Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Off to Orlando today for a terrific honor. 80,000 Florida middle schoolers voted for the best book of the year and my Kingdom Keepers: Disney After Dark won. I get to go meet with the teachers that work with these kids at a big convention. I will sneak up to Walt Disney World and do some research for fourth book tonight.

The book proposal process is still on-going. It's been a ton of work, but good creative fun. It feels as if things have narrowed down to one or two options. It'll be nice to get started on an outline and delving deeper.

In practicing music for this performance in 10 days, it's been wild to dip back into material I wrote 30 years ago. With e-mail, band members can shoot parts and copies of songs back and forth, and slowly we're putting these elaborate arrangements back together (flute, cello, bass guitar, and two acoustics). We probably won't sound any good, but it won't be from a lack of trying.

Dave Barry and I head out on book tour for Peter and the Sword of Mercy in another few weeks. To our surprise, and joy, the novel has rocketed up the Amazon list into the top 200 still weeks away from our publishing date. We had SO much fun working on these books; it's nice to know the readers are excited about its arrival as we are.

Well, my browser crashed TWICE while writing this, and yet I'm able to recover most of it. I will quit while ahead. Technology... can't live with it.... can't live without it.

Look for Mitch Albom's new book HAVE A LITTLE FAITH, just out. Terrific read.

(from Ridley)
RidleyTheWriter, on Twitter

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Another Waste of Good Trees

From Paul Levine...

HERE'S A BOOK I WON'T READ: Washed up sitcom actress Mackenzie Phillips has written her autobiography, "High on Arrival." I know your reaction. Like, who gives a shit? But wait...there's a hook. She had sex WITH her father, John Phillips, of The Mamas and the Papas. Lots of sex. Yeah, I know your reaction to that, too. Like, who gives a shit, redux. Can a TV movie be far behind? Are you California Dreamin'? Of course. But then, who gives a shit?

FOR THAT GOURMAND, JIM BORN: Served at the Texas State Fair, deep-fried butter.

I HAVE DIED AND GONE TO TIVO HEAVEN: Two nights ago, here was my television lineup. "Dexter." "Entourage." "Californication," "Mad Men," and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." THIS, my friends, is the Golden Age of Television. (Except for seeing John Lithgow naked on "Dexter.") If you missed Kathleen Turner defining the slang term "trombone" and apparently offering to demonstrate the maneuver, tune in to a re-run of "Californication." As for "Curb...", what's not to like about an episode entitled "Vehicular Fellatio?"
Nice seeing Lolita Davidovich back on the screen. If she were to marry Larry David, would she change her name to Lolita Davidovich-David?

I DON'T WANT TO BURST YOUR BALLOON, BUT... After grabbing an iced coffee at a Starbucks in Studio City, I gotta ask: Do all those people pounding away at laptops really believe they're going to sell the great American screenplay?

NO HANGING CHADS JOKES, PLEASE! With QB Chad Pennington hurt, the Miami Dolphins are turning to backup Chad Henne. If he goes down, will the Fins sign Chad Michael Murray?

YOU SAY "CITIZEN KANE," I SAY ELVIS AND ANN-MARGRET: I cannot take seriously a list of "Top Movies" that does not include "Viva Las Vegas."

Did anyone watch the heavyweight fight Saturday night on HBO? Vitali "Iron Man" Klitschko stopped Cris Arreola with a TKO in the 10th round. Klitschko, a Mount Rushmore of a fighter, reminds me of the android boxer in the Twilight Zone episode "Steel" with Lee Marvin. Just for fun, I'd like to see Sylvester Stallone go a round with Klitscko. Is that mean?

Always honest, seldom kind...

Paul Levine

Monday, September 28, 2009

Euripides was right

Patty here…

In Medea, Euripides wrote, “Expect the unexpected. What mortals dream, the gods frustrate; for the impossible, they find a way.”

Back on May 4th, I blogged about my frail 89 year-old mother’s wish to travel to Washington State to visit her sister who is in an advanced stage of Parkinson’s disease. Her doctor told her she couldn’t fly unless she had a breathing test to measure her oxygen levels because the oxygen we breathe on the street is 22% but only 15% on an airplane. At the time of my post, she was debating about taking the test. How times have changed.

Her sister’s health continues to fail and my mother is determined to see her one last time before she dies.

“She probably won’t know you’re there,” I said.

“I’ll know.”

In August, she took the breathing test. She didn’t pass. She has to have oxygen on the airplane. I called my preferred airline to make reservations but was told they don’t allow oxygen tanks onboard anymore. I had to rent something called a Portable Oxygen Concentrator (POC). To start the process I had to download a form from their Web site and ask my mother's physician to complete it.

All of that seemed easy enough, except have you ever tried to get a busy cardiologist to fill out a full-page form about POCs? Not a simple task but three weeks later I finally had the form in my hot little hand. As I was poised to make a second attempt at reservations, my mother's primary care physician found a suspicious growth on her arm and referred her to a dermatologist. The dermatologist diagnosed skin cancer and scheduled her for surgery. Skin cancer? This on a woman who has never abused her skin in the sun. Go figger.

I took her to have the stitches removed on Thursday and restarted the trip plans. First, I called the POC people to rent the equipment. Two phone calls. Two recorded messages. I finally left a message. To date, nobody has called me back. A medical supply store in L.A. wanted $225.00 to rent a piece of equipment my mother will use for four hours. A bit pricey but a fallback in case I'm desperate, which by this time I’m beginning to feel.

Since I hadn’t heard from the POC people, I called the airline again, hoping to get more information.

“When are you planning to fly,” the operator said.

“October first.”

“That’s going to be a problem,” she said. “There’s an embargo on oxygen use on all flights in October.”

I laughed. “You’re shitting me. Right?”

“I’m afraid not. No oxygen in October. You can check other airlines but I believe the embargo is industry-wide.”

I hung up and immediately dialed a different airline. Somebody in Mumbai answered the telephone. I told him about the embargo.

“Nobody is allowed to fly with oxygen in October,” he said.

“So it’s true.”

“I don’t know.”

“But you just said…”

“I just wanted to make sure I understood your question. Nobody is allowed to fly with oxygen in October. Right?”

“I don’t know. I’m asking you.”

“I don’t understand your question. What is it you want?”


“Let me check with my contacts. Please hold.”

A few minutes later, he came back on the line.

“My contacts have not heard that rumor.”

“Then you will allow oxygen containers on your flights in October.”

“We have heard nothing about that here.”

I didn't trust his information. The official word probably hadn’t made it to India yet. You know, with the time changes and all.

Now I was in full crisis mode. I hung up and immediately e-mailed a friend who is a pilot for the airline that employs Mumbai customer service agents, hoping he would have the inside scoop. I checked my mailbox every five minutes for the rest of the day. Nada. Zip. Why wasn’t he responding? Don’t Blackberries work in those cockpits?

Then I thought, wait a minute. I don’t have to be at the mercy of the airlines or the POC industry or even the fates. I can drive. Yeah. Just Mom and me. A road trip. Like Thelma and Louise.

I rang her up.

“Mother, I think we should drive to Washington.”

“I don’t know. It’s a long way. Don’t you need somebody to help you?”


She paused for a moment. “I’m game. Let’s do it!”

Stay tuned. Next week I may be blogging from the road.

