Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Giant With Wings

from Jacqueline

This week’s post is on the long side – for which I make no apology, because the person I’m writing about is too important for me to stint on words. If I could, I would write a book about her. This is about Helen Maude Sterling.

There are occasions in life – not many, I grant you – when you meet a person whom you know, even in their workaday ordinariness, to be a giant among the mass of humanity. There may be nothing in their demeanor to reveal them as such, but you have a sense of them, and though you cannot put your finger on the why of it, you know that they’re special.

That’s how I felt when I first met Helen. You may remember me talking about Helen, the friend who introduced me to the concept of the AFGO when life throws you a curveball – that's Another F***ing Growth Opportunity. We’d met when we both attended an introductory session on life coaching, and began our training together because we wanted to change the world person by person. We wanted to make dreams come true. At that time we also each had our day jobs and I was trying to walk my talk in my quest to become a writer.

Helen soon became my firm friend and hiking buddy, however, at some point, following even a short time out on the trail, Helen began tripping over, and complained that it was all due to a slow-to-heal ankle sprain. I was suspicious. I’d seen such symptoms before, and I knew there was something more serious going on. But Helen had a bad history with doctors so she was hoping time would heal the ankle. Then, one evening, we had just left a restaurant when she fell over as we were about to cross the road, and despite my help could not get to her feet. So we sat together on the curb while she caught her breath, despite the looks of passersby who thought they were looking at two singletons a bit worse for wear after an evening on the razzle. “Now will you go to the doctor – please?” I pressed her yet again. And this time she went.

She was referred for a battery of tests, and – ironic as this may seem – on the day I took her in for the first of many spinal taps, we giggled all the way to the hospital because she’d told me, calm as you like, about how she’d had a mad fling with her Israeli neighbor the night before. Inside I wanted to weep. Finally the diagnosis came – Multiple Sclerosis. And because she held no faith in the medical profession, she believed she could stave off the disease with organic food and meditation, with her beliefs and her spirit. Despite misgivings, no one doubted her spirit.

As she became more infirm, Helen went through the highs and lows that accompanied realization that there was no cure. Her ache was to engage with the world in the biggest possible way, to love and be loved, despite her increasing physical limitations. “Who will ever want me?” she cried as I held her. “I want so much to be adored.”

It was about this time that she changed her name. She was previously Helen Carey-Martin, her first name followed by her maiden name and the name of her former husband. She told friends that she wanted a name of her choosing, not something she’d been landed with by default. So she became Helen Maude Sterling, and she wanted us to call her Maude. She chose Maude because she loved the film “Harold and Maude” and she wanted to be just like Maude when she grew older. She chose Sterling, because it suggests excellence, the best, something very special. Trouble was, most of her friends were like me – they just couldn’t get their heads around our vital, lovely Helen as an old lady, so we just stuck to Helen.

As a brutal honesty took the place of hope, Helen decided to see America while she could. Resigning her job and cashing in her 401K, she gave up her apartment and planned to take to the road, along with her cat, Zoey. We had a party – well, several parties, actually – to see her off, in her electric blue Rav4 with an U-Haul trailer hitched on the back, and I will never forget groveling around under the house to catch the cat so we could sedate her for the journey. Then she was off ... well, not quite. That very evening after we had all waved good-bye, my telephone rang, and it was Helen. “You don’t know where to go, do you? I said. She laughed and admitted that, among those big plans, she hadn’t really thought about the first night on the road. “Come on over,” I said, “Stay here until you’re ready.” She slept on my sofa for a couple of nights before driving off on her grand adventure.

We received emails and letters from the road, from truck stops and farm B&B’s, from hotels and the houses of friends, until finally she arrived in Virginia and decided to stay. With strength and resolve, and despite that ugly disease, she took the AFGO by the horns and created a new life working from home, and as her body broke down she accommodated it, first with a live-in helper, then with a wheelchair. Helen’s MS was not a benevolent form of the disease, with a little progression each year, but an aggressor who tramped through her body to claim every cell. Finally, Helen’s mother decided to move to Georgia from Texas to be close to Helen’s brother, and there she built a home that would accommodate a severely disabled daughter.

On Helen’s 40th birthday, October 29th, 2003, eight of us, Helen’s closest friends, came in from various points across the country to celebrate with her. We planned that each of us would have a gift for Helen, but not necessarily something wrapped in shiny paper with a ribbon. We would each plan something special for her. Shannon brought her wedding video and we all cried, another friend brought a slide show of her recent travels in south America. There was a special foot massage for Helen and someone else read a story. Me? I gave her a facial. I had no idea about giving facials, so I went to a local beauty salon, explained my dilemma and they gave me a lesson, donating a whole set of very expensive potions for Helen, along with a special herbal neck pillow and eye mask. And here’s what Helen said about her spa day at the hands of complete amateurs: “When you’re disabled, no one touches you anymore, and I so longed to be touched and held.”

