Friday, July 31, 2009

Babes, Baseball... and Asperger's Syndrome

from James Grippando

Jackie's off today celebrating her parents 60th--Wow!--wedding anniversary, and I'm filling in from Martha's Vineyard. There's a book festival here this weekend (some might say the island is one continues book festival), so I dragged my family along to be part of it.

Then on Monday I'll be signing books in a most unusual place: McCoy Stadium, the minor league home to the Pawtucket Red Sox ("PawSox"), the triple-A affiliate for the Boston Red Sox.

It's a pretty special ending to a Chevy/Chase Griswold-family-style summer vacation that started in Michigan and wraps up in Rhode Island. And it should be special, because Intent to Kill is a pretty special book for me. Sometimes an idea hits you like lightning. Other times, an idea pecolates around in your head for years. Intent to Kill is one of those long-brewing concepts that eventually shaped itself into the story of a rising baseball star who’s married to the perfect wife—until a tragic accident changes everything. I love baseball, and I’m married to the perfect wife, so much of the research was fun and easy. As a writer, however, I always like to challenge myself, and I especially enjoyed the character of "Babes," a young man with an autism-related disorder.

The character "Babes" in Intent to Kill is based on a real person who I had a special connection with. When I was growing up in Illinois, my godfather and his family were the Grippando family’s closest friends. A young man who everyone called "Junior" lived with them (my godfather’s brother in law). As a boy, of course, I didn’t understand Junior’s condition, but I remember him as a kind and gentle soul who acted more like a child than an adult. Junior was a huge baseball fan, but his poor motor skills meant that he never played sports. He was purely a spectator—and a wealth of baseball trivia. He came to all the Little League games when I was growing up, and we were very fond of him. When I went on to high school, he watched those games, too. Almost inevitably, the high-school kids started to make fun of the grown man who never went anywhere without a baseball mitt and baseball cap, and who wore "high-water pants" that were hemmed way too high above the ankle. The teasing became unbearable, and Junior finally stopped coming.

The next season, I was on the track team, not baseball, but I walked by the baseball field every day on my way to practice. It seemed weird without Junior. As the season wore on, however, I saw Junior return to the stands. Even though some of the jerks still made fun of him, he ignored them. Whenever the home team came up to bat, he would cheer and shout, "Come on Baaabe," or "Let’s go Baaabe." People started calling him "Babes"—though most of them were still snickering behind his back. But he kept coming. One day I was walking toward the track for practice, and the baseball team was playing an important game against a huge conference rival. I didn’t see Babes in the stands. Sadly, I thought maybe all the teasing had finally gotten to him. Then I heard his cheer—"Let’s go Baaaabe"—and I looked across the field. He was on the team’s bench! They had adopted him as their own and invited him to sit with the players. From then on, he was known as "Babes"—with affection, not derision. No sports team ever had a more loyal fan.

Babes is part of an engaging cast of characters in a fast-paced story that I hope will bring you hours of thrills.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

No Escape From Genetics

James O. Born

It's not actually genetics I'm trying to escape from. In fact, I appreciate the genes my father and mother passed on to me. But despite my best efforts, I’ve found that almost no matter what I do, eventually I start to sound like my father with a slightly clearer voice and a more limited vocabulary. Nowhere is this more clear than my shortsighted, ignorant, intolerant, loudmouth view on movies.

I can remember arguing with my dad over his dismissal of such 1970 classics as Smokey and the Bandit or Close Encounters without ever having seen the films. He loved good movies and certain directors, whether they produced good films or not. There was no rhyme or reason to his tastes either. He loved something as funky as the Terry Gilliam film Brazil to something as mainstream as all the James Bond movies. But if he had a hint of something he thought might be juvenile or stupid or didn't like the title of the movie, he would write it off without considering any review or recommendation from someone else. Although it made me angry as a teenager I now find I do exactly the same thing on a regular basis.

I have a movie package bundled with my cable modem and as a result have every possible movie channel on TV. I scroll through them at blinding speeds, searching for something I find amusing, interesting or at least with good looking women. By the way my suggestion for the latter is Cinemax anytime after eleven o'clock eastern time. But that's another subject.

But certain titles and descriptions turn me off completely. Perhaps I'm wrong and I'm looking for someone here to point out the value in some of the drech that comes down the river on HBO or Showtime at all hours of the day.

The first one I've noticed is Righteous Kill with Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. I regret to say that I have not seen an Al Pacino movie that I didn't think he was overacting so much he made Charlton Heston look like a telephone answering machine. Who would've thought that he wouldn't go anywhere after the Godfather. And just the stupid phrase Righteous Kill would keep me from watching 10 seconds of this critical and box office loser.

Don't Say a Word with Michael Douglas. I realize it's a movie from 2001, but I see it on the channel guide. If I've avoided it for eight years I'm pretty sure it will not be taking up two hours of my Saturday night.

Coyote Ugly. Now that I'm over twenty-one, I'll just go to a real bar if I want to see pretty women pouring drinks and not care about their lives in any way.

Awake. Hayden Christiansen convinced me in the Star Wars movies that I never really had to see him again in anything where his name didn't include Vader. People that don't go unconscious with anesthetic. Please. As long as they can't scream and annoy me, I don't really care.

These are just a few of the movies I won't give a chance to. Which ones are on your list? And have I made a serious error in any of these four?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

All For Free and Free For All

From Ridley:

I'm going to make the leap here, and assume readers of Naked Authors are interested in writing. Maybe some of you are even interested in extended education. Call me naïve, but I wasn't aware that free university level courses existed all over the Internet. I had heard about the sites that offer degrees online often at exaggerated fees, but not that you could get high-quality Ivy League level education for free over websites. Freedom rings.

I'm no big fan of spam. It is in fact one of those things we tolerate by having e-mail and being on the Internet. I avoid opening anything that looks like spam, because I know the spammers have ways to determine if you even click on their e-mails. If you do, your e-mail address then gets put on the master list, that list gets sold around the world, and your spam increases exponentially. Who wants that?

So when the subject line offers enhancement, or size, or has the word "woman" in it, I send it straight to the trash. But there this morning, nagging at me from my Junk Mail, was the subject line that included university course. And how could I resist? First, I tried to establish that the sender was legitimate. Then I dared click through, and lo and behold, free university courses even from sites like M.I.T. online. As someone who just spent a year teaching a university course (in China), I was particularly interested because these courses had to do with literature, creative writing, and writing in general. I clicked through on a few of them, and ended up reading from a list of about 40 very interesting university courses, none of which get you any college credit, nor do you get access to the university's faculty, but there for your taking, is the full academic course. Amazing! So here, readers of the Naked Authors Blog, are university courses in a subject matter that may be dear to your heart, all for free. If you happen to have about 80 hours of free time, have at it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Anorexic Actresses Want Your Guns!

