Monday, August 31, 2009

Hanging out with some real cool cats

Patty here…

A week ago Saturday I went to the Cat Fanciers' Association cat show at the Santa Monica Civic Center, where I encountered a few idiosyncratic cats—owners, too. It was an “all breed” show that offered something for everybody, including a chance to look at feline varieties I’d never seen before. Lest you think this was some hoity-toity purebred catillion, the competition also included a “house pets” category, including one kitty of dubious heritage that was nearly as large as a pony. I wouldn't rule out self defense, but before inviting that big boy into my house, I’d check to make sure his previous owners hadn’t meet with foul play.

I love the Maine Coon, especially a guy named Beretta. I suppose he got his name because he looked like a 45—not caliber, pounds. If you’re going to get a cat that big you might as well get a dog—or a grisly bear. On the other hand, my friend just adopted two part-Maine Coon cats. Both are loving and sweet. Both are bigger than she is. Sort of like this guy:

I got to cuddle a four-month old Norwegian Forest cat. The breed is similar in size and appearance to the Maine Coon. I’ll let the experts argue the relative merits of each. I took a couple of steps away to show the little guy to some passersby. The poor owner must have thought I was a cat-napper because when I turned around to hand him back, she appeared to be having a major anxiety attack.

Cat judging is a mystery to me. I understand the importance of physical perfection, but what about the cat who objects to the judge whapping a peacock feather across his nose? What if he just doesn’t feel like batting some dumb toy with his paw? Does a bad attitude mean he’s not blue ribbon material? There should be a special ribbon for kitties with attitude.

There were some rescue cats on display at the show. Lots of people were standing around looking at them. I’d like to think they were all adopted into loving homes because the alternative makes me really really depressed.

Breeders have highfalutin names for their cats. They should take their cue from hoipolloi cat owners like me and simplify. My Scottish Fold was named Tigger-boo-the-wonder-cat, but I had the sense to call him Tigger, Tiggie, Tig or You-are-such-a-good-pussy-cat. He loved that last name the best, especially when I said it in a deep Barry White voice or when I had his food dish in my hand.

Any cat lovers out there?

Happy Monday!


Thursday, August 27, 2009

A What The Hell Day

from jacqueline

I’m one of those writers who decided long ago that it was not a good idea to read other people’s fiction while I was working on fiction. This is not an easy task, as the TBR pile gets taller and taller and then and falls over, so I have to start making another pile. It’s like being on a diet and having a big bag of cookies in the room. So, once the final revision has been sent off to my editor, it’s PLAYTIME. If you could get sick reading books, I would have been in the bathroom for the past month. It’s been great, and I still have loads in that pile to get through.

In one of the books I read last week, two of the characters would give themselves a What The Hell Day when they felt like it. A WTHD – I like that. Anything’s better than WMD, eh? Of course, we are familiar with the notion of a Mental Health Day, but that always sounds to me like a self-inflicted sado-masochistic wound; something I’d do in a padded room. A WTHD seems much more up my alley – do what the heck I like and anyone who doesn’t like it knows what they can do. So, I decided to give myself some WTHD’s.

For starters, in the past few days on my WTHD’s, I have not been rising at my usual 5:30 -6:00am . No, I have been lollygagging. I have even woken up and gone back to sleep. This is something I would like to encourage in myself. I think I could come to like lollygagging, especially if there’s a book already on my bedside table and I don’t have to get out of bed to search for a new one. Don’t look stunned – OF COURSE there are books aplenty on my bedside table.

On Sunday, having slept in until 7:30am, I trundled into the kitchen, put the kettle on to boil for my tea, and sashayed out to collect the New York Times from wherever it had landed in the driveway. I couldn’t have cared less if my neighbors had an eyeful of my bathrobe and looked in awe at my bare feet – mind you, they were probably having their own WTHD’s. I went back to bed with the NYT and thought, “I will rise again from this bed when I feel like it.” Which wasn’t for several hours.

I’ve been out to ride my horse, Oliver, a lot this week. Sara is still out of commission due to injury; she’s had a What The Hell Three Months – I could learn a thing or two from that mare. And I’ve been on a few bike rides, and I have done a bit of work here and there. I’ve been knocking that TBR pile down; I’ve been hiking and I’ve been noodling around the shops. All in my own good time.

Today, a week earlier than expected, I received some final-final “finessing” suggestions from my editor. Oh well, at least I had three days of What The Hell. And I can’t wait to have some more – many, many more.

So, what do you do on your WTHD’s?

Have one or two this weekend, why don’t you?

Writer's Workshops

James O. Born

I mentioned last week I would write something about guns but decided I need more time to get all my facts right which is unlike most people on either side of the gun-control argument.

Instead I want to talk about one of my favorite pastimes. No, not football or even sports of any kind. Not TV or alcohol either(but for the record they are still two of my favorite pastimes). I'm not even going to talk about writing, at least not directly. I'm going to talk about teaching. Over the years of cuts several subjects. I was a certified defensive tactics instructor for the state of Florida and enjoyed working with fellow police officers in developing their skills that might save their lives one day. But lately I've been teaching a lot of classes on writing. And surprisingly this has a little bit to do with guns as well.

I enjoy writing, I study writing, I listen to other writers talk about writing and I'm always open to ideas from editors and agents. I also am knew enough to publishing to remember the frustration of rejection upon rejection upon rejection. I found that this makes for any easy connection with many of the participants in the various writing conferences across the country.

Not surprisingly, because my background in a couple of articles I've written on the subject, I am asked to give my demonstration on police tactics frequently. It's a fun class unlike most of the drive panels we've all listened to at Bouchercon or ThrillerFest. People like to see and handle real guns in your dopey redneck like me hop around on stage in tell them what's really said during arrests and what cops look for every time they assess a suspect. I understand why am asked to do this and enjoyed teaching the class but I have been equally successful when I give serious talks on specific elements of writing fiction.

This really came to light about a year ago when I was asked to teach a three-hour marathon workshop on point of view at the South Carolina writers workshop. I had never really looked at the topic with an eye towards teaching not only class but an incredibly long class on the subject. It forced me to think about all the angles and implications the point of view far beyond the commonly discussed aspect of first person versus third person storytelling. Not only was the class a huge hit but it was also one of the most satisfying experiences I've had as a writing instructor.

From September 11 through the thirteenth I will be speaking at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's Colorado Gold Writing Conference in Denver Colorado. In addition to the class on realism in writing, which is different than the police tactics class, I will be be Sunday afternoon closing speaker. I generally do not speak from notes because I have been a victim of too many lunchtime talks that dragged on and on as the speaker felt compelled to cover every point he or she had written down. I would look around at the slack faces of my fellow board lunch mates and promised myself I would avoid doing that to anyone else if I were ever in by such an event. So far I think I've avoided the dreaded pointless unending lunch speech. In fact I've been told one of my strongest attributes is my speaking ability although I'm sure many would disagree.

From October 23 through October 25 I will be speaking at the Florida Writers Conference near Orlando. Once again I will be talking about realism in writing as well as a class on weaving Backstory into a novel. Then on Saturday night I will be delivering the keynote speech where I will strive to keep people engaged and interested even if I am forced to fire off a couple rounds into the ceiling.

His most writers realize these conferences rarely pay and can tie up an entire weekend. But I have found over the past few years that they are more than worth the effort. I have met interesting people, encouraged talented writers and and learned quite a bit about the art of writing itself. So I look forward to these events every time they come up on my calendar and if any of you reading this today run into me at a writers conference I will most certainly be in a good mood because I'm doing one of the things I truly love.

Have any of you ever attended a writer’s conference? If so what were some of the good and bad points about it?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Missing Link

Road trip... sorry to go missing.

Drove a 5 ton U-Haul from Idaho to Missouri with my 12-year-old daughter as my shotgun.
We listened to Ender's Game, and I have a new favorite book of the summer (it's 20 years old, but who's counting?).

My (new) iPhone complete gave up the ghost halfway across Nebraska (I nearly did as well!), and I wanted to scream: the one time I really needed a phone, it broke. They gave me a replacement this afternoon -- but I was back home already! I may retreat to BlackBerryville if this ever repeats.

