Monday, June 30, 2008

An insider's take on publishing and an important announcement

Patty here…

I was shuffling through some papers on Friday when I came across a speech titled “The Economics of Publishing,” which was delivered by Otto Penzler at a Mystery Writers of America/New England Chapter meeting in April of 1999. Penzler is a well-known editor, publisher, and bookstore owner. Here is some of what he had to say:

“Why are you trying to write? It makes sense only for people with a creative urge not satisfied in other ways and who have other means of support. If you need to earn a living from this, I’m suggesting that you reconsider. Many of you—no mater how talented you are—are not going to get published. If you do, you are not going to become a success. Even if you are published and have success, you won’t make it multi-million big. Very few people do.”

He goes on to talk about what happens when and if your agent is able to get your manuscript into the hands of a publisher.

“When the manuscript gets in-house, unless the agent or writer has a track record as a star, the manuscript is read first by a first reader or junior editor. It moves from junior editor to assistance editor to editor. Assuming they all like it, the editor takes it to a weekly marketing meeting. This meeting includes such people as the directors of advertising, publicity, sales, and art. The editor has to convince the committee that it’s saleable, and that it may actually make money.”

Most books, he concludes, do not make money and here’s why. As an example, Penzler uses a $10,000 advance and a per book cost of $20.00.

“10,000 x $20 does not add up to $200,000. The average discount to bookstores, libraries, etc is 48%, which means that if the whole run sells out, the publisher gets $104,000. Almost never does the whole run sell out. If the author is lucky, 7,500 copies will sell—a “75% sell-through,” a very good percentage. (50% is more typical.) This means the publisher actually gets 75% of that $104,000, or $78,000.”

According to Penzler, here’s where the rest of the money goes:

Book Sales 78,000

Advance to author 10,000
Line editing 200
Typesetting 3,000
Cover design 3,000
Dust jacket printing 4,000
Prepare printing process 1,000
Printing ($3/book) 30,000
Advertising/promo ($1/book)* 10,000
Royalties to author (less adv)** 5,844


*Usually includes only a prorated share of the catalog space and small ads in local newspapers
**Generally 10% of the cover price on the first 5,000 copies, 12.5% on the next 5,000, and 15% of all copes over 10,000.

Penzler notes that the drain on profit doesn’t stop there. The publisher must also deduct overhead, which he estimates as 15% of sales or a flat fee, usually $20,000, leaving the publisher in the hole to the tune of $9044. The house may be able to recoup some of that loss by selling subsidiary rights (book clubs, foreign rights, audio rights), but in the publishing world, there are no guarantees.

I first read this article in July 2005 and remember feeling slightly queasy. It still leaves me feeling astonished that anybody can get a book published these days. On the other hand, somebody has to be multi-million big. It might as well be you. May the force be with you!

Happy Monday!


The first and only rule at Naked Authors is that there are no rules. For the past 2+ years we have tried to entertain you with our posts and hope that we have occasionally succeeded. However, it’s summer and since many of you are going on vacation, we decided to join you. Each of us will regale you this week on his or her regular day, including this Saturday, when you’ll hear from our very own James Grippando. This is no time to lurk, so please stop by and share your thoughts. As of Sunday, we Naked Authors will be heading for the beach.

If you haven't already done so, please subscribe to Naked Authors so we can e-mail you when we begin posting again (I’m sure we’ll all have gained some wisdom about literature and life over the summer). Here’s how: At the bottom of the right column is a box. Above it are the words "enter your e-mail." Do that. Then press “Subscribe me!” That’s all you have to do. You can unsubscribe at any time. We’ll miss you. We hope you'll miss us, too.

Happy Summer!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Do Not Wait For The Bell To Toll

from Jacqueline

The Book Passage Mystery Writers’ Conference began today (Thursday), and I am tired already. But it’s a good tired, the fatigue that sets in after doing a worthy day’s work. As co-chair, I’m back there tomorrow morning, and again on Saturday and Sunday. Our Cornelia is on the faculty, one of about eight “conference alumni” who are here this year on the teaching side.

There are many aspects of the conference that I love, but the best thing is that it is truly all about the students, who by the end of four days of lectures, workshops, practical sessions and “in conversation” debates and dialogues, go home filled with (among other things) resolve to do what it takes to become a published author. This journey is not for the faint-hearted, so I take my hat off to the students. In attending the conference they are making an important statement: I am a writer. Not “will be” or “hope to be” but “am” a writer. They’re walking the talk.

It’s amazing how many writers have had to come to the brink of something untoward or go through a difficult time before they galvanize themselves to write a book. For Lee Child, it was being laid off at work. Check this out, from June 22nd’s Guardian newspaper:

“Fired from his job at Granada Television at the age of 40, Lee Child was suddenly on the scrapheap with a family to support. Refusing to panic, he spent £3.99 on paper and pencils with the ambition of writing the biggest-selling book in the world's biggest market: America.

Thirteen years later, Child reaches the summit today when his 12th novel, Nothing to Lose, starring his anti-hero Jack Reacher, goes straight to number one in the New York Times hardback fiction list, 10 places ahead of Sebastian Faulks's James Bond rework Devil May Care. It is the culmination of a breakthrough year in which he has also had the number one paperback in America and topped both charts in Britain - a quadruple thought to be unique for a crime writer.”

Jeffrey Archer wrote “First Among Equals” when he was absolutely skint and looking at the business end of bankruptcy (known to fly close to the wind, is Jeffrey). I think he wrote it in about two weeks.

I had been noodling around with my first novel for a few months when I had a really bad accident. I knew I needed to finish that book or lose my sanity while off work for months on end, unable to drive and living in a rural area with no public transportation services. But the bottom line is that it took that accident to tip me into a writing frenzy.

So, if you’re an unpublished writer out there, or you’ve always wanted to write that book but didn’t know where to start – take heed. Do not wait until life throws you a big old curve ball before you begin or even to take the next step toward publication. When the universe hits you with a two by four it tends to hurt. So, do it now. Just get in there, get in the game and write.

Or on the other hand, maybe it works to let Fate take a hand. Trouble is, you never know quite what Fate has in store.

And on another matter, I just had to share this with you. Cornelia and I were perusing the shelves of rather old books yesterday (Book Passage sells used books on behalf of the local hospice), and came across a 1936 publication entitled: “Be Glad You’re Neurotic.” We cracked up laughing at that one, and I knew I just had to have that book. So, for your reading pleasure, here’s the first paragraph:

“The prefatory note of a book is always the excuse for its existence. Every author is conscience stricken when attempting to palm off another volume upon an already all-too-patient and always hopefully expectant Public.”

I’ve recently finished my sixth novel. Palming Off is set for next February.

Now, it’s back to the conference ....

Have a lovely weekend.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

More Random Humor

James O. Born

I recieve e-mails from a dozen people and organizations that all feature humor about their own outfit. Police organizations, military officers, lawyers, you name it, I have a friend there willing to pass on their humor. This a sampling of humor and photos I received over e-mail.

First a memo from Osmama Bin Laden ( The last issue is my favorite)

To: All Al Qaeda Fighters

From: Osama bin Laden

Subject: The Cave (Do Not Distribute Outside the Organization).