From Paul Levine...

SHE SAID WHAT? Just what did Sarah Palin (The Mistress of the Non-Sequitur) mean when she scolded the media during her farewell speech: "In honor of the American soldier, quit making things up."

I have no idea. Then came the biggest thigh-slapper, her warning to the media to stay away from the new governor's children. one even mentioned his kids until you did.

She also said: "You are going to see anti-hunting, anti-second amendment circuses from Hollywood. "They use these delicate, tiny, very talented celebrity starlets. They use Alaska as a fund-raising tool for their anti-Second Amendment causes. By the way, Hollywood needs to know. We eat, therefore we hunt."

Gun sales are booming because of fears in certain quarters that the Obama Administration wants to seize your machine guns and turn them over to illegal aliens. However, new gun legislation is not on the President's agenda. This 2nd Amendment version of "Reefer Madness" is a fund-raising technique of the NRA and other right-wing groups. (In fairness, left-leaning organizations also use scare tactics, as letters to me from the Anti-Defamation League illustrate).

Lest you think that I'm a "delicate, tiny" Hollywood elitist, let me say that I'm a gun-toting American although I'm sure Jim Born is a better shot. (I hope so!) While living in Miami, I was the victim of a burglary in which my 9 mm Beretta was stolen and later used in the murder of a drug dealer. But that is a story for another day. For now, it's lunch time; I need a burger; and I'm going out to shoot a moose.

CONGRATS TO MR. PEARSON: My publishing sources tell me that Ridley's "Killer Summer" is going gangbusters in the stores. Published last month, the novel brings back Sun Valley Sheriff Walt Fleming on the trail of master thief Christopher Cantell, who is determined to steal three legendary bottles of wine from a local wine convention. I assume Ridley did ample research in area wineries.

MY JOURNALISM INSTINCTS AT WORK: NPR reports that young adults are hanging out and hooking up, i.e., having sexual encounters without emotional attachment.
In a completely unrelated story, NPR reports that Chlamydia Infections Are on the Rise

"L.A. Law" and the roaring horns and pounding drums of its main titles. (Music by Mike Post)

CROSS-TOWN RIVALRY: I love the spirited byplay (okay, hatred) between USC and UCLA alums. Here's a great, succinct letter to the sports editor in the Los Angeles Times:

With the new point system for UCLA season tickets, the only ones with enough money to get decent seats are going to be USC student-athletes.

Jack Nelson Soll

As Jim Born knows, similar sparks fly between Gator and Seminoles fans in Florida.

Most college teams begin play five weeks from Saturday. (Why do we have to wait so long?!) Go Nittany Lions. Or as we used to say when the University of Pittsburgh was still on the schedule, "PUCK FITT."

Your faithful, currently unarmed correspondent,


Monday, July 27, 2009

Some Florida in your Summer Reading

from James Grippando

“There ought to be a law against Florida fiction writers setting any more scenes in Stiltsville.”

Those words are from a recent book review, and even though it wasn’t my book being skewered, the reviewer had a valid point. Many authors live and write in South Florida, and even more use South Florida as a setting, and readers are seeing too much of the same old stuff.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Stiltsville. It’s a uniquely Miami collection of wood cottages about a mile offshore that—as the name implies—sit up on stilts above glistening Biscayne Bay. No phones, no electricity, no distractions. Some have been lost to hurricanes. Others have survived since the Prohibition era. Environmental and other concerns ensure that no more will ever be built. From a book lover’s standpoint, it would be hard to imagine a more idyllic place to do your summer reading or writing.

But that reviewer was right: There’s so much more too see here.

That’s why I take readers alligator hunting in Born to Run. That’s the reason I chose Overtown — a village rich in jazz history, once known as Miami’s “Little Harlem”—as the backdrop for my Last Call. That’s why Jack Swyteck’s favorite Miami restaurant is inside a Citgo station off U.S. 1, where you can enjoy world class wine at bargain prices with tasty tapas, and then buy Twinkies and a Lotto ticket on your way out.

There are eight novels now in the Jack Swyteck series, and in each of them, I take readers to places they might not visit, which often leads to the question: Is that a real place?

I received one of those e mails recently about the Citgo station. The reader (a Canadian who was planning a trip to Miami) also wanted to know about Cy’s Place, the amazing Coconut Grove jazz bar owned by Jack’s friend Theo Knight. Here’s the scoop. Yes, the restaurant inside the Citgo station is real. “Cy’s Place,” on the other hand, is totally made up.

I could go on and on with the list—“Real, or not real?” — but here’s a rule of thumb for James Grippando novels. If there is a dead body on the floor or bug in the food, it’s definitely not a real place. (Can you say "libel"?) If there is any kind of criminal activity going on, it is probably not a real place.

I say “probably” because this is South Florida, after all, and that certain strip club mentioned in Beyond Suspicion is indeed real, as is the back story about the United States Attorney who went there after losing his biggest trial ever and took care of his frustration by downing a bottle of champagne, biting a stripper, and then paying the tab (and revealing his identity) with his credit card.

Like I said: this is south Florida. Some things I can’t make up.

Thanks for reading. Patty will be naked in her usual slot next week.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Facebook Bookclub

James O. Born

Good Thursday morning. For my West Coast friends, you might have to get moving to participate in this event. I mean right now. I'm going to be a guest on Chauncey Mabe’s book club on Facebook at noon Eastern Time today. I’ll make this easy on you, Paul: that's 9 AM, Pacific time. I have no idea how this thing works or what it's going to be like, but it would be nice to have a few of my friends from the blog drop by. I joined Facebook specifically for this event and I'm interested to see the results. I'll actually be in my James O'Neal mode and discussing The Human Disguise.

As many of you know, Chauncey Mabe was the book critic for the Sun Sentinel for many, many years. He recently left the paper to do some freelance work. He's a very sharp guy with a wide range of literary interests. Best of all he's not afraid to stand up and say what he thinks.

I've done a number of book clubs in person and I'll have to confess it freaks me out to talk to a group of people who've already read my books and have specific questions about them. I've also spoken to several college English classes and get the same feeling. It's not negative in any way. Just a little disconcerting.

In the interviews that I've done so far for The Human Disguise, I get asked the same three questions every time. How did I know the tax structure of Florida would break down? Was I thinking of the H1N1 swine flu virus when I talk about pandemics in the book? And, is this how I envision police work in the near future?

I wrote the book almost three years ago and had no clue about the impending financial disaster. I guess you could say I was just lucky. The same goes for the swine flu. In fact, I was thinking of the avian flu, which was being discussed at the time I was writing the book. As for how I envision police work in the future that would depend, as it always does, on that direction that the American Society takes. There are always ebbs and flows in the criminal justice system. In Florida, during the early 1990s, violent crime was a real concern and then Gov. Lawton Childs pushed legislation that made anyone convicted in the state have to complete a minimum of 85% of their sentence. Within two years crime rates plummeted. Not because criminals were now afraid to commit crimes in the state, but because the worst criminals were actually staying behind bars. It is my hope that The Human Disguise does not reflect the only future of police work.

