Friday, March 30, 2007

Suffer The Children

from Jacqueline

About a ten minute walk from my hotel close to London’s Russell Square, is one of the capital’s most interesting museums – to my mind, anyway. The Foundling Museum is small – you can whip around it in half an hour – but the history continued within this building in Brunswick Square, on the site of Britain’s first foundling hospital, is poignant and, I think, timely

In an extraordinary act of moral courage and vision – at a time hallmarked by debauchery and excess – a seafaring man, and something of an entrepreneur, Thomas Coram, saw the need for such an institution, and did something about it. Returning from a lengthy sojourn in the Colonies with his Bostonian wife in 1702, he was rather less than wealthy due to a few problematic business deals, and had little social clout, given his position and the times. However, Coram became appalled at the numbers of young children he saw, “exposed, sometimes alive, sometimes dead, and sometimes dying,” at the roadside. A child-lover and known for his activism in America (he had set up a colony for destitute soldiers in Massachusetts and had also campaigned for Mohican land rights), he could not get those images of suffering out of his head. Without delving deeply into the history of his quest in this post, suffice it to say it took him seventeen years to render his vision of a safe haven for foundlings a reality. Stubbornness helped: In New England he had been described as, “a man of that obstinate, persevering temper, as never to desist from his first enterprise, whatever obstacles lie in his way.”

It’s interesting, now, to think that when The Foundlings Hospital was first built. on 56 acres of pasture land on what is now just west of the Gray’s Inn Road, and barely a five-minute walk from the very place where a terrorist’s bomb went off on July 7, 2005, it was a very rural area, described in Jane Austen’s “Emma” as being, “so very airy.” It must have been a breath of fresh air if you were one of the 27,000 of London’s abandoned children who were taken in by hospital during its years of service.

Eventually, the hospital was relocated to Hertfordshire in 1926, and the original building demolished, fine architectural example though it was. And, as we know, institutions became an unpopular solution to the housing of humanity’s problems, and through the decades it has been considered more effective if the dispossessed and less than fortunate are absorbed into the community where they will no doubt be welcomed as part of society. This would be that same society who turned their backs a couple of hundred years earlier.

So, it was interesting to go to this place just one day after new findings revealed that child poverty in Britain has increased for the first time in six years. And before we get smug, I think we might not have a sterling record in the USA, either. Think “Katrina.” The British charity, Barnardos, called the situation, "a moral disgrace.” (Barnardos, by the way, grew out of the Dr. Barnardo’s Children’s Homes, which were orphanages founded in the nineteenth century by – you guessed it – Dr. Barnardo).

But with Britain’s generous social services policies, which include national healthcare, housing, and a myriad of possible allowances, their circumstances must seem palatial to the children of West Africa, who are sent to the cocoa farms, because the world-wide love of chocolate means that there can never be enough cocoa picked, and cheaply. Seems that the 2001 international outcry at the use and abuse of children on the cocoa farms, and the stern warnings from the US Congress that led to the signing of the “Cocoa Protocol” by the chocolate industry, has amounted to little after an initial flurry of activity. The deadlines to meet certain goals came and went and the industry then went on its sweet way, although there is one “model farm” where a mud hut-like schoolroom has been built for the children who come to farm. I’ll think of that next time I get a chocolate craving. Sadly, there are no little kisses for those children.

Also interesting, was the fact that my little foray across the square came just two days after an open letter was sent from a collective of some of Europe’s most esteemed writers, about the situation in Darfur, where, as it happens, thousands of children are dying. In the letter, the writers (Umberto Eco, Dario Fo, Günter Grass, Jürgen Habermas, Václav Havel, Seamus Heaney, Bernard Henri-Levy, Harold Pinter, Franca Rame and Tom Stoppard) said, “How dare we Europeans celebrate this weekend while on a continent some few miles south of us the most defenseless, dispossessed and weak are murdered in Sudan? Has the European Union - born of atrocity to unite against further atrocity - no word to utter, no principle to act on, no action to take, in order to prevent these massacres in Darfur? Is the cowardliness over Srebrenica to be repeated? If so, what do we celebrate? The thin skin of our political join? The futile posturings of our political class? The impotent nullities of our bureaucracies?”

I wonder what someone like Thomas Coram would have said, in these abundant times (for many of us) where our excess is effectively killing our planet , about the fact that children around the world are still among the dispossessed, and are suffering.

