Thursday, April 30, 2009

The First Photo Says It All

James O. Born

I'll let the photos tell most of the story of my adventure at the Romantic Times, or "RT", convention in Orlando last week. After years of agitating about the getting th Mystery Writers of America (MWA) to do more with other groups, I couldn't very well ignore an event like this in my own state once I became President of MWA Florida Chapter. The MWA co-sponsored a breakfast with a dozen crime writers who are also members of the MWA. I felt it was a fine use of MWA funds.

I would have to say I have never had more fun at a convention. If this photo of me and model C.J. doesn't scream good time then nothing does.

I met RT publisher Carol Stacy who clued me in that the magazine now reviews all types of books.

I hung out with writers like Mary Burton, F. Paul Wilson and Lori Armstrong.

I don't know who the hell these two are. One claimed he was Barry Eisler the other's head was stuck up Eisler's ass so it must have been Joe Konrath.

There are parties every night but the highlight is the vampire ball put on by the phenominal Heather Graham and featuring all five of her extremely talented children. Frankly I'm glad my son or daughter didn't attend because Heather's kids would've made them feel like slackers.

All in all I've been convinced, RT is a conference every one should attend at least once.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

China Pix

Some pictures for those of you who asked.

This is our lane in Changle Lu... our house is down a ways on the right.

This is where we shop for vegetables. You get the idea. Lots of vegetables.

And this is us:

Thanks for asking.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mr. Media Grills Paul

Paul Levine...

I don't Twitter, and I don't tell my Facebook friends what I had for dinner or what's my favorite color. Today, I have no opinions on any topic whatsoever, so I'm going to clam up.

However, if you wish, you can listen to my interview with Bob ("Mr. Media") Andelman on Blog Talk Radio.

Therein, I reveal the inspiration for "Illegal" and the reason for the book's unusual dedication: "To the woman carrying a rucksack, clutching her child's hand, and kicking up dust as scrambled along a desert trail near Calexico, California."


Monday, April 27, 2009

Order, please!

Patricia Smiley here…

As a professional scribbler, one might think I’d know everything about the English language. Aside from a fuzzy recall of gerunds and dangling participles, I’m a fairly good grammarian. However I was surprised to learn that there was a rule about the order adjectives should appear in a descriptive sentence. I have always strung them together by instinct, according to what sounded logical and pleasing to my ear. However, Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty in her book Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing maintains that the quasi-official order is as follows:

Opinion (ridiculous, crazy, beautiful)
Size (big, small)
Age (old, young)
Shape (round, square)
Color (yellow, blue)
Origin (American, British)
Material (polyester, Styrofoam)
Purpose (swimming, as in “swimming pool”; shooting as in “shooting range”

Furthermore, she suggests I will remember the order by using the acronym OSASCOMP (OS-AS-COMP, O-SAS-COMP) Oh, brother! As if that's going to stay in my brain for more than five seconds.

Intrigued, I decided to test her order rule.

Scary old white man

Talented middle-aged Scottish singer

Batty orange comb-over

Menacing, titanic, pinwheel-shaped, brindled hurricane with a kick-ass, colossal, old, slate-gray, swirling eye (phew!)

I think I'm getting the hang of it. Your turn now.

And if that's not enough entertainment for a Monday morning, watch this (manditory viewing for all writers).

Happy Monday and Grammar On!

Friday, April 24, 2009


from Jacqueline

Go to any writers’ conference and the subject of “place” will come up time and again. How to create place, how to communicate a sense of place, and why place can be seen as a character as much as anyone with a name in the book.

I think about place a lot. I pay attention to the places I visit – it comes with the territory of being a writer. As a writer I am interested in the nooks and crannies of any place, I wander up and down streets where I probably shouldn’t even set foot, and I like to talk to people along the way, find out about their place in the place, if you see what I mean. Place is dynamic, it grows and changes and it contracts – for every big city, there’s a ghost town. I read today that in Flint, Michigan (yep, where that Michael Moore hails from,) they’re planning to demolish whole neighborhoods that aren’t working, to concentrate resources on making the rest of the town something to talk about.

Interesting. That idea says a lot about the place.

I like the way that, sometimes, one place can remind you of another. I walked out of the door this morning and the atmosphere outside – the feel of the air on my skin, a sweet aroma in the air, and the dampness from an overnight sprinkle of rain – reminded me of England on a July morning, and all manner of memories cascaded into my mind. Sometimes, in the hot, dry heat of summer, I’m reminded of being in Morocco, or Paris, even. Something inspires the reflection, and I remember all those details of that place at the time when the circumstances of my life moulded the memory.

Place is both personal and universal. As a writer, if you get the sense of place right, you can carry your readers right along with you, and even if they’ve never been to Florida, or Los Angeles, New York, or London, they will feel as if they’d known that place like a native by the end of the book.

So, how do we attain a sense of place in our writing? It’s all in the details, not just of that aroma in the air in a given season, or the sounds we’re exposed to, or even what the eye can see, but it’s in the experiences – which is why, as writers, we’re not just curious, we’re downright nosy. I’ve learned a lot about place by reading memoir. I remember reading one of Mark Doty’s books in which he described parking in San Francisco. He said that when you park in a perpendicular parking space on one of those hills, you get out of the car and hold on to the door – to stop it opening wide into the car next to it, and to save yourself falling down the hill. I loved that image, and I’ve parked on those hills. The interesting thing is that, although I’d had that experience – hanging onto the door to save both me and the other car – I’d never thought of it as a building block to creating place in a piece of writing. Another time I was reading an article about living in California with that well-chronicled earthquake risk. The writer noted that many city dwellers in L.A. and San Francisco said they increase speed when driving under or over freeway bridges, and more than a few kept a pair of walking shoes in the trunk, just in case the Big One hit and they had a long walk home. When I worked in the Bay Area, I would do that increasing speed thing as I drove into the city, but before I was a writer I would never thought about it as a habit that defined place.

You may wonder what’s brought on this rumination about place – after all, it’s not as if I’ve not written about it before on this blog. I’ve just been reading a book called Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History by Adam Nicolson. If you’ve never heard of Sissinghurst, it was the home of the writer Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson – they were members of the Bloomsbury Group and Vita was famously the lover of Virginia Woolf.

I know Sissinghurst very well, because I was born and raised in the area, and I’ve written about my country childhood in a not-so-great unpublished memoir. What has captivated me about this book (and Nicolson is a terrific writer – if you want to soak up good writing about place, read his work) is that so many of his reflections on growing up in the Kent countryside mirror my own. Here’s an excerpt from his book:

“I was thinking of this, this gift of place, with all that word means, as I sat and smoked that long afternoon, looking across a piece of England, of Kent, the Kentish Weald, which I knew better than anywhere on earth. I listened to the traffic booming on the road to the south and looked at the bobbled roof of the woods, on which the sun was just laying its coat of afternoon light, the scoop of hedged fields between them, the shadows of the trees drawn out across the stubble, almost from one hedge to another, the dust lying in pools on the track at my feet.”

