Monday, December 31, 2007

In defense of the cozy, take 2

Hi, everyone! Hope your holidays have brought you all the treats you desire (like this basketball-playing kitty) and no lumps of coal. As we wait for 2008 to come 'round, I thought I'd cheat a little and re-post something not quite new.

A version of this ran on Linda L. Richards' blog , where it sparked quite a few comments. Most of them were supportive; the few that weren't seemed to think I was apologizing for what I write. I'm not, and therefore I've revised my "Defense" to reflect that. At the risk of being redundant, I re-post here, with many thanks to commentators like Roberta Isleib (who pointed out the money differential), Elaine Flinn (who has famously noted, "What is cozy about murder?"), and most of all to Linda for the original space. (And look for Linda to be guestblogging here, as well, in January when her own hotly anticipated fourth crime novel (Death was the Other Woman ) comes out.

So let me start again. What is a cozy? I confess that I was thrilled when the website blurb posted by Partners and Crime, called my new mystery, Cries and Whiskers “cat-friendly tough-girl crime fiction.” I mean, it's true that I always make a point of telling people that my books aren’t cutesy, my cats don’t talk, and they don’t solve the crimes. Punny titles and cute cat covers aside, I’m not one of those people who refers to her pets as her “furbabies.”

But it’s time to give up the pretence and come clean. Hi, I’m Clea Simon, and I write cozies. Classic Cozies. My books feature an amateur sleuth (a rock critic, rather than a nosy old lady). They take place in a small self-contained community (the club scene, rather than an English village). The crimes involved tend to come about because of human nature, not psychopathology, and the sex and violence are pretty much out of sight (I rather like the description that “the blood is dry before it hits the page”). And while some of us may be using the label “traditional” to distinguish ourselves from the treacly side of the genre, I’m ready to stand up and admit it. Hell, I’m sick of apologizing. I want to reclaim the cozy.

Yes, cozies have fallen out of critical favor. They are now looked down upon as vaguely embarrassing. Nursery lit. Some of it is our own damned fault: a trend in the subgenre toward humor, crafts, and cutesiness has helped bring down our reputation. Some of it, I deeply suspect, is sexism. Cozies are largely written by and read by women. They're gentler. Therefore (and this follows a long tradition that ranges from arts coverage in newspapers to pay equity in "pink collar" jobs) they are considered of lesser value.

Because even when we aren’t self-destructively winsome, even when we are at our best, we still tend to lose out – in review space, in serious consideration, in awards, in size of advances, press runs, and more – to harder-boiled crime fiction. In part, that's because hard-boiled and noir tend to push our buttons a little more, tend to push our boundaries. Transgressive styles of art have always attracted more attention from critics and from those outside any field. They are what’s new, what is edgy. What is, in some form, outrageous.

I have nothing against transgressive art. Not that long ago, I found my soul in punk rock. The energy of the music - not just anger, but a pure, visceral cry - gave voice to my own inchoate emotions. I believe it literally saved my sanity, giving me a means of expressing that which had been choking me. I will never deny what this music, what this art form, did for me, and I reject, as well, the idea that this music - or any art - is of a particular stage or age. Don’t give me your adolescent angst; emotion is eternal.

But so is the best writing. That’s why I believe a stylist with the skill of a Linda Richards or a Megan Abbott will continue to be read. Denise Mina, too, and doubtless many others.

Along the same lines, and for the same reasons, so will the best of the traditional mystery authors – the cozy writers. Just like those other writers, we write from our hearts – but our hearts, or at least our palates, are differently inclined. We’re the ones who focus on character development, rather than action or atmosphere, writing about people we know rather than the ones we dream – or have nightmares – about. We’re the ones who go for subtlety over shock value, for the human resolution over the bloody denouement. For a bit of humor, maybe even a bit of romance. You know, the stuff of real life. We don’t hit you over the head with our craft, and these days particularly, we don’t get the credit for what we can – and reliably do – provide. It’s a different palette, sure, like working in watercolors in an age of high-gloss graphics, but I think it’s time to quit apologizing for that difference. To quit ducking the label, or qualifying it as "not-quite-cozy" or "quirky cozy," both of which I confess to using. No, it is time to reclaim our own genre.