Hi guys. We've all been putting in long hours recently but we've really come together as a group and I love that! However, while we continue to fight a Jihad in this New Year, we can't forget to take care of the cave, and frankly I have a few concerns:

First of all, while it's good to be concerned about cruise missiles, we should be even more concerned about the dust in our cave. We want to avoid excessive dust inhalation, (a health and safety issue) - so we need to sweep the cave daily. I've done my bit on the cleaning rota ..have you? I've posted a sign-up sheet near the cave reception area (next to the halal toaster).

Second , it's not often I make a video address but when I do, I'm trying to scare the s**t out of most of the world's population, okay? That means that while we're taping, please do not ride your scooter in the background or keep doing the 'Wassup' thing. Thanks.

Third : Food. I bought a box of Dairylea recently, clearly wrote "Ossy" on the front, and put it on the top shelf. Today, two of my Dairylea slices were gone. Consideration. That's all I'm saying.

Fourth : I'm not against team spirit and all that, but we must distance ourselves from the Infidel's bat and ball games. Please do not chant "Ossy, Ossy, Ossy, Oy, Oy, Oy" when I ride past on the donkey. Thanks.

Five : Graffiti. Whoever wrote "OSAMA F***S DONKEYS" on the group toilet wall. It's a lie, the donkey backed into me, whilst I was relieving myself at the edge of the mountain.

Six : The use of chickens is strictly for food. Assam, the old excuse that the 'chicken backed into me, whilst I was relieving myself at the edge of the mountain' will not be accepted in future. (With donkeys, there is a grey area.)

Finally , we've heard that there may be Western soldiers in disguise trying to infiltrate our ranks. I want to set up patrols to look for them. First patrol will be Omar, Muhammad, Abdul, Akbar and Dave.

Love you lots,
Group Hug.
PS - I'm sick of having "Osama Bed Linen" scribbled on my laundry bag. Cut it out, it's not funny anymore.
A Poster I like

A simple joke:
A guy goes to the supermarket and notices an attractive woman waving at
him. She says hello. He's rather taken aback because he can't place where
he knows her from.

So, he says, "Do you know me?"

To which she replies, "I think you're the father of one of my kids."

Now his mind travels back to the only time he has ever been unfaithful to
his wife and says, "My God, are you the stripper from my bachelor party
that I made love to on the pool table with all my buddies watching while
your partner whipped my butt with wet celery?"

She looks into his eyes and says calmly, "No, I'm your son's teacher."

This is our dear friend Tom, or as you know him Tom T.O. He sent me the photo and knew I'd find the right use for it. He rocks!

Deep Thoughts For Those Who Take Life Way Too Seriously:

1. Save the whales - Collect the whole set.

2. A day without sunshine is like - Night.

3. On the other hand - you have different fingers

4. 42.7 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot.

5. 99 percent of lawyers give the rest a bad name.

6. Remember, half the people you know are below average.

7. He who laughs last thinks slowest.

8. Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm.

9. The early bird may get the worm - but the second mouse gets the cheese in the trap.

10. Support bacteria - They're the only culture some people have.

11. A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

12. Change is inevitable, except from vending machines.

13. If you think nobody cares, try missing a couple of payments.

14. How many of you believe in psycho-kinesis? Raise my hand.

15. OK, so what's the speed of dark?

16. When everything is coming your way, you're in the wrong lane.

17. Hard work pays off in the future - Laziness pays off now.

18. Every one has a photographic memory. Some just don't have film.

19. How much deeper would the ocean be without sponges?

20 Eagles may soar, but weasels don't get sucked into jet engines

21. What happens if you get scared half to death twice?

22. I couldn't repair your brakes, so I made your horn louder .

23. Why do psychics have to ask you for your name?

24. Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what happened

25. Just remember -- if the world didn't suck, we would all fall off.

26. Light travels faster than sound. That's why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

27. Life isn't like a box of chocolates . . . it's more like a jar of jalapenos. What you do today, might burn your butt tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rhymes With Duck Redux

By Cornelia

Just about two years ago, here on the Naked blog, I posted a post about what I consider to be the joys of swearing. Recently, I had an essay included in a new anthology edited by the wondrous Ellen Sussman, called Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopedia of Sex. When I was asked to be one of the DW contributors to the weeklong blog in honor of the book's  publication, it seemed a fitting time to re-examine my lifelong love of profanity.

I also revealed a bit about my former alter ego, Bunny de Plume. To read more, go here... (Bonus! Find out what my dirty word is! And also why I gave up writing pornography!) 

So far, nobody loves me on Powell's except Sharon, and she was forced to comment because I made her read the post in her own living room. Please leave me another comment, so I don't look like a total geek in front of all those literary types. 

In the meantime, I'd like to ask all of you brilliant and talented Nakeds for your help with something. This week marks the advent of the most splendid and inimitable Book Passage Mystery Writer's Conference, of which Our Jackie is co-chair. 

On Friday morning, Tim Maleeny and I will be teaching a workshop on characterization, and I'm compiling quotations which show a particular flair with revealing the characters we've come to know and love across all genres. If you've got one on hand you find particularly snazzy, please share in the comments.

I think some of the most classic character introductions in crime fiction don't hold up all too well. They can be clunky, and all too adjective-heavy. Occasionally verging on the fussy, even in supposedly he-man lit.

Take this, the first-page description of Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon (To me, all but the last line should have been cut--the rest of it is so confusing I end up picturing Spade as rather Cubist):

Sam Spade's jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down, from high flat temples--in a point on his forehead. He looked rather like a blond satan.

(oh, and p.s.? How can he look like a blond satan if he has pale brown hair?)
And here's the self-described Philip Marlowe, from page one of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep:

I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them I was neat, clean, shave and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be.

Again, he's got a nice little punch at the end, but I think a contemporary editor would have slashed the hell out of that passage anyway.

I like character intros that are a little less on the nose, a little more sleight-of-hand. Revelation by misdirection, or contrast with another character in the same room, perhaps. A slight idiosyncracy that hints at the whole iceberg lurking beneath an otherwise unruffled ocean.

Here are a few of my own faves, though I'll be searching recently read books read for more:

Sir Thomas, who was ready enough to depart, saw that an immediate escape was impossible. 

"Sir Thomas," began Mr. Pabsby, in a soft, greasy voice--a voice made up of pretense, politeness, and saliva.

--Anthony Trollope, Ralph the Heir

He hoped and prayed that there wasn't an afterlife. Then he realized there was a contradiction involved here and merely hoped that there wasn't an afterlife.

--Douglas Adams

He was full of gossip and you could trust him to know the details of the latest scandal before anyone but the parties immediately concerned. He would have stared at you with frank amazement had you suggested his existence was futile. He would have thought you distressingly plebeian.

--W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor's Edge

"A-ah!" Karmazinov said in a delighted voice. He wiped his mouth with his napkin, jumped up, and hurried forward to exchange kisses with his guest--a gesture Russians tend to make if they are really famous.

--Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Possessed

British Officer: I can't make out if you're bloody bad=mannered or just half-witted.

T.E. Lawrence: I have the same problem.

Officer: Shut up!

Lawrence: Yes, sir.

Officer: I know you've been well-educated, Lawrence. It says so in your dossier.

--Lawrence of Arabia, screenplay.

