Monday, September 29, 2014

The Great Escape: How I spent my summer vacay

Patty here

I’ve been off the grid, bare-boat cruising in the San Juan and Gulf Islands off the coast of Washington and British Columbia. Bare-boat cruising means chartering a boat without a professional captain, and that means hopefully somebody onboard knows what they’re doing or you might end up on Gilligan’s Island. There were four people on our 43-foot Ocean Alexander powerboat, Great Escape. Three were experienced boaters (including me), so we were covered. We were traveling on the same itinerary with a flotilla of about 15 boats.

Anacortes, Washington: We picked up our vessel in Anacortes marina. One of my jobs was to jump off the boat dockside and tie the lines to the cleats. But the distance between boat and dock looked like an Olympic event. I wasn’t going to be able to safely jump that distance even with my Air Nike's. Plan B: I found a portable ladder to hang off the side of the boat.

The Vessel Great Escape
 
Hunter Bay, Lopez Island, Washington: The first night we anchored in Hunter Bay, just off Lopez Island in the San Juans. It looks peaceful, but that night we dinghy-ed over to a killer dinner party with 56 of our closest friends. The salmon was flowing and the wine was barbequed to perfection…no, the wine was flowing…oh, nevermind. The details escape me except that the two party boats were MUCH bigger than the one I was on.

Hunter Bay, Lopez Island, Washington: the calm before the party


Friday Harbor on San Juan Island: More eating, drinking and yucking it up.

Friday Harbor Marina


Victoria, B.C.: We cleared Canadian customs in Victoria, B.C. I fought against the notion that I had to show my passport. Canada is a foreign country? What’s that all aboot? Back when I lived in Seattle, my friends and I drove to Vancouver, B.C. all the time. The city had great restaurants, Whistler Mountain ski area and a nightclub called the Cave where I once saw Ike and Tina Turner perform so up-close-and-personal I could almost see the cocaine-induced hole in Ike's nasal septum. Crossing the border was easy back then. You flashed your driver’s license, got a tip of the hat from a border agent and went on your merry way. British Columbia accepted U.S. dollars at the shops (they still do) and Washington State vending machines accepted Canadian coins (kiss that goodbye).

When I first moved to Los Angeles fresh from the Pacific Northwest, I used a Canadian quarter for a purchase in a grocery store.

Clerk: What’s this?
Me: A quarter.
Clerk: I can’t accept this. It’s foreign currency.
Me: What? Canada’s a foreign country?
Clerk: Security!

We were cautioned beforehand that Canada allowed no fresh fruit or vegetables or meat into the country (Really? Even Canadian bacon? Doesn't that have dual citizenship?). Liquor was limited to 2 bottles of wine per person or 1 bottle of hard liquor or a case of beer. I always follow directions (har, har), so before arriving in Victoria, I threw out all contraband food (including four perfectly good wieners) and made a list of everything left in the galley (that’s kitchen for the uninitiated) in my neatest handwriting on a yellow legal pad, in case customs officials interrogated me under a bare light-bulb.

Canadian Customs. That's the phone booth on the left.


After all that hoopla, we almost missed seeing the customs dock, which was about the size of a WASA cracker. And there were no uniformed customs officials in Yukon couture. In fact, there were no customs officials anywhere to be seen, just a telephone and written instructions on how to call for assistance. That was disappointing. I began to regret ditching all those wieners.

Clearing customs was quick and dirty, but I felt a little let down that somebody didn’t board our boat and search the refrigerator. I’d show them my galley list and they’d say, “This is awesome. You must be a writer.”

We had to dodge incoming and outgoing seaplanes.

Look! There's one taking off!


But finally docked in front of the stately Empress Hotel. It was smaller than I remembered from my youth (isn’t everything?) but still stately.

The Empress


That night we ate at an atmospheric and delish Italian restaurant called Il Terrazzo Ristorante on Johnson Street off Waddington Alley (Who can resist eating food off an alley?)

Ganges Harbor, Saltspring Island, British Columbia: I could have spent more time in this boo-tee-ful place. My fellow mariners and I attended a wine and cheese party at the charming Hasting’s House, where I could have stayed for dinner for a around 200 per person (that’s Canadian dollars, people! 223.056 CAD) Instead, I ate at a lovely place called Auntie Pestos, which left me enough scratch (that's hip talk for money) to replace those wieners I ditched.

