing here.
Re: "Trial & Error." I wonder why you thought it appropriate to insult a portion of your customers by calling people that buy Rush Limbaugh's book a derogatory name? It seemed so out of place since no where else do you take a shot at anyone else's political beliefs. Do you hate Rush so much that you're willing to insult a portion of your customers just for the satisfaction of taking a shot at him?
--Don (Virginia Beach, VA)

Can't you write any faster????? :-)

No. :-)
I started “Solomon vs. Lord” on a flight to Paris Tuesday evening. Finished it Thursday.
--Jeff (Bethesda, MD)

That’s how you spent Wednesday in Paris?
How come Solomon and Lord don't have a TV series?
--Eric (Los Angeles)

I will forward your question to Les Moonves and ask for a speedy reply.
Will there be any more Jake Lassiter novels?
--Liz (Houston, TX)

I'm not sure, but if I had a nickel for every person who asked this question, I’d have...oh...maybe sixty-five cents.
Is it because I am a woman who loves men with balls and character that I so miss Jake Lassiter's stories? Or is it because I love writers who are tremendously creative, brilliant and have an amazing sense of humour, that again I do miss Jake Lassiter? “Solomon vs Lord” brings disappointment in me. Too much "copy and paste" of Moonlighting. Reading “Kill All the Lawyers” took me few hours and when I put the book aside, the lady was still on her appetite.
--Danielle (Montreal)

Okay, make that seventy cents. Daniele, I have several single male friends with balls, but alas no character, who are dying to meet you.
"Solomon vs. Lord" is the funniest South Florida novel since Carl Hiaasen's “Tourist Season.”
--Andrew (Dallas, TX)

So...you're saying there's a funnier Central Florida novel?
I enjoyed “Kill All the Lawyers.” However, in the final scene on the boat, I couldn't understand how Steve Solomon could swing a gaff with his hands tied behind his back.

Because....uh....well...he....sort of...when we weren’t looking...got one hand out...and.... Oh shit!!!!

Thanks, folks. Keep those cards and letters and e-mail coming. Feel free to send along a box of pretzels or chocolates, too.

The sassy and classy bestselling thriller writer Gayle Lynds ("The Last Spymaster") had this to say at last weekend's meeting of the Mystery Writers of America, Southern California chapter. "I can't imagine a good writer having had a happy childhood."

Agree or disagree, folks?


Monday, October 29, 2007

I'm a writer, but what I really want to do is direct

Patty here…

Currently, I’m reading through the copy editor’s notes on my 4th novel, trying to decide if whoever should really be changed to whomever or if my instincts were correct all along. When I’m finished with that, I’ll be in the enviable position of having no pressing deadlines, and it feels so good. Of course, I need to sort through papers in my in-basket and organize the pile of TBR books now cluttering the floor of my office/den/guest room. I’ll probably work in the garden and shred the pages of my manuscript, at least drafts 1 through 250. After that, I’m not sure what I’ll do. It’s been so long since I’ve had any free time, I don’t know how to spend it.

When I was young, I used to worry that I’d die before I had a chance to try everything. As a result, I’ve squeezed a lot of living into my adult years. I’ve worked at a variety of jobs, from an Easter bunny at a children’s party to a group supervisor in juvenile detention. I’ve tried snow skiing, water skiing, sailing, scuba diving, parasailing, bicycling, and all sorts of dancing, including tap and everything Latin. I’ve traveled a lot, but there are still some countries I’d like to visit. A few years ago, I trained for the L.A. Marathon and had worked up to 13.5 miles when my father died, forcing me to hang up my running shoes for a while.

All that reflection was sucking up my free time. I needed a plan, so I did what I always do when I’m under pressure. I made a list. And at the top of it was:

(1) Film a trailer for my 4th book.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, here’s an example: Echo Park, a Harry Bosch novel by Michael Connelly.

After watching that, I didn’t want to film just ANY trailer. It had to have actors and Foley artists and best boys and a producer and a director who’d be MEEEEE! I’d buy a camera and cast my fellow NakedAuthors. We’d go on location. Someplace with sand, a lagoon, and a beach bar that served Dark and Stormies and Marianne’s fruitcake. And we’d take our NakedReaders along, too. Are you guys on board or what?

I already have a composer lined up who’ll write an original song for the intro. I’m slated to attend a tech workshop in January to learn how to put the whole thing together.

So that’s what I’m doing with my free time. If you had any, how would you spend it?