Happy Monday!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Be Happy, Give Thanks ....

from Jacqueline

While driving along today, I was listening to a segment on NPR about being happy. The feature cited a series of recent articles in the press – here and in Europe – based upon research findings pointing to the fact that women today are less happy than they were in the 1950’s. Soon the conversation started making distinctions about happiness, and those being interviewed went on a bit about the women’s movement, then someone called in and said that it was the fact that women are more sensitive to world problems that made them more depressed. A few men commented, and then they got to the issue of whether single men or married men were the happiest, and the fact that the unhappiest married couples are (according to research conducted by THEY, whoever they may be) those who have young children. I’ve always thought that “They, Inc.” would be a good name for a polling company, after all, upon reading these research papers, you always hear someone say, “They reckon that ...”

So, it seems that They have been having a field day regarding our happiness quota. Throughout the show, I kept thinking back to a conversation I had with my mother when I was about fourteen, maybe younger. She picked me up from school – this in itself was rare, as she usually worked until six – and I think I must have had a rough day because I sat in the passenger seat, and announced, “I think I’m depressed.” That was a mistake, if ever there was one. “Depressed? Depressed? What have you got to be depressed about? You want to know depressed? I’ll tell you all about depressed – when I was your age I’d just been hauled back from being evacuated and I was working in a laundry. You think you’re depressed? Try that on for size. You’ve never had it so good!” Well, she had a point, and in that last line she was paraphrasing the British Prime Minister of the 1950’s, Harold Macmillan, who in 1957 said, “Most of our people have never had it so good.” That was pushing it a bit, because London was still a bomb site and rationing had only been over for a couple of years.

In any case, I started thinking about this business of happiness, and – sorry, this is how I am – about people who are so much less fortunate than the people being interviewed. And I also wondered how these musings might seem to that generation of forefathers and mothers who had to shoulder the weight of poverty in the Great Depression, of loss in our wars, and who tried to keep children safe at a time when diphtheria killed three out of every five children, and there were no such things as antibiotics. That's even before you start in on today's challenges, from Katrina, to Afghanistan. It therefore came as no surprise to hear (from They, Inc) that a significant leap in reported cases of happiness followed a time of loss – whether that loss was a house, a livelihood, a way of life – because it gave cause for gratitude for what remained. Gratitude, it turns out, keeps the clouds at bay.

It took a very expensive research project to come to that conclusion. No wonder the firm of They, Inc., are doing so well.

I’m not happy all the time, and frankly, I’m glad I’m not, after all, how would you know happy if that was all there was in life? We need the slings and arrows of our daily round to see the distinctions in experience. To be able to say “I’m happy” one must know how sad feels. We are only thought of as brave at those times when bravery is required, because we have it in us to draw back, to run and hide, but we don’t. We need the gray areas as much as we need the distinctions to experience the full measure of life itself.

We Naked Authors have been writing our posts for your reading pleasure for a while now, so it stands to reason that - all reference to the aging gray matter aside - we are apt to repeat ourselves on occasion, so I am sure I have written about gratitude before. All the same, it’s probably due for another outing.

For my part, I have my down days and my up days, my ordinary and not so ordinary days, but overall I’m a pretty average person. I’ve had my fair share of challenges and there have been the high points. Life is like a map, really – human geography, with valleys and meadows and places to linger; streams and rivers to take you to whatever comes next; highways to the good and the bad and oh heck, here comes a mountain to negotiate. But there’s so much to be grateful for along the way. If I had to think of just a handful of things right off the top of my head, here’s what would be on my list:

I was born to people who taught me the value of hard work, who impressed upon me the idea that you can turn your hand to anything if you choose. I confess, I hated working in the egg-packing factory in the summer of my sixteenth year, but hey, my mum was really grateful for the free eggs.

I had a good and sometimes surprising education, and am grateful that my parents – who had never had those opportunities – set so much stock in education.

My big extended family. They’re a real mixed bunch, and I have such cherished memories – there’s gratitude for all those laughs over the years. May there be many more to come.

I was always a writer, whatever else I might have been doing, but I am bursting with gratitude every time I sit and think about how fortunate I am to be published, how lucky I am to be able to talk to other writers, to be part of a writing community (several, in fact). To make one’s living being – in essence – a storyteller is just as good as it gets, in my book.

I am grateful for my health, for my wellbeing. There are so many struggling with illness and suffering in pain; to have good health is a blessing.

I am grateful that I am loved and that I love. Love is nothing to be sniffed at.

And I am grateful for dreams that come true – and for the ones that don’t, because if they all came true, how would we know recognize the trail of stardust that accompanies a dream coming true? That stardust heralds joy, and joy is something to be grateful for, to be cherished.

So, there’s a few points of gratitude, in no particular order, and you know I could go on and on. But now it’s over to you. What are you grateful for? Go on, serious or lighthearted, let’s have your Lines of Gratitude. Maybe one day I’ll write a book called "Lines of Gratitude: Charting A Course For Happiness." Hmmm, well, maybe not.

Come on, what are you grateful for?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Critique Group that Beat the odds

James O. Born
I have a lot of friends in critique groups. I recognize their value even if I have never participated. I like writing for the very reason many people hate it; I enjoy the solitude and personal control of my schedule.

I occasionally hear about a member of a critique group getting published but I have kept no formal records or taken a particular interest in publishing rates until I visited Denver for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference. I cannot say enough about the conference or the people who run it. It was fun, informative and featured Fantasy writer Eldon Thompson, Thriller writer Joe Finder and me as the three main speakers. That alone shows class, or at least a short contacts list. Either way I enjoyed the trip and conference. While there I learned about a specific critique group with a phenomenal success rate.

The group meets at the Pearl Street Grill in Denver on Tuesday nights boasts not one, or two but four published authors. Those of you in publishing know how remarkable that statistic is.

I met the first member of this group years ago and have stayed close with him ever since. Jeff Shelby and his series from Dutton featuring a private eye who surfs named Noah Braddock was the subject of my first short film, Literature and Lead.

Mario Acevedo, the current President of the MWA Rocky Mountain Chapter has perhaps the best titles I’ve ever heard. Published by Harper Collins Eos his imaginative series are hysterical romps into the supernatural.

To the left is Mario in his official Writer or the Year (WOTY) Fez.

Not only are Mario's titles great, he provided another member of the group, Warren Hammond, with the single best blurb I’ve ever seen. "Raw. Visceral. Compelling. As unforgettable as a stabbing." Genius.

Warren’s excellent science fiction novels follow a police officer on a third world planet. Kop and Ex-Kop are both published by Tor.

Jeanne Stein’s series at Ace is a fantasy-adventure featuring bounty hunter Anna Strong who happens to be a vampire. Fast, fun and written by a member of this remarkable group.

People interested in writing know the odds against publication and the problems inherent in creating a commercially viable novel. The fact that four different members of one critique group have beaten the odds speaks volumes about their ability to take constructive criticism, find the insight to push its members further than most and then continue by publishing more than one book. Unbelievable.

Another remarkable coincidence: All the books are really good.

Anyone out there in a critique group? Isn’t this success rate remarkable?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


The Shrink-meister

I wrote a week ago about how I was too busy to blog because I was in the midst of a frantic book proposal. Well, it's a week later, and I'm still in the midst of a frantic proposal: I was awake this morning at 2:30 working on character profiles. So, since this is, in its best moments, a blog concerning writers and writing, let me write for a moment about the book proposal.

