Monday, January 11, 2010

It's over--this time for good

This will be the last post of The Naked Truth about Literature and Life. The bad news is we are too busy writing books to continue blogging. The good news is we are too busy writing books to continue blogging. And since we started this project together, we have chosen to end it together. And now for our good-byes.

Jacqueline Winspear

It was almost four years ago that Patty emailed me to ask if I would be interested in this idea she’d had for a blog – The Naked Truth About Literature and Life. Now, you know I’m the in-house techno-phobe, and I wasn’t really sure I knew how to blog – I’m not exactly a big presence in cyberspace (except through online ordering of equine-related products), and it seemed to me that many blogs took the form of glorified text messages. But I liked the idea and she’d pulled together a great team, so I said, “OK, I’m in.” Being of the, “No, you go first” school of new experiences, I bagged the Friday slot so I could see what my fellow nakeds did with their posts.

And what a ride it’s been from that first week. We’ve covered just about every issue to do with the writing, reading and publishing of books; we’ve shared our laughs, our losses, our good times and bad with you, and you’ve been left in no doubt where we all stand on everything from the Bush administration, to healthcare, elder care and teen care. We’ve shared our thoughts on gun control, global warming and hair color, and you probably know more about my horses than you ever wanted to know. And along the way we gathered quite a following – yes, we know you’re out there, the lurkers on the sidelines as well as our regulars who comment. Thank you for turning up at the house of Naked Authors every day. And thank you for this great experience. Many blessings to you all.

James O. Born

A couple of years ago my buddy, Paul Levine, convinced me to join Naked Authors after reading my blog on Amazon. In all the time since then I have really enjoyed the chance to share my views and point out fine writing (usually by my friends). I hope to keep in touch with those of you who always left comments. It will be a few weeks before I start realizing I don’t have to come with something for the blog each Thursday. I can’t complain about having too many projects to work on and needing to pare down my load. So I’ll check out on a high note and say, “Hope to see you soon.”

Ridley Pearson

Well, it's time to put the clothes back on. I have to say, being Naked as been a blast -- not so much the writing part, but the reading. I've been really honored to be a part of this group for the past year, and to read the daily contributions. But duty calls. I've been writing four books a year for the past three or four years, and this year is looking to be much the same. The regular deadline of writing copy for the blog proved to be the straw that broke my back.

Writing is such an honor -- that is, making a living at it -- that I want to honor the reader by putting all my energies into the various books and projects I have ahead of me in 2010. To Paulie, Patty and the gang: hats off for a job well done! The Naked Authors blog has been entertaining, educational, and something I looked forward to reading each day. I feel I've made four new friends. Close friends. I will miss you all.

Paul Levine

We’re done? Already?

I will likely say the same thing on my deathbed. Which brings to mind Woody Allen’s philosophy of life, told as a joke in “Annie Hall.”

Two women are discussing their vacation in a Catskills hotel. "The food here is just horrible," one complains.

"And such little portions," the other says.

"That's my theory of life,” Woody says. “Full of loneliness and misery and suffering....and it's all over too quickly."

I hope that brightened your day.

I will miss my fellow naked scribblers’ posts and all your witty and wise comments. As for my blatherings, please feel free to “friend me” on Facebook where I’m pontificating on popular entertainment, crime fiction, and college football. That’s everything that interests me, other than Thai foot massage.

Well, as Woody used to say in his stand-up, I’d like to leave you with something positive. But not having anything, would you take two negatives?

Patricia Smiley

Some say all good things must come to an end, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Thanks to everyone who has read our posts and contributed words of wisdom. Some of you have been with us since the beginning and we now consider you part of our family. We’ll miss you. This blogging thing has been a learning experience and a great deal of fun. Cheers to all. I'll leave you with this:


Friday, January 08, 2010

Happy Landings

from Jacqueline

I was listening to a segment on NPR last week, a discussion and call-in on the use of body scanners at airport, along with the increased security we can now expect following the recent attempt to detonate an explosive device on a Northwest Airlines aircraft landing in Detroit. Now, no one likes a line at the airport, and with the news that body scanners were to be used as part of the security process for transatlantic flights, I thought “Uh-oh ...” and put in a call to the orthopedic surgeon who inserted a couple of steel rods into my arm with various screws and do-dads from the medical hardware store. It was a “Can I have a copy of my x-rays?” call, just so I have them to hand when I travel. It might help prove that I had the metal inserted before 9-11. It’s just what you have to do to smooth the passage through the mire of security.