[Jaak] explained [Julya] to Arkady, "The first time I saw her she was wearing gumboots and a mattress. She's complaining about Stockholm and she came from someplace in Siberia where they take antifreeze to shit."

"That reminds me," Julya said, unfazed, "for my exit visa I may need a statement from you saying you don't have any claims on me."

"We're divorced. We have a relationship of mutual respect. Can I borrow your car?"

--Martin Cruz Smith, Red Square

And who could forget the wandering street prophet from the leafy suburban town in Peter DeVries Consenting Adults, or The Duchess Will Be Furious, who lambastes his fellow citizens with such impromptu sermons as the following:

"For the day of vengeance is at hand. 'Ye are no longer my people, ye fancy schmancy,' saith the Lord. 'Wastrels and spoiled, ye eat the tender tips of the asparagus and throw the rest away, yea that which is still edible. Lo the lean years will come when ye shall learn your lesson. Yea the entire stalk will ye eat, and glad to get it."

What's a pithy intro of a great character that's stuck with you? Thank you in advance for sharing...

Over & Out, George

From Paul

R.I.P. George Carlin:
Of all the George Carlin's routines over all the years, "I'm a Modern Man" is my favorite. It's not political; it could hardly offend anyone. It's just a marvelous bit of wordsmithery. Poetic. Funny. Smart. See it on You Tube here:

I'm hanging in;
There ain't no doubt.
And I'm hanging tough;
Over and out.

Heat Wave: Yikes, it was hot in L.A. this past weekend. Triple-digit hot. People flocked to the beach. Here they are.
No, wait! That's Coney Island in 1940. But you get the idea.
We're not the only dimwits: You thought Americans were stupid just because we can't find Iraq (or Nebraska) on a map: Sorry, Jacqueline, but Brits are dim, too. A recent poll revealed that nearly one quarter of Britons surveyed thought Winston Churchill was a fictional character. More than half believed Sherlock Holmes was real. Congratulations, then, to the fiction writer who penned:

"Never give in! Never give in! Never, never, never, never -- in nothing great or small, large or petty. Never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."


Monday, June 23, 2008

Twitter and Plurk

Patty here...

I love popular culture. The problem is I can’t keep up with all the new trends. However, thanks to David Sarno’s June 4th article in the Los Angeles Times called "Twitter this and Plurk that," at least I am, for the moment, up-to-speed. Sarno has this to say:

Shorting out the buzz-o-meter this week was a site called Plurk, whose name is a fusion of “people” and “lurk,” is the latest nanoblogging sensation. To nanoblog is to broadcast one-sentence messages to friends and readers, a concept pioneered by the now-famous Twitter: “On my way to work,” writes a Twittering suburbanite. You don’t say? Across the world—and the interest spectrum—an anti-poaching ranger in Kenya reports: “The great migration has started in the Mara; Zebras from the Musiara plains have made the first entrance."

Plurk’s spin on this genre is to make a visual timeline of reports. So now you can see at a glance when your favorite nanobloggers get up in the morning, how much coffee they drink, what they think of last night’s showing of “Sex and the City” and/or the difficulty of disarming illegal wildebeest traps.

So, off I went to visit I was immediately encouraged by the funky graphics and the jolly welcome:

“Plurk is a place that lets you publish and share your thoughts, emo-ness, #^@%!*%(& and loves.”

Emo-ness? I wanted some of that. Full of hope, I clicked on one of the plurker sites, expecting to find cyber poetry.

“Nicolee is so so hungry and can’t go to dinner because of stupid physics. This summer is going to go by so slowly.”

Poor Nicolee, I so so wanted to feel her pain, but reading about her plight didn't exactly send chills up my spine in the same way as does "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening."

"Karenh is a very good (hypothetical) rogue demon hunter."

Um…okay. A fair attempt at Cyber-Haiku.

"dsyzdek is Home for 5 minutes and the Princess has been in timeout the whole time. And lost her bedtime stories."

"Ode to a Grecian Urn?" I think not.

So, now that you know about Plurking, is it the next "big thing" or should dsyzdek and friends join Princess for a timeout?

Happy Monday!

8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8

p.s. This Saturday, June 28th, I'm going to guest blog on The Lipstick Chronicles. If you're in the neighborhood, please stop by and join the conversation.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Brave New World

from Jacqueline

I know I’ve touched upon this subject before, but I just have to go for it again. It’s the question of whether we are losing the will and ability to read. No, I’m not questioning whether you can recite your ABC’s or if you can actually read the words I’m writing here, but are we losing the intellectual stamina to read anything longer than an email and a text message?

I first started thinking about this a few years ago, after a conversation over lunch with my publisher, during which we discussed the future of books. It transpired that illustrated books for adults were considered to be a “next big thing.” As the population ages, it will need those pictures to get them through a book. I thought back to some writing I’d done a few years ago, for a magazine aimed at the over-50 market, and I was told to keep my articles to about 500-600 words, because as people aged they didn’t want to read more than that at any one time. At that point, the big 5-0 was looming out there for me, so I just thought, “Oh, no, that won’t happen to me ....”

Then yesterday, at Scottsdale airport (I'd been at our beloved Poisoned Pen bookstore), I picked up the latest Atlantic Monthly to read on the ‘plane, and the lead article had me thinking about the question of literary endurance all over again. The title: Is Google Making Us Stoopid. It’s a fair question, and the essay’s author, Nicholas Carr, asks it very well, describing the way he’s been thinking about his own thinking. “I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading.” He goes on to describe how his mind wanders, how he is distracted, and how deep reading has become a struggle. Hmmmm. I confess, I have had my moments. Re-reading Middlemarch doesn’t seem to be quite the idea it was a year ago.

The article goes on to describe a phenomenon we have come to know and understand - that our minds are being trained by the internet to dip into this, dip into that. To research a point, I no longer have to read a book, or even a well-chosen chapter, I just Google, and I’m there. Carr describes, “foraging in the Web’s info-thickets, reading and writing e-mails, scanning headlines, and blog posts, watching videos and listening to podcasts, or just tripping from link to link.” And it turns out, at University College London they've been conducting research into computer logs at the British Library and a UK-based educational consortium, and they found that people using the site exhibited a “form of skimming activity.” And so it went on. The reader’s life is no longer as we knew it.

The thing that interests me in all this, is how much people – from those who write articles such as this one in The Atlantic Monthly, to those discussing the subject – use the words “information” and “wisdom” interchangeably. And they are not the same thing. To me, the amassing of information is akin to our current obsession with “stuff.” The amount of stuff we have these days, stuff that we deem absolutely necessary to our quality of life, is almost obscene. And if we were asked to take just a few things because the house was about to burn down (or foreclosed!), we’d soon find out how much useless stuff we’ve managed to wrap around ourselves and what we truly care for and need. Information is like that. Knowledge, however, is akin to spun silk. Information is simply a batch of facts. It's "clothes" not couture. Knowledge has to do with every cell of the body, and it is a pre-requisite for wisdom, thus is it all but unachievable - as the truly wise would gladly tell us if we did but listen. Knowledge is a path. Information a destination for a given purpose. Knowledge is perennial. Information flowers once.

I'm not a Luddite, but I would love to know where all this "progress" is going. I see more books being published than ever before, I see kids happily reading a 700-page Harry Potter book, and at the same time, I was told by a teacher a couple of years ago, that increasingly kids are having trouble with books because they don’t know how to imagine, because it’s being done for them with the electronic imagery they’ve been brought up with. Ah, Electrickery.