In the entrance to the room that houses the history of The Foundling Hospital, there’s an introduction which includes the following: “Every child and every generation of children, throughout history and across the globe, represents the future ... they are our individual and collective responsibilities. And none more so than the vulnerable, the abandoned, the sick, the hungry, and the unloved.” With all the terrible things that are happening to the children in this world, whether it is abandonment in the home (anywhere), the guns in Iraq, lack of education or opportunity (anywhere), being drugged and told to fight in Africa ... oh, doesn’t that list go on?, I keep thinking about a message I saw on a t-shirt once: Children should be seen, heard and believed.

After Coram’s original Foundling Hospital was demolished, the land became Coram's Fields, and is now a playground for children. No adult may enter unless accompanied by a child.

To send this post to a friend, please click on the envelope icon below. To take action on behalf of a child, if you Google “children’s charities” or “helping children” it ‘s interesting what comes up.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Can't we all just get along?

This is a slight variation on a blog I originally wrote for M.J. Rose. Paul Levine said I should reprint it here. I won’t cop and say this is a joke. I’d support efforts to work along these lines.

If this seems familiar it has been posted a few times but it does generate conversation. Maybe not along the lines of my “Kids should learn how to knife fight” post but comments.

I read a few blogs. I keep up with Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind because by reading Sarah Weinman’s opinions then taking them as my own I sound like I read a lot of good books. The key is to stay vague about the particulars and never admit to reading the blog. I read Crime Fiction Dossier for much of the same reason. I also read Paul Guyot’s former blog, Inkslinger, because he touches on a lot of the personal issues writers face, like contributing to a blog as a way not to face up to when the next book is due. I also like Paul’s blog because I’ve convinced him I wrote the Kite Runner. I like gullible friends. They misspelled my name on this version of the cover.

On a blog a little controversy doesn’t hurt. The problem is that everyone has opinions based on what they read in the newspapers or hear TV pundits blab about endlessly. Few people have opinions based on unique, personal experience.

I don’t know enough about publishing to offer an opinion on the industry. I still can’t find someone to satisfactorily answer what the hell a “literary novel” is. I even thought J.A. Konrath was a cute chick from Chicago until I met the furry little guy. So I’ll keep my uninformed publishing opinions to myself. That’s why I usually blog about writing.

Law enforcement issues, that is a possibility. As a cop, yes, a working cop here in Florida, I have a formed some opinions based on my experience. Not on statistics. Not from reading newspapers. Not on anything quantifiable (those are the best kind of opinions because they’re harder to challenge). This is an opinion based on dealing with assholes and seeing the aftermath of other people’s actions.
First let me say I am not representing law enforcement as a whole. I have a specific job as an agent with the State’s Department of Law Enforcement. I don’t wear a uniform. I don’t generally get in fights much any more. I’m not the Hollywood view of a redneck southern cop in that I don’t chew tobacco, I’m not a racist, I’m not even a Republican and I went to college, or, at least Florida State.

Now here is my opinion. The death penalty is a useful tool. There I said it. My friends in New York can shun me now. My façade as a liberal writer has been dropped. Canadians can call me a barbarian in the most polite terms. Mothers can keep me away from their children and dogs can now growl at me when I walk down the street.

Now save the usual argument about it not being a deterrent. I agree, it is not a deterrent to a gang-banger who has no decent life any way. It is no deterrent to a junkie who robs a liquor store and doesn’t mean to shoot someone. I agree. However, used in a proper place, on the appropriate population, capitol punishment could have an extraordinary effect on the country.

I would be in favor of legislation that instituted the death penalty for corporate executives who plunder companies. If Ken Lay had been sent to the electric chair for his actions or Dennis Kozlowski received a lethal injection, I believe that big time corporate corruption would cease almost immediately. Once these despicable men realized what they had to lose they would consider their actions much more carefully. For the record, apparently God agreed with me in one of these instances.

I see the victims of crime every day. I am not minimizing the loss of a family who has had someone shot by a carjacker. But the forgotten victims are the little people who have lost their life savings and retirements to fraud. These folks are never the kind who can just start over, they are the ones who, after a lifetime of hard work and savings, and think their pension is secure, get wiped out by some asshole who wants gold bathroom facets and to throw his wife a birthday bash is Monte Carlo. These poor victims end up with their self esteem shattered, working at McDonalds putting up with kids pissed off because there is catsup on their hamburger.

