Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Literary Orgasms, Pit Bulls, and Low-Life Shysters

From Paul...

ACT THREE: THE ORGASM. In his blog, Robert Gregory Browne takes the three-act dramatic structure -- set-up, confrontation, resolution -- and fiddles with it a bit. His provocative new categories: Seduction. Foreplay. Climax. "Without masterful seduction and foreplay it is virtually impossible to reach a satisfying climax." Who can argue with that? I look forward to Bob's next book, "Whisper in the Dark." Especially the last 30 pages.

WHEN TAGS AND KEYWORDS FAIL: The title of my new novel is "Illegal." Amazon, as you know, has developed nifty marketing techniques to interest page-surfers in similar books. So, at the bottom of "Illegal's" Amazon page is this question: "Looking for 'Illegal' Products?" Then this suggestion: "The Dog Pit - Or How to Select, Breed, Train, and Manage Fighting Dogs." I'm not sure if the book contains a chapter on avoiding detection. If it does, apparently Michael Vick never read it.
Another pleasant read for a Spring evening is "The Breeding and Management of Fighting Cocks." Then there's the DVD called, "Off the Chain," described as "an unprecedented look into the underground world of dog fighting."

OPENING LINES: I was signing and schmoozing at San Diego's wonderful "Mysterious Galaxy" bookstore over the weekend. A lawyer in the audience told me he had tried to sell a novel but ran into a brick wall when an editor told him that unless the first sentence grabbed her, she would never read the second line. I don't know if the editor had A.D.D. or was just trying to show how busy she was.

We can all think of great openings, but I wonder if that editor would acknowledge them. For example...

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity..." To which that editor might have replied, So which was it! Make up your mind, already!

"Call me Ishmael." Hmmm. Call you that? Why? Is it an alias?

"He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish." Old man? Bad demos. Fishing alone? How about a girl in a thong? And who wants to read about a lousy fisherman anyway? Bor-ing!

"I am an invisible man." Sorry, Ralphie. We don't do sci-fi.

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins." Light of my life? Hey, Vlad. Avoid cliches like the plague!

"You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter." Good Lord, have you never studied syntax, grammar, the basic rules of English?

I will leave you with the opening line of "Illegal." If you want to critique it or provide me with your favorite openings, feel free!

"Judge Rollins drew a handgun from beneath his black robes, pointed the snub-nosed barrel at Jimmy Payne's chest, and said, 'Who you pimping for, you low-life shyster?'"


Monday, March 30, 2009

A place where everybody knows your name

By Patricia Smiley

Most crime fiction writers I know have developed a close relationship with independent bookstore personnel. Why? Because Indies are run by people who have a vast knowledge of the genre, who shelve our books even if the big chains don’t, and who hand-sell our work. Best of all, when we walk through the door, they know who we are.

We are lucky to have several independents in the Los Angeles area that either specialize in crime fiction or dedicate significant shelf space to the genre, including Vromans in Pasadena and Book ‘Em in South Pasadena, Book Carnival in Orange, Mysteries to Die For in Thousand Oaks, and The Mystery Bookstore in Westwood, where I often shop because it is a mere hop, skip, and a jump from my house.

Indie owners, managers, and sales people are wise, funny, and caring people. Case in point, a publisher recently asked me to blurb the book of a well-known author. I was stunned to get the invitation because I had never met this writer before and couldn’t imagine that he had even heard of me (Who has?). Shortly afterward when I was signing at Book Carnival, I was surprised to learn that owner Ed Thomas had recommended me to the publisher.

“Why did you do that?” I asked him.
He shot me that mischievous smile of his. “I thought you needed the work.”

Ed Thomas and me at Book Carnival in Orange, California

I always looked forward to signing for the super women at Mysteries To Die For in Thousand Oaks because my biggest fan Tom McGinn would be there to cheer me on. Some of you old-timers on Naked Authors will remember his comments under the name “Groupie.” Tom was a dear friend and huge supporter of all of our work. He had followed my career from book one, always offering encouragement, insight, and opinion just when I needed it most. Here we are at my signing of COOL CACHE last June, three months before he passed away, leaving a hole in our collective hearts.

Tom McGinn and me at Mysteries To Die For in Thousand Oaks

We Los Angeles-based writers and our Indie bookstores tend to be a close-knit group. We attend the same events and belong to the same organizations. We share triumphs and tragedies and if we’re lucky, we form lasting bonds. On Saturday, I attended book signings at The Mystery Bookstore for two friends of mine: Paul Levine (ILLEGAL) and Harley Jane Kozak (A DATE YOU CAN'T REFUSE). The fabulous sales staff at the store, including manager Bobby McCue and owners Kirk Pasich and Pamela Woods always treat us like royalty. And they always know our names. Here are a few paparazzi shots.

Paul Levine and Harley Jane Kozak

Bobby, Paul, Pamela, and Kirk

Paul with fans. That's me standing over his left shoulder.

Have you hugged your Indie bookseller today? And by the way, where do you go where everybody knows your name?

Happy Monday!

Friday, March 27, 2009

On The Fly ....

from Jacqueline

Here I am in yet another internet cafe, so this will really be a post to say that I'll be back in the game next Friday - because I am in London, without access to my own computer, this won't be a proper post (I like to use my own tools ...).

However, a few words from Bligthy. I used to work in London years ago, in the area now known as "Fitzrovia" as well as Bloomsbury (which used to encompass Fitzrovia, but I guess the folks over there wanted their own identity). When you are in a place everyday, there's much that becomes transparent - you don't see what's around you any more. But now I am a visitor as well as a different kind of observer, because every walk around a part of London becomes, essentially, research for my books. So I try to peel back the layers to get to the one I want, to try to see what the London of the 1920's and 1930's looked like. London is an old city, goes back to the middle ages and beyond - indeed, even then it was the hub of a lot of international trade (as far as "international" went, even in those days) - so there's a lot of peeling back to do. It's a bit like preparing an old house for a makeover, taking off one layer of paint and wallpaper after another. I start by looking up. If you keep your eyes on the shop windows, you'll only be distracted by an onslaught of color and modern design that is the hallmark of trendy 21st century London. The amount of high-tech anything available here makes me feel as if I have been living in the dark ages - and I now hail from California. So you have to look up, to the upper floors of buildings that haven't changed in centuries. Then you try to imagine what those lower floors looked like before they became part of the retail experience of the past fifty-odd years.

Yesterday I went over to St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington, to what is now known as The Clarence Wing - it's the oldest part of the hospital, and also where Alexander Fleming invented pencillin in his laboratory on the second floor. Today, as well as a small museum dedicated to Fleming, the hospital houses a "birthing center." The building is extraordinarily ornate, in redbrick and stone with balconies and cornices, and the interesting thing is that when it was built, it was to provide a hospital for the poor - those who had money were treated at home. Interesing, eh?