Oline Cogdill, the respected mystery reviewer, gave an excellent plug to the book group discussion. Her Off the Page blog, sponsored by the Sun Sentinel newspaper, is one of the places I check on the web every day.

So if you have a few minutes around lunchtime on the East Coast, late morning Central Time, coffee break time in the Mountain Time Zone or just after breakfast on the West Coast, please drop in and say hello.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Passing

Crunching on a deadline even though I'm with the family at a remote fishing retreat near Yellowstone. Dad is in the cabin typing. This, one comes to realize, is the life of a writer. And speaking of the life of a writer, we lost one this week. Frank McCourt, many of you may not know, was not simply a great man and teacher and writer, he was also a harmonica player. As such, he joined the Rockbottom Remainders, the all-author rock band I play bass guitar in, on several occasions over the past few years. He even toured with us once, culminating in an appearance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where Frank promptly forgot the lyrics to Danny Boy, of all songs!

I could try to tell you about Frank, about the time he enlisted Dave Barry and me, in London, to help bail him out of an obligation, about how the three of us got laughing so hard in front of the Londoners we had to take a second to regain composure. But when you have Mitch Albom in your band... enough said.

Mitch's article.

Go lightly, Frank. The band plays on...


Twitter: RidleyTheWriter

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pictures in My Mind, Words on the Page

From the messy desk of Paul Levine...

A PICTURE'S WORTH A GAZILLION WORDS: I use still photos when writing descriptions of people, places, and things. When I needed to describe Mexicali in ILLEGAL, I scattered photos I took of the city across my desk. When I wrote a script set in the 1940's in Japan, I used a photo (below) of a young Japanese woman to help me create a particular character. The life and death of gangster Ben (Bugsy) Siegel play a role in the backstory of my new Jake Lassiter novel. Here are the photos I'm using to inform that character. Does anyone else find this helpful in writing?

AND SPEAKING OF BUGSY: Sunday night, I was having dinner with friends at Il Postaio in Beverly Hills when Annette Bening and Warren Beaty walk in. Notwitstanding the fact that we're neighbors, they didn't stop by to say hello. Okay, so they live on top of the mountain next to Jack Nicholson and I live at the bottom next to a den (or nest or condo or whatever) of coyotes. And we've never actually met. But I've seen all their movies, starting with "Splendor in the Grass."

AND SPEAKING OF PHOTOGRAPHS: Julius Shulman, famed architecture photographer, just died at 98. I first saw his photograph, Koenig's Case Study House Number 22 (below) as a high school student. It's the cantilevered house in the Hollywood Hills, the perfect spot for a modern ("Mad Men" era) cocktail party. The photo made me want to become an architect. Then I discovered I had no spatial abilities and was lousy at math, drawing, and virtually every other talent needed to conceptualize and express designs. Having no other discernible talents, I became a lawyer. Any readers wish they had an ability they lack?

TODAY'S HEALTH FOOD NOTE: I've always thought gyros were basically compressed wads of meat scraps, sort of like sausages without the skin. This New York Times story, about mass producing "lamb and beef trimmings" into frozen popsicles, confirms it. Now, be honest. Doesn't gyro meat look like roadkill? And who, besides Jim Born, eats them on a regular basis?

Paul Levine

Monday, July 20, 2009

Leaving on a jet plane...again.

Patty here...

As Jackie mentioned in her Friday blog, I was on the faculty of the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference in Corte Madera, California this past weekend. About 100 students attended, so it was an intimate gathering that allowed me to chat with students about their works-in-progress. The talent of the attendees was impressive. The faculty members weren't exactly slackers, either. Here are some of them chilling out on the bookstore patio.

Tim Maleeny, Hallie Ephron, Adair Lara, Jacqueline Winspear, agent Amy Rennert, and Louise Ure.

Some of the other attending authors were David Corbett (Blood of Paradise), Craig Johnson (Cold Dish), Laurie R. King (The Language of Bees), John Lescroart (A Plague of Secrets), Doug Lyle (Forensics and Fiction), Katherine Neville (The Eight, The Fire), Gillian Roberts (All's Well that Ends), and Martin Cruz Smith (Gorky Park and Stalin's Ghost). Check out the entire line-up of talent.

There were many wonderful things about the trip. First and foremost, the mirror in my motel bedroom made me look really really thin.

Also, if I had a hankering for a bit of conversation I could always find a writer teetering on a bar stool at Izzy's, which was within staggering distance of the bookstore. I spent some quality time with my friend Louise Ure. Louise and I were Mysterious Press authors and have been friends since our first books. She and I presented a class Sunday morning on "setting." She was a dream to work with. Here she is at Izzy's with two other faculty members.

David Hewson, Tim Maleeny, and Louise Ure

It was wonderful to hang out with the conference coordinator, our very own Jacqueline Winspear who made us all feel welcome and much more special than we really are. Cornelia was there, too, so I asked someone to snap a photo of the three Naked Women together again.

Cornelia Read, Patricia Smiley, Jacqueline Winspear

Traveling can be challenging. You can't get a sandwich and a bottle of water at any airport in the country for less than twenty bucks. There's no free food on airplanes anymore except an impenetrable microscopic packet containing approximately three pretzels. They charge you $15.00 per checked bag. They encourage frequent flyers to cut in front of you in the security line. With all that you'd think I'd stay home for a while but no. I'm leaving this Wednesday for a blue water sailing trip off the coast of New England. James Grippando will post next Monday, and I'll check in to let you know if I've had to don my foulies.

And lastly, I wrote a short story called "The Offer" that's included in Two of the Deadliest, an anthology edited by Elizabeth George. The book is due out tomorrow and includes some terrific stories by well-known authors, including Elizabeth George, Nancy Pichard, Elizabeth Engstrom, Marcia Muller, Laura Lippman, and Susan Wiggs. It also introduces stories by members of my former writing group, my pals Patricia Fogarty, Barbara Fryer, Peggy Hesketh, and Z. Kelley. Congrats, guys! Here's the British cover.

How are you spending your summer vacation?

Happy Monday!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Naked Friday

from Jacqueline

This is going to be a very quick post today. I’m co-Chair of the very best writing conference – The Book Passage Mystery Writers’ Conference – which started yesterday, so I’ll soon be whizzing off to the store to kick off the day with a panel on, essentially, what it takes to be a professional writer.

Yesterday was great, seeing fellow Nakeds, Cornelia Read (who may well begin posting again a bit later in the year, after the summer) and Our Patty, who is really one of the most charming women I have ever met. It was like being with family. Louise Ure, was there, together with a raft of others who have either guest-blogged for us, or who regularly add their comments to the mix.