I constantly put up with the little losses I suffer as a small investor when there are ‘accounting anomalies’ at a waste management company or have to write off stocks like Adelphia because someone thought they could use a public company for their own benefit. It annoys me but it doesn’t ruin me financially. But take a moment to consider the number of employees Enron had and the number of investors who sunk in all there savings based on the belief that it was a sound company which would supply a means to survive as the employees grew older.

Those opponents of the death penalty should take another look. By thinning the herd of crooked CEOs we might all benefit. I’m open to opposing view points but not loud ones.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I Married A Republican

By Cornelia

Considering that my childhood image of the Grand Old Party was that its members spent their abundant free time driving down America's freeways in huge cars, throwing their empty bottles of bourbon out the window while telling jokes about poor people, it seems counter-intuitive, at best, to have married one of them.

In my defense, he was only a Libertarian when first we met. As my pal Andi Shechter once said, "Didn't you know that's the LARVAL STAGE?"

Well, no. I didn't. But hoo boy do I know it NOW.

And I have to say I've never had a lot of respect for the Republican concepts of foreign policy

Over There....

Or those they've chosen to dispense it

War Criminal

Not that their domestic program has been particularly above-board, in recent memory

However, there's an awful lot not to like about the Democrats, too. And I say that having worked on Ted Kennedy's presidential campaign in 1980, when I was a high school junior.

EMK: Man of the People

While I have begun to believe that the last bi-partisan dialogue happening in the entire country takes place in my kitchen, it's dying out even there--especially when my spouse has the radio tuned to the corrosive vitriol of our local conservative talk shows on KSFO.

This is the station whose hosts (as pointed out by blogger Spocko) delight in referring to Barack Obama as a "Halfrican," opining that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi should have "a bullseye painted on her wide laughing back," that ten cruise missiles should be aimed at the mosques in Syria at noon, so as to blow up the highest possible number of worshipping muslims, and that the body of Rachel Carson, now-deceased author of the seminal environmental call to action Silent Spring, should be
"dug up so we can kill her again."

(Spocko began a campaign last year to alert KSFO advertisers to what was being said on the programs they were sponsoring. KSFO's corporate parent, ABC and hence Disney, served him with a cease-and-desist order for posting audio clips online).

My husband finds KSFO amusing, and when I mentioned all of this when asking him to turn off the damn radio, commented, "those traitor liberal pinkos say worse about upstanding patriotic conservatives."

He also thinks:

  • the war in Iraq is going brilliantly well, and his only problem with Bush & Co. is that "they're dragging ass about invading Iran."
  • The New Deal was a travesty perpetrated by commies.

  • Reagan should be worshipped as a god, for having successfully orchestrated the downfall of the Soviet Union.
And, perhaps most difficult of all for me to swallow,
  • That the Beatles suck, and have contributed no more to musical history than have, say, the Teletubbies.
Das Bootle

There is perhaps some schadenfreude justice in my having brought a man of this temperament to live in Berkeley, California.

My daughter was once told a joke about "what you call two Republicans in Berkeley?" (lost.)

She responded, "what do you call ONE Republican in Berkeley?" (my father.)

Berkeley: We Don't Eat No Steenking Grapes

Now frankly, when it comes to analysis of the actual efficacy of BOTH our national parties, I'm with "Republican Party Animal" P.J. O'Rourke, who once famously said:

The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and then they get elected and prove it.
Let it not be forgotten that he is ALSO the man who described Ecstasy as "St. Joseph's Baby Acid," so he's someone whose opinion I often take half-seriously.

But I think my biggest problem with politics today is not KSFO, CheneyBurton, or even the vile Ann Coulter, it's the Democratic party.

Here's why:


The Dems: Still Asleep at the Goddamn Wheel

When the Iraq invasion was imminent, the anti-war contingent took to the streets of San Francisco, the majority chanting the same tired old "Hell no, We Won't Go" crap they haven't bothered to retool since anybody actually cared about Angela Davis and/or SDS.

It's amazing to me that they didn't crank up a round of "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh" for old times' sake. There was even a contingent who decided the best thing they could do for media attention was to stick their fingers down their throats so as to vomit on some federal building.

Great going, guys. You really made the opposition look rational and articulate. And by the way, thanks for the damn war.

I remember one of the Ellsbergs coming to speak at my college in the early Eighties. He proudly chronicled a recent foray he'd made into "symbolic political action," namely joining a group taking in the official sights of a nuclear weapons facility and breaking away from the tour guide so he could splash a vial of goat's blood on a model warhead.

