Friday, May 29, 2009

This One Wild & Precious Life

from Jacqueline

It’s been one of those weeks. One thing after another. OK, so I will not go into details, because that would be just too much information, but here’s one of the things that happened to me this week – the quick overview (I don’t want to be dramatic here). I had to have some medical investigative work done a couple of days ago. The sort of investigative work that only has two possible results and you hope you hear the good news that makes you want to blow a ridiculous amount of money on a bottle of vintage Bollinger, or whatever is your celebratory tipple. The other response is the one that immediately makes you drag out the bucket list. I’ll put you out of your wonderings and tell you right now – we had champagne this evening, and fortunately, by the time I got to the store, I had my senses back and went for the twenty-buck bottle of bubbly and not the silly money bottle.

All the same, it was a week spent in speculative limbo, during which, not for the first time, I wondered what was really important. What really matters. It was almost like having one of those wildfires on your doorstep, so you grab as much as you can that means something to you and get the heck out – and halfway down the road you realize you have your people, your pets, your photographs and maybe your memory stick with all the writing you’ve ever done in your life. Everything that mattered, and it all fitted into the car.

It’s not that I realized what was important for the first time – I know what’s truly important to me – but it was an AFGO when I went through some of the things I thought I might want to do or see, but turns out I didn’t, well, not in a big way anyway. Remember AFGO? I wrote about AFGO’s over a year ago when my friend Helen passed away. She’d always referred to those challenging moments in life as being AFGO’s – Another F*****g Growth Opportunity.

My AFGO made me remember my daily prescription – it’s a prescription I’ve had for years, only I forget to take it sometimes.

Years ago, I was having one of those long heart-to-heart conversations with my friend, Kas, and we started talking about having a personal prescription. It’s all in the question, “If you had to choose five ingredients you need each day – to be balanced and whole, what would they be?.” Hmmm. Here’s what I said:

Some time in nature every day – be it hiking, out on my horse, walking with my dog, sitting on a beach, or working in my garden. Doesn’t have to be a long time, but it has to be there. The first thing my mum always did when she came home from work, before she even changed her clothes, was to go out into the garden, dead-head the roses, pull a few weeds and just sit and look at the sanctuary she’d created.

To write every day, stir up the creative juices in some way or another. It’s not just about the books, and the deadlines, it about who I am.

Eat properly – good nutritious food. I know I get cranky if I don’t eat well.

To connect with people I love and who love me in return.

Some time spent alone, just me, just thinking. Doesn’t have to be a long time, I can get a lot from five minutes of solitude.

OK, I know there are some things that appear to be missing there – reading, exercise, etc., but I’m talking about the prescription, the medicine that makes everything else work. And it’s not that I’d abandoned my prescription in a big way, but instead of just waving to my brother as he passed me in his truck a couple of days ago, it was suddenly important to flag him down, pull over to the side of the road and have a chat.

In the past few years, several of my women friends have been diagnosed with either breast cancer, in particular, or ovarian cancer. I can’t think of any one of them who went off to one far flung clime after another, or suddenly began jumping out of airplanes or scaling mountains – the treatment is a big enough incline. Two in particular come to mind, and both in their very early fifties. One took early retirement with her husband to finish the house they were building high on a hill in the middle of nowhere – today she spends her days tending her extensive organic garden and reading. They have solar and wind power and draw their water from their own spring, so they work on their land a lot. The other gave up a very high-powered job and though she will go back to the corporate world at some point, it won’t be in the same way. She’s happy spending her days on her prescription – she walks with her friends or alone, sits down to lunch with her husband, who works from home. She reads, paints and cooks and she’s not overly concerned about the savings diminishing because there are more important things to worry about and she knows that it will all come right. She knows that everything she loves can fit into the car and she’s here to enjoy it.

I guess I realized that for me, it’s not about bucket lists or the 1000 places to see before your time’s up (and what is it with this glut of books on the market about all the things you should do before you die?). It’s all about the daily prescription and the daily rhythm of life with the people you love and the things you like to do. And if a job you don’t much like helps you to do that, well that’s OK (I had a job for years that I really didn’t care for, but I loved the freedom it gave me to write) – it’s not necessarily about throwing everything away either. But maybe the prescription should read something like this:

To be with people you love
To be in a place you love
Something to do that you love
To provide good sustenance for the body
To be at peace with life, whatever that means to you

We’re privileged to be able to think in this way, when you consider what is going on in the world, where some people have no choice. I’m amazed we don’t do it more often.

And finally, here’s an excerpt from A Summer’s Day, by Mary Oliver:

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

So, what’s in your prescription?

Have a truly lovely weekend.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Crime Fiction to Science Fiction

James O'Neal

Hey Guys,

This is a quick, more personal note to the loyal readers of Naked Authors. As most of you know I had a book come out this week. It’s The Human Disguise under the pen name of James O’Neal, which is my middle name.

It’s a crime story set twenty years in the future so I had to extrapolate police procedure and social issues that might arise in twenty years. When I see a crime fiction fan roll their eyes at the idea of a science fiction, it’s hard not to explain to them that most crime fiction that they read is more outlandish than science fiction. But they watch Law and order so they're freaking experts. Sorry, I digress.

Back to The Human Disguise.

Here’s a better summary of the plot than I could write. This is from Publisher’s Weekly:

(Starred Review) The Human Disguise James O'Neal. Tor, $15.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-7653-2014-8
This near-future page-turner debut amalgamates apocalyptic science fiction, police procedural and thematic dashes of alien invasion and vampire mythos. Fighting wars in Syria, Iraq and the Balkans, the U.S. is on the precipice of anarchy. Manhattan is a radioactive wasteland, sprawling plague quarantine zones are commonplace and lawlessness is rampant. When Tom Wilner, a detective with Florida's underfunded Unified Police Force, witnesses a bloody shootout at a roadhouse, he becomes entangled in a vast conspiracy involving his estranged wife and her crime lord lover, a terrorist plot to detonate a dirty bomb in Florida and speculation about a race of godlike hominids and a looming alien invasion. O'Neal provides the postapocalyptic genre with few innovations, but his self-assured, hard-edged writing style, solid characters and wildly entertaining thriller plot will keep readers enthralled. (June)

I enjoyed writing the book and its sequel, The Double Human, and like the people at TOR very much. There is no downside. I’m getting paid to do something I love with people who a decent and fun.