What is great about this mystery writing conference is that it really is a conference about writing. It’s not a fan conference – and those are always great, and of course there are fans among the mix – and our participants really do work hard. Our faculty bring the very best writing practices to the table, but they’re down to earth and keen to pass on what they’ve learned – and we mix it up, knowing that cross-training is something that applies to writing as much as it does to athletics. That’s why we bring in people like Tobias Wolff, who last year ran a session on the short story. This year Adair Lara, much-loved columnist and author, will be presenting a session on what we can learn from memoir when we’re writing fiction. I just love this conference – I learn one heck of a lot!

Here's a photo from last year's conference - Elaine Petrocelli, the founder of Book Passage, together with author David Hewson, publisher David Poindexter of MacAdam-Cage, and someone who looks a bit like me.

On Tuesday I leave for Blighty, and because I will be at the Harrogate Crimewriting Festival (in beautiful north Yorkshire), I will not be posting next week. And on July 31st, I will be with my parents celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary, so the one and only James Grippando is guest-blogging for me. I’ll be back on August 7th – so if you want to know what a day-trip on the Orient Express is like (steam-hauled), then check out my post. I’m taking my parents up to London for a couple of days, including one day spent on the Orient Express for The Golden Age of Travel experience – a five-course lunch aboard the train while it tools around the English countryside. My brother, who also lives in California, will be coming back to London for the first time in 14 years (what can I say – I go back three or four times a year, and he hates setting foot in the place. Each to their own).

Have a really wonderful weekend!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mysteries R Us

James O. Born

I like to solve mysteries. Whether it's watching a movie, reading a book or in real life, I find satisfaction in solving mysteries both simple and complex. By nature I'm extremely curious and if I get interested in something I tend to do research until I know the subject matter clearly.

Sometimes I don't even realize there's a mystery and it’s solved. Little mysteries from my own childhood occasionally become clear after some chance encounter or a random news story. That's what happened to me today, just in time to write about it on the blog. I was flipping through the channels and saw a show on the NFL Network called Classic Games. Before I hit info, I said to myself that unless it's one of the Dolphins’ early 1970s games, I'm really not interested. And sure enough it was the 1974 AFC championship between the Miami Dolphins and the Oakland Raiders. These were not the irrelevant Oakland Raiders of today. The ones driven to mediocrity by a crazy-assed owner and salary cap nightmare. These were the scary, dominating Raiders of the 70s. And while watching the show there was a picture of a relatively young John Madden, the coach of the Raiders at the time. And suddenly a minor mystery from my childhood was solved.

For most of the time that I've been interested in professional football, John Madden was nothing more than the goofy, endearing, corny commentator who didn't like to fly, had his own special bus and made up the grossest fake turkey at Thanksgiving. I don't know if any of you remember it, but the turkey would have six or eight legs and used to freak me out even as an adult. So it always surprised me that my father didn't like John Madden at all.

I've written about my father before, but for this blog all you need to know is that he was one of the easiest going, most likable guys Good ever put on Earth. I cannot recall him ever saying he didn't like anyone except for Richard Nixon and John Madden. Nixon, I could understand but Madden always surprised me. Why would anyone dislike a tubby TV commentator who really never says anything except what's obvious.

But watching a thirty-five-year-old football game rebroadcast on the NFL Network this afternoon it finally hit me. My father, like me, was a hard-core Miami Dolphins fan and John Madden was the Bill Belichick of his day. My father thought he was a "fat slob" simply because he had Don Shula's number in a couple of key games. It was just that simple.

What are some of the little mystries in your life that weren't solved until you were an adult?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Skia-ing down the slope

Font, as inspiration.

Since this is a writing blog, I will venture into risky territory: fonts. I find that changing my font every few months or once a year is somehow inspiring. I have no idea if this is just wacky-Ridley or something others find as well. Lately I am working with Skia (the blog doesn't accept Skia; you'll have to look it up). I am actually eager to get back writing just to see Skia on the page. My default is Courier. I return to Courier like a horse to the barn. When all the flash and interest is worn out in some new font I've discovered I like, Courier puts the text up there as my editor will read it. (I submit manuscripts in Courier regardless of what I write in.)

For years it was this or that version of Times Roman (there are many). Garamand is a favorite for its royal, perfect look. I wander to Garamand and Bookman in search of that classic feel. Dave Barry and I write in Trebuchet MS; each of will set the other's work back to Trebuchet regardless.

It's strange how after writing millions of words, making the same words look slightly different brings out different feelings -- I told you this may sound strange. But there you have it. Fonts have life. I'm a sans-serif guy for the most part. Leave the flash to others. I like my fonts clean and strong -- something I can read instantly and I can "hear." I'm a very audio-oriented writer: I hear my text. I often read it aloud after I've finished. I commonly accidentally insert a homonym simply because I'm writing what I hear more than what I think.

here's a Skia sample.

Preview Image

Elmore Leonard has the best ear in crime fiction. He can hear dialogue better than anyone. Cormac McCarthy has to be included in that very short list of perfect ear writers. I think ear and eye are critical to a writer. We enter our readers' heads through their eyes (sometimes audio books, via ear) and the reading brain quickly translates our words and hears them: thus the term "voice." A writer has a voice because a reader has ears. And most writers have eyes, which is where fonts come in.

Go Skia-ing one of these days and tell me what you think.

Twitter: RidleyTheWriter

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Chocolate Shakes, Prime Rib Carts & Senatorial Hijinks: "Johnny, You're Grounded!"

From Paul Levine...


1. Men's Health says the large Baskin-Robbins Chocolate Oreo Shake (2600 calories, 135 g fat, 263 g sugar & 1700 mg sodium) is the "Worst Drink in America." Great! My White Russians must be okay.

2. When I hear Diana Krall sing "Besame Mucho," I want to kiss her. A lot.

3. I think Michael Jackson's $25,000 customized solid bronze, gold-plated casket looks like the prime rib cart at Lawry's in Beverly Hills.

4. Michael Jackson may have named the Moonwalk, but he did not invent it. (Many thanks to music impresario Jim Jimirro for this one).

5. Google is soooooooo yesterday. I switched to BING about a month ago. Now, I learn I haven't been using half its features. The New York Times explains.

6. Ala carte menus tee me off. If you spend 75 bucks for a New York strip at "Bourbon Steak" in Miami (as Jim Born does), shouldn't they throw in the freaking potato? Nope. The "salt-baked" potato is 9 bucks, but big whoop, it includes creme fraiche. I remember when you could buy Idaho for 9 bucks.