And reading that, I can now see why I think it’s also useful for all writers to study a bit of poetry, though for some it comes quite naturally. I also think an insensitive editor would have had a field day with the red pen.

Nicolson ends his book with thoughts about the future of Sissinghurst - the house and the land that surround it - and the notion of place itself, which I think might interest you, if your ponderings ever take you in that direction:

“That is the word, I now realize, to which this book has been devoted: place as the roomiest of containers for human meaning; place as the medium in which natural and cultural, inherited and invented, individual and communal can all fuse and fertilize.”

Maybe I’m in a reflective and poetic mood, but I think that sums up just about all you need to know in the quest to give a sense of place in writing – whether that writing is your postcard home from vacation, a letter to a faraway friend (oh, and where did letter-writing go?), a memoir or a novel. Go on, fuse and fertilize (I know ...) tell us about your place.

And as always, have a great weekend, wherever you find yourselves, and whatever you’re doing.

This is where I’ll be, this weekend:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

James O. Born

I had fun this weekend. I didn’t go camping, or skiing, or to a football game. I didn’t even drink. Really, not a drop. I participated in a book event for the Palm Beach County library system. I’ve done a lot of events. Big and small, close and far. Successful and duds. You name it, I’ve participated in it. But this event seemed to have all the stars line up for one fun, successful, interesting day. And it was close to my house.

The outstanding library system here in my home county is headed up by a guy named John Callahan who is known for his innovation and easy-going attitude. He appreciates people’s efforts, which makes him invaluable as someone in charge of a big organization like the library in the third largest county in Florida (That is a fact I made up, but I think it’s accurate. Palm Beach County is at least in the top five).

This event was spearheaded (at least my part of it) by Stacy Alesi and Barbara Meredith. These are two of the world’s finest librarians and who, if they told me to, I would shoot a random pedestrian. It should also be noted that Stacy is also known as The Book Bitch.

Over lunch one of the organizers thanked me for participating and I said I’d do anything either of these lovely women asked me to. When I was asked why, the answer came easily. They were the first people to really support my books. I didn’t know either of them before I was published, but they jumped on board and gave me advice and assistance whenever and however I needed it. That’s something you don’t forget. In any area of endeavor. You don’t forget your dad’s friend the cop who tells you what life is really like working for a police agency. You don’t forge the first coach that let’s you start. You don’t forget the first friend who takes the rap for you and doesn’t tell the teacher you were there when the window was broken. That kind of help is hard enough to find in this world, so it’s important to remember those who go out of their way.

Certainly Stacy and Barbara had no financial gain from helping me. It didn’t help them on the job. They did it because they’re nice, smart and obviously have great taste in books.

The first part of the event featured a panel moderated by Oline Cogdill of the Sun Sentinel (Along with a great blog called Off the Page that I recommend to anyone who likes books). Thriller writer Ted Bell and mystery writer Lisa Unger were the other two panelists. That’s another thing that made it a great day. They are all friends of mine. I got to talk books with smart friends. How cool is that?

Then I got to introduce Brad Meltzer. I’ve written about my admiration for him as a writer and a person. Saturday it was time to show it in front of a pretty big crowd.

The event was less than a ten minute drive from my house. I’ve ridden my bike past the library on occasion. That’s close.

One thing I was struck by was how different each of the authors books are in content. Lisa Unger writes dark, scary psychological dramas.

This is the description of her forthcoming novel Die For You
Isabel and Marcus Raines are the perfect couple. She is a well known novelist; he is a brilliant inventor of high-tech games. They’ve been married for five years and still enjoy a loving romance.

But one morning, Marcus says he loves her, leaves for work, and disappears into thin air.

Isabel relentlessly tried to reach him when he doesn’t return home. But when his call finally comes, she hears only a man’s terrified scream. The police are of no use. The screams she heard may be a television show, a prank, they tell her. Men leave. They leave all the time.

Isabel races to Marcus’s office, trying to find some answers. Instead she finds herself in the middle of an FBI raid, and she is knocked unconscious. When she awakes in a hospital, she learns that everyone Marcus worked with is dead.

She returns home to find their apartment ransacked, and the police are there. They urge her to check her bank accounts. Her money—their money—is gone.

Then the police discover that Marcus Raines is a dead man. Long dead. Years dead. Isabel has been married to a stranger.

And now the chase is on, because Isabel will not rest until she finds the truth about the man she loved, who he was, where he’s gone, and how he was able to deceive her so completely.

Ted Bell writes modern spy tales with a British agent named Alex Hawke. PW had this to say about TSAR:

In bestseller Bell's rousing fifth thriller (after Spy), Alex Hawke fights the leaders of a new and invigorated Russia, where Vladimir Putin has been locked up in a lethal prison built over a massive radioactive waste site. Evil mastermind Count Ivan Korsakov (aka the Dark Rider) is determined to return Mother Russia to her rightful place in the world order by reacquiring her former colonies, after which he intends to conquer Europe and reign as the new tsar. The only thing standing in his way is Hawke, who, as series fans well know, is more than up to the task of thwarting those who try to take over the globe. Life throws Hawke a curve when he finds himself falling in love with the astoundingly beautiful Anastasia, who just happens to be Korsakov's daughter. As always, Bell pulls out all the stops with terrific action scenes, fiendish murders, diabolical villains, dramatic rescues and all the cool weaponry the reader could possibly hope for.

And I write the crap we talk about all the time.

But we all are considered some form of crime/thriller writers. We all have similar experiences in writing and inspiration. We struggle with the same issues and concerns about depth, pace, plot, characters and all the other shit that goes into a published novel.

This was a long and rambling way to say. Hey I enjoyed my weekend.

By the way, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Go out and hug a librarian. They’ve earned it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Broken Record

(Ridley, here)

It's said that you should never start out a piece of writing with an apology, but I must. For the second week in a row, I've Got Nothing.

Maybe it's the time of year that is keeping me from seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary. Maybe it's my workload, or family life. Shanghai is amazing -- this much I can tell you. Maybe it's our decision to leave here that's weighing on me. Mostly, I think the nature of a blog is a first-person narrative of the events around you -- and I don't want to write about me.

Did you read about the woman attacked by a pig in her backyard? That's worth a laugh, or pity, or something.

Did you read that NBC is going to air the outstanding BBC dramatic series, Merlin, this summer? A risky and wild choice for them, but I must applaud it.

