Friday, March 29, 2013

On Bereavement

from Jacqueline

I read an article last week, on the subject of bereavement.  One of the points made was that, in our everything-must-happen-now society, we are expected to get over loss in a fingersnap – just like we’re supposed to get over every other big life-changing event.  Get Divorced – well heck, hit, and you’ll be up the aisle again just like that!  Give birth to a child after Lord knows how many hours in labor, and you’d better be thin enough for spandex before anyone sees you again, and with a svelte figure and doing Bikram yoga lickety-split.  And if you’re in a state of grief because someone you love dearly has died, well, just grab one of the few hundred books out there with seven steps of grieving, twelve steps to get over it, so many days for this to happen and then that, because heaven forbid you linger over the “bereavement process.”  And don’t get me wrong, some of those books are balm for the aching soul.  But what is the rush to get people through the most important transitions of life?  And when did we forget that bereavement isn’t just a useful term, but is to do with the desolate feeling of being bereft.

As some of you know, last year my lovely father passed away.  But it wasn’t the only loss – some four months before he was diagnosed with a serious blood disorder, one of my cousins died, and as fate would have it, my father’s diagnosis came just after another much-loved cousin passed away following a year in hospital undergoing treatment for leukemia.  Then, thirty-six hours after my father passed away, my husband’s mother died. 

So I’ve had a lot of time to think about grief, and to think about this process we call bereavement, and I think we have to find a way between “Just get over it” and the Victorian way of mourning.  You see, you don’t hear that word so much any more, that someone is in mourning.  Yet even the tone of the word seems to describe that pull on the heart.  I’m not suggesting we go back to a time when one wore widow’s weeds, but it was once the protocol – if that is the right word – that when you were in mourning you wore black for a year.  This told people you were bereaved, so they understood. There have been times when I would have liked a bit of understanding – for example, the time I was a bit tardy getting my things together in the line at the grocery store because the sneaker wave of grief had just hit me when I noticed a big bag of liquorice allsorts, and my dad loved liquorice allsorts.  I was remembering the day I came home with a massive jar of them, and he laughed and wondered how many would be left for him, because, in truth, he didn’t eat many candies, but liked to have them in the cupboard to pick at one now and again, though in the meantime my Mum and my brother and I worked our way through that jar in next to no time.  Suddenly a very cross voice behind me in the line was telling me to get on because he didn't have all day.  

A memory can come back to you unbidden, and suddenly your eyes are filling with tears and you’re fumbling around and you wish that someone would realize that you’re just remembering and hurting and you want to howl with the pain of missing that person.  Instead people are looking at you as if you’ve been on the bottle since you got up this morning. But how would they know?  In my grandmother’s day, after the bereaved had worn black for a year, they wore something purple each day - it was the shade that told the world you were coming out of it, that you had managed to weather a year of anniversaries, and you were ready for society again.

And I think it does take a year, for that first dreadful grief to lift.  There’s been the anniversary of the day I decided to call his doctor one week into my book tour last year (while at Left Coast Crime) – I just knew it was more serious than my mother was letting on, and in one conversation had scribbled the name of his doctor, who spent 45 minutes on the 'phone telling me everything I needed to know.  I asked him “how long” and with his response ringing in my ears, I was back in the UK a week later – this time last year.  Another anniversary.  Then there was the first major emergency room rush in the middle of the night, and then the second, and then the hospice, but in the midst of that there were the days when I would take my parents in the car for a drive, just to get us all out of the house – and a month ago, when I was doing my taxes I found receipts from the last two times I was able to take my mum and dad out for dinner.  And it hit me again – the sneaker wave of grief.

So, I think whoever wrote that article has a point.  A time of mourning is not prescriptive.  Another friend’s father died at the end of last year, and a couple of weeks ago she shared with me that one of her friends expressed surprise that she was not “over” it yet.  What is happening when we expect to be over everything so quickly?  Strangely enough, I see a parallel in the way we treat newborns.  So often I see parents in a restaurant  - a noisy place with bright lights and people everywhere – and they have a baby with them who is clearly only a week or two old.  It’s not going to kill the child, but there is something that doesn’t sit well with me, as if everyone is so keen to just get going with life again, that respect for the beginning of life is given the same short shrift as a time of mourning at the end.

This is a year of anniversaries, and by the end of the summer my family will have weathered many firsts.  But in the meantime, if I linger in the line at Safeway, it could be because I can hear my Dad saying, “Ain’t it great over here, Jack  - they’ve even got a bloke who puts your groceries in a bag for you.”  I’ll try not to hold up the line, I’ll do my best not to snivel as I’m paying – but the sneaker wave just hit me again.