Although there are many authors who are not required to do so, my book writing career has always involved a proposal. Whether in outline form, or a precis, the purpose of the proposal is to somehow convey plot and character arc that will become a 400 to 500 page book, in as short a space as possible -- one to five pages.

There is a great deal of irony in asking a writer capable of creating 4-500 pages in long form to possess the skills to condense that same story into just five pages. Those skill sets actually work against each other in some ways. For the last two weeks, I've had to put on the hat of Shrink-meister -- having a vision of something wide in scope and yet being able to refine it to a small number of paragraphs and people it with characters that we meet and define in only a few sentences.

In the end, my agents and I came up with four interesting storylines that could eventually be expanded into a series (this was a critical requirement from the publisher's side--it must be able, by definition, to expand into a series concept). Two of the stories received preferential treatment: one whole page. The two remaining concepts were each allowed a half page. By the end of last week, the submission was made and early this week we received the nod: the two stories laid out as full pages made the publisher's short list. (no surprise there--they received more ink to reveal themselves.)

Beginning yesterday afternoon, I started peopling the story concepts with characters. Creating character Bibles is one of the most fun exercises in the proposal process. I capitalized the word "Bible" because this is the one time a writer truly is asked to play God: you are inventing human beings. You pick qualities of people you know, or people you read about, or people you fear, or people you would like to be, and you put them down onto the page and you stir. You wave your wand -- more often than not a pen or pencil, or keyboard -- and what is hopefully a whole character stands up off the page, or steps out of the screen. This character will, of course, eventually change and evolve as he or she is steered through the complexities of the plot; so, you really don't have a full vision of that person yet, but what a wondrous moment to see a human being step out of your thought. It is one of the great gifts we receive as writers.

In the end, I will submit two or three pages of characterizations for each of the two shortlisted proposals. Then, it is left up to the gods of the publishing house (they wish!), and at some point I will hopefully receive a phone call that points me down a particular path. It is not always easy. It is not always an enjoyable process. But it is one I have been through many times before, and hopefully will go through many times more, all in an effort to deliver the best possible book to my readers (all five of them). So, today, it is nose back to grindstone.

on Twitter: RidleyTheWriter

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Favorite Books, Favorite Songs, & Writers Pestering Writers

From Paul Levine...

THE COMPANY JACKIE KEEPS! Our Jacqueline is rubbing shoulders with Harper Lee, John Steinbeck, Joseph Heller, William Styron, E.L. Doctorow, Raymond Chandler....and other hoity-toity scribblers. They're on mega-bestseller Lee Child's Top 40 list of favorite books. About "Maisie Dobbs," big Lee writes: "The first in an amazing new series."

A SOFTER WAY TO SAY NO! Last week, Jim Born pointed out Josh Olson's screed, "I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script." Here's a nicer way of saying much the same thing from John Scalzi, in a piece entitled, "On the Asking of Favors from Established Writers." Excerpt:

Dear currently unpublished/newbie writers who spend their time bitching about how published/established writers are mean because they won’t read your work/introduce you to their agent/give your manuscript to their editor/get you a job on their television show/whatever other thing it is you want them to do for you:

A few things you should know.

1. The job of a writer is to write. So, I’m looking at one of my book contracts. It says that I need to write a certain type of book (science fiction) of a certain length (100,000 words) by a certain time (er… Hmmm). In return, I get paid a certain amount of money. So that’s the gig.

Here’s what’s not in the contract:

1. That I critique the novels of other people;
2. That I offer any advice to people on how to get published;
3. That I arrange introductions to my agent, editor or publisher;
4. That I do any damn thing, in fact, other than write the book I’ve agreed to write.

The job of a writer is to write.

Your thoughts?

WHY WOULD SOMEONE ASK AN "ARROGANT, TALENTLESS ASSHOLE" FOR HELP? Multi-talented screenwriter/novelist Lee Goldberg recently ran into the same buzzsaw. After Lee declined to give a critique to a total stranger, the guy blasted him on Facebook: He was: "sick of arrogant TV writers who write crap that we have to watch on TV...I am talking about Lee Goldberg...what a f'n snob...and he sucks."

Lee's reply:

These jerks know nothing about me, or the time and effort I devote to sharing my experience with others. They don't know about the many days I spend each year teaching TV writing, giving seminars, or speaking about writing at high schools, universities, conferences, and libraries locally, nationwide and around the world, mostly for free.

In the last six weeks, for example, I spent seven days at the International Mystery Writers Festival in Owensboro, Kentucky teaching, speaking, and moderating seminars on tv and mystery writing to the public. At no charge. I taught a three-hour course on TV writing to students at Cal State Northridge. At no charge. And I spent a day giving a seminar on TV writing to a delegation from China Central Television.

But what I didn't do is drop everything in my life to read some stranger's treatment, listen to his idea for a TV series, and coach him on how to pitch.

So obviously I am an arrogant, talentless, asshole.

MAD ABOUT "MAD MEN" One recurring theme of "Mad Men" is that the corporate world will chew you up and spit you out. Sometimes literally. On Sunday night's episode, a John Deere riding lawn mower chomped the foot of a corporate go-getter, ending his career. As a boss noted, the guy could no longer play golf. How the heck can he do business with clients?

IT'S THIRD AND EIGHT. DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR SCREEN PASS IS? Most amazing stat of the college football weekend: USC 0-10 on third down plays in the massive upset at Washington. Pedestrian play-calling, oh you mighty Trojans? Are we sad about it? Ha!

THE PROBLEM WITH COLLEGE FOOTBALL, CHAPTER 383: It comes and goes too quickly! The regular season is already 25% gone!

ARE YOU ABLE TO WRITE WHILE LISTENING TO MUSIC? I can't, unless it's all instrumentals. With lyrics, I want to hear every word. Same with Michael Greenberg, who lists his favorite songs . Well, no wonder. Who could write while listening to Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Sam Cooke, et al?

LOUSY CLOCK MANAGEMENT: If you watched the Monday Night NFL game, you saw the Dolphins fritter away at least one minute of the last 3:19 before losing by four to the Colts. Horrible.

MIAMI CITY COMMISSIONERS ARE NUMBSKULLS: The City is broke, the people are against it, but along with County dunderheads, Miami is spending more than $400 million to build a baseball stadium for the Marlins, a/k/a "the team nobody gives a shit about." The New York Times analyzed the situation here yesterday.

Paul Levine

Monday, September 21, 2009

What are you good for?

Patty here…

My mother tells me that one day when I was a toddler she made this off-hand comment to me: “What are you good for?”

“Loving,” I answered, because at the time it was the only skill on my resume.

That got a big laugh around my house. The script became a running joke that was often repeated over the years. My mother doesn’t ask that question anymore because by now she knows what I’m good for, but she still reminisces about the exchange.

Looking back, I have spent my entire life trying to answer that question and a second broader one—What am I good at? I envy people who are piano prodigies at age four or those who emerge from the womb knowing they’re destined to be a dermatologist or a hand model. There’s no wasted time working in boring jobs or accumulating worthless college degrees. Life’s voyage is already charted.

At age six I thought I was going to be the next Sarah Bernhardt after a high school drama teacher “discovered” me in a church Christmas play and told my parents I had talent.

My expectation of stardom followed me until my junior year in college when my boyfriend asked me why I was parading around on the stage when I could be making an actual contribution to society. I immediately rushed out to take the Law School Admissions Test. By noon on the day of the exam, I came to my senses and decided that law wasn’t for me. It was a wise decision, according to my recovering attorney friends.