Or that Showtime canceled the Tim Robins written/produced series involving the world of pharmaceuticals? Of particular interest to me since I had been hired to write a series--that I PITCHED--involving pharmaceuticals for a network called... yup... Showtime. The pilot was never shot, but I was a little miffed when the same idea resurfaced a year later with a new, more famous (and probably better!) writer. But justice is served! Or canceled, at least.

Did I mention that I'm hooked on American Idol, which we receive via a delayed feed even here in China. (so don't tell me what's going on, because it really is delayed!) I keep hoping the L'il Rounds will reach deep and figure this out -- she was my early favorite and now Adam looks like shoe-in. Can't help but root for Danny, though. HE CAN SING!

Did I mention I'm reading The Given Day by Dennis Lehane. Might be the best book I've read in five years, damn him. I'm reading it as slowly as possible so that it never ends. But seriously, it never does end. How does he do that?

Or that we went to dinner last night, a ways out of downtown Shanghai, at our friend Shelly's house, and in the middle of dinner she informs us that a friend of hers had been invited to dinner but couldn't make it. And that friend, as it turns out, was the writer, Emily Prager, whose wonderful piece in the New York Times convinced us to rent a lane house instead of any other kind of housing offered in Shanghai, a writer I've been trying to track down for eight months, a writer... are you ready for this? ... who, in a city of 16 million... turns out to live in the next lane over from us. Not so hard to find her after all.

It really is a small world.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Irony Runs Deep in Pulitzer Prizes

From Paul Levine...

Why Can’t We (Newspapers and Internet) Just Get Along?

The New York Times won five Pulitzers yesterday. Today, the Times reported a $74 million loss in the first quarter. Before we delve deeper into irony, here are the newspaper’s winning entries:

International Reporting: War coverage in Pakistan and Afghanistan;

Criticism for Holland Cotter’s arts coverage;

Feature Photography for Damon Winter’s images of the Obama campaign;

Breaking News for its coverage of Eliot Spitzer’s public disintegration;

Investigative Reporting for David Barstow’s revelations of the Bush Administration’s use of retired military officers to promote its war policy on television.

You can find those stories, of course, by clicking on the links above. With another click, you can read dozens of archived stories and photos about prior winners.

Because you’re on the Internet...

Not reading a newspaper...

Yes, welcome back to Irony Land.
Last week, I offered the notion that newspaper websites conveyed more information than their inky cousins because of the versatility of the Internet: the ability to instantly send stories; immediate access to related stories, ahem!; updates throughout the day; more extensive use of photos; and, for now, all free. All that depends on the continued existence of newspapers because no one expects newsy websites to maintain staffs that can, say...cover two wars...the way a major newspaper can. Or used to.

More newspapers are going to fold. Others will struggle. Nearly all will shrink. Newspapers need to find a way to make readers subscribe – for pay – on the Internet. It’s their last hope.

Other prize notes:

The New York Times announced its Pulitzer wins on page 23 today.. The wobbly Los Angeles Times – with one win for an excellent series on wildfires in the west – ballyhooed its achievement on page 1.

Many of this year’s winners involved exposing corruption, the prize committee sending a signal: “Here’s what you’re gonna be missing, folks.”

Finally, the prize for poetry went to our own Jim Born. Wait! Strike that. The winner was W.S. Merwin for “The Shadow of Sirius.” Personally, I would not read a poem about a satellite radio network.

And that's the last word from...

Paul Levine, who believes he should have won a Pulitzer Prize during his short, undistinguished career as a reporter for The Miami Herald, specifically a story about the last name in the phone directory, which he recalls to be a gentleman named "Zero Zzyzz." You can look it up.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Time heals all wounds

Patricia Smiley here...

For the past several years, I’ve been in mourning.

For PJ, Dottie, and Tigger-boo the Wonder cat.

My Noble Three were near the same age, so they all grew old and died within a short time of each another. The cumulative loss sent me into a funk. I vowed I would never have another pet. Loosing them was just too painful.

Tigger was the last to go. He died unexpectedly while I was on a book tour, and I have never forgiven myself for not being there with him.

Recently, my friend Brigitta lost her treasured cat Tyrone. A couple of weeks after he passed, she went to an adoption agency and came home with two siblings she named the Shmelnick brothers. I didn’t think anyone could ever replace Tyrone, but those boys rock.

I’ve thought about getting another dog or cat but I tell myself it wouldn’t be fair. I’m gone a lot and can’t bear the thought of leaving them alone. I did make an attempt to adopt an adult Westie whose owner didn’t want him anymore (Hard to imagine, isn't it?). I got my beloved PJ that way, but this time it didn’t work out so I gave up.

On Saturday I went to a luncheon. The hostess had a new puppy that looked like this.

She is a six-month-old Norwich terrier like Cracknor Cause Celebre AKA “Coco,” the Norwich the world fell in love with after she won the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show a few years ago.

Who can resist a puppy? I took her for a walk and let her kiss my face. I told myself that was enough. I’d be like an eccentric aunt who breezed in for an afternoon of play and then jetted off to Monte Carlo to party on my yacht. But I wondered if maybe I wanted more. Bringing a pet into my life is a huge commitment but maybe—just maybe—I’m ready to take the plunge.

Norwich Terriers on Parade

Happy Monday!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid ...

from Jacqueline

I am the most technically illiterate among our band of merry Naked Authors, so I am the least qualified to be tackling this subject – and even though Friday is generally my day, Patty, Paul, Jim and Ridley, to say nothing of our friends, Cornelia and James G., are probably champing at the bit to get a word in edgewise (and yes, horses champ at the bit, they do not eat them).

Here’s what happened this week: Patty is the main contact person for all things technical on the blog. She’s our founder and general whizz, even though she may say she is not a whizz, as far as I am concerned, she’s a genius. Upon receiving the following email, she thought she had been spammed (it’s quoted here word for word):


Your blog at: has been identified as a potential spam blog. To correct this, please request a review by filling out the form at

Your blog will be deleted in 20 days if it isn't reviewed, and your readers will see a warning page during this time. After we receive your request, we'll review your blog and unlock it within two business days. Once we have reviewed and determined your blog is not spam, the blog will be unlocked and the message in your Blogger dashboard will no longer be displayed. If this blog doesn't belong to you, you don't have to do anything, and any other blogs you may have won't be affected.

We find spam by using an automated classifier. Automatic spam detection is inherently fuzzy, and occasionally a blog like yours is flagged incorrectly. We sincerely apologize for this error. By using this kind of system, however, we can dedicate more storage, bandwidth, and engineering resources to bloggers like you instead of to spammers. For more information, please see Blogger Help:

Thank you for your understanding and for your help with our spam-fighting efforts.


