Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Quick Bites...100 Words on My Favorite Athlete

From the messy desk of Paul Levine...

My pal Joe Posnanski is one of America's leading sportswriters and has the awards to prove it.  He also writes a fun blog called simply, "Joe Blogs."

He's asking a bunch of people to write 100 words or less on "My Favorite Athlete."  Yesterday, renowned actor Joe Mantegna, true to his Chicago roots, chose Ernie Banks, the greatest Cub of them all. 

About 10 years ago, I had the pleasure of working with Mantegna on the short-lived "First Monday," a show I co-created with Don Bellisario.  To this day, I insist the show would have lasted past the first season, had CBS broadcast it on Mondays, instead of Fridays.  (The show was inspired by my Supreme Court novel, "Impact."  Long out of print, the book is nonetheless available as an ebook on Kindle.  The show, alas, is not available on DVD or on Amazon Instant Video.
Meanwhile, Joe Posnanski has asked for my favorite athlete.  My quick bite -- and it runs exactly 100 words -- is here:

As a teenager, Mike Reid turned down a car for a piano.

As a 27-year-old, he gave up football for his music.

He’s likely the only person who’s in both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, who played in the Pro Bowl and won a Grammy Award.

A defensive tackle, he graduated with a music degree from Penn State, where we were classmates in the late 1960's. (He also wrestled heavyweight with distinction). He retired from the Cincinnati Bengals after the 1974 season to write and record music. Again...with distinction.


And now...
I knew Mike pretty well at Penn State where I was sports editor of The Daily Collegian, but we have long since lost touch.  More about him on Wikipedia.
I'm off later today for three weeks in Colorado, so there may be silence from this end.  If anyone wants to recommend any books to read on vacation, I'm open to suggestions.


Friday, July 26, 2013

A Quick Message

You think that last post was a message from a messy desk (that of Paul Levine)?  Well, this is a message from the even messier desk of Jacqueline Winspear.  By the time I have finished the first draft of a new novel, my whole house looks like a bomb has hit it - and I mean, really, there are books everywhere, note pads, two laptops, bits of paper left here and there.  The dog takes refuge under my desk, because it's the only place she can find on the floor!

So today there will be no real post, because as of about five minutes ago I pressed "Send" on an email to my editor which contained an attachment - the just-finished first draft of my new novel, which if she likes it will be published next summer.  I am just exhausted. The tension around writing this novel has given me heartburn and I am quite emotional all the time.  This is what writing does to you - just wrecks the system!  And by the way, when I say "first draft" believe me, there has been no fiddling through several drafts here - I wish I had the time!  No, this is the clay on the wheel.  Most writers do many more drafts before sending in a ms, but my editor doesn't mind receiving the first draft.  About four books ago, after reading through the ms, she asked me to write in a certain scene that was just alluded to in the narrative.  "Oh, I've got that already," I said.  "But I cut it out."  She asked what else I had cut, and decided that for the most part I'd cut out a fair bit of stuff she liked.  So, I am on strict instructions not to go into a big revision because she doesn't trust my scissoring! 

Now I am going to make myself a nice cup of tea and then go back to the Book Passage Mystery Writers' Conference in Corte Madera, CA - luckily, it's not far from where I live.  I'm Co-chair, which is a great honor, and I get to hang out with some terrific new writers, and some pretty good established ones too!  Then I'll come home and nap.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Royal Birth, The Pope, and Whitey Bulger

From the messy desk of Paul Levine...

I know Patty disagrees with me.

I don't know what our Brit, Jackie, thinks.

I don't care what Jim Born thinks.

But here's my take on the Royal Birth (as well as every Royal Marriage, Royal Visit, and Royal Poop).

I don't care.

The British surrendered at Yorktown.  The Treaty of Paris of 1783 specifically states (if I recall my sixth grade history) that we don't have to care.

Meanwhile, as I write this, Pope Francis is riding down the streets of Rio de Janeiro in an SUV, thronged by well-wishers, as he tosses free condoms to the crowd.  Okay, I made that last part up.

The New York Times reported today that rampant inflation in Brazil (a cheese pizza costs 30 bucks) has folks outraged. 

Yes, it is still "The" New York Times.  Down here in Miami, the daily papyrus has dropped "The" from its name, so that it's now just "Miami Herald."  (I thought they were saving ink but one of my Facebook punster friends said they were cutting "articles.").