I raised my hand during the Q&A portion of the evening and asked him what he'd hoped to accomplish by having done that.

"Forcing the powers that be to wake up and realize what they're culpable for," he said.

"Gee," I replied, "And here I thought you just wanted to make all of us who'd prefer to avoid global nuclear annihilation look like total fucking candyass idiots."

His is the kind of thinking that personifies a certain proportion of Baby-Boomers--generation that so efficiently eclipses my own--, that being the Boom contingent which doesn't see the irony in hiring Dennis Hopper as a TV spokesmodel for the new American Express retirement plan.



Would you buy a mutual fund from this man?

With out-of-the-box thinking like that, here's what we're going to get for a Social Security safety net:

And we'll deserve it. too.

And what was the city council of Berkeley getting its panties in a knot over, as we geared up to invade Iraq? Preserving the sanctity of shopping carts that had been misplaced by our local homeless population.

I kid you not... According the the San Francisco Chronicle, in 2003:

Berkeley bought a 40-foot-long, 8-foot-wide refrigerated container for $8,200 after public works officials complained about vermin infesting carts stored at the city's outdoor corporation yard.

The city signed a five-year, $61,500 lease with Caltrans for land under the University Avenue overpass at Interstate 80 to put the container on, and ran power to the unit.

Deputy City Attorney Matthew Orebic said the city is heeding state law that requires storage of lost goods. He said it is not clear, however, that that law applies to unattended shopping carts because they may not be lost.

"We just do that to be safe and fair, to make sure that there's no argument that we've violated any laws and to be fair to the person,'' Orebic said. "What if you've got your medication in there?''

Yeah, great, have a little more Chardonnay with our tax dollars.

Is it any wonder some people think Rush Limbaugh makes sense? I swear it makes me want to shove Ross Perot up Ralph Nader's left nostril.

Yo, my Dem Peeps, can we get with the program already?

There's a WAR on!

Some of us think it's enough already.

I think I'll let Iggy Pop have the Not-Safe-For-Work last word:

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Lawyers Who Should Be Horse-Whipped

By Paul

You may think that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, that slippery, perjurious Bushie, is the slimiest lawyer in America. But you are wrong. I'm going to tell you about some lawyers who make W's yes-man, toady and mouthpiece seem as wise and honorable as King Solomon.

Now, before I get in trouble with my brethren at the bar (and I don't mean the Hog's Breath Saloon in Key West), let me proudly proclaim that I am a lawyer. I practiced trial law for 17 years in Miami, always trying my best to adhere to the ethical standards. Admittedly, I had difficulty with the rule that states: “A lawyer should demonstrate respect for the legal system and for those who serve it, including judges, other lawyers, and public officials.”

But that aside, I never lied to a judge, a client, or opposing counsel. I came close to punching out one of my own law partners, but that's a different story.

Most lawyers and judges I know are ethical and honest. I'm pretty sure my fellow Florida lawyer and wordsmith Jim Grippando would agree. Jim is a super lawyer with the highest moral standards. And let's not forget the other lawyers-turned-novelists, most of whom had stellar legal careers, and in some cases, still perform pro bono work or teach law, or both. I'm thinking of veterans Scott Turow, Philip Margolin, Lisa Scottoline, Michele Martinez, Linda Fairstein, David Baldacci, Steve Martini, Barbara Parker, Twist Phelan, Lia Matera, Dylan Schaffer, Richard North Patterson, Jeremiah Healy, John Grisham, as well as newcomers John Hart, Kermit Roosevelt, and Jeb Rudenfeld, among many others. (The grandaddy of us all was Erle Stanley Gardner, who represented impoverished dockworkers in the courts of Ventura County while grinding out his Perry Mason tales in the early years).

But when I see the story involving the Kentucky lawyers who stole tens of millions of dollars from their own poor and sick clients, well, I think it's time to junk the Eighth Amendment and bring out the old horse whip.

The New York Times reported over the weekend on the most rotten, corrupt case of ethical misconduct I’ve ever seen – and folks, I covered the courts as a reporter for The Miami Herald around the time the Magna Carta was signed.