I had outlined AN ENTIRE BOOK (or certainly the bones of a book) by dictating to my daughter for a good 3 to 4 hours -- and of course ALL that work was lost when the phone melted down. I tried to reconstruct tonight, but MUCH is missing. Go figure.

Nice to be back in St. Louis (where the local Apple store replaces your iPhone with no questions asked; I bought it there!) Where there's a Trader Joe's next to the AT&T store, and where the girls squealed upon arrival. Home. It has a nice ring to it.
Even if I leave on book business in just over a week...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

No One Hundred Per Cent Heroes

From Paul Levine...

NOTES ON ENTOURAGE: In my opinion, movie star Vincent Chase is the least interesting character on "Entourage." Honcho writer Doug Ellin must think so, too. Vince gets the least screen time of the ensemble. Another observation. Why do we love Ari, the foul-mouthed, loutish, misogynistic, homophobic, obnoxious Hollywood agent? One word, "loyalty." He will do anything for his client, Vince. He'll try to do a deal at Yom Kippur services. God may not like it, but Ari's client will. And...he's good at what he does. Very good.

Ask the same question of the Edie Falco character, "Nurse Jackie." She's a drug addict who cheats on her husband, lies to her co-workers, and essentially leads a deceptive double life. But she's a VERY GOOD and caring nurse. She saves lives. She takes no shit from young, arrogant doctors. We love her, despite her flaws. Hell, we might love her more because of her flaws.

One of my favorite lines from John D. MacDonald might be useful here. It's the opening sentence of "Cinnamon Skin."

"There are no 100 per cent heroes."

To which I can only add...except Jim Born.

LOCK & LOAD: People who carry guns to President Obama's town meetings are exercising their Second Amendment right to bear arms and their God-given right to act like total dipshits. (Please note this item has nothing to do with Jim, above in his skinny T. He's not at a town meeting; he's guarding Santa's warehouse, filled with toys for bad little boys and girls).

THIS IS FOR MOTHERS: My daughter, Wendy Sachs, author of "How She Really Does It," opines on Huffington Post, with a blog item entitled "The Recession Has Killed the Mommy Wars:":

Maybe there's one piece of good news to come out of the recession - it's killed The Mommy Wars. With the unemployment rate hovering at nine and a half percent, having a job feels like a privilege not a choice. The irony is that while for years moms were "opting out" of the workforce as New York Times reporter Lisa Belkin famously observed in her 2003 magazine cover story, today, moms who want to opt back in, cannot.

TO DIE FOR: Chocolate. Sugar. Pecans. Bourbon. My pal Janet Rudolph's recipe for "bourbon balls" is on her Dying for Chocolate Blog. I'm already counting the days (47) until the Los Angeles Luxury Chocolate Salon, an all-you-can eat extravaganza.

I HATE WHOLE FOODS: The Whole Foods market in Beverly Hills has lousy (and overpriced) fruit. Foolishly missed the Farmers' Market Sunday and bought peaches that turned out to be mealy, strawberries that went bad in one day, and oranges that were bitter. Some people call the place "Whole Paycheck." They charge more than $6 for an identical yogurt that Trader Joe's sells for $2.99. More than double, also, for frozen cherries and raspberries.

STOP BY FOR DINNER: I am, belatedly, learning to cook. Last week's highlight, pork tenderloin in a Port/Grand Marnier reduction with fresh cherries and caraway seeds. Also, a key lime pie that Joe's Stone Crab would be proud to serve. If the next book doesn't sell, I'm gonna ask Wolfgang for a job.

HEARD IN PHILADELPHIA: "Hide your beagle; Vick's an Eagle."

Paul Levine

Monday, August 24, 2009

Kristen Weber, book editor extraordinaire

Patty here...

I am delighted to have as my guest, Kristen Weber, my former editor at Mysterious Press and NAL/Penguin.

Kristen Weber—L.A.'s top new freelance editor

Kristen has worked as an in-house editor for her entire book-publishing career (except for a brief stint as a subsidiary rights assistant). For the uninitiated, an editor not only edits an author's manuscript but she also supervises every aspect of the book from cover art to catalog copy. If that weren't enough, she functions as the author's sounding board and cheerleader. With insight and aplomb Kristen guided me (and all four of my novels) through the perilous waters of the publishing world.

Just a few of the other authors she has edited: Louise Ure, Cornelia Read, Karen E. Olson,
M.C. Beaton, Elizabeth Bloom, Beverly Connor, Tim Green, Victoria Laurie, Mary Kennedy, Margaret Maron, Marcia Muller, Gail Oust, David Rosenfelt, Beth Saulnier, Kate White, and Wendy Watson.

She recently relocated to Los Angeles for her husband’s job and is currently freelance editing in between relearning to drive and hanging out with her pug (we’re happy to share a pic of him as well).

Samson Weber—L.A.'s new top dog

You can learn more about her editing services here:

Diary of a Mystery Lover

by Kristen Weber

Bred on a steady diet of Nancy Drew novels, it was no surprise all I ever wanted to be was someone that solved crimes…an FBI agent to be exact.

I decided to go the law school to FBI path. But just as I was about to sign my life away to hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans, I decided to take a step back and make sure law school was really the right path for me.

I decided to do something with my very first love – books – and found an assistant position at a major publishing house. A few years later the head of their mystery line realized what a rabid fan I was of all things mystery and she invited me to be her assistant. I’ve never looked back.

As a mystery fan, I know I had the perfect job – and it worked for my family too. It was a lot safer to be solving crimes inside books than on the streets.

But even if I wasn’t working specifically on mysteries and thrillers, I’m happy to report that working on any type of book as an editor is very similar to solving a mystery.

First, as an editor working in house, we read a manuscript we have on submission and “something” makes us fall in love with it. You just know that the book has something special and you feel it in your gut – kind of like meeting the man of your dreams - but you need to figure out what exactly that something special is so you can sell it to the rest of your editorial team, and eventually sales, art, publicity, marketing, etc. so everyone can get as excited about the book as you are. That’s the first mystery we as editors need to solve…there are a lot of books that are perfectly publishable but we’re looking for the one with that indefinable “it” quality that pushes it to the front of the pack. This “it” quality is subjective, which is why I always tell authors I’m working with to just keep pushing on…one day you’ll find the right agent and editor who see your work as you do.

And then, once an editor actually starts the editing process – either in-house as I used to be or now on a freelance basis, there are a lot of mysteries to solve. Like a doctor diagnosing a patient, we need to figure out how to help the author and the manuscript reach their full potential, while keeping their own voice and vision intact. It’s a delicate balance…and a mystery I love helping an author solve.

Of course, as a mystery or thriller editor there are even more mysteries to solve….
And even though I’ve gone freelance, I am finding plenty to investigate as I work on manuscripts by the pool…and I also have a few suspicious looking neighbors I might look into as well.

Happy Monday!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Our National Health

from Jacqueline

This is a long post. You may want to read it in chapters, though on the other hand, given the points raised in Jim's post yesterday, it's not a bad idea to practice reading something longer than a text message.

Well, the pot’s really been getting stirred up lately about healthcare, hasn’t it? I was talking to a guy outside the local organic foods market the other day – he was petitioning for a universal healthcare system – and a customer had just told him where he could shove his healthcare reform ideas, because if we weren’t careful, we’d end up like Cuba. Really? Cuba has more doctors per capita than any other nation, as far as I know, and also sends more doctors into the troubled zones of the world, as well as the untroubled – Finland’s doctor shortage has been helped out by doctors from Cuba. But that’s all beside the point. I thought that I would weigh in with some observations based upon the experience of living in a country with a universal healthcare system (UK) and one without (USA). Neither are communist, although the second gives the impression of being pathologically afraid of communism and there are many people who seem sure that taking care of our sick and needy will take us all the way down the slippery slope towards the red terror and backwards into 1917, Lenin and all.

