Tuesday, July 31, 2007
I am in pain, so if this is more incoherent than usual, cut me some slack. If you stick with this post to the end, I promise to pass along a key lesson of life.
Many years ago, I was a regular weekend volleyball player on the beach in Key Biscayne, Florida. That's where I tore up my right knee the first time. But not the last time.
I loved to play. Sometimes, crowds would gather and watch in astonishment at the fiercely competitive games.
I ripped cartilage a second time playing tennis with my son, Mike.
NOT ME PLAYING TENNIS
I had surgery; years went by; other injuries dogged that damned right knee. Finally, thirteen months ago, I was the recipient of a brand new mechanical knee. That knee works just fine. But Sunday, in a futile effort to re-live my lost youth, I did something stupid. Usually, Sunday mornings are reserved for buying fresh fruit at the Studio City Farmer's Market.
Then, perhaps a healthy snack at Porto's, a Cuban bakery in Burbank. But last Sunday, I played pick-up volleyball on the beach in Santa Monica.
NOT ME PLAYING VOLLEYBALL
DEFINITELY NOT ME PLAYING VOLLEYBALL
This time, I tore up my left knee, requiring a trip to the E.R.
NOT MY NURSE
You may ask what I have learned from this episode. Simply this. You may take Vicodin...
Or you may drink vodka...
But you may not do both.
Monday, July 30, 2007
I've been given a lot of nicknames over the years. Here are a few:
Little Pitter Patter
Runt (Don’t ask)
Some people don’t like nicknames but I love mine, because a friend or family member has crafted each one with loving care. Nicknames seem to be popular in a lot of families.
However, there’s one nickname I don’t like. It’s Pat. Dunno why, but there it is. I have nothing against the name. I have several family members named Patricia who prefer to be called Pat. Fine by me. Just don’t call me that if you value your kneecaps.
In the small town where I grew up, tradition dictated that a woman could no longer wear her hair long or be called Patty when she reached a certain age. Patty was a child’s name not something you called an adult. Maybe I was just a nickname rebel, but I rejected those stodgy notions.
When I sold my first book, I worried about using the name Patricia on the cover because I feared people would be tempted to call me Pat. Sure enough, during one of my first convention panels the moderator started calling me Pat in the Green Room before the event began. I politely asked her to either call me Patricia or Patty. She ignored my request and continued calling me Pat throughout the entire panel discussion. I finally corrected her in front of the audience, which was bad form on my part, but I was mad as hell and couldn’t take it any more.
Just so you know, you have my permission to call me any nickname on the above list or make up one of your own. Just don’t call me Pat.
What are your feelings about nicknames? Got any good ones you want to reveal?
ON ANOTHER NOTE: Once again, congrats to nude dude Miss C!!! A Field of Darkness has been nominated for an Anthony award for Best First Novel by attendees of the Bouchercon mystery-fan convention. I'll be in the audience cheering her on. Yaaaaaaaay!
To forward this post to nickname rebels or people named Pat, click on the envelope icon below.
Friday, July 27, 2007
I come from a country where someone once said, “We don’t have climate here in Britain – we have weather.” Personally, I think weather is what makes for a close-knit community. When I was a kid just about every conversation between two adults began with a comment on the weather.
“Nice one, innit?”
“Long as it lasts. Got to get the beans in before it comes down again.”
“Farmers need the rain though, don’t they?”
A conversation like that could go on for hours, and anyone who came along would join in and add their two penn'orth of weathered wisdom.
Without weather, writers wouldn’t have a key compoment with which to communicate time and place – a low rain-filled cloud over ink-black hills, or mist rising from just-washed Parisian sidewalks on a summer’s morning. So, being British and a writer, I rather like weather. I pay attention to it, watch for its nuances, after all, rain is pretty boring when it’s just rain, and snow can become slush when you least expect it.
Speaking of rain - I’m off to the land of the Great Deluge next week. This time last year, I arrived in sweltering London, hovering above the 100 degree mark with a humidity you could cut with a knife. But this year Britain has floods of almost Katrina-like proportions, complete with a government who received early warnings of the inclement interlude from meteorologists some months ago.