And before I leave you (having written over 700 words, I’ve pushed the envelope enough already), I wonder if you all saw the cover of last week’s New Yorker. I cut it out and pasted it on the refridgerator. It was, I think, one of the saddest covers ever. It depicted a bookstore owner unlocking the door to his shop, while at the same time his neighbor is receiving a box of books from Amazon.

Ah, brave, brave new world.

Have a lovely weekend. Do yourself a favor, read a good long book. Middlemarch, anyone? Crime and Punishment? 2001 by Arthur C. Clarke?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Support System

James O. Born

Character Actors

I love movies. I watch old ones, new ones, good ones, bad ones, if the story grabs me, I’m happy to go.

In my opinion, most movies are made by the supporting actors. I don’t know why, I think it was my father’s influence, but I love good character actors. They are so vital to any film or TV show that without them I hardly bother to watch. Few people appreciate the impact of a fine supporting actor who never graduates to the role of “star”.

Most character actors are known by face and not by name. This is my attempt to put a name to the face and recognize their accomplishments. I lean toward comedy, even if it is just comic relief in a serious film. I’m fascinated by the successful actors who appear in more films than anyone but get only a nod on the street as if we’ve seen someone we recognize from the sotre or the neighborhood.

A good character actor must, at once not over showdown the star or story, but also be so compelling and unique that we bother to learn their names.

While watching the 1976 movie The Shootist the other day, I was reminded of this fact whenever Harry Morgan was on screen. We all know him as Colonel Potter from MASH or, if a little older, as Joe Friday from Dragnet, but he pops up in more funny old westerns than you can count. 1971’s Support Your Local Gunfighter with James Gardner is the perfect example. His energy is infectious, especially in The Shootist.

Holland Taylor is gaining a following from her Emmy award winning performance on the CBS show Two and Half Men. She is the ultimate, beautiful, witty, sarcastic, cynical older woman and is a genius. From much earlier shows like Tom Hank’s first big break, Bosom Buddies or Tia Leone’s short-lived but funny The Naked Truth, Ms Taylor commands the screen and our attention.

Steve Buscemi has a better known name and face but he’s earned it through quirky roles and fine acting. From his role in the later years of The Sopranos or his appearances in films like The Big Lebowski or Amageddon, to his stellar performance in Fargo he can be considered the king of the current crop of true character actors. His odd looks only emphasize the humanity in a guy equally at ease playing a mobster or a genius engineer with a weakness for strippers.

These are just a few of my favorite character actors but I’m always on the lookout for more.

Who do you look for onscreen? Alfred Molina? Bob Hoskins? Agnes Morehead?

I’d like to know.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Fire Inside

By Cornelia

This has been a week of fires. First all kinds of wild fires, around the Bay Area. And then, the night before last, a monitor fire.

"What is a monitor fire?" you may well ask.

It is a fire that occurs inside one's monitor, I may well answer.

In this case, the groovy 2001-looking monitor that came with the Mac Cube computer I bought off craigslist, back in 2000.

I was just sitting there at the keyboard, minding my own business, when all of a sudden the screen went dark. I tried restarting, and there was a little "pop!" noise. And then a couple of minutes later everything smelled like old televisions,

followed by a small upward trickle of smoke coming out of the vent holes at the top of the thing, accompanied by a slight orange glow inside it. I could see inside it, because the shell of the thing is made of clear plastic.

"Dude!" I exclaimed.

The others in the living room were busy ignoring both So You Think You Can Dance and, apparently, me and my exclamation.


That got their attention.

We hustled to unplug all the cables and everything, and then I hoisted the entire thing up and shlepped it outside. And there it rests, on top of an old bench, screen-down.

I think I should give it a nice Viking funeral by putting it on a flaming boat and shoving it out to sea or something.

We've had a good run. I wrote two novels on the thing, despite the fact that my daughter Lila scraped swirls of the reflective coating off the screen with the point of a broken pencil, somewhere circa mid-2003, and the hard disk crapped out last summer.

We survived the "surprise" update to OS X my husband and brother perpetrated while I was in Paris, two years ago. They meant well, but managed to lose over 1200 songs I'd downloaded from Napster.

We met through craiglist, as I mentioned earlier. I responded to an ad that read something like "Must sell brand-new Mac Cube! Emergency! Loaded with Software!" (ah yes, also "lost" during that "surprise" upgrade). The guy selling it was a freshman at UC Berkeley. I met him in a parking garage, just off campus, with my kids in the back seat of my then-car, a Porsche. We had to take the components out of their boxes because they wouldn't fit in the car while packed up. I put the monitor in the front seat and wrapped the belt around it, and put everything else in the trunk up front.

As I closed the passenger door, I turned to the kid who was selling it.

"So what was the emergency?" I asked, hoping he wasn't going to say "I need my leg amputated, but don't have health insurance" or something.

"Oh, right," he said. "I need a down payment for a Corvette. My parents wouldn't co-sign the loan."

And out of his moral laxity, a great techno-love was born.

I've been writing book three on this laptop, and haven't figured out how to use the mousepad thingie to copy images, so no pictures this week either. I had to tear myself away from the Cube to get anything done. The siren call of the blogs was too strong to resist, and before this I didn't set up the internet access on this thing so I couldn't check email or anything when I left the house to write.

I just got an extension on my deadline until July 1st, and it looks like things will be in shape to send in by then. But I'll miss the old Cube, damn it. Leave it to a long-faithful computer like that to go out in a blaze of glory.

Have you ever loved a computer? Fess up...

Mean Quotes

From Paul's Poisoned Pen...

Two days ago, in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, author and Professional Nasty Person Gore Vidal was asked:
How did you feel when you heard that [William F.] Buckley died this year?

I thought hell is bound to be a livelier place, as he joins forever those whom he served in life, applauding their prejudices and fanning their hatred.

Forty years ago, Buckley and Vidal nearly came to blows when debating the First Amendment -- there's a joke in that, I'm sure -- on live network television. Gore called Buckley a "crypto-Nazi" and Buckley replied: "Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I'll punch you in the goddamn face and you'll stay plastered."

You can watch the extraordinary film clip at

The feud never ended, not even with Buckley's death. Writers have long sharpened their steak knives on the flanks of other writers. Herewith a few examples, beginning with the classic shot at Lillian Hellman by Mary McCarthy:

"Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'

Then there's...

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." William Faulkner regarding Ernest Hemingway

"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"
Ernest Hemingway on William Faulkner

Faulkner was particularly nasty. He called Mark Twain a "hack writer" and said that Henry James "was one of the nicest old ladies I ever met."

Virginia Woolf described James Joyce's "Ulysses" as "the work of a queasy undergraduate squeezing his pimples." [Ah, so now I understand that confounding book!]

And this...

"The cruelest thing that has happened to Lincoln since he was shot by Booth has been to fall into the hands of Carl Sandburg." Edmund Wilson

But then...

"Edmund Wilson's careful and pedestrian and sometimes rather clever book reviews misguide one into thinking there is something in his head besides mucilage." Raymond Chandler

Finally, perhaps the most well known literary put-down of our time: Truman Capote's description of Jack Kerouac's work: "That's not writing; that's typewriting."