That weekend was so rich for each of us. Physically, Helen had changed dramatically and the drugs she was now taking – one cocktail administered by a pump embedded inside her body – had wrought havoc on her physical self. But here’s what I saw, and what I hold close: We were all talking in the kitchen one morning, sitting around eating pancakes, drinking coffee and yakking about this and that, when I looked across at Helen and felt, physically, spiritually and in the very core of my being, the power and grandeur of her spirit. It was as if, as her body failed her, her very soul was expanding, growing to fill the whole room, so that we were all enveloped by her grace, as if the arms she could no longer lift had gathered us all to her and we were very tightly held.

In time, Helen took to her bed. Her mother had found it increasingly hard to manage her care, even with a hydraulic lift to take her from bed to chair, so Helen’s world became the four walls of her room. Her love of music inspired her to make special compilation CD’s for her friends, and she wrote to us with that brutal honesty and enduring compassion. I last spoke to Helen just before Christmas, and we talked for a long time, until I could hear her energy waning. She spoke of her involvement in the work of the Monroe Institute, an organization (originated by the CIA) set up to develop the capability of remote viewing in individuals. “I may be paralyzed in my body, but my mind can’t be shackled,” said Helen. I said I would sign up for a workshop as soon as my book tour was over, then we could meet up in the ether and see the world. But I also knew she was ready to go to that other world alone, and told her that I would see her soon, when my book tour took me to Atlanta.

On Sunday evening the telephone rang and I remember a sense of overwhelming sadness touching my heart as I reached for the receiver. For some reason I’d been a bit weepy all day, and put it down to the fatigue of flying. The caller was Sherri, one of Helen’s friends in Atlanta. Helen had given her a list of the people to call in the event of her passing. Sherri told me that Helen had caught a flu bug the previous week and been taken into hospital to get some fluids into her system, but she went downhill quickly, and had died two hours earlier. I sat alone in the dark for a long time, remembering Helen, remembering her sense of celebration, of joy, her generosity and her belief that every small good thing that happened in life was an excuse for a party, even a party of two.

There’s much more I could tell you about Helen – like the way in which she addressed the state senate in Georgia when she discovered that she could not have a helper monkey because Georgia did not allow exotic animals to be kept in a domestic situation. She wrote her speech and despite her fragile physical state and the sheer resolve it took to go to the hearing, she put her case to the senate, and won - but I will have to end this post here.

I once met a woman who told me she could see angels, and that they were actually giants, statuesque beings with huge feet and hands and really, really big wings. So if that’s right, then I know in my heart that there is now a giant even among angels and her name is Helen Maude Sterling. She is an ambassador for everything to be celebrated in life, and I bet that, now she’s shed that broken body, she is whizzing around the world, her curiosity knowing no bounds. Either that, or there's one heck of a party going on behind the pearly gates.

God bless her. Bless her.

NB: Sherri is walking in Helen’s name for the MS cure on April 12th, and I am here and now shamelessly including the URL for her donation page. At first she set her goal at $250, but I dared her to add a zero. If you think you can help her attain that goal, please go to (and I know it’s long, but if I try to embed this, I’ll definitely break the blog):

(Note: For easier reading, Patty embedded the link for Our J)

Let me know if you have a problem and I’ll find another way for you to contact Sherri and be parted from your money for this cause.

What scares you?

By James O. Born

Fear is a great emotion. It can motivate , freeze or thrill you. Like most emotions, as you get older you can deal with it a little better but not always. Everyone has fears whether they want to admit it or not. Some fears can be concrete and easy to identify like spiders. Some are more discreet and subtle like fear of commitment, which many people don’t realize they have until they’ve already screwed-up their lives.

I’ve found that my fears have evolved since I was a child. I can vividly recall the low-budget movie Legend of Boggy Creek scaring the crap out of me. The faux-documentary about the Arkansas version of Bigfoot hit the exact thing that terrified me at that point in my life: large hairy bipeds. Bigfoot, Yeti or even gorillas fascinated me because they were like us but much different. My view of gorillas at the time came from cheap horror movies and the King Kong saga.

Today, things are a little different, but I’ll admit to a little discomfort in the gorilla exhibit at Busch Gardens. Now I like reading books that scare me. It’s rare to find a movie that scares me more than grosses me out but there are a lot of books that scare the crap out of me. I don’t read a whole lot of crime fiction because it’s hard to find a story that rings true. The cat and mouse tales of chasing serial killers and catching armed robbers are a little less elegant in the real world. But science fiction and horror novels have no boundaries as far as inciting terror goes.