I had a bunch of jobs after college, and because I’m a good organizer and a quick study, I was good at all of them even though I didn’t love any of them. What I really wanted to do was to make a living by using my creativity. Therefore, in my spare time I studied art and took dance classes. I hired a voice teacher in the vain hope that the screeching I heard coming from the shower was produced by rusty pipes in the wall and not from those in my throat. At some point, I realized that my “gift” (if I had one at all) would never lead me onto a Broadway stage.

Then somebody told me if I did what I loved, bundles of money would soon follow. I decided to test the theory. I loved going to movies, sitting in a darkened room, riding that emotional roller coaster while Jujyfruits gummed up my teeth. I loved lounging on a beach, reading a good book while inhaling the intoxicating aroma of Bain de Soleil #4 orange gelee. I loved talking trash with my friends over pitchers of Rainier beer, which incidentally made one of the best commercials ever.

So I threw myself into doing the things I loved, waiting for fame and fortune to reward my efforts. However, the only money that appeared was the monthly paycheck from my boring job, forcing me to conclude that what I loved doing wasn’t necessarily going to pay my rent.

Still, I couldn’t shake the belief that one day I would find something I could do better than a few other people. Maybe I was chasing a phantom dream, but it’s like the concept of a soul mate. Either you believe or you don’t.

And then I became a writer. I don’t love to write but I love having written and I actually make a few bucks stringing words together. Writing books is the most difficult job I've ever held. Some days I struggle to find the right words and I’m hard on myself when I fail. The crazy thing is I can’t stop even though some days I’d like to do just that. Maybe it's the challenge that propels me forward or perhaps it's just plain masochism. Regardless of what motivates me, I’m not ready to give up just yet because—who knows?—it may be the thing I was meant to do.

What are you good at and when did you know?

Happy Monday!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sad Times

from Jacqueline

Not a long post this week - have to rush out to see my young horse, Ollie, who is having his feet trimmed by a new farrier today. As you horse owners, know, feet are very important.

But I do have one thing to "express" this week, that's a sense of being on very shaky ground in recent days. Yes, of course, life goes on; you go about your daily round in the same way, but in the meantime, I have been feeling very uneasy since the manure started to hit the fan when PRESIDENT Obama began his campaign to bring the United States into the modern world with some form of universal healthcare for all citizens. I have written about this before, so will not labor the point here. Frankly, I am finding the response to those efforts and the dialogue around the subject quite scary. The fear that has erupted in this country, whether it be a fear of the socialist terror that haunts so many, or the fact that some people are scared to death that they might have to pay for medical care required by those they deem to be less deserving; the whole country seems to be chafing at the traces pulling it into the future.

We gave up on television in this house some months ago, so virtually all my news comes from the web (where I read several newspapers each day) and my NYT on a Sunday. I like to read the "foreign" as well as national press. So it saddened me to see the following cartoon yesterday. And it scared me to death, for although I absolutely believe in America - as Churchill said, "America will always do the right thing" - the way in which both certain members of the populace and certain politicians are voicing their feelings is taking my breath away.

There's more to that quote from Churchill. Here it is in full:

"America will always do the right thing - but only after having exhausted all other possibilities"

And with the manner in which we exhausting those possibilities, we are collectively shooting ourselves and our country in the foot.

I wish you well this weekend.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Who Will Read Your manuscript? Not this guy

James O. Born

I was in Denver this last week at the Colorado Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s conference. I intend to blog much more about that next week. While I was in the Mile High City, I read an essay from the Village Voice by screenwriter Josh Olsen titled, I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script. I did not want to edit the title or change the meaning or tenor of Mr. Olsen’s thesis in any way. I suspect a prick like this might try to sue me if I did. Did I just say that or think it? No, I said it. While I found the first few paragraphs of the essay on target and entertaining, I soon realized, as I waited for the punch line, that this guy is exactly the kind of professional who can crush a new writer.

Here is the opening:

I will not read your fucking script.

That's simple enough, isn't it? "I will not read your fucking script." What's not clear about that? There's nothing personal about it, nothing loaded, nothing complicated. I simply have no interest in reading your fucking screenplay. None whatsoever.
If that seems unfair, I'll make you a deal. In return for you not asking me to read your fucking script, I will not ask you to wash my fucking car, or take my fucking picture, or represent me in fucking court, or take out my fucking gall bladder, or whatever the fuck it is that you do for a living.

This excerpt captures the tone of the article with an illustrating example to support his idea.

While I see his point -- all working writers have had the experience of being accosted by someone with a manuscript -- there is an snarky meanness to the piece that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

I will say that this Hollywood tool brings up a couple of good points:

They think that screenwriting doesn't actually require the ability to write, just the ability to come up with a cool story that would make a cool movie. Screenwriting is widely regarded as the easiest way to break into the movie business, because it doesn't require any kind of training, skill or equipment. Everybody can write, right? And because they believe that, they don't regard working screenwriters with any kind of real respect.

What writer hasn’t met someone at a book signing who boasts that when they retire they’re going to write for a living. Good luck with that plan. It’s the people I meet at conferences who are learning the craft and know the odds of publication I try to take more seriously.

Mr. Olson also lays down one absolute truth:

If someone can talk you out of being a writer, you're not a writer.

Now he’s on the money. I’ve always felt that if you’re not compelled to write don’t write. Everyone has a story to tell but execution is 99% of it.

On reflection, while I wrote this little blog, I’ve reevaluated my perception of Mr. Olson. Maybe he is set upon like no one else. He makes too many good points to be ignored. There were even a few chuckles in the essay. So why do I wonder if I’d punch this guy in the noggin if I ever met him? It’s the tone. I know he’s important. I know he’s busy. But guess what, so is Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Tess Guerittsen, Elmore Leonard, Sue Grafton and every other published author I ever met, but they never had to write a piece like this.

All of us are swamped. I have cops ask me every week about writing a book. When I ask them who they read and they say “I don’t read fiction” , I tell them to read a hundred novels then we’ll talk about them pursuing a novel of their own. You know what, every once in a while, a year or two later, I have someone call me back. And we talk. I also have to explain that I am sometimes more than a year behind in reading manuscripts. Another point Mr. Olson makes well. If they’re patient I’ll get to it. But I can’t bump someone else to the bottom of the stack.

Maybe I’m wrong and just not hip enough to get Mr. Olson’s style. I see his points, but I was put off by the essay. Am I wrong? Is this guy the new Mother Teresa dressed all black? Is he a jokester, and I, just a backward redneck who missed the joke? I hate when I do that, but it happens. What do you guys think about the essay and about reading unsolicited manuscripts?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Pause to the Post

I'm crazy with creating proposals (thrillers) this week, so I must apologize for taking a week off of getting Naked. I will be on Twitter briefly (RidleyTheWriter) where it has been an active week. If you want a hoot, you might enjoy a New York Times article on chicken feet, which I've had the honor (?) to consume... (the feet, not the article)
oopps... there's an email coming in from my agent...


Monday, September 14, 2009

Get Out of Here with Those French Fries

From Paul Levine...

SURROUND YOURSELF WITH THIN, HAPPY, NON-SMOKERS: Our friends help keep us healthy and happy or, conversely, fat and morose. Heck, I knew this. But now it's backed up by scientific proof. If your homies gain weight, so will you. If they smoke, so will you. Check out "Is Happiness Catching?" in The New York Times Magazine.