So here goes. I write traditional mysteries, with characters I want you to believe in, with settings you’ll recognize and motives you may share. Guess what? I write cozies.

See you all – with fresh posts – in the New Year!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Here comes the sun!

We've made it thus far, to the shortest day of the year. From now on, the sun will linger a little longer. Hang in there!

Happy Solstice!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Addicted to cats?

According to this article in the New York Times, there may be a biological basis for cat hoarding (not animal hoarding in general, but specifically cats). It cites the Centers for Disease Control talking about how the common parasite, toxoplasma gondii, may make us less sensitive to the smell of cat urine. Granted, it's a huge leap from not minding kitty pee to becoming a "crazy cat lady" or even a harmless multi-cat rescuer, like the murder victim in my first mystery, Mew is for Murder. But as one Stanford researcher said, "The idea doesn't seem completely crazy."

Then again, this UCLA study looks at the neurobiology of animal hoarders and finds that hoarders have significantly lower brain activity in the part of the brain known as the anterior cingulate gyrus. The study was looking at activity in that part of the brain for people with obsessive compulsive disorder, since hoarding has until now been seen as a manifestation of OCD. But hoarders had lower levels of activity there than other people who suffer from other forms of OCD. Therefore, the researchers concluded, hoarding may be more similar to age-related dementia – a finding that may aid treatment of compulsive "cat collectors." How did the researchers find all this out? A PET scan, of course.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Thank you, RTE!

Reviewing the Evidence has come to be one of the most respected crime fiction review sites, covering both US and UK books. And they can be critical. Therefore, I was overjoyed to see this review of Cries and Whiskers. How can you not love a review that opens like this?

"Clea Simon is turning the cat cozy on its furry little head in her wonderfully fresh series. CRIES AND WHISKERS is her third entry and, for my money, her strongest yet."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

"Cats Are Not Killers, They Are Predators"

Louise Holton and Maggie Funkhouser of Alley Cat Rescue sent me the following response, both to the New York Times Magazine article that discussed feral cat predation and to my own talk/blog, "Is This Kitty a Killer?" I think they make some excellent points.

Humans have double standards when it comes to judging and treating animals and how they judge and treat their own species. Environmentalists focus on the cat as predator, making exaggerated claims about cat predation and often overlooking or minimizing the tremendous damage done by humans. At this time in history, when the human population is so destructive to the earth and wildlife, we need to remind ourselves of our species’ responsibility and consider our “double standards.”

Urban sprawl, parking lots, road building, and golf courses play a large part in reducing habitat and food sources, negatively affecting wildlife. We poison our air with exhaust fumes from over 120 million automobiles and spray 4 billion pounds of pesticides into the atmosphere annually. The WorldWatch Institute cites deforestation, due to razing forests for croplands, pastures, and real estate, as one of the major factors contributing to the loss of all birds, including songbirds. In addition, power lines electrocute tens of thousands of birds, and estimates of birds killed in collisions with automobiles and glass windows every year run to the hundreds of millions.

So, to place blame on cats as a major cause for the decline of bird populations and to advocate their eradication does not make sense or solve the problem. Yes, there is no denying cats kill birds. They are predators, they hunt, and they do so out of instinct just as other mammals do. But that doesn’t mean we should round up all predators and decide who we should kill and who should live. Plus, many zoologists have observed that feral cats are more scavengers than predators. Their begging and opportunistic behavior “has enabled many feral cats almost to give up hunting altogether,” says Peter Neville, a UK biologist; this behavior has contributed to their being domesticated in the first place over 5,000 years ago.

Studies have also shown that cases where cats were eradicated mice and rat populations exploded, and they began to prey on ground-nesting birds. On Amsterdam Island, biologists eradicated the feral cats to protect seabirds; however, this caused an increase in black rat and house mice populations, and they preyed on the seabirds. Same occurred in New Zealand, when feral cats were exterminated to preserve native bird populations; only, there was an increase in the rat population, which posed deadly to the birds.