You may remember the diet drug "fen-phen" which not only took off weight but also caused heart damage. Several Kentucky lawyers represented 440 sick, dying, or deceased plaintiffs, including W.L. Carter, pictured in the rocking chair, and recovered a total of $200 million in a settlement from the drug's manufacturer. Not satisfied with receiving 30% of that enormous sum, as their contracts called for, lawyers Shirley A. Cunningham, Jr., Melbourne Mills, Jr. (below) and William J. Gallion apparently took advantage of their unsophisticated clients and tricked them into new, coercive deals. The lawyers latched onto another $35 million plus siphoned $20 million of their clients' money into a questionable "charitable fund" with some of the dough going to the judge who approved their excessive fees. Grand jury indictments are expected shortly.

While prison seems likely, I wonder if the courts have the ability to recover the stolen money, some of which was used to buy expensive race horses. (I am reminded of William Faulkner's line: "Once the horse moved man's physical body and his household goods and his articles of commerce from one place to another. Nowadays all it moves is a part or the whole of his bank account, either through betting on it or trying to keep owning or feeding it.")

It may take more than a process server to get results in this tawdry case. Paperwork and legal niceties can only do so much. So here's my suggestion. Send around a persuasive collector. If you watch "The Sopranos," you know Paulie Walnuts. Have Paulie shake some dollars loose, then let the felonious barristers get their Pillsbury doughboy butts passed around in a maximum security prison. *********************************************************************

Name the book and author. First prize, the next boatload of contraband seized by Special Agent James O. Born.

The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling -- a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension -- becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.

My daughter Wendy Sachs, author of the acclaimed non-fiction book, "How She Really Does It: Secrets of Success from Stay-at-Work Moms," has written a new article I highly recommend. It's called "Sleep, Sex & Chardonnay," and the gist is that working mothers don't have enough time for any of those items. Check it out at Wendy's blog.

Okay, it's not from this week. It's from December 1955 in A.J. Liebling's "The University of Eighth Avenue," published in Sports Illustrated.

"I never married," the Professor says. "I always live a la carte."


Writers collect great anecdotes from their book tours. Lee Goldberg seemed to get a whole week's worth of quotes from an appearance at the library in Anaheim last week. Lee's collected the nutty exchanges on his Sunday blog. Here's one:

A man approached me carrying a half-a-dozen of my books. "So you wrote all these books?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did you come up with the plots, too?"

"Yes, I did."

"Wow," he said. "I wonder how many other writers do that."


I missed Tawni O'Dell's "Back Roads" when it was published to slam-bang reviews half a dozen years ago. Jay Paterno, quarterback coach at Penn State and a voracious reader, has been recommending it to me for some time. (Likewise, I have been recommending the Statue of Liberty play to Jay for some time). Anyway, I finally picked up the book and was immediately hooked.

All those times me and Skip tried to kill his little brother Donny, were just for fun. I keep telling the deputies this, and they keep picking up their Styrofoam cups of coffee and walking away only to return a few seconds later and heave their fat butt cheeks onto the metal-topped table in front of me and flash me sad, weary stares that would be almost tender if they weren't filled with so much hatred.

Odell's new book, "Sister Mine," was just published to outstanding reviews.

A friend of mine died last week in Florida. Roy Terrell, a Marine fighter pilot in World War II and an early managing editor of Sports Illustrated, lost a long battle with cancer at age 83. Here's a juicy line from his S.I. story, "This Is Cricket!" published in 1961:

Mohammed remained at bat for 16 hours and 39 minutes and scored 337 runs. By the time he was retired, the better part of four days had elapsed. So had most of the spectators.

While Jenna Bush has still not enlisted in the Army or traveled to Iraq...
Staff Sergeant Travis Strong has.


Monday, March 26, 2007

Some days you just don't get any R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Patty here…

Ah, Aretha, I can so identify.

Lately it seems we NakedAuthors have been on a music kick. In keeping with that theme, I have a confession to make. I am singing-impaired. In fact, I may have an undiagnosed singing phobia.

Do I want to be able to sing? Yep. I envision myself draped over a Steinway grand ala Michelle Pfeiffer in the "Fabulous Baker Boys." My silky hair is translucent in the dim light as I croon a bluesy torch song. The audience is enraptured.

It’s a scenario I’ve trained for all my life. See, I’m one of those people who spent hours singing into my curling iron and practicing my moves. I never expected to be Beverly Sills

but at least I thought I could be Pia Zadora.

I did some acting in my misspent youth. I knew singing was an important part of my resume, but I thought warbling was for Broadway musicals. I didn’t live in New York. I lived in Seattle. I never thought my lack of skills would ever be tested. And then one fateful day I got a call from the head of a local recording studio. He told me he had booked me for a Pietro’s Pizza radio commercial.