And while Britain is flooded – the worst rain in over 200 years – southern Europe is ablaze, with searing temperatures throughout Greece, Spain, Portugal, France, Slovakia, Romania, Kosovo and other countries in that broad region. This photo shows firefighters just outside Athens – there are blazes igniting all across Europe.
The scientists are coming down on the side of global warning as an explanation, with movement of the jet-stream in a southerly direction being blamed for the British floods. As a member of parliament said today, if we don’t all do something now, then the British Isles will be under water in 500 years. I’m concerned about the 500 years, but am just heartsick when I think of all those people and animals losing their habitats to rain and fire.
So, I’m packing my bag with rain in mind, though I would really love a miracle over the next week or so. My wonderful God-daughter is getting married on August 4th, and though she is being her usual down-to-earth pragmatic self about the state of the weather this year (Can’t do much about it, can I, Jack?), I would love to have the powers of a real fairy God-mother, to be able to make the sun break through and shine on her big day. Apart from anything else, I’m traveling 6000 miles to see her walk down the aisle, which I think it a pretty good reason to want the very best day for Charlotte. In the meantime, here’s a photo of the lovely Charlie the last time I saw her – in March, when we went into Bath on a fine spring day to buy her wedding jewellery and stopped for a decidedly unposh lunch. Isn’t she lovely? I’ve seen her in her wedding dress already, and I can tell you now, she looks stunning and I’ll be wearing waterproof mascara on the day.
Going back to the issue of time and place, here’s my question to you this week: Do you have a favorite passage from a work of non-fiction or fiction that uses weather to describe a place in a way that makes you feel as if you were there? There’s one that has remained with me for over three decades. I was reading a collection of Hemingway’s letters and in one – to Max Perkins, probably – he described visiting the Scott-Fitzgeralds on a sticky hot day in Paris. Zelda had laundered handkerchiefs, then set each wet handkerchief against a pane of glass in the window. The handkerchief dried fast as sun beat against the glass, so that when she pulled the cloth away, it was as if the cloth had been starched and pressed and needed only to be folded. When I think of it, little was said about the actual weather, but the descriptions of the fast-drying handkerchiefs said so much about the city in summer. And here's another thing, when I was a kid we were taught that the plural of handkerchief was handkerchieves. Is that just a British thing, or have we moved away from doing more than adding an "s" to make a plural? Same with roof and rooves, hoof and hooves. Just wondered.
And as a disclaimer, because I read this letter so many years ago, I may have mixed up the characters. It might have been Scott-Fitzgerald who was transfixed by the first Mrs.Hemingway’s laundering of handkerchiefs.
So, what passages come back to you when you think of weather? And what about those plurals?
Thursday, July 26, 2007
First, I discovered I was too lazy to take the photos of my chair on my porch for the post. Then I got a memo at work that the end of an era was approaching. It had meaning to me, if not many others. It also gave me a chance to show you guys a little, odd thing that can cause feelings of loss in police or military personnel. My agency is retiring the Beretta.
It sounds like an administrative, minor decision but to those of us that use firearms and appreciate the artistry of their design, it marks a sad day.
That's me, second in line, with my Beretta 92 F during a training seesion at Turkey Point power plant.
I’m no gun nut, or we call is here in Florida, a “Fred Rea”. Sorry that’s an inside joke to both gun nuts and Florida writers. But the Beretta holds a special place in my heart. I carried a model 92 F compact while an agent with the DEA and then a full-size Beretta model 92F for the majority of my career with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. That included the years I was on our Special Operations Team. Just like a mechanic gets used to a certain wrench or a writer likes a particular computer, a cop becomes attached to his duty weapon. I had it every day, except when I let my son use it for “show and tell” one day. Man, that was a poor decision. Well, live and learn.
In my first book, Walking Money, the main character, Bill Tasker, carried a Beretta. By the time I wrote the second novel, Shock Wave, I had started carrying a Glock and inadvertently had Tasker carrying a Glock. I corrected it before publication. It seems
minor but cops would never let me hear the end of it.
I also have characters use the Sig Sauer P 230 which I carried off-duty for years. I converted to a small model Glock, the model 27, as an off-duty weapon. I have a
Glock model 27
tendency to put them in my books as well. There are real, tactical
reasons for the switch that gun guys would find interesting but everyone else would find wildly boring.