I entered through the more modern building and followed the signs to the laboratory, and it was a really strange feeling as I passed from one building to the other. It's supposed to be a transparent transition, however, you know when you're in the old wing because the plain white walls give way to butter-yellow tiling extending from the floor to about a third of the way up the wall, then there's a border of brown and green tiles with an art-nouveau design to complete the decoration. The archways along the corridors have remained in place, and the heavy double doors have no doubt never been replaced, just painted again. I could just touch those walls and feel the history of the place.

I went out to meet a friend last night at a "gastro pub" called The Queen's Head & Artichoke" which is close to Regent's Park. London is now the gastronomic epicenter of Europe, having finally, about twenty years ago, shaken off the mantle of post WW2 rationing (the school of cookery where you water everything down so it goes around more people). This pub was a prime example of the renaissance going on - people packed in, drinking interesting wines and beers and eating really good food and having a great old time. I left at 9:00pm and it was still hopping, and as I walked back to my hotel, I passed three more pubs of the same ilk, and they were packed as well - and the food looked lovely! As I said to my friend, Diane, when we met for dinner, "Gone are the days when the ladies sat in the snug with a half a pint of Guinness or a cream sherry!" (the snug was a parlor-like room where people sat who didn't want to be in with the spit and sawdust lot, so invariably, that's where the ladies sat).

I'm off to Covent Garden now, down to the Transport Museum ... and maybe I'll stop for a "skinny latte."

Flying back next Thursday, so jet-lag permitting, see you in a week.

Have a wonderful weekend - no doubt if you haven't already read it, you'll be planning to curl up with Our Paul's latest novel: Illegal. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Paul Levine's Illegal

James O. Born
I read a lot. Books, magazines, short stories, you name it, I read it. A lot of the novels I start disappoint me for one reason or another. Its not about details or realism, I mean I’ve recently become interested in fantasy. But for the most part, I’m a character guy. I love off center, flawed characters. I found a character I really enjoyed reading. Jimmy “Royal” Payne. A lawyer who’s not particularly likable but you come to love the guy. And the best part of the whole experience is that Jimmy “Royal” Payne was created by another lawyer people don’t find particularly likable, but then love him anyway: Our own Paul Levine.

Don’t believe me, listen to what Booklist had to say:

“ILLEGAL is a riveting read, filled with action, pathos, and even humor. The portrait of the dangers and predations that Latinos face crossing the border is chilling and rings with authenticity. But the book’s best quality is the way Levine invests his characters with believable humanity. A compulsively readable yet character-driven thriller.”

Holy crap! I doubt that reviewer is even related to Paul.

Seriously, I thought it was a great book.

Wanted by the cops, L.A. lawyer Jimmy "Royal" Payne plans to skip town. That's when he crosses paths with gutsy twelve-year-old Tino Perez, newly arrived from Mexico with no money, no papers, and no qualms about robbing Payne—then pleading for his help. Tino's mother, Marisol, has disappeared after crossing the border with a vicious coyote. Soon, the cynical lawyer and the savvy kid are on her trail, battling predators on both sides of the border.
The pair track Marisol from migrant stash houses to the lush fields of central California. It’s there they encounter Simeon Rutledge, a mega-grower whose family has employed – and abused – migrants for three generations. Rutledge won’t reveal what he knows, but one thing is clear: Marisol’s fate is in his hands.

I don’t want to give away too much. I recommend the book highly.

I have a montage of Paul photos to show his development as a person as well as some of his covers.

Paul has a couple of Southern California stops this weekend.

Mystery Bookstore in Westwood Saturday at 4 pm
Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego Sunday at 2 p.m.

Drop and show him how much you love him.

Let's hear some comments about Paul.
I'll start.
I may be the butt of many of his jokes and dish it out on occasion, but I will say categorically that he's my main source of advice on publishing. He has shown interest and insight without regard for anything but my well being. In police work he'd be the perfect partner. Same goes for his role in the writing game.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Full Court Press

A seismic shift occurred this week, and since it made international news it's hardly news. But it is about the news, and it is about the city about which I've written for twenty-one years, the setting of eleven of my novels and so I write about it again.

Since I'm not a reporter I'm not going to look up my facts. (I'm in far western China on a trip this week where I can't fact check, apologies. This should tell you something about blogs, including this one: you can't trust the information! Newspapers check their facts; blogs often do not.) You might want to double-check them yourselves.

Seattle's Post-Intelligencer stopped its print edition this week. For the environmentalists, who appreciate less paper being used, this might be cause for celebration. For the rest of us, followed on the heels of the last edition of the Rocky Mountain News, it should be seen as close to the final nail in the coffin. Small newspapers are dead, having suffered something like a decade of serious illness and several decades of decline. The PI, as it's known, will remain an on-line news source, but (here come the suspect facts) I believe the workforce shrank from 130 to 20. Twenty people to cover a major city's news, international news, weather, arts, etc. I'm not sure that can be done. I've written about crime in Seattle for a while now, and I would guess that beat alone would require three to four full time reporters to have anything close to decent coverage. Federal crimes and trials are as big, and as important in Seattle as city crimes -- and before you write telling me that the Seattle Times is still operating -- yes, you're right, and the Times does a great job. But a voice is a voice and the PI's voice is going all but silent.

What does it mean? For a hundred or so people (fact check) it means unemployment or early retirement. For the city it means a single voice where there were two. For the industry it may signal something about two paper towns. But for freedom of speech it could be more like the lead lining in the Roman aqueducts. Many of my friends and fellow writers either started in journalism or still write there. They've been telling me "it's all but over" for years now; and they would know. But we must be careful as a society that, as the access to information becomes so wide-spread, instant and ubiquitous, the source of that information does not become singular. The news information system is beginning to look like inverted funnel: small where it starts and large where it lets out. For our freedoms to remain intact we need just the opposite.

This development might not seem so grave if it didn't fall on the heels of eight years of controlled and manipulated information from the highest levels of government. But that alone should spark a nerve in all of us. We were cajoled as a people; we were lied to -- nothing less than that. Rights were denied repeatedly. Living in China you get a feel for what a controlled press is like. We get a lot of information here that surprises me -- internally critical information that I did not expect. But it's still from a single source, and carefully watched source. You feel this as a reader. I appreciate so much about this wonderful country (China), but may we never let this particular aspect of top down control of information reach our shores. It is painfully lacking.

The PI's demise is a minor flick in the economy, I suppose. But from across the ocean, it has sounded loudly.

PS: my friend, and fellow Naked Author, Paul Levine, has a new novel just out: Illegal. You can count on Paul to deliver a taut, fast read with credible and quirky characters. You can't miss, I promise. Go out and buy a copy--just look at his picture: Paul needs the money for a new haircut.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"ILLEGAL" -- A Shady Lawyer, A Missing Woman, A Gutsy Kid, and Shades of "Chinatown"

From Paul

ILLEGAL Debuts Today:
First an apology. I'm going to flog my new novel like an old mule the next couple weeks. I've already been doing that on FACEBOOK, and my friends are probably more annoyed with me now than they usually are. (If you're not my friend and you're on FB, please drop me a note so we can link).