7. The current Paris Review has a great inteview with Gay Talese, one of the stars of the "New Journalism" of the 1960's and 1970's. (Many thanks to Penn State QB coach Jay Paterno for pointing out the article). Here's an excerpt:

"I didn’t have great confidence in myself because I had nobody, really, who had confidence in me. I always think of John Updike, who had tremendous confidence in himself because his mother said, You’re the greatest little shit in the world. You’re so wonderful, wonderful, wonderful—and he believed it. David Halberstam too—his mother told him he was the greatest shit in the world and he believed it. He had a tremendous sense of self. In his mind he was Charles de Gaulle. My mother never told me I was the greatest, my father never did either. They were very critical. I felt that I had to prove something to them. Neither they nor anyone else gave me the sense that I was gifted."

When did you realize that you had talent?

TALESE:Never. All I have is intense curiosity. I have a great deal of interest in other people and, just as importantly, I have the patience to be around them.

Talese puts on a coat and tie each morning before descending to his study, then changes into an ascot, or other fancy duds to write. So does Jim Born.

8. You're grounded, Johnny! Isn't Sen. John Ensign a little old to have his parents pay off his girlfriend? And does the Nevada senator really exist? If you ask me, he's Mr. Peterman from "Seinfeld." See if you can tell who's who.

Paul Levine

Monday, July 13, 2009

My friend Karen Olson

Patty here...

I've met many great people in the writing business. Among them is my friend Karen Olson. Karen and I were members of the freshman class at Mysterious Press. Our first books came out around the same time, followed by the second, third, and fourth. We also shared the same editor. Karen has just released a new book in a brand new series, so I decided to ask her to explain how that came about.

Q: You have four books in the award-winning Annie Seymour series. Now you are off in a new direction in a new setting with a new series featuring Vegas tattoo artist Brett Kavanaugh. How do you feel about leaving Annie behind (at least for now)? Do Brett Kavanaugh and Annie have anything in common?

While I missed writing about Annie at first, considering what’s happened in newspapers in the last year, I’m not sorry about putting her on hiatus. I would’ve had to lay her off or give her a buyout, and I’m not sure how she’d react to that, what she’d end up doing. And newspapers just aren’t funny anymore, so the humor would be more difficult to achieve.

I made a real effort to make Brett very different than Annie. I didn’t want readers to pick up the new series and think I was just rehashing the same character.

Q: On television and in magazines, it seems as if its all tattoos all the time. However, as far as I know, you are the first crime fiction writer to pen a novel about this inky art form. Do you feel like you’re ahead of the wave or just prophetic?

I’m certainly not prophetic, because this wasn’t my idea! My editor asked me to write a new series, and she suggested a tattoo shop mystery. I hesitated at first, because I don’t have a tattoo or intend to get one, but I started watching those TV tattoo shows and thought, why not? It’s trendy and hip and uncharted territory in the cozy mystery world. I think I’m just riding the wave.

Q: Tell me about your main character. Who is she? What do you love the most about her? What was her background before she turned to crime investigation?

Brett is edgy, I don’t think a tattooist couldn’t be, but she bucks the stereotype. I didn’t want to give readers Kat von D or any of those other TV tattooists. She doesn’t cuss, drink to excess, or even have a man in her life (except her police detective brother, Tim, whom she lives with). She owns her own business. She’s very together, is pretty happy with her life. She isn’t a loner and has a circle of friends and colleagues that complement her. She’s got a healthy curiosity and comes from a family of cops, which helps her investigative skills. She was an artist before turning to tattoo, studying painting at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

Q: Who are some of the people who inhabit Brett’s world?

Brett’s got an interesting staff at The Painted Lady, her shop: Bitsy, who is a little person with a big personality; Joel, who is always on Weight Watchers and his sexual orientation is questionable; and Ace, who is a pretty boy and a frustrated artist. During the course of the book, Brett meets up with Jeff Coleman, a rival tattooist, and his mother, Sylvia, who was a pioneer for women in the tattoo field. I liked them so much, they came back in the second book.

Q: Brett is not a professional investigator so what’s the set-up in THE MISSING INK? How do you draw her into the investigation and make it seem organic?

In THE MISSING INK, Brett finds out that a potential client has gone missing after coming to the shop for a devotion tattoo with the name of her fiancé. Brett discovers that the girl’s finance’s name is not the one she wanted on the tattoo. Because her shop is the last place the girl was seen, the police and the media start coming around, and so does the fiancé, drawing Brett and her staff into the investigation. There’s more, but I can’t give it away!

Q: I hope I’m not blowing your cover when I tell everybody that you aren’t a tattoo artist in Vegas. So, what research did you have to do to write this book and was it painful?

You’re right. I’m not a tattooist, I don’t live in Vegas, and I don’t even have a tattoo. The research was fairly easy: went to a tattoo shop, talked to a couple tattooists, talked to friends with tattoos, watched those TV tattoo shows, watched some YouTube videos, and read a great book called Women of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo. I also went to Vegas and my husband won some money at blackjack. Like I said, painless!

Q: The book has a kick-ass cover. Tell us how the art evolved and what if any input you had in the design.

Love the cover. It was designed by an Australian illustrator named Craig Phillips. My editor asked if I had any ideas for the cover, and I said no. I just didn’t want it to be pink. So you tell me how much input I had!

Q: I’ve heard things about you, so tell the truth. What’s your quirkiest writing ritual?

Quirky? Me? Honestly, I don’t have any writing ritual. Being a journalist pretty much beats that out of you. I sit down and write. And then I stop. Sometimes I’ve got a cat in my lap, sometimes I’ve got a bowl of popcorn. Sometimes I write at the pool club under the gazebo and tell everyone to leave me alone.

Q: What’s next for you?

The next tattoo shop mystery, PRETTY IN INK, will be out March 2010. In that one, an incident at a drag queen show escalates into a hunt for Brett’s newest employee.

As a side note, Paul, Ridley, and James O have all started new series. I'd be interested in hearing from writers and readers alike. How do you feel when your favorite author switches gears? When that author is you?

Happy Monday and Best Wishes for the New Book, Karen!

Friday, July 10, 2009

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

from Jacqueline

Sometimes you hear about an innovation, usually something really, really simple, and you wonder why no one ever thought of that before. When I bought my Volvo a few years ago – a used model, I had to get one that was pre-Ford – I thought the best thing was the little ticket clip on the inside of the windshield. Sure the airbags and the safety rating were great – after all, I needed a sturdy car to make sure my then aging dog had a comfortable ride – but that ticket clip is great! No more lost parking permits – just sit them in the clip and they won’t budge. I have somewhere to put the permit I pay a fortune for to park at the lake near my home, and when we go to the beach, the two-buck parking ticket doesn’t fly away as soon as I open the door, because it’s held in place by that neat little holder. Great idea – well done you Swedish folks.

Let's hear it for Volvo.