My crime fiction buddy, Victor Gischler, talked to me one night about my interest in science fiction and suggested I follow my interest. He also ventured into the science fiction world this year with the outstanding Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse.

Now I’m trying to meet some of the science fiction people. The few I’ve met like Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, Ben Bova and Jay Lake have been top notch and extremely supportive. Now I’m hoping to meet more. I’m hoping this blog gets picked up by a science fiction site so they can see those of us over in the crime fiction arena have the same issues with publishers, distributors, critics and publicity as they do.

Feel free to drop me a line at or visit my website, .

Finally, for the last of my self-involved, pointless post, take a look at a newscast from my area two days ago:

If that doesn't work use this link:

I sent it around to a few buddies last night and one wrote back that the bad news is that the camera adds twenty pounds to you. The worse news is that, No, it doesn't.

Thanks for reading. I know a few of you are hooked into the science fiction scene. I'd appreciate it if you passed this post onto any of the SF fans or sites you know.
Feel free to contact me through or at my e-mail

I promise I'll go back to mindless dribble next week.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Amazing Feats

This is just ABSURD... I'm not sure it's even real, but it's ABSURD either way! It's said to be Bruce Lee -- and check out his ping pong "paddle."

Another amazing feat: this time by BIRDS. (I've been trying to tell Marcelle that singing in the shower serves a purpose.) Or maybe if you visit the same Starbucks all the time you can now detect bad weather or seismic events.

The NYTimes reported this week that American teenagers are averaging over 2,200 texts a month and that it's beginning to have serious health effects. I noticed that my email volume jumped from a low of 30 a day while in China, to over 80 a day within hours of returning to the US. None of them junk. Once I was in the "business orbit" of real time messaging then my business contacts found me and I was returned to the bombardment of messages. I like being "in the loop" again, mind you, but it interested me that it happened so exponentially. My 12 year old has taken to texting--her phone chimes constantly--and we've imposed rules of taking the phone during homework and at lights-out. What's amazed me is when she lost her phone and didn't have it, she didn't seem to miss the texting one bit. Then, since I've been away (from China) and she's been using mine, she's glued to it again. She's even gotten so good at it that she edited the texted messages in my next Kingdom Keepers novel. Scary... and something to keep an eye on.

I'm on the road again this week: tonight Pittsburgh, tomorrow Hailey/Sun Valley, Idaho; Thursday night NYC, and back to China on Saturday morning. It has been a fun and productive trip. I will see my Putnam editor Christine Pepe on Thursday -- a visit I look forward to (discuss the new Killer Silence book... still a work in progress; and Killer Summer that publishes in late June!)

I will see Dave Barry while at the BEA, which is always entertaining. (our 4th Starcatchers book--Peter and the Sword of Mercy--publishes in October.) We have a dinner with Dinsey Publishing and booksellers Thursday night that is, at the very least, unusual. Can't wait.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Born Again as O'Neal

From Paul...

It's really difficult for a writer to master two genres.

Not talking about literary heavyweights like Tom Wolfe, who can write from the point-of-view of an aging real estate tycoon ("A Man in Full") and then from the POV of a poverty-stricken teenage girl. ("I Am Charlotte Simmons.") Along the way, he can pen powerful, enduring essays ("Why Aren't They Writing the Great American Novel Anymore?").

Also, not talking about a novelist/poet/essayist/critic like John Updike who could trace a middle-class man's angst through the four "Rabbit" novels and also write: fantasy cum humor ("The Witches of Eastwick"); a novel about an 18-year-old radicalized Muslim boy ("Terrorist"), and possibly the greatest sports column ever written, ("Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu"). And so many other brilliant pieces.

No, I'm talking about the rest of us. Genre writers. To me, Updike's talents seem like a combination of Mozart and Picasso. How did he do it?

Which brings me to James Born. Okay, Mozart and Picasso...a bit of a stretch. But holy cow, he's just bridged the gap between crime fiction and science fiction. His new novel, "The Human Disguise," written as James O'Neal, just got a smashing review from Oline Cogdill in the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

"O'Neal's energetic storytelling is enhanced by wry humor and believable characters who seem realistic. His respect for the tenets of science fiction enables him to make a happy marriage with the police procedural. As Born, this Lake Worth author has delivered some fine crime fiction, including the award-winning Escape Clause. As O'Neal, he shows his mettle in another genre."

To which I will add, James Born a/k/a James O'Neal is the greatest writer within the city limits of Lake Worth, Florida.


GRUMPY OLD WHITE MEN. Why did we hear so little from Dick Cheyney when he was Vice President, and now he won't shut up. Personally, I like having Cheyney, Karl Rove, and Rush Limbaugh as the face (or double chins) of the Republican Party.

INK, INC. Even if the Denver Nutcakes don't beat the Los Angeles Layabouts (and the series is tied 2-2), they clearly win the tattoo competition.

ODD CASTING. A classy road production of the hit musical "Chicago" is in Miami this week. The role of Mama Morton, portrayed by Queen Latifah in the film, is being played by Colombian bombshell Sofia Vergara. It's an odd bit of casting, reminiscent of Michelle Pfeiffer playing the "unattractive" waitress in "Frankie and Johnny." If you have any examples of puzzling casting, I'd love to hear them. In the meantime, in the interest of investigative journalism, I herewith publish photos of the new Mama Morton.

Say, is that James Born headed down I-95 from Lake Worth to Miami...lining up for theater tickets?


Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Copper Fist...and One Proud Uncle

from James Grippando

It’s the kind of news that appears at the end of yet another daily newspaper round-up on the war in Iraq. Half a column about a car bombing that kills 41 civilians in Baghdad. And then, almost, parenthetically, USA Today reports at the bottom of the page:

“Also Wednesday, three U.S. soldiers were wounded in north Baghdad in a blast from a type of weapon which the U.S. military believes is manufactured in Iran and smuggled from Iran. The U.S. military confirmed the attack and said the bomb was an explosively formed projectile, which hurls a fist-sized piece of copper through armored vehicles. Iran has denied providing such weapons.”