View of Ganges Harbor from the Hasting's House


Roche Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington: Great Escape left the group the next day in order to get back to Seattle and the flight home. We cleared U.S. customs in Roche Harbor. I was warned I would have to declare our garbage and dump it in a special foreign garbage “burn” container. I tried to jettison the bag in Canada but the marina wanted five bucks (and that’s Canadian bucks, my friends, 5.57640 CAD), so I decided to throw myself on the mercy of U.S. customs. Again. Disappointed. They didn’t even ask about my garbage. And there were foreign peach pits in that bag and half an onion!

Roche Harbor has a general store, a few shops and restaurants, some condos and cottages and oodles of charm. At sundown, marina officials had a flag-lowering ceremony that included a cannon blast and canned renditions of various national anthems (God Save the Queen anyone?). When they lowered the U.S. flag, they played Taps (Can anybody listen to that without choking up?).

Roche Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington


The next day we returned to Anacortes, where no visit would be complete without a breakfast at Dad’s (They smoke their own bacon. Yowza!).

What the sign says...

But all good things must come to an end (Wait a minute. Who came up with that lame cliche? I say, Party on!)


HAPPY TRIP. HAPPY MONDAY.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

E-books !!!!

James O. Born



Walking Money
Like many published authors, I have a backlist.  Tying several of my posts together, I can say that two of my mentors (Paul Levine and James W. Hall) talked to me almost two years ago about regaining the rights to my early books and posting them on Amazon in e-book form.  I do not ignore advice from anyone, especially two men who tend to be right on the money when it comes to all things publishing.  And in Jim Hall's case, I never considered him a “tech guy” and he gave me confidence to think that he was able to get his books up on Amazon with little trouble.  In Paul's case, I knew that he was so successful with his e-books he's become a wild playboy, notorious throughout the Miami area.  (I'm just going by what one of my friend’s mothers told me.)

Shock Wave
So I started the long and surprisingly difficult process of regaining the publishing rights to my early books, which were out of print.  My first book, Walking Money, was published in June of 2004.  The paperback came out about a year later.  Each year after that I published a hardback novel with Putnam that was followed by a paperback reprint from Berkeley.  As I've stated many times, I enjoyed working for the company and never had the first problem.  Until I tried to get my rights back.  Even that process wasn't too bad.  It was just slow.  Finally, last May, I received a letter through e-mail and the U.S. Postal Service saying that I now owned all the publishing rights to my first five novels.
Then the work really began.  I shouldn’t make it sound like I worked my fingers to the bone, when, in fact, I wrote checks.  But for a cheapskate like me that hurt worse than working my fingers to the bone.  Creating the covers for the new editions was one of the most difficult tasks for me.  I have never been particularly strong at determining a good cover and I leaned heavily on my friends, including those at this blog, to get their opinions.  As result, here are the five covers of my new e-books.

Field of Fire
I am new to e-book promotion, but I did sign up to have Walking Money in a countdown sales promotion with Amazon starting today for $.99.  That is an incredible $3 off.  (I'd do the percentage for you but it's my son who is the accountant.)  

I'm open to any other ideas people might have to jump-start my new e-book career. 

I still have books coming out from publishers, including, Scent of Murder, in April of 2015, from Forge/Macmillan.

Here are easy links to each e-book on Amazon:

Walking Money
Burn Zone
Shock Wave
Escape Clause
Field of Fire
Burn Zone

What do you think of the covers? As always, you can also email me at contactjimborn@comcast.net.

My Author's Facebook page is: here 

My Amazon page is : here






Today's quote is:


“Judging books by their covers is seriously underrated, and any book nerd who claims never to have done it is probably lying.”   Amy Smith, All Roads Lead to Austen: A Yearlong Journey with Jane

Friday, September 19, 2014

Code Red On The Home Front

from Jacqueline

My best friend is in the midst of a dilemma facing so many of us at the present time, albeit in different guises – for some time now, she has spent many hours on the ‘phone each week trying to sort out issues pertaining to the health and wellbeing of her aging parents.  In addition, a couple of times each week she checks in with her sister – a full-time teacher and also mother to three boys, who lives closer to her parents – to discuss “strategy.”  Their father has Alzheimer’s disease, and broke his hip in a fall about a month ago at the residential center where he had been living for some months.  This was not the first institutional care situation for him. Her mother is unable to get about outside the house, and as she has limited mobility, even with assistance there reached a point where she was unable to cope with her husband’s illness.  In addition to his physical and psychological challenges, he is also an escape artist. 