I fully understand some people’s reluctance to firearms. I also, less frequently, understand gun collectors. I don’t get spending all the money to build a collection, but I appreciate guns. C’mon, I’m a guy from the south; the two biggest factors affecting a love of guns. I’m tolerant of both types of people but I’ve noticed they don’t seem to show much insight into each other. I’ll stop now before a vicious debate breaks out. No one ever seems to argue gun control calmly.
Back to my original post. I bought my Beretta from the state when I was issued a Glock several years ago. But now the department has decided to require all agents to convert to the use of Glocks. I’m not saying it’s a bad decision. They think these things out very carefully. There are considerations from legal to financial that I never worry about. I just liked the idea that if I wanted to, I could carry my trusty Beretta on duty. At least for another few weeks.
It’s the end of an era. Like when Chevy made the Impala so small. Or when Clinton left office.
Next week I’ll get back to writing posts instead of gun posts. Just thought I do a change up.
See you next week.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
I was happy to discover that British author Sebastian Faulks had been tapped to write the next James Bond novel. At first.
He's the author of Charlotte Gray and On Green Dolphin Street, so it seemed like a good choice.
And then I read the following quote, which put me in rather a bad mood about the whole the whole enterprise:
"My commission was from the [Fleming] family, and they strongly believe in Ian Fleming’s value as a writer. And that’s one of the reasons they went to someone like me rather than a genre thriller [writer]."
TNI: What about the issue of comparing thrillers and commercial fiction with so-called literary fiction?
Child: It’s an issue that doesn’t come from our side. We’re happy to let those guys do whatever it is they want to do. The issue always comes from their side, because they’re jealous about our sales. They get all stirred up about it, and quite rightly. I probably have more books shoplifted out of every title than they sell in their entire lives. They start to feel troubled over it, and they want a bit of our action; so they go slumming and try to write a thriller. And it’s always an embarrassing failure. Whereas any one of us—I know this for a fact, having talked to my writer friends, and we are not idiots—have read all the great books in the world, and we could write a literary novel easily. Michael Connelly, anybody like that, could invent a different name, write a literary book. Him or me, it would probably take three weeks to write that kind of book. It would sell three thousand copies like theirs do, and it would probably be well-respected. We can do what they can do, but they can’t do what we do; and that’s where the friction comes from.
My response to that is: Lee Shoots, He Scores!
So what say all of you?
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
How's this for a concise writing tip?
A character seeks to achieve an objective but encounters obstacles, which gives rise to conflict and leads to emotion, not just for the character but also for the spectator....The action that a character adopts when faced with a conflict, either to prevent it or to overcome it, is one of the best indicators of the kind of person he is.
That's from "Writing Drama" by French screenwriter Yves Lavandier. While the book is primarily about screenwriting, the same character/conflict message is equally applicable to novels. This is echoed by Lee Goldberg who reviews the book on his blog:
Those may seem like obvious points, but it's surprising how many rookie screenwriters and novelists fail to realize how important conflict is, thinking instead that witty description in the action and expository dialogue are the best ways to reveal character.
What happens without sufficient conflict? Thud. Here's San Francisco Chronicle critic Mick LaSalle on "Ladder 49," the John Travolta/Joaquin Phoenix film intended as a tribute to firefighters:
The movie's reverence gradually works to undermine it. "Ladder 49" is a movie almost entirely without conflict, at least of the human variety. A firefighter's family life is presented as next-door to idyllic. Firehouse high jinks are nothing but jolly and delightful. A comrade's death is sad, but not ultimately unsettling. In its determination to create a tribute, the filmmakers smooth too many edges and simplify too many complex emotions.
So, create conflict, dammit!
BOOK TOUR TIP FROM A WILY OLD EXPERT
As Patty Smiley tours the land with "Short Change," her third Tucker Sinclair mystery, I pass on this tip that may ease her days.
Years ago, Edna Buchanan was about to go on the road with "The Corpse Had a Familiar Face," so she asked Charles Willeford (right), the father of Florida crime fiction ("Miami Blues," etc.) if he had any book tour advice.
"Whenever you have a chance," Charlie said, "take a piss."