Man, I'm rambling today with random thoughts.

I'm so glad the federal courts don't allow televising trials, or I'd spend every waking moment watching the Whitey Bulger case in Boston.  George V. Higgins couldn't make this one up.  What writer of legal thrillers would ever have a member of the gallery leap to his feat and proclaim "That's a fucking lie!"  Well, it just happened.

Or how about this matter-of-fact reporting on the testimony of Stephen (The Rifleman) Flemmi.        

"Once she was dead, Mr. Flemmi said he assumed his usual role, taking the corpse to the basement and removing her clothes and teeth while Mr. Bulger took a nap."
CNN.com's coverage is very good, and you can find it here. 
What's new?  On Sunday night at 8 p.m. Eastern on "Pulp Friction," I'll be interviewing Vicki Hendricks, queen of sexy noir.  You can listen and call in here.
Finally, those crazy kids at Amazon are running a sale this week and next.  I woke up the other day to find out they've reduced the price of the Kindle version of "The Deep Blue Alibi" to 99 cents.  What a deal.  You'll find it here. 
I'll be traveling the next three weeks, so until then, just assume your usual roles.

Monday, July 22, 2013

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky.”*

*—Thich Nhat Hanh

Patty here

You know how it goes. You’re looking for something and you stumble across something else. That’s what happened to me last week. I was looking for a glue stick and stumbled onto a hodgepodge of old photos in one of my seldom-used craft boxes. Why I put them there, I’ll never know.

Some of the pictures I didn’t remember I had: my high school graduating class at our ten-year reunion. Some were photos I’d looked for but couldn’t find, like those taken at my first book signing at Dutton’s in Brentwood. I unearthed pictures of an old boyfriend or two, and spent a moment wondering where they were now and how gracefully they had aged. I also found a few miscellaneous items like a program from the funeral of my friend Nick and a haiku my friend Kath wrote after my beloved Tigger Boo died.

Tigger Boo

Many pictures were from my travels. Some were ghostly shots of landscapes I can no longer identify. A few were duplicates. In most of them the color had faded. I suppose I should dump the whole lot. They are just my memories not the key to unlocking world peace. When I go, the pictures will go, too, into somebody’s recycling bin.

But when I lingered to study various shots, I experienced flashes of emotion, remembering the circumstances surrounding each photo. A crushing weight pressed down on my chest when I came across a picture of Nick. It was taken at a book signing in Seattle for my first novel. His cancer had so ravaged his body that I barely recognized him. Despite his illness, he vowed to come to see me even if he had to travel there on a gurney. He died shortly after that. The funeral program I mentioned above was for his service.

The picture below was taken at the Tokyo airport many years ago. I’d just arrived after a trip to China, which was one of the most mind-bending journeys I have ever taken. In that photo I seem so young and hopeful. And dorky. Those socks! Okay, so they matched my blue button-down Oxford shirt, but seriously.

But I didn’t feel dorky back then. Seeing my expression I remembered how alive I felt and dazzled by the people and places I had seen: the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the terra cotta soldiers at Xian, the young man who shouted to me from the second floor window of a Beijing apartment, asking if I would write out Rocky Mountains in English for him. He had watched a TV program about the area and wanted to see what the words looked like.

I also found pictures of a long ago trip to Phuket, Thailand. In 2004, years after I’d been there, those beautiful tranquil beaches were obliterated by a tsunami caused by an earthquake in the Indian Ocean. Around 5,300 people were killed nationwide. Nearly 250 of the dead were in Phuket, many of them tourists like me. A few years after that I saw the movie HEREAFTER. The film began with a terrifying scene of a tsunami. I had stayed in a hotel on the beach much like the one in the movie, so the thought of "what if" still haunts me.

Scene from Hereafter

So what do old pictures have to do with writing? Everything. One of the challenges we face as scribblers is to imbue our characters with real emotions. We sit at our computers and struggle to write about how our acrophobic hero feels on the 117th floor of a swaying high-rise. All of us have experienced fear, sadness and joy but sometimes we intellectualize our emotions. We’ve been schooled to be stoic. It’s safer that way, both at work and at home. However, when we’re writing, the feelings have to be raw and on the page in order for readers to be moved. Perhaps one way to get out of our heads and into our guts is through the stories behind our fading photographs.