As has been said here many times, the shelf life of a novel is approximately that of yogurt. (This lactobacillus existence is not true for Jim Born, whose work seems to have the shelf life of Budweiser).

For starters, I'm giving away a couple copies of the book to those who sign up for Volume 1, Issue 1 of my newsletter. Sign up here.

In the past two years, I’ve trudged through the Mojave Desert and climbed the Tehachapi mountains. I’ve followed the toxic sludge of the New River as it winds a serpentine path from Mexicali to the Salton Sea. I’ve hung out at Border Patrol stations in Calexico and picked peaches in Kings County.

THE CHARACTERS: A shady lawyer. A missing woman. A lost boy. And a wealthy rancher with a twisted vision of his own power. It’s about unspeakable pain and loss and the love of family. It’s about greed and corruption, revenge and redemption, all set in the dark world of human trafficking and sex slavery.

ILLEGAL will take you from the dangerous streets of Mexicali, north to Hellhole Canyon, and northward still through the Tejon Pass into California’s San Joaquin Valley. That’s the perilous road trip taken by Jimmy (Royal) Payne, the hero of ILLEGAL. Did I say hero? Payne, a Los Angeles lawyer with an anger management problem, skims money from a bribery sting, punches out two cops, and skips town when he’s jailed for contempt. But when it’s time to choose between risking his life for a boy with a missing mother or surrendering to his own demons, his choice is….well, you gotta read the book for that.

THE TONE: Inspired by real events, ILLEGAL is harder-boiled than my SOLOMON vs. LORD novels. But if you liked Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord, you’ll love trouble-prone Jimmy Payne and ex-wife Sharon, a cop who once shot him and now would love to arrest him. The Solomon books were frequently compared with the Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn films, particularly Adam’s Rib. ILLEGAL combines the moral decay of “Chinatown” with the sudden violence of “No Country for Old Men.”

A SNEAK PEEK: The first two chapters are posted on my website. There are also convenient buttons to order the book from Amazon, your local independent stores, or to have me personally deliver it if you live within five miles of VITELLO'S restaurant in Studio City, CA, where Robert Blake did NOT kill his wife, according to the jury.


Monday, March 23, 2009

In search of myself

Patricia Smiley here…

When I was a child, I became convinced that in a prior life I had been an Indian Princess.

Perhaps I’d seen too many TV Westerns. Maybe it was because my mother grew up on an Indian reservation on farmland leased by my grandparents or perhaps I’d read too many tales of Sacagawea and the Lewis and Clark expedition. Whatever the source of my fantasy, I wept bitter tears at the injustices laid bare in Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. The intricate beadwork of Native American artists awed me and I yearned to have a buckskin dress just like the ones I’d seen in photographs. Even as I write this, I’m wearing a pair of beaded moccasins I’ve had for decades.

Eventually I faced the reality that I was of German, Irish, and Scottish ancestry.

Before my father died, exploring family history was his raison dĂȘtre. It wasn’t easy for him to unravel his past, because of a catastrophic fissure in his personal story from which he never fully recovered. It took extraordinary fortitude and perseverance for him to unearth information about his roots.

Despite this, he slowly pieced together a pedigree chart, including news that my great grandmother was a McCoy, related to the feuding Hatfield and McCoy families of 1880s Kentucky and West Virginia whose accelerating violence prompted the governors of those two states to call out militias to restore order. My kin had always seemed so traditional that I welcomed the idea of a clanking skeleton in the family closet. Here is a group photo of the Hatfield clan. I guess my relatives couldn’t afford the photographer.

In 1996, I saw a father-daughter bonding opportunity and began helping with my dad’s research. The quest for knowledge took me from the National Archives in New York to the LDS family history library in Los Angeles and eventually led me to a great great-grandmother name Susannah Smiley who was born in Hancock County, Tennessee, an impoverished area both then and now. Almost 30% of today’s residents live below the poverty line. The discovery prompted me to wonder. Was this guy a distant relative?

According to census records, Susannah was a weaver who could not read or write. She had four children, including my great grandfather, but I never found evidence that an adult male (read husband) lived in the household. My investigation went cold after I was unable to find additional facts about her. What the heck, I thought, a liberated single mom and a weaver to boot. In my book Susannah rocked.

When my father died, I lost my motivation to follow Susannah’s trail until a few days ago when I received an e-mail from a distant relative, informing me we shared Susannah’s DNA. She sent photographs and evidence of a mysterious lineage.

Apparently, our great grandparents were two of Susannah’s children. She also told me Susannah’s husband was a doctor whose name was Jacob. She, too, could find no evidence that they had ever lived together. Then she dropped a bombshell. She told me Jacob may have been “related to the melungeons.”

Melungeons? I had never heard that term before.

Apparently, Melungeons “are believed to be of mixed European, African, and Native American heritage. In spite of being culturally and linguistically identical to their white neighbors, these multiracial families were of a sufficiently different physical appearance to invite speculation as to their identity and origins…Melungeons themselves claimed to be both Indian and Portuguese.”

A Melungeon Family

Even more shocking, my new-found relative told me her research indicated that Susannah was part Cherokee Indian. She sent me an old photo. True, Susannah looked anything but Swedish, but if my great great-grandmother was part Cherokee then I was too. The realization gave me a woo-woo flashback to that old childhood fantasy.

Regardless of Susannah’s genetic makeup, I have added one more book to my To Be Read pile, one that is guaranteed to cause more bitter tears. Another example of our government at work.

“With the discovery of gold on Cherokee Indian lands in 1828 and Andrew Jackson's 1830 Removal Act, calling for the relocation of all native peoples east of the Mississippi River to Oklahoma, the U. S. government forced the Cherokees from their homes in 1838. Almost 14,000 Cherokees began the trek westward in October of 1838. More than 4,000 died from cold, hunger, and disease during the six-month journey that came to be known as the "Trail of Tears."

Do you have any pedigree skeletons in your closet? Any interesting relatives?

Happy Monday!


Paul Levine's latest novel ILLEGAL will be released tomorrow. "Inspired by real events, ILLEGAL is a tale of broken borders and shattered hearts. A thriller with a social conscience, the book combines the moral decay of Chinatown with the sudden violence of No Country for Old Men. Woven throughout are the universal themes of love and loss, courage and redemption. And above all, the strength and resilience of family ties."

If you haven't done so already, buy it. And buy Ms. Winspear's AMONG THE MAD while you're at it. I'm going to be at Paulie's signing at The Mystery Bookstore in Westwood this Saturday, March 28th at 4:00 p.m. If you're in the neighborhood, come join the party. Here is a complete list of his appearances.