Hmm, you say. And then you flip to Section C to check out the basketball scores.

Unless one of the three soldiers wounded is your nephew.

James Nixon Hall is on his second tour of duty in Iraq. He is my older sister’s youngest child, Roberta's only son. His father served in the Vietnam War. His grandfathers fought in World War II, and his grandmother (my mother) was a Navy nurse in the Korean War. His wife Anna raises their children while he’s away, with an able assist from my sister, who I still can't believe is a grandmother several times over. His son was born while he was three thousand miles away on his first tour of duty.

PFC Hall was a gunner on a tank on his first tour in Iraq. He’s a twenty-eight-year old sergeant now, responsible for the lives of greener troops, many of them teenagers. The quiet and deliberate sergeant doesn’t share many details with us civilians about what he does over there. My sister thinks he’s running more night missions this time around. That worries us.

Last Wednesday, those worries went off the charts.

Roberta had been visiting our mother in Ft. Lauderdale, and her return flight left on Wednesday morning. She called me from O’Hare Airport in Chicago, halfway home to Washington State. She was surprisingly calm.

“Anna got a phone call,” Roberta said. “Jimmy was injured in Iraq today.”

I was driving on I-95, returning from a book signing in Naples, the cell phone plastered to my ear.
“How bad?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
“How did it happen?"
“Don’t know that either.”
“Where is he?”
“A hospital. Baghdad, I think.”

Roberta asked me to call our mother, tell her the news, and try not to scare her to death. My sister had to get on the plane from Chicago to Seattle. She would have no cell phone, no text messaging, no e mail—no way of scratching and clawing for more information about her son for the next five hours.

I can only imagine what Roberta was thinking as she sped west at 30,000 feet—toward home, but farther and farther away from her injured son. My own mind was racing. I was thinking about three-year-old Jimmy, the mischievous little monkey who almost electrocuted himself by sticking a house key in an electrical outlet. I remembered a five-year-old boy fighting to keep his eyes open past midnight to watch The Empire Strikes Back and talk like Yoda with his Uncle Jimmy from Miami. I remembered crossing the Puget Sound on a ferry and lifting him up on my shoulders so that he could feel the wind on his seven-year-old face. I thought of him all grown up, six-foot-three-inches tall, sitting on my deck last June, calm but contemplative, just a few weeks before he was scheduled to ship off to Iraq—again.

I passed the hours by doing computer research, doing the things I figured my sister would be doing if she weren't stuck on an airplane. I was desperate to figure out how to get more information on my nephew. I was surprised how little I was able to find. I took a little diversion and dug up a photo of Corporal John Crawford and six other marines in Iraq. Last year, Corporal Crawford sent me an e mail telling me that he and his men were fans of James Grippando novels. They were part of the security force in Al Tequadem, and after finding only three of my novels in the PX, he very humbly wrote "to ask if you would give us the privilege of sending some of the other books for us to read." We sent a box with everything I had ever written, and they sent me a thank-you photo, each of them holding a copy of their favorite Grippando novel.

"On long days standing post or trying to find ways to keep occupied on your time off, a GOOD books does wonders," he wrote. Soldiers talk freely about the boredom, the need to make time pass. They don't talk about the parts of their day that worry us folks back home. My nephew is just like them. I wondered if all of those young men had made it home.

I went back to the internet research and came across something called “Our Hero Handbook,” a Department of Defense "Guide for Families of Wounded Soldiers." It was dated June 2006, and I had no idea if it was still current, but this is what it said:

"The process begins for the family with notification. Families are notified of the injury to their soldier in a number of ways. Some families receive phone calls from their soldier who then tells them of their injury. Often another military member present may speak to the family to provide additional information…”

I stopped right there. Why hadn't my nephew placed the call himself to tell Anna or his mom or his dad of the injury? He was in the hospital. Surely they have telephones. Was he not conscious? Was he in surgery?

Stop it. Don't freak.

The answer came at 9:03 p.m. (4:03 a.m. Thursday in Baghdad). Roberta forwarded me a text message she received from her son upon landing in Seattle:

“i am fine. who called and said that i was hurt?”
Roberta's first thought was that the army had notified the wrong family. “Hall,” after all, is a pretty common name. But the army had not made a mistake. It was indeed his vehicle that had been struck by the Iranian-made explosive device. All three soldiers aboard had been taken to the hospital.

Fortunately, my nephew really is fine. The army sent him to the brain trauma unit to make sure of that. I can only presume that he didn’t call his family—and he didn’t want anyone to call on his behalf—because he knew that we would all worry ourselves sick if we heard he was in the brain trauma unit. He was probably right. He was definitely courageous.

And on this Memorial Day, he is one of many heroes. One of the lucky ones.

Patty will return next week in her regular slot.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Tick ...Tick ... Tick ....

from Jacqueline

What I want to know is, what purpose does the tick serve in this grand ecosystem we call Earth? What does it do that is absolutely essential, and would mean the end of life as we know it if were to be completely eradicated? That’s what I want to know.

Anyone who has a dog knows what it is to come across the tick, and there are different kinds of ticks. I’m currently in northern California, which is crawling, and I mean CRAWLING with deer ticks, among other ticks. Deer ticks are the ones you want to watch, nasty little @#$%ers they are too. They are particularly hard to remove, though soaking them with alcohol and then twisting them out (with tweezers, don’t touch them) is the best thing to do. Then there are wood ticks, which are bigger and sort of lumber around on your skin, which gives you plenty of time to grab the thing and flush it down the toilet. I have flushed so many ticks down the toilet that I have imagined them growing really, really big, like giant ninja ticks just waiting to crawl back up over the s-bend to get me when I least expect it.