THIS WEEK'S HOWLER LINE OF DIALOGUE: From Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol":

“‘Actually, Katherine, it’s not gibberish.’ His eyes brightened again with the thrill of discovery. ‘It’s ... Latin.’”

THEATER REVIEW, IN MINIATURE: I enjoyed Tracy Letts's "August, Osage County" the other night at the Ahmanson in Los Angeles, but at 3 1/2 hours, it's "Lawrence of Arabia" without the camels. Think "Long Day's Journey into (LATE) Night." A nasty dysfunctional family drama/black comedy that won the Pulitzer and leaves bruises.

HAPPY NEW YEAR: On Rosh Hashonah, Penn State will play football against....yep, Temple.

Scholar-athlete Terelle Pryor was asked why he honored that dog-abusing convicted felon Michael Vick with his eye-black design in Ohio State's season opener: "Not everybody's the perfect person in this world. Everyone kills people, everyone murders people, steals from you, steals from, whatever."

That's it from this very imperfect person,


Friday, September 11, 2009

A Portrait of the Artist

or ... Better Late Than Never

from Jacqueline

We who are writers know, intimately, the long and winding road from, “I want to be a writer,” to the sense of accomplishment that comes when you hold in your hand the very first copy of your very first book. The pilgrimage has been well documented by many an author; from the story that rattles around in your head demanding to be written, through the slippery highways and byways traveled by one’s self-confidence, an elusive now-you-have-it, now-you-don’t will o’the wisp. You finish the first chapter, maybe show it to a friend, and you search their face for signs while they read. Will they like it? Will your nearest and dearest say, “Oh, sweetie, that’s ... well, that’s ... a good start.”

Of course, the person you actually share a house with is really important. Do you tell them that you’re writing a book? Or do you wait until you have a whole manuscript next to your computer – because you’ve printed every single page - then announce it with, “Hey, d’ya wanna read my book? No hurry. By the morning will be just fine.” In the meantime, they may have had to put up with long silences, the odd tantrum (“I wanted to be a writer my whole life, and now I can’t write a word – who the heck will ever want this trash?”). There may have been burned dinners, forgotten appointments. But when it comes to a cheer-leading squad, the ones closest to you are worth their weight in gold when they’re in your corner.

My husband, John, has been a particularly supportive spouse, especially during the time I was convalescing from that horrible accident and had decided that my time off work presented a good opportunity to finish a book I had barely started when I was jettisoned from my horse. He said that he felt like Anthony Hopkins in Remains of the Day – running back and forth with a tea tray. But it was later that John really came through for me. He said that we should celebrate every milestone, no matter how small, in my quest to be a published writer. Completion of the first draft of Maisie Dobbs coincided with the orthopedic surgeon congratulating me on getting 85% of my arm working again within three months – and they’d had their doubts about 50%, ever. John came home from work with a bottle of champagne. Then later, when I finally signed contracts with an agent, John said, over more champagne, “Whatever happens now, even if this book isn’t the one that sells – you are in the game. Remember that – you’re in the game.” And just before Maisie Dobbs was published, he encouraged me to cherish and celebrate the whole experience, because, “You only ever publish your first book once.”

So, here we are seven years later, and the past twelve months haven’t been plain sailing. My husband is a marketing and advertising copywriter – an exceptionally good one, I might add. But these are strained times, and while work has not exactly dried up, it’s been uncomfortably “inconsistent.” Everyone in the business has the same story. But towards the end of last year, amid the hours spent trying to scare up new projects, John began working on something he had always wanted to do, but for a mountain of reasons hadn’t taken the leap. Seems people who want to be songwriters have the same loop playing in their mind that we wordsmiths have to deal with. But at the same time, he wanted to come out of this economic downturn (who thought up that phrase, by the way? Probably a copywriter) with something to show for it.

In January, he came into the kitchen as I was cooking dinner, and said, “Wanna hear a song I’ve written?” So I trundled in to his home office, thinking, “Oh heck, what am I going to say?” Truth is, we don’t really listen to the same music and there are only a couple of bands we both like. I was ready to respond with, “Well, that’s lovely dear.” And I would save the question, “Anything new on Craig’s List?” until later. Then he played the song and I felt goose bumps rippling down my arms. Oh, my, this was good. This was very good. Then he played a couple more, and I was almost in shock. These wonderful songs were being written in this house and I never knew? So this is what happens when I disappear for weeks on end on a book tour.

Inspired by the positive reaction from me and a couple of friends, he asked one of his contacts from the local songwriters’ group if she would record the lyrics to his guitar backing, so that he’d have a sort of pre-demo, demo disk - he'd turned his office into a sort of mini makeshift studio. While she had a sweet and lovely voice, it was not quite the right voice, but it was good enough to get some more reactions from a few local musicians, the kind of guys who would not draw back from giving honest criticism. The responses were all very good – but everyone said he needed a real demo disk to go any further.

And you know how. when you start writing and getting serious about being published, you buy loads of books – The Writers’ Market, for starters, or books with titles like, “Getting Published – What You Need To Know!” Well, there are the same books for songwriters and they began to pile up. He was reading every word. Then a few things started falling into place. Call it serendipity.

I’ll cut to the chase here. On Monday and Tuesday of this week, John was in a recording studio with four amazing top-notch professional musicians and a vocalist who could sound like Norah Jones one minute and Ella Fitzgerald the next (in her day job she’s a high school music teacher), and he was co-producing the demo-disk that will be used to sell rights to the songs – and they will sell, of that I have no doubt. By an extraordinary stroke of luck, that demo disk comprising eight songs will be played to a larger audience at next week’s Monterey Jazz Festival.

It takes such a leap of faith for an artist of any stripe – whether they work with words, chords, watercolors, cloth or clay – to put themselves out there. The creative spirit is so rooted in the soul, so connected to the essence of who we are, that the personal risk involved in presenting your work to the world can seem almost too much to bear. It can break your heart. Yet what choice do we have? It took the shock of a serious accident for me to realize that I could not put off following my dream; that I wanted make the journey in this lifetime, and I didn’t want to wait a minute longer. Bearing witness to my husband’s leap into the unknown – putting his work out there for the world to hear - has moved me, almost, but as you can see, not quite beyond words.

On Tuesday, when I knew there would be a break for lunch, I went to the studio with a big chocolate cake to celebrate the achievement and hard work. We all sat back and listened to the fruits of the morning’s recording session, and everyone was sporting a huge grin. The songs were good. They were better than good.

So, to John: You’re in the game, Love. You are absolutely in the game.

And if anyone knows how I can get a demo disk of stunning songs for a female vocalist into the hands of Norah Jones, Diana Krall or Madeleine Peyroux – let me know.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Apocalypse What?

James O. Born

The other day I watched a few minutes of Francis Ford Coppola's classic Apocalypse Now. To see a relatively young Martin Sheen wrestle with his conscience about how he will deal with the legendary soldier Col. Kurtz played by the legendary actor Marlon Brando, is a treat to any cinema buff. But it got me thinking who would play those roles if the movie were shot today?

The question exposed my lack of knowledge about today's crop of new actors. I have certain favorites like everyone. I think George Clooney is a pretty good actor who makes entertaining films. I think Quentin Tarantino is a very good director. But there is no way I believe Tarantino could direct a film like this or that Clooney could play either of the roles.