“Great!” I said.

“You can sing. Right?”

“Um…not so you’d notice.”

“Fake it. Be there at noon.”

The spot was going to be recorded for all of greater Seattle and posterity to hear. You might think I came to my senses and backed out. OOOHHH, NOOO, not me, especially after I learned I’d be part of a trio. If the sponsor wanted Alvin and the Chipmunks, I was going to chirp my little heart out. If he wanted The Three Tenors I planned to fake a heart attack.

I was nervous until I got a copy of the lyrics.

If you want a pizza, a really good pizza
Go down to Pietro’s, I said to Pietro’s
You’ll get the best pizza you ever had…

Not exactly Grammy material. I lip-synced the high notes and escaped with my dignity intact. After that I decided to take singing lessons. I found an eccentric teacher who taught classes at his home. At our first meeting I felt compelled to tell him the truth. He’d find out soon enough anyway.

“You know,” I said. “I can’t sing.”

He scoffed and waved his arms dramatically. “Nonsense! Everyone can sing. When you look out in the field and see a herd of cows, you do not say that one moos more mellifluously than another. Do you?”

Obviously the guy was off his meds. “Uh, no,” I said.

“Then you cannot say that one person is capable of singing better than another.”

“You mean if I take lessons, someday I’ll sound like Aretha Franklin?”

“In due time, my dear.”

It wasn’t until two grand later that we both knew he’d found the odd cow out. By that time he was stone deaf and on clinical doses of Xanax.

After I moved to LA, I took another singing class at a studio where I was studying acting. One day a fellow actor in the class told me she had been cast in a musical at a local theater. She said they were auditioning for additional parts. I should go.

“I can’t sing,” I said, a fact she must have already known.

“You don’t have to sing. They have speaking roles, too.”

In normal conversation her voice sounded like fingernails on a blackboard, so I knew the bar couldn’t have been set very high with this production. So off I went. I was waiting in the wings when I heard what sounded like Barbra Streisand singing "People." That should have been my cue to exit stage left. Did I? No, not moi.

Somebody called my name. I walked on stage into the radiance of a baby spot. All I could see was a guy at a piano. A disembodied voice from somewhere in the darkened theater said, “What are you going to sing?”

“I can’t sing. I’m here to audition for a speaking part.”

He apparently mistook honesty for stage fright. “Sure you can. Just give it a try.”

I could have excused myself and saved my reputation as a sensible human being. Instead, I belted out a rousing rendition of "Jingle Bell Rock." You could hear windows rattling in the next county.

There was silent in the theater. Luckily, Simon Cowell wasn't there.

“Thank you,” the voice said. “We’ll be in touch.”

I’m done with humiliating myself in song. From now on I’m going to stick with humiliating myself in print. So you can invite me to your birthday party and expect me to pat you on the back and wish you well. I may even bring you a present, but don’t expect me to sing the birthday song. You’ll thank me later.


7 You can convert this post to a singing telegram and e-mail it to the recipient(s) of your choice. Just click on the envelope icon below. 8

Friday, March 23, 2007

Boats Against The Current

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

from Jacqueline

It’s funny how it catches up with you, the past. In fact, so much past has been catching up with me lately, I wondered if the universe was trying to tell me something. I just began watching a “BBC Classic Concerts” show on TV – it was the band YES (does anyone remember YES, or were they a British phenomenon?) I loved their music, and it was so strange to see this footage circa 1971, when I was but ... aw, heck, you don’t want to know how old I was in 1971. I wish I could say it seems like only yesterday, but it doesn’t. It seems a long time ago.

Music, along with those other sensory teasers – smell and touch – can whisk you back to any given time or place in an instant. I could be taken blindfold into the county of Kent, England, and know I where I was – and I could probably tell you the season just from the fragrance on the air. If it’s sweet and fresh, it’s spring, hot and clay-ish, then it’s summer, and if the air smells of peppery herbs, then it’s September, because the hops are being harvested.

There’s a lot of music around right now that takes me back to teenagerhood and my early twenties, and it seems I’m not the only one. Why else would all these bands of yesteryear be getting back together again, if not to tease us baby-boomers? The Stones we can expect, they pop up every year like hardy perennials, but right now they are really going for it with once concert after another. When I saw them in Anaheim a couple of years ago, Mick Jagger must have run over 60 miles in one evening, from one side of the stage to the other. Mind you, his dad was a physical education teacher, so he knows how to keep fit. Actually, did I ever tell you that Mick Jagger’s dad was one of my tutors in college? By the time I was going through higher education, he was a lecturer at the college I attended – one of several brushes I’ve had with the music industry, if removed by several degrees.