I have a history with ticks.Years ago, when I had only adopted my dog Sally about two weeks earlier, my friend (who was staying with me) and I took her for a ride in the car and a short walk in a park a few miles away down a country road. We didn’t go anywhere particularly tick-ish and kept to the path. Sal was on the leash, and all was well. On the way home we saw a stray dog wandering in the road. Now, I can’t just drive on by stray dogs in the road. So I stopped, saw that the dog had tags, put her in the car, took her to her home, locked her in the garden and called her owner at work to tell her what I’d done. Now, to wrangle the dog into my car, I’d had to get a bit up close and personal, and this dog had clearly been having a high old time in the woods. At two in the morning I woke up suddenly, knowing, just knowing, that I had a tick on me. And I knew where it was – OK, this is personal, so don’t laugh – it was under my right breast and it was stuck. I screamed. Heck, I said. Only I didn’t say heck. My friend came running into the bathroom and said, “Oh, shit.” Then she proceeded to tell me that her husband had managed to get a tick out of his ankle by holding a lighted match to its butt. “What happened?” I asked. “Oh, his ankle came up like a balloon.”

I went straight to the emergency room. The nurse in charge gave me some grief, asking why a little old tick couldn’t wait until a more reasonable hour, then retracted when she saw the look on my face. It was a face that suggested there was no more reasonable hour than right now to GET THIS THING OUT OF ME!!! I was put into a cubicle to await the doctor, who was attending to some kids who’d wrapped a car around a payphone, and in that whole emergency room there was only one magazine. Good Housekeeping. So I picked it up and opened it at random. I am not kidding when I tell you this, it is the absolute honest truth – I opened that magazine to a double page spread on TICKS! How to avoid getting bitten, and what to do if you are. According to the author, once a tick had its head in your body, you have six hours before it starts releasing its toxins. OK, so we walked the dog at four, came home, had dinner, chatted for a while ... and it was now getting on for three o’clock in the morning. GET THIS THING OUT OF ME!!!! (I screamed inwardly. It may have been a tick, but I wasn’t the one who had just written off my dad’s Mercedes).

At this point the doctor came into the cubicle, and I thought, heck (again) – they really are getting younger, and me with this tick burrowing into my body from a place just under my right breast. I thought it couldn’t get any worse. Then he told me to lay back while he pulled over the magnifying glass.

(I wish ...)

Five minutes later the tick was out and I don’t know what toxins that thing had let loose, but even my ribs were reverberating with pain. I left the emergency room and wandered across the parking lot to my car, only to hear someone running up behind me. It was the man who had signed me in to the emergency room, a sort of general helper person. He explained that he really worked for the park service and was moonlighting at the hospital to make extra money. “You did the right thing coming here, you know. I heard that nurse and she was plain wrong.” And he went on to tell me about the strict guidelines they have in the park service for dealing with ticks. I went home knowing way more about ticks than I ever thought I needed to know.

Now, if you are wondering why I am writing about ticks, when I have so many other things I could write about, well, it’s like this. I went for a walk this evening with my friend, Kas. While we were walking along, chatting, we realized that her dog, Samba, was not actually with us, so we back-tracked. He was down in a thicket and it was clear he had managed to get himself into a sort of deep hole (and he’s a big dog, part Great Dane) and was having trouble getting out. It was probably a damp hole, because he was in search of water. Ticks, in case you didn’t know, love warm, damp places. So I went into the thicket as far as I could to encourage him to get out, and he eventually scrambled up to us, panting and a bit distressed. I gave him a hug and we all sat together for a while.

I came home and began working at my computer, somewhat distracted by what I thought was a little fly on my neck. I brushed at it, and it seemed to go away. Then it came back and this went on for about half an hour while I booked tickets for a play in London. Then I put my hand to my neck and my finger touched this little thing, so I grabbed it to have a look – ITS A TICK!!!! I did not scream inwardly.

Needless to say I have just showered myself silly (this column being penned on Thursday evening) and have everything I was wearing, even my tennies, in the washing machine. Ticks. Can’t stand the little buggers.

Seriously, ticks are no fun. Lyme Disease is only the tip of the tick iceberg in terms of the diseases that can be transmitted. My dear old Sally had a chronic disease called “Erlichia” from a tick bite – it was manageable, sure, but nothing a human would want to go through.

(And all of you who are wondering what happened to Jackie the protector of all life on the planet – sorry, I forgot to put in one exception. Ticks. You won’t see me with a banner with Save The Tick anytime soon.)

Have a tick-free weekend. And for those of our readers here in the USA, let's remember the meaning of Memorial Day.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Jon Land - Funny Guy, Good Writer

James O’Neal

Last week I signed with a group of authors in San Antonio, Texas. I learned an awful lot about Texas and specifically the Alamo. I also learned, while attempting to run early Friday morning that San Antonio, while a nice town, is devoid of grass. The hard concrete, cobblestone and asphalt surfaces were not kind to my middle-aged knees.

But that doesn’t matter because I met some great writers. One in particular made my trip enjoyable. Jon Land. I had met him before at one convention or another, but this was the first time we had time to hang out and talk.

Land is a good guy with an infectious enthusiasm and a sincere appreciation for talking with people. He took his time with each fan and wrote inscription between three hundred and four thousand words in each book, while I wrote things like “Thanks” and “Thank you.”

While sitting next to him all day, I learned the pitch for his new book better than I knew my own. “Strong Enough To Die is about a female Texas Ranger on the trail of the men who tortured her husband.” I’m not certain my wife would care, but I love the premise.

Publisher’s Weekly said of Strong Enough to Die --“The revelations are constant, the characters compelling and the action fast and furious.” And calls Land’s new character, Caitlin Strong, a fifth-generation Texas Ranger “Tough, original heroine.”

Pretty good stuff.

We shared a few private jokes and sucked in super smart, super dignified Bill Martin of The Lost Constitution fame. He had a good accent, sense of humor and outlook. I could forgive him that he went to Harvard. I’m sure Florida State was too far to drive.