In the end, ACR believes all animals, whether exotic, alien, introduced, non-native, or so-called pests, are sentient beings and should be given humane care and treatment. If a species needs controlled in order to preserve another, then all humane, non-lethal methods should be utilized. In this day and age, everyone should be trying to instill more compassionate ethics towards the earth and all of her inhabitants.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

My putative pub date.

Note to actual readers: Real blog topics begin right below this bit of BSP. Please read on.

OK, for the BSP: Today is my Amazon pub date, a date chosen pretty much at random (Barnes and has had my book for at least a week, as have various lovely independent stores), because my publisher only specifies "December."

To celebrate, I'm guestblogging over at The Lipstick Chronicles, a great multi-author mystery blog featuring Nancy Martin and friends, and also at Linda L. Richards' blog. (She's the editor of January magazine as well as the author of four mysteries, the latest being the upcoming Death Was the Other Woman.) So if you've "pre-ordered" (why not simply "ordered"?) from Amazon, your copy should ship today.

But, hey, consider a different option. If you click on or call one of the following independent bookstores, where I've done events recently, you can purchase a freshly signed Cries and Whiskers (as well as new trade paperbacks of Cattery Row and Mew is for Murder). You'll also be supporting an independent business!

Why not order from Partners and Crime in New York (212-243-0440). Or my hometown stores, Harvard Book Store (617-661-1515), Kate's Mystery Books, (617-491-2660) or Brookline Booksmith (617-566-6660). They don't bite, and they do ship.

Want a personalized, inscribed book either for yourself or to give your Great Aunt Ruth for Christmas? Owe a belated Chanukah gift? Order a book from Kate's, Brookline Booksmith, or Harvard Book Store and tell them I'm coming by to personalize it. Then email me. All these stores are conveniently located. I'll sign your book within 24 hours - and the bookstore will ship it. Honest.
Thank you.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Is this kitty a killer?

Look at the book cover to your left. Look at that little black and white face. I ask you, is that the face of a killer?

Now, I write murder mysteries, but even for me that question might sound a bit odd.I mean, I’ve always promised my readers that no matter how many human bodies stack up, I will never hurt or kill a cat in one of my books. But make a kitty the murderer? Well, it’s a possibility.

You see, the seed for my new Theda Krakow book, Cries and Whiskers, was planted a few years ago by an email. That email was about a prominent animal rights group. It said PETA KILLS PETS. Well, I didn’t know what to believe, so I followed the links, did some reading and talked to some people – and found myself smack in the middle of a debate that pitted animal rights against animal welfare advocates.

In brief, and to vastly oversimplify, I should explain: Animal Rights people basically regard us all as equal creatures. Animal Welfare people see us - humans - as as, well, dominant and thus responsible for the care of animals, including those we’ve domesticated.

So where’s the conflict? Well, some animal rights people - not all - think that we should eliminate domestic animals. They look around at the damage that domestic animals, such as my beloved cats, do to native species – birds, voles, whatever – and regard them as hostile invaders. This topic has recently come to a more general audience thanks to a New York Times Magazine article that discussed predation, referring to a recent case in Texas of a birder who shot a cat because it was hunting piping plovers, which are endangered. The magazine article cites the World Conservation Union as saying that domestic cats are among the 100 worst invasive species.

So, in other words, these particular animal rights people are the folks who would answer yes - that cute kitty is a murderer! Animal welfare people, and I guess I’m in that camp, say theres a middleground - that we owe something to these animals that we created.

But what? Well, to some extent, there’s a compromise that can settle part of this conflict. Keep your cats inside! It’s better for the birds - and its healthier for the cats as well. And if you think your cat will be deprived, think again. Cats are obligate carnivores - hunters. They have short bursts of energy and they sleep or rest - as many of you know - at least 70 percent of the time.