The Blogger Team

P.S. Just one more reminder: Unless you request a review, your blog will be deleted in 20 days. Click this link to request the review:

Patty being Patty, she immediately followed up with the Naked Authors web people, who were nonplussed, and even after research did not know quite what to do because it transpired that the message was not spam. It appeared to be a real threat with real power behind it. But who from, and where were they?

I should add that at Naked Authors we have strict guidelines – alerts only go to people who have subscribed to our blog, and the links we provide have all been approved. We do not “spam.” (To do so would be the height of hubris, to say nothing of downright rude).

Patty immediately went into investigative reporter mode and tried to track down the truth of the matter. Here’s what she came back with:

“In searching Blogger Help I found that this is happening to many other blogs. I have asked for help on the help group page, sent an e-mail to Google Security, and today I called Google headquarters in NoCal. They told me to go pound sand. There is no Blogger support, no email address, and apparently no human beings who work for this company. I'm at the end of my ability to solve the problem. They may act on their threat to shut us down. Be prepared.”

So here’s the question: Does anyone know why this is happening? Does anyone know who is the source of our problem? And if our blog went somewhere it wasnt supposed to go, why didnt a human being alert us to the problem with an email? We’re nice people, we don’t want to be a nuisance and if you are receiving an unwanted alert from, heck, we want to put it right. What we don’t want to be is shut down. And I dont think our readers want us to be shut down either.

If you have light to shine on this dark cloud hanging over us, please share it here. Needless to say, we’re talking among ourselves. Here’s what Ridley said (before throwing the ball to Paul, our team lawyer):

“But to qualify as Spam don't we have to disseminate the blog? We don't do that, right? We don't send it (push it) anywhere, do we? If people come to it of their own volition, how is that Spam?”

As far as I’m concerned, being the techno-wimp, I’m finding it all a bit freaky. If there’s no who there, then where are the people behind this, or is some big scary machine trying to shut us down on its own?

PS: Latest written on Friday just before posting – looks like Google are now investigating our problem, and we think we’ve held off the internet wolves ... heck, what do I know?

PPS: Couldn't upload my well-chosen images today - hmmmm ,,,,

Oh, and finally - I missed yesterday's blog until this morning - and yes, Susan's voice was lovely and I ended up in tears as well. But you got it wrong - Britain's Got Talent came first (how do you think you guys ended up with that Simon Cowell over here?). Most popular British TV series are nabbed by the US (Life On Mars, The Office, Ab-Fab, and usually with not terribly good results. Works the other way too - The Apprentice sucks on both sides of the Atlantic.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Susan Boyle Really Does Rock

Note: I'm having problems with Blogger this morning

James O. Born

This blog is pure inspiration. It is Wednesday evening here in Florida, as I sit on my porch and take a break from a novel to write this blog. I read Ridley’s post and it was like he was stealing my idea. I got nothing. That’s the title I wanted to use, which I stole from Paul (whether he admitted it or not on a post).

Then I saw the news story on a Scottish woman named Susan Boyle. If you’re the average American the word Scottish brings up images bad Mike Myers impersonations, Haggis, funny men’s skirts and William Wallace, father of all slaps in the face to England. Known for drinking, fighting and being cheap, the Scots are a likable lot who can be difficult to understand if either you or the Scotsman has been drinking. But this story was different. It didn’t involve liquor or bagpipes or sheep. Just a wonderful surprise. She was the bright spot in my day despite GE rising thirty two cents to close near twelve dollars a share.

It happened on a show called Britain’s Got Talent, I can only assume it’s some flimsy rip-off of America’s Got Talent only with bland food and no dentists within fifty miles. Simon Cowell of American Idol is one of the judges. Now I’ve watch only one of these kinds of shows. Two years ago, one of my friend’s sons were on America’s Got Talent and I was impressed. I have nothing against amateur shows; I mean I read everything Paul Levine puts out. But I don’t know enough about singing to tells who’s good and who’s sort’ve good.

This woman, Susan Boyle, came on stage and no one expected anything. She is frumpy and 47. Ye Gods what the hell is wrong with 47? I wish I were 47 again. Regardless, she looked doomed as she stumbled over the answers to a few simple questions.

Then she sang. In a moment she had corrected all the problems of the world with a voice God saw fit to share with the rest of the world. I learned a lesson. I hope I won’t be so quick to judge by appearance. I’m fascinated by the story. I’ve watched it several times and felt compelled, yes compelled, to write about it today.

If this woman from a small village in Scotland can touch a pudgy redneck in Florida think of the possibilities for the world.

Watch her full clip on Youtube. I cannot get the link to work. Trust me it's worth it.

Leave a hopeful, pleasant comment. Have a nice day.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Got Nothing

From Ridley:

I've got nothing.

Subjects I considered writing about:

Pirates -- not the Johnny Depp variety. But as I was about to start writing about what it takes to be a Navy Seal, a wire story came across my desk that another US vessel had been attacked (grenade launchers) and survived the attack, finally delivering humanitarian aid to Kenya. Pirates attacking humanitarian aid ships? Disgusted, I moved on.

12-year-old daughters. Our daughter turns 12 tomorrow. Corny as it sounds: "it can't be." I can look back on the calendar, but something is wrong -- it hasn't been twelve years. Can't possibly be. I held her in one hand. She's now 5' 4" and looks more 17, which kills me, I might add. But she still curls up with me when we read together (we had our legs crossed over one-another's two nights ago -- I could have stayed that way for hours!) Now it's boys, and texting, and the school honor roll, and did I mention boys?

The End Of The Cast: our youngest (10) gets her removable cast off in about 2 hours. Six weeks of a broken ankle. Under the For Better Or For Worse column, from day one of the cast she decided I, daddy, would be the one to change her clothes--twice a day, remove and replace her boot-like-cast, and to bath her. She has shunned mommy for the past several weeks--her usual alliance. I guard her going up and down stairs (despite this she fell last week and we had an instant of thinking she'd broken the other ankle!). So here's the thing: it doesn't take a village; it takes a cast. My daughter and I are closer, we laugh more, we get the other's jokes--than we've been in several years. One broken ankle and we've tightened up our relationship in a way that might have never happened. What a strange world this is.

Goodbye To Shanghai: My wife and I made the difficult decision to return to the US for next year's school year. The decision wrenched us; we have fallen in love with this city and country in a way that ... well, I'm still not convinced we can actually bring ourselves to leave it. But we are scheduled to come home for the summer and not come back. My teaching at the university stands out as one of the great gains of being here; I wouldn't have guessed that last July. The way our two daughters have grown and matured -- they are comfortable city girls now, able to wade out into floods of daunting traffic while carrying a conversation, and cross the street without a raised eyebrow. Corny again: we may leave this place, but it won't leave us. Sorry, but that's the truth.