The one actor that came to mind for the Martin Sheen role was Edward Norton. This modern chameleon never fails to entertain and amaze me from stupid comedies like Death to Smoochy to complex dramas like American History X, Norton is a master of subtlety and intensity. He can pull off the Martin Sheen role. There are a number of actors that could fill in the supporting roles (Except for Robert Duval's Cavalry Colonel). But the one that escapes me, the big gap in my modern cinema knowledge, is who could play Col. Kurtz?

It wasn't only the dark brooding intensity that Brando brought to the role but his whole aura as one of America's greatest actors. He was bigger than life (almost literally as well). He was a great actor. And his musings and unscripted rants made his role in the Vietnam war movie that much more interesting. No matter how much I think about it, I cannot come up with one current American actor with the same qualifications. This is not an insult to the actors. At least not an intentional one. But it is a question I would like answered.

What actor could you see in the challenging role that Brando made his own? Anyone who answers Brad Pitt will earn a verbal smack down from me as well as Paul Levine.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Who Knows?


I'm traveling this week to D23, Disney's resurrection of a fan convention that may attract as many as 10,000 attendees. There, Dave Barry and I will address a gathering with Dave on live video from a FedEx Kinkos in South Florida. At the same time I will be showing PowerPoint slides that Dave and I will discuss. Now a pessimist would say: "That ought to go well." And an optimist might say: "That could be cool." Or an author could say, "What happens if it doesn't work?"

I'm assembling a list of topics to blog about. A pessimist might say, "Oh, heavens, no!" An optimist might say, "Oh, heavens, finally." An author might say, "Oh, heavens: a list?"

In between I'm buying propane at The Home Depot, Chinese vegetables from a World Market, and standing in the line at the Post Office to return a pair of pants bought on-line from New Zealand. Bottom line: don't buy pants online from New Zealand, not unless you love lines at the Post Office (I don't, as it happens).

I don't like lines. I don't like looking for something misplaced (which is why I have a place for everything material I care about, and always return said item to its spot, even if a corner of a desk). I'm not saying I have a system!

And I'm practicing -- ie relearning -- songs that I wrote 35 years ago for a reunion of an acoustic band I once played in. We tried being James Taylor meets Paul Winter Group for eight years. We were either way ahead of our time, or vastly lacking in talent. An optimist would say...

I've been asked to start up a creative writing department, in English, at the university where I taught last year (in China). It would be the first such department ever formed in the People's Republic. A pessimist would say...

So, I guess what I'm saying is, This Is The Week That Was: school restarted for our daughters; several book projects going--one in edit, two in first draft; cars needing repair; songs needing learning; the dogs need walking. Disney convention Thurs and Friday. A reading here in St Louis on Sunday.

Labor Day has passed. Life has restarted. An optimist would say...
Happy New Year

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Outlining Your Book After the Fact

From Paul Levine...

SUMMARY JUDGMENT: I prepare a chapter-by-chapter outline of every book before I start writing. However, I almost always soar off into space, leaving the outline a tattered mess, hardly resembling the finished book.

So that I can keep track of the paths taken (and not), I do a "reverse outline" as I'm scribbling. It re-creates an outline from the manuscript, so I can quickly see the structure of the story, as written, not just as planned. My reverse outline is really simple. It's just the first paragraph of each chapter. That's enough to clue me as to what else is in the chapter.

Recently, I wondered if the first paragraph of each chapter gave an accurate summary of the book to anyone but me, i.e., a reader. The answer is....definitely maybe.

Here are the first several chapter/summaries of "Illegal," my 2009 novel that involves an L.A. lawyer's attempt to bring together a Mexican boy and his mother who has been caught in the web of human trafficking after a midnight border crossing went to hell.

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

2. One hour before he stood, naked and terrified, in the chambers of the Honorable Walter Rollins, Jimmy Payne stood, clothed and angry, glaring at a wooden pin some sixty feet away.

3. Payne plopped his Road Hawg into its zippered bag. “I’m out of here, Rigney. Go bribe the judge yourself.”

4. Jimmy drove west on Ventura Boulevard, speaking to his ex-wife on the cell. “Sharon, do you know a dickwad named Eugene Rigney?”

5. “You think I’m stupid?” Judge Rollins aimed the gun a few inches north of Payne ’s shrinking testicles. “Your wife’s a cop.”

6. An hour after fleeing the courthouse, Payne’s hands were still shaking. Either that, or a 5.0 trembler had rocked the Chimney Sweep, a windowless tavern squeezed between a Lebanese restaurant and a discount dentist in a Sherman Oaks strip mall. Payne wrapped a hand around the leaded base of his glass, trying to steady it, but the Jack Daniels swirled between the ice cubes like molten lava through porous rocks.

7. Marisol Perez led Tino through the swinging saloon doors, thankful the cantina catered to American tourists, not the usual loud-mouthed drunks, mal educados, who made up so much of Mexican manhood.

That's the tease. The book has 82 chapters. Do my fellow scribblers reverse outline their books?

OBAMA BLUNDER: Yes, the Obama folks failed to properly vet nutcake Van Jones for his job as an environmental adviser. But, no one died as a result. The same cannot be said of the Bush Administration's appointment of Michael Brown as Major Poohbah of F.E.M.A.

SHAME ON YOU, MOMMY! Do Mommy Bloggers exploit their kids be writing about their foibles? My daughter, Wendy Sachs, a Mommy Blogger herself, opines today on Huffington.

"Are mommy bloggers selfishly pimping out their children for their own creative fodder ... or, even worse, financial gain? Do our emotional, self-deprecating, angst-ridden, confessional posts that are meant to comfort the sorority of mothers in cyberspace ultimately hurt our own children -- if not now, sometime in the future?"

IN FUNERAL NEWS: The Rev. Al Sharpton, who never met a camera he didn't French kiss, said he will continue to fight for Michael Jackson's "legacy and what he stood for." Which was what, exactly?

Firefighters battling the Los Angeles County blazes have been inhaling various energy drinks to stay alert during their 12 to 18hour shifts. Now comes word that the high-caffeine drinks are dangerous because they dehydrate the body. The Los Angeles Times reports:

"Instead of energy drinks, officials ask firefighters to think about replacing salt, sugar, water and calories as a way to gain a boost. Posters bearing an outline of a slim, energy drink can with a big red strike through it are scattered around the camp."

Paul Levine

Monday, September 07, 2009

Julie & Julia, lessons about cooking and life

Patty here…

I saw the movie “Julie & Julia” a couple of weeks ago and after leaving the theater I was one of the gazillions of people who raced to my local bookstore to buy Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volumes I and II. Sadly, the books were sold out and no wonder. Following the film’s release, moviegoers catapulted the tomes to the top of the New York Times Bestsellers list.

On the surface, Julie & Julia appears to be about cooking, but when you boil it down it’s also about literature and life. For those of you who haven’t seen the film, it follows two women as they travel parallel paths in pursuit of their passion for cooking. In the 1940s, Julia Child (Meryl Streep) begins a quest to write the first French cookbook for Americans. The companion story takes place circa 2004. Julie Powell (Amy Adams) is a young woman with a bad case of ennui. Her job is unfulfilling. Moreover, her life seems purposeless, which is perhaps why she never finishes anything, including the Great American Novel that lies fallow in her desk drawer. Only cooking and presumably her hunky husband incite her passion. To break out of her languor, she decides to make all of the recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days and to write a daily blog about her experiences.