I can remember the first two books that spooked me badly. William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist and the David Seltzer's novelization of his own screen play of The Omen. I know, how could an adapted novel spook me? I was a teenager, bought the book for a dollar at a bookfair and had not seen the movie yet. Later, Stephen King’s The Stand got under my skin.

What do all three of these books have in common? The devil or some version of Lucifer. It’s not even the thought of battling the dark one that concerns me. What really bothers me is that in these books and similar stories, no matter what you do or how brave you are, if you’re not successful, even death is not a release. The idea of someone torturing you even after death is the one thing that really creeps me out. That, and germs in public restrooms.

I’m still a sucker for books and movies where the stakes are not only in this life but in the next as well. Jim Stafford wrote the memorable country song I don’t like Spiders and Snakes. But they don’t really bother me, the devil, he scares the living crap out of me.

What spooks you? C’mon, we’re all friends, you can admit it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

If I had a Bazillion Dollars, Part 2374: Central Casting

By Cornelia

Okay, so I totally missed the Oscars on Sunday night. I was actually busy WATCHING movies, which seemed like a better investment of my time given that the only thing I'd seen nominated for anything this year was Juno, which I pretty much consider God's gift to cinema. I will come back to this.

Meanwhile here's what I watched:

The Magdalen Sisters. Twice. In a single 24-hour period. Boy, if you wanna get pissed off about misogyny and Catholicism-as-practiced-in-Ireland (well, and misogyny-as-practiced-in-Ireland, when you come right down to it--though that seems redundant, like, say, reading Jim Thompson while living in downtown Syracuse), that's the movie to see, let me tell you.

I'd like to blog about it, but I am still so blind with rage that I might implode at any second, which would make for a rather terse blog post, so I think I'll wait on that one.

Meanwhile, ahem, here is what I wanted to say about Juno:

It made me finally play that game which almost all authors of novels are heir to, that being "who I'd cast in my movie, if I had a bazillion dollars."

Okay, making it that specific probably means a game which can ONLY be played by me, Cornelia.

Where was I? Oh yes, Juno. Here is the thing about Juno... the actress in the title role? She is goddamn awesome. She is smart and funny and so young looking you want to say, "hey, dude, you are totally goddamn awesome, and thank you for braving Hollywood at your tender age, because it would probably downright kill my sorry ass before I even got to the baggage claim at LAX, thank you very much, and I'm just a couple weeks shy of forty-five."

Here is her picture:

I wouldn't have gone to see this movie, except my Mom's friend Alice emailed me and said "I am TAKING you to see this movie, because the whole time I was watching it the first time, I kept saying to myself 'Oh my God, this movie is like listening to Cornelia,' which is a very good thing." Which was a also a very nice thing of my Mom's friend Alice to say, I thought right when she said it, but I was even MORE deeply grateful to her after I'd actually seen the movie. I mean... to have even one person say it reminded them of me, not least Alice herself who, like, reads Spectator and P.D. James and Proust, practically, as though they're the National Enquirer and she's standing in line at the grocery store--which is to say she is totally brilliant and plus! also has amazing taste in practically everything.

And! Alice has a whole chapter written about her in Passages. (she's "Roslyn," the one who runs away with a sculptor and her two children from her first marriage and ends up in a commune in Big Sur, but only briefly, because to her life on the commune basically consisted of "a bunch of untalented people sitting around a bonfire every night playing nose-flutes.")

But I digress.

Here is the point of this post. It was not until I saw Juno that I could answer the perennial book-signing question posed to authors of all stripe, that being, "who would you cast to play the main character in your novel?"

Frankly, every actress who ever struck me as at all suitable is either at LEAST twenty years too old now if not outright dead (Jodie Foster, Helen Mirren, Frances Farmer, Tallulah Bankhead), or they're young with admirable anti-gravity in the boobulage department and everything, but also--you'll pardon my saying--dumb as mud, as pond scum, as a box of rocks, as... well... let's just say so dumb that if they happened to overhear you saying, "She 's not the sharpest pencil in the box," they would get all pouty and scream, "are you calling me fat?" at you--rather missing, as it were, the point.

BUT! Anyway! The Juno actress's name is Ellen Page. And she can not ONLY say lots of big words really fast, she can also bend them to her ironic and sublimely snarky will... at the same time!

I mean, seriously, can you imagine Nicole Ritchie or Mischa Barton trying that? The mental effort involved on their respective parts would overwhelm the forces of physics, whereupon they would disappear from the universe with a puff of smoke and noxious bang, not to mention quicker than a watermelon seed squirted from between the fingers of God.

SO! If had a bazillion dollars, Ellen Page would be cast as my protagonist Madeline Dare in A FIELD OF DARKNESS: THE MOVIE.