Happy Monday!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Writing - Another Metaphor or Two

from Jacqueline

Following on from Patty's "fixer upper" metaphor for revision - and I'm thinking of calling her in as the general contractor to consult on my current manuscript in progress - I thought I would share a few metaphors that cross my mind as I go through this process of writing.  Most mornings, early, I walk in the hills near my home with my friend, Kas, along with my dog, Maya, and we talk a fair bit about our work, what we're up to.  She tells me about her challenges, and I tell her about mine.  Then we go on about how we both need new hiking shoes because, heck, it must be these shoes that are causing the aches in the joints these days.  Couldn't be anything to do with age, could it?

I am almost done with the first draft of the manuscript which I hope will become my next published book. It's been a new experience for me - for a start, it's not a mystery, so the novel has a different rhythm, as well as completely new characters to reveal. And I've had to get to know them in a different way, because there will be no series, so it's not going to happen over time and subsequent books.  So, there have been some phases where I've felt very insecure.  As I explained to Kas, the way I feel reminds me of a story told to me by an old friend, a skipper of rather large sailing yachts - OK, they were probably technically ships - in the Caribbean. And OK, just to be completely honest, he was my ex-husband.  He had some great stories, but I often remember this one at various stages in writing a novel.

When the yacht was in dock there was always a fair bit of work to be done - classic wooden sailing vessels need a lot of attention, and often local kids would earn some pocket money for running errands back and forth to various shops and so on.  One day he (the aforesaid skipper) and the crew were taking the yacht out on some sort of trial, so they asked the little pack of island kids who were hanging around the yacht if they wanted to come along.  They clambered on board, and once they were all fitted with lifejackets and safety lines, off they went.  But at some point these children started getting very upset. They kept pointing into the distance, and by the time the yacht was a fair way out, they were all weeping and saying, "I can't see ma island.  Where's ma island gone?" The kids were so very distressed, the crew had to turn the yacht around lickety-split and get the kids back to land, where they ran off like demons, ecstatic to be back on the land they had never left before.

Writing a book is a bit like that for me. I begin the story, but as it moves along, as the characters begin to take shape, as go deeper into the narrative, the shoreline of the beginning starts to get smaller and smaller, and then I am in open water. The middle, where the water is deep, and where I feel I am drowning, and waves wash over my decks and everything gets taken this way and that, and then I hit the Doldrums and am becalmed and I'm struggling to see just any sign of wind to catch my sails.

But of course, now I can't turn back because my island is somewhere back there - and what's that in the distance?  A little speck.  So I write on, and the characters are with me now, and they're all playing their parts, and everything's in color, and the wind is in the sails again - and there's land. The end of the journey is in sight once more, so for a while I'll know where I'm going.  Then - bump - there it is. The End

Then I become an archeologist.

"So, where are you on the book?" asked Kas.
"Oh, you know, almost finished the first draft," I reply.
"Then what?"says Kas.
"Then I have to put the skeleton together,"

When I have that first draft, it's like being an archeologist who has just unearthed a skeleton.  There it is, in the dirt, a series of bones.  So, it's all there, this skeleton.  But some of the bones are missing - scenes that are still in my head, detail that will bring a section of dialogue to life.  And some are in the wrong place and have to be moved, and sometimes making them fit is really hard - because I can't chuck them out. Oh, but this one doesn't belong here - so it has to go. And there's no connective tissue or muscle.  But I'm a funny kind of archeologist, because now I have to try to make this pile of bones into something resembling a human.  I have the framework, the basic story. Now I have to be an advocate for the reader and a technician of the word - I have to make it into something someone will want to read, that we can all call "A Novel."

As I've said many a time, getting to the end of that first draft is a great feeling - but it's only the clay on the wheel.  Now I have to get in there with my fingers and mould the clay.  It's where Patty has to do her fixer-upper thing.  And it's where I have to get to work now.

Otherwise this will never happen ....

Have a lovely weekend!