I understand Julie’s admiration for Julia Child whose book The Way to Cook is my kitchen bible. The pages are dog-eared and butter-stained. Post-it notes wag like happy little tongues from dozens of my favorite dishes. Every recipe I have made from the book is perfection. Better yet, even though my guests know the boeuf Bourguignon is Julia’s creation, they still give me the credit.

Critics disagree about the merits of the film. I liked it because I came away with more than a pleasurable evening and a renewed interest in cooking. There are lessons to learn from a story about people pursuing a seemingly insurmountable goal, with meager chance of financial success, for only one reason: passion. One could say the same thing about the writer’s journey and the love of story-telling.

People who take creative risks face emotional ups-and-downs. That’s a given. In the film, what is telling is the contrast between the two women’s reaction to failure. The filmmakers portray Julie as insecure and self-absorbed, often collapsing into tears like a deflated soufflé, while Julia mostly maintains her indefatigable sense of humor. For example, when Julia learns that her publisher has rejected the book she’s labored over for eight years, she is understandably disappointed but instead of crying in her trout meunière, she says: “Eight years of my life. It just turned out to be something to do, so I wouldn’t have nothing to do. Oh well, boo-hoo. Now what?”

During all the years I’ve been cooking with Julia, I only had one Julie “meltdown,” which occurred during the making of a caramel veil for a Bûche de Noël intended as the pièce de rèsistance to what I hoped would be a spectacular Christmas dinner. For the uninitiated, transforming sugar into threads of stiff caramel sounds simple but that was not this cook’s experience. As it turned out, the Bûche was delicious even without a perfect veil but that’s another story. As I recall, instead of saying Boo-hoo; What’s next? I screamed I AM A TOTAL FAILURE. HOW CAN ANYBODY LOVE ME NOW?

Sometimes I feel that way about my writing, too. Even though I want to face life with Julia’s plucky optimism, it’s easy to fall prey to Julie’s weepy insecurity, which is why I have to constantly remind myself of that old saw: Attitude is everything. Pick a good one.

Happy Monday and bon appétit!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Hiding Out With Books

from Jacqueline

When I was a kid my favorite place to read was somewhere hidden, a place where I would be invisible. This was often necessary because, once started on a book, I could not stop, and would sit and read until I finished. It was like eating breakfast, lunch and dinner from the same plate and all at once. So deep would be my immersion into this other world of story, that I’d eventually come out of my secret lair with a sense of disorientation, like a brown bear after hibernation.

The subterfuge, the hiding, was important, because although my parents loved to read, loved to know that I was immersing myself in the world of literature, they also were big on work. We had our jobs, and by golly we’d pull our weight before any lolling around with books. And frankly, cleaning out the fire grates, followed by the bath (in this order because the Ajax cleaned the stains from your hands as well as the bath), and then sweeping the floors on a Saturday morning was never quite so interesting to me as whatever book my eight or nine years old nose wanted to get into. So I’d often do just one of the jobs on my list, then find my book and hide.

Dependent upon the time of year, I had several hiding places. In late spring summer, it amazed me that my mother never knew that I could be found in the big lilac tree that stood right outside the back door. I’d clamber up into the branches to be cocooned within the fragrant aroma of those big lilac blossoms; I’d get comfortable in the V of two big branches, settle back, crack open my book, and read. There was something dozy about reading in that tree, a slightly soporific feeling that would envelop me as I turned the pages. I’d hear my mother calling my name – up the stairs in the house, then coming closer, into the garden – and it was as if I was slightly intoxicated. I’d look up from the page and watch her, wiping sudsy hands on her apron, and exclaiming, “Well, I don’t know where she thinks she’s gone, when she’s got jobs to do.” Occasionally I’d wonder why she never chased after my brother in the same way, but he was that much younger and she knew where he was hiding out anyway – in the greenhouse with his pet toad, Big Head.

Under the hedge at the bottom of the garden was another place. There was a hole in the hedge, and if you crawled into it, no one knew you were there. It was a bit dark, and lost favor when some red ants moved in. I ran out screaming one day, to be met by my mother, hands on hips, frowning. “That’ll serve you right. Now then, I’ve got a job for you.”

In winter, I would hide in plain sight, so obvious was my refuge. There was a short flight of stairs from our big kitchen up to the dining room, and at the top of those stairs, if you opened the door to the dining room back on itself, it created a little square cubby hole. I’d squeeze in under the shelf, and settle back on an old blanket. I could look through the banister into the kitchen, and would hear my parents speculating as to where I’d gone. Maybe they knew I was there all the time, perhaps it was part of their game, with a wink to each other to keep up the pretence that they had no idea where I was, when they were quite aware that I was listening to their every word, and with my head in a book.

In summer, after school and after I’d done my jobs (those jobs ...), I’d make myself a jam sandwich and take a bottle of orange squash (sort of like cordial with water) and make my way over to the woods, where I would sit by the pond with my book. I still wonder if fairies and wood nymphs and other ethereal beings allow themselves to be seen by children, especially children who can keep still. I’m sure I was never alone as my mind wandered, into the story and back again. But perhaps that’s when I learned that, when you have a book in your hand, you always have good company.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

In defense of guns

James O. Born

In my position as a career law-enforcement officer I have heard both sides of the gun-control issue ad nausea. One of the things that annoys me the most is that rarely do people know what the hell they're talking about. By the end of this short rant I promise I will not make things any clearer to either side because I, like most people, don't know what the hell I'm talking about.

The most frequent question I get is if I think firearms are good choice for self-defense. I can only answer this question, like I would any firearms question, from my experience and not through national statistics. Although I think in this case I will be supported by statistics. The chances of someone being shot by accident with your gun are much, much greater than the chances of you using it effectively for self-defense. That's just the way life is. With kids running in and out of the house, burglaries and just plain panic, guns are not a good choice for personal self-defense. I have had some of my NRA friends accurately state that they cannot expect the police to be everywhere at once to protect them. That is true. Last week, HBO helped me with the blog on the show Entourage where the gang faces this exact question. And they answer it.

On the flipside, the legal ownership of firearms does not translate into higher violent crime. End of story. Years ago I was opposed to Florida's concealed weapons law, adamant that the streets would turn into a Wild West. I have to admit, with more than twenty years hindsight, the weapons policies of Florida have not contributed to violent crime in any way. In fact, Florida's violent crime has decreased consistently over that time period. One need look no further than New York City, where handguns are outlawed, to see that those laws did not curtail criminals from using firearms. Once again, I was helped this week on the blog when a buddy of mine named Gus called, worried he had failed to update his address on an ATF form. A law-abiding citizen like Gus has no idea how few criminals are really prosecuted. Gun laws generally only affect people already following the gun laws.

The final statement that I often hear is, “What would America be without firearms?" The best answer I've ever heard to that was from my friend Fred Rea, known in the MWA ranks as “Fred the gun guy”. When someone pondered in front of him what would America be without firearms, he calmly looked at him and said, "Scotland." It is a fact that firearms helped us wiggle out from under the thumb of a tyrant. The English government had ignored repeated pleas by colonists who sought legal redress. America found it’s freedom at the point of a gun.

I'm sorry but I disagree with the disarming of America because of the acts of a few. If someone breaks the law with a firearm they should be crushed by the legal system. It is extremely rare to hear of a legal gun owner committing a crime with a gun. I'm not saying that people don't go crazy. But like with most things, firearms must be looked at on an individual basis.