 That's my favorite photo of me and my dad.

And today is Good Friday, heralding the start of my favorite holiday - Easter.  It's a time of new life, new beginnings, and with the promise of spring, even though many of you are snowed in. Me? Well on Sunday I'm heading out to Chicago (brrrr), on the next leg of my book tour - hope to see you along the way if I'm in your neck of the woods (  Have a lovely weekend,

Thursday, March 28, 2013


Some of you may remember WordStar. If you do, you're probably applying for Social Security. WordStar appeared as a word processor back in the prehistoric days of computing when having 64 bytes of RAM was a big deal! Bytes!

WordStar came and went, as far as I know. But what it brought to the table was something I've never done without: keyboard shortcuts. I'm sometimes asked about my prodigious output. I honestly don't think I write many more words than anyone else, but if I do, it's in large part thanks to that early WordStar keyboard mapping.

What the "WordStar triangle" offered, and what is available to us still is the ability to never take our hands off the keyboard to move the mouse or work a TrackPad. It's this removal of the hands from the keyboard that makes computer writing so painfully slow, in my opinion. I came up through the keyboard ranks via the manual typewriter. You never took your fingers off the keyboard except to advance the paper. Even then, once electric typewriters came along, it was only a matter of stabbing a key with your pinky finger.

Whether you work on Windows or Mac, there are a half-dozen really terrific keyboard mappers – macro programs – available. I use such applications to map my keyboard so that, for instance, control-D moves the cursor forward one character, control-F moves the cursor forward one word, control-T deletes the next word. 

My entire map accounts for: cursor movements left, right, up, and down; move forward or back a word; paragraph movement up-and-down; end of line, start of line; delete word, delete character. There are some others I throw in there, but those are just custom ideas. The main point is that with my left hand I can move the cursor all over the page and begin typing, back up, move forward, delete word, delete lines, select text, all without ever lifting my hand to touch the mouse or trackpad.

It's the equivalent to control-P meaning "print," or control-i meaning "italics." You have probably use those or similar pre-programmed key mapping that comes as part of your system. This just takes that to another level.

One of the best applications is QuicKeys. Cheap. Easy to operate.

I would imagine it sounds complicated to train your hand to do this. But I have both my assistants working with the same keyboard mapping, and they took to it quite quickly––both of them wonder how they could ever do without it now. 

In fact, the one and only drawback of my working on the road on my iPad is that the iOS operating system doesn't allow for mapping a wireless keyboard -- but the touchscreen helps make up for that.

If you want to stop mousing around, try a keyboard mapper!


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ah, Darlings...

By Cornelia

Well, my apologies for not posting last week. Things are raucous and a leetle bit wacky at the moment--I'm pounding away toward the end of an outline for a thriller novel I'll be writing with someone else (up to 32 pages, and we're hoping to send it in tomorrow), and a moving truck is coming to my apartment this Sunday afternoon.

(Note: These people are obviously on the verge of a psychotic break. NOBODY likes packing that much. Or, you know, AT ALL.)

Have I STARTED packing yet? Um, no. Not so much with the packing. So that starts tomorrow (which will actually be TODAY when you are reading this. Lucky you, to NOT be packing. Have I mentioned lately how much I hate packing? Because I do. I really, really, really do. Oh, wait, not since the last time I blogged about it. I am still complaining, and still not packing yet.)

Yeah, the moving thing... I actually really dug the neighborhood, which I found when I was living in New Hampshire because some great-great-great cousins of mine or something built a country house up there in the 1850s. It's now, I think, one of the cheapest neighborhoods in all of Manhattan to live in, and it was a godsend to me to find a place up there a year and a half ago--a two-bedroom in NYC with a new kitchen and bathroom, a block away from a 200-acre park,

and the last stop of the A train was at the corner of my block.

(NOTE: These people are not on the A Train. The A Train is a subway. 
Other than that, great rendition.)

Oh, and all this for under two grand.

Okay, granted, it was a fifth-floor walkup, but still, it was good. It's a very family-oriented neighborhood, mostly Dominican, and it had a lovely slow pace to it. My bank branch played Christmas carols in Spanish, and a really nice older lady on the first floor would always accept packages for me when I wasn't there--and keep them for me in her apartment until I got back.

People hold the door for each other up there, and are generally kind in a way I don't remember Manhattanites ever being. Once a checkout lady at the grocery store slipped an extra tomato into my bag when I was really broke and trying to figure out how to make some rice and beans last for three days.