The whole trip gave me a little insight into my science fiction publisher, TOR, and their senior editor Bob Gleason. How do you not respect a company that sets up free events for service members at great expense to themselves? I respected their commitment. I have to give a shout out to Michael Barson and Neil Nyren over at Putnam who ponyed up quite a few books to give away as well.

I’ve gotta go and get a few things rolling for new week’s release of the Human Disguise. I’m hosting a launch party at Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore on Friday in Delray Beach, Florida. Free food and drinks for anyone who shows up. That includes the homeless. The party is on Friday, May 29th at 7:00pm.

Hope to see you there.

Jim Born, I mean O'Neal

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Important things

I'm back in the states for a couple weeks, and the culture shock is significant. Do you realize everyone in this country drives big cars (they don't ride bikes by the tens of thousands)? They live in big houses and apartments by themselves (not with three generations of family) and they work 8 -10 hours a day? (Not 12-18) They rarely say hi to one another -- too preoccupied with their mobile phones (this, both China and US share!) They eat meat and wheat. (This is may be the most noticeable difference (rice, vegetables, and fish)). It's great to be back, don't get me wrong. You can see the sun. You can drink the tap water.

I'm testing out for 2 weeks (Ridley Pearson, RidleyTheWriter) firing off hourly updates of life on a middle school speaking tour (with a commencement and the BEA thrown in). I may get to see S.J. Rozan while briefly in St. Louis -- would be a thrill!

I give a commencement speech at an Alternative School next week where I once taught screenwriting as a six week course. It can't be considered a commencement since these kids "started" (commenced) by deciding to return to high school after dropping out, and now have restarted their lives. It's a "continuum" -- and I'm grappling with how to present that. A special place -- and after 16 years the school board is closing it down and rolling into the school system, which is scary, because it's that very system the kids fled in the first place. Maybe my talk should be about irony.

Noisy hotel rooms, jet lag, very little sleep. The trials of authors that rarely get mentioned. (my hotel "neighbor" was anvil lifting this morning and woke me up in the Orlando Hyatt at 3:30AM, and I'm still up!)[Written Sunday night]

24 has ended (I haven't watched it since the first season, but Dave Barry's 24 blog is priceless!) Idol ends this week -- I'm pulling for Adam. I saw Star Trek -- my first feature film in a theater in many, many months -- and couldn't handle the 2 second camera angles. The style -- you see it all the time these days -- never let's your eye rest so you can enjoy the story line -- or maybe there is no story line. That may be the point.

I have a short story and novel coming out in June. ( and we move the family back to the states from Shanghai. It's going to be a heck of a month. Over in Shanghai, my daughter is buying a pair of black shoes for her recital tonight ( a recital I will miss ) and just the thought of that is a nice anchor. It's nice to remember the important things...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Lost in the City of Angels

From Paul

VICE STRIKES OUT: I don't know about you, but I'm really tired of Dick Cheyney...

STOP THE PRESSES: JOHN'S A WEASEL. OH, YOU KNEW: I like Elizabeth Edwards, but I can't figure out why she found it necessary to rehash John-the-aging-frat-boy's crummy behavior.

SELL YOUR WORDS: You wrote a poem, a short story, a novel. Now, you can sell it on-line with no middlemen (middlepeople?) at SCRIBd.

YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN: Last week, I spoke at an alumni event at the University of Miami Law School. Talk about reunions! A bunch of my classmates showed up. (More would have been there, but home-confinement bracelets and terms of probation would not permit it). There were judges and criminal defense lawyers and personal injury lawyers and the gastroenterologist who performed my first colonoscopy.

I was happily surprised by the appearance of two friends from the distant past. M. Minnette Massey was my Civil Procedure professor and coach of the law school's moot court team. Dan Schwartz was my teammate, and together we won the national moot court championship. I won't mention the year, but the number one song in the country was the Bee Gees' "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?", China had just joined the United Nations, the Pentagon Papers were published, and the hairstyles were...shall we say...hairy.

I've lived in Los Angeles 10 years, but I still consider Miami to be home. I wonder if that's because of the transient nature of La-La Land. Maybe it's harder to sink roots here. As Raymond Chandler wrote, it's "a city with all the personality of a paper cup."

The place is so damn big. In Miami, most of my friends live in the Coral Gables/Coconut Grove area. No one is more than ten minutes from anyone else. In Los Angeles, my pals stretch from Pasadena to Manhattan Beach, and trust me, that's a drive.

"Los Angeles is 72 suburbs in search of a city." -- Dorothy Parker

I'm not sure, but I wonder if the term "urban sprawl" originated here.

"Los Angeles is just New York lying down." -- Quentin Crisp

I'd written eight novels while living in Miami, then moved to Los Angeles when I was offered a position on the writing staff of "JAG." I've written another five novels after concluding my short, unspectacular television career. So, I'm wondering. Why am I still here?

“I noticed I had developed a fantasy about myself as a writer as opposed to actually doing it so I finally summoned up the bad taste to move to Los Angeles.” -- Leslie Dixon

But maybe all cities cities are alike at the core. The good and the bad mixed, the hopeful and the distressed. Raymond Chandler, again, on Los Angeles, with its "night of a thousand crimes":

"A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness."

A writer of tales should be able to live wherever he/she wants. Right? So what should I do? What would you do? What's the best place to write? A cabin in Colorado? A beach in Tahiti? Jim Born's backyard?


Monday, May 18, 2009

Hell Bent on Titles

Patricia Smiley here...

On Sunday, I came upon a list of memoirs recommended by Christopher Buckley (William F.’s progeny), all of which sounded worth reading. His choices included:

Home Before Night by Hugh Leonard, an Angela’s Ashes type memoir about the author's childhood near Dublin, Ireland

Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph
by T.E. Lawrence AKA Lawrence of Arabia

Goodbye to All That
by Robert Graves, about his experiences during World War I. (This book is tailor-made for Our J)

Miles Gone By by William F. Buckley

I kept the article because I’d like to read all of those books someday, but also because the titles make a promise to the reader. Some people have a gift for creating compelling titles that flow like poetry. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them.