When I first came to the USA, I had no healthcare insurance. I didn’t go to the doctor for several years and tried not to have accidents or get sick. Fortunately, I was in great health, apart from this niggling little thing where my heart kept missing beats then had lots of beats all at once. Then I landed a job with benefits, and went along to the doctor. Wow, all these forms to fill out – but never mind, only the once, eh? After all, notes get passed on by the doctors ... don’t they? Anyway, it transpired that the ther-thump, ther-thump, ther-thumpety, thumpety, thumpety .... thump, was more than a little blip and needed some attention, if only to rule out imminent cardiac arrest. I was sent somewhere else – well that was quick, next day service. Then they gave me all the forms again. Why more forms? Why the same truckload of questions? Doesn’t anyone talk to anyone else around here? And it was a bit it worrying too, because when they red-tag you though like that back home, it means it’s serious. But it wasn’t so bad after all, and eventually after a raft of tests I cancelled an appointment for yet another test due to being busy at work and just assumed I’d be called back again, because that’s what I had been used to in the UK. Nothing happened, and I was surprised – I might as well have fallen off the earth. Then I started to get all these bills and wondered what the heck a copay was, and what was a deductible? I felt like a car. What was all this about? I began to get the measure of how healthcare ran in this country, and how much sheer energy and worry goes along with any visit to the doctor – and that’s when you’re covered by health insurance and all you’re doing is filling out the forms.

Britain’s healthcare service was founded on the heels of the Second World War, and as Tony Benn said in Michael Moore’s documentary, Sicko, “If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people.” If you want to hear what he had to say, go to this link:

But to put it in context, prior to the war there was no healthcare system in Britain. This meant that, when my Uncle Joe was about six years old and had all the symptoms of an acute appendicitis, for him there was no ambulance to the hospital and emergency surgery. Instead my grandmother carried him on her back and walked for miles, from hospital to hospital before she found one to take him in, because she didn’t have the money for a doctor to see him. By that time his appendix had burst and he had peritonitis. The war brought with it severe and terrible civillian casualties in Britain, and the country had to take care of the injured – especially as so many came from the poorest areas. They demanded – finally – the “land fit for heroes” promised during the First World War, and a man by the name of Clement Atlee made the promise of a national health service – a promise that paved his way to Downing Street. He gave the country universal healthcare, though at the time the designers of the system could never have imagined the expensive and high tech animal healthcare would become.

I’d read reports about how terrible the National Health service was becoming, mainly due to the pressure on it by asylum seekers, and people who knew that, once on British soil, if you are ill you will be treated, free and gratis; and if you are there illegally, they won’t throw you out if you’re sick. Even if you’re on vacation, they’ll take care of you. To give you an example, last year some American friends were over in the UK, and while there the woman fell and broke her arm. They reported that the treatment they received was excellent. And it didn’t cost them a penny.

But I confess, I read the doom-mongering in one British tabloid in particular, and when my mother was so ill a few weeks ago I felt forewarned, and was ready to duke it out with anyone who gave her less than excellent medical care – after all, I was used to America, where you may have to fill out all those forms, but you get cable TV in your room. Our first stop was her local doctor, and from the second we walked into his office, I felt my hackles smooth out. “Joyce,” he said, reaching for her hand. “You don’t look your usual self – you are very poorly. Let’s find out what’s going on.” He introduced himself to me by his first name, Peter. He listened to her for about 15 minutes or more, then asked if he might examine her. It wasn’t an instruction, but a respectful request of a senior citizen. Another five minutes and he said that he was admitting her to the general hospital, and why. By the time we reached the hospital, I was in get-things-done-now mode, so much so that my mother said, “Don’t you go in there bossing everyone around with your American ideas.”

In the assessment ward nurses immediately began the vital signs checks, taking blood (“Really sorry, Mrs. Winspear, but we’ll take enough so we don’t have to do it again.”), etc. Then a young – and heck, I mean young – doctor came in, huge grin, held out his hand to my mother and said, “Hi, I’m Ken. I’m going to ask you loads of questions and another doctor is going to come in soon and ask you most of the same questions. We all hear things differently, and this ensures we don’t miss anything, because we exchange notes and we can make a better diagnosis when we do it this way.” I was beginning to be impressed. After all, this is nationalized healthcare, the big bogey man. And my mother didn’t have to fill out one form, because at the touch of a computer screen, notes, x-rays, test results, etc., were available from previous visits and from her GP. I knew that, on the performance scale, this hospital was not the best, not the worst, but somewhere in the middle; but they were up there in my estimation. The other thing was that there were hand sanitizers everywhere and for everyone. Doctors, nurses, patients, visitors had to sanitize their hands before entering a ward, and on the way out. There were hand sanitizers at the end of each bed, at every nursing station, hanging on the walls. I sanitized my hands so much I will probably never get sick again!

My mother had the best of care in that hospital. Not only was she diagnosed with heart failure but the psoriasis she had suffered from for the past thirty years or so went haywire. She lost every layer of skin from most of her body, so looked like a burns victim. She’s eighty-two years of age and, contrary to the impression given by some American politicians recently, no one tried to euthanize her.

I was leaving the hosptial one day after seeing my mum. I had canceled my flight back here and was wondering how things were going to work out, and I was really worried about her, so was in another zone as I walked along the corridor. Suddenly I felt someone touch my arm, and one of my mother’s doctors was standing in front of me. “Let’s talk about your mum,” he said. We chatted for another ten minutes, with him giving me a prognosis and an estimate of when she might be able to leave. Chalk up another raft of points on the satisfaction scale. I’m not used to doctors speaking to me without an appointment.

There are people in the UK who are very disatisfied with the National Health Service, who marvel at American medicine (well, who wouldn’t, when you’ve got George Clooney as an ambassador), but many of those people don’t really understand the alternative. When I broke my arm in 2001, I was in the emergency room and separated from another patient by just a curtain. I had medical insurance, so even though I had wept in pain while trying to fill out the forms – which were insisted upon – I felt blessed. My neighbor had no insurance and had just had a bad accident in his garden. His wife was crying and he was refusing painkillers because he knew that with every shot, every test, every word from the doctor there would be a charge – and they couldn’t afford it. God knows what happened to him.

The UK also has private medical insurance companies, one of the largest being BUPA, which has a huge corporate market. In recent months BUPA has experienced an increase in cancelations, given the economic downturn and the number of people losing their jobs. Same thing’s happening here, except that in Britain, they’re covered automatically, because there’s a National Health Service. It’s not perfect, but it’s bloody good, all things considered. And a woman no longer has to carry her son screaming in pain from hospital to hospital to try to get someone to see him.

There’s more I could say, but I’ve said far too much already – making up for the weeks away. The truth is, we’ve got to get away from the idea that if we pay for universal healthcare with our taxes, someone, somewhere will be getting something for nothing. Medicare doesn’t distinguish between those who were productive workers and those who weren’t, and the Veterans’ Administration doesn’t look at the on-the-job performance of our servicemen and women; we just know we need to take care of them. And in my estimation, there is something lacking in a country that does not take care of its people – all of them – when they need it. But that’s just my opinion, and as we know, opinion is not fact, just a personal truth based on the writer’s experience and world view.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Beleaguered Reader

The Beleaguered Reader

James O. Born

We hear with alarming regularity about the decline of reading in the United States. In the last six months it seems as though I've met several people who proudly proclaimed, "I don't read." Did I miss something? Is there a reason to brag about that? There a lot of things that I might keep secret. A degree from the University of Florida for instance. A betting slip from a sports book in Las Vegas picking the Detroit Lions last year's Super Bowl before the season started. Maybe even a membership in a Dungeons and Dragons group. But reading is not something anyone should be ashamed of.
Yet readers are an endangered species. Right up there with the Snow Tiger and Snail Darter, readers are becoming harder to find than a popular Republican. And what do I base this observation on? The incredible number of author solicitations, newsletters, blogs and other methods to attract readers. I'll admit that in the past I have sent out newsletters, but generally to either my friends or people stupid enough to sign up on my mailing list. I have not sent a newsletter out in over a year and one of the reasons is the enormous number of newsletters I get whether I ask for them or not. To my knowledge I have never knowingly signed up on someone's mailing list yet somehow I get plenty of newsletter e-mails.
Popular Republican Governor Charlie Crist pictured left.

I met a woman recently with several romantic suspense novels on the market and willingly gave her my e-mail because she said she might have a few questions about the MWA (Mystery Writers of America). Instead I have received two newsletters in two months. Great.

I'm not opposed to this kind of activity. I have many friends that I wish great success on and I do not care how they achieve it. This blog is an example of how I originally started out hoping to reach fans but have stayed with it because I enjoy the chance to opine weekly. I even joined Facebook because a local book club wanted me to participate in one of their meetings, which occured on Facebook.