So then I got to play around with who I'd cast after I talked her into it. (WARNING: the following will be INCREDIBLY boring if you have not read the book. So click here if you haven't read it. And buy two, they're small, plus Fifty Million Frenchman Can't Be Wrong, etc.)

This guy would play Madeline's farmboy/genius-inventor husband, Dean Bauer:

His name is Patrick Wilson. You may remember him as the Mormon/closeted-gay-protégé-of-Roy-Cohn in Angels in America, which I also watched this weekend instead of the Oscars.

Here is who would play Dean's father, the somewhat snarky elder farmer:

Tom Berenger. Because he looks pretty damn authentic in a plaid flannel shirt and a gimme-cap, if you remember that movie about evil neo-Nazi agriculturural type dudes he was in with Debra Winger playing the undercover Fed, back in the day. Plus now he's old enough to play a father in law.

Here is who would play Madeline's mother-in-law:

Mary Kay Place. Because she's a goddamn genius.

And here is who would play Dean's Uncle Weasel, because nobody does weaselly like Bruce Dern does weaselly:

And here is who would play Madeline's mother, the debutante-cum-hippie who's returned home to Long Island at long last:

Laugh all you want. It is my imaginary movie, so I get to have Emma Thompson play my imaginary mother, okay? Besides, I bet she could do a totally KILLER Locust-Valley Lockjaw accent (just think of her doing an impersonation of Jim Backus as Thurston Howell, if you have never heard denizens of Locust Valley engaged in conversation in real life).

Besides which, she really does kind of look like Ellen Page, you know? Here, check it out:

(Okay, actually, here I have to say that there may be a problem casting Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson together, since they are apparently ALREADY cast together in a film called Hard Candy. But what the hell: it's imaginary.)

And here is who would play Madeline's mother's boyfriend Bonwit--the guy who's the heir to a large carpet fortune and has a private dock and everything, but bitches out Madeline for washimg her hair at his house because "hot water is expensive":

Sir Michael Gambon... AKA the cool older smart curmudgeon dude in everything from Layer Cake to The Life Aquatic to Charlotte Grey.

Especially because I think he would go so well with Rutger Hauer playing Bonwit's ex-Nazi German gardener, Egon:
Slick that man's hair back and put him in a wife-beater with a pair of hedge clippers, et voilà, you have aging gossipy back-biting erstwhile Hitler Jugend servant guy up the damn wazoo.

And here is who should play Kit and Binty, the parents of Lapthorne Townsend, Madeline's childhood crush/older cousin:

Jeremy Irons and

Glenn Close.

Not just because they made such great von Bulows together, but also because Glenn Close is Madeline's friend Ellis's godmother, in real life.

AND because they make the perfect fictional parents for the only actor today whom I can see carrying off the part of Lapthorne with the necessary edge, that being:

Robert Downey, Jr. I mean, the guys is so totally secret-lovechild-of-Glenn-Close-and-Jeremy-Ironsesque, right?

And here is who would play Madeline's best friend and sidekick Ellis:

Lauren Ambrose, who is also both smart and funny (and YOUNG) at the same time. She needs shorter hair, though. Also darker.

Which brings us to Kenny the Bartender:

(I have an imaginary BAZILLION dollars here, remember.)

As for ancillary characters,

Dennis Hopper as Schneider, the coke-dealing ex-cop

with Lara Flynn Boyle as his girlfriend Vomit Girl, because she's noir enough to TOTALLY pull off a drunk, bruised, coke-addled chick from Hyannis with a toddler daughter in tow:

Plus she still has that creepy Twin Peaks vibe goin' on in a major way.

And Harry Dean Stanton as Farmer Johnston, the nasty old piece of work who found the bodies of the first two victims, back in 1969.

My daughter Grace and my niece Sasha want to play their corpses, since they wouldn't have to learn any lines.

And last but not least, Madeline's sidekicks at the Syracuse Weekly:

Wallace Shawn as Simon the Photographer, and Omar Shari as Wilt, the hippie political reporter (at the request of hippie political reporter Walt Shepperd, on whom that character is based):

That's all, folks...

.......oh wait, except for my favorite joke so far this week:

(hat tip to for this IMHO totally brilliant lolcat)

Is it any wonder I don't write cozies? Lightning would strike me right down flat in this chair if I so much as thought about it.

Now, fess up... who do you want in YOUR movie?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Paul checking in...

It's been widely noted that Barack Obama's appeal extends far beyond traditional Democrats.

Independents and even moderate Republicans are expected to support the Illinois senator, should he become the Democratic nominee. To this date, 986,000 people -- many non-Democrats -- have contributed money to his campaign.

A dear friend of mine from a traditionally Republican family recently announced his support of the Obama candidacy. I'm talking about Jay Paterno, quarterback coach at Penn State, and son of the legendary Joe Paterno.