Also, my friend kc dyer has a new book out called A WALK THROUGH THE WINDOW, the story of Darby, "a young girl forced to spend the summer with grandparents she doesn’t know in a place she feels she can never belong. But when a boy down the street extends a hand, it is more than friendship he offers. Together they discover a magical stone window frame that transports them to the very centre of the dramas of our past: the Underground Railroad; the coffin ships of the Irish Potato Famine; and even the Inuit as they crossed the Bering Land Bridge into North America." Darby, is interviewing some author friends (including moi) on her very own blog. Check it out.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Better Safe

from Jacqueline

I’ve never been one for so-called “celebrity” news, and I find the comings and goings, the affairs and sillinesses of many of those in the film industry about as tedious as it gets, though I can appreciate talent along with the best of them (the closest I came to being a pain in the neck in this regard, was when Sean Penn parked next to me at the grocery store, and I had only seen “Milk” the night before – I so wanted to tell him that I thought he was brilliant ... but what kind of numpty does that when someone is struggling to get the contents of their cart into the back of the car?) So, there you have it, no big celebrity swoonings from me. But this week I have been glued to the news, following the accident and fate of Natasha Richardson as if she were kin.

I doubt if you missed it, but if you did, the quite lovely (“luminous”) Richardson fell while skiing in Canada on Monday. She and her two sons had been with her husband, Liam Neesom, while he was filming in Toronto, then she took the boys off skiing in Montreal. It wasn’t a big fall, just the sort of spill that many of us who ski have experienced time and again, but it eventually killed her. By Tuesday night she was dead. And if I Googled “Latest on Natasha Richardson” once, I did it hundreds of times. I knew the accident would claim her life, but I hoped against hope that it wouldn’t.

My interest wasn’t due to some hero worship of the Redgrave clan, or that she has always been my favorite actress – though I thought she was a wasted talent in movies such as “Maid in Manhattan” and “The Parent Trap;.” It was that bump on the head. I felt, again, that I had cheated a terrible fate. You may remember my post about my fall from Oliver – my young horse – last July. It was a nasty one – I was really knocked silly, saw stars and had various headachy symptoms for days. My trainer insisted I went to the emergency room where they x-rayed me, gave me a brain scan, kept me in for several hours and only let me leave when both my husband and I had read through a list of symptoms and signed a form to the effect that if I had even a hint of one of those symptoms, then I should come back immediately. My husband was instructed to watch for certain symptoms and behaviors, as I might not be aware of them – which is why I was woken up every two or three hours with, “You OK? Jackie, talk to me.” Talk to him? I could have killed him! But these were the basic precautions, because you don’t mess around with a head injury.

Richardson’s family are probably wishing so hard, playing back the events, trying to turn back time so that one of them could have been there to say, “Don’t tell the ski-patrol you’re OK. Don’t laugh it off. Just get in that ambulance they’ve ordered and go to the hospital. If you have to put up with a few paparazzi, then so be it – get yourself some medical attention.” But she didn’t. She said she was fine – and she probably thought she would be fine – but when the ski-patrol accompany you to your hotel and then stay with you to make sure, it’s a good idea to trust their training. She had even signed a form to say she did not require medical attention. I wish she’d had my trainer there, Kim would have said, “Don’t argue with me. Get in the car and open the window if you want to throw up.” Actually, Kim didn’t have to order me into the car – I know enough about head injuries to know – repeating myself here – you don’t mess around, you go to the emergency room.

But there’s more to it than that, isn’t there? We all take chances – I’ll ski again, and I still ride young Oliver most mornings (I’ve come off once since that July spill – young horses can be a bit unpredictable), and I’ll still ride my bike. But I do all of those things with a helmet, even though I prefer not to have hat hair every day of the week. I take as many reasonable precautions as I can, because life is precious. The people who love me are precious, and my husband will probably have a heart-attack if he gets another call from an emergency room.

A few years ago, when I had my really, really bad riding accident, I met with the orthopedic surgeon who I later came to hero-worship, he was that good (and such a laid back guy). I asked him, probably with a dramatic edge to my voice, “Will I ever ride again?” He rolled his eyes and shrugged. “We all live with our own level of risk,” he said. “We all do things we know might land us in the hospital. The whole idea is to minimize that risk.” (Then, I confess, he said, “But no one in my family rides horses or motorbikes”). I should add that he and the other surgeons in his practice work with the US ski team, so I reckon they know a thing or two.

So what am I saying in all of this? That life is precious. It’s not so much having a bucket list, as appreciating the fleeting nature of our time on earth, and that it all could be gone in an instant, even for a healthy woman with two boys, a husband who adored her, and a family who are now torn apart with grief.

About sixteen years ago, I had some funny rhythms going in my heart and the doctor sent me for a slew of tests, and while being prepped for one of them (those sticker things all over my chest and along my ribs – what a performance!), I had a long and rather deep conversation with the technician who was wiring me for sound. She said she also worked as an emergency room technician and had a long experience in that job. “I’ve come to believe something,” she said, “that we all come date-stamped, and when you’re up, there’s no getting away from it.”

None of this means that we have to wrap ourselves in cotton wool, but I think it means we are tasked to find grace in every day, that we make each day the very best day, and that we give thanks, morning and night, for this one precious life. In an interview following her husband’s motorcycle accident several years ago (Mr. Neesom hit a deer), Richardson said since the accident she had woken up being so grateful for each day.

Bless her.

Have a good, safe weekend. Tell the people you love that you love them. Smell some roses and if you go out on your bike, horse, skis, rollerblades, motorbike – for heaven’s sake wear a helmet! It doesn’t guarantee anything, but it could save so much heartache.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

FSU Rules. Sort of. Well, at least for me.

James O. Born

All things FSU.

You all know I attended Florida State University and that I like to poke fun at my alma mater. Whenever I hear Stanford alumni refer to their school as “The Harvard of the west.” I reply that I attended the “Harvard of Leon County.” I recognize a southern state school doesn’t have the academic standards of say Yale, Princeton or Columbia. Well, maybe Columbia.

Yes, I know that the day I wrote this (two weeks ago) news came out about NCAA sanctions for a football cheating scandal. I will not defend them. I hate cheaters and don’t sell out my few ideals for the sake of a winning football season. Oddly there was a time I would’ve sold one of my children for a National Championship. But not anymore. Unless we get close again.

But right now I’m back to being a rabid FSU alum.

There are two reasons this. One is that this week I am returning to FSU to speak at The Florida Writers’ Book Fair sponsored by FSU this weekend. The event is held in conjunction with the 200th Anniversary of Darwin’s birth. I guess I could take that as either an insult or compliment.

The second reason I love FSU is that the newsletter, The FSU Times did a nice story on me a few weeks ago. Check it out here.