That's all the typewriting for today, folks. Feel free to take a shot at any writer (or anyone else), if you so desire.


Monday, June 16, 2008


Patty here…

I spent two days last week traveling the highways and byways of Los Angeles and Orange Counties with tour manager, media escort, and all around great guy, the indefatigable Ken Wilson. When he’s not with people like me, he manages the tours of high-profile authors like Janet Evanovich.

I’ve toured with Ken before and it’s always a rewarding experience. During the time we were together, he introduced me to booksellers, hyped Cool Cache with charm and finesse, and entertained me with a glorious array of compelling stories, like his encounter with the bear fence. It gives me chills just thinking about it. He also treated me to my only star sighting last week, Al Pacino on a street in Santa Monica. Here's Ken on the left with Nick from the B&N at the Westside Pavilion.

One afternoon, Ken and I were having coffee with a bookseller. During a lull in the conversation, she turned to me and said, “Did anyone ever tell you, you look like Kim Cattrall?” This was the second time in as many days that someone had made this comparison, because “Sex and the City” is in theatres and Ms. Cattrall’s picture is everywhere.

It was flattering of her to say that, but, in fact, I don’t look anything like Kim Cattrall except that we both have shoulder-length blond hair. And maybe—just maybe—someone might compare the sexy little mole beneath her lip with one of my GIANT freckles, sun damage from my misspent youth.

That was not the first time I’ve been told I look like someone other than me. In the past, people have compared me to Rosanna Arquette. (I think because we both have a bit of an overbite.) And Jill Clayburgh. (Okay, I sort of see that one.) And David Cassidy (Decoding this requires a shrink and a very dry martini.)

I don’t compare the characters in my books to famous people, because a wise person once told me it was lazy writing. I just try to describe the person and let the reader draw his or her own conclusions. On the other hand, I began to wonder if I was missing out on some fun. To test my theory, I studied the photos of my fellow Naked Authors. At first blush, they looked just like themselves. Then I took a second glance.

Cornelia Read: Our very own debutante appears wide-eyed and wistful and those pink rosebud lips make you just want to pat her hand and call her sweetie.

Then you see the sharp corners of that black leather jacket and you recall the dazzling narrative voice of her tough-talking heroine, Madeline Dare, and think—oh dear! Still, at her core I see the sweetness and the vulnerability sort of like Reese Witherspoon...

...okay, so maybe Reese Witherspoon running for student body president at The Crazy School.

Jaqueline Winspear: Our J is wise, grounded, and multi-talented, a person of substance that we all feel fortunate to call friend.

She is not content to gloss over the tough issues. Her compassion compels her to dig deep like the Messenger of Truth, she is, sort of like Diane Sawyer channeling Mother Theresa with a British accent.

Paul Levine: In his author photo, Paulie is sporting an irreverent smile that promises a little fun, perhaps at your expense. Then you look closer at his picture and you notice that he has this really amazing hair. So if you’re a guy you’re thinking, “How can he be such a great writer AND have hair like that? It’s so unfair.” If you’re a woman, you’re thinking, “How can he be such a great writer AND have hair like that? I wonder if he’s single.”

Even if he didn’t have hair, Paulie would still be a talented guy and a prince of a fellow, sort of like this guy except with a multi-book contract.

Wait a minute…the hair, the impish grin…nah, couldn’t be.

James O. Born: James O is a complex guy. In addition to being a successful law enforcement officer and a writer of award-winning novels, he’s a practical joker and a devoted dad.

He’s also gracious and generous, but don’t tell anyone I said that because he might shoot one of my books with his potato gun. Deep down, I suspect James O is the love child of Dirty Harry

and June Cleaver.

That was fun, but now it’s your turn to type.

Happy Monday!

P.S. This Friday, June 20th, I'm going to be interviewed by Hank Phillippi Ryan on the Jungle Red Writers blog. If you're in the neighborhood, please stop by and keep me company.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer

from Jacqueline

Last weekend I finally finished the manuscript for my next novel and have just embarked upon my first revision. This may sound strange, but I have never actually revised a manuscript beyond a quick spell-check before sending it to my editor. I’ve never had the time. Then I go through a couple of revisions based upon my own reading and editorial comments, and that’s it, done. Never to be seen again until an advance review copy lands at my door, and I start to read and want to scream because I see all the things I should have seen before I sent the manuscript out into the world. But along with that scream, there’s also a sense of relief. It’s done. I actually managed to write another book. From the depths of “I don’t think I can do this ....” as I looked at the blank page in January, to the point at which I knew how the final scene would look, I managed to do what I thought I would never be able to do again. Funny, that. And I’m already starting to agonize over the next one.

So, here I am, knowing that in a few weeks, that will be me, done for the summer. The revisions will be completed and I’ll be off the hook for a little while. It’s like being let out of school. I’ve already started imagining all the things I’ll be doing. I’ll ride for another hour in the morning. I’ll drag out the harp and start playing again. I’ll paint pictures. But what do I always end up doing? What’s my treat to myself? I write. I’ll write a few short stories (which remain tucked away in a folder on my desktop), I’ll go back to that memoir and start revising it again, and of course, I’ll also try to pull that other novel together, the one that I wrote last summer but want to go back to because it needs one heck of a lot more work and summer is the time. Then there’s the book that might be the start of a new series, the one I just had to get out onto the page while working on this most recent manuscript, because if I didn’t it would have rolled around in my head and the characters would have distracted me no end.

For me, every book I’ve written has been different in terms of how the words have come from my mind to the page. If I have a muse, it’s as if I’m at the mercy of her emotions, how she feels on a given day. She should be on hormone therapy. When I wrote my first novel, the one that took the longest to write, the only thing that drew out the process was the fact that I was working full-time and had a bad, bad accident in the middle. The second novel terrified me. How would I ever pull this off again? I knew I would be revealed as a fake, so I was glad to have that day job. With the third novel I began to feel like a runner who was finally wearing a pair of shoes that didn’t pinch at the toes. I had the story in my head, I knew I had done this thing before, so I could probably do it again, and of course I was convinced that someone would send the heavy mob around to knee-cap me if I missed a deadline.

The next novel was a different matter all together. Drip, drip, drip, so slowly came the words, though I still wrote a book in just a few months, because I had to, because that’s the way it works when you do book tours, do a lot of research and then also have to write. You do what you can, when you can. But that drip, drip, drip scared me, in fact, I think I even wrote the image in to the book. The next novel surprised me, because far from dripping, all I had to do was shoot that water cannon at the page, and the words just flew into sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and before I knew it, I had the end in sight as I came down the long stretch.

So, that’s how it goes, this business of writing. People often ask me if I have a special place to write, if I have rituals, and if I meditate before writing. The answer to all of the above is, “No.” I have a blank page in front of me and a deadline to meet. With a bit of luck, I’ll have a scene or two in my head, an advancement of the narrative rolling around in my mind, but it’s nothing unless it’s on that blank page, and a blank page to a writer is a bit like a millpond on a sunny morning before the water has had a chance to draw in the heat of the day. You just know you’ve got to dive in, and you know it will hurt for a while, but experience tells you you’ll weather that initial shock to the system, and you just hope you’ll warm up and start swimming across. Drowning isn’t an option, especially for the professional writer with a deadline and the aspiring writer with a dream. It’s just what you do. You’re a writer.