In his younger days, the elder Paterno was frequently mentioned as a possible Republican gubernatorial candidate in Pennsylvania. The Hall of Fame Coach also gave a seconding speech for the first President Bush at the Republican National Convention in 1988. (Contrary to public opinion, Joe Paterno did not give the nominating speech for Abraham Lincoln in 1860, though Joe was spotted in the crowd in Chicago).

Jay's brother Scott, a Republican lawyer, was an unsuccessful candidate for Congress a few years ago.

(None of this is surprising. Football coaches, like senior military officers, are seldom flaming liberals. You didn't see Woody Hayes campaigning for George McGovern, did you? Ben Schwarzwalder didn't frolic naked in the mud at Woodstock, did he? And Amos Alonzo Stagg never campaigned for socialist Eugene V. Debs' presidential campaign).

But now Jay Paterno, when he's not designing Penn State's new spread offense, is supporting Barack Obama. Here's an excerpt from e-mail I received from Jay the other day:

Last Wednesday night I attended a meeting of Penn State Students for Obama. It was a moving, inspiring sight. In the group of roughly 50-60 students there were white men and women, Black men and women, and even two citizens of foreign countries. It was a gathering of people from small towns and big cities all coming together to start a group to support Obama.

During the meeting we were asked to stand up and introduce ourselves and tell everyone why we were there. Roughly half of the young people there mentioned that they had lacked any interest in politics...until they heard Obama speak. They talked about how he inspired them, they talked about how they were just here to support the man and the hope he holds out for the future.

In light off all the bad news, pessimism and conflict we are promised by so many candidates maybe it is time for Obama. Maybe inspiration and uplifting our souls is the #1 issue in the minds of people.

Beginning with my generation--a generation of young white people who began to embrace black culture and hip-hop and rap music--and now through a generation that largely looks at race as nearly meaningless--we have come to see people as fellow human beings. We want to go beyond conflict and come to resolutions.

Maybe Obama's campaign is short on specific policy explanations--who is to say? Maybe we shouldn't care. I don't believe that someone who has beliefs set in stone is qualified to be my president. I want someone who can adjust to an ever-changing reality and constantly adapt--that's what I have to do in my job.

We've had 16 years of baby-boomer rule and where are we? Bill Clinton told us in his last State of The Union Speech in January of 2000 that we lived in a unique time of economic prosperity with no outside threats to our security. Less than two years later--due to forces that were in motion when he made that speech--we were in recession and at war after being attacked. Yet these are the same people who now claimed they saw this coming?

It has been 16 years--not just 8 years--of politicians who lead by division--even though the vast majority of Americans are centrists who generally agree on a large number of issues.

It is time to be inspired, to dream to hope.

The road of the pessimist has taken us nowhere.

As I met so many young people who are now not only willing to help, but also to get involved in the process I can't help but be moved. I can not help but think that inclusion is a direct result of the motivation of Obama. These are young people who never even voted before now.

Robert F Kennedy said, "Some men see things as they are and ask why? I dream things that never were and ask why not?"

That is a fancy way of saying "Yes, We Can".

No matter how you want to say it, it is time to elect someone who wants to create dreams, someone who wants to work together to accomplish big goals, someone who dares to have hope.

Jay Paterno

Way to go, Jay!
(Although, strictly from an age viewpoint, rather than politics, I didn't cotton to that shot about "baby-boomer rule").

And...for those people who complain about the Obama proposals being vague, please consider his 64-page "Blueprint for Change" available on the senator's website.

Meanwhile, someone born the same year as Joe Paterno quit his job this week. I speak, of course, of Fidel Castro. (How's that for a segue, folks?)


For a precise translation of Castro's resignation speech, check out "Something Awful's website.

Adios cabrón,


Monday, February 25, 2008

And the Oscar goes to...

Patty here...

You all watched the Oscars last night (I know you did), so it's time for a little Monday morning quarterbacking. Below are some of the winners. So, did any win surprise you? Disappoint you? Who got cheated? Which win was most deserved? And what about the hosting abilities of John Stewart? Personally, I was elated that Marion Cotillard won for La Vie en Rose, because she was transcendent as Edith Piaf. The biggest surprise for me was Tilda Swinton's win for Michael Clayton. I was sure the Oscar would go to either Cate Blanchett or Ruby Dee. What say you?

Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men (Winner)
There Will Be Blood

George Clooney in Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood (Winner)
Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Tommy Lee Jones in In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises

Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men (Winner)
Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson's War
Hal Holbrook in Into the Wild
Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton

Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie in Away from Her
Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose (Winner)
Laura Linney in The Savages
Ellen Page in Juno

Cate Blanchett in I'm Not There
Ruby Dee in American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan in Atonement
Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton (Winner)

Ratatouille (Winner)
Surf's Up

American Gangster - Art Direction: Arthur Max; Set Decoration - Beth A. Rubino
Atonement - Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
The Golden Compass - Art Direction: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Art Direction: Dante Ferretti; Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo (Winner)
There Will Be Blood Art Direction: Jack Fisk; Set Decoration: Jim Erickson

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - Roger Deakins
Atonement - Seamus McGarvey
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Janusz Kaminski
No Country for Old Men - Roger Deakins
There Will Be Blood - Robert Elswit (Winner)

Across the Universe - Albert Wolsky
Atonement - Jacqueline Durran
Elizabeth: The Golden Age - Alexandra Byrne (Winner)
La Vie en Rose - Marit Allen
Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street - Colleen Atwood

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Julian Schnabel
Juno - Jason Reitman
Michael Clayton - Tony Gilroy
No Country for Old Men - Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (Winner)
There Will Be Blood - Paul Thomas Anderson

No End in Sight
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience
Taxi to the Dark Side (Winner)

Freeheld (Winner)
La Corona (The Crown)
Salim Baba
Sari's Mother

The Bourne Ultimatum (Winner)
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Into the Wild
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Beaufort Israel
The Counterfeiters Austria (Winner)
Katyn Poland
Mongol Kazakhstan
12 Russia

Happy Monday!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Earth to J

from Jacqueline

Oh, it’s been a fine old week I must say. I finally began my travels on Sunday, jetting off to Houston, where Murder By The Book hosted the first event of my book tour. And what a great evening it was too! Funny thing happened, though, that I have to recount. Following my talk about AN INCOMPLETE REVENGE, the audience lined up to have yours truly sign their books. About half-way through, a very nice lady explained that she had promised her husband she’d come along as he was a big fan of my books, in fact, they were both fans of my books. I said it was a shame he couldn’t come himself, at which point she plonked down an impressive cloth patch with space shuttle embroidered on it. This was not something you bought at the Discovery store. “Well,” she said, “he couldn’t come because he’s landing the space shuttle.” This being Houston, I imagined an Ed Harris at mission control kind of guy in front of a computer screen barking instructions such as, “Clear to land, Atlantis. Welcome Home.” So I thanked her for the lovely patch and looked at it again. Then the light-bulb in my befuddled brain went on.
“So, where is your husband exactly?”
“On the space shuttle.”
“Up there?” (pointing at Murder By The Book’s ceiling)
“And he sent you here to get my book?”
Nods head.

I’m sending the patch to my dad, who loves anything to do with space. Fancy that. A bloke up there (well, down here now) reads my books.

On to Phoenix, where Our Cornelia and I did a mystery duet on Tuesday evening at Poisoned Pen. Barbara Peters was in fine form as she directed questions at us, and of course we had a blast. And it was great seeing fellow mystery writer, Rhys Bowen in the audience. Cornelia had us all riveted with her tales of the real crazy school, and as we retired to sign books, I saw our dear ministering angel with her arm around a young woman who could barely control her tears - another former student of that terrible school had come to listen to Cornelia, and the painful memories had become too much. It broke my heart just to see the poor girl. You’ve done a good thing in writing that book Cornelia, something that goes beyond a contribution to literature.

In any case, here’s a shot of Cornelia and me after the event.

Travel has brought its share of interesting encounters, however, it was something of a lesson to observe and reflect today, as my flight from Phoenix to San Francisco was delayed due to the ever-predictable fog at SFO. I just sat back to read this month’s copy of Outside magazine (it was the special feature on eco-resorts that tempted me) until the flight was called. However the guy next to me was beside himself. Talk about grumble! On and on and on. He stuck his bluetooth thing in his ear (and I’m sorry, those things are just too silly), and made phone call after ‘phone call, complaining to whoever was stuck on the end of the line. This is why one has to be able to slip into Zen mode in airports. Ommmmmmm. Every time I glanced sideways at him, his face had become more florid. That could be me, I thought. That could be me if I let the travel get to me. Angioplasty waiting to happen. Now, something I’ve done, ever since I was a kid, is say out loud the thing I’m thinking in my mind. And I don’t mean sharing one’s beliefs, or something like that. I mean those thoughts that really should be kept to yourself. And no, I don’t do it all the time, just occasionally. So I promise, I really didn’t mean to say, out loud, “Oh, do stop bloody moaning!” Wish I’d’ve said it sooner, because he piped down.

At Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe, I was invited to choose a book after I’d given my talk and signed books. Oh, isn’t it nice when that happens? The bookaholic's equivalent of being  let loose in a candy store. I leaped at the chance to acquire Natalie Goldberg’s new book, “Old Friend From Far Away,” about writing memoir. I think I have learned more about writing by studying memoir and the techniques of first-person writing, than from any other endeavor, save just reading and writing, so I like to dip into the odd memoir-writing book now and again. Here’s what I love about Goldberg’s books – she gives you an assignment, and then says, “Go.” And that sums up a lot of what getting your writing going is all about: Go. In one exercise, she asked the reader, “If you could have only one memory, what would it be?” And I was surprised by what I very quickly noted, as I waited for that ‘plane:

My dad keeps an old plastic ice-cream container on the counter for table scraps and odds and ends of leftover food. He is very careful about what kind of food goes into that container, because he feeds the fox who lives in the wood. In truth, he feeds more than one fox, but it is always the same fox who claims the offering. And he doesn’t leave food every day, because a wild animal shouldn’t be encouraged to depend on man, but leftovers now and then won’t hurt. My dad and this fox have never met, not in the way that friends meet. They acknowledge each other across the no-man’s land of a trail between the edge of the field at the back of the house, and the wood. Dad empties the food close to the trees, and when he has retreated to the field, the fox comes out to see what’s on the menu. One morning last year, while staying with my parents, I went out for a walk just as the mist was rising to meet the day. I walked for a couple of miles, then circled back across the old railway bridge to approach the house through a neighboring farm. I clambered over a fence just in time to see my dad leave the garden by the back gate and begin to walk towards the wood. At the same time, I turned and saw the fox, red with diamond eyes and coal-black nose, slinking across a field on the south side of the wood, towards my father. Neither knew I was there, though the fox stopped for just a second with his nose to the air, as if he knew an interloper was present. The fox went on, into the wood, and I watched him watching my father as he knelt down to empty the scraps. Dad stood up and began to walk back to the house, and the fox approached. Then my father turned around, and their eyes met. Dad smiled, lifted his hand and touched the peak of his cap, as if he were greeting a friend on the street. Then he waved and went on his way, the fox watching his every move.

I think I love that memory, because my dad taught me to respect nature. I will never forget the way he raised his hand and touched his cap, as if recognizing an equal.

So .... if you could have only one memory, what would it be? GO!

Do You Like Book Signings?

By James O. Born

Here’s the last of the Burn Zone updates. At least for a while.

The launch party for Burn Zone was at Murder on the Beach in Delray Beach, Florida. It was a great time with a crowd that downed a fair amount of alcohol. Some of you may not know it but the lovely Joanne Sinchuck, shown here with me while she was still sober, recently sold the store to the not quite as lovely but a good guy, Dave Wulf. Both were on hand for the festivities along with Jonathon King, several Mystery Writers of America members as well as Lisa Manuel and Karen Kendall from the Florida Romance Writers.

The next morning, bright and early, I scooted across the state to Florida’s Gulf Coast for my first stop at of the day at Circle Books in Sarasota. I ran into two Florida authors, James W. Hall and, in a surprise and momentarily scary appearance, David Hagberg. Some of you might recall that Mr. Hagberg was the subject of my short film, Pneumatics and Mnemonics. Ever the good sport he replaced the copy of Scorpion of Allah, which I blew the shit out of with a potato cannon.

In the late afternoon, I stopped by St Petersburg’s legendary Haslam’s Bookstore. Owner Ray Hinst is not only a great supporter of writers, I used him as a resource for Burn Zone. He recently retired as a Lt. Colonel in the air force and the man is smart. I mean scary smart. His store spans a full city block and has books on every subject known to man. He knows his writers too. My favorite story is that Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Sharaa was a policeman in St. Pete. This was up until The Killer Angels hit it big and later became the movie Gettysburg.

Tuesday was a stop in Coral Gables, a couple of hours south of my house at Book & Books. Mitchell Kaplan, the owner f the store and organizer of the Miami Book Fair is always a gracious host.

Here's a hint: Don't cut through Little Havana on the day Fidel Castro steps down from power. Just a little traffic delay.

The rest of the week was a blur of Borders and Barnes & Nobles where the community relations managers do a good job publicizing events and making authors feel at home.

Today I’m off to Columbia South Carolina and the South Carolina Book Festival where I will teach a “master class” in writing tomorrow, participate in a panel on crime fiction Saturday, moderate a panel on science fiction Saturday afternoon, attend a moveable brunch Sunday morning and a panel on thrillers Sunday afternoon.

This is one weird way to earn a living

Do you attend book signings? If you’re an author, do you like events? I’m curious about others thoughts on this.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Cherchez la Femme

By Cara Black

Cornelia's taking the day off and invited me to blog -- merci Cornelia! Here's some thoughts on where Murder in the Rue de Paradis, my next Aimée Leduc Investigation and eighth in the series, came from and how it always comes down to a woman...non?

Cherchez la femme...

We've all seen her whether in the pages of Elle, posing on a streetcorner in Paris, or the café near the Louvre in that flowing John Galliano; lithe, knees so thin they knock together, the pouting lips, chiseled cheekbones and thinking I could never wear that. Much less look like that.