Next week I'll be at the Book Passage Mystery Writers' Conference in Corte Madera, CA - great event, always. But I'll be here on the page, even if a little late again (sorry about that!)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Final Thought on Zimmerman: Read the Jury Instruction

From the messy desk of Paul Levine

 Last week, I posted this, on Facebook, after the STATE'S witness, Mr. Good, testified that he saw Trayvon Martin on top, punching Zimmerman: 
"I've hung around courtrooms for 40 years as a newspaper reporter, lawyer, novelist and TV writer. But I've never seen the state of Florida bring a weaker case than the one against George Zimmerman. (And that includes the time State Attorney Dick Gerstein charged Meyer Lansky with a crime for coming through Customs without a prescription for his heart medication). Regardless of the morality of what Zimmerman did, there was insufficient evidence to convict him of a crime." 
[As for Lansky...it was ulcer medication.  Noted defense lawyer Roy Black reminded me that Lansky's alleged crime was possessing the medication without having the prescription bottle with him at the time.  Obviously, it was a harrassment prosecution, and the judge directed a verdict in Lansky's favor.  I covered the trial as a rookie reporter for The Miami Herald and found Lansky to be a charming old guy.  Tiny, as I recall].
Here's the key jury instruction in the Zimmerman case:
"If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in anyplace where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."
I submit to you that, given the EVIDENCE presented and that instruction, the jury had no choice but to acquit.
Cleaning out files this week, I came across this 15-second network commercial for "Solomon vs. Lord," which these days is being sold exclusively on Amazon Kindle here.
If you missed Sunday's "Pulp Friction" interview with comedy writer and Emmy winner Carmen Finestra, you can find it here

Paul Levine




Monday, July 15, 2013

My Fixer-Upper Fantasy

Patty here

I don’t watch a lot of television, but occasionally I click on HGTV (Home and Garden TV for the uninitiated) and watch Love it or List It, The Kitchen Cousins, and The Property Brothers, all of which prove that you can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

It’s fascinating to watch designers and construction crews transform unworkable spaces into works of art. I have never been motivated to buy a piece of land and build a house from scratch, but for as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to buy a fixer-upper like this…

And transform it into this…

Using just my head, my hands and this…

This is my grandfather’s hammer. He died before I was born but he was a carpenter toward the end of his life. His hammer passed down to my mother and then to me. Every time I use it I think of him and the stories of his life, which I learned from her.

I’ve been involved in a few reno projects but only from a distance, and nothing like the sledge hammering, tearing down walls, extreme makeovers you see on HGTV shows. I doubt that I inherited my grandfather's carpentry gene, but there is something about repairing a mess that holds great appeal for me.

Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that my fixer proclivity also translates to writing, because fixing things is what I love most about the process. I never look forward to buying a ream of paper and creating that first rough draft from scratch. That is pure torture for me. However, once the words are on the page in some sort of order that makes sense, I begin editing the manuscript. Editing provides a delicious freedom to knock down walls, replace foundations and open up the space to new possibilities.

Unfortunately, unless you hire a ghostwriter to produce a first draft, you have to fill those blank pages yourself. You have to start. Then you have to finish. So how do you do that?






If you don’t start or you don’t finish, you might be missing an essential ingredient: D-E-S-I-R-E. You have to want it more than you want almost anything else. Many years ago, I copied a passage from a book by Susan Page called The Shortest Distance Between You and a Published Book. It read:

“…burning commitment…is a deep inner passion, a feeling of absolute certainty that nothing can stop you from achieving your goal. Burning commitment is not something you decide to have; it is something you discover is there. And it is truly a powerful force, a determination that will carry you through a huge variety of potential setbacks. Burning commitment is precisely the disappearance of self-doubt.” 

The fact that I copied this quote so long ago might be a hint that desire has always been a weak link in my process. I’m going to take a moment to think about that. Do I want to make a silk purse out of the sow's ear that is my current manuscript or do I want to kick back and watch The Kitchen Cousins install a new Sub-Zero? It's up to me. Stay tuned...

 Happy Monday!

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Sitting in My Old Man's Seat

From the messy desk of Paul Levine...
Ordinarily, I try not to fly on airplanes older than I am.

But this is different.

This will be the highlight of my summer.

I'm going to fly on "Fifi," the last airborne B-29 Superfortress from World War II.  (The U.S. built 4,000 of the heavy bombers, mostly to attack Japan).  You can read all about "Fifi" here.