My friend’s parents have both worked their entire lives, plus my friend’s father is a veteran of the Korean War.  They have their own home, and struggled to give their daughters a fair start in life – doesn’t every generation want to give their children something better than they had?  So, they’re pretty much your ordinary middle-class American family.  They have never been profligate with money – they bought a house and have savings - but it’s tragic, how they have struggled to afford the care they both need, especially now that the savings are almost gone, spent on the very specific support my friend's father requires. My friend has spent hours on the ‘phone to the VA, to Medicare, to different care homes, checking their rates and what they offer - she and her sister liaise all the time, trying to work out what’s best and what they can contribute. In one care home, their father was not given his correct medication for diabetes or the Alzheimer’s. In another, no one checked on him and he walked out of the premises with some regularity, putting his life in danger - and, indeed, other lives.  When her mother complained about the terrible lack of care at the incredibly poorly run rehab facility (where her father had been taken following his fall) - because the management’s promises had been far from reflected in the sub-standard operation – an over zealous nurse called the police - who were left scratching their heads when faced with a female senior citizen who could not walk, and who only wanted to question why her husband was not being properly cared for, why he had been allowed to fall several more times while in a place where he was supposed to be healing, and where he was not receiving his pain medication.  The rehab facility also discharged him two days early, when was in a wheelchair and unable to move around - the family were still scrambling to find another place for him to go at that point.  And that is just the tip of their iceberg.  More importantly, it is also just the tip of our collective iceberg.

You know the drill when you’re flying – in an emergency decompression, you put your own oxygen mask on first before you try to help anyone else. It makes sense, and the analogy has been used in so many areas of life – if you’re weak or compromised, how can you begin to be of service to another?  Yet, despite all best efforts, our country’s leaders – of any stripe – seem to throw a lot of money around on supplying oxygen masks overseas.  And before I am accused of being isolationist or unable to see the big picture, I understand there is good reason for international expenditure on several levels – protect the world, and we protect ourselves.  But I also remember reading a statistic during the first several months of the Iraq war, that the cost of that war itself, even in those early months, could have put every kid in America through college, to say nothing of how much healthcare could have been provided. 

There is absolutely a place for overseas aid, and there is a case for protecting our national security, and a case for international outreach – but for heaven’s sake, we are sitting on a time bomb here that universal health care is just not addressing.  And I am sorry – there is still no such thing as affordable health care in America.  What we have is, for some, more affordable insurance options, but what with the deductibles, and the co-pays and the other small print, it’s not working out as affordable, and is still a major headache for a very significant percentage of the population.  Mind you, in fairness, it’s early days yet – though let’s not even get started on the cost of long term care insurance.

My friend and her family are currently the victims of domestic terror – and that terror is the truth what is happening to their family and the strain on the fabric of their lives.  They’ve reached Code Red, and it is happening to families across the US, and it will not ease given the great numbers reaching their golden years and therefore more susceptible to compromised physical ability, and perhaps to age-related psychiatric illness.  I read just recently that the Baby Boomer generation (and I’m one of them) had assumed they would swan through being seniors, envisioning themselves as always active and vital – but they tend to think about "senior" as being perpetually in their 70’s, rather than looking at the reality of what comes next.  As the commentator said, “They don’t know how things change again when you get into your 80’s, and everything gets even harder, and you need more help.”  Many of those boomers are not only now faced with their own challenges, but those of their very senior parents.


Both my friend and her sister have already compromised their work and home life while sorting out problems with their aging and unwell parents, and they’ve both suffered illness directly attributable to worry – so I think it’s time to address this form of domestic terror afflicting a great many families.  And what do we do to fight any sort of terror?  We commit a very serious budget to easing the threat, the risk, the pain, the strain and the stress.  It’s time to put on the oxygen mask at home.  A country that does not take care of its own renders itself a very weak country indeed.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Humbling Copy Edit

James O. Born

I’ve had fun as we talked about writing a novel and all the crazy shit that goes along with it. Sometimes when writing these articles, I lose focus on why I started and what I was trying to accomplish. I wanted to have a simple, casual conversation about what it takes to write a novel. Not filled with the academic inertia of the historical basis for novels, which invariably includes a discussion about Beowulf, the story many considered to be the first written in a variant of the English language. That's not to say that classes and books on the subject are not useful. They absolutely are. I read a number of books about the art and history of writing. But when you get down to it, how much of that information is useful in a novel about zombies attacking Omaha or a detective working a homicide in Detroit?