Currently, I’m writing a novel featuring LAPD homicide detectives. Without a working title, I feel rudderless, but working with a bad title is almost as ruinous as no title at all. My working title isn’t optimal because an acquaintance published a book with that same name within the past couple of years. So the search continues for one that stands out in a crowd.

I’ve noticed some authors borrow from familiar clichés like hell bent, raw deal, or down and out (in Beverly Hills). Others use this trusty formula: The (something's) Apprentice or The (something else's) Daughter.

Places appear frequently in titles: Mystic River, Gorky Park, Angels Flight. The word "dragon" seems popular these days (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). Some authors mix and match. Here’s one example, a book called The Dragon’s Apprentice. Sounds colorful.

I’m currently reading Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. The title suits the book admirably. These titles work for me, too: A Traitor to Memory by Elizabeth George; And the Sea Will Tell by Vincent Bugliosi; A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean; Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison; The Blue Religion, an anthology of police short stories edited by Michael Connelly.

Finding the perfect title is a balancing act.

So, what do you think about The Detective’s Apprentice? (just joking) The race for a title is still on.

What are some of your favorite titles?

Happy Monday!

Friday, May 15, 2009

J's Classic Movies

from Jacqueline

A couple of weeks ago I received an Amazon alert, bringing to my attention the fact that the 1992 film Enchanted April was about to be available on DVD for the first time. I placed my order with barely a second thought. It’s one of my favorite movies, so was worth plunking down the money for it. I know I’ll watch it again and again, to immerse myself in a magical April in Italy.

In this day of downloadable movies and Netflix, I thought about other movies I’d acquired or wanted to acquire because they were among “Jackie’s Classic Movies.” The films I knew I’d want to see time and again, and usually they are pretty old films. Here’s my list – though I know as soon as someone else mentions their favorite films, I’ll probably jump in with, “Me too!” Surprisingly, quite a few of them are classic war films, and there’s usually one or two scenes that have pulled me in and made the whole movie memorable. The list is in no particular order (and I didn’t mean it to be this long, it just grew as I was writing):

Enchanted April: Truly, truly enchanting film about four women who escape 1920’s post WW1 London, for a month in an Italian castle. Magical, as I said.

The Dam Busters: With Richard Todd and Michael Redgrave – the heart stopping story of the RAF squadron tasked with bringing down Germany’s Ruhr dam in WW2. Final scenes when “boffin” (an old name for the government’s inventors) Sir Barnes-Wallis (Redgrave) is informed of the success of the operation, and the loss of life it entailed sum up a futility of war. There’s a remake on the way – heaven help us.

The Magnificent Seven:. The theme music pulled me in when I was a kid, along with Yul Brynner leading the Seven into town. Classic western

The Secret of Roan Inish: The legend of the Sielka, so beautifully told. Amazing scene when the sielka sheds her seal-skin to reveal a woman was beautifully filmed.

Whistle Down The Wind: Hayley Mills and Alan Bates. Children believe runaway murderer is Jesus. Great scene when Mills sees Bates in the distance being frisked by the police, and as he holds up his hands, the silhouette is that of Christ on the cross. Took your breath away. From a novel by Mary Hayley Bell – Mills’ mother.

The Guns of Navarone: Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthony Quinn lead the story of a mish-mash team – including two women – who are tasked with taking out a huge enemy gun emplacement in German-occupied Norway. Final scene of a flotilla of navy ships “whooping” their success – which comes at a cost – always makes me tear up.

The Carry On Movies: Very British, bawdy, irreverent, comical, slapstick, all rounded off with a fast wit. Once seen, never forgotten, even though they are a bit dated now.

Gosford Park: Classic murder-mystery – gorgeous sets and equally gorgeous costumes, with a cast to die for.

Gallipoli: Peter Weir’s haunting story of the battle of Gallipoli which cost the lives of countless Australian, New Zealander (ANZAC) and British soldiers in the Great War. Told through the lives of two Australian “runners” (boys and men who were fast runners were used to run messages back and forth in both wars – my dad, age 12, was a “runner” in London during the Blitz in WW2). I couldn’t move from my seat in the movie theater when the film came to an end, then I looked around and virtually everyone was still seated, and weeping, even though the credits had run and there was just a blank screen.

National Velvet: Every horse-loving girl’s dream – young Elizabeth Taylor and her horse Pie storm the Grand National. The aftermath of watching the movie (that droning plea for an equine friend) eventually led my mother to say, “No, for the last time, you can’t have a horse. Do you think money grows on trees? And who’s going to feed the thing?”

Ice Cold In Alex: WW2 drama with British Army unit (John Mills in charge) making its way across the desert. A German spy, masquerading as South African ally (Anthony Quayle) leads them out of trouble. They talk about the ice cold beer they’ll enjoy once they reach Alexandria. In the final scene and having reached Alex, they are sitting at the bar with their ice cold beers in those tall fluted European lager glasses. John Mills runs his finger down the outside of the glass, and they all linger just looking at that beer ... and in come the squad searching for a German spy. I think of that scene on very hot days when I am a long way from a cold beer.

Brief Encounter (With Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson): 1946 story of a love that can never be.

Babette’s Feast : Set in 19th century Denmark. Babette, the cook to two God-fearing women serves up inventive dishes. She is left a legacy which she decides to spend on preparing a feast for the women and their guests. Turns out she isn’t the unassuming cook, but a celebrated French chef de cuisine. From a book by Isak Dinesen.

Breakfast At Tiffany’s: I so wanted to be Audrey Hepburn after watching this movie. In fact, after I watched The Nun’s Story (in which she starred with Peter Finch) when I was about nine years old, my mother told me to, “Get that sheet off your head before I take it off for you!” Years later, on my first visit to Manhattan (I was about 21), I went straight to Tiffany’s first thing in the morning, wearing a little black dress, and stood there with my coffee and donut as they put the diamonds back in the window for the day’s business. My breakfast at Tiffany’s.

There are many other films that I have loved (those Bogart and Bacall movies) or I couldn’t stop thinking about, but could never watch again (Breaking The Waves comes to mind – I was raw inside for days after watching that film), but this post is too long already.