SUN-SENTINEL KICKS MIAMI HERALD RIGHT IN THE COJONES.
It pains me to say this, but the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel is now far superior to The Miami Herald (a/k/a "Honey, Who Shrunk My Newspaper?").
I was a Miami Herald reporter a long time ago. How long? During the Nixon Administration. The first one. Vietnam, Woodstock, the moon landing. The Herald was, by far, the bigger and better newspaper then, and perhaps for the next 25 years. (No thanks to me, I might add).
Today, the Sun-Sentinel is sharper journalistically in practically every section of the paper. Shall we talk about books? If you log onto the Herald's Entertainment page, you'll find sections on Movies, Music, Restaurants, TV, Nightlife, Theater, Visual Arts, People, and Video Games. But no books.
Let me repeat them. Video Games, Sí. Books, No.
Fort Lauderdale readers are blessed to have two outstanding critics, Books Editor Chauncey Mabe and Mystery Reviewer Oline Cogdill. In addition to their regular reviews, they've just started a blog called "Off the Page."
Check it out here.
A CLEAN, WELL-LIGHTED CONTEST
Larry Austin, an insurance agent, won the Ernest Hemingway Look-Alike Contest in Key West last weekend.
An insurance agent! Wouldn't Papa be proud?
Shouldn't the contestants have to do something besides grow a beard? Write a short story, maybe? That's Larry, at the far right of the photo, apparently celebrating a policyholder's unsuccessful attempt to gain coverage for windstorms.
Neither WMD's nor hamsters were found up the President's butt. However, Sean Hannity was discovered lurking near W's pyloric sphincter.
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Monday, July 23, 2007
First of all I want to congratulate our very own Cornelia Read whose novel A Field of Darkness, starring amateur sleuth Madeline Dare, was just nominated for a "Best First" Barry Award by the readers of "Mystery News" and "Deadly Pleasures" magazines. The awards will be presented at Bouchercon in Anchorage the last week of September. Congratulations to all of the nominees but especially to the lovely and talented Ms. C!
I’ve been thinking a lot about amateur sleuths lately because I’m organizing a panel on that topic for the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America in September. I’m also presenting a workshop on the same subject at a writer’s conference later in the year.
At a recent book event someone asked me if after writing four crime novels I thought I could crack a case on my own. Without hesitating, I said yes. (What was she smoking you ask) The Internet has changed everything but I had no idea how deeply one could delve into another’s personal life until I took a course taught by a former cop turned private investigator. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
The first mystery novel I ever read featured ten year-old amateur detective, Trixie Belden. After that I was hooked.
I love to read about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. It’s not at all hard for me to believe that Joe Sixpack would become obsessed with solving a crime that no one else can crack. Look at Patricia Cornwall's Jack the Ripper investigation.
With rare exception, the only professionals whose job it is to investigate homicides are members of law enforcement. All of us NakedAuthors write about amateur sleuths except for James O. Paulie’s character is a lawyer. At least Steve Solomon has a reason to be around bad guys. He represents them. But the rest of our protags have to join the caper without challenging the reader’s “willing suspension of disbelief.” It's not as easy as it sounds.
Maybe I chose to write about an amusing amateur sleuth who owns a terrier from watching the “The Thin Man” movie on TV. You can't beat William Powell and Myrna Loy solving crimes with the help of their wire-haired terrier, Asta.
I was also a sucker for Miss Marple, Mrs. Polifax, and TV's Jessica Fletcher, but I understand not everybody shares my tastes in mystery fiction. For the sake of research for my upcoming presentations, I’d like to take an informal survey. Do you read books featuring amateur sleuths? If so, why? If not, why not? What do you love about them? What do you hate about them? Who are your favorites? Here’s your chance to dish. Have at it.
Friday, July 20, 2007
My mother grew up in Britain before the National Health Service, so like many of her generation, she's a fix-it-yourself kind of person, when it comes to the ills of her family. She also does not trust drug companies, so will always try to take the natural method of healing any medical problem over the pills prescribed by her doctors. As you probably know if you’ve read some of my posts in the past, about 18 months ago, Mum had to start taking pills for just about the first time in her life (she’s almost 80) following a minor stroke, and took it as a personal affront. This post isn’t exactly about my mother, it’s about me and those like me – those of us who look at the plant world to cure our ills, or turn to traditional healing methods that have stood the test of time. I guess that when it comes to medicine, I am my mother’s daughter.