Play with them 20 minutes maybe twice a day, and you’ll have given them sufficient excercise. Then give them a nice window seat, maybe a pillow or a blanket, where they can watch the birds. That's all you need to do. You'll be saving birds. And you’ll save them from dangers ranging from poisoning by antifreeze to being eaten by coyotes and fishers. Yes, there are coyotes in man suburbs now. And you’ll save your pet from the risk of being shot by an avid birder

But this compromise doesn’t help with a bigger part of the problem: Ferals. Ferals, after all, are domestic animals - such as cats, though there are also feral pigs and dogs - that have been abandoned and “gone wild.” Often feral colonies contain multiple generations - animals that have grown up in the wild and are no better suited to be pets than a bobcat or a lynx would be. But they are not wild, not “Native” - and they do hunt to live.

There are people are working with feral cats. Some people trap them and keep them inside, but that has its own problems. What is more common is TNR - trap, neuter, return, in which the cats are trapped, then often vaccinated and always neutered, and then released back to the area and social community they know. This is another compromise, and not without its critics. Some people call it abandonment - but many see it as the only practical solution. But it’s only a partial solution. The colonies may not grow (or they wouldn't if we could get people to stop abandoning their pets), but they are still out there, suffering through all kinds of weather and, yes, hunting to live. And so even TNR doesn’t resolve the basic conflict.

When Cries and Whiskers opens, a woman is out in a winter storm, trying to trap and save cats that have lost their last bit of shelter. But it’s a touchy subject and as my heroine Theda and her buddy Violet find out soon, things can get violent. After all, the winter can be deadly to animals and people alike – and in Cries and Whiskers Theda and Violet have to deal not only with winter storms but also a deadly designer drug, s money-hungry developers and people of strong – some might say rabid – convictions. A lot of these people mean well, but as we all know, sometimes the best intentions go very far astray.

The above is a version of a guest blog I did for Working Stiffs, which then evolved into a talk I gave at Partners and Crime, Harvard Book Store, and Brookline Booksmith last week and this past week. It has sparked some lively discussions, so I thought I'd reproduce it here. By the way, I signed stock at all three of these bookstores, so if you're looking for a signed copy, click on through to them. They'll ship your signed copy to you.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Doris Lessing

Let us suppose floods wash through our cities, the seas rise . . . but the storyteller will be there, for it is our imaginations which shape us, keep us, create us - for good and for ill. It is our stories that will recreate us, when we are torn, hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the myth-maker, that is our phoenix, that represents us at our best, and at our most creative.

Thanks to Galleycat for making me aware of Doris Lessing's marvelous Nobel acceptance speech. I love the above quote, but she makes some other points, too. Worth reading.

Again, I excerpt:

Writers are often asked: "How do you write? With a word processor? an electric typewriter? a quill? longhand?" But the essential question is: "Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write? Into that space, which is like a form of listening, of attention, will come the words, the words your characters will speak, ideas - inspiration." If a writer cannot find this space, then poems and stories may be stillborn. When writers talk to each other, what they discuss is always to do with this imaginative space, this other time. "Have you found it? Are you holding it fast?"

Are you?

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Animal Connection

Dateline: Boston, Monday afternoon!

Cries and Whiskers makes the New England Cable News Animal Connection, featuring friend and colleague Vicki Constantine Croke. (She's the author of a wonderful true-life animal adventure, The Lady and the Panda, and several other great animal books.

on another front, I take on Richard Marinick's "In for a Pound" for the Boston Globe.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The ethics of mysteries...

Hey, if you're reading this, you probably have heard this basic idea already. Supposedly mystery readers love mysteries because our books impose some kind of order on the universe. Things make sense, clues lead to conclusions, and justice is served. (This is different from thriller readers - I think they're more into the adrenaline rush of danger, or experiencing a very different kind of consciousness, such as being inside the mind of a serial killer.)

But at my reading on Monday, a woman who is both an author and a psychotherapist pointed out that my books have a strong ethical underpinning. I was wildly flattered, but a little confused - I guess I'd not really thought about my books like that. I mean, to be honest, if someone told me a book was "moral" or "improving" or even "educational," my first thought would be "Not fun!" But ethical, well, maybe that's different.