Downside: two of my neighbors thought it was a great idea to leave their garbage in the lobby, and so we started getting a lot of rats.

(NOTE: Why this song? Because the movie was about a rat. Named Ben.)

Also, there seemed to be a lot of fires. Like, my laundromat burned down and then I watched an apartment directly across the street burn. Which was scary. But the firefighters got the guy out. Firefighters are seriously awesome people.

And I'm hanging a lot at my beau's place, so it seemed like a good idea to rent something in the country instead of having a place in the city I don't hang out at (see above, rats and garbage...) And also, there are amazingly good grocery stores in his neighborhood (even if they don't give you free tomatoes when you're broke. Or, you know, EVER.)

And then, well, I was out in California with my writing group for my fiftieth birthday on March 8th, (I may have mentioned this. It's still kind of freaking me out to be 50. Who thought I'd make it this long? Not me... it's great, really,) and packed up my last umpteen bazillion boxes of books and photos in storage out there into one of those pod things, to move across the country to my new funky farmhouse--and then it turns out my beau got a job in LA on what might turn out to be a really interesting TV show.

Odin willing, this might mean we're in LA six months a year. Which would be awesome, but of course now all my crap will be on the east coast. Sigh. At least I'll be able to visit my books all in one place. That will be pretty great after four years without them. And the beau rocks and I'm very proud of him for getting this job.

(NOTE: The show has absolutely nothing to do with The Pink Panther. Or Blake Edwards. I just like the song... plus it's Henry Mancini. Whom the tv show ALSO has absolutely nothing to do with.)

Also plus--hey--there is DECENT MEXICAN FOOD in California! Which is about the only thing I feel deprived of while in NYC, other than no snow and the west coast people I love and miss.

So, anyway, I have nothing of great social or political import to discuss tonight. I hope to have way more thought-waves available once the move is complete, and the outline, and I get my brain back and stuff.

I promise to do better, really really really... and hope you all have a magnificent week.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Give Me Heat and Humidity: Keep the Snow

I am from Miami, so snow is not an option.  Unfortunately, in Colorado Springs Saturday, where "Left Coast Crime" was taking place, snow was the order of the day.  Who knew you had to use a whisk broom to clean the windshield?

Here I am on the "Hollywood" panel with Leo Maloney, Diana Gould, Harley Jane Kozak, and Clive Rosengren.

Sometimes, I think I may have spent too much time on too many panels over too many years.
I've been doing this since 1990 when "To Speak for the Dead" was published.  It's still going strong on Amazon Kindle, the greatest invention since moveable type.

Had fun re-connecting with many authors from the West Coast including Jan Burke, Robin Burcell, Twist Phelan, Bill Fitzhugh, and Thomas Perry.

Did I mention that it snowed and that the drive from Colorado Springs back to the Denver airport was hairy and scary?
I am back in Miami, home of Jake Lassiter, and I have no plans to return to Colorado until a trip to August.

If you're tired of winter....raise your (gloved) hand.

Paul Levine

Monday, March 25, 2013

Writing by the Numbers

 All writers have their own "process." When I begin a novel, I first list generic names and because I write crime fiction that looks like this: investigator, victim and killer. After that I add character names, physical descriptions, psychological leanings, and a dominant personality trait. For example, the need to be a big shot: the gasbag who can top every story you tell. Whatever you’ve done, he’s done something bigger and better. The flip side is what that character does if his need to be a big shot is not satisfied. Will he react with rage, withdrawal, depression, or murder? Once I start writing scenes, it’s easy to lose track of where I am. Here are a few tools that help me keep track of time and events:

WORD’S NAVIGATION/DOCUMENT MAP TOOL: In Word, the Navigation Document Map creates a sidebar that lists chapter headings. In my old version of Word, the icon is at the top of the menu bar. Temporarily, I name chapters with a helpful reminder of what happens within its pages. For example, 3: Tucker finds another body. By the time I’m on chapter 23, if I have trouble remembering a specific detail about Tucker finding that body, I can quickly look to screen left, click on 3: Tucker finds the another body and read through the text to refresh my memory. The Document Map feature is more sophisticated in newer versions of Word but even my cave-girl use of the tool serves as a compass to keep me from getting lost. It may be worth your time to check Word Help to find out how to use this feature.

CHARACTER TIMELINE: At the top of a blank piece of paper, I write the character’s birth date and continue listing dates of importance in his/her life. I ask myself what is happening in the world on each date and how it may have affected the character’s life and worldview then and now.