Just the sheer volume and ingenuity of these efforts to reach new readers point to the fact that the reading base is shrinking. While older people still tend to read print newspapers and real books, the younger generation appears to be favoring electronic media such as websites and the newfangled Kindle. But it is clear that people under thirty, as a general rule, read less than people over thirty.

This generational reading gap was made very clear to me recently. I've had articles written about me in several magazines from time to time and will get a few comments from someone who happens to read it. But last month just my name was mentioned in an AARP interview with Elmore Leonard and I was flooded with e-mails. Everyone seems to read AARP. At least everyone over fifty. I wonder if there was a free magazine geared towards thirty-year-olds if it would be as widely read.

As budget cuts hit everyone from Wall Street to city governments, readers are about the last thing that anyone is worried about. And virtually every government from local to federal that’s talks budget cuts mentions libraries. And this goes back to my original premise: readers are an endangered species. And one of the main reasons is that our natural habitats, the libraries and bookstores, are being encroached upon by sports Authorities and downward spiraling property values, resulting in less tax revenue.

As an author I really do wish to attract the ever-shrinking reader base, but I would like to avoid annoying them as I do it.

How do you feel about all the all the newsletters, tweets and the other methods used by authors to hunt new readers? And as a secondary question; What can we do to save our libraries?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Betsy

My mother turns 88 today (Tuesday, the 18th). As we all know, this is no small accomplishment, although in other ways it is not an accomplishment at all, but instead a result of breathing longer than the next person. But it feels like an accomplishment, when looking up from 56.

She is an accomplished fine artist--so that's an accomplishment that counts. She once, for a number of years, played gut-bucket bass with our family band--another. She raised three kids through the 40s, 50s, and those difficult 60s. A major accomplishment. She was art director for Lord and Taylor in NYC during WWII, one of very few women to break through the glass ceiling way back when. She helped me build a go-cart when I was 12. She gave me a spider monkey for my 13th birthday (Franklin, I called him; the name of my first literary agent it would turn out a decade later). She organized massive neighborhood arts fairs, when dozens of kids got to do a number of art projects just so they could be artists for a few hours--all on her nickel. But maybe her biggest claim to fame was serving in the traditional role of the time (and it was a different time) as wife to a drunk.

We lost my father 18 months ago. We actually didn't lose him, he died, but that's the expression, and I'm sticking with it. He would go on, after getting sober several times, to manage AA worldwide for 15 years--quite the turnaround. But the only reason he made it that far was because of Betsy; her patience; her determination that the alcohol wasn't going to take down our family. She pulled an intervention (unknown at the time) and offered him a choice of the sanitarium for life, or one last try at AA. He died at 90 a thriving member of the community, and a great dad.

She's "pushing 90" and it's an uphill push. She broke her back in three places in February but is able to get around and went to the Sun Valley Symphony with us last night. She has a terrific a spirit and glint to her eye when she smiles. Who knows what the years ahead offer (any of us, for that matter) but the years behind her are good ones. As my dad used to say: "Don't project."

But this is her day. And for the first day in probably a year or two, I won't write. I won't work. My wife and I will cook dinner for 20. I'll get the old red farm truck working (it's been idle for a year while we were in China) and we'll take a moment to reflect and remember one of the great ladies. The Betsy.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

No 100 Per Cent Heroes

From Paul Levine...

NOTES ON ENTOURAGE: In my opinion, movie star Vincent Chase is the least interesting character on "Entourage." Honcho writer Doug Ellin must think so, too. Vince gets the least screen time of the ensemble. Another observation. Why do we love Ari, the foul-mouthed, loutish, misogynistic, homophobic, obnoxious Hollywood agent? One word, "loyalty." He will do anything for his client, Vince. He'll try to do a deal at Yom Kippur services. God may not like it, but Ari's client will. And...he's good at what he does. Very good.

Ask the same question of the Edie Falco character, "Nurse Jackie." She's a drug addict who cheats on her husband, lies to her co-workers, and essentially leads a deceptive double life. But she's a VERY GOOD and caring nurse. She saves lives. She takes no shit from young, arrogant doctors. We love her, despite her flaws. Hell, we might love her more because of her flaws.

One of my favorite lines from John D. MacDonald might be useful here. It's the opening sentence of "Cinnamon Skin."

"There are no 100 per cent heroes."

To which I can only add...except Jim Born.

LOCK & LOAD: People who carry guns to President Obama's town meetings are exercising their Second Amendment right to bear arms and their God-given right to act like total dipshits. (Please note this item has nothing to do with Jim, above in his skinny T. He's not at a town meeting; he's guarding Santa's warehouse, filled with toys for bad little boys and girls).

THIS IS FOR MOTHERS: My daughter, Wendy Sachs, author of "How She Really Does It," opines on Huffington Post, with a blog item entitled "The Recession Has Killed the Mommy Wars:":

Maybe there's one piece of good news to come out of the recession - it's killed The Mommy Wars. With the unemployment rate hovering at nine and a half percent, having a job feels like a privilege not a choice. The irony is that while for years moms were "opting out" of the workforce as New York Times reporter Lisa Belkin famously observed in her 2003 magazine cover story, today, moms who want to opt back in, cannot.

TO DIE FOR: Chocolate. Sugar. Pecans. Bourbon. My pal Janet Rudolph's recipe for "bourbon balls" is on her Dying for Chocolate Blog. I'm already counting the days (47) until the Los Angeles Luxury Chocolate Salon, an all-you-can eat extravaganza.

I HATE WHOLE FOODS: The Whole Foods market in Beverly Hills has lousy (and overpriced) fruit. Foolishly missed the Farmers' Market Sunday and bought peaches that turned out to be mealy, strawberries that went bad in one day, and oranges that were bitter. Some people call the place "Whole Paycheck." They charge more than $6 for an identical yogurt that Trader Joe's sells for $2.99. More than double, also, for frozen cherries and raspberries.

STOP BY FOR DINNER: I am, belatedly, learning to cook. Last week's highlight, pork tenderloin in a Port/Grand Marnier reduction with fresh cherries and caraway seeds. Also, a key lime pie that Joe's Stone Crab would be proud to serve. If the next book doesn't sell, I'm gonna ask Wolfgang for a job.

HEARD IN PHILADELPHIA: "Hide your beagle; Vick's an Eagle."

Paul Levine

Yale University Press Pees down Its Ivy League Pants

If it's Tuesday, I must be Paul Levine...

WHERE'S TOM PAINE WHEN WE NEED HIM? The New York Times reports that Yale University just peed down its Ivy League pants. Okay, the Times didn't say that. It said that Yale Press's forthcoming book on the controversy over the Muhammed cartoons....won't have any of the cartoons. Or ANY illustrations whatsoever of Mr. M, out of fear of offending some real lunatics.

My view of this is best expressed by Reza Aslan, author of “No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam.”

“There were people who were annoyed [by the original publication of the cartoons], and what kind of publishing house doesn’t publish something that annoys some people? It’s not just academic cowardice, it is just silly and unnecessary.”

TODAY'S MEETING OF THE DEATH PANEL SHALL COME TO ORDER: Republicans keep spreading vicious rumors that the Democrats' health plan includes euthanasia. At least, Dem. Sen. Robert Byrd hopes it's just a rumor.

HOW LAZY AM I? The other night, I was so lazy, I wouldn't get out of the Barcalounger to pick up the remote and ended up watching 90 minutes of Ohio State football practice on the Big 10 Network...and I HATE Ohio State.

I WISH I'D WRITTEN THAT (CHAPTER 248): Great line in the review of "The Time Traveler's Wife," by Joanne Kaufman in The Wall Street Journal: "Eric Bana seems to have two modes of acting, shaven and unshaven." P.S. I think Patty Smiley has a major crush on Mr. Bana, hairy or not.

I LOVE PEACHES! I have driven 250 miles round trip to pick peaches in Kings County, CA. I was doing research for "ILLEGAL," and I wanted to accurately portray the migrants' work. But I also wanted to eat the best peaches California has to offer. They're from a third generation family farm that supplies Farmers' Markets. Commercially grown peaches (and tomoatoes etc). are bred to be hauled distances and dropped from great heights without causing a dent. This is not the peach in your grandfather's parfait. Now, here's word from China on the world's sweetest, juiciest peach. They should be eaten within 24 hours of being picked....which doubtless explains why Ridley didn't bring me any when he returned from Shanghai. Here's the story from the Wall Street Journal, entitled "The Best Peach on Earth."