Anyway, her very nice compliment led me to wonder:

Do you think mysteries have or promote ethical systems?
Can a book be moral or immoral?
Do you care if justice is served?
Do you read different books for different purposes?
Are mysteries a comfort read for you?
In other words, when the world is going crazy, do you read a mystery just to get some sense of order back?

(If you need a lighter topic today, please check out my guest blog at First Offenders. And if you're in the Cambridge/Boston area, tonight I'll be at Harvard Book Store for my book release party, too! Wine, cheese, cookies, books.)

Or you can just click on the following:

Thursday, December 6, 2007

my virtual cat-driven tour...

I'm continuing to make the rounds of the blogosphere! Today, I'm at Working Stiffs and tomorrow I'll be at First Offenders. Of course, tomorrow for real I'll be at Harvard Book Store for my book release party, too! (7 p.m.! Wine, cheese, cookies, books). Thanks to everyone for hosting me!

(and retroactive thanks to Caroline Leavitt for hosting me on her blog on Monday!)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Weighty topics

(Relaxing after New York trip)

So somehow last night, we ended up talking about female characters and their body issues

"Why is it," one of the lovely people who came to Partners and Crime last night asked, "that so many mysteries focus on women who are naturally thin and never gain weight, women who are proudly heavy, or women who are heavy and obsess constantly about food and dieting?"

"Sales," came the obvious answer from more than one of us. "Weight is such a common concern that some marketing folks have pushed writers to make it a primary focus. The result: our dream (i.e., the characters who can eat anything), our runner-up dream (ok, I weigh too much - but I don't care), and our all too common reality (the weight obsession)." But is that really what we want to read? Do such characterizations make us feel better about who we are, or do they just feed our worst self-image neuroses?

While we were batting this around, I admitted that my Theda Krakow works out a lot more than I do (wish fulfillment - she runs, albeit irregularly; I peddle away at a stationary bike and read). But she's not obsessed, and she (like I) work out as much to relieve stress as to burn off calories. (Hey, it may as well be doing some good!) Besides, I get so many of my good ideas while I'm at the gym that my husband is now used to seeing me, dripping from the shower banging away at my computer keyboard. So, I figure it's good for me, as a 46-year-old woman and as a writer. But is it a good trait for a character?

After all (and you knew there had to be a tie-in here somewhere), cats don't exercise much. And they have absolutely no body image issues!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Guest blogger: Caroline Leavitt

Caroline Leavitt is one of my favorite people. Not only is she a generous friend and kindred spirit, she's a wonderful writer. Her latest novel, Girls in Trouble was a BookSense pick and was named a top book by Mostly Fiction, and I know she has another in the works! (She has her own fun blog, Caroline Leavittville, too.) It was while we were talking about her latest work-in-progress that the idea of pets in books came up, and she sent me this sweet essay on "Animal Instincts and the Novel."

(I'm down in the New York metro area, Caroline's neck of the woods today, speaking at Partners and Crime and seeing her will definitely be one of the highlights of my trip!)

If I could, I would have six cats and four dogs. Or at least one of each. But I’m allergic. Really allergic. Sigh and alas. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t have a pet—which I did for twenty years, a beautiful, cranky, jagged shelled Vietnamese tortoise named Minnie. Minnie kept me company through my single years in NYC, and was even the litmus test for whom I would marry (Jeff was the only man who would eat dinner with Minnie perched on the dining room table). Minnie recently died, but because characters—and animals—live forever on the page, I paid homage to him by making him a character in the novel I’ve just finished.

My novel
Traveling Angels is about how we forgive the unforgivable. It revolves around Isabelle, a photographer whose car crashes on a foggy road, killing a mysterious woman who is standing in the middle of the road, her car turned the wrong way. Wrestling with guilt, Isabelle becomes obsessed and involved with the survivors—and one day, impulsively, she rescues a tortoise in a pet shop, which becomes a catalyst in her relationships.