I am not a big gun owner. I possess a couple of handguns personally. I am issued other weapons and keep track of all of them very carefully. I follow the gun debate and try to bite my tongue while one side or the other gets carried away with what they believe is the only, absolute truth. No one likes to see gun violence. No one is arguing in favor of it. But the issue is much more complex. I don't want to hear someone who's never fired a weapon tell me that there should be no guns allowed in private hands. Just like I don't want to hear a gun nut tell me that the government's ultimate plan is to take away all their guns. That is incorrect. I'm sorry if you disagree with me, but I don't believe anyone is going to take away all of the guns.

The following video clip shows what a smart gun owner can do with the right determination.
Teaching firearm saftey

I always like your comments but whatever is said today please keep it civil.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Faux Upgrade

from Ridley (can't get images to load, sorry!)

Here's something I discovered this week: the faux upgrade.

I have a good friend (and sometimes writing partner) who buys a new cell phone and/or laptop about every six months. (At one point, every time I saw him over the course of the year, he had a new phone.) When you are a gadget-head like me, this can cause a bit of chip-envy. I owned the Prius within the first month of production. Same with the Mac Airbook.

Sidebar: I waited on the iPhone because of the keyboard and because it lacked certain abilities like cut and paste. Then 3.0 software corrected all that and I bought the 3Gs for a summer experiment (publishing is slow in summer and you can take risks with your phone). I had been a BlackBerry loyalist, keeping my last BBerry (the 8800c--a near perfect business phone) for over three years. The iPhone, when combined with (I liked it better when it was called dot-Mac; it's actually NOT about Me!) provides wireless synch for contacts and calendar, just as the BBerry did in Enterprise mode. So now my assistant can update something, and I have it within 15 minutes on my phone, and for 99 dollars a year--my BBerry Enterprise was 80 dollars a month.) So be it. I suffer through some of the iPhone's failings, but I have a workable business mobile phone that can also play video podcasts of Rachel Madow. What could be better?

Return to Main Post: So... we're in a recession. I long for the latest version of the Mac Airbook (a bigger virtual hard drive would mean I don't have to tote an external drive around to carry my iTunes/video). Then my wireless keyboard and mouse start acting up and I go to the Mac store (very dangerous for me to go in that store!) and I buy three things: Snow Leopard--the latest OSX operating system (it actually FREES 7 gigs after install, and runs about four times faster); a WIRED keyboard and a WIRED mouse, and over the weekend I set everything up. Intallation of the software is, of course, a tightrope walk, despite what David Pogue said in the NYTimes. This, because I use the Remote Drive function for the drive-less MacBook Air. That, in turn meant I needed to Carbon Copy my hard drive in case of malfunction. All this took about 5 hours to accomplish, but oh well, I cleaned my office while pieces of the install ran. With Snow Leopard up and running--beautifully, elegantly--I also installed the new keyboard and mouse, and you know what? IT FEELS LIKE A BRAND-NEW COMPUTER.

I hadn't realized how revolutionizing a new keyboard is. It is, in fact, your only tactile contact with your computer, and replacing it gives your machine an entirely new feel. A clean, crisp attack. No hardware errors (the Bluetooth wireless versions were just never quite right--a slight, almost imperceptible delay (for someone who types quite quickly); scroll button on mouse was intermittent, if there at all. But now: ZING! The Snow Leopard upgraded me to 64-bit processing (hold down the 6 and 4 on boot, and watch your machine zip!) and the two inexpensive pieces of hardware give things a new feel. It's not the new Air, but it's surprisingly satisfying. The thing is: as writers we wear out our keyboards and "mice" and don't even realize it. Think of all the times the space bar is hit (or the delete key!) over the course of a year; two years; three...

Do yourself a favor: the recession upgrade costs less than 100 dollars, and you'll feel like new.
Now... if only this thing would write by itself...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Devil's Dozen Peers at Famous Murders

From the overheated desk of Paul Levine...

KATHERINE RAMSLAND IS AT THE CRIME SCENE: The forensics guru has a new book out: "The Devil’s Dozen: How Cutting-Edge Forensics Took down 12 Notorious Serial Killers and The Real World of a Forensic Scientist." Co-written with Dr. Henry C. Lee, the book takes a look at famous murder cases and delves into the life of the high-profile criminalist, as well. Katherine is the author of 35 books and 900 articles, numbers which make me want to take a nap. I asked my pal Kate to describe her newest book:

"I wrote 'The Devil's Dozen' after separately researching the history of serial murder and the history of forensic science. I spotted how a number of serial killer investigations had changed the way things were done. For example, the FBI's profiling unit is the result of an increase in serial murder, and DNA analysis was first performed in a serial murder case. There was also a cool case about how brain fingerprinting spooked a killer into confessing. I thought it would be valuable to write a book for law enforcement that brought these insights together, which would also interest fans of true crime.

"At the same time, my work in forensics put me in a credible position to become a co-writer with criminalist Henry C. Lee, who was compiling a book with his former lab director on some of his cases. She was working on the technical angles, but they needed someone to manage other aspects, especially case histories. Dr. Lee wanted some autobiographical details and I'd also written two biographies, so it wasn't difficult for me to merge into this project."

Here's more about the book on Katherine's blog, The Graveyard Shift.

WILLIAMS-SONOMA AIR CONDITIONS BEVERLY HILLS! I like W-S and hate to trash the high-end kitchen doodad chain. Sure, the stores are overpriced. Seventy-nine bucks for a rolling pin? Why not just buy the apple pie at Marie Callendar's? (To be fair, the $79 model is made of marble). The salespeople at W-S are friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. The store gives FREE cooking classes, which I attend. So what's my beef?

On Sunday, I spoke to two clerks, asking why the big double doors were propped open. (It was 98 degrees outside). They both said, "management orders." Apparently, management believes that shoppers on Beverly Boulevard are not clever enough to open a door and enter the store on their own.

I remember certain nightspots in San Francisco's Tenderloin District keeping their doors open. The theory was that young men might be too shy to otherwise come in, no matter how much they wanted to see Miss Tempest Storm in her pasties. (Let the record reflect that I was not so reticent). I'm not sure that today's shoppers, on the hunt for a panini machine, face similar problems.

Hint to management: If you cut prices in half, i.e., to an amount still in excess of what Target charges, people would be breaking down your doors.

I LOVE THE CATHOLIC FUNERAL MASS: I was deeply moved by the services for Sen. Ted Kennedy. Opera singer Susan Graham's soaring rendition of "Ave Maria" sent shivers through me. (My tribe's singing of "Hava Nagila" does not). One of my pals reminds me that the Jewish funeral prayer, "El Maley Rachamin" (God, Full of Compassion), when sung by a cantor with good pipes, is a pretty soulful song, too.

This is a little like arguing who's better, Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays. But I'm crossing party lines here and sticking with "Ave Maria." It's a bit of an unfair fight. "Ave Maria," which of course translates to "Hail Mary" (leading Jim Born to think that's it's a desperation fourth quarter pass by the Seminoles), was written by Franz Schubert to be sung. "El Maley Rachamin," I believe, is a prayer set to music.

In Damien Cave's excellent New York Times piece on how the recession has taken Florida to the mat: "Florida these days often resembles the character played by its native son Mickey Rourke in 'The Wrestler': a broken-down piece of meat, damaged and sincere, but a little too messed up to drop familiar habits."

Paul Levine