Today I'm going to talk about one of the most humbling experiences a professional writer can have. The first time it happens, the shock can be so severe it causes paralysis and nausea. I am, of course, talking about reviewing the copy edited version of your lovingly created novel. No matter your level of education, your degree of dedication and revising your novel sixteen times, you are going to make mistakes. I'm not just talking about typographical errors, but errors in the way the timeline flows or some fact you thought you had right. Maybe I'm overstating it, but when you find a copy editor whose work you appreciate, they are more valuable than the gold at the end of the rainbow or the Angels on the head of the pin.

In my first published novel, Walking Money, I had written and rewritten it at least eight times. I had years to perfect it, and frankly, I doubted it would ever get published. Then, as I slowly started to submit it to agents, I would go through the manuscript again and again, each time finding errors I had somehow missed on one of the many earlier reviews. Still I was ignorant of the publishing process and how a fresh set of eyes could pick up things I missed over and over again. Then the excitement of making the sale glossed over any concerns I had. The suggestions from my editor, Neil Nyren, were reasonable and certainly not excessive. I was starting to feel confident that I had not wasted all those years of learning how to write and then executing it correctly with this novel. That all ended when the copy edited version arrived at my door. In those days, you received a hard copy of the manuscript with questions written directly on the page. All the queries had to be answered, but more devastating were the corrections that needed no reply. How could I have made so many mistakes? The simple answer is, I'm a dumbass. The actual answer is, it happens to everyone.

Much more recently, as in two weeks ago, I finished the review of my next novel, Scent of Murder, which will be released by Forge in April. I had to do a great deal of research about police service dogs and I'll use that excuse as to why I missed approximately 32,000 other mistakes. Luckily, I have a phenomenal copy editor for all of my books with Forge. She destroyed it. And rebuilt it. And in the process, once again saved my ass.

But you don't need to worry about everyone else, you're the one who just got kicked in the gut. Maybe not literally, but if you said literally kicked in the gut, the copy editor would. This is one of those rare situations where you need to embrace the pain. You absolutely cannot recoil at what appears to be criticism when, in fact, all the copy editor is doing is correcting mistakes that you have made. Unless you're the Pope, you can admit to mistakes. It's hard to come to terms with but you will be a better person after you do it.

Now the question is what to do if you are not with a publisher and wish to have your manuscript professionally edited? The quick, simple and cheapest route would be to ask a close friend or family member who has obtained an education past the eighth grade, does not watch reality TV every night, and generally is a voracious reader. It's important to explain that you want them to look at it closely and feel free to markup the manuscript. They must be free from rebuke if you disagree with some of the corrections they make. It is a torturous and dangerous relationship that could affect all aspects of your life.

That is why I would recommend the second alternative which is to hire a private, professional editor. This person should be recommended by someone you know or be known on the Internet as a reliable and respected editor. There are plenty out there, especially with the cutbacks at the major publishers. The cost can vary widely. I don't want to even quote a figure. But for a cheapskate like me it would hurt. But it's nothing compared to the pain of readers finding mistakes in your manuscript. Whether it is in an e-book or slipped through the process of a major publisher, these mistakes haunt a good writer.

Find a good proofreader and hang onto them like they were your soulmate. Because soulmates usually aren't good editors.

Our quotes for today:

“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.” 
 Stephen King

"I do not like to write — I like to have written." ~ Gloria Steinem

“There are two types of people in this world: those who can edit, and those who can't.” 
 Jarod Kintz

“Authors who moan with praise for their editors always seem to reek slightly of the Stockholm syndrome.” 
 Christopher Hitchens