I'll be sitting in the navigator's seat, which is quite meaningful to me.  My father, Lt. Stanley Levine, was a navigator on a B-29 based on Tinian.   His plane, the "Nip Clipper," was shot down in August 1945, and my father and nine other surviving crew members (the pilot died when his chute didn't open) were prisoners of war for a short but harrowing time.
"Fifi" will be one of the star attractions at the Rocky Mountain Air Show outside Denver next month.  (A Stealth bomber plus several other vintage aircraft will also be featured).  I wish my father were still alive to take the flight with me.  (That's him at the far left in the back row).
This, by the way, is the view from the bombardier's seat in the glass nose of the aircraft.  The view, that is, if they were going to bomb Midland, Texas.
(Regardless of my feelings about Rick Perry, I'm against that idea).
Finally, in case you missed my "Pulp Friction" podcast interview of our very own Jackie Winspear, you can hear it here...after a 20-second ad.  This Sunday, at 8 pm Eastern, I'll be interviewing funny man and TV writer Carmen Finestra ("Home Improvement" "The Cosby Show").  You can listen -- and call in -- here.

Monday, July 08, 2013

The Lone Ranger: everybody's a critic

Patty here...

 On Saturday night I went to a SAG screening of The Lone Ranger. I almost bowed out because I'd heard so many disparaging comments about the film. I especially relied on a negative review by Kenneth Turan, film critic for the Los Angeles Times, who didn't think much of the movie. You can read his thoughts here. I often agree with Mr. Turan but not this time. I loved the movie, loved Depp, loved Hammer (although John Reid was a bit too much of a doofas for my taste), loved Silver...ah the horse. The radio shows, which launched this franchise, were before my time but I enjoyed learning the poignant back stories of the two main characters. I also loved learning why he's called the LONE ranger.

The Lone Ranger was at times silly, over-the-top, sweet and hilarious. When the beginning notes of the William Tell Overture sounded late in the film, I felt a crescendo of nostalgia and exhilaration. The audience was made up of actors. There was much laughter and applause. Despite the naysayers, the movie will be a success.

Depp's Tonto costume was inspired by "I am Crow" by artist Kirby Stattler

Turan claims there were no avenues for audiences to connect emotionally with the film. Okay, I didn't cry but I did laugh—a lot. Joy is also an emotion. The bad guys weren't especially nuanced, but if you look closely most did display some sort of humanity, i.e., railroad tycoon Lathom Cole has always dreamed of a family of his own and wants that to be Dan Reid's widow and son.

TLR is a Western and the genre's white-hats-versus-black-hats formula generally leans toward stereotype. The film is also a comedy. John Vorhaus, in his book The Comic Toolbox, posits that "comedy is truth and pain." The truth is John Reid (TLR) believes the path to justice can only be achieved through the rule of law. His pain? He soon discovers that his belief is an illusion. There will always be people who control our lives who subvert justice for money and power. Once you've dispensed with one powerful bad guy, another steps into the void. And isn't that the dilemma facing all our crime fiction heroes?

Here's an opposing review by Mark Hughes of Forbes magazine as he ponders the negative press:
 "...Which is all a shame, because it's a wonderful movie. Let me be honest and tell you up front, I originally was excited when I first heard about he film, but as more news came out the negative press coverage sank my hopes. By the start of this week, I didn't even plan to see it in theatres, and felt it probably wasn't going to be very good...

Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be funny, exciting, heartfelt, and just full of real joy and great entertainment...

I am really at a loss to understand how a film like this has generated so much animosity from the press. This is the kind of film I would imagine critics normally rushing to support as the kind of really well-written, well-acted, superbly-directed adventure story we need more of for the summer. It manages to sort of smile and invites us to laugh a bit at some of the cheesier elements of the character's sense of duty and righteousness, but we come to realize it's not meant to mock him, and in the end we are rooting for him and his desire for justice and the rule of law...[it is] a testament to the hero's commitment to his ideals [that he] will become an outlaw rather than compromise his principles to stay within the corrupted law."
Bravo, Mr. Hughes. I couldn't agree more.
"Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!"

"Who was the masked man, anyway?"

Happy Monday!

Friday, July 05, 2013

My North Star

from Jacqueline

Earlier this week one of my friends was telling me about her daughter’s best friend, and how the girl has an eye-wateringly wealthy father who doesn’t know what it is to be a dad. He lavishes money and “stuff” upon her – sports cars, a clothing allowance, first class air travel, and everything a girl in her twenties might want.  But he is just never actually present in her life.  My friend said the girl would give up everything, just to have a real dad.  And not for the first time, I gave thanks for my dad. I was blessed.  And I have missed him so much since he passed away, one year ago today. Has it really been a year? 