Happy Monday!

p.s. Congratulations to Laura Lippman who was presented with the Quill Book Award for Mystery/Suspense on National TV Saturday night. Yay!!!!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Seeds of Hope

from Jacqueline

I’ve always been interested in synchronicity, that bringing together of people, events and thoughts that make us wonder if we’ve been zapped by some sort of divine intervention. In the last few weeks I’ve been reminded – not least by the fires that have gone through southern California like the Furies – of the way in which we can experience so much that we hold dear being taken away from us, only to see the miracle – and it is a miracle – of regeneration. If we give it time.

Three weeks ago I was in France, walking the Somme Valley. During the First World War the towns and villages of the region were flattened. Much-loved woodland was decimated. There was nothing but rubble, trenches and shell-holes – and I mean really, really big shell-holes. Yet there I was, standing on a hill looking out at abundant cornfields and, in the distance, villages built in the years following the war. And not only were those villages rebuilt, but using remaining foundations, local memory and old photographs, they were constructed in the image of that which was lost.

Something about that regrowth, that regeneration, points to the resilience of the human spirit and the hope that nature demonstrates, simply by showing up again, year after year.

Twenty years ago, on the night of October 15th 1987, I was woken up by the sound of the wind screeching outside and around the house. Now, living in Britain, you get pretty used to “weather” – but this was something different. With winds up to 100 knots and devastation throughout the southern part of the island in particular, it became known as The Great Storm of 1987. Nineteen people died and fifteen million trees were blown down, wiping out ancient forests. Houses were flattened. In a way it was a blessing that it began at night, otherwise there might have been more fatalities. At the time I was having a conservatory built at the back of the house, and the builders had left the many panes of glass leaning against the fence. All I could hear all night was glass crashing across the garden. My friend’s chimney came down through her roof and the next day you couldn’t get anywhere for the trees across the road. Boats moored in a marina ended up three miles or so inland. I remember driving down to see my parents as soon as I could after the hurricane – yes, that’s what it was, a hurricane in little old England – and the sense of grief that enveloped me as I passed the forest where I had played as a child. There was nothing left.

But people and nature got to work ...

And time marches on ....

That's Chartwell, Winston Churchill's home in Kent. After the storm, and now.

Just eight years later, in 1995, I rode my horse up onto a hill in Marin County to look at the Point Reyes “Vision” Fire in the distance. Acres and acres of trees burning – and we were all wondering which way the wind would turn the fire, and counted ourselves lucky when it pushed it towards the coast, and not inland. Six months later I went hiking in the area and could see, already, small green shoots at the base of charcoal-blackened tree stumps. Strong old bird, Mother Nature.

And here we are again, Fire, Fire Fire – as so eloquently described by Our Paul on Tuesday. But we are part of nature, so amid the grief of loss, and the shattering of confidence, we know that life goes on. It has to. And even if we are with the naysayers who have their heads in the sand and would prefer not to give an ounce of time to the issue of global warming, it might behoove us to do all that we can to help nature out now – unless you’ve really got your heart set on that ocean-front property in Greenland. Even though fire in California is a naturally occurring phenomenon - there are seeds that will only germinate under the intense heat caused by fire - if you add the recent unusual weather activity and “natural” disasters around the world, I don’t think nature could be yelling much louder for our help.

And before I go, here’s a poem by Carl Sandburg. Even though it is about war, it could be about any disaster. It seems to speak to the work that nature does to cover our most dreadful errors:


Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo,
Shovel them under and let me work--
I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?

I am the grass.
Let me work

And from me – here’s wishing you a happy and safe weekend.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Future of Writing

Last Thursday, while you were enjoying my blog of new books, I attended a book signing. Not an ordinary signing by a single author but a mass signing by a group of Palm Beach County students who had taken part in a special class sponsored by a company named Oce.. The class, which too place in June, was devoted to the art of writing. Oce calls it the Future Authors Project and is one of the great examples of what corporate sponsorship can do in partnership with public schools. Several authors including me, Jonathon King, and Barbara Parker, took turns speaking to the students on all aspects of writing for a living. They were the most attentive of audiences and I enjoyed the experience to no end.

They worked together to produce a book of short stories and poetry, which was produced by Oce for sale. The launch was at the Barnes & Nobles in Boca Raton and attended by a great crowd and several media outlets.

This was one of the most enjoyable events I have ever attended. Not only was there a group of kids who are smart and enthusiastic about the art of writing, a huge support system was there as well. One of the Palm Beach County School Board members, Mark Hansen, was present throughout the entire event. Teachers, administrators and Oce representatives turned out to show these young people that writing is still relevant and important no matter what the surveys show about readers and book sales.