Another reason I'm high on FSU is that, as many of you know, my son, John, is currently attending FSU. Here we are this past Fal in front of the admin building.

So with all due respect to Paul and our ongoing jokes about FSU vs PSU, this week I’m all about Florida State.

Do any of you want to give a shout out to your alma mater? Feel free.
On a different note I want to extend congratulations to my friend Neil Plakcy for bringing home the Hawaii 5-O award from Left Coast Crime for his excellent police novel Mahu Fire. Neil is the vice president of the Florida Chapter of the MWA and does a stand up job there as well.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I write; therefore I am...tired.

From Paul Levine

WRITERLY ADVICE: A young writer in Texas posted a question yesterday on my Facebook Wall (Wailing Wall?), asking for advice for the aspiring novelist. Here's my quick reply:

Read and Write. Read a variety of novelists in a variety of genres. Read Stephen King's "On Writing." Then read it again. I do. And of course, keep writing. You write because you have to. It is an itch that cannot be scratched, an illness that cannot be cured. Give in to it. Write when you're energized and when you're tired. Write when you're in love and write when your heart's been broken. Write when you're sober and write after a Mojito or two. Write at dawn and write after midnight. Write in the face of rejection and scorn and envy. Write until you get it right!

NITTANY EYES ARE WEEPING: Penn State did not get an NCAA Tourney bid, despite a 22-11 record (but with a pathetic out-of-conference schedule. So tonight, I'll be watching the disappointed Nittany Lions play Jackie Mason -- excuse me, George Mason -- in the NIT.

What makes this worse is that the hated Pitt Panthers are a number one seed in the NCAA tourney. What can I say? They have a great program, and as the photo below demonstrates, their students can read at least three words.

After a dozen novels, I've finally started a newsletter. You can receive Volume 1, Issue 1 of this witty and wise publication free of charge simply by signing up. Subscribing also puts you in the running for a free copy of "Illegal," which hits the stores next Tuesday. Sign up here. (This offer not valid in Albania). I'm also giving away copies of "Solomon vs. Lord" and "Mortal Sin," a Jake Lassiter novel considered a collector's item. Why a "collector's item?" Because it's so long out of print, you can't find the damn thing.

Until next time,


Monday, March 16, 2009

Detours on Memory Lane

By Patricia Smiley

I had some time on my hands on Saturday, so I started weeding out my files. My biggest challenge is I save too much paper. Most things I keep are pearls of wisdom I don’t want to forget. Some articles remain unread. I guess the subject matter looked interesting, so I set it aside for a day when I had more time. That day has not dawned yet but it might.

First into the recycling bin were newspaper clippings and magazine articles I had squirreled away for research while writing my novels. Then went old drafts of my manuscripts and a list of how to find things out, dated 8/27/91. The Internet makes the list irrelevant. For example, one of the questions was: Where do you search to find what a holding pen at a county jail looks like? The suggested source of information was “Ask friends.” I don’t know about you but other than James O, I don’t have too many friends who know what a holding pen looks like. Besides, now you can probably use Google Earth to peek through a window and see for yourself.

As I am wont to do while throwing things out, I paused to read a few pages before sentencing them to some landfill. This is always my downfall because each note jars a memory, and too many papers worm their way back into my files.

For example, I found a note card that read, “Plot carries action. Sub-plot carries theme.” That could be helpful some day. However, on the back of the card was something more intriguing—two names I plucked from the Montevideo, Uruguay telephone book when I was there in June of 1994. Both share a family name on my mother’s side. Why did I look in the telephone book for possible relatives? Did I suspect I had kin living in South America and Uruguay of all places? Was it merely a parlor game or a germinating plot for an international thriller? I kept the note because I had a great time in Uruguay and someday I may need to know the month and year I was there. Plus, there may be a thriller in my future and the note could be an important clue.

Some sage writing advice I found scrawled on a piece of yellow lined paper:

When you use a “thing” to trigger a memory:
  1. Smell is the strongest stimulus. It goes directly to the brain.
  2. Second best is sound.
  3. Sight is the weakest stimulus.

Here are some notes I took in a 2003 Pasadena Left Coast Crime presentation given by Jack Trimarco, former FBI agent and polygraph expert.
  1. People lie when they don’t have to
  2. A liar takes more time to answer questions. A pause creates an opportunity to formulate an answer (read lie). Liars may also answer the question with a question or repeat the question to stall.
  3. People don’t cry dry unless there is no emotion
  4. It takes 260 pounds of cement to sink a 120-pound woman in the ocean

Here are three inspirational quotes from my files:

“A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann

“To be successful, the first thing to do is fall in love with our work.” —Sister Mary Lauretta

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” —Thomas Edison

Here’s another jewel. On 2/14/99, I printed an e-mail from Laura. I’m not sure who Laura is but I enjoyed her sense of humor enough to keep her correspondence for ten years. I recently found the same information on the Internet along with a humorous quiz, but if I don’t keep the hard copy I may forget that I want to read it again. Here are a few items on her list:

Old and new concerns for people of the baby boom generation:

Then: Long hair
Now: Longing for hair

Then: Keg
Now: EKG

Then: Acid rock
Now: Acid reflux

Then: Paar

Then: Hoping for a BMW
Now: Hoping for a BM

Then: Getting out to a new, hip joint
Now: Getting a new hip joint

After obsessing over the disposition of Laura’s e-mail—Keep? Toss?—I decided to take a breather from paper purging. When it comes to memories you don’t want to eliminate too many at a time.

What are you saving that you can’t bear to part with?

Happy Monday!

Friday, March 13, 2009


from Jacqueline

I had already prepared a post for today, but as these things go, while not sleeping in this hotel room last night (the woes of travel – intermittent insomnia) I thought I would write about something different. Rhythm.

Last Sunday I returned home for a few days. The first long segment of my book tour was behind me, and there were only a few more events still to go. I felt as if I had returned from Mars. And I’ve felt the same way before, after a book tour. It was as if I had just walked into a dance class where everyone knew the moves and I just couldn’t hear the beat. I was out of my rhythm.

I like rhythm to my days, indeed to my months and years. I tend to rise at the same time, pull my robe around me (the black fleecy one),then I go to the kitchen where I put my teabag in a mug (preferably the LA Times Book Festival mug from last year, or the big red mug that my friend, Kas, gave me). I turn on the computer while the kettle’s coming to the boil, and I may even throw a chicken-apple sausage in the pan (due to a recently discovered allergy to just about every grain on the face of the earth, I no longer throw some bread in the toaster). Then with tea and breakfast made, I go through the morning’s emails, write my to-do list and then think about taking the dog for a walk – for my thinking time.

The rhythm of my day has started. The train is on the tracks, and I’m on my journey down through the hours.