Taking Cornelia’s lead, I was going to use Photo Booth on the computer to show you the smug look of someone who has just met that deadline. But me, first thing on a Friday morning? I don’t think so ....

Have a lovely weekend.

Aw, heck, changed my mind ...

This is the one without a glass of champagne. That'll come when I've sent back the galleys.

(PS: I'm sure I've used the title of this post for a previous post, but never mind - it's one of my Dad's favorite songs. He's a real Nat King Cole fan).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Application to Date My Daughter

James O. Born

For fathers everywhere, this application was sent to me over e-mail by a friend of mine. This is nothing compared to the application boys must fill out to visit my daughter in her barred room.

This is unedited. I apologize if it offends anyone. If you'd like to make yourself feel better, feel free to make redneck jokes, weight jokes or stupid cop jokes.

Now, in honor of father's day:

APPLICATION FOR PERMISSION TO DATE MY DAUGHTER NOTE: This application will be incomplete and rejected unless accompanied by a complete financial statement, job history, lineage, and current medical report from your doctor. NAME_____________________________________ DATE OF BIRTH_____________ HEIGHT___________ WEIGHT____________ IQ__________ GPA_____________ SOCIAL SECURITY #_________________ DRIVERS LICENSE #________________ BOY SCOUT RANK AND BADGES__________________________________________ HOME ADDRESS_______________________ CITY/STATE___________ ZIP______ Do you have parents? ___Yes ___No Is one male and the other female? ___Yes ___No

If No, explain: _____________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ Number of years they have been married________ If less than your age, explain ____________________________________________________________________ ACCESSORIES SECTION: A. Do you own or have access to a van? __Yes __No B. A truck with oversized tires? __Yes __No C. A waterbed? __Yes __No D. A pickup with a mattress in the back? __Yes __No E . A tattoo? __Yes __No F. Do you have an earring, nose ring, __Yes __No pierced tongue, pierced cheek or a belly button ring? (IF YOU ANSWERED YES TO ANY OF THE ABOVE, DISCONTINUE APPLICATION AND LEAVE PREMISES IMMEDIATELY. I SUGGEST RUNNING.) ESSAY SECTION: In 50 words or less, what does 'LATE' mean to you? ______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________ In 50 words or less, what does 'DON'T TOUCH MY DAUGHTER Mean to you ? __________________________________________________________ ____ ______________________________________________________________ In 50 words or less, what does 'ABSTINENCE' mean to you? ______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________ REFERENCES SECTION: Church you attend ___________________________________________________ How often you attend ________________________________________________ When would be the best time to interview your: Father? _____________ Mother? _____________ Pastor? _____________ SHORT-ANSWER SECTION: Answer by filling in the blank. Please answer freely, all answers are confidential.

A: If I were shot, the last place I would want to be shot would be: ______________________________________________________________

B: If I were beaten, the last bone I would want broken is my: ______________________________________________________________

C: A woman's place is in the: ______________________________________________________________

D: The one thing I hope this application does not ask me about is: ______________________________________________________________

E. What do you want to do IF you grow up? ___________________________ ______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________

F. When I meet a girl, the thing I always notice about her first is: _________________________________ _____________________________

G. What is the current going rate of a hotel room? __________________

I SWEAR THAT ALL INFORMATION SUPPLIED ABOVE IS TRUE AND CORRECT TO THE BEST OF MY KNOWLEDGE UNDER PENALTY OF DEATH, DISMEMBERMENT, NATIVE AMERICAN ANTI TORTURE, CRUCIFIXION, ELECTROCUTION, CHINESE WATER TORTURE, RED HOT POKERS, AND HILLARY CLINTON KISS TORTURE. ________________ Applicant's Signature (that means sign your name, moron!) _______________________________ ________________________________ Mother's Signature Father's Signature _______________________________ ________________________________ Pastor/Priest/Rabbi State Representative/Congressman! Thank you for your interest, and it had better be genuine and non-sexual. Please allow four to six years for processing. You will be contacted in writing if you are approved. Please do not try to call or write (since you probably can't, and it would cause you injury). If your application is rejected, you will be notified by two gentleman wearing white ties carrying violin cases. (You might watch your back) To prepare yourself, start studying Daddy's Rules for Dating (below). Parents' Rules for Dating Your parents' rules for your boy friend (or for you if you're a guy) :

Rule One: If you pull into my driveway and honk you'd better be delivering a package, because you're sure not picking anything up.

Rule Two: You do not touch my daughter in front of me. You may glance at her, so long as you do not peer at anything below her neck. If you cannot keep your eyes or hands off of my daughter's body, I will remove them.

Rule Three: I am aware that it is considered fashionable for boys of your age to wear their trousers so loosely that they appear to be falling off their hips. Please don't take this as an insult, but you and all of your friends are complete idiots. Still, I want to be fair and open minded about this issue, so I propose this compromise: You may come to the door with your underwear showing and your pants ten sizes too big, and I will not object. However, in order to ensure that your clothes do not, in fact come off during the course of your date with my daughter, I will take my electric nail gun and fasten your trousers securely in place to your waist.

Rule Four: I'm sure you've been told that in today world, sex without utilizing a 'Barrier method' of some kind can kill you. Let me elaborate, when it comes to sex, I am the barrier, and I will kill you.

Rule Five: It is usually understood that in order for us to get to know each other, we should talk about sports, politics, and other issues of the day. Please do not do this. The only information I require from you is an indication of when you expect to have my daughter safely back at my house, and the only word I need from you on this subject is: 'early.'

Rule Six: I have no doubt you are a popular fellow, with many opportunities to date other girls. This is fine with me as long as it is okay with my daughter. Otherwise, once you have gone out with my little girl, you will continue to date no one but her until she is finished with you. If you make her cry, I will make you cry.

Rule Seven: As you stand in my front hallway, waiting for my daughter to appear, and more than an hour goes by, do not sigh and fidget. If you want to be on time for the movie, you should not be dating. My daughter is putting on her makeup, a process than can take longer than painting the Golden Gate Bridge. Instead of just standing there, why don't you do something useful, like changing the oil in my car?

Rule Eight: The following places are not appropriate for a date with my daughter: Places where there are beds, sofas, or anything softer than a wooden stool. Places where there is darkness. Places where there is dancing, holding hands, or happiness. Places where the ambient temperature is warm enough to induce my daughter to wear shorts, tank tops, midriff T-shirts, or anything other than overalls, a sweater, and a goose down parka - zipped up to her throat. Movies with strong romantic or sexual themes are to be avoided; movies which feature chain saws are okay. Hockey games are okay. Old folks homes are better.

Rule Nine: Do not lie to me. I may appear to be a potbellied, balding, middle-aged, dimwitted has-been. But on issues relating to my daughter, I am the all-knowing, merciless god of your universe. If I ask you where you are going and with whom, you have one chance to tell me the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I have a shotgun, a shovel, and five acres behind the house. Do not trifle with me.