Here’s an illustration of how important this tool can be. While teaching a class at a writers’ conference, I asked for a volunteer from the audience to chart her character’s timeline, something she had not done before. She was writing a crime novel featuring a woman investigator who was a former soldier in the U.S. Army because it seemed like an interesting detail to her at the time.

As we assigned dates in the character’s life, we came to her Army service. The writer hadn’t thought about this before, but based on the character’s age and other events we had already established in the timeline, the writer decided the woman had to have served during early 1991. I asked the class if they remembered what was happening in the world during that time. A man shouted: the first Gulf War. The writer literally gasped, realizing that the job she had so casually given her character must have had a life-changing impact that would be with her forever and certainly in this novel.

APPOINTMENT BOOK: I use an old-fashioned four-columned appointment book that you can buy in any office supply store. One could probably find a computer-scheduling program that might work better but I like the sound of a pen or pencil scratching over paper. The paper schedule stays by my side, allowing me to make notes while I’m writing.

I assign a column to my investigator, the killer and one or two other characters that may need tracking. Because my books are set in Los Angeles, the appointment book allows me to realistically get my character through traffic and to her interviews without challenging the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief. Because everything in a novel is causally related, it also allows me to track the killer’s cat-and-mouse movements while my investigator is solving the crime.


Responds to crime scene

Closes Scene

Watches TV. 
R his next victim?

Arrives at scene

Reports live

Writing a novel is a huge undertaking involving thousands of words and hundreds of pages. Let us know if you have any hints that makes the task easier or illuminates the process for readers.

Happy Monday!

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Kids Aren't Alright

from Jacqueline

Just so you know, the following is not  product review.  It’s simply an opinion.  My opinion.  Clearly many people do not share my opinion, and that’s just fine, and how things should be – heaven forbid we should all think alike.  So now that’s out of the way, and I think I can avoid being sued …

I hate these things:

I think they are one of the most dangerous vehicles I have ever seen on the road – ON THE ROAD – and I think whoever invented this thing (possibly rolling in money now), must have a downer on children.  And I find it strange that parents who buy cars based upon their safety factors, because children are precious, vulnerable human beings – cars like this, with airbags, safety cages, crumple zones, and the like …

… will then shove a toddler or two in something that amounts to this, and take to the road:

That’s a road with things like this rolling along in the same lane - I've seen it:

Do they really want to go out on their bikes THAT much?  Why can’t they find a nice bike path, or a forest road, or something a bit safer?  Why play bicycle Russian roulette, when it could end like this:

You may wonder why I am on this little rant-ette.  Well, it’s like this.  The issue of these little bike trailers has been on my mind for a while, mainly because I live in an area where there are a lot of young kids around, many of them being transported by bicycle in various ways:

It’s also an area where the sun shines a lot, and where that very shiny sunlight is low in the sky in spring, fall and winter especially – that’s a lot of year.  And we know that low sun can blind a driver, or a person on a bike.  Here's what happened to me last week.  I was driving in a rural area with bendy roads and hills, in places obscured by overhanging trees.  In the distance I could see a bicycle with a trailer, just about to start up the hill.  I approached and – because I know the road – decided it would be best to pass before we arrived at the bend, because on that bend you hit a wall of blinding sunlight that even your most expensive polarized sunglasses won’t help you with.  So, with a clear road and wide berth, I went past the bicycle – the woman was already weaving, such was the strain of the hill on her and the bike, especially with her precious cargo of two little ones.  I passed with no problem, but then glanced in my rearview mirror in time to see a car approaching the woman and her charges.  She was weaving even more as she made the bend, and I saw the sunlight on the driver's windshield and I knew he couldn’t see a thing.  He avoided her at the very last second – how, I don’t know.  I add that I did not take my eyes off the road for long – these things happen really quickly.   How that woman and her children were not killed is beyond me.  The driver was not speeding, and he was not being reckless – but he was faced with other vehicular traffic (and despite protestations to the contrary, things on wheels are vehicles, not pedestrians) that, frankly, in good sense, should not have been there.  I felt heartsick.  And I do not think the woman with the children even noticed.

I have heard arguments about rights, and who is allowed to be where on the road, and that it’s a parent’s business what they do with their children, etc., etc. I happen to think that is pretty lame.  Try having those arguments when a child is injured or killed in an accident.  Pointing the finger won’t bring someone back, nor will litigation.  Ever.

When I was a child and my mother was pressing home the drill about looking both ways as you cross the road, I first learned the tragic story that involved my great uncle.  He had been driving along – not fast, not illegally, just an ordinary driver on the road – when a little girl raced out of her house and acros the road without looking, straight in front of his car.  She didn’t stand a chance and was killed instantly.  He was absolved of any criminal irresponsibility, and even her parents did not cast blame, but it marked him for life. He gave up his job and trained to be what we now all a paramedic, because he felt he had to try to save lives from that time forward.  But he could never bring back the little person who he would have given his own life to save, and he was scarred forever by that one moment.