I was raised in the country, where every day had its rhythm, and you lived in close alignment with the seasons. At this time of year I would be waiting for the first primroses to appear, so I could run to the woods on Mothering Sunday morning to pick a posy for my Mum (Mothering Sunday – usually the third Sunday in March goes back some eight centuries and is the equivalent of Mother’s Day – sadly, it’s now more often known by that more modern name). If I was lucky I would find some wild violets to add a splash of purple next to the yellow. It’s the time of year when the first lambs would start to appear on wobbly black legs, a time of year when you listened for the cuckoo, just in case it really was spring. People seemed wiser in the country, and I always thought it had something to do with being closer to that rhythm, with a deeply ingrained sense that for everything there is a season; a time to be born and a time to die. With that knowledge came a certain calm way of being in the world.

Now I’m back on the road until Sunday, when I'll fly home like a migrating bird ready to land and find that old nest I left behind (though I will be off to England in about ten days!). As soon as I get back, I’ll be searching for that rhythm – riding the horses, feeding the horses; rush home, have a quick cup of tea, then to my writing, writing, writing; have lunch; more writing, reading, reading; dinner, maybe a movie, maybe more reading. And I will be trying, more than anything, to bring rhythm to my words, to my sentences, to everything I set on the page, because without rhythm the work can sound jarring to the ear when you read it back to yourself. And how do you know when you’ve found the rhythm? I wish I had a prescription for that one, I only know that it’s something you feel, as if it were the change in the air that warns of a storm. Sometimes you only need to alter one word, sometimes you need to cut out a sentence (the sentence that acts like a speed bump in the road and is like a nail across a chalkboard as you read it). I know that reading aloud can help, and I know that cross-training is good for that sense of rhythm (play with poetry - even this Limey can produce a Limerick). I also know that everyone’s different, everyone has a different rhythm. I wrote one of my books almost entirely in hotel rooms on a really, really long book tour – I had no choice. But though I could never do it again, I found that the writing every day grounded me at a time when I felt like a whirling dervish. In setting myself down to write while ignorning the fact that the desk was different, the room was different, gave me the rhythm to my days that I yearned for, and when I came home, I didn’t feel so alien, so out-of-sync.

All that said, I now have to get to my day. I’ll start with some breakfast and a cup of tea, then by the time I’ve spent a few hours writing it’ll be time to rush on over to my event this afternoon. I hope to get a walk in before then ....

How about you – what are you doing today?

Have a lovely weekend.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Wonderful Barbara Parker

James O. Born

I’m sure many of you have heard that Barbara Parker passed away last weekend. I’ve seen a number of articles and blogs about her and her outstanding books. I have to write about her in this blog because, in addition to a great writer, Barbara was a friend of mine.

Barbara was a great writer, which no one can dispute. Published by Dutton and nominated for the Edgar award for her first novel, the evidence of her writing ability is obvious.

I posted this on the MWA president’s message board:

The chapter here is truly saddened. She was nothing but all kinds of great. That visit to NY was a perfect example. Funny, fun and helpful she never complained, never had self pity and never let on.If ever there was an example in the organization for us to follow it's Barbara.She's left a wonderful legacy of family, friends and good books. We should all aspire to such goals.

Me, Carole Baron, Jon King and Barbara at the 2004 Miami Bookfair.

She really was a hoot. A fun, funny person who never complained, whined or belittled anyone. Her bright smile could transform an event and her lovely voice with a hint of a Carolina accent made every story interesting.

I once travelled to Orlando with her and Chris Kling for a trade show. I told Chris it was like travelling with our aunt. She made the trip fun. Barbara would point out sights and people along the way and make us take notice. I will never forget, and it is a testament to Barbara that I recount this, on our way home on a Sunday morning, I had been up late and had a vicious hang …, I mean headache. All I wanted to do was sleep in the back seat. Barbara always wanted to include you in things. It was a beautiful trait. She started listening to an audio book and would turn around to make sure I could hear it. She’d ask my opinion of the writing and narration. She made me feel at ease. All the while wanting vomit and go to sleep. Chris chuckled quietly at Barbara’s concern about leaving me out of the conversation. Even today, almost three years later, after all that’s happened and Barbara’s untimely death, I smile thinking about the longest three hour ride of my life.

I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat just to be around someone as nice as Barbara.
Judy Bobolick, Christine Kling and Barbara

Feel free to share any thoughts about our friend, Barbara Parker.

Chris Jackson, me and Barbara during my first book tour in Plantation, Florida.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Power of We

The Power of We


One of the aspects of Chinese life abundantly obvious is the commune in communism. Our lane is a string of dwellings--some "grand" like ours, a small and simple house, some not so grand--our neighbor, her husband and 12 year old son live in a structure roughly 12x14 feet, their only sink out in the lane in front of their front door and roughly ten feet to the left of our front door. We often pay witness to the boy being given a bath/shower/wash as he stands naked in a plastic tub and warm-ish water is poured over him. All the cooking and washing and clothes washing is done at that tub. It can't be easy, but our neighbor always smiles at us as we come and go from our warm house, brightly lit, with its two baths and full kitchen. There is never a hint of animosity. Acceptance is the rule here.

There is a lane community center very near us where forty year old women do line dances to old fifties American hits, most of which I play with the Rockbottom Remainders. There is choir practice every Wednesday and a Chinese variation on an aerobics class some mornings. We all know each other to say hello to -- and of course the Chinese know each other by name. There's the bald man down the street who carries his large number of potted plants out when the weather is nice (he came and doctored a plant for us not long ago, all smiles to see inside our house.) There's the neighbor with the perfectly restored 1943 motorcycle and sidecar, shined to a spit polish. And of course there's the laundry. Everyone -- yes, including us -- hangs their clean laundry to dry (there are no real clothes dryers here, reducing their carbon footprints when most don't know what a carbon footprint even is), so you're able to see underwear styles and sizes, and the next time you see the woman three houses down you can't help but picture the large sized red underwear somewhere buried beneath the other plain clothing. Long underwear. Bra sizes. We know a lot about each other here in Lane 339.

But it strikes me that the power of we is at work, and no more so than when our wonderful Xue (our housekeeper) had her electric bike break down. She arrived to our house having pedaled the heavy bike (smaller wheels than a regular bike). And she explained in Chinese, and some sign language, that her electric bike had broken. Then she pointed to our back garden, where we keep our bikes, and it was obvious she had quickly jumped to the conclusion that we had four bikes and hers was broken, so we would offer her one of our bikes. Which we did. She didn't thank us. She nodded and smiled, and I gave her the key to the lock, and helped her to get the bike out the big steel door that serves our garden patio. And she rode off. I realized it was expected. This is a communal society. If you have a bike not being ridden and your neighbor needs a bike -- bingo, it's worked out. A few days later Xue returned the bike, smiled, and showed us that hers had been repaired. We were part of the we. We were part of a community.