Rule Ten: Be afraid. Be very afraid. It takes very little for me to mistake the sound of your car in the driveway for a chopper coming in over a rice paddy near Hanoi. When my Agent Orange starts acting up, the voices in my head frequently tell me to clean the guns as I wait for you to bring my daughter home. As soon as you pull into the driveway you should exit the car with both hands in plain sight. Speak the perimeter password, announce in a clear voice that you have brought my daughter home safely and early, then return to your car - there is no need for you to come inside. The camouflaged face at the window is mine.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

All Is Vanity (or would have been, if Blogger weren't refusing to upload images)

By Cornelia Read

I have all these vanity plate photos to upload, in answer to Paul's "TWAT" plate of yesterday. Unfortunately, Blogger is in the Bahamas at the moment.

In the meantime, here is a small primate picker-upper from my Close Personal Friend™ Daisy's blog, with a second-hand hat tip to Smart Bitches, Trashy Novels, where she first found it:

This is a good video to watch when you get nearly to the end of the manuscript of your third novel, and suddenly discover that it is a Stinking Pile of Unreadable Crap™

Update: Blogger is apparently in the Caymans now, and still won't upload images.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Book Learning

From the nooks and crannies of Paul's mind.

Amazon's Jeffrey Bezoz, in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, was asked if people will miss the "tactile feel of the book -- the hard-to-describe intangibles" when using the Kindle electronic reader:
"I'm sure people love their horses, too," Bezoz said. "But you're not going to keep riding your horse to work just because you love your horse. It's our job to build something that is better than a physical book."

What about it folks? Do you lose anything curling up in bed with the Kindle instead of your horse?


Abbe Rifkin, 51, a lifer deputy D.A. in Miami was driving north on I-95 recently when she witnessed a shocking crime. Being a highly trained crimestopper, she whipped out her cell phone, garnered the evidence, and squealed to the Dept. of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Yes, she objected to a vanity license plate on a Mitsubishi Raider. This happened to be a U.S. Marines' plate, decorated with state-issued anchor, eagle and globe. And four personal letters: "TWAT."

Stewart Tabares, the car's owner, served a tour in Afghanistan where he achieved the rank of sergeant on a Tactical Wire Assault Team. That's right, the Marines call the unit, "TWAT."

No matter. Prosecutor Rifkin wants the state to strip the plate from the vet's car, water-board him, and force him to watch "The Vagina Monologues," as performed by Harvey Fierstein. (Okay, one of those is true).

“To put it on a Marine Corps license plate, when he had to know that it was offensive to women, dishonors the plate and dishonors the Corps,” Rifkin said.

I'm always dubious when people make blanket statements, such as "offensive to women." It is possible, of course, that thousands of Florida women do find the plate objectionable, regardless of military underpinning. It's also possible that thousands more don't give a shit.

In related news, violent crime rose in Miami during the first five months of the year.


Monday, June 09, 2008

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth

Patty here…

Anybody out there ever take a polygraph AKA lie detector test? I did as part of a recent class I took. None of the other forty students volunteered to participate in the demonstration, so I found myself raising my hand toward the dimpled ceiling tiles of a frigid meeting room at the Holiday Inn. There is an old expression that cops sometimes use, “Send her to poly and put her on the box.” There’s no box anymore. I was going to poly but my responses would go directly into a laptop computer.

Use of the polygraph began in the late 1800s and the practice continues to generate controversy, which is why the results are not admissible in a court of law, at least not in California. As most of you know, the purpose of the test is to register a person’s physiologic responses to various questions. Monitors on the body simultaneously record changes in blood volume pulse rate, skin resistance changes, and respiration rate. Since you can’t control the perspiration on your fingertips or your blood pressure, stress levels associated with certain questions can help examiners evaluate whether or not your answers are truthful. What the examiner is looking for is consistency of reactions. That’s why he asks the same question multiple times.

Before the test began, the examiner proposed a series of informal questions. He told me in advance that he would be asking me a simple math question. My relationship with math is tenuous, but I was convinced I could suck it up and crunch the numbers. In fact, I consider myself fairly cool under pressure, so I was even feeling a bit smug.

After he explained the procedure, an assistant placed monitors on my fingertips, a blood pressure cuff on my arm, and tubes that crisscrossed my chest and abdomen. The tubes were tighter than I’d anticipated, making that Fuddruckers burger and French fry lunch seemed less like a good idea. For a moment, I imagined myself being interrogated under a naked light bulb in a 1940s noir film.

I was not allowed to look at the examiner during the test. His first question was, “Is your name Patty?” I said yes, even though my name is actually Patricia. After several more questions, all spoken in a low monotone, he dropped the math bomb.

The calculation was relatively simple, something like, 14 times 9 minus 7, but the idea of 40 people watching me count on my fingers and toes created a flashback of my seventh grade math teacher, tapping her pointer on the blackboard in a horrifying exercise she had created to teach us rapid addition.

“One hundred nineteen,” I said.

Without pausing, the examiner went on to the next question.

After his assistant unhooked me, the examiner showed my results to the class. The math question had spiked my blood pressure like crazy. That segment of my chart looked like the Pyrenees Mountains.

In other words, the question had elicited strong emotions, rendering my answer “inconclusive.” Even though I wasn’t lying—14 times 9 minus 7 is 119—my truthiness had taken a hit.

The class immediately questioned why the machine hadn’t detected the lie when I’d answered yes to the Patty question and why a truthful response to a math question was pronounced “inconclusive.” I wondered what would have happened if the question had been “Did you kill Roger Ackroyd?” What if I'd answered no truthfully, but because the question triggered a negative but unrelated Agatha Christie flashback, the hike in my blood pressure made it seem as if I was lying?

Of course, my test was only a demonstration. A real polygraph would have been longer and more complex. Still, it generated some interesting issues. Does anybody other than me feel a short story kicking around in your head?

Feeling confident? Here are a couple of interesting sites about beating the test.

Happy Monday!

P.S. Here's a picture of Groupie and me at the Mysteries to Die For book signing on Saturday.

Friday, June 06, 2008

That Great Third Place

from Jacqueline

My brother and I were rooting around in my garden shed a couple of days ago - oh, and I'll tell you that quick story at the end of this post - when I heard my neighbor next door talking to her husband. "Did you know," she said, "The video store is closing." I stood up so fast I almost hit my head on the door frame. The video store closing? Our little video store with that great selection of foreign films, all the latest movies and everything else in between, plus they'll order any movie or obscure series if you ask for it - closing? I whipped off my long rubber gloves, the ones I use for pruning the roses, but on this occasion they were for hazardous waste, and ran into the house to hit the internet. And there it was, the news: the video store WAS closing, and according to the writer the loss was due to the fact that it "didn't fit the current model." Now, you've heard me go on about trendy phrases before, usually uttered by almost-thirty-something tech company whizz kids, and "doesn't fit the current model" is doing for me what "paradigm shift" did ten years ago.

You see, as far as I'm concerned, we just lost a great third place in town. A place where people came together, had a chat, chose their movie and went home - neighbors, conversation and entertainment, all in one. You'd be standing there, head to one side, looking along the list of movie titles, and you'd feel a tap on the shoulder as someone said, "Great seeing you here!" and there would be a friend, a neighbor, the guy you chat to while walking the dog, and you'd pass the time of day, find out about how the kids are doing and off you would go, the warmer for it. The third place is about community, without having to go on about it. Real communities don't have to talk about community building, because it's transparent to them, it's what they do naturally, because it's right and it cradles us all in a feeling of belonging.