And maybe that's why I've got nothing this week. I'm stuck in the sentimental lane, and you can't write about sentimental without seeming just mental. So I'll shut up now, and hope to find something for next week.

Are newspaper websites better than their inky cousins?

From Paul Levine...

You're not going to like this, but I want to push the proposition, at least for argument's sake, that newspaper websites are better than their inky cousins. Before you smack me with a rolled up copy of The Daily Fishwrapper, hear this. I am a former newspaper reporter (The Miami Herald) and I am the only person on my block to have five newspapers home delivered. I treasure newspapers and understand their importance to an informed electorate. Could any website have had the resources and the savvy to nail President Nixon during Watergate?

And I agree it's a more pleasing experience to read the paper at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and toast slathered with peach jam. However...

I'm just asking whether, for example, has advantages over its hard copy cousin, The Miami Herald, thanks to:

Updates throughout the day;

Links to related stories, great for writers doing research;

The ability to e-mail stories with the click of a mouse or to post stories to Facebook and other social networking sites;

Extensive use of high resolution color photos; slide shows and video;

And did I forget to's all FREE!

Yes, I know that last item is one of the reasons newspapers are dying like citrus in a cold snap.

Dude, it's amazing that anyone reads newspapers at all anymore!

We also know the weaknesses of websites. Which among them has the trained investigative staffs that make newspapers an invaluable asset of democracy?

Last year, The New York Times won a Pulitzer for its stories on toxic ingredients in medicine imported from China, leading to crackdowns by both the American and Chinese governments. The Washington Post won the Pulitzer for its series on private security contractors in Iraq operating outside the law. The Chicago Tribune won for exposing faulty governmental regulation of toys, car seats and cribs, resulting in the recalls of hazardous products and new federal laws.

Who would cover these topics with orginal reporting? Salon? Huffington Post? Drudge Report? Naked Authors? Ha.

So, what can we hope for if paper-and-ink newspapers shrivel and die? Perhaps website publications with the full newsroom staffs that are the equivalent of the best newspapers of 20 years ago. There'll be no more expensive printing and delivery. If websites can find the model to CHARGE for their services -- as The Wall Street Journal and a few others do now -- perhaps the future is not as bleak as it may appear.

Your thoughts?

Oh, those papers I still have home delivered: The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Variety, and (by mail), Penn State's Daily Collegian.

I'll be stopping by The Kill Zone this Sunday. Don't know what I'll be writing, but I'm sure it will not win a Pulitzer Prize.

FLOGGING THE BOOK: If you're still one of the millions of Americans who have not purchased, borrowed, or stolen "Illegal," there are many ways to do on my website. You can also sign up for my newsletter and win many exciting prizes, including a free day of sailing on Jim Born's lake.

Paul Levine

Monday, April 13, 2009

The essential ingredients of a successful Writer’s Critique Group

Patricia Smiley here…

I consider myself an expert on critique groups. Since I began writing, I’ve been in five of them and a member of one group for nine years. For the uninformed, a critique group is a gaggle of writers who meet on a regular basis (usually 3 hours once a week) to criticize each other’s work. I know that sounds sadomasochistic and it is.

Some people shun writer’s groups because they believe criticism stifles their creativity. That’s a legitimate concern. However, I find critique groups helpful for several reasons: (1) They connect me to a community of writers; (2) Writers are also readers who offer me a sounding board to determine what works and doesn’t work in my writing; and (3) To feel pain is to know you're alive.

In my experience, I have found that writers join critique groups for various reasons, including he/she:

  1. Wants to be praised by his peers as the next Hemingway.
  2. Has nothing to do on Wednesday evenings.
  3. Gets free food during the break.
  4. Has a crush on the blond who writes erotica.
  5. Is filled with rage and hostile envy and needs a place to vent.
  6. Wants to become a better writer.

As you have already guessed, only those writers subscribing to number six meet with much success because critique groups aren’t for the faint of heart.

Here are some qualities of a perfect writing group member. He/she:

  1. Is a voracious and eclectic reader.
  2. Knows the difference between things like “point of view” and “voice.”
  3. Knows what suspense is, how to create it, and how to teach others how to create it.
  4. Has no hidden agendas.
  5. Never says, "I don’t read crime fiction because it’s all crap."
  6. Knows how to compliment as well as to criticize.

Groups work best when they adhere to the following principals:

  1. The perfect critique group has a leader who controls the show and doesn’t allow psychodramas or bullying.
  2. Members show up on time and come prepared. “My dog ate my prologue” is not an acceptable excuse.
  3. There is a time limit or a page limit on what each member reads. Attention hogs need not apply.
  4. The writer is never criticized only the writing.
  5. Attendance is required even if one has nothing to read. Writers must give as well as take.
  6. The writer listens attentively during the critique without interrupting, justifying, or chastising the dunderheads who do not “get” what he's trying to say.
  7. The writer thanks the group for their insightful comments and refrains from bitter tears until she is at home sucking Chianti through a straw.

The next writer's critique group is now forming. Anybody want to join?

***Congratulations to Paulie***

Our very own Paul Levine's latest tome, Illegal, which was just released but is already in its second printing, has been the recipient of glowing reviews, including this one by Jon Land at The Providence Journal in Providence, Rhode Island.

“… the most original, offbeat and wholly entertaining thriller of the year so far. Levine is a brilliant stylist as well as storyteller, reminding me of James W. Hall and Rhode Island’s own Don Winslow, whose ability to turn a phrase keeps us turning pages just to see what they’re going to say next…it’s all about creating quirky heroes who fish, surf or, in the case of Jimmy Payne, fight to hold themselves together with whiskey and paper clips.

"In fact, everything about Illegal is satisfying. It’s one of those rare thrillers that reaches every level it strives for and hits a bull’s-eye with every staccato phrase Levine fires off. Timely, tumultuous, and in a word, terrific.”

Congrats Paulie. You make us Nakeds proud.

Happy Monday!

Friday, April 10, 2009

That's POTUS To You!

from Jacqueline

A few months ago I made an investment – definitely an investment, if you look at the paltry offerings on the box these days – I bought the entire seven series boxed set of The West Wing. In my humble opinion, it retains its place of excellence in TV writing, even though Bradley Whitford never looks at the person he’s talking to as he swans along the corridors of power, and even though it amazes me that so many people can be engaged in the act of perambulation without spilling a drop of the coffee they’re carrying. But I digress. As far as possible, they were sticklers for authenticity on The West Wing, with Martin Sheen – President Bartlett – referred to as “Mr. President” or “President Bartlett” most of the time, unless it’s a cozy feely bit and he’s with someone who can say, “Jed, you need rest ....”