There are exceptions. When daughter Storey broke her ankle last week and we needed a wheelchair to get her down the impossibly long lane, we turned (through our cook) to our community center. Might they, by any chance, be in possession of a wheelchair? (Since there are many elderly about.) Indeed, as we'd guessed they had one. And they were willing to loan it to us: for a fee. Shanghai is where capitalism meets communism and so we had a taste of where the we meets a fee. We borrowed the wheelchair for three days and three nights. Fee: 2 US dollars.
Today, our cook showed up with a wheelchair -- to loan us indefinitely. Someone's mother had used it, died, and it was lying around. How she managed to get it here (she lives WAY across town) I have no idea. But a man showed up, lifted it into our front door and trundled off. No fee.

And so we are learning that people help people here -- sometimes charging, most of the time not -- out of a societal consciousness that instills at an early age that the individual cannot survive without the group. Historically, we are told, this goes back millennium to the spring floods of major rivers and how, without a full effort on everyone's part, the river could wash away farm ground, taking its top soil and rendering it infertile for generations. Or... they could band together, divert the river and protect their food source. Out of the efforts of many came food for the few. Now, thousands of years later, the same attitude prevails. I cannot make it without you.

As much as an American I have instilled in me the notion of independence and every-man-for-himself, I find myself reflecting that both 911 and the current financial crisis has left me feeling this pulsing group agenda--that we need to thinking as a people not as a person. That we need the power of we. That I'm currently living in an example of how this works at the community level so well. I'm not condoning Communism as a political force. There's too much here that can be criticized (just as there is at home!). But at the base level of neighbor to neighbor, door to door, wheelchair to wheelchair, and bike to bike, there is much to be learned and cherished.

Sharks, Vultures, and One Classy Lady

From Paul

I'm a former trial lawyer, so it's natural that I write legal thrillers. My protagonists are -- how shall I say this without using the words "shady" or "shysters?" -- ethically challenged. Jake Lassiter, Steve Solomon, and now Jimmy (Royal) Payne often choose extracurricular methods in and out of court. It was Lassiter who said, "They don't call us sharks for our ability to swim."

All of which brings to mind my pen pal and favorite comic artist, Jeff Leedy. (His work can be seen -- and purchased -- here. Jeff, too, has a wry view of lawyers, famously expressed in "Counsel Approaching the Bench."

I love the Point-of-View, as if witnessed by a third shark. Me? No, my own portrait from those days -- emblazoned on a business card -- was a vulture.

VOCABULARY 101: Tod Goldberg's recent blog posting admits that, as a youth, he confused the words "thespian" and "lesbian."

This brings to mind the classic, though probably apocryphal story from the 1950 Senate campaign between Claude Pepper and George Smathers in Florida. According to legend, Smathers used these lines when talking to folks in rural north Florida:

"Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper, before his marriage, habitually practiced celibacy."

Well, maybe Smathers never said that. But this is undeniably true. His campaign tarred the incumbent as "Red Pepper." Smathers won.

BARBARA PARKER: Jim Born will have more on Thursday but let me say here how much Barbara Parker will be missed. Like many of us, she began a writing career later in life. An outstanding lawyer, she returned to school and studied creative writing with novelist Les Standiford at Florida International University. Barbara passed away last Saturday after a long illness. She was a prominent and respected member of the Florida writing community. I have many fond memories that go back more than 15 years. (Below: The Miami Book Fair, 2006, Jim Grippando at left).

Paul Levine

Monday, March 09, 2009

What's in a pen name?

By Raymond Chandler (Just joking) Patricia Smiley here…

Some time ago, I met an author who gave me a postcard announcing the release of her first novel. Printed boldly on the card was, “by Jane Doe Writing as Mary Smith.” What was the point, I wondered, of a first-time author using a pen name while divulging her real name, as well?

I have always wondered what motivates people to change their names whether for marriage, fun, work, or as a form of rebellion. Actors frequently adopt alternate names for a variety of reasons, mostly relating to marketing. In general, Tony Curtis sounds sexier than Bernard Schwartz does. Here are other examples:

Carlos Irwin Estévez: Charlie Sheen
Natalie Hershlag: Natalie Portman
Caryn Elaine Johnson: Whoopi Goldberg
Allen Stewart Konigsberg: Woody Allen
Ilyena Vasilievna Mironov: Helen Mirren
Joyce Penelope Wilhelmina Frankenberg: Jane Seymour
Reginald Kenneth Dwight: Elton John

Before I became part of the writing community, I was vaguely aware that some authors who wrote several series or in different genres used pen names so they wouldn’t confuse readers who might pick up a book expecting a cozy mystery about crime-solving cats only to find themselves knee deep in erotica. One of the most famous users of literary doubles, aside from our own James O. Born (police procedurals) who also writes as James O’Neal (science fiction), is Salvatore Alberto Lombino who wrote as Ed McBain, Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins, Ezra Hannon, Evan Hunter, and Richard Marsten.

This site unveils the pen names of various authors, including:
  • Elizabeth MacKintosh: best known as Josephine Tey, Gordon Daviot
  • Barbara Mertz : Elizabeth Peters (Egyptology series) Barbara Michaels (romantic suspense, gothic)
  • Michael Crichton: Michael Douglas, Jeffrey Hudson, John Lange
  • Dean Koontz: David Axton, Leonard Chris, Brian Coffey, Deanna Dwyer, K.R. Dwyer, Leigh Nichols, Arthur North, Richard Page, Owen West
  • Stephen King: Richard Bachman (most well-known), John Swithen
  • David John Moore Cornwell: John Le Carre
  • Nora Roberts: J. D. Robb (mysteries)
There are other reasons why authors use pen names:
  1. An author writes multiple books per year and fears the public will begin to think they are typed by computer savvy chimpanzees.
  2. An author’s sales are disappointing. A name change may “trick” bookstore computers into ordering the new book.
  3. An author has a name like Harry Butz or Spafford Fiddlefart. Another name might read better for marketing reasons.
  4. An author pens unflattering things about people he knows. A friend of mine once told me that his next book, a thinly veiled fiction about his dysfunction family, would surely cost him his inheritance.
  5. An author writes about events that could jeopardize his job, i.e., a conservative minister spins a lurid tale about a sex and drug-filled weekend with a hooker in Belize.
  6. If your real name is James Patterson, your publisher might encourage you to consider an alternative.
  7. The name Peaches LaRue might not be taken seriously as the author of a thriller about a secret society of international assassins. Richard Slasher may work better.
Maybe a nom de plume should reflect the novel’s content. In a nod to our very own Paul Levine who is something of an anagram savant, I offer the following scrambled literary doubles for Patricia Smiley and the accompanying story lines:
  • Calamity I. Piers (a woman brings misfortune to her classmates)
  • Maria Elicit Spy (The von Trapp matriarch comes in from the cold)
  • Tiara Pic Smiley (a beauty queen learns to laugh again)
  • Caries Pay Limit (the story of a dentist’s clash with a cold-hearted insurance company)
  • Cilia Raspy Emit (the loss of her voice ends an opera singer's career)
  • Alicia Pyre-Mist (an arsonist is foiled by a monsoon)
  • Eric Y. Salami-Pit (a young man dreams of writing the Great American Novel while working in his family’s deli)
  • Ace Amir Tipsily (a Top Gun faces his addictions)
  • Malice Tarsi Yip (There is something very Jane Austen-y about this name. I love the sound of it rolling off my tongue.)
What do you think about pen names?