THE END OF SHAME? If a woman has a 20-year affair with Bernie (Scumbag) Madoff, should she hang her head in shame or boast about it in a book? Aw shucks, you know the answer.

Sheryl Weinstein, the chief financial officer of Hadassah, an organization that invested with Madoff, will soon release a memoir entitled “Madoff’s Other Secret: Love, Money, Bernie, and Me,” Ms Weinstein has been married 37 years and apparently also lost her family's savings by giving Bernie her bucks as well as her body. Story here.

This comes from my friend Gary Eberle, owner of Eberle Winery in Paso Robles, CA. "The difference between wine and children is you can sit down and reason with a bottle of Cabernet."

Paul Levine

Monday, August 17, 2009

Books I have read while vegetating

Patty here...

I’ve been traveling most of the past eight weeks, and my schedule hasn’t allowed much free time to indulge in my favorite pastime—gliding in a hammock strung between two sturdy trees and reading a good book.

This past week changed all that. With no planned agenda, I spent the first two days of my trip doing nothing but lounging on a beanbag cushion and staring at the ocean.

I broke through this vegetative state on the afternoon of the third day by reaching into my tote bag to retrieve a novel I’d purchased at an airport bookstore on one of my recent trips. I don’t remember if the buy was made in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York or Boston and I suppose it doesn’t really matter. The book got a lot of buzz when it was published in 2008, so I thought I’d give it a try.

On the beginning pages was a short paragraph about the author, stating he had died in 2004 shortly after submitting three manuscripts in a planned series, including the book I now held in my hand. How odd, I thought.

Intrigued, I searched the Internet and learned that author Stieg Larsson was a Swedish journalist and writer who died of a massive heart attack in 2004 at age fifty. In 2008 his debut novel THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, which was published posthumously, made him the second-best selling author in the world, behind Afghani-American author Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner).

There was also a hint of intrigue surrounding Larsson's death. Not everybody believed he died of natural causes. Some thought his work and political convictions made him a target of foul play.

His political convictions, as well as his journalistic experiences, led him to found the Swedish Expo Foundation, similar to the British Searchlight Foundation, established to ‘expose racist and totalitarian organizations and tendencies’; he also became the editor of the foundation's magazine Expo. Larsson quickly became instrumental in documenting and exposing Swedish extreme right and racist organizations; he was an influential debater, lecturer and self-proclaimed ‘expert’ on the subject, allegedly living for years under death threats from his political enemies.

Larsson drafted his will in 1977 but never had it witnessed, rendering it invalid under Swedish law. He apparently intended his assets to go to the Socialist Party but instead all of his estate, including royalties from his books, will go to his father and brother. His long-term partner Eva Gabrielsson will get exactly nothing.

According to this source:

The legal battle between Larsson’s girlfriend and his father and brother could have been plucked from the pages of his three crime novels and is stirring just as much passion in Sweden, where at least one in three people has read them.

So I picked up the book and started reading, and I couldn’t stop until I finished. There are 405 customer reviews of the paperback on Amazon. Read them or just take my word for it. On so many levels this is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time. I'm off to buy the next installment in the series, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE.

Have you read any good books this summer?

Happy Monday!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Clio's Web

from Jacqueline

I think that, in addition to the doctor and the midwife, a certain ethereal being by the name of Clio must have been in the room when I was born. Clio, in case you didn’t know, is the muse of history She’s been dancing around in my life since I was a child. History wasn’t just a subject at school, it was something I could feel around and inside me, a parallel world I could step into at will. One of the old folks on our street only had to say, “Of course, in my day ....” and I would be there, listening, ready to grab the outstretched hand for that walk down memory lane. Even then I thought of the past as something here and now, a web of threads braided in time, through today and into tomorrow.

There’s nothing like a big family event to bring yesterday crashing into today, and July 31st - as you know – was a significant one for us: my parents’ 60th anniversary. They were married in 1949, the year that Christian Dior launched the New Look, that NATO was established and the Federal Republic of Germany was officially founded. The Berlin Airlift ended, and Clement Atlee, the man who brought us The National Health Service (there’s a subject for next week ...) was Britain’s Prime Minister. Because wartime rationing didn’t end in Britain until the end of 1954, my mother’s friends and family saved their clothing coupons to buy the silk, satin and lace so that my Uncle Pete’s mother – a Swedish seamstress – could make the wedding gown. They pooled their food coupons for a wedding cake. When it began to rain as my mother was getting ready to go to the church, so my grandmother ran to the end of the street where the organ grinder had his patch, and made him come to play under her window. After the wedding, the party went on for two days and my parents had to take back the empty bottles – they were broke and needed the refund money.

I’d planned a two-day event for their celebration. The four of us – my brother also came over from California – would go up to London, stay in a gorgeous hotel just across from Buckingham Palace Mews. On the first day we’d have a late lunch, a bit of a rest for my Mum, then off to the theater to see The War Horse, the stunning production based upon Michael Morpurgo’s award-winning story of a horse in the Great War. If you want to know what it’s about, check out this link: (I still can’t embed a video clip – it never works for me!). On the second day day we would board the steam-hauled Orient Express for a 5-course lunch on a journey lasting some four hours.

My parents were both born and bred in London – my Dad’s a true dyed-in-the-wool Cockney, a man born within the sound of the bells of the old church in Bow, east London, but it’s been decades since either parent set foot in central London. As we walked up towards Buckingham Palace, my Mum said, “You know, I haven’t been here since VJ Day.” And she told us how the area was packed with thousands upon thousands of people converging on the palace, streaming down the Mall from Trafalgar Square and all points around. “Where were you standing, Mum?” I asked, and she pointed to the Victoria Memorial in front of the palace. “Right up there.” There had been ear-splitting cheering and waving, and everyone suddenly knew everyone else, because war was over and she, like those other revelers, had seen enough death and destruction to last a lifetime. She was eighteen years of age.

In Covent Garden my dad couldn’t believe the changes. Now it’s a trendy area with restaurants, gastro-pubs, boutiques, artists and street performers – and it’s always packed, a true melting pot. The last time he’d come to Covent Garden, he was a boy, accompanying his father on a horse-drawn cart to stock up with fruit and veg for his rounds. My grandfather was a costermonger, a man who sold greengrocery from either a hand barrow or a cart, and depending upon how well he was doing, sometimes he had a horse, and sometimes he pushed the barrow along his route. As Dad was talking, it was almost as if I’d slipped into the sepia past, watching men running back and forth with baskets of produce balanced on their heads, the carts coming in with vegetables from farms across the land, and the costers waiting to take it out again. Clio was having a field day.

The play was a big hit with my family – which was a relief, because having organized this celebration, I was on tenterhooks in case anything fell flat. Mum was a tired and a bit unsteady on her pins as we left the theater, so I was glad to be able to hail a taxi straightaway. Though my brother had taken her arm, she tripped as she stepped into the car. “Oh, Mum – are you all right?” My brother almost screamed to see her stumble. “Don’t worry, love, I was falling in and out of London taxis throughout my teenage years and long before you were born.” She had the taxi driver in stitches.

The Orient Express – well, what can I say? From the time we stepped onto the platform to be welcomed by a brass band and actors and actresses dressed to the nines as if they’d fallen through a crack in the 1920’s, to the moment the loco touched the buffers at the end of the journey, everything was perfect. It wasn’t just the stepping back in time, but the telling of family stories that made it so special. Backwards and forwards, into the past and there goes the present, memories flashing past like stations along the way. And that train must have looked awesome on its journey, because many of the stations were packed with people who had come only to watch the Orient Express, steam hauled and really giving new technology a run for its money, as if the engine itself was saying, “You just watch me go up this hill!” At one point the train seemed to be flying along – eighty miles an hour, apparently. Hardly surprising, as the loco once pulled the famed Golden Arrow service.