I never had so much fun writing the tortoise scenes. Nelson, the tortoise, not only gave Isabelle a deeper humanity, but I found that when initial readers were scanning the pages, they were always fascinated by him! Suddenly tortoise lore was interesting! Was it true that tortoises bite red things and the only way to get them to loosen their incredibly strong jaws is to put them in a bathtub (yup.) Do tortoises really make clicking sounds like reptilian music? (They sure do.)

My novel fast forwards thirty years at the end. “Nelson must be gone by now,” a character remarks sadly, but how could I let that happen? By novel’s end, he’s older and probably no wiser, but he’s still there, alive on the page and in my heart. Just like Minnie.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Guest blogger: Deb Grabien

*This just in: This New York Times Magazine article went deeper on the cat vs. bird episode I blogged about a few entries down ("A Cat Shooting in Texas," Nov. 17). This is yet another side of the ecosystem battle Deb blogs about. Its a war of the worlds, isn't it?

Deb Grabien may be best known for her musical mysteries, the lovely "haunted ballad" series, of which the latest New-Slain Knight is just coming out now. And she's got a rock and roll series in the works, too. But she and I talk cats a lot. Because Deb does what a bunch of the folks in my own new Cries and Whiskers do – she works with feral cats. And therein, dear readers, lies a tale:

I opened my email yesterday morning, staggering in the post-Thanksgiving wind-down. My brain has spent the past week focused on the Business At Hand: feeding a small army of people, and keeping them happy.

The first email was from a friend with the San Francisco SPCA's TNR feral cat program in Golden Gate Park. There was a video attachment, taken on her cellphone in the early hours of the morning: A full-grown male coyote, circling a dumpster ten feet from the children's carousel in the Park, as a terrified raccoon huddled on top of the dumpster.

Recipe: take one urban park, with a fully contained biosystem. Add breeding coyotes and an Animal Control department headed up by a political appointee who, in 23 years, hasn't secured a single conviction for animal abuse.

The stew that bubbles up is called

You know what's sad, and infuriating, and makes me want to reach for my crossbow?

This is nothing new. Animal Control has known about the coyotes for a year. And they've done nothing at all.

A little history:
My husband and I are addicted to cats. Our house is full of them, all rescues. We also take care of two feral colonies. One is in San Jose, 50 miles south; every other night since 1999, we've driven down and back to feed them. We've found homes for many, grieved at the inevitable attrition, done what we could for the rest.

The second colony gets fed every night, as part of the SPCA program; these are the Golden Gate Park cats.

Last year, people began noticing something odd in the Park; coyotes. In our nightly feedings, we'd seen foxes, possums, cats, owls, gophers, skunks, and raccoons. The coyotes were newcomers, and it took no time at all to realise that the rest of the wildlife was disappearing.

People called Animal Control. Not just the TNR late-night cat feeders: people walking their dogs at night, jogging, driving. Everyone was seeing them. Since the sightings were often a mile apart in less than three minutes, it became obvious that the coyotes were just that: plural. They were breeding.

The normal biosystem began disappearing. The foxes went first; coyotes' first order of business is taking down their competition. The possums disappeared next. That had a serious trickle-down effect: possums naturally control yellow-jacket and wasp populations by eating the nests, and the insects began swarming. Skunks became rare sightings. The various ground birds (ducks, herons) were elsewhere at night, when the coyotes were prowling.

And then, there were the cats. We lost one to the coyote predation, a sweet little tabby called Ghost, a housecat someone had dumped in the Park, with no reason to think anything would hunt her. She was wrong.

Among our nightly regulars is a black cat called Dark. She's another ex-housecat someone dumped. She's cautious, but friendly; she rubs up against me, waiting while I open cans, purring when I skritch behind her ears, realising suddenly OMG a HUMAN is TOUCHING MEEEEE! and backing up. Never too far, though; she wants to come home with us.

Ghost was Dark's hangout partner when we first started feeding them. And then Ghost was gone, bits found in the morning, leftover from a coyote attack.

We called Animal Control: DO SOMETHING. Their response was an eye-rolling insult piece in the San Francisco Chronicle. They've made it clear: they will do nothing.

We've heard it all: coyotes are indigenous to the area. So? Velociraptors were indigenous to the Badlands - would dropping one into a playground in Omaha be a good move?