My mother, brother and I have all dealt with his loss in different ways.  For my part, I have made my way through this twelve months of mourning by arriving at each anniversary as if it were an island in time, something to endure before setting off for another landing point.  There was the anniversary of the day I discovered just how very ill he was, then soon after, the anniversary of that flight to England, when I thought I was going for a few weeks and did not return to my home in California or see my husband for another five months.  There was the anniversary of the first middle-of-the-night rush to the emergency room, when I was at my father’s bedside for the best part of twenty-four hours, and by the time I came back to the house, I was sort of punchy, as if the world around me was foggy with sound distorted.  I remember when I returned to the hospital, after a rest, I approached the nurses’ station, where a new team had come on duty.  They looked at me and one said, “Well, no prizes for guessing who you’ve come to see!”  And it reminded me of the story, told since I was a small girl, that when my father came to the hospital to meet his firstborn, a daughter, the staff knew whose dad he was straightaway.

There have been other landmarks – the second emergency room rush, and then a transfer to the hospice, and in between those times, there were the bittersweet moments of togetherness, all remembered, and all honored this past year with an ache in my heart.

But this is not going to be a sad post, for although this is a strange week - a week when, if I lived a century ago, I would be transitioning from black to lavender, a sign that the mourning is over and life is taking on color again – I want to remember the funny things about my Dad, the good things.  My dad was never born to wealth – quite the opposite, and he never made a fortune – but my brother and I were privileged by the riches laid at our feet.  I believe it was my father’s solidity, his calm demeanor and his goodness that gave us the confidence to take flight and explore the world – he was man of great curiosity who loved the idea of adventure, even though he didn’t have much opportunity for adventure himself. 

My father was passionate about the stars, and loved looking up at the night sky. “If you can find your north star,” he would say, “You can find your whole universe.”  My cousin’s boys still laugh about Dad and the stars. When they were in their early teens, they came to stay with my parents.  As was customary, my father put on his boots to take the dog for a last-thing-at-night amble across the fields, and he asked the boys if they wanted to come.  They were very excited, not least because they were town lads who loved walking across wild fields in the dark.  And they loved listening to Dad talk about the stars.  They were a good two fields away, when my father –  completely immersed in pointing out constellations – suddenly looked back and said, “Blimey, I forgot the dog!” 

My dad knew how to be a dad. He knew what was important, and he knew what we needed in a father.  He knew who he was, and he understood who we were, and how our way in the world was different from his – and he loved our way in the world so much.  He had always told us to “think different” (yep, even before Mr. Jobs uttered those very words, my dad was there first), which has stood us in good stead.

A week before he died, my mother contracted a viral infection, and was not allowed to visit the hospice for a few days, so it was just me and my Dad.  He was expected to return home soon following a couple of weeks of “respite care” – but in the meantime, I was visiting him twice daily and staying for a few hours each time.  We’d often talk for a while, discuss a book he was reading or something on the news, or we would watch Poirot on TV, or A Touch of Frost, or perhaps New Tricks.  And he would tell me stories about when he was a kid – I loved that, hearing his stories.  Then he suffered a fall on July 1st last year, and within three days had lost consciousness. 

My brother and I were there when he passed away – I had taken my mother home earlier in the evening, because she was beyond exhausted by the vigil and by her grief.  They had been together 65 years and were soul mates.  My father left this world with my brother and I telling him how much we loved him, which is how it should be, I think, that the last words you ever hear are, “I love you.”

Then he was gone.  But he probably stuck around for a while, if only to have a last laugh at my brother and I.  We remained with him for some twenty minutes, then there came a moment when we knew it was time to leave.  That’s when my brother looked at me and I knew something was bothering him.  The conversation went like this.

“Jack, aren’t we supposed to open a window?  To set his spirit free?”
“Are we?
“Well, what do you think? Don’t they say you’re supposed to do that, open the window?”
“Oh, blimey, I think you’re right.”  I turned to the window and struggled with the latch.  “Hang on Dad,” I said.  “You’ll be out soon.”
My brother began to laugh at me, messing with the window in the almost-darkness.  It was a tension laugh.  I began to laugh with him.
“You know what, John.  I’m pretty sure if Dad needed to get out of this window, he would have put a cosmic sledgehammer through it by now.”
Dad was good with tools.
“You’ve got a point,” he said.
We waited a little longer, our arms around each other.
“Can you smell that fragrance, John?” I asked.
“You mean the roses?  I smelled it as soon as he took his last breath.”
“Me too.”