Friday, September 12, 2014

Lost In Austen

from Jacqueline

As you know – if you read Naked Authors with any regularity – I travel to England about four or five times each year, to visit my mother and of course, to work.  My days there are never vacation days – there is always so much to do.  I haven’t had a real vacation for years – I don’t have time!  I was grouching about this last year to my friend Corinne, who suggested that we should try to go on some “short break” adventures during my trips across the pond. And we know that once you’re on that side of the Atlantic, well, the flights are really cheap.  Having made that decision, we immediately booked three days in Marrakech last December (the flights from London Gatwick to Marrakech were cheaper than flying from San Francisco to Los Angeles).  We had a blast!  So on this last trip, we decided to stay in England, and we went to Bath. Now, we’re both very familiar with the city, but this time we were staying in an apartment at Number 4, Sydney Place, the former home of Jane Austen. Yes, that Jane Austen – who’s had more TV and movie deals from her novels than any other author, living or dead, I would imagine.  Seriously, I have always been a Jane Austen fan, so was very excited about the whole trip.

We set off from Paddington Station, home of the loveliest bear in the world – you know him …



… and went straight to our apartment upon arrival in Bath. Oh my, it was lovely. Everything was perfect – though thankfully, it wasn’t furnished in the manner of Georgian England, but was more “urban living meets country chic.” Here are a few photos our temporary home.  Yes, we could have seated a good twenty people around that table.








We wanted to pack as much into our two days as possible.  We’d both been to the Roman Baths before, so no need to do that (the tour is highly recommended, if only to marvel at Roman engineering).  But we did a bit of splashing around – Bath was a spa town even before the Romans discovered the health-giving effects of the famous hot springs – they named it Aquae Sulis, but the City (Bath is not technically a town as it has a cathedral – which in Britain gives it City status) became very popular among the Georgians, who came in droves to take the waters, and in turn they left the city with a legacy of stunning architecture.  I could barely keep my nose out of real estate agent windows.  Back to the dipping – we decided to partake of the waters with a visit to Thermae Bath Spa, a never ending series of baths – fed by the famous ancient springs – on several levels.  To get in you had to pay a pretty penny, which made me wish my bank account was fed by some sort of hot spring.  Having donned our bathing suits, we skimped on the “towel/bathrobe/slippers package, and just went for rental of the three quid a time towel – later, with dripping wet towels and slipping all over the place, we thought we should have ponied up the extra for the robe and slippers. The evening was beautiful – summer, warm, light – and there we were, bobbing around in the rooftop pool, with steam edging up and turning my hair curly.  





The arrival of two rugby teams also turned my hair curly, which was when we thought we should probably try the steam rooms and showers.  We tried every pool in the place, and came out very wrinkly – well, more wrinkly than before we went in – and decided it was about time we had a bite to eat.  I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant, but believe me, after lolling around in those baths, you work up an appetite.  I don’t think the Romans invaded – they waddled.

Next day we were on a mission to score tickets for a play called Bad Jews at the Ustinov Theater, part of the Theater Royal.  I know, the title is a bit iffy, but don’t get offended – it’s what the play was called, and the writer is Jewish, so I trust he knows best - and it was a good play, with superb performances.  Mind you, we didn’t think we would get to see it – tickets were all sold out. But Corinne is a terrier.  She decided we would take it in turns to call once every hour, just to see if there were any tickets going begging. It didn’t look good, but we have had theater karma in the past, so we kept our fingers crossed – and went on to the Costume Museum, which had a special exhibit of WW1 clothing.  It was excellent, mainly because the clothing was presented in context, with letters, newspaper clippings and posters displayed alongside, so that by the time I was half way around, I was in tears thinking about people who went to war in uniforms such as these.   Here are some of the exhibits.


 And this one was on loan from the TV costumiers - recognize them from the second series of Downton Abbey?


Then we ended up in the dressing-up room. I don’t know if they call it that, but there’s a room where you can try on clothing from the Georgian era – it’s all specially tailored to withstand people coming through for multiple tryings-on, and it was excellent fun.  Here we are – being very silly!





On to No 1, The Royal Crescent, restored to its former glory.  This is the Royal Crescent – and it’s gorgeous. 



 Mr. B’s Emporium is one of my favorite bookstores, so we just had to go there next. I bought a couple of books and we whiled away some time just lingering – bliss. 


Having persuaded one of the Theater Royal’s ticket agents to break the rules and take our cellphone numbers, we were on tenterhooks as the day wore on. We checked again while having coffee at this little coffee shop – which happens to be quite famous.  The owner and chief coffee-maker is an international award winning barista, and let me tell you, these guys are intense when it come to coffee.  Frankly, I thought my coffee was a bit cool, but then I read that they never brew over a certain temperature to retain integrity of flavor. I like my hot drinks hot, so I ended up quaffing it so quickly that any integrity of flavor was quite lost on me.