I like to teach classes on writing, talk about writing, read about writing and write. It may have taken me much of my adult life to identify what was important to me but now that I’ve settled on writing, I deeply enjoy pursuing it. You can imagine how gratifying it is to see young people so interested in the same thing.

The title of the book met with my approval. No Such Thing as Writer’s Block. This a recurring theme among many of the authors in the area and Jon King and I mentioned it in the class. King hit the subject hard and it looks like it made an impact. I’ve heard everyone from Carl Hiaasen to Stuart Kaminsky scoff at the idea of writer’s block. Hiaasen told a crowd at the Miami Book Fair a few years ago that no professional writer suffers from the alleged ailment because writer’s block equals paycheck block. That comment has stuck with me.

During the class the young writers showed interest in understanding the underpinnings of fiction. We talked about conflict and character development using not only novels but popular TV shows as examples of good characters and elements of suspense. One thing I noticed that was very different form the weekend workshops I’ve taught is that the focus was on writing and not on finding an agent or which publisher is taking on new writers. I know how vital those things are but too often authors try to “put the cart before the horse” and lose sight of why they started writing in the first place.

As I settle in for another round of editing on a novel I thought I finished eight months ago I have to give a nod of thanks to these kids who have given me so much hope for the future of writing.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dirty Words

By Cornelia

When I was a elementary student at Carmel River School in the early Seventies, one of things I most looked forward in every grade was the day Ric Masten drove in from Big Sur to perform his annual concert in our cafeteria.

In preparation, our lunch tables and benches (covered in pink formica with beige and raspberry boomerangs)

were folded neatly flat into the walls like Murphy beds, clearing the floor for several hundred of us to sit on the linoleum "Indian style."

Ric would take a seat on our tiny stage, settle his twelve-string guitar on his lap, and launch into our favorites from his repertoire--"Palomino," "Pico Blanco," "Evy Ivy Over."

The highlight each year was his "Dirty Word Song," which he'd always preface with a brief lead-in about what makes words seem good or bad. Each verse ended with Ric hesitating before he blurted out a different much-anticipated expletive, all of us at long last shrieking "potty!" or what-have-you right along with him before collapsing against each other in helpless giggles.

What we loved best, however, was his urging us to join him in singing the final chorus, which ended with "the only dirty words are hate and war."

Given my enduring love of profanity, I guess I took his philosophy to heart at that tender age.

Granted, my road to becoming fully adept in the art of gutter language was not always a smooth one. There was the time, for instance, when I referred to fellow-fourth-grader Chris Ashmont as "a homo" in earshot of my mother.

Mom asked me if I knew what that utterance meant, whereupon I patiently explained to her that it was "short for homo sapien," which I mistakenly pictured at the time as a sort of furry and stooped pre-historic-type person one might once have found living in caves.

By high school, however, I had achieved such a breadth and depth of forbidden vocabulary that I rarely made it through hockey practice

without having Miss Marlor yell, "I heard that, Read! Drop and give me twenty," across the field.

Mom still says that the only things she knows her daughters learned in boarding school were how to smoke cigarettes and swear.

Turning profanity into a paying gig took a lot longer. During my brief stint as editor-in-chief "Bunny de Plume" at the now thankfully defunct Bodice.com, I became perhaps the first writer in history ever to lose money writing pornography.

I think this might have something to do with the fact that there's not a whole lot of what the Dixie Chicks refer to as "mattress dancing" described overtly in my novels.

It hasn't stoppered my protagonist's potty mouth, however. Kirkus even referred to my "liberal use of the F-word" in a recent pre-pub review of The Crazy School (in a good way).

Several weeks ago, however, I finally got the chance to talk about bad words non-fictionally for money (woo hoo!) when Bay Area writer Ellen Sussman asked if I'd be interested in contributing to the anthology she's currently editing.

She sent us all the cover art this morning:

Due out in June, 2008

If you'd like to hazard a guess as to which word I chose for my subject, here are some hints: it's pink, starts with "e," and is wedged between "jobs" and "dirty" in the jpeg above. The phrase "nature's applause meter" appears during the course of the essay, if you need another hint.

What's your favorite dirty word? Did you ever use one wrong when you were were a kid?

As for me, I still agree with Ric Masten.

The only dirty words are hate and war.

And I hope the fires in SoCal are brought under control soon--stay safe, you guys!