We hadn’t been to London as a family since I was eleven, when our parents had taken us to the Science Museum. They had chivvied us along, held our hands and monitored where we walked and told us to mind the traffic. We were, after all, country kids used to narrow lanes and watchful drivers. Now those tables had turned, and my brother and I walked along ever-watchful, like shepherds with our own parents, who were now more likely to step into the road without looking, or trip on a crack in the pavement.

The celebrations ended on Sunday August 2nd, with a family gathering at my parents’ house, bringing together cousins, aunts and uncles not seen in years. I come from a large extended family – Mum was one of ten children, so I have 28 cousins on one side alone – and we were all so close at one point, even though we Winspears lived in the country, far from London. There was a lot of reminiscing, a lot of “Do You remember the time when?” and it seemed as if the ghosts of our younger selves walked among us. Photographs of children and grandchildren were passed around, and in our hearts we held those we’d lost.

As the breeze blew up and clouds came in casting shadows across the lawn, soon it was time to start saying goodbye. I hugged my cousin, Martine – we’d been partners in crime as teens, where one went the other followed, but of course we’d grown up and each made our own way in the world. “Keep in touch, Jack,” she said. “Remember, we go back a long way.”

Clio had woven her web across time for us, and in that is the stuff of story. Where would we writers be without it.

Have a lovely summer weekend.

(PS: I had some wonderful photos to add to my post today, but not only did I have trouble uploading them, but once inserted, I couldn't publish the post with them in - so had to take them out ... sorry! Also, this was published on Friday morning, not Thursday ... I think I'm going to have to talk to Our Patty, the blog maven and general all-round genius).

A Silver Anniversary

James O. Born

A remarkable milestone occurred in publishing last month. A guy who means a lot to me celebrated his twenty-fifth anniversary at Putnam. Neil Nyren, editor in chief, as well as all around good guy, stayed at one publisher longer than most people stay in marriages. To give you an idea of how everyone feels about him his fellow Putnam employees made a book cover, complete with jacket copy, that captures Neil's career pretty well.

I think the cover speaks for itself and needs little explanation. On a personal note, I will
say that few people have taught me more about writing than Mr. Nyren. He treats everyone the same, from the top of the publishing pyramid, to the guy that wanders up to him at a writer’s workshop. It's hard to find people like this in any profession.

Now is the chance for the writers out there to give a shout out to someone who means a lot to them in the publishing industry. It could be an editor, agent, proofreader or janitor.
Who has influenced you?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Outlining (at the risk of being dry)

Some of us do. Some of us don't.

But I happen to be a writer who outlines my novels. There are benefits to both camps, and in fact my only #1 NYTimes best seller for adults came from a no
vel I did not outline, so who's to say if it's the right thing to do or not? But, as I find myself outlining two novels that are due in the spring and summer of next year, and facing the outlining of two more, also on deadline within the next twelve months, I thought I might write about the process briefly.

We all read novels and see movies that fail to deliver. A great story, terrific characters and a
less-than-workable ending that disappoints. My guess is: no outline. The huge benefit of an outline is that the writer knows where the story is going. This is also the detriment. To paraphrase Elmore Leonard: "Why would I write the book if I knew the ending?"

To that one could say, "How can I write the book if I don't know the ending?" It's never hurt "Dutch" Leonard -- his books are far better than mine -- but I also have no idea how many drafts he does (I write 2-4 full drafts of each novel). Dutch may write 8 for all I know. Outlining definitely cuts down on the need for Richter Scale rewrites.

For three thousand years story telling has followed a three act form. This, thanks to the Greeks. (This is what I taught at Fudan University last year: Mythic Three Act Structure in Contemporary Fiction -- a mouthful).

(Not this kind of Greek)

If you want a concise explanation of why your (and everyone else's) dreams and stories probably do/and should follow a three act structure, read Christopher Vogler's wonderful book: A Writer's Journey. He picks up where Joseph Campbell left off, and every Hollywood pitch re
quires you to know the language of Vogler's book--or perish.

Outlining ain't eas
y. You need to establish four or five "big" emotional/sometimes-action scenes that the story turns on (thresholds). Then, piece by piece, you fill in between these thresholds with more important scenes/moments for your characters or story, and bit-by-bit your full story reveals itself. Character arcs form. Dramatic moments reveal themselves. When my kids were little we used to crush the wrapper on a straw taking it off, and then add a drop or two to the crushed wrapper and watch it expand like a snake: outlining is like that. Your brain adds the drops of water and your story begins to expand and grow.

When you write without an outline the same thing happens. Don't get me wrong. And it has more time to "grow" because the writing goes so slowly. There's a real benefit to that. But two things can happen: one, you can end up writing for weeks or even months having taken a fork in the road that leads nowhere. Now, that's all right if you're willing to tear it up, but far too often the writer tries to keep these sub-plots and passages simply because of the time invested, and that can kill a story. Two: it can be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to "wrap" the story, to finish the story, without a structure that allows you to see where and when various threads need to be tied-off. This, I think, is one of the great pitfalls of no outline: no ending. Or a rushed ending. Or an ending that makes very little sense. Or one that leaves four other sub-plots dangling and never resolved.

But ultimately, it's anybody's guess as to which is better. There are many hugely successful writers that scoff at the idea of outlining--and even though an outliner myself, I get that.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Calling All Famous, Strange Indians...

From the really messy desk of Paul Levine...

CALLING ALL INDIANS: Writer Mark Trainer is trying to get a short-story collection published. Here's a portion of the note he received from his agent:
“I have no confidence in being able to place a collection at this time in the world of publishing. Publishers don’t like to publish short story collections in general unless they are VERY high concept or by someone very strange or very famous or Indian. In the current climate, it is harder to publish even those. Some of the authors I represent have story collections I have not been able to talk their loyal publishers into publishing. I can’t in good conscience encourage you to send them to me. It will just make both of us feel bad. I am very sorry. If you write another novel, I will gladly read it.”
Above, Padma Lakhsmi, chef/model/actress and former wife of Famous, Strange Indian novelist Salman Rushdie. Hey, you want to see a picture of Rushdie, write your own blog.

TOUGH TO MAKE A LIVING DOING PORN: The Miami Herald reported yesterday on hard times in the Public Relations and Advertising rackets. But....that's so boring. The Los Angeles Times reported on tough times here in the San Fernando Valley making a living doing porn.

"For [Savannah] Stern, 23, the rapid decline of job opportunities in the porn business over the last year has been dramatic. She has gone from working four or five days a week to one and now has employers pressuring her to do male-female sex scenes for $700, a 30% discount from the $1,000 fee that used to be the industry standard.

"Less than two years ago, Stern earned close to $150,000 annually, sometimes turned down work and drove a Mercedes-Benz CLK 350. Now she's aggressively reaching out for jobs and making closer to $50,000 a year."

I will investigate more fully and report back on this tragic story.

YOU'LL THANK ME FOR THIS: I'm a sampler. Food, wine, automatic weapons. I sample books, too, frequently visiting authors' websites to read first chapters of their books. No more. Now, thousands of first chapters are collected in one place. It's called "Book Daily" and it's my favorite new website.

I don't shop much, so I didn't know about a store called Marshall's that apparently everyone in the world loves, if they don't want to get ripped off by Bloomingdales. On Sunday, I wandered into the Studio City Marshall's basically because it's next to my gym and I needed underwear. I discovered I have been paying DOUBLE for my boxer shorts for the last 40 years. I bought 4 pairs of socks for $6. Okay, they're "irregular." But so are my feet.

SOUTH FLORIDA AS WACKY AS EVER: Three honest-to-God headlines from yesterday's South Florida Sun Sentinel: "Woman Found Dead inside Oakland Park Taco Bell." (No cheesy jokes here, please). "Shark Jumps into Boat at Haulover Beach." "Woman Says She Was Duped into Changing Man's Diapers." I am asking Jim Born to investigate...particularly the last one.

PAUL'S PATERNITY QUIZ: The TODAY show asked, "Who fathered Michael Jacksons children?" Wild guess. Not Jermaine Jackson.

PAUL'S POLITICAL POTSHOT: Republicans are concerned that if we had national health insurance, Michael Jackson would still be waiting for his Propofol.

You're welcome,

Paul Levine

Monday, August 10, 2009

That Kindle thing: musings from an independent bookseller

Patty here...