That's Corinne outside, checking her cellphone - again.

We hobbled back along Great Pulteney Street to Corinne, Jackie and Jane’s house, and were just about to put our feet up with a nice cup of tea, when Corinne’s 'phone rang.  Two tickets to the play had been relinquished due to an unforeseen circumstance – but we had to get there pronto to snag them.  A quick slurp of tea and another rush along Great Pulteney Street and then to the theater – yay, tickets to the play!!!   With an hour to kill, it was a no brainer – straight into the wine bar opposite.

The following day we had only the morning before catching our train back to London, where I would be staying for a few days “business.”  So, more Jane was on the cards – we scurried to the Jane Austen Center.  There were two highlights. One was the fact that they had gluten free scones, so I was able to have a real English tea.  


Second, they brewed their tea from the leaf, and not with crummy tea bags, so it was delicious.  And thirdly, well, there’s always Mr. Darcy ….


 Where to next?  You might well ask.  I already have a few visits planned to visit my mother in 2015  – I like to see her as often as I can, so I mentioned to Corinne that I would be back in December, February and April.  “Oh, the south of France is lovely in April,” she said.  And wouldn’t you know it – the EasyJet “flight sale” email landed in my mailbox that same day.  We agreed on dates and I booked our London to Nice flights before they sold out (soooo cheap!) - we’re only going for three days, but what the heck – it’ll be another adventure.  And you’re only young once .

Have a lovely weekend!  I'll be in Toronto, Canada, this weekend - at the lovely little bookstore, The Novel Spot on Saturday afternoon, then on Sunday morning, at the The Globe and Mail/Ben McNally Books Authors' Brunch.  Home on Monday.  It's like running a hurdles race.  And she's off ....

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Moving Story

James O. Born

Today we will be flooded with stories that happened 13 years ago.  This is also a tale of tragedy and hope, but not related to the importance and remembrance of today.

Humans tell stories. Whether it is about the fish we caught that was so big it took two full grown men to pull ashore or the script we write for an episode of Law and Order. Some of us are natural storytellers and others struggle with the concept of structure, character and conflict. Some stories are funny, some stories are serious and some stories are simply moving. The key for any good writer is to identify that moving story. We often strain to find the right idea. But if we just open our eyes, look around the world as it is right now, maybe do a little adaption, we can find stories they can make the most hardened among us cry.

Here's an example of a story identified by CBS-TV and presented by Scott Pelley about a Connecticut trooper and his connection to the Sandy Hook elementary tragedy.

(When I say that this is moving, I should add it is sad. I would recommend it to anyone, but it can cause a serious emotional reaction.)

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxOc7oEg-q0


This story moved me on a number of levels: The loss, grief, the effort to move on with your life, honor and friendship. It is an encapsulation of everything a police officer can experience in one event. It's also an opportunity for a writer to ask the right questions and find the best responses.

Trooper Eddie Vann showed himself to be a superior police officer and should be an example to everyone in the profession. The producers and writers of that segment showed him in that light.

We, as writers, should strive to tell a moving story. Whether it's in news scripts, novels or TV shows. It is incumbent that you hold yourself to a high standard. You must ask the hard questions. Does this story have power? Does the character cause readers to care about them? Do the events really threaten the characters? This combination makes for a good, powerful story? 

Seeing a story like this on TV makes me proud to be a police officer, as well as a writer.

The quote today is out of the usual writing realm:


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

My Top Ten Books List...Actually a Dozen

From the messy desk of Paul Levine...

Over on Facebook, all the literary types are compiling their Top Ten book lists.

When you get tagged, you have to spend hours compiling your list (then sweating while you re-think it) or be frowned on by your friends. 

Let's start by admitting the silliness of the task.  I probably don't remember the best book I ever read.  On the other hand, some people are asking for the "most influential" books or the ones that "stayed with you."  By definition, I suppose, that means you remember the damn thing.

I limited my list to fiction.  And just like a television script that is supposed to run 53 minutes, I trimmed and trimmed and came up with an even dozen.

There are well-know authors on my best books list.  Updike, Steinbeck, Wolfe (Tom, not Thomas).