I think of that story every time I see kids playing close to the road – I am hyper vigilant.  And I hate seeing kids put in positions of vulnerability – and I am sorry if you don’t agree, but I think this …

… on a road where even stronger vehicles end up like this …

is mind-blowingly stupid.  You can’t bring kids back.  But you can shove the lot in your car and go off to a park.  It doesn't guarantee you won't have an accident, but the odds are in your favor.

And that's all just my opinion.

PS:  Oh, nearly forgot to tell you - she said, excitedly - my new novel, LEAVING EVERYTHING MOST LOVED, will be published next week, on March 26th.  I hit the road for my book tour on Monday, so if you're interested, check out the Appearances page on my website:  It would be lovely to see followers of Naked Authors along the way!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

iPad Writing Hints #1 - Ridley

iPad document readers.

Because I have tried to move my (travel) writing from a laptop to the iPad, I've spent the last several months to find ways to integrate the various apps that are offered into an a al carte suite that allows me to do 90 or 95% of what I could do on my laptop.

The result is a kind of smorgasbord of free and pay apps.

Let me start by saying, sadly, the most important part of the integration for me is the ability to read and edit Word docs. I work in Scrivener, StoryMill or Pages, but the world lives in Word – – and I am forced to adjust because when my edited work comes back to me it arrives in Word.

I work on the iPad using a folding case that adjusts to various angles ( I bought it because I could drill a hole in it and mount the case on a tripod allowing me to use a Teleprompter app for my video shoots with Disney) I pair it with an inexpensive Targus wireless keyboard. One of the nice things about the iPad is in portrait mode instead of landscape, so unlike even a laptop, you're able to work on a vertical page.

This combo of wireless keyboard and iPad means I carry about a pound in my backpack. The problem came as I tried to really USE the iPad. Initially files were all treated as single docs--no grouping. Thankfully Pages developers caught on and now the Pages app can create folders for documents and those are all on the cloud and open effortlessly across various platforms. But Pages, being a nine dollar app, is not a full blown word processor (though it's incredibly good at doing most things).

One headache can be trying to email several documents to the same person. Pages would have you send the person five separate emails -- not the most efficient. Another early big problem was Pages inability to show Word's track changes. The track changes snafu was fixed with an update. But Page still can't see comments added in Word, something editors and copyeditors use abundantly.

Pages can't highlight either. There are ways around it, but hopefully that will be added soon.

Here are a couple fixes. I now have collected something like six PDF readers onto my iPad in search of the perfect one. There is no perfect one; but there are a perfect two.

GoodReader, is a lovable monster. It reads PDFs and provides a brilliant file directory storage system.

DocsToGo is the only app to my knowledge that can actually read both comments and track changes edits made in Word).

One of the secrets of GoodReader is that its excellent document management includes the ability to tag certain documents and send them together in a single email. (Pages and Apple make this impossible) The app is so smart, that if you export a Pages doc as a Word file into GoodReader, when you send it in an email from GoodReader, it retains its Word doc extension. Brilliant! You can send an unlimited number of files in a single email.

Hopefully this helps those of you who want to strip down your weight on the road as I did and not find yourself stumped to read your editor's comments, or send an email containing multiple documents. The hassle is, of course, you read the comments in DocsToGo, but you make changes in Pages. So there's a lot of back and forth. But at least you are without the ability to see the comments.

Road warrioring on the iPad keeps getting better and better. I'm able to give PowerPoint presentations, using Apple's terrific Keynote app; I control the presentations from my iPhone which integrates through Remote; I can write, edit, read comments made in Word and basically get done what needs to be done. I also recently began writing some documents IN Word, using Microsoft's SkyDrive, which is an amazing cloud based version of Word.

Though slightly complicated at times, on a two week book tour I'll take the trade-offs required by the iPad. I love the lack of weight, the 11 hour battery life, the instant messaging, Skyping, iBooks read. And there's another benefit: airport screeners allow you to leave the iPad inside your briefcase or carry-on instead of removing into a bin--a welcome time saver when running to catch the next plane.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Writers & Significant Others Headed to "Left Coast Crime"

 Paul Levine...

It's 73 degrees today in Miami, which means, of course, I'm on the way to Colorado Springs, CO, where snow is expected over the weekend.  (I'm not a skier, so this is not enthralling news).