Anyway, it rather amazed me just how many people called NPR to complain about the scanners, the security, profiling and what have you; mainly in connection with civil liberties. I can see the point, however, I am of the mindset that death is a pretty major slight against my civil liberty, so – much as I hate queuing – I will go into that Zen space and as far as the whole security thing is concerned, I’ll “just do it.”

During the show, and between two calls of complaint, an Indian woman called in. She had clearly lived in the USA for some years, and said that she and her husband both traveled extensively on business. She explained that they are pulled out for extra security examination 95% of the time when traveling, but she added, “That’s OK with us; we know our features are similar to those of the kind of people who are blowing up ‘planes, so we understand, and we’re happy to put up with it – we want to stay alive too.” That’s my approach, and you might be surprised how many times I am pulled out, though it has more to do with the fact that I’m British, I think, and that, especially during a book tour the flights are all one-way rather than round-trip. Frankly, enhanced security is a mark of the times we live in and it’s the name of the game.

The one aspect of all this that still surprises me – and I mean it REALLY surprises me – is the fact that people in the USA, for the most part, still don’t seem to be taking responsibility for their own security – inasmuch as one can. A terrorist can cause terrible damage without going near the security line, and without even purchasing a ticket. Let me give you an example. I was at an airport, and because I had some time to kill before going through security, I went into a cafe that had lots of seating, some interesting pastries on sale, and you could get a non-dairy latte. In this part of the airport, anyone could walk in and have a coffee, or go shopping. While wrangling my purchases, I noticed two carry-on bags left by the wall with no person close by to ask, “Are these yours?” Now, remember – and you’ve heard me say this before, so sorry for the repetition – I worked in London for years while the IRA were bombing right, left and center, and you didn’t ignore that sort of thing. No idiot leaves a case around, and no idiot ignores it when they see it. So, in this instance, I reported the abandoned cases to the woman on the checkout and said, “I think you should call security.” She looked at me as if I had just grown three heads, and said, “Oh, come ON!” People behind me rolled their eyes, and I realized that I was the only one who saw the potential danger in this abandonment of personal effects. So I put my intended purchases down and walked out, though not before I said, “I may look stupid to you, but if those cases hold anything more dangerous than dirty laundry, then this decision could save my life.” I know, a bit sarcastic, but I was shocked.

I remember talking to my friend, Tim, about what happened – he was a fairly senior officer in the British army at the time, and had just returned home after being part of Central Command in Qatar at the outset of the Iraq war – and he pointed out that it was the fact that, in Britain, we were under threat all the time during the 70’s & 80’s, and that barely a week went by without a bomb going off somewhere that kept us on our toes regarding our surroundings. The eyes in the back of your head were always open. But for us here in the USA, even though we’ve been subject to a terrible terrorist attack, during the spaces in between events we have time to become complacent. We know about the failings of our security organizations, but it might also serve us to know that each day numerous serious terrorist threats are thwarted, and thousands are saved from potential disaster. And though, to be honest, we can’t look up everyone’s trouser legs as they line up for the flight, we can look around us, and we can be vigilant, wherever we are. And we can be unafraid of the embarrassment that comes when we tell a security guard about a kid’s backpack left by the water fountain, especially when the kid comes running to claim the offending backpack just the sniffer dogs are about to get into the candy. That’s a happy ending.