That’s not to say I hold with some of her cures. I remember when I was about seven years old being stung by a wasp (a yellowjacket) on my derriere. My mother brought out that time-honored antidote to wasp sting – an onion. All I will say is that it is very hard to ride a bike with half an onion in your underwear.
Those early years of the National Health Service, which followed hot on the heels of a massive advertising campaign that lastest through much of the 1930’s and 40’s to get people out into the country and “hiking” (it’s an old word used by a British ad exec at the time, to describe a very brisk walk across the countryside. It’s a joining of “hill” and “walking”), saw a rise in vitamin supplements for children, especially following the dark years of rationing when kids suffered from all sorts of ills as a result of poor nutrition. My mother was determined to ensure that her children would not want for their vitamins, as she had throughout the war. Before I went to bed at night I was dosed up with a tablespoon of Virol, a thick, sweet malty goo that was, I think, loaded with Vitamin B. On top of that I had to glug down a tablespoon of rosehip syrup, and a halibut oil capsule. Actually, the Virol came last, because Mum gave us each our spoonful to suck on – and that brown treacly stuff always stuck to the top of your mouth and you spent the next hour trying to pry it away with your tongue, then it sat on your chest all night.
Despite the Virol and the onion, I have always been open to supplementing my diet with weird and wonderful things. Not that my mother’s healing methods necessarily did the trick. When my brother was six he had a dreadful stomach upset, so Mum brought out the old-fashioned ginger beer (if you’ve never had it, it’s like a frothier, more gingery version of ginger ale) known for diminishing the symptoms of gastric distress. The poor kid was chugging back glass upon glass of ginger beer, wondering when the pain would go away. In the meantime, the doctor thought he had a bug that was going round, and said that ginger beer would be just the thing. Of course it wasn’t a bug, it was peritonitis as a result of a ruptured appendix, and it’s a wonder he made it alive to the operating room.
Nevertheless, I have continued to try alternative or complimentary methods of healing or illness prevention before taking something with “Glaxo-Klein-Beecham” stamped on the side, or “Merck” across the top of the bottle. My husband suffers from a type of rheumatoid arthritis, so I went through a phase of researching everything I could on the disease, because it really is a nasty thing to have. I discovered that celery juice was found to be quite efficacious in the natural treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. For his birthday that year, I bought him a juicer and half a dozen head of celery to get him started. He just looked at me as if I had landed from another world, let alone another country. Of course. I should have guessed – his dad was a doctor and his mother was a nurse, so there’s no way my Cleveland lad was going to entertain the thought of ramming celery into a juicer every morning and – heaven forbid – drinking the stuff.
All this brings me to my latest ... what would you call it? Experiment? Yes, experiment.
About a week ago, I read an article on oil-pulling. What, may you ask, is oil-pulling (not to be confused with pulling someone who happens to be rich from work in oil)? Oil-pulling is, frankly, a really quite off-putting regime of ridding the body of bacteria and toxins using either sunflower oil or sesame oil. And the oils must be cold-pressed, not just refined through any old process. Basically, first thing in the morning, you take one tablespoon of the oil and use it like a mouthwash, swishing it around your mouth and through your teeth, but definitely not swallowing it. You do this for fifteen minutes. Each and every morning. Apparently, in certain cultures (in the Ukraine, in parts of India), this practice has been going on for aeons. Recently it has been the subject of much interest from the scientific and medical commuities, as it has been linked to success in healing conditions from arthritis to cancer, from high blood-pressure to behaviour issues. The theory is that the oil “pulls” all the nasty gremlins from the body, which is why, when you are done, you have to make sure you send all the spent oil down the sink and wash it away – because it’s chock-full of cooties.
I thought a photo of sunflowers would be more palatable than a sink draining.
I must confess, the thought of oil in my mouth just makes me heave. Yuk! However, I told another friend, who after several days of doing this (she just had to try it), reports that her teeth are whiter and that her skin has begun to clear up – she had some sort of excema. And, surprise, surprise – my mother tried it straightaway, which really amazed me as my Mum can’t even brush her teeth without gagging, she’s as sensitive about textures in her mouth as me. On the first day out with her sunflower oil, she managed to swish for twenty minutes (yeah, I know, five more minutes than the article said – I come from a competitve family).