We’re wading our way through the first season, rationing our watching to two episodes per week. First up this week was the episode where the Supreme Court upheld an execution judgement that went to appeal, and the defendant – a double-murdering drug kingpin – lost. The lawyers scrambled to get the ear of The President as he could veto the decision. In turn, President Bartlett called upon his religious and spiritual guidance people, including the minister from his old constituency in New Hampshire. Enter Karl Malden, who had known Jed Bartlett since he was a young man. He asked if he should call him Jed. Now, as usual, I can’t remember the exact response, but Sheen’s lines went something like this, “Let’s stick to ‘Mr. President’ so I remember the weight of the decision is with the office, as well as the man.” The moment was so crisp, it hung in the air.

So, here’s where I’m going with this little bit of reflection. I have noticed an increasing trend on the TV and Radio news and on talk shows, and also in the printed and online press, to refer to this nation’s President as simply, “Obama.” Now, before anyone starts, yes, I know we can all think of times when the single word, “Bush” was used (and in our house there was usually an unflattering word that preceded it), but most often on the news, for example, he was “George Bush” or “President George Bush.” Whether we liked it or not, he was the president, and whatever was said about him, he was connected with the office (oh, help us, was he ever connected with the office?).

I have a sense that if the current press secretary were Alison Janney, this trend would not go on much longer. She would drag the entire press corps in there and remind them that they are talking about the President of the United States, and even though he may have the common touch, and even though we have come to know him through the thick and thin of his campaign, and even though we may not have wanted him there, for the most part he is the President of the United States of America. President Barack Obama is on business out there in the world, and even though I am sure he doesn’t mind the odd “Obama” this or “Obama” that – we would all do well to remember the importance of the office. Maybe it was in forgetting that got us into such a terrible mess the last time.

Talking about the common touch now, as you know, I have recently returned from the UK – in fact, while I’m here, sorry about last week’s non-appearance, but I had only flown in late the night before and I was not really in a fit state to post anything. While I was there, the US Cavalry rolled into town. You heard about the many cars, helicopters and secret service agents there to protect POTUS, and you may have heard about the President’s motorcade getting stuck in Downing Street – what a giggle that was, even with all that respect. I was watching the news with my parents that day – the arrival of President Barack Obama at Number Ten Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s official residence, the photo opportunity, and then the departure into the house. Just before he crossed the threshold, POTUS extended a hand to the solitary policeman who stands at the door of Number Ten (the place is always swarming with guys on the roof and up the street, but this policeman is a tradition). The President of the United States of America shook hands with the policeman, and they exchanged smiles and probably a hello. Then Gordon Brown, the PM, comes next, half extends his hand then remembers he’s about to touch the help, so shoves it back again, at which point the poor bobby is left with his hand hanging. Did I see him shrug with a wry smile? As soon I saw that footage, I said to my parents, “There you have it, there it is – that’s why I live over there!” Not that it’s all touchy feely here, and not that America gets it right every time, but there isn’t that centuries old upper crust elitism that still exists, no matter how many trendy restaurants you can now find in the East End of London, and no matter how many lords of the manor are down to their last Rembrandt.

My penultimate word today is about cars. How could it be otherwise, having seen the POTUS almost get stuck in his big old car on a London Street? One of the things that strikes anyone who travels to Europe, is the number of really cute small cars. Of course, there are those who lumber around in their Range Rovers and so on (disparagingly called Chelsea Tractors), but for the most part, you’ll see much smaller cars than over here, and many of them are so CUTE! Every time I am over there I see really snappy little cars (probably getting 60 mpg) and I’m thinking, “Why don’t we have that in the States?” Why don’t Toyota/Nissan/Ford or whoever take that design Stateside? I think the automakers here are being given the wrong instructions. Sure we can tell them to improve fuel efficiency, etc., but why don’t we just say, “Go away and make cute cars.” Not clunkers, not cars that couldn’t hold the road even if it had arms, but really nice cute little cars with great gas mileage and terrific reliability. Throw in a little retro, and you’ll be home and dry. Here’s one of my favorites:

Finally, today is Good Friday. I’ve written at Easter time before, so you probably know this is my favorite holiday. You can keep all your December and January holidays, but I adore Easter. It’s that new life thing – the air around our home is filled with the scent of orange blossom from the surrounding farms, my grass is green – in a few weeks it will be toasted brown – and signs of new life are abundant.

Have a wonderful, abundant weekend, and may your Easter be filled with joy – and chocolate. Here, have a hot crossed bun ....

PS: Oh, perhaps I should have explained for non West Wing fans: In the first episode, Sam Seaborne (Rob Lowe) takes a call which refers to his boss - "POTUS" - the President Of The United States. He'd just run his bike into a tree.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Edgy Fun

I like edginess. Usually, if done right, it can make me laugh. This goes for books as well as movies.

The prefect literary example is Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. Still edgy, it must have been phenomenal when it was released in 1961. Having not yet reached my first birthday I waited twenty years until I read it.

Currently there isn’t a lot of edginess in popular fiction. It feels like many authors work hard not to offend anyone or raise any eyebrows. I’m not condemning these writers and there are many books I love without the odd, almost indefinable quality of edginess. I’m just saying it’s satisfying to pick up a Joseph Wambaugh novel and see politically incorrect phrases or violence from a supposed good guy.

On TV edginess is a rare quality. It has nothing to do with the amount of profanity. Nothing to do with violence or even topics. It’s some combination of factors that makes a show uncomfortable to watch and compelling at the same time. HBO’s Eastbound and Down is one of these shows. Danny McBride, the scene-stealer from Tropic Thunder is the lead that the viewers hate, love, fear and laugh at all at the same time.

Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle summarizes the show well. "Eastbound & Down" is about the downfall of a foulmouthed, mullet-wearing former Major League Baseball pitcher named Kenny Powers (McBride), who alienates everyone around him with his obnoxiousness, meritless ego, politically incorrect comments and sexual boorishness. In short, he's easy to hate. Apparently the idea here is that in his quest to return to the big leagues, there will be some kind of redemption story to carry the day.

That seems unlikely on several fronts. Powers is out of shape, frequently drunk and prone to cocaine, and he has burned so many bridges in baseball that even if he regained his searing fastball, he'd have a hard time finding a team to take him.”

The main character is absolutely unrepentant in his foul, egotistical approach to the world around him. The fact that he's a middle school teacher makes the situation even more absurd. Kenny can make me cringe but ultimately make me laugh and with the edge to this show that's not easy.

Just though I’d mention a show I like and how much I appreciate true edginess.