Then of course there are those classics in the making, from Our Jim Born!

OK, so what are the all-time favorite movies that you would pay money to have on DVD or whatever format you prefer, so that you could watch them again ... and again.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A new movie!

James O. Born

I'm in Texas. San Antonio to be precise. But through the magic of the internet I posted this MOnday so I can even tell you if it's warm or not. I suspect it is.

I posted a new short movie the other day. This time W.E.B. Griffin was gracious enough to lend his considerable literary might to my little version of Myth Busters.
This time the theory was simple: Could a thick W.E.B. Griffin novel stop a bullet fired from a Glock .40.

Find out here:

or, if the embedding works, watch it here:

Also, if you have the time, please check out my completely updated website for James O'Neal at

I learned alot designing it.

See you next week,


Monday, May 11, 2009

Pajama Walking

One of the great traditions of Shanghai is "Pajama Walking." People of all ages, ALL TIMES OF YEAR, walk around town in their pajamas and slippers. No, these are not drunks or homeless people: it's a sign of affluence; if you're in your pajamas you don't have to work today; you are one of the fortunate ones.

On Saturday night, our lane gate was locked. Our daughter was coming home from a dance, and I had to let her in. The gate is down two lanes and about 100 yards from our lane house. So... you guessed it: I went pajama walking. Of course pajama walking at night and by day are two different statements. Mine was: I'm too lazy to change back into my clothes just to open the damn lane gate. But I was pajama walking none the less.

Then my dear friend Lyle Workman, film music composer and guitarist, iChatted our house because his lovely wife, Timi Workman, is staying with us, and I had to give Lyle my demonstration of pajama walking, because... well, I just had to.

So I've pajama walked twice in one week. A real local.

I'll try to snap some shots of various pajama walkers and post them, as you might get a kick out it!!

Keep your 'jammies clean and fresh -- you never know when you'll need them...


Consider a city of 17 million people. Now consider that if even a third of them drive, that's five million drivers a day on the streets. Now: picture Shanghai: trucks, buses (many sizes), vans (many sizes), taxis (one size fits all), cars of every kind, motor scooters, electric bikes, pedal bikes, pedestrians. On every street corner.

How to manage it? How do you prevent the California Roll, the New York blur? Well, how about put timers on all traffic lights. That's right: here in Shanghai, as your red or green light approaches the change, a HUGE timer goes off (where we in the USA put the amber light). It counts down, from either 30 or 15. The result: perfect order in perfect chaos. No one... I MEAN NO ONE violates the traffic lights (if you discount that "right on red" here means you treat a red light as a green as long as you're turning right; there is NO hesitation to make that turn; cars just zoom right around indifferent to anything or anyone). The timers tick down; the traffic moves. It is one of those painfully simple ideas that works phenomenally well.


One of the many benefits of this economy is inexpensive eyewear. I would say cheap, but it isn't true. It's quality stuff, and I'm VERY impressed with lens quality and the ability to get a blended prescription in the lens done properly. All this: frames AND blended lenses for about 60 dollars USD a pair. And in case you want variety, at the glasses mart there are approximately 700 MILLION pairs to chose from. Five floors of endless booths selling sun and eyeglasses.

I went there today to pick up a pair I had asked to be redone (3 of 4 pair came back perfect). I thought of the blog because I was in a sea of people. Here, where I live, on Changle Lu, on a walk up the street to the corner market I might pass a hundred people (1 block) with another several hundred passing ME in cars, on cycles, etc. Outside the glasses mart (a ways across Shanghai, by the Shanghai railway station) I walked the street with no fewer than 60,000 people in three blocks. I'm not kidding. I can measure this because I attend St. Louis Rams games, and I know what a sea of 60,000 people feels like. IT WAS PACKED. A heaving sea of human, and I, a small buoy bobbing in the froth, lugging my very heavy briefcase, in anticipation of picking up my very cheap (don't I mean "inexpensive?") glasses. It was an incredible experience, in part because today turned out to be fruit day. THE WEIRDEST looking fruit you've ever seen, being sold off towels on the edge of the sidewalk. Last week was T-shirt and socks and gloves day. They must rotate though who knows how it's decided. There I was, close enough to some of the people to father children, moving toward the eyeglass market and all I could think of was this blog. (and how I'd forgotten a camera!)

Here's 1 of my new pairs...

I return to the USA on Friday to speak at some middle schools and do a commencement and attend a book conference in New York. With time running out here, it's hard to leave. The family returns for good at the end of June, and it's with heavy heart.

After all: where will I buy my glasses?


Gone, baby, gone

Patricia Smiley here…

What place would you miss the most if it was no longer there? This question was recently posed by one of the nightly news shows. I supposed it was a wake-up call meant to personalize the destruction of the earth caused by our poor stewardship of the environment. The query provoked some thought.

I love Los Angeles. Any city that offers a designer cupcake contest and a festival of books that attracts 150,000 people in a single weekend is my kind of place. However, Los Angeles is currently suffering through another drought. To conserve water I replaced my lawn with drought-resistant plants. However, my newly planted flora is at risk because the city just announced that everyone must cut water usage by 15%. More cuts will undoubtedly be needed in the future. If my beautiful new garden has to be sacrificed, I will miss it.

I’m an island girl at heart. I feel at peace with swaying palm trees and turquoise water lapping against the shore. Hawaii. Tahiti. Martinique. If I never felt warm sand sifting through my toes again, I’d be distraught.

Santa Catalina is one of my favorite islands. It is a magical place I never tire of visiting. There are no Holiday Inns, Burger Kings, or Starbucks on the island. In fact, thanks to the Wrigley family who gave 85% of the land to a conservancy charged with protecting it from development, the place is relatively unchanged since the 1920s when movie stars’ yachts anchored in the harbor and the Chicago Cubs trained in the fields below Mt. Ada. It’s difficult for me to fathom a world without Catalina.

I know people who are passionate about Manhattan, London, or Booth Bay. Their place is part of their DNA and they would feel aimless and adrift if it disappeared. Others treasure a clear cold brook cascading down a mountainside and the smell of pine needles on a crisp fall day. Without the mountain lakes and forests of the Cascades, the Andes, or the Alps, their world would be diminished.