So, the gauntlet has been thrown down. Just about everyone I have told about oil-pulling has tried it and continued on with the regime – it’s just me that’s completely turned off. I tried it yesterday and spent twenty minutes cleaning the bathroom mirror because the oil went everywhere when I nearly choked on the stuff.
I can hear you thinking, “Oh, this is what writers get up to when they’ve just sent back the final draft of their latest book and they’re sitting there, twiddling their thumbs.” But after watching Michael Moore’s Sicko last week, I think I’ve got to try everything I can to remain in the peak of physical condition. This is a country in which you cannot afford to get sick, whether you have insurance or not.
So, I’m curious – does anyone know what colonic irrigation actually is? It’s always sounded too weird to me, sort of Paris Hilton meets Deepak Chopra. And have you ever done something really strange and unusual in the name of good health?
PS: Do you know, that in British hospitals, they would always serve patients a half a pint of Guinness or another stout ale in the afternoons, because it’s loaded with health-inducing vitamins. When I was seven, I had to go into the hosptial for eye-surgery, and because I wasn’t allowed to play, they put me in a room between the men's surgical ward, and the womens’ surgical ward. To keep me occupied, the nurses would take me around with them when they were giving out the stout ration – the nurse would pour each beer and I would take the glass over to the patient. Needless to say, I was a very popular child. And I’d never seen so many grown-ups happy to see me.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Last week I attended Thrillerfest in New York. I had a great time at Thrillerfest in Scottsdale, Arizona, so I looked forward to this year’s event. One of the advantages to the New York local was that I got to meet with my publishers and agent. In fact, one of the highlights of the trip was a party at the Jane Rotrosen agency where my family and I wolfed down sushi with other clients. The office and weather were both beautiful and I felt lucky to have an agent like Meg Ruley. She rocks.
I had my camera and ended up taking three photos. All of my daughter or me and her. This is us in front of the famous Flatiron building. Sorry I don’t have any of the conference.
I was on two panels Saturday morning. I was the “Panel Master” of the first one dealing with villains. Being the moderator is a lot of pressure. You have to keep things moving and take the blame if the panel sucks. I was lucky and got a good group which included the fabulous Robin Burcell, Robert Fate and J.D. Rhoades.
Now, Dusty Rhoades is a friend of mine and I knew to expect the unexpected but this is the bio he sent me to read as an introduction:
J.D. Rhoades never knew his parents; he was found abandoned on the steps of a cut-rate Filipino tax preparation service in Slidell, La. As a child, he was bounced around between a series of orphanages, reformatories and opium dens. His first brush with the law came when he shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. He was seven years old at the time.
He first turned to drugs at the age of five, when he discovered you could get high by snorting Nestle’s Quik through a rolled up copy of Highlights magazine. Since then, he claims to have ingested marijuana, peyote, heroin, psilocybin, uppers, downers, screamers, laughers, dried banana peels, glue, paste, mucilage, LSD, DMT, STP, ABC, CNN, TLC, Sterno, Drano, Bondo, Ketamine, Dopamine, glucosamine, Ovaltine, and Krispy Kreme.
He decided to turn his life around after he did all of the above in the same night. He woke up two weeks later, hanging upside down by his knees from a tree limb in Duluth, Minn., singing an Aria from “Die Fledermaus.” In German. And he doesn’t even speak German. That’s how JD rolls, baby.
He once killed a stripper with a fondue fork and disposed of the body using an electric pencil sharpener. It took 14 hours.
He knows Tom DeLay personally.
You can guess how the panel went.
The very next hour, I was a member of the panel on Tracking Serial Killers. This is where the photo of me and Michelle Gagnon was shot which appeared on Paul’s post Tuesday. Her debut novel, The Tunnels sold out at the conference and is excellent!
Jeffery Deaver was also on the panel. I had never met him before and he proved to be a very nice guy. He is also a gun collector and seemed to know his stuff.
It was a fun weekend and I got a lot of dad points for the effort.