But the good news is LEFT COAST CRIME, a gathering of crime novelists and readers that is always stimulating, fun, and occasionally inebriating. Craig Johnson and Laura Lippman are guests of honor, and there'll be a cast of hundreds at the scenic Cheyenne Mountain Resort. (pictured)

I'll be doing panels on legal thrillers and Hollywood and the movies.  My mate, Marcia Silvers, will be on a panel about the trials and tribulations of living with a writer.  Yes, spouses and significant others of scribblers will air their grievances and dirty laundry.  May be the best session of the weekend.

I'll report back next week.


Monday, March 18, 2013


Patty here…

Some writers have a high tolerance for chaos. I consider myself relatively unflappable. I can multi-task with the best, but I don’t like full-blown, crazy-ass, out-of-control shit, pounding down on my head in Biblical-sized hailstones.

I'm a writer, but I also suffer from chronic volunteerism, so my plate generally overflows. I also have an MBA with an emphasis in Strategic Planning, so I always consider worst-case scenarios and never take on more than I can manage in case things go sideways.  Life was skipping along rather splendidly.

Then it rained in L.A.

The bedroom skylight sprung a leak. Plaster puckered the wall like scar tissue after a knife fight. And it was spreading. Had to be fixed. My Beloved called in the cavalry. Then he noticed the deck needed painting and the thirteen large ficus trees and the what-not-in-pots on the deck were looking a bit tired. And heavy. And those trays under the plants? They were filled with water. He envisioned more leaks. The deck was a roof after all. Damn plants had to go.

My Beloved, who has high tolerance for chaos, believes everything should be done simultaneously. So, the junk hauler arrived to cart off the plants. The painters started hosing the deck. The flashing fixers chopped dry rot from the area around the skylights. Soon the sounds of screeching, hammering and the buzz of power tools, not to mention the odor of toxic chemicals, filled the house. Doors swayed on their hinges. The furnace blasted heat into the outside air. The cats were freaking out. My Beloved listened to Wynton Marsalis through his ear-buds, oblivious to it all.

The two of us have been together for a while. I know how he operates. Earlier in the week he turned the gas burner up to Hell to heat water in the expensive copper teakettle I bought him for Christmas. Typically, heating water is just one of the many balls he juggles in the air at any given moment. However, unless you’re in a space capsule headed to the moon, those balls must come down at some point. Later, I walked into the kitchen and found the burner still on high and rivers of melting copper oozing onto the stove. It was a Dorothy versus Wicked Witch of the West moment, but me? Cool as the proverbial cucumber. I scooped the melted metal into a bag and carted it off to the garbage can. Then I went back to my writing.

I digress. Back to the day of the Junk Hauler/Deck Painter/Flashing Fixer. As I sat at my computer, I heard a loud noise from the floor below that vibrated my chair. At first I thought it was a jackhammer gone rogue. I would have investigated but I was in the middle of editing an important section of my current novel. The phone rang. I didn’t answer, because the noise was too loud to hear human speech. Better to let the caller leave a message.

The din didn’t stop. That’s when I realized the noise wasn’t a rogue power tool. I raced downstairs and found the fire alarm blaring. My hands shook as I tore open the alarm box. Inside was a maze of wires but no red off button. I didn’t want to yank the wires free for fear of triggering somebody’s nuclear warheads.

Screaming like a banshee, I bolted outside, calling for My Beloved to shut off the bloody alarm. Naturally, he couldn't hear me because he was doing mambo moves to a recording of Tito Puente on his iPod. That’s when I saw the fire truck pull up to the curb in front of my house.


As soon as the firefighters left I went back to editing my chapter, because that's what writers do. They write. Many authors have far more distractions in their lives than I do: young children, day jobs, elderly parents, illness. Still, they manage to put words on the page, day after day, until they've accumulated 65,000 or 85,000 or 100,000, or just enough to tell a story worth reading, or as William Faulkner said, a story about "the human heart in conflict with itself." All of these authors share one essential trait: they know how to manage chaos. How about you? Have crazy distractions ever stopped you from writing? How did you get back on track?

Happy Monday and Write on!

P.S. Thank you to Oline Cogdill of Mystery Scene Magazine for welcoming us back to the blogosphere.