Some years ago, a man boarding a flight was about to step across that rubber bit that marks the end of the ramp and the threshold of the ‘plane, when he happened to glance at the fuselage and saw a piece of metal sticking out. Instead of thinking to himself, “Oh, it’s been checked, they must know what they’re doing. That thing’s probably meant to be like that,” he alerted the flight attendant, who spoke to the engineer, who took a gander at the fuselage and grounded the ‘plane. I can’t remember the technicalities of the problem, but that man saved the lives of about 150 people, because it was a pretty serious bit of metal, and the fact that it was hanging off would have led to the ‘plane crashing on take-off.

With all that said, we know these are very serious times. We don’t need a government to tell us about orange security levels or whatever the latest jargon is, to signal that we need to be vigilant. Be observant, be patient, and let’s do our best to deal with whatever security checks are brought in. They may be knee-jerk reactions, and some of these efforts, ideas and new-fangled machines might not work, or be intrusive, but it’s a different world and we all have to learn to do things differently, and take them in our stride. It doesn’t mean you have to walk around in a heightened state of “What’s going to happen next?” Appropriate vigilance becomes transparent to you after a while, just something you do while going about your business. Which is better than not thinking at all.

Many years ago, after I had completed the training prior to my first flight as an airline stewardess (none of this “flight attendant” lark in those days), we – the girls on my course – all received a note from the airline’s Chief Safety Officer. He was a real stickler for the rules, a demon with carte blanche to turn up any time at any airport in any country to test all flight crew on their knowledge of the ‘plane and emergency procedures. One mistake, and you were off, grounded. For him there was nothing, absolutely nothing more important than the safety of the aircraft and everyone on board. He signed off that note with the message, “To every single one of you - always, always, Happy Landings.”

I can’t say better than that.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Sleuthfest 2010

James O. Born

Next month the Florida chapter of the Mystery Writers of America will host their annual conference known as Sleuthfest. The site has the particulars like guests of honor David Morrell and Stephen Cannell. The conference is also featuring our own Paul Levine talking about screen writing.

This is one of the only conferences to feature an honest to goodness real forensic track that has featured cops, crime scene specialists and even medical examiners over the past few years.

Sleuthfest also attracts editors and agents from all over the country.

Check out a few photos from last year.

That's me and Neil Nyren, in a gun and tactics demo and with a clearly apprehensive Oline Cogdill.

Always fun. Always well run. I love this conference and hope you do too.

What are your favorite writing conferences?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Busy Beatty and Scary Publishing Predictions

From Paul Levine...

WARREN BEATTY SHAGS 13,000 WOMEN: Okay, I exaggerate. According to Peter Biskind's book, "Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America," the actor/director has bedded "12,775 women, give or take, a figure that does not include daytime quickies, drive-bys, casual gropings, stolen kisses and so on."

I'm not good at math (or multiple relationships), but a man would have to have sex with a different woman every day for 35 years to hit that number. And that, ladies and gentleman, would be problematic, even for the manly Mr. Beatty. Or, am I wrong, Jim Born?

I do recall Woody Allen's one-liner: "If I believed in reincarnation, I'd want to come back as Warren Beatty's fingertips."
MORE SCARY BOOK PUBLISHING PREDICTIONS: "Title count at the largest houses could drop by as much as fifty percent over the next five years." And how about this little nugget, related to success of vampire books? "Publishing houses will soon have entire departments devoted to developing books about the undead." Read it and weep in the Huffington Post's "Ten More Publishing Predictions"

READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL? If I drank a beer every time a Bud Lite commercial came on during the Bowl games, I'd look like Mark Mangino.

TOO MUCH FOOTBALL? You've overdosed on football when, after watching a four-hour game, you stick around to watch Sports Center so you can see the highlights of what you've just seen, and then when ESPN repeats the show, your ass is still planted in the Barcalounger. I'm talking to YOU, Jim Born.

WHO'S PLAYING? After seeing all their competing commercials, I thought the Fiesta Bowl was ATT vs. Verizon.

WHAT TO EAT WHILE WATCHING ALABAMA VS. TEXAS: Chocolate Bacon Peanut Bark. Here's Janet Rudolph's recipe.