And one virtual unknown, if that's possible when you've had an Oprah selection and New York Times bestseller.  (Yes, it is possible).

I speak of Tawni O'Dell, whose heartrending, searing coming-of-age novel in rural poverty, "Back Roads," cut me to the bone. 

Two choices on my list are intensely personal.  They're the books that directly led to me writing "To Speak for the Dead."

Without their influence, I never would have become a writer.  No, I'd still be billing legal clients at enormous rates and eating rare tenderloin and fresh stone crabs for lunch at the Banker's Club.  Har!

So, thank you John D. MacDonald and Carl Hiaasen. 

Here's one geographical coincidence on my list.  Four authors -- MacDonald, O'Dell, John Updike, and Martin Cruz Smith -- were all born and raised in Pennsylvania.  A fifth PA author, James A. Michener, was a "finalist."

My dozen favorites are listed here on my personal blog.   

Paul Levine



Monday, September 08, 2014

FanGirl/FanBoy Crushes

Patty here

Is there anyone out there who has never had a FanGirl or FanBoy crush? It’s okay to admit it; you’re among friends. The Urban Dictionary defines FanGirl as:

A rabid breed of human female who is obesessed with either a fictional character or an actor. Similar to the breed of fanboy. Fangirls congregate at anime conventions and livejournal. Have been known to glomp, grope, and tackle when encountering said obesessions.

Hugh Jackman: 'ello.
Fangirl: SQUEEEEEE! *immediately attaches to Jackman's leg*
Jackman: Security! 

I can’t imagine attaching myself to Hugh Jackman’s leg. My FanGirl crushes have been limited to flipping through tabloids at the grocery store checkout counter whenever I see the object of my affection on the cover. But I'll admit that back in his Legends of the Fall days, I thought Brad Pitt was hot.



Then the impossibly adorable Ryan Gosling came along in Lars and the Real Girl. My admiration skyrocketed after I saw him with Michelle Williams at a Q&A following a screening of Blue Valentine. He arrived at the theatre late, wearing blue jeans, a red lumberjack flannel shirt and tousled hair, looking as if he’d just rolled out of bed. He apologized to the audience for inconveniencing us. Very respectful. A hot guy who’s not full of himself? The vibe in the room shifted. FanGirl crushes blossomed everywhere.



Then I saw Thor and had to admit Chris Hemsworth fell into the serious eye candy category. He earned extra points because he had a twinkle in his eye and seemed like a stand-up guy.



But I kept thinking about Hugh Jackman's leg and suspected that my FanGirl cred needed some polish. I searched the source of all inspiration—the Internet—and found a blog post by Beth Thorne, describing her FanGirl crush on Sam Heughan [pronounced HEW-an], one of the actors in the STARZ Outlander series. As suspected, I wasn't putting nearly enough effort into this FanGirl thing.

"There’s a moment in fandom when you realize you’ve effectively lost your mind. For some people, it’s when your Google search bar truncates “Hen…” to “Henry Cavill’s girlfriend” “Henry Cavill’s ugly girlfriend” “Henry Cavill is dating a troll” when you were just searching for cornish hen Thanksgiving recipes. For others, it’s when you wake up drooling on your cell phone because you feel asleep reading fanfic. For some, it’s breaking down a Vanity Fair behind the scenes video for evidence of unrequited cast affection. For me, I’ve known for years that I loved Outlander, and specifically Jamie Fraser. And I’ve known for a few months that I wanted to know more about Sam Heughan. But Sam’s first official public appearance just sealed the fangirl deal."

Okay, so Sam Heughan is adorable, but what makes so many people lust after him? Granted, he's playing a role that has a built-in audience of millions of fans of the Outlander novels written by Diana Gabaldon. But that can't account for all the admiration being heaped on Heughan. What is it that attracts people to movie stars, sports figures and fictional characters? It’s not just physical beauty. There are many good-looking people in the world. In interviews, Heughan comes across as sweet and just a bit proper, maybe even shy. That persona might be an act cultivated by his publicist, but I don't think so. I think he has that certain something that sets him apart from the crowd.