I started thinking about this business of innovation – not the big leaps forward, but those little things that just make life easier – a couple of weeks ago, when it was announced that the European parliament (a strange bunch of cats if ever I saw them) had decreed that all cellphones throughout the European Union must use the same recharging unit. No longer will you have to ditch the recharger when you get a new cellphone, and no longer will you be up the creek because you’ve lost your recharger on book tour and no one in that hotel has the same one as you – because everyone will have the same charger. What a concept? Why didn’t someone think of that before? And before you tell me, I think I’ve guessed: It must have been money.

Now I know the European Union is good for something – they’ve even recently rolled back a ruling that all bananas sold throughout Europe had to conform to the same shape. Seriously.

Oh, and they passed a law to ensure that food manufacturers and distributors had to come clean and label packaging if it contained GMO food. The USA was up in arms about that one.

Here’s another great leap forward, and probably won’t interest anyone who isn’t a horse owner. I use a product called “Sore No More” on my mare, who has a ligament injury. It’s a sort of liniment and it has the consistency of water. It's really great for hardworking horses. So, to get it on Sara’s hocks, I have to kneel down next to her leg – not something for the fainthearted – pour some of the liquid into my hand and slap it on her before it all runs through my fingers. Needless to say, half the stuff went down into the earth. I could have bought an empty spray bottle to decant it into, but kept forgetting – there are so many things you have to buy with horses. So, imagine my surprise, and joy, when I went to stock up with Sore No More, instead of this ...

This was on the shelf ....

Why did that take so long? The downside is that my arthritic writer’s fingers really did benefit from a dousing of that stuff.

Here’s a story that’s the stuff of legend – it may or may not be true. There’s a type of match in Britain called Swan Vestas (“The Smoker’s Match”). For years, like other brands of match, they had two sandpapered striking sides – until, that is, it came time for a lowly worker at the factory to receive his gold watch upon retirement after a good fifty years at the factory. Having given him the watch and a pat on the back, one of the higher-ups asked him if, after working for the company for so long, there was anything he thought they could do to improve things. “Well,” he said. “You’d save a bit if you only had one striking side.” Those higher-ups went around thumping their heads for days, wondering why they’d never thought of that one. And that’s why Swan Vestas only have one striking side. According to lore the company saved a lot of money.

So, what do you think would be a good idea? What simple change, what miniscule addition to something in your daily life would represent a true innovation? And like the spray bottle of Sore No More, it doesn’t have to be a big thing – just an idea whose time has come.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

James O. Born

(Read and find the errors)

This is a review of software. A little something different. This is literally the first time I have ever used the software, and I'm using it in a word for Windows. The software and talking about is Dragon naturally speaking version 10 preferred. It is voice recognition software, and this is part of my training process to make my computer understand what I'm saying is learn how to use the program more efficiently. I will not give the program a rating, a score, or thumbs-up or thumbs down. Simply by reading what I've dictated you can make your own decision on whether it is an effective tool for a writer.

I love to write that I'm a very slow typist. And I know at least for the blog I really don't proofread the way I should. So far, the software has reacted very well to my voice and commands. It took me about 30 minutes to load it in 15 minutes to configure it. So basically right out the box. This is the sort of quality you could get.

I got the idea of using voice recognition software from a friend of mine is little bit of a computer geek. It never occurred to me before to use voice recognition. Like to work on either my laptop or my little travel computer made by Acer. Announced Acer very clearly and didn't even have to spell it out. I'm going to be laid up for a couple of weeks starting next week and wasn't sure how easy it would be for me to work on a keyboard. I decided I should at least get some benefit out of being forced to sit still over the course of several weeks while my shoulder heals from rotator cuff surgery. If this means that I will be more productive in the future because I have voice recognition software. It will be a huge benefit. In addition to easing the constant throbbing in my shoulder.

To take a look at what I've just written or actually spoken. I have the automatic punctuation turned on. However, I've had to say. A couple of times. I guess when you say. This thing rights. No matter what. I received a few minor errors. The software can make. (This is typed: you cannot write period if you say period. It only writes a punction mark.)

I need to put something of use in here besides a software review. So let's put down a joke.
This is one my daughter told me the other day. It's an old joke, but she is so cute. It gave me a belly laugh.

A man walks into a bar with a dog. He says, "I'll bet you $100 my dog can talk."
The bartender says, "don't waste my time a dog can’t talk."
The man says, "come on bet me $100, this dog can talk."
The bartender says, "okay. Let's hear it."
The man looks at the dog and says, "what's on top of this bar?"
The dog says, "roof."
The bartender rolls his eyes, and says, "come on buddy, every dog says that."
The man says, "go ahead. You ask the question."
The bartender says, "okay, who's the greatest baseball player of all time?"
The dog says, "roof"
the bartender tells them both to get out of the bar.
And as they leave the dog looks up at the man shrugs its tiny shoulders and says, "DiMaggio?"

Now I'm telling you, I am sitting on his couch with out touching the keyboard. This is the best evaluation you'll ever have for voice recognition software without me ever saying, whether it's good or bad. You make up your own mind.

If you get a chance leave a comment and tell me what you think. I have read several articles about writers using voice recognition software. In one of make up my own mind about whether typing engages one side of the brain or not. But I just written a blog in a couple of minutes that normally would've taken me 30 minutes.

The only thing that I will use the keyboard for is to paste this into the blog itself and to paste a photo of the cover of the software and maybe a ittle explanation, but I'll be clear what is typed. Now this is an unbiased and fair evaluation for which I hope. The company which makes Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 will pay handsomely. I'm only joking. Unless the company really will pay.

See you next Thursday with either a typed or spoken entry.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

To i or not to i ???

To i(-Phone) or not to i

I have, for far too many years carried a Blackberry. I have amassed a stack of them as they evolved and I broke them or moved on to a newer model. I am a BBerry devotee and loyal user. Or maybe not.

A few years ago, you might have heard this... the iPhone was released. This intrigued me because I had moved (after 21 years) from Windows to Mac, and I had never looked back, laughing and grinning all the way. First I bought my assistant a Mac, then my other assistant, then I bought my own. I added one over the years for my kids, then my wife, myself a newer model, the other kid... on and on. We have WAY too many Macs to count and they ALL STILL WORK. I had been plagued by viruses taking down our entire (Windows based) office system of desktops and laptops, and I just couldn't bear it. The switch to Mac ended all that. And along came the iPhone.

But it had that ridiculous touch type on the screen. You couldn't search properly. Or cut and paste. It was a great device (my wife bought one) but not up to "office material." I could work the keypad when in landscape, but sadly, not well in portrait orientation.

Then my wife (watch out for wives) upgraded to the 3G-S last week, and gave me her old one (with the new 3.0 software already on it). Surprise... this one allows you to use the landscape keyboard in Mail mode (meaning you can thumb type); it cuts, it pastes... it sits on my desk. After just two days of fooling with her old one, I succumbed to buy the 3G-S for my self as my assistant, Nancy, and my wife, Marcelle implored me to do. I've owned it... I'm not kidding... twenty minutes. My Mail is already set up; my Contacts and Calendar are in the phone and are able to update wirelessly (as my Blackberry once did, but hasn't since I bailed on the expensive service allowing this). And I'm a reluctant, but currently happy, i-Phone guy. Ten minutes. Full set up time.