A few weeks ago, my publisher asked me to write a piece about book clubs for They'd asked if I could and I said "Of couse," even though my nose was pressed up against the cold, hard wall of a deadline. Having written the piece, I thought that one day I might use it for the blog, when an acceptable amount of time had passed. I don't know if this amount of time is respectable, but here it is anyway (and apologies for the shameless mention of my own books, but I was asked to throw them in, so to speak):

"Since my first novel, MAISIE DOBBS, was published in 2003, I have spoken to many, many book clubs, large and small, old established and new – in fact, I was recently at an event where a group of women had just met, and decided over lunch to organize a book club and planned to start their new venture with one of my books. Always lovely to hear!

In his book, “The Great Good Place,” Ray Oldenburg says that every person needs a “third place.” What’s a third place? Well, home is the first place, work is the second place, and the third place is, “where everyone knows your name.” Society once had lots of third places – pubs, community centers, evening classes, sports halls, etc. – but as the individual became all-important, so we thought we could lose the third place, because we had everything we needed at home, from a bar to a movie. In the past few years we’ve seen people struggling to build community, that thing we once had but didn’t need to think about. As I’ve traveled around the country on book tours and speaking engagements, I have come to see the book club as a great third place, even if the location is a different house each month.

It would seem that the ideal book club read is one that resonates on different levels, a book that inspires personal sharing of experiences, a dialogue about current events, or spirited conversation on an issue that moves people. Since people first began connecting with each other through the myths and legends that still enchant us today, we have reached out to each other with our stories. A book club is a latter-day version of our ancestors around the crackling camp fire. As we discuss the characters, the plot, the language, the pace and our response to a chosen book, we celebrate our individuality, our diversity and the reflection of ourselves we see in each other,.

A couple of years ago I was signing copies following a bookstore presentation on my series of novels, when I noticed three women waiting on the sidelines for everyone to leave. It was clear they wanted to talk to me alone. After the audience had left, I waved them over and we sat down around the table together to talk and they unfolded their story. The women belonged to a local book club, and did not know each other well when the group was formed. Each month they would meet in the house of one neighbor or another, and though there might be a little back and forth personal talk over a glass of wine, they would soon get down to talking about their chosen book of the month. They wanted to tell me about the MAISIE DOBBS discussion. As readers will know, a significant part of the main character’s history is her experience as a nurse in the Great War, on the battlefields of northern France in 1916. As the discussion progressed, one of the women told the group that the book had impacted her deeply, because she had been a nurse in Viet Nam, and she had never talked about what she had seen and experienced, and had never acknowledged the impact of wartime service on her life. Another woman began speaking, sharing the same experience, then another said, “I was also a nurse in Viet Nam ....” As the women reached out to each other, so they were held by the other members of their book club. Coming to that “third place” had changed their lives.

That is the power of story, and it also shows the possibility for connection within a book group, and the catalyst for deeper conversation inspired by a love of literature.

It bears saying that a mystery lends itself to book club discussion, not least because some of the best literary fiction today is mystery fiction. In the storytelling tradition, a mystery represents the archetypal journey through chaos to resolution – or not, as the case may be. With that as a framework and a guide, a mystery is the perfect vehicle for literary insight into the experience of ordinary people in extraordinary times or situations, into the social challenges of our day, and into the fragile human condition itself. The mystery novel offers another lens through which to view history, and can help us make sense of the present – a rich dish to serve along with that book club beverage of choice!"

That's it. And now, as Flora Post might have said in Cold Comfort Farm, "Back to the shed."

I went out to the shed a few days ago, I think to find a broom (well, look at the price of gas!), anyway, I thought I could smell something a bit odd, but decided not to look, mainly because our shed has all sorts of junk inside and I didn't fancy a run-in with a black widow spider. Later, my brother, who has been sorting out our sprinkler system for us, had to go to the shed. When he came out he informed me, "I reckon there's something dead back there."

"John," I said, "You should never say that to a mystery writer. I'll be chewing on that little nugget all afternoon."

Sadly, it was our garden possum. Now deceased. Like the video store. I'll miss them both.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Field of Excellence

James O. Born

I had several posts planned for today. I have a funny “Application to date my daughter” someone sent me. I did a short piece on character actors that I wanted to put up today. I could have even talked about the Mystery Florida conference I’m attending this weekend in Sarasota. It’s always great fun and this year Michael Connelly is the key note speaker. I’m a big fan of Mr. Connelly’s books. For the record and ethically, I should mention that he’s also a friend of mine but that in no way diminishes the respect in which I hold him as a writer. I’ve said many times that Echo Park is the finest police thriller ever written. I mean that as a reader, a writer and a cop.

So that all leads me to today’s post. It came to me in an instant on Sunday morning when I started reading our local newspaper, the Palm Beach Post. I like the paper and several of the reporters and editors are friends of mine. It covers local news well and I like the Arts and Entertainment section. That’s where I used to go on Sundays to read the book page, edited by Scott Eyman. But this Sunday was different. The book page had been reduced, big surprised, and now wedged into the opinion section of the paper.

But one piece in the section relieved my anxiety about the change. A new little feature called On My Nightstand which this week featured “crime novelist” Michael Connelly. Under a subsection titled: Book I’ve recommended most in the last year: “I can’t say enough about A Field Of Darkness by Cornelia Read, It is her first novel and came out a couple of years ago, and I have been recommending it ever since.”

Wow. Now that’s praise. And I agree.

The page is in the mail to you now, Cornelia.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Joys of Deadlines

By Cornelia Read

What my deadline looks like, from the laptop's point of view:

“A deadline is negative inspiration. Still, it's better than no inspiration at all.”
--Rita Mae Brown

A deadline’s an unnerving thing.
--Marchette Chute

"Somebody was using the pencil."

--Dorothy Parker, On why she missed a New Yorker
deadline, from James Thurber's The Years with Ross

"Good novels are not written by orthodoxy-sniffers, nor by people who are conscience-stricken about their own orthodoxy. Good novels are written by people who are not frightened."
--George Orwell, “Inside the Whale,”

"Without religion we will have only novels."

--Friedrich Von Schlegel (1772–1829), German philosopher

"Write about winter in the summer. Describe Norway as Ibsen did, from a desk in Italy; describe Dublin as James Joyce did, from a desk in Paris. Willa Cather wrote her prairie novels in New York City; Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn in Hartford, Connecticut. Recently, scholars learned that Walt Whitman rarely left his room."
--Annie Dillard

"An accurate charting of the American woman’s progress through history might look more like a corkscrew tilted slightly to one side, its loops inching closer to the line of freedom with the passage of time—but like a mathematical curve approaching infinity, never touching its goal. . . . Each time, the spiral turns her back just short of the finish line."
--Susan Faludi

"One should not be too severe on English novels; they are the only relaxation of the intellectually unemployed."
--Oscar Wilde

"Novels as dull as dishwater, with the grease of random sentiments floating on top."
--Italo Calvino

"Novels are longer than life."
--Natalie Clifford Barney

"Get a girl in trouble, then get her out again."

-- Kathleen Norris, Describing her formula for eighty-one
“relentlessly wholesome” novels, Time 28 January, 1966

"I am devoted to detective novels. They make such a nice change from my work."

--Richard Leofric Jackson, the President of Interpol