Defining "that certain something" is an important exercise for writers. We all love our characters—even the bad ones—and translating FanGirl/FanBoy feelings onto the page adds complexity and authenticity to our writing. The why of our attraction to certain personality types—bad boys/girls (dangerous), adventurers (fun loving) or artists (emotionally complex and sensitive)—elevates our characters from caricatures to flesh and blood people. In the end, it isn't how they look that makes us love them; it's what they say and do, on the page or in the flesh, that provides a window to the soul and our enduring admiration.

Here's an informal survey: Sophia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson, Sean Connery, Tom Brady or Mr. Darcy. Who do you think has "that certain something," that je ne sais quoi? I'm making a list because Hugh Jackman's leg has already been taken. And all you authors out there—did you pattern your characters after people you know and love?

Note to our email subscribers, just email back with your FanCrush and I'll include it in the comments section.

HAPPY MONDAY!

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Positive Thoughts No Matter What Profession

James O. Born

Like a lot of law enforcement officers, I'm not always crazy about some of the classes I'm required to take.  As political correctness and different interest groups take root within politics, the policies and training needs of any law enforcement agency must adapt.  When I was recently told I’d have to attend two full days of training more than 65 miles from my house, I cringed.  How are we expected to complete our overwhelming number of assignments if they're sending us off to training which has nothing to do with our jobs?  At least that's how I viewed it when I got the call.  To make matters worse, no one could really tell me what the class was about.  It appeared to be some sort of motivational and inspirational class which, if you're staring down the barrel of retirement in just a few months, is not something that necessarily interests you.  But I found out a long time ago it's much easier to shut up and do certain things than to fight them.  In other words every cop must, "Pick his or her battles."

As the name of the class was Blue Courage.  I liked the title, but again, was reticent about spending almost half my week not attending to the cases I’m currently working on.  As the class began, I realized I liked the two instructors.  That immediately lowered my anxiety and I sat back to listen.  But it wasn't that easy.  We were expected to participate as well.

There was a lot of motivation about mindset and to consider the reasons each of us entered the field of law enforcement in the first place.  Aside from the lists of casualties, which are staggering when added up over the years, most of the information could apply to other professions, including writing.

There was a lot of information and stats thrown out and I tried to copy down a few of them.  The first one that caught my attention was that we, as humans, have roughly 70,000 thoughts and a day.  That's staggering to consider.  No wonder we are tired all of the time.  And two of the issues they brought up was whether we focused most of our thoughts on the past, present or future (and of course, the more we focus on the present, the more effective we can be in any profession) and how to use certain exercises to clear your mind for just a short period of time.  The idea is to break the pattern of constant noise in our head.  In this case, they suggested sitting in a quiet room and slowly breathing in for four seconds, holding that breath for four seconds, taking four more seconds to expel that breath and then waiting four more seconds until you start again.  Those 16 seconds can be crucial in breaking a pattern of cerebral anarchy that can confuse and distract us on a daily basis.

Another comment they used was the eighteen, forty, sixty rule.  Basically it says that at eighteen we’re concerned about what other people think of us.  At forty we really don't care and that at sixty, we realize no one has ever been thinking about us.  I like that.

The instructors of the course went on to talk about having faith in yourself and forget about comparing yourself or your career to others.  They may have been addressing a roomful of police officers, but they could easily have been addressing a room full of authors.  The complaints are often the same, just like the excuses.  The process is unfair, it's all politics, someone else got lucky, they are interchangeable between the two professions. 

Instructors also want us to avoid negativity both in ourselves and hanging out with others.  They talked about how easy it is to walk away from someone who is a constant stain of negativity.  And one of the most important stats to take away from that is that, as a general rule, people are 30% more productive when they are positive.  For a police officer that is a tremendous amount of work and for an author it can be even more effective.  It's not that hard to dwell on all the positive aspects of our life.  If you're working on a novel, you're already ahead of the game.  It doesn't matter if you're published or not, at least you have a goal and you’re working towards it.

In publishing, the seemingly endless flood of negative responses are the norm.  But you can't let it rule your entire life.  They showed a video which I've seen on TV which made the perfect point in the perfect way.



One of the other concepts in the class is that approximately 360 words a minute go through our brains each hour.  Once again, we need to break that pattern and using the 16 second breathing exercise is a way to do that.  I know, as writers, the idea of having 360 words a minute rush through our heads seems like a positive, but sometimes it's better to just have silence. 


Our quote today is: Circumstances do not make the man, they reveal him unto himself.  – James Allen