Please welcome guest blogger Fran Fuller, one of the awesome booksellers at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop.

Fran is a former teacher who taught high school students English, drama, communications and various other literature-type studies. At a fork in her career path she decided to indulge her passion for books and went to work as a bookseller. She is an eclectic mystery reader and enjoys everything from cozies to humorous to historical to science fiction. She also enjoys discovering new authors.

by Fran

People ask us all the time what we think of the Kindle. "Aren't you afraid," they ask, "that it'll put you out of business?"


Really, we don't. Other factors may threaten us as a small independent specialty shop, but not the Kindle or the Sony e-Reader or any other electronic device. People made the same assumption when books on CD came out, shouting "It's the end of the written page!"

Well, no.

There's a lot that's positive about e-books, we don't deny that. If someone gave me one, I wouldn't turn it down, although I'm not inclined to buy one. They're small and portable, good for taking on trips. Books are bulky, I realize this, and they are heavy and difficult to transport. The Kindle is excellent for that.

Being able to adjust the font size would be great for these aging eyes, and not having to fight badly bound books would be a joy.

They're useful and convenient, no denying that!

And I'd love for some enterprising and intrepid person at one of the non-Kindle electronic readers to come up with a way for people to download books from our shop. It's a market-share I want us to be in on!

But there's nothing like the physical feel of a book. The pages, the covers, the ability to "accidentally" open the book to the wrong page just to be sure the hero gets through this mess. The pleasure of rifling back to find that one passage you have to read out loud to someone.

Aesthetics aside, however (and I just don't see an electronic cover being as deeply pleasing as one I can run my fingers over), there are some practical advantages to an actual paper book.

One of the touted "advantages" of an e-book is no more use of paper, thereby reducing our need for cutting down trees, which is sweet but not factual. Books can be recycled, and much of the recycled paper becomes, well, paper. For books. It's cannibalism at its finest. Books are, in their own way, organic.

There are some components in a Kindle that can never be recycled. When the new version comes out, the latest one with the most advantages, what's going to happen to the old ones? Like 8-track players, are they going to gather dust in some corner until they end up in an electronic landfill?

And while I said that e-book readers are great on trips, you don't have to recharge a book to be able to read it. Firelight will do, if necessary. And if you drop your latest Patricia Smiley paperback at the beach, you can pick it up, shake it out and keep going. What does sand do to the sensitive inner workings of a Kindle?

Speaking of dropping, if your toddler grabs your new Ridley Pearson hardback and smashes it around the house, aside from a possibly torn dust jacket and crunched edges, what's the harm? Can you say the same of your e-reader?

If you drop your Maisie Dobbs paperback in the tub, it's a mess, certainly, and you probably won't want to dry it out (although you might!). But it's easily replaceable. If you drop your Kindle in the tub? Or if someone dumps water on you -- and it -- at the beach? That's an expensive lesson.

And while having a hardback plunk down on your nose when you fall asleep while reading is startling, having your Kindle thwap you between the eyes is probably a bit more likely to bruise. Letting it slide from sleepy fingers onto a carpet probably won't hurt it much, but onto a hardwood floor or out of a loft-bed could be unpleasant.

Then too, isn't it nice to be able to loan out a book you've enjoyed? Or give it as a gift to someone? I don't know about you, but I'd be more thrilled to find a signed copy of the new Cornelia Read under my Christmas tree than a little card saying that I have a gift-card from Amazon for a Kindle download of my choice, and the new Read is a top recommendation.

Make no mistake. I love gift cards like that. But there's something personal about getting a real book.

Then too, I like autographed books. I enjoy having books inscribed to me and my partner. I smile knowing that the page I'm touching is also a page actually physically touched by a favorite author. It's special to me. I know for an absolute fact that seeing an electronic image of somebody's signature isn't going to seem as personal, as wonderful.

In recent weeks, interesting news has come up on the Kindle front, and I suspect it's got people a little concerned. When Amazon went into people's readers and deleted copies of 1984, it was scary. Almost Orwellian.

I do understand ownership rights, and I realize the books shouldn't have been sold in the first place, but the fact is, those people bought their copies of Orwell's novel in good faith. What else has been purchased in good faith through a reputable dealer that may be removed at whim? Book readers are always highly sensitive to censorship issues, and this raises some dark ones.

No bookseller I know is going to go to your house and take back your copies of the entire Paul Levine collection! It's safe in bound form. But if you've electronically downloaded it, even through a dealer that has the only access, you can't ever quite be sure it won't magically disappear from your "library" some day, removed by the seller, not random thieves.

And now I'm hearing that U.S. Patent Application No. 20090171750 has been filed. This is a patent to insert ads into your Kindle, tailored to your reading, so that you might find an ad along the margin of the book or popping up when you turn on your Kindle. So the next time you boot up your Kindle to dive back into that action scene that Jim Born wrote, you might have a cheerful ad touting Disney World floating alongside it.

I was so thrilled when they took the ads out of paperbacks back in the 60's. I'd hate to see them come back electronically. Granted, we're so used to electronic ads hovering around everything we read onscreen, maybe we won't even notice. Maybe.

But between the possibility that you could lose books you've purchased, the insertion of advertising, and the hovering awareness that someone is monitoring your reading, it seems to me the intimacy of books would be compromised.

That's why we at the shop aren't as concerned as people think we ought to be about the advent of electronic books. The relationship between author and reader is at its most pristine and authentic when it's just the reader and the book. There's an honesty and privacy to that relationship that just can't be matched.

But in the end, it all comes down to the feel of the book. The heft, the weight, the smell, the absolute joy that comes from holding a book in your hand, with all the expectations of entertainment and education and fun that is bound into them. That can't be beat!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Life Happens ....

from Jacqueline

This will be a very quick post as I am in an internet cafe in the UK, and if you are thinking, "She's been away a while ...." - you're right. This was the week I was going to tell you all about the Golden Age of Travel day out on the Orient Express and about the fantastic time we had on my parents' 60th anniversary - and it really was great, wonderful, terrific. But there's and "except" in there. My mother wasn't her usual self, and was trying to ignore a series of symptoms that were making her feel rather ill. She did a great job. But I took her to the doctor on Monday and she was immediately admitted into the hospital with suspected heart failure. It's all under control now, and she's more like her old self - but it's been a heck of a week and I'm not sure that my heart's in such great shape after all this. I was driving her to the hospital and changing my next-day flight at the same time. I'm now flying back tomorrow to clear up a few things in case I have to come back to the UK again very soon, so you'll have the full report on our excellent weekend - with pics - next Friday. Luckily my brother does not return to the US until next week, and seeing as they're hoping Mum will be out of hospital at the weekend. I always knew that one day the fact that both my brother and I lived so far from our parents would come up and bite us, and now it's happened - and the truth is they wouldn't have had it any other way.

Life's a funny old thing, isn't it? You see it all in a hospital, and I'm going back there right now because it's my mother's 82nd birthday (though in her spirit she's still 16), and I'm taking in her cards and balloons.

See you next week. Stay safe and have a lovely weekend.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Celebrating Small Milestones

Please welcome guest blogger Neil Plakcy, an award-winning author, vice president of the Florida chapter of the MWA and all around good guy. He is the author of Author of Mahu, Mahu Surfer, Mahu Fire, and Mahu Vice (August, 2009), mystery novels set in Hawaii.

By Neil Plakcy

I still remember the first time I used the phrase “my editor.” I was twenty-two, a recent college graduate with publishing aspirations, and that phrase thrilled me in a way that still gives me pleasure decades later.Back when I lived in Philadelphia, I was an avid reader of the Inquirer and its book coverage. The paper ran “Book and Author Luncheons” a couple of times a year, and I started attending them in my junior year in college. They were presided over by the paper’s book editor, and I felt like a real grown-up sitting at big round tables eating hotel food and chatting nervously with the mostly older women at my table.

I knew I wanted to write, but knew I didn’t have much to write about yet. The one thing I could do, as an English major, was read books, think about them, and then write up my opinions. I’d written a couple of book reviews for free, for hometown papers, and I saw my chance to break in to the big time when the Inquirer’s book editor left in a scandal involving the sale of advanced readers’ copies to used bookstores.