In the last few weeks The Police have been on the move again. I always used to go to see The Police with my brother. We were both big fans, but it sometimes proved tricky, not least because my brother is the spitting image of Sting. He can’t help it. He’s been mobbed before, and he even used to change his hairstyle to whatever was the opposite of what Sting was doing with his hair, just so no one screamed after him in the street. The silly thing is that as he has grown older, he still looks like Sting, so he can’t win. Years ago, when my brother took my parents to Universal Studios on one of their first trips to California, they suddenly heard screaming girls running up towards them, all shouting, “Sting!” My brother ran off to hide, and when they asked my mother where he had gone, she simply said, “You know, he’s on vacation with his family, so why don’t you just let him be today.”

A week or so ago Genesis announced that they’re planning a reunion tour. (Tell me you know who Genesis are). Let’s just hope they know how to keep their guitars plugged into the electricity supply, because I’m not available.

When I was sixteen, along with my best friend, Anne-Marie, and six other girls, I was given a place at a boys private school where they were embarking upon a co-education scheme for the first time in about four hundred years since Elizabeth I granted the school its charter. It was the big experiment. Anne-Marie and I thought it was pretty cool – she’s still very happily married to the guy she met there. Anyway, I sort of hung out with the blokes who were into music, so became involved in booking bands to play at the school at weekends. Genesis were in the early days of their formation then, ex-pupils from another boys private school who had seen a market in doing gigs at schools. Nice work if you can get it. I think we all grumbled because we had to pay 30 pence (about 60 cents) instead of 25 pence to get into the gig.

So the band turned up and the evening began (complete with a strobe light, or maybe it was just another one of the blinding headaches I suffered throughout my childhood and teen years). I was backstage because I was responsible for something – can’t remember what – when the sound died because the power plugs for the guitars started popping out of the electric sockets as the band moved around – our old stage did not sport a very good power system. So I leapt onto the stage and began pushing plugs back into power strips, and remained there for the whole concert, my hands and feet and even my rear end holding power cables in place.

That’s the story of me and Genesis.

But there’s been something else at play lately, some strange vibe out there, that’s rekindling all sorts of connections, and teasing my memory. Last time I was in the UK, in November, I met up with the girl who was my first friend at school, when I was five. We were so alike that people used to think we were twins, and we played upon it at times, just for a laugh. When we met we were wearing almost identical clothes – jeans, a t-shirt and both with a purple cardigan. And we wear our hair the same length, and have the same color eyes. We arranged to meet for coffee two days later, and so help me, we both wore our hair up, both were wearing jeans and black turtle neck sweaters, and we both were now having to use readers to even see the menu, which wasn’t necessary, as we both only wanted a black coffee. Funny, that.

Back to Yes, and The Stones, and Genesis. One of my closest friends when I was a teenager, was the “boy next door.” He was a big music aficionado. We went to concerts together, and listened to albums (oh, yes, remember albums?) all the time. He contacted me recently, having seen my books at a store in London (he reckoned he recognized the author photo straightaway. Seeing as I haven’t seen him since I was about eighteen, one wonders what I looked like then). Anyway, we’re meeting up for a drink next week, when I go back to England. It’ll be a long walk down memory lane.

So, I’ve been thinking about the past. About how it shapes us, how it can rattle our cage, how memories can be sweet and, after a time, even the bad ones can become mellow enough for us to look kindly upon them, and we can have a regard for who we’ve become because of those times. And along the way there are the sound-tracks to our lives, those songs and melodies that hung in the air when we were this age, or that. I look back to the girl with hair down to her hips, who wanted to be a writer but didn’t know where to start – and it would take another twenty years for her to figure it out – and I think, “It all turned out all right after all, didn't it?” She was probably listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” while she was trying to make sense of what life was going to be all about.

By the way, does anyone remember Nantucket Sleighride?

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Thursday, March 22, 2007


I’d like to congratulate my blog mate, Paul Levine for his incredible feat of being nominated by both the Mystery Writer’s of America and the International Thriller Writers for best paperback original for his fabulous Deep Blue Alibi. Great job, Paul. Hey, maybe that explains that whole Renee thing.