What place is so near and dear to your heart and soul that you would miss it if it were no longer there?

Happy Monday!

P.S. Paul Levine won’t be posting on Tuesday. Last week he told you he would be nursing his lumbago in Tobago but the truth is he flew to Miami to spend Mother’s Day with his mum. Nice try, Paulie, but we know what a softy you are.

Friday, May 08, 2009

For Shame

from Jacqueline

I’m so angry right now, I can barely start this post. In fact, I really don’t quite know how to start it, I am so upset. So, I’ll launch in anywhere, probably doing what my mother is apt to do in strained circumstances, which is start in the middle and work both ways at once.

I think the majority of people now agree – even those who wouldn’t admit to it – that since the election of President Barack Obama our international standing is gradually coming back on an even keel, and perhaps the rest of the world is beginning to see us as not quite the greedy, arrogant bunch of self-interested jerks they thought we were. Whether they were right or wrong is beside the point – it was rocky there for a while. But we now have an administration on a path that is drawing strength and respect through a willingness to understand that not everywhere is America and that we must do our best to demonstrate empathy for other cultures. There seems to be a renewed respect for all other beings that roam this earth, as well as the earth itself, and in that, surely, will be our salvation.

But we all have a part to play, don’t we? We are all ambassadors for this country – even me, the non-American. If I go overseas, I am representing both my adopted country and the land of my birth – in the manner in which I treat people in restaurants, shops etc. – and here at home I also have to remember that I’m an immigrant, and with that comes some level of responsibility to ensure my actions never cast a shadow over the reputation of all immigrants. OK, so that’s the preamble.

With the recovery of America’s reputation so tenuous at the moment, it’s amazing that a stupid woman from Kansas wanted this photograph of her to go whizzing around the world.

Teressa Groenewald-Hagerman, a 39 year-old village idiot, killed this magnificent creature with a single shot from a bow. She did it because someone dared her to, because a woman had never had such a kill before. It gets worse, because she didn’t actually kill the poor animal immediately. It took twelve hours for the elephant to bleed to death, and after waiting for it to breathe it’s last, she finally plucked up the courage – she was scared that it might rear up, I suppose – to stand atop its carcass for the revealing photograph.

On the website 'Hunts of a Lifetime' (and their website is full of village-idiots-with-their-kill photos) Ms Hagerman wrote: “A man by the name of Larry, who is a videographer for Orion Multi Media, bet me I couldn't shoot a buffalo or elephant with a bow. He indicated only one or two women had completed the buffalo with a bow and no woman had ever taken an elephant with a bow. Of course, I couldn't turn down the challenge.' On another site she added: 'The bow was awesome. I think it fit me well. I couldn't wait to get my elephant.” Regarding the slaughter, which happened near Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe, she added: “I shot the elephant at 12 yards with one arrow. It was shot near dark. We went back the next day and found him. I was in the middle of 37 elephants when I took my shot. This was my first bow kill and first woman to take an elephant with a bow.”

Wow,Teresa, that’s some achievement for a plucky numbskull like yourself.

There’s more. She was sponsored by two companies, and she has been lauded by many for her achievement. Here’s one of her fans: “That has to be one of the best examples of setting a goal and working hard to achieve it.”

Beggars belief, doesn’t it?

And look, I know that people all over the world make idiots of themselves on vacation, from British lager louts at soccer matches, to unruly Europeans on ski- slopes and those high-schoolers in Aruba – we’ve all done something silly while letting our hair down, and sometimes it’s a gesture that is acceptable to us, but happens to be one of those things that mark us as being of a kind.

Yet there’s something about this level of violence – and the smug pride that went with it – that is beyond a nightmare. I can almost hear the cries of, “There they go again, Americans thinking they own the world.” And I don’t care if it is legal to hunt elephants in certain parts of Africa, or if some people see it as a reasonable cull; and right now, I don’t care if someone points out the poaching going on there, which of course I know about and of course it enrages me – none of that exonerates Groenewald-Hagerman. Wife beating is allowed in some countries, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK for an American, a Brit or anyone else to beat his wife if they happen to be visiting. This act is reprehensible. It speaks to such a terrible disrespect for all life.

I wish I could say I’ve managed to get that off my chest.

There’s a phrase I came across recently, that has been rolling around in my head ever since I read the words: wound agape. Agape has a variety of translations, but is generally thought to be divine love. Wound agape is given to mean the healing that is to be found in the wound itself. Stay with me, I’m going somewhere with this thought.

Here’s one of my personal heroines, Dame Daphne Sheldrick.

The second photograph shows how you might see her if you visited the baby elephant sanctuary she founded in honor of her husband, David Sheldrick.

At the sanctuary they care for orphaned baby elephants who have lost their mothers to the senseless killing by poachers and other nasty pieces of work that pass for human beings. You can read about her and the amazing work of the people at the sanctuary at this website:

Today I am going to foster a baby elephant. As an ambassador for the human race, it’s the least I can do. Perhaps in that act I’ll have a place to put my anger and sadness. Wound agape.

I should add that if anyone wonders if I put animals before people – that old chestnut – no, of course I don’t. I sponsor children in need too, and as readers of this blog know, injustice against any sentient being can really get me and my fellow Naked Authors going. I also know that those who will do harm to animals with ease, have it in them to do the same to a fellow human being.

As an afterthought, couldn’t that woman have found a better target in Zimbabwe? Much as I would be useless with a weapon, I reckon I could identify a suitable target by the name of Mugabe (and I know it rather contradicts my stance on violence again sentient beings, but I am sure you catch my drift). Interesting how a murdering tyrant allows bloodthirsty thrill-seekers into the country to massacre elephants.

And finally, having just fostered an elephant, I thought you’d like to see her. Here’s Sweet Sally. (Yes, I picked her for her name – in memory of my dear old dog, Sally, who passed away last September).

I hope your weekend is kind to you. And remember, being a good ambassador isn’t just a job for some big wig at the State Department.