What offbeat qualities do you like? What shows or books?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Crossing Guards

I have a book publishing at the end of June, (Killer Summer), and because of this Putnam, my publisher, requested I autograph some pages to be tipped-in to copies, so they can ship and sell autographed books to stores and that those books will be available on the publishing date. (June 30th) Where the story gets interesting is that they asked me to sign just shy of 4,000 pages. I've done this for a while now, so again, nothing new, but it's a lot of autographs, of course. Each page is slightly bigger than the page you see in a hardcover book so they can trim it and stitch it into the book with the rest of the pages.

Where it gets interesting is that I'm in China this year, so my editor sent me a very big box of roughly 4,000 sheets of cream colored paper by FedEx and gave me plenty of time to get them back to her. The pages need to be treated carefully so they don't wrinkle or appear messed up by the time they're inserted into the final book -- no dog drool, catsup, olive oil or tears on the page please.

So I dutifully went about running through five pens and 4,000 pages of signatures over a two month period, finding hiding spots around the house as I completed a pile. (One must keep the stack flat and away from life.) I found a bookshelf, a dresser. Some drawers. Slowly, I began filling flat spaces around our small house here in Shanghai with "daddy piles" of signed pages.

Then I finished! I was exactly on time. Given the three days for shipping, I could deliver them when requested. But I needed to get the box from our lane to FedEx -- about a kilometer away. (There may be a way in China to request pick-up, but I have NO idea how that might happen.) It was sprinkling at the time. I boxed all the sheets into the padded box they'd come in, and I taped it up tight -- but it was hefty, large, and heavy. I debated a cab, but didn't want to walk the box out to the street (down several twisting lanes). So I decided to courier it on the back of my bicycle. Then came the problem: how to attach a very large, slightly heavy box (24lbs) to the back of a bike. I asked our maid in sign language and crude Mandarin for any ideas and she produced a long black rubber strap from her motor bike, and I went about lashing the box to the bike with the strap. It required three tries and several tests to make sure if I leaned, the box wouldn't slide off the back of the bike, or worse, tip me over with it. At last, I had it held down tightly, and I set off.

So picture a Caucasian, an American, out among the thousands of motor scooters, bikes and motor bikes, taxis, vans and cars, on the streets of Shanghai with a very large and heavy cardboard box on the back of his bike. The car horns, the squeal of brakes, the fog and drizzle. The incredible looks I got at each red light, being sized up for what kind of dumb foreigner rides his bike when he could take a cab. The traffic cops...

Once to the FedEx storefront I was required to cross the street to park the bike on the opposite sidewalk. It costs 17 cents to park your bike in Shanghai. So I walked the bike to the street corner... At this particular intersection there was a traffic cop, like a drill sergeant, in the middle of the area standing atop a white X, gesticulating madly (MADLY) and blowing a shrill whistle. He was, in fact, a caricature of a traffic cop. You might still see something like this in the USA. Here's what you won't see: FOUR more crossing guards who direct the foot traffic -- blowing their whistles (along with the cop in the middle of it all--so you have no idea who is blowing what whistle) to signal pedestrians back up on the curb (no standing in the street!), and when to cross. And, wait! There's more! ANOTHER FOUR crossing guards directing the bike and scooter traffic at each corner. Bringing... and I'm not making this up (a Dave Barry line)... a total of NINE people directing various forms of traffic at this one intersection. Yes: nine.

The box made it to New York safely. Autographs intact. But if you need an example of a cheap labor pool, look no further than that one intersection--one of many--in dear old downtown Shanghai.


Times Square, Northern Over-Exposure, and Books I Plan to Read

From Paul Levine

ILLEGAL HITS TIMES SQUARE: But not Barnes and Noble! For those who have e-mailed, called, and written threatening letters, ILLEGAL will be in the B&N stores early next week. For now, you can find the Jimmy (Royal) Payne thriller at independent bookstores (our favorites), Borders and other chains, and of course, at Amazon.

THOSE FAMOUSLY FERTILE PALIN GALS: What was Sarah Palin thinking...?

Hold that thought. Let’s back up.

Thirty-five years ago, William L. Scott was a Republican senator from Virginia. In 1974, New Times, a little literary magazine now long defunct, reported that an obscure research group judged Scott to be the “dumbest” person in the U.S. Congress. No one paid much attention. In fact, virtually no one heard about it.

Then, Scott called a press conference to deny he was the dumbest Congressman. Network news covered the press conference and millions of people heard the allegation...and the dumb denial.

Back to the present. Why did Gov. Palin draw more attention to Levi Johnston’s cheesy appearance on the Tyra Banks show, a daytime yawner watched by a few dozen people taking sick leave.

If you missed it, Gov. Palin released a statement prior to the telecast, blasting Johnston for talking about his sex life with Bristol, who now, according to Mom, is “advocating abstinence.” With the Palin gals being famously fertile, we surely hope so. We note, however, that Mom didn’t say “practicing abstinence.”

Having been tipped off by the Guv, I had to watch Levi, a kid whose only known talent is producing spermatozoa that could beat Michael Phelps in the 100 meter freestyle. Levi told Tyra he was “pretty sure” the Governor knew he was having sex with Bristol. Yep, that’s the headline. Now, I am returning to my other career, "advocating abstinence," but trying, against all odds, not to practice it.


New books I have to read:

Harlan Coben’s “Long Lost.”

Lisa Scottoline’s “Look Again”

Joel Goldman’s “The Dead Man.”

The Edgar-nominated Goldman writes a series featuring ex-FBI agent Jack Davis.
Billionaire Milo Harper wants Jack Davis’ help. People in Harper’s study of the human brain are starting to die exactly as they have dreamed they would die. Harper hires Jack to find out why their nightmares are coming true and protect his foundation. But when Jack investigates, he crosses paths with a serial killer inside one of the most advanced research facilities in the world.

In Hollywood, that would be called “high concept.”
You can find an excerpt of “The Dead Man” here.

What? You want video? We got video. I don't like most book trailers, but this is a nifty one.

I signed “Illegal” at several bookstores last week and tonight I'll be at Vroman’s in Pasadena. Some “fan” already has placed his/her signed copy for sale on Amazon for $45! Whoa. Cover price is $22. Amazon price is $14.96. Is my signature worth $30? If so, please send me thirty bucks and I will sign anything you want.


Monday, April 06, 2009

I'm not anti-social, I'm just...