My final thought for the holiday season: I'd drink egg nog year round if they sold it in the stores.

Paul Levine

Monday, January 04, 2010

Anatomy of a blog post

Patty here…

Sometimes people ask us authors where we get our ideas. The answer is anywhere and everywhere. A newspaper account of a young boy searching for his mother inspired our very own Paul Levine to write Illegal. We may have family members who served in WWI, which stirred Jacqueline Winspear to pen the Maisie Dobbs series. Some authors write about personal experiences as did James O. Born in his modern day and futuristic law enforcement novels, the latest being The Human Disguise. In his spare time, I hope Ridley Pearson writes a book based on his experiences teaching writing in China.

When you’re working on a novel, the ideas have time to percolate and mature, but when you’re blogging once a week, there’s often very little time for even thinking. Sometime my head is full of ideas and sometimes it feels rather empty…like today when I’m supposed to post tomorrow morning and have not a single idea rolling around in my head.

I can’t speak for other bloggers, but coming up with a topic once a week is challenging. Sometimes I read a tidbit in the newspaper that I think will make for an interesting piece, like the woman and her screaming 2-year-old child who were thrown off a Southwest Airlines flight (Don’t worry. The airplane hadn’t taken off yet.) Afterward, mom Pamela Root threw a hissy fit and demand that the airline apologize and give her some hush money, which they did. If the unrelenting screams of your child are so loud that other passengers can’t hear the safely video, as happened in this case, I’m not sure who owes whom an apology. Most of us have been on an airplane with a screamer. It’s torture. After I read about the incident, I thought about asking you Naked Readers for your opinion, but never did.

Often I write about something I’ve done over the weekend but it was a lazy few days with the holidays and all, and I doubt anyone wants to read about my trip to the grocery store or my foray into the backyard to sweep leaves, even though I find herding leaves meditative. It’s a time away from computers and telephones, a time to think and breathe outside air. If it’s so meditative, you’d think it would help me come up with a blog topic but nope.

I thought I might complain about the voice recorder I got for Christmas that was supposed to be idiot proof but resists my every attempt to set the time even though I follow the instructions. Why do I even need digitally recorded time? I’m perfectly willing to say: “It’s January 1, 2010 at 11: 25 a.m. and I’m walking along Westwood Boulevard thinking about what Davie wants in this scene.” Why can’t gadgets be simple anymore? Why can’t voice recorders just record sound? Now I have to establish folders and all sorts of other fancy crap that I don’t want or need. All I want to do is record, erase, record. I decided not to talk about this topic because I sounded ungrateful and whiny.

Tell me if this floats your boat—stupid street signs. I even snapped a photo to illustrate my point. Can anybody figure out when you are allowed to park on this street? There’s another trend I see creeping into my neighborhood. Speed bumps are now called humps. What’s the difference between a speed bump and a speed hump anyway? Life is complicated enough. Let’s decide if it’s a bump or a hump and stick with the program.

Oh boy! Will somebody please save me from this mental fog and tell me what to write about?

Happy New Year!

Friday, January 01, 2010

And We're Off ....

from Jacqueline

The year is but an infant, thus it is time, methinks, to set the stage for 2010. Of course, I can’t do this for anyone else, or the world; I can only look at my own life and how I would have it be. And I’ve given up on resolutions. I would rather think of those vows I make to myself about the year ahead, as intentions. A few of those intentions affect only me, but some, if I think about it, could ripple out and touch others. So, here’s a start, off the cuff, because I’ve only just begun to really think about it.