His replacement was a lovely woman named Rebecca Pepper Sinkler, a Penn graduate like me. A friend working as an editorial assistant at a New York publisher sent me an advance copy of a first novel by Brett Singer called The Petting Zoo, because she thought I’d like this story of young love. Brashly, I wrote a capsule review (the Inquirer ran a series of 75-words reviews back then) and sent it off, with a note introducing myself.

Amazingly, she accepted it, and paid me the grand sum of $25. She invited me to come down to her office and look through the review copies she had, to see if there was something else that interested me. Walking away from her office that afternoon, carrying a couple of (free!) books, I first realized I could now call her “my editor.” And what a wonderful feeling that was. I’ve had lots of editors since then, even been an editor myself, but at that moment I felt like I had entered, for the first time, the world of publishing, a place I knew I wanted to belong.

If you savor those small moments, you’ll find writing is a career full of milestones to celebrate. My first published work of fiction? A contest-winning story called “My Cousin’s Keeper.” The first story I made money from? A piece of gay erotica called “The Cop Who Caught Me” in Honcho magazine. My first agent, my first book contract, seeing the cover of my first book—all those are terrific moments.

What are some of your favorite writing moments?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Little Things

From Ridley

Little Ways to Save Energy

Keeping in mind that this blog is really about writing, I'm going to veer off onto the soft shoulder and take a right to: Ways to Save Energy. Consider this my green blog.

As a kid, the book that had the most profound effect on me was Cheaper By The Dozen. My recollection is that the protagonist, having had 12 children, had to find a way to make the most use of his time. He became a student of efficiency, learning to button his shirt in a certain direction because it was faster than the other, learning to make the most of his time. At that age I had not given much thought to such efficiencies, and it struck me that they made sense on a lot of levels. Decades later, I would become friends with the author Robert Fulghum, who, one morning on a camping trip, saw me shaving and came up behind me to give me a lesson in behavior. As it turns out, we nearly always start and stop our shaving from the same location and shave in the same general pattern. We wash ourselves in the shower in basically the same pattern each time we shower. So much of our mechanical lives are little repetitions of identical patterns, day-to-day, week to week, month-to-month. Because of all this, I've been paying more attention to my daily routine in terms of energy.

I remind myself to turn off light switches as I leave rooms, to turn the water off while I'm brushing my teeth, to keep my showers at a reasonable length in the water at a reasonable temperature, and all these little things that add up to a slightly greener lifestyle. But in the midst of all this self observation, I've realized there are some bigger issues, some bigger ideas that if practiced by thousands or hundreds of thousands would actually make quite a bit of difference. Hopefully they aren't things you would think about, but maybe by reading about them here you will from now on.


I happen to be one of the two cooks in our family. So I stand my fair share of time in front of the range. When a certain member of our family boils water -- she shall go nameless -- she puts water in the pot, put the pot on the stove, and turns the heat on high. The water boils. The food goes in the boiling water, it cooks, and later it is served. There is a fallacy to this method: water boils at 212°, but once boiling requires very few degrees of heat to continue boiling. Therefore once you get a pot of water boiling, turn it down, and turn it down again until you reach that point where it just maintains its boil. Believe it or not, this will save a lot of gas or electricity depending on your range top. It's a simple thing to do, and over the years (multiplied by many, many of us doing it) it could actually save a lot of carbon based energy.

Likewise, the oven... Ovens reach a pre-heat temperature. We account for that pre-heat time, and often waste it (nothing is in the oven during pre-heat). But we don't think about cool down time. In fact, if you're attentive, depending on how well insulated your oven is, you can shut the oven off ten to fifteen minutes BEFORE the recipe calls for. It will continue to cook just fine, but you'll have saved that 10 minute piece of energy. It's the little stuff that makes a difference...


Stay away from batteries. Batteries consume energy to be manufactured, must be charged, and pollute the landfill when they're through. Buy the AC charger for the device.


Hang your laundry out to dry once a week instead of using the dryer. Clothes dryers use huge amounts of energy for an hour at a time. By line-drying even one load a week (undies, socks, pillow cases) over a year's time you will save yourself money and the grid gobs of carbon based energy required to create that electricity consumed by the dryer.

Wall Warts

You know those black AC/DC converters that about a zillion devices now use? They never turn off. The "wall wart" continues sucking electricity 24/7 ready to supply the device the DC power when needed. A total waste of electricity. Buy a power strip and a light timer. Put the strip on the timer and the wart in the strip. Set the timer for the daylight or nighttime hours you actually use the device. Let it rest the remainder of the time.

Track Your Mileage

How much "efficiency" do you get out of your vehicle? Keep track of how you use your car. Could you wait an hour, a day, and combine one trip to make several errands? Could you drive a particular route to shorten the mileage to accomplish the same errands? Again: the little stuff.


There are new shower heads that wait to deliver water until the hot water comes up to temp. I haven't tried one, but they sound interesting. Then again: just take a cold shower--you probably need it after reading this.

Any other ideas? Post them here....

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Such Thin-Skinned Artists, Are We...

From Paul (Always Honest, Seldom Kind) Levine...

THIN-SKINNED ARTISTS ARE WE: Sorry for the Cole Porter construction of that intro. But here's the story. A cabaret singer friend just received a glowing review in the trades...with one smaller-than-a-grain-of-sand criticism: she has trouble hitting the high notes. So the singer is apoplectic. "My ego is shredded! My career is ruined!"

A lot of us have trouble dealing with criticism. I've written 13 novels and have been the recipient of highly favorable reviews, some undeserved. I particularly enjoy the ones that gush over profound thematic concepts that I neither intended nor knew existed. Mostly, I don't remember the good ones. But the occasional stinker: oooooh, those hurt.

Two come readily to mind. The Miami Herald, my hometown paper, used a freelancer to review one of my Jake Lassiter novels. The reviewer was the widow of one of my favorite authors. She skewered me. I still have the scars to prove it.

A reviewer for an obscure newspaper in Connecticut criticized one of my Lassiter novels by attacking me personally. He wrote that obviously I was not as heroic as my protagonist, and that I obviously lived vicariously through his brave and chivalrous acts. Uh....yeah. That's why he's my alter ego. I'm Walter Mitty. I suspect many novelists are.

The play, "City of Angels," raises the question, does the author control his hero or vice versa. The concept is explored in the Cy Coleman/David Zippel song, "You're Nothing Without Me," in which the author and his fictional hero, trade jibes. But I don't just live vicariously. If I met that reviewer, I wouldn't depend on Jake Lassiter to punch him out. I'd do it myself....or, on second thought, I'd get Jim Born to do it.

WORTH EVERY DOLLAR? The Orlando Sentinel has published the salaries of all 120 head coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision. USC's Pete Carroll, a/k/a The Big Cheater, earns the most shekels, $4.4 million. Doug Martin of Kent State earns 4% of that, $170,000.

1. Pete Carroll, USC Pac-10 $4,400,000
2. Charlie Weis, Notre Dame Ind. $4,200,000
3. Urban Meyer, Florida SEC $4,000,000
4. Nick Saban, Alabama SEC $3,900,000
5. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma Big 12 $3,800,000
6. Les Miles, LSU SEC $3,800,000
7. Jim Tressel, Ohio State Big Ten $3,500,000
8. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa Big Ten $3,030,000
9. Mack Brown, Texas Big 12 $2,910,000
10. Bobby Petrino, Arkansas SEC $2,900,000

The complete list is here.

My impressions. I wonder:

If Pete Carroll really is worth more than Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden, and Howard Schnellenberger, combined?

If Notre Dame is paying Charlie Weis ($4.2 million) by the pound?

If any conference loves its coaches (before hating them) more than the S.E.C., with 5 of the top 11 salaries?

If Houston Nutt at Ole Miss ($2.5 million) should get a raise, just for having the best name in football?

WHERE FOOTBALL MATTERS: A husband and wife, Oklahoma football fans, recently asked Sooner QB Sam Bradford for an autograph...on their two-month old baby.

COLLEGE NOSTALGIA: On October 12, 1985, Penn State defeated Alabama 19-17 at University Park, PA, en route to an 11-1 season and number 3 ranking. This photo, sure to embarrass my son Mike, was taken the day before the game on the PSU campus. (It's my opinion that a parent's job is to embarrass the kids as much and as often as possible).

Paul Levine