Patricia Smiley here…

...paranoid about identity theft, a mental condition born of experience. Several years ago, one of the big three credit reporting agencies switched my social security number with one belonging to a financial scofflaw. After many months of dwelling in the dark abyss of bureaucratic hell, I finally resolved the problem but it was a stressful experience. That’s why I’m cautious about giving out personal information, and it’s the primary reason I’ve eschewed most Internet services like online banking, online shopping, and participating in social networking sites like MySpace or LinkedIn. In my opinion, they ask too many nosey questions and can’t guarantee to protect my data from scammers and thieves. I'm as social as the next guy, but why do I need to provide my date of birth to join a Yahoo group? Age schmage. If you're friends, you're friends.

My paranoia can be a problem sometimes, especially when I get requests to join online social networking sites. For example, last week a friend sent me an invitation to sign up for his Twitter Tweets. I haven’t opened his e-mail yet, because I’m not sure it really came from my friend. I say this because a couple of years ago somebody highjacked my e-mail address and spammed people with messages they didn’t want to read. That caused a chorus of loud complaints.

Still, many of my friends are intrepid Internet junkies, and I take inspiration from them. So a few days ago, I decided to vanquish my paranoia and open a Facebook account. I took a deep breath and clicked on the “sign up” button, which took me to a page requesting lots of personal data as well as a long boring agreement I had to accept. Basically it said we’ll try to protect your information but you should know that online life doesn’t come with guarantees. Without a paranoia coach to talk me down, I nixed Facebook. As much as I'd love to have a few friends on my wall, for now I'll just go it alone.

My decision seemed prophetic the following day when I heard about a destructive virus invading social networking sites. It starts innocently enough. You get an e-mail from a Facebook “friend” that says,

Hey, I have this hilarious video of you dancing. Your face is so red. You should check it out.

If you've received a message like that through Facebook or MySpace, you may have been exposed to the "Koobface" virus. "Koobface" comes through an e-mail sent by one of your social networking site friends inviting you to scope out a video.

Once the URL is clicked, "Koobface" prompts you to update your Flash player before the video can be displayed. Therein lies the virus, cloaked in a "flash_player.exe" file. According to the Kaspersky Lab, an antivirus organization working closely with Facebook, "the worms transform victim machines into zombie computers to form botnets."

Facebook has posted instructions about how to remove the "Koobface" virus: give your computer an antivirus scrub-down and change your Facebook password.

This attack on the world's most popular social networking site and its 120 million users comes just weeks after Facebook won an $873 million lawsuit against several people accused of hacking user accounts and spreading spam.

Which means, I guess, that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they're not out to get you.

Happy Monday!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Guest Blogger J.A. Konrath

Our guest blogger today is thriller author JA Konrath, who writes a series about a a Chicago cop named Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels. He's currently on a blog tour for the month of March to promote AFRAID, a horror novel he penned under the name Jack Kilborn. You can read an excerpt at


Let's talk about reviews.

I've had my share of good reviews, and a few bad reviews, and I know different people have different tastes so I take it all in stride.

But today's blog isn't about professional reviews. Because, frankly, newspapers and magazines are going under faster than we can count them.

Today I want to talk about a type of reviews that are gaining popularity. The ones people are actually listening to.

Reader reviews.

It's no secret that word-of-mouth is the strongest form of book promotion. When was the last time you bought a book because you saw an ad for it? Compare that to a friend who says, "Oh my god, you have to read this!"

Chances are, the friend is more persuasive than the ad.

Which brings us to this wonderful form of communication known as the Internet.

For the first time, in the history of reviewing, anyone with a computer and a modem can share their opinions with the entire world. And people are doing just that, in record numbers, on dozens of different websites and thousands of different blogs, newsgroups, listservs, and message boards.

And I'll be 100% honest here: your words do count.

We've all been on, wondering if we should or shouldn't buy a certain book. What sways us one way or the other?

The reviews do. An average of three or more stars usually means I'll take a chance and buy the book. Less then two stars means I'll get my copy from the library, if at all.

In the past, high-profile critics told us what we should and shouldn't like. But now, majority rules, and the masses are a pretty good judge of if a book is good or not.

Which brings me to a question I'd like to ask: Do you post reviews?

I have a vested interest in reviews and being reviewed, because I'm a writer.

But I'm also a reader. A reader who enjoys sharing his opinion. A reader who thinks it's important to play cheerleader for my peers. A reader who recognizes how important a few sentences can be to someone considering buying a book.

So I've posted my fair share of reviews, and I've posted a few on some other sites as well.

Could I do more? Sure.

Now how about you?

If you believe reader reviews are helpful, if you love books as much as I do, if you want to help authors that you enjoy, why aren't you posting more reviews?

You really don't have any excuses. If you're a writer, it's a no-brainer: you're helping to propagate the species, and what goes around comes around. If you're a reader, it's a no-brainer: your review will help a writer sell more books, and we all know what happens to writers who don't sell enough.

So where should you post reviews?

Amazon is an obvious choice. But very few people also post those same reviews on its sister sites, Amazon uk and Amazon Canada.

Other bookstore sites that allow for reviews are,,,

You could write a five sentence review, then post it on all of these sites in less than ten minutes.

You can also post your reviews, and meet like-minded fellow readers and writers, at, and

If you're a mystery fan, you can post reviews on, or join the Listserv, or visit the newsgroup news:rec.arts.mystery on Usenet.

Other places to post include,,,, and

And don't forget your social networking sites,,, and

If you're really hardcore, and have an eye for detail, you can edit and add your favorite authors, along with synopses of their best books.

Your opinion really does matter. And authors really do care.

In fact, I care so much, that I'm giving away free copies of my new horror novel, AFRAID, to people who post links to new reviews (reviews they've just posted today) about any book from any author on the Naked Authors blog.

Go to one of the sites I listed above, and write a review about a book by James O. Born, Ridley Pearson, Jacqueline Winspear, Paul Levine, Patricia Smiley, or Cornelia Read.

You've read their stuff. Now post your thoughts online. If you've already reviewed them, you can cut and paste that review onto another webite.

Post your new links in the comments section. I'll randomly pick three people to get free books. And by "random" I mean that the more reviews you post, the better chance you have of winning.

Now go share your opinion with the world.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Bird Wings

I found myself shopping for bird wings this week...

I thought these might be a little too big to pack. So I opted for something more like:

though you won't catch me dead in those heels.

And I found myself wondering how odd it is that a 56 year old male would be on-line shopping for butterfly wings, in order to go on book tour with Dave Barry for our next and possibly final Starcatchers novel. (Peter and the Sword of Mercy--October)

Writing is just not a normal occupation I decided. Last year Dave and I were trying to figure out how to set off 15 foot Mentos/Coke experiments in bookstores and schools without being sued. And this year I'm shopping for angel wings (they feature prominently in the novel -- oh, sure, I hear you saying!) And the answer is: No, Dave and I are not that kinky.

So anyway... next time you're thinking about taking up writing for a living...

Think again.