Or the studied casual look; long tousled hair, in a trenchcoat--the Left Bank wardrobe staple--Birkin bag slung over her shoulder, lighting a cigarette and catching the eye of every man on the narrow cobbled street. In heels, thin boots, or strappy sandals, we've all seen her. In a foreign film, on a Junior college year abroad in France, the au pair down the street at 6 a.m. who looks together taking the garbage out. The Parisienne with that je ne sais quoi air and looking right elegant about it, non?

And with competition like that we think..forget it, right? The scarf thrown around her neck tied with an art only French women possess. I know it's genetic. And I don't have that gene.
Or their hair's held up in a chignon and they hang out at La Coupole like Simone de Beauvoir writing books, waiting for Jean-Paul Sartre and taking that last drag on their Gauloise before plunging into more Existential thought.

Ok, no more moaning and feeling inadequate, American femmes...some Frenchwomen (matter of fact a lot who I know) have no closet of designer wear and rush to the Metro for work, like the rest of us mortals. But I've never seen a woman applying mascara on the subway like I have in New York.

I wanted to investigate, cherchez these femmes and see what the ordinaire Parisienne might have (besides the gene pool, an appreciation of wine that seems to come with birth and sitting on Papa's knee every Sunday during the long lunch, a way to say those "R" words that seem to make words growl and spit like one's going to hawk up) a little contrast to the made-up look.

Time to look beyond the mystique...why these femmes were not only thin but looked eternal question many of us ask ourselves.

And with boulangeries on almost every street with this in the window?

Smoking? As of Jan 1, 2008, France banned smoking in public places - prohibited in bars, cafés, brasseries, bistros... but one can still bring one's dog.

I checked the smoking and non-smoking temperature in late January in Paris. Despite the cold crisp air, smokers took to the trottoirs - outdoor pavements - gave a Gallic shrug and as far as I could see lit up and went back into the café, bistro, etc., and finished their espresso.

No big deal and even the daily papers were surprised at no big demonstrations or infractions. Not only that my two good friends, smokers, had quit! What's going on here? Do they go to the gym? Why, my friend shrugged, walking up the hills of Montmartre in my heels gives me exercise enough. Point taken.

Or trawling the flea markets like these ladies

And then my husband said next time you're in the street in the Latin Quarter or near Pigalle, just stop and look around. Did they drive these?

Not likely. He suggested I focus on one woman and write down what I saw. Well, I did. I found her. She wore nothing flashy, designer, no thousand Euro Birkin bag but she did look put together, something I rarely achieve.

Simple, and with a style all her own. This is what I saw: black boots with a short Louis heel, black pants, a good handbag--leather, sleek and simple--slim leather coat that hit her knees, a splash of color around her neck--a wool, polka-dot scarf knotted at her throat, and running for the bus.

It was that put-together look, singular, stylish and all her own. My husband reiterated that it was all about putting together what you owned and, let's face it, he said, a Parisienne invests in a good pair of boots, handbag, a coat and the rest... well, she mixes and matches to great effect.

And then, because I strolled through the tenth arrondissement near the Gare du Nord in the quartier known as Little Istanbul to get to the library archives, I saw another woman. She wore a black chador, her head covered with a dark blue scarf; young, in her twenties. Attractive and in a hurry. She stopped in a corner epicerie, an "everything" kind of shop, to buy an umbrella since it had started to rain. A slow insistent kind of Paris rain. Good idea so I went in to buy one, too.

And when she reached inside her chador for her bag I stood behind her in line and a whiff of Chantilly perfume wafted, slight but lingering. I saw a flash of red and sparkle of gold jewelry around her neck. What else was beneath that chador? I could only guess but it sparked my interest. A stylish suit, a dress, a pair of designer jeans? But her leather bag caught my attention, expensive, lambskin and soft like butter, I could tell that much.

So here was another Parisiene femme... my mind whirled. And what a perfect cover; she could be a student, a mother, an office worker. And because a mystery writer's mind works in bizarre ways, I thought "what if a woman used that to thwart the authorities and get away with murder. What if she was an assassin, a hit woman...who would look twice at her or demand to see beneath her chador?"

OK, I'm twisted and see into things most people wouldn't but why not? Why not pit Aimée Leduc, my computer security detective against her, this woman who could blend into any crowd, any shop, any street corner in the arrondissement and no one will look twice. And why not have a nameless, unknown assassin suspected of taking out Aimée's investigative journalist boyfriend Yves at dawn on the rue de Paradis just a block over? The only witness recounting a swirl of a black chador disappearing down the passage...

And so Murder in the Rue de Paradis, Aimée Leduc's eighth investigation was born.

Hope to see you in March when it comes out, all my events are on . Please come by!