I have no idea if I'll keep it. The price was right. I will use it for a few months until Fall when my schedule goes crazy. My phone is my life when on the road, and I'll be on the road a lot in the coming months, but I have about a month here where I can test out the phone without relying on it as a lifeline. If it lets me down I'm back to the BlackBerry.

But my guess? Yes... that's right.


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Levine Saves Baseball, Savors Ice Cream, Salutes Marine

Sports Line by Paul Levine...

It's almost the mid-season point in Major League Baseball, so let's talk about the National Pastime. Or ex-pastime. Everyone knows that cage fighting is the new baseball. And baseball is the new geriatrics.

Okay, let me state my credentials. I have not watched a complete baseball game all season, and I didn't like Manny Ramirez, even before he was caught taking female hormones or peeking into the locker room of the L.A. Temptation of the Lingerie Football League.

Let's start with steroids. I agree with Zev Chafets' New York Times think piece that players linked to steroid use ought not be excluded from the Hall of Fame. Questionable supplements have long been part of the game, though admittedly in limited use. Mickey Mantle was injected with a mix of speed and testosterone during the 1961 home run race with Roger Maris. Ted Williams occasionally ducked across the street from Fenway (during a game!) for chocolate milkshakes.

The Hall of Fame is not sacrosanct. As Chafets notes, it started as a tourist attraction. Is the Hockey Hall of Fame holy place? Oh wait! It least in French where it's called Temple de la renommée du hockey and is located in Toronto.

Steroid use is (or was) rampant. Should the best of that era be banned? Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Mark McGwire and others.
As they say in Toronto, au contraire, which loosely translates as, "if you disagree, I shall punch you in the nez.

Some people think that there should be an asterisk in the record book noting that this generation's Hall of Famers played in the Steroid Era. To which, I say, absurde! What record book? Have you ever seen it? Hah! Who has it? Bud-Lite Selig? Leo Durocher?

LET'S SPEED UP THE GAME: If I were king of baseball, I would:

1. Limit the time allowed between pitches to 20 seconds and call a ball for a "late pitch."

2. Shorten the game to 7 innings because we have better things to do.

3. Extra innings would start with the bases loaded, similar to college football overtimes with the ball on the opponent's twenty-five yard line.

4. Neither the manager nor the pitching coach nor the pitcher's mother would be allowed to stroll to the mound in the middle of a game. The catcher may visit the pitcher, but he can only stay 30 seconds or the time it takes to adjust his protective cup, whichever is shorter. (I am opposed to all stoppages of play in crucial situations. I would ban timeouts in the last two minutes of NBA games, but that's a story for another day).

5. There'd be no infield fly rule, because a batter's lousy pop-up should be penalized with a possible double play, which is only fair, since well-hit grounders often turn into DP's.

6. Managers who are unshaven...

Or unruly...
will not be permitted to wear the team's uniform. Come to think of it, NO MANAGER should wear a uniform. How would Joe Paterno look in a Penn State football uniform? Managers should dress in a dark suit and hat, as did Connie Mack who managed the Philadelphia Athletics for 50 years.

7. If the American League has a Designated Hitter, an abomination, the National League should be permitted a Designated Steroid User.

AND SPEAKING OF STEROIDS: With or without banned substances, would anyone ever equal Barry Bonds' juiced 2001 season in which he hit more home runs (73) than singles (49) and recorded a record slugging percentage of .863, a .515on-base percentage, and a record 177 walks. His .328 batting average and 137 RBI's seem almost an afterthought. Wait! There's someone who might be able to do it. Now batting, Albert Pujols.

AMAZING BASEBALL FACTOID: This season, Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals is 6 for 7 with the bases loaded with 4 grand-slams. Sacre Bleu!

THE THINGS I DO FOR YOU! Moving from baseball to ice cream, a smooth segue, if ever I saw one, I taste tested three brands for you. Dreyer's Slow-Churned low fat French Vanilla. (Marketed on the East Coast as Edy's). Haagen Dazs Mango and McConnell's Turkish Coffee. (Lots of Fat). McConnell's is a small company in Santa Barbara, whose ice cream was named best in the country by Time magazine. (Time named Adolph Hitler as Man-of-the-Year in 1938, so I'm not sure what they know about ice cream). The verdict: They're all damn good.

LT. COL. KENNETH REUSSER OBIT: Last Saturday, July 4, the Los Angeles Times published the obituary of famed Marine pilot Kenneth Reusser, who flew 253 combat missions in 3 wars: WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. He was shot down five times and died in Oregon last week at 89.

Let me repeat that: 253 missions! Three wars! Five times shot out of the sky!

My father flew 16 missions in a B-29 before being shot down over Japan in 1945. If he were alive today and he read Reusser's obit, Stan Levine would have said, "lucky son-of-a-gun," and would have meant it as a compliment.

We salute the brave Marine.



Monday, July 06, 2009

We are not vacuous plastic surgery-obsessed cultureless Neanderthals

Patty here…

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the California culture wars, there is a longstanding snobbish point of view held by some Northern Californians toward we who live in Southern California. Here’s a 2004 article written by Megan H. Chin for USC's Daily Trojan about this subject. She credits Will Rogers with saying, "children in San Francisco are taught two things: love the Lord and hate Los Angeles."

Chin writes,

Southern California is summer, Northern California spring. We're cerebral, you're celeb. We're the birthplace of Jerry Garcia, the microprocessor, Genentech, Ghirardelli chocolate and the world's biggest garlic festival. You spawned O.J., boob jobs and the Valley.

So, how do we SoCalers feel about them? We know Bay folk bristle if you refer to San Francisco as “Frisco,” but beyond that we don’t spend much time thinking about them at all.

I’m aware of this North-versus-South prejudice but I’ve personally not heard it expressed for ages—until a couple of weeks ago when we had as our guest a woman from Berkeley whom I had never met. We invited her to accompany us to an event during which we paid for all expenses associated with the trip, except for her transportation to and from Los Angeles.

She began to irritate me early on with her, “I will never, never, NEVER color my hair.” Okay, fine. Don’t color your hair. I have absolutely no problem with a look like this. That’s the wonderful thing about the women’s movement. We are free to do anything we damn well please, preferably without condemnation from our sisters.

She had a number of other annoying traits (I am the most awesome person on the planet. Don’t you agree? Huh? Huh? Huh?) that I ignored for the sake of harmony. Then she started in on her version of LA people are vacuous, plastic surgery-obsessed, cultureless and inappropriately dressed Neanderthals. As we say in fiction, the conflict was rising. I overlooked the insult once but when she repeated it again a short time later, I called her on it.