This year it is my intention to laugh a lot more. I want to find and create more reasons to laugh, to join others in laughter and create reasons for others to laugh too. I made a good start a few days ago when, at the end of a long walk with my dog, I came off the trail and, as I approached my car thought, “Funny, I could have sworn I locked it ....” I shrugged, and opened the back passenger door of my "older model" black Volvo V70 (which in itself is strange – I usually open the tailgate first so the dog can leap up into her place). It was only as my dear, wet, muddy Labrador leaped across the back seat into the Her Place that I saw the child seat. I do not have children. And this wasn’t my car. More to the point, my dog – formerly of the LA County Shelter – was clearly determined to stay in the car until we reached home. Any attempt to coax her out fell on deaf ears and a determined look in her eye that seemed to say, “Oh, yeah, I know, been there, done that – you’re going to abandon me here!!” I couldn’t help it – I saw the Lucille Ball situation for what it was, and started to giggle as I raced around to the back of the car, opened the door and - laughing my head off by now - dragged the poor mutt out by the collar. I slammed the door and almost threw her into the back of my own old black Volvo V70, which was parked just a few yards away. I drove away as if I'd just lifted a few hundredweight of diamonds. It was only when we pulled into the driveway that I realized my new reading glasses had dropped out of my pocket in the fray, obviously on the back seat of the other car. I know, it may not seem funny, but if you’d’ve been there ....

It is my intention to relax more – not in a sit about and lollygag kind of way, but in a kind of “Hey – no problem” manner. Yesterday afternoon I went along to the local grocery store to grab a few last-minute items for dinner last night – we had friends coming round. I only had about five things in my basket, and when I got to the checkouts there were fairly long lines and people were getting tetchy. The express check-outs were out of order, which was leading to some complaints filling the air. Book tours and security lines have taught me more about the power of Zen thinking than the Buddhist temple ever could. I picked the shortest line, and happened to be behind a woman with a cart filled to the brim with groceries. She began to apologize profusely, saying she was in a hurry, or she would let me go first. She started loading up the conveyor belt at breakneck speed, afraid she was holding everyone up. “Hey, that’s no problem – take your time,” I said. “I’m ending this year the way I want to go through the next – just taking it easy. I’m in no hurry.” When she left she turned and said, “You’ve just given me my new year’s resolution. Just relax.”

I hope I can stick to that one.

I intend to be very careful with resources. While I was in the UK in November, I read an article in which a leading conservationist was being interviewed. She pointed out that there is this belief that the more we recycle, the more we can pat ourselves on the back for our efforts at saving the planet. Trouble is, this has led us to play fast and loose with our resources. The more we recycle, the more we show that we are not really grasping what’s at stake. Instead simply thowing all those plastic bottles into the recyling can, for example, we should be utilizing re-useable bottles. More packaging means more landfill. So, with that, concerning all resources I intend to be even more mindful than I am already. Frankly, I can’t remember the last time I bought water in a plastic bottle, but I know I buy too many things with packaging that goes straight into the recycling or the trash. And though I also know this sort of decision, if taken up by thousands, has repercussions on the companies that make Styrofoam peanuts and the like - something has to give. So, yes, Mindfulness With Resources.

It is also my intention to truly consider what it means to have enough. I think I’ve written on that subject before. I am a truly blessed person, in my estimation. I get to tell stories for a living, and I get to have food on my plate several times a day. I have enough clothes to last me a long time, and the fact that I have two horses represents my big childhood dream coming true. In fact, just about all my dreams have come true in my middle years, which I think is just amazing in and of itself. I might have been in danger of taking it all for granted, had I been younger. As it is I give thanks every single day for these blessings – for family, for meaningful work, for dreams come true and needs met. I have enough, and I intend to remember that.

If you’ve been to the movies lately, you may have seen that advertisement for St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. That ad always touches my heart, especially with the message, “Give thanks ....” There is so much power in gratitude. I know I’m repeating myself here, but I intend to give thanks every single day for my blessings. If I can help someone else have reasons to love life a little bit more – then bring it on! And while I'm at it, God Bless children everywhere, especially those in war zones - whether their particular war is in a hospital, in front of an empty plate, within a battle-scarred community or an abusive home.

Thank you for joining us at Naked Authors throughout 2009. We have great fun with this blog – whether we’re moaning, groaning, sharing, joking or just telling stories. It’s great to be on this ride, and great to have you along with us.

Happy New Year! May you be blessed with many, many reasons to give thanks this year and always.

Now it's your turn - what are your intentions and resolutions?