Friday, March 15, 2013


from Jacqueline

Whenever I speak to groups of writers, the issue of fear always comes up. Fear of failure, fear of the blank page, fear of the bogey man who preys on people who dare to string words together to form sentences, images, and – heaven forbid – stories!!!  I have a pretty down to earth attitude to all this fear business, which I suppose comes from an upbringing ingrained by the, "You Think You’ve Got It Hard” School of Parenting.  Not that I’m complaining.  And I am not saying I don’t sometimes get the collywobbles about deadlines and the fact that my story seems to be imploding around about Chapter 7, or what the heck did I think I was doing anyway, trying to be a writer?  All I am saying is, before we start staring at our navels and feeling all writerly and sorry for ourselves and our fear, let’s put this in a bit of perspective, and to do that – here’s a bit of Winspear rambling.

 As many of you know, I wrote most of my first novel, MAISIE DOBBS, while recovering from a pretty nasty horseback riding accident.  I was broken, bruised and at one point a bit worried that I might have to say goodbye to a limb I’d rather got used to.  But during my convalescence, I decided I had to have something to show for myself by the end of it  all (Voice in head: “You think you’re hurt – I’ll tell you about hurt …” ).  When I had finished the first draft, I was so exhausted by this business of getting well, doing PT and worrying about where the next penny might come from (this is America – an accident can decimate your bank account and every credit card too!), I just sent my sample chapters out with cover letters and a proposal and thought, “Sod it – what can they do – break the other arm?”  I had no fear of rejection, because I had some real scars!  And so I draw your attention to the following, to ponder upon when you feel fear, because - unless you are a mere seed of a person, barely out of the shell – at some point in your life you have gone through something far worse than this time-consuming, ego-bashing fear of writing/of editors/of publication.  

My parents both left school far earlier than they would have liked, because school was kind of difficult when they were kids.  My mother, especially, loved books and writing – and now at 85 she’s finally writing her stories, which is great.  I don’t’ think she’s scared at all, because she has known real fear, and knows it takes more than one critical agent, one busy editor or one cranky reviewer on Amazon to put fear into her bones. The Luftwaffe did that when she was a kid.

How can we say we are fearful of writing, of putting our innermost thoughts on the page, when we don’t have to face f***wit reviewers like this every day:

This 14-year-old girl went on writing despite them, and despite the fact that they tried to kill her to stop her putting her words out there for all to read.  She has vowed to write again and again and again - God bless her:

 So, what have you to fear – if, like me, you are writing from a place of relative comfort and security?

One of my first lessons in just getting on and writing, rather than waiting for the perfect time/thought/supportive person/cup of tea, was when I read the amazing book, BEYOND ALL PITY by Carolina Maria Jesus.  I was given the book by a friend when I was 16, and it broke my heart.  Carolina was a crushingly poor woman living in the favelas of Sao Paulo.   She had no money for paper or pencils and pens, so she scavenged her writing materials in the same way she scavenged food to feed her children.  And on those scraps of paper – and sometimes the scrap was just the rough edge of a piece of newspaper – she wrote about her life. 

 A snippet from Beyond All Pity:

“Here’s Dona Silvia came to complain about my children. That they were badly educated. I don't look for defects in children. Neither in mine nor in others. I know that a child is not born with sense. When I speak with a child I use pleasant words. What infuriates me is that the parents come to my door to disrupt my rare moments of inner tranquility. But when they upset me, I write. I know how to dominate my impulses. I only had two years of schooling, but I got enough to form my character.”

People have always suffered for telling their truth, some more than others. 

Most of us ("us" being people here, reading this blog, or writing, or reading, or working or playing in safety and comfort), on the other hand, have nothing, really, to fear – at least, not when it comes to writing.  Right now, I am in my home office, which at worst is a bit cramped, mainly because I am a book pack rat. I’m not a Syrian parent trying to educate my child in a cave, and I am not a mother of a girl in Afghanistan, who would like to see her read and write but I know it could be the death of her and me.  I am not poverty stricken and I can move my arms and legs (well, the left is still a bit dodgy after the knee surgery).   I am not dealing with a life threatening illness, and neither is any one of my family – not this year, anyway.  And here's the thing, we don’t have to go anywhere else in the world to take inspiration from those who have known fear and want – and many were inspired to write a good book or two along the way.

And we don't need to go back into history, either - I think we can all name one writer who just got on with the business of working with words in the face of great adversity.