This isn't the only piece of news here at NA. No, not by a longshot. Corneila Read's outstanding Field of Darkness has also been nominated for a Gumshoe Award.

God luck to them both!
Last week I detailed the wonders of my trip through L.A. during the last traveling week of my tour. I promised a conclusion to the tale but don’t expect anything as surprising and shocking as Paul Levine’s marriage. One which I still find suspect. I wonder if Renee needed a green card? That would explain a lot.

Anyway, on with the story.

A relatively quick flight to Phoenix gave me an afternoon to spend with very good friends and enjoy Japanese food. Then I was on my way to the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale. This is a legendary mystery store and publishing house run by Barbara Peters. She has been good to me since my first book and I had looked forward to visiting the store for some time.

I appeared with the good natured Joe R. Lansdale, whom I had never met before. He was touring for his supernatural police book Lost Echoes. Joe proved to be an entertaining speaker with a great Texas accent. He’s been involved in movies, books, crime fiction, horror, you name it. He’s had an incredibly diverse career.

I spent the night with my college buddy, Todd and his son, Remy. The next day Todd gave me a tour of the area. Living in a flat, swampy, humid area, I loved seeing the hills, cactus and brown. Brown everywhere you look. Brown landscape, brown mountains even brown houses. C’mon, brown houses? I dreamed about brown. I tasted brown. The states motto should be “Arizona, the brown state.” But the people are nice and Poisoned Pen is super.

I made it into Houston with little trouble and was met by the lovely McKenna Jordan of Murder By the Book bookstore. That’s some service to actually pick up the author at the airport. It was the start of a great night.

At the store, David Thompson welcomed me and we chatted about mutual friends like everyone’s favorite Ken Bruen. I felt good. There were some pre-orders on Field of Fire, a crowd of regulars in the audience and I knew I was headed home the next day. Then it happened. In through the front door walked Jeff Shelby. I know he looks a little like Ron Howard with dark hair. He’s got a Richie Cunningham vibe that puts people at ease. He’s always smiling and pleasant. That’s the mark of an evil genius.

I could go into details but I must confess that I’m a fan of his humor. The guy makes me laugh. We have the same popular culture references from Pete Sweaty to Fonzie, from college sports to literature, we’re on the same page. Besides that, he’s just a good guy.

After the signing we went to a great seafood place with David and McKenna. There is nothing better than talking books with people who know their stuff, eating good seafood and drinking. Well, there is, but in Houston it was all I wanted.

We stayed at a Holiday Inn near the store. I don’t know where I’ve been but somebody upgraded Holiday Inns since the last time I stayed in one. We had a suite because frankly I’m a little old to share a room if the hotel isn’t full like at Bouchercon.

The other benefit of a friend like Shelby is that he ran with me in the morning without bitching. Even when we mis-identified a high school for Rice University. It looked a little small to educate so many and produce graduates like Jeff Abbott. Then he drove me to the airport. We were hungry so we took a turn away from the airport on the Will Clayton Highway. Based on the number of restaurants on the road we came to the conclusion that Will Clayton was a famous anorexic. We had to settle for a Sonic Burger at nine in the morning.

My arrival back in Florida was truly bittersweet. It’s an odd transition. From staying out late, eating out, a different bed every night then come back to real life. I can’t explain it without sounding like a whining ass. On the road you dream about home and once you’re home you miss the tour. But I never forgot about how much I looked forward to being published. I dreamed about it. And now to be out on the road talking about my books is still too good to be true.

The trip itself was pretty good. I didn’t get sick. Not even a sniffle. I think it was in part due to Jackie Winspear’s suggestion I take Airborne. I started taking the Alka-seltzer-like, holistic, anti-germ tablets the first day of the trip. Instead of dissolving them in water I found I liked to pop them and imagine them working as they fizzed in my mouth, occasionally making me cringe.

I made all my flights. Was on time to every appointment. Saw a lot of friends. Met a lot of readers. Signed more books than I thought I would and gained a few insights I hope to use in the future.

This post wasn’t the deeper, thought-provoking entries made by my blog-mates. This was just a travel log of something a new writer might think is cool and exciting. It is cool and exciting but usually not in the ways you think it’ll be.

Next week I’ll move on to a new subject. I promise.

Finally, I’d like to say I make no apologies for any aspersions I cast on Alberto Gonzales in Field of Fire. Sure, I didn’t use his name, opting to use Roberto Morales instead. I didn’t fool any reviewers. Now I look smart. I’ll go with it for the next week.