I Googled it a day later:  “Smell of roses at point of death.”  There were various explanations, mainly to do with the fact that there’s a disconnect in the brain when someone dies, and it causes various gases to join together, which in turn leads to something that smells like roses.  All very scientific.  I prefer my brother’s reasoning for our experience.

“What do you reckon it is?” I asked.
 “It’s the sweet smell of heaven, Jack,” he replied.  “The sweet smell of heaven.”
Today I am wearing my new lavender sun dress.  I never wore mourning as such, but my dad liked to see me in a dress, so it seems the right thing to do.  It’s the end of this year of anniversaries.  Yet I still miss my north star.  He showed me my whole universe.

And now for something completely different!!  On Sunday, Our Paul will be interviewing Yours Truly on his fast-becoming-famous new podcast series:  Pulp Friction.  (I know ....).  Here's the link if you want to join us:  Pulp Friction

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Hold the Fried Catfish and Cheddar Grits!

From the messy desk of Paul Levine

I swim laps.

I work out in the gym.

I use Hydro-Tone resistance gear in the water.

And I churn away on an old elliptical machine once owned by a porn actress named Kobe Tai.  (But that is an L.A. story for another day).

Point is...in my declining years, I still work like a fiend to stay in shape and fit into jeans I wore when Jimmy Carter was President.  (Seems most of my wardrobe is vintage. Not out of design, just out of laziness and an unwillingness to shop except at that high-fashion site, L.L. Bean.)

But now I am out of shape.

My sweetheart Marcia, my mentally-challenged rescue dog Nikki, and I just returned from a month in the woods in North Carolina.  We hiked a bit, we biked a bit.  But we fell out of our rigorous exercise routine.  (Marcia prefers Pilates and weight training, Nikki prefers eating and pooping).

Now, let me admit I am not the world's most enthusiastic hiker.  If golf is a good walk spoiled, as Mark Twain allegedly said, then a hike is a good nap spoiled.

So our tromps through the woods along the Blue Ridge Parkway were neither too long nor too strenuous.  In other words, not enough exercise.  On the other hand, Asheville restaurants were filled with fried catfish over cheesy grits, fried green tomatoes layered with feta, pulled pork sliders, and bowls of melted pimiento cheese into which you are required by law to dip salty potato chips.

Back home (where it is so hot and humid, even the cockroaches are sweating), I have discovered while attempting to swim laps that I have extra ballast but a lesser engine.  So I am back on the elliptical today and soon hope to fit into my Jimmy Carter jeans again.  Wish me luck.

Finally, here's my Pulp Friction podcast with noted sportswriter-screenwriter John Schulian on the Authors on the Air site.  This Sunday night at 8 p.m. Eastern, my guest will be our very own Jackie Winspear!  More info later on my Facebook Page.

Paul Levine   

Monday, July 01, 2013

Libraries Rock!

Patty here...

Last Thursday, June 27th, I spoke on a panel to a lovely group of readers at the Wiseburn Library in Hawthorne with three of my friends, pictured below. The topic was culinary mysteries. I wasn't supposed to be there. My books are not about food but my 4th novel COOL CACHE is set in an artisanal chocolate shop in Beverly Hills, so I volunteered to replace an author who had to bow out due to scheduling conflicts.

Meeting readers is always a rewarding experience for me. However, something happened that night that reminded me of what I love most about this crazy writing business. After the event was over, the librarian pulled me aside and handed me a note. It was from one of the regular library patrons, a man in his eighties, who told her he had to leave before the presentation was over because he no long felt comfortable driving in the dark. She told me he and his wife rarely missed an author event, but his wife's health had begun to fail, and she could no longer accompany him.

The note read:
To Patricia Smiley - My wife really (3 underlines) enjoyed the 3 of your books that I brought home to her. She will really regret missing the opportunity to meet you. --JL

The librarian told me it was impossible to tell which 3 of my 4 novels JL had brought home to his wife, so I gave her a hardback copy of the latest book and asked if she would give it to him. Fingers crossed that it's the one JL's wife hasn't read.

With all the books available to readers, it always amazes me that anyone has ever heard of me or my novels. But somehow JL wandered through the library's mystery section and checked out my book to share with his wife. Then he went back for another and another.

JL may never know how much his note meant to me. I regret that I didn't get the chance to tell him in person. This experience again reminds me how grateful I am to our wonderful library system for providing readers an opportunity to access our books long after they are published. Here's hoping they never run out of shelf space.

Happy Monday!