“You know,” I said, “I’m getting a little weary of your Northern California fantasy that somehow you are better than the rest of us. It’s so yesterday.”

“Well,” she blustered. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”

But see, I think she did mean to offend me and even more galling was that she offended me while accepting my hospitality.

When I was in business school, I read the book How to Deal with Difficult People by Ursula Markham. I don’t remember anything about it, which is why I’m not very good at it. There was probably a better way to have handled this situation. What would you have done?

Happy Monday!

Friday, July 03, 2009

A Royal Guest Appearance

Jacqueline here ... I knew this week would be a tough one, not only because I am in the midst of a minor move and also trying, at last, to tidy my office at home, but because the cable internet guy is coming in today to set up a new system for us – we hope. So, I asked mystery maven Rhys Bowen if she would be a guest – which was great timing as it coincides with publication of her new novel: Royal Flush

So, here’s a post from Rhys (and there’s a treat involved - Rhys will be giving away some brilliant prizes as part of a “Contest Extra” – including signed copies of her book and English tea goodies to those who respond to this blog by visiting her website and including the name of this blog when they email Rhys. More competition details at the end of the post).

What's In A Name

from Rhys Bowen

A writer, I believe it was Elmore Leonard, once said that once he knew a character’s name, he knew all about him. I tend to agree with that. I think the names we give our characters are incredibly important. I have, on occasion, given a character a name, only to find the story creeping along at a snail’s pace. Then one day the character says to me, ‘You know, I’m not Jim, I’m Michael.” And once I’ve changed the name the story comes together and I am there with my character, experiencing events as the story unfolds.

In my Constable Evans series I enjoyed portraying the funny nicknames of the Welsh. Because they only have so few last names, they often find themselves with ten Evanses or Joneses in one village and thus have to differentiate them with nicknames. In my books Evans-the-Meat is the butcher and Evans-the-Milk is the dairyman. There are even funnier ones—a village that had a travel agent called Evans-there-and-back and an undertaker called Evans-One-way.

But in my Royal Spyness series names have taken on a whole new dimension. I’ve used them to poke fun at the British class system. I think Brits take the cake for really silly names. I have to confess at this point that I married into an upper class family with a hyphenated surname (and a pain it is too as most computers can’t handle a hyphen). We have all manner of cousins with funny nicknames, including a distinguished elderly lady called Puff (I’ve no idea what her real name is). So I’ve made my heroine’s brother, the duke be nicknamed Binky and his wife Fig. Their son is Podge. But it’s with surnames that I’ve really had a ball. Who wouldn’t? After all I really had a girl at school called Amanda Featherstonehaugh-Skelley (pronounced Fanshaw-Skelley. The last name Chomondley is pronounced Chumley, Beachamp is Beecham and Fotheringay is Fungey. Aren’t they delightfully silly?

In my new book, Royal Flush, I have a young man whose last name is Beasley-Bottome. Imagine being saddled with that. Actually I hardly have to exaggerate at all to come up with names designed to produce a chuckle. The onjly challenge I have had is to fit in the names of people who have won the right in a charity auction to appear as a character in my books. I had a real challenge with a woman who wanted her three daughters to appear. Their names were Jensen, Reagan and Danika Hedley. Hardly the sort of name that Georgie’s friends would be called. So I made them American girls, who went to the same ladies seminary as Mrs. Simpson. And then there was Merion Sauer. Another challenge. I elevated her to the peerage and made her the Countess Von Sauer, which I hope pleased her.

So if you win the right to be a character in one of my books one day, I may have to give you a silly nickname! And if you come across a particularly silly English surname, please let me know about it.

Thanks to all the Naked Authors (I’ve tactfully averted my eyes) for letting me visit their blog. Lady Georgie’s third madcap adventure, Royal Flush, is in stores on July 7th. Details of my tour schedule are on my website,, and click on Rhys on the Road.

PS: More from Jackie here - have had horrible problems with internet and the blogger today - this post ended up several posts ago, but here I am and hoping it turns up today! Apologies to Rhys and our readers .....

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Happy 2nd of July

James O. Born

Since I don’t post on Saturdays this is the best you’re gonna get. But on the bright side, I am passionate about the United States and Americans. Yeah, I know it’s chic to knock both the residence and residents, but I don’t care, as Lee Greenwood might say, “I’m proud to be an American.” You can disagree, leave snotty comments, you can even scream, “Congress is full of shit.” And you know what will happen to you? Bupkis, nada, nothing, not even a dirty look. People can rant that we’re not free, that Americans are oppressed, that the government is screwed up. I think those people need to travel somewhere other than Canada and Virgin Islands.

Yes, mistakes are made. People definitely face hardships here in the good old U.S. Our government’s decisions have adversely affected other countries. But look at the alternatives. Right now in Iran people are being imprisoned and killed for speaking out. But here, Americans can openly debate President Obama’s even-tempered, intelligent response to Iran and it’s pigmy, goat-faced president, who’s name I can barely say let alone spell.

In two days we celebrate he birth of a democracy which has seen the peaceful transfer of power from our first President -- who had many models of autocratic rule and some wanted to be made King -- to our most recent transfer, where people generally didn’t feel that way. In fact, even stories about the military takeover of the United States are generally considered science fiction.

Over the years I’ve heard people, famous and not, say that “if so-and-so is elected, I’m moving overseas.” If only these morons would follow through with their commitments. Where would the country be if people moved every time things got rough or we didn’t agree with who was in power? It’s sort of the opposite of a democracy. If not my way then I hit the highway. That is inspiring.

Things can’t be that bad here. About 6.6 million Americans live overseas and that includes military and Federal employees stationed in foreign countries. Yet there are about 33.1 million aliens in the country. If America were a ride at Disney, it would have long freaking line.

I’m not trying to be political in any way. I love America, I’m proud of Americans. A couple of weeks ago a young person I was speaking with compared the Nazi attempt to conquer the world with the U.S. I stared in disbelief. Could someone really be that ignorant of history? She clarified by saying that through the export of U.S. consumerism and culture others adopt it. Yeah, not quite the same thing. When I mentioned the comment to an older person I know who was a Polish displaced person and has lived in the U.S. since the late 1940s, he was outraged. His response showed me relativity. I was just annoyed at an ignorant dufus, but then again, I didn’t have my family killed, town destroyed and life shattered.

This is a rambling way of saying, I love America. My father fought in World War II. He had an appreciation for what things could be like and passed it on to his children. In two days I’ll take a moment while I watch fireworks and say a little thank you to everyone who risked their lives to defy King George, defend the country, work in the Peace Corps, teach in schools, work in a hospital, do social work, pick up garbage, save an wild animal or anything else that Americans tend to do.

What do you appreciate or annoys you about the country?