Happy Monday!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

I May Be Some Time ....

from Jacqueline

Those of you familiar with stories of the frozen wastes of Antarctica, will know those words, apparently uttered by Captain Lawrence Oates (who obviously could have done with a bowl of same), when he gallantly left the tent in which he and his fellow explorers on Scott’s doomed expedition to the South Pole in 1912 had taken refuge. He hoped that by leaving, most certainly to his death, his rations would help save the other men.

Sweeping aside the tent-flap (or at least, he did in the film), he said, “I’m just going outside, and I may be some time.” I felt a bit like that in Chicago on Monday.

It was so cold my ears almost became fused to the side of my head, and the gloves I had brought with me weren’t at all up to the job (so said goodbye to another hundred bucks at Macy’s for warm gloves, warm scarf – the full ensemble in thermal microfleece). You see, I really don’t like the cold. I don’t like the really hot either – I’m just a temperate kind of gal from temperate climes - though it's been pretty cold, over in the old country recently.

The house we moved into when I was three years old, and which my parents left almost twenty-five years later, did not have any kind of central heating until I turned fifteen. I remember the day the builders turned up to do the remodeling work and put in the heating – I was the one waiting on the doorstep, shooing them into the house and keeping an eye on them to make sure the job was done in double-quick time. I was a girl on a mission – because I had spent too many winter nights scrunched up in my bed clutching a hot water bottle that had lost all heating capacity hours earlier. I knew that when I scrambled from my bed in the morning – always at the last minute so I didn’t have to face the cold, cold room – I would have to scrape ice from inside the window to see outside. Yep, it was that bad. I’d jump downstairs three or four steps at a time to get into the kitchen where the big coal stove was punching out the only heat in the house. Until I was thirteen, the “loo” was outside – I remember the cistern would overflow sometimes in winter, seeping water onto the toilet seat, so if you weren’t careful, you’d plunk yourself down onto a sheet of ice and end up on the cold stone floor. Nothing if not rustic, my mum and dad.

There’s no photo I would use for that image ....

As soon as we had the heating installed, I ramped up the gauge on my bedroom radiator as far as it would go. I even learned pretty quickly how to bleed the radiators when necessary, so they always worked at maximum output. As soon as autumn began to simper its way into winter, I’d move my bed next to the radiator and tuck the sheets and blankets in such a way that the radiator was in bed with me. Made my dad a bit mad. “The heating's supposed to circulate around the house, not up through your body!” he’d yell. My mother predicted I would get early varicose veins. I don’t know where she got that one from, but guess what – I did get early varicose veins. I should do something about them, I suppose.

Since then, no matter how broke I’ve been, or how humble my abode, I have always made sure I was warm – if and when I wanted to be. Luckily, my husband is the same, a chilly mortal. If we’re going out to the movies, even in summer, he’ll ask if I have a wrap with me – that air conditioning can get nippy you know. And we go to other people’s houses well prepared for them to be warm-running folk who rarely touch the thermostat.  We are likely to walk in sweatered and Ugged up to the gills, with layers to remove if they’re like us.

So, here I am in Boston, in my hotel room, waiting for a call from someone who wants to interview me.  I'm looking out at a snow-drenched Boston Common backlit by a bright winter sun, and it's quite stunning.

This morning I wrapped up warm and went for a walk across the common to Beacon Hill, where I was taking in the atmosphere and making notes for the book I am writing at the moment, which features a character from this part of Boston (not giving away too much there, am I?). After wandering up and down the streets, stepping aside nippily to avoid the odd lump of ice falling from a roof, I made my way across the Common again to (I think) Boylston Street – and as soon as I saw the magnificent library, it called to me, and not only because I couldn’t feel my fingertips.

Now, this is a library-goers library, a place with thousands of books that seem to scream, “Come in, read, research, study, learn, travel to far places, meander back in time, stretch the gray matter, pull me off the shelves and have your way with me.” And as I was sitting at my desk, surrounded by a pile of books on the social history of Beacon Hill, I thought, “Why would anyone want a Kindle?” (Or something similar). Well, having slogged a couple of hefty books off and on one ‘plane or another, I can see why, however, there is something about those older tomes, something about a place so steeped in intellectual curiosity, that underlines the importance of the book. And later, as I braced myself and went out into the cold air, I realized that it had to do with what we are really tapping into when we open a book, whether we are immersed in study or reading for pleasure. We are accessing a direct line to a vein of storytelling that goes back centuries, and the fact that we can pick up a book – old technology, if ever I saw it – speaks to that legacy. I was using books that will never be available on a Kindle, and to turn their weary but still-up-to-the-job pages made me ache with pleasure. We are so lucky to have libraries, so fortunate to have bookshops, and we have been blessed with books. I just wish more people would come in from the cold and seek the warmth of they offer to the very soul of a person. I've always felt a sense of belonging, in a library - a belonging that warms the cockles of my heart.

Well, I guess that’s me for this week – more ramblings from the road. I’m going home on Saturday – first time in three weeks, and I am so looking forward to it. I think it's due to rain this weekend. But that's OK, my people come from damp.

Have a terrific weekend. Haunt your local bookstore, or meander around your local library – go on, I dare you!

Addendum: Written later ... have just arrived back at my hotel following an event in a church, organized by the Harvard Bookstore (about 90-100 people turned up - and with snow drifts on the sidewalk!). I was a few minutes early, so was taken to a back room to wait, and given a cup of tea. The yoga class was upstairs (the downward facing dog must have been romping around the floor – you should have heard the noise up there!), and the choir was belting out a series of hymns in another room. The place was warm, cozy, and reminded me of my childhood, when I came to almost identical church halls for my choir practice, or some other such thing. I began browsing the bookshelves, head tilted to read the titles, and pulled down the odd dusty tome to read. Among the writings of the founding fathers was more contemporary work – Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies to name one – and then there, on the shelf, between a treatise on the faith of the founding fathers, and a book of hymns, was a copy of the Qur’an. Interesting, that. I wonder if they keep a copy of the Bible at the local mosque, to keep the lines of theological inquiry and the heart open.

Saw Marianne at the event – so lovely to put a face to the name at last, and to meet one of our regular contributors of comments. Thank you for coming along, Our Marianne.