I don’t want to be an old nag, or a witch about it, but let’s not get our knickers in a twist about this writing thing.  Don’t be scared – just get on with it.  If you want to write, then write from your heart and really make it worth it for every poor soul in this world who would love to have the materials and means that you have, but they just don’t.  Let’s just all get over ourselves – this is not rocket science.  Get those fingers on the keyboard or wrapped around a pen or whatever, and write what you want to write.  Make people laugh, cry, think, or want to read more.   Writing isn't easy - well, sometimes it is - but you have to tell the story you want to tell and do everything in your power to make it the best story you can possibly write – that’s all you can do.  My dad always said, “Don’t push out the boat for want of a coat of paint.”  Do your revision, wrangle with the words, and heck, don’t be afraid. It’s not going to kill you – not in this country, as far as I know, or in Europe or Scandinavia. It’s a manuscript, your work of art.  Maybe it will be a book.  And if it is – go on, write another.  Write an article, an essay, a short story or a poem.  And if it isn’t published, for crying out loud, don’t let that stop you writing.  Get out there and do it again.  Write because you can.  Write because you are free to write.  Write because you are alive.

And I bet you're glad that's all from me this week!!


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Please Take Offense

James O. Born

It is been a long time since I posted a blog on this site.  I have missed interaction with people, but luckily I have determined that my current workload makes it difficult to commit to a blog post on a regular basis.  To a writer, busy is good.  I fully admit how lucky I feel that I have been able to essentially make a living writing.  That means making deadlines.  Something I dreamed of doing since I was a young man.  

I have to make every word and minute count so …  I’ve been fine, my family is fine, blah, blah, blah.  I have at least one book coming out in the next year.  I never sold the movie or TV rights to my science fiction novels (which was the F****** reason I wrote them), but I’m still trying and the Miami Dolphins still haven’t been winning.  That’s it for me.

Great, now to the meat of things.  People are too sensitive.  I feel like I’m moderate on most views, but I can take a joke.  It seems the rest of the world has gone far too politically correct.  The nature of crime novels means someone has to be the villain or heckled or victimized.  But who?  There is always someone who’s offended.  Often, not even a member of the group I’m ridiculing says they are outraged.

My answer is simple.  I just ignore them.  They don’t have to shut up, but I don’t have to listen.  This serves me well is all aspects of my life.  My day job especially.  I just no longer want to hear it.  Period.  It may be a function of getting older.  I’m not afraid of turning into my father.  He was a great guy with a tremendous sense of humor.  He was also heavy and loved good fat jokes.  Me too.

Let's look at other people’s attempts at humor.  Jimmy Kimmel’s recent spat with musician Morrissey when the rock star refused to appear on the same show as the Duck Dynasty people.  He is an animal rights activist and I get it.  No problem.

Kimmel made some jokes and did a skit which promoted a "Duck Dynasty" spin-off especially for vegans. However, Morrissey was not amused, and he has now taken aim at Kimmel, insisting his attempt at humor was insensitive according to a report on MSNBC .

Morrissey responded with, "I was disappointed with last night's 'Jimmy Kimmel Show' wherein our smiling host managed to ridicule depression (70 per cent of Americans have experienced depression according to the National Institute of Mental Health)," the rocker said in a statement. "He then found time to ridicule healthy eating (the obesity epidemic in the U.S. costs $147 billion per year in medical expenditure).”

C’mon, really?  It was a skit on the third rated late night show from a guy who admits he’s goofy.  Get over it.

Then there is the joke by the fabulous Tina Fey and Amy Po about country star Taylor Swift.  Again from MSNBC.   The country singer was offended when the comedy duo quipped that she should stay away from Michael J. Fox's son, who was handing out awards Jan. 13. Swift, 23, had recently broken up with Harry Styles, from the European boy band One Direction.

Swift subtly addressed the former Saturday Night Live stars' bit in the April issue of Vanity Fair when she was asked about "mean girls" in general. "Katie Couric is one of my favorite people," the country superstar explained. "Because she said to me she had heard a quote that she loved that said, 'There's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women.'"

Really?  Hell for that joke?  If that’s true, I may be in trouble and have a lot of explaining to do.

Let’s just ease up.  Everyone.  Jokes are jokes.  They can hurt, but so can being struck by a bus.  Let’s keep it perspective.

A few years ago, I posted some blog about bringing “gun nuts” into the fold and expanding our readership.  Some guy posted his offense at the term, saying he wasn’t sure if I was joking or not.  I wrote him back that if I had to tell him it was a joke, it just lost any fun.  To his credit, he understood and backed off.

There, I surprised myself.  I did have something to grumble about.  But in future posts, which I have made clear will be somewhat irregular, I’ll cover less annoying topics like new technology, historical fiction, not so many sports (I realize this blog does not share my, and Paul’s, fervor for sports), and the funny things that pop up on the Web like this video that has nothing at all to do with my post, I just like it.  From the surprise to the quaint southern accents and slang. 

I hope it doesn’t offend anyone.  And if it does .. . I think you know my view on your outrage.