We're working to get the cats out of the Park, into no-kill shelters, trying to find homes for them. We've relocated some. The rainy season is coming, and the coyotes are breeding. The foxes are gone, the possums gone as well. And the coyotes are hunting the cats.

I'm writing a YA novel right now, called
Dark in the Park. I just hope the cat for whom the narrator is named can survive the winter and the coyotes long enough for us to find her a home.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

When your book comes out, your life changes...


Well, that's what I used to think and it is what a lot of aspiring novelists think. And so, since I teach writing at the UCLA Extension School (yup, I'm in New England – I do it online), I blogged today on the UCLA Writers' Program blog about what it feels like when those boxes arrive – and what you can look forward to!

On a lighter side, one of the lovely things about being published is that other people interview you and you get to just sit back. Sandra Parshall (a wonderful mystery writer herself!) did that for me today on her blog Poe's Deadly Daughters and local freelancer Rachel Lebeaux did me the honors in this week's Cambridge Chronicle. Thanks, folks!

On another note entirely:
My review of a wonderful book, Farewell, Shanghai just ran in the San Francisco Chronicle. Not crime fiction, but an exquisite, involving World War II story.

And finally... a week late, but how can I resist?

Monday, November 26, 2007

My Kitty, Myself

Two weeks ago, I ran into a very nice man I know slightly and he shocked the stuffing out of me. How? He showed me a picture of his 13-month-old son, Declan.

Why was I shocked? For the first time in ages, I found myself looking at a picture of a cute little thing that had neither whiskers nor pointed ears.

That’s when I realized how completely pets have taken over my life. When you write mysteries with cats in them, certain things happen. One is that you get caught up in the pet world, a social milieu that like any other has its share of issues and infighting about which outsiders are unaware. I wrote “Cries and Whiskers,” in part, because I was hearing a lot about the conflict between animal welfare and animal rights, with animal welfare people calling animal rights people “anti-pet” and animal rights people saying animal welfare people were “anti-nature.”

This followed “Cattery Row,” which dealt with the pedigreed/show cat world, and “Mew is for Murder,” which touched on animal “hoarding” and pet overpopulation. You start hanging around animal folks and you hear these things. And while normal people – nonwriters – might go, “Oh, how interesting! I never realized that animal rights people might not favor pets,” as a mystery writer, I automatically think: “How interesting – and what a great motive for murder!”

The other thing, much more benign, that happens when you write books with silly animal puns in the titles is that people start sending you pictures of their pets. If I’d been smarter, I’d have saved these – I could have an entire section of my website devoted to readers’ companion animals. It would have been a hoot. As it is, I have some, and expect others to come out of wallets, bookbags, and cell phones every time I read or speak. Hey, I’ve got pictures of pets past (Cyrus) and present (Musetta) on my website, it’s only fair!

Looking at these photos, I’m struck by the variety of pets that we hold dear. I mean, I’m basically a cat person. But I’ve seen photos of rats, puggles, and even the occasional boa. And I wonder, how did we choose these animals? Or did they choose us?

Years ago, I tried a serious take on pet-choice. I wrote a series of articles talking to animal behaviorists and shrinks, breed rescuers, and the like. I read studies – yes, there are studies – and polls done by pet-food manufacturers. I interviewed folks who bought expensive pedigreed animals, and those who were adopted by strays. I talked to people who loved both the ordinary (house rabbits) and the extreme (a uromastyx lizard).
What I wanted was an answer to some basic questions: Why do we love our pets? Why are some of us cat people, and others feline-phobic? What makes one person love pugs, while another is dedicated to Dobies? In the process, I got to visit a gentleman who does reptile rescue. Seriously. He had turned one closet in his house into a terrarium for baby alligators, and he had another room full of rare amphibians, most of which had been smuggled into the country and confiscated by animal control officers. For companionship, though she’d passed on before my visit, he’d long had a four-foot long monitor lizard that would curl up with him on the couch.

Along the way, I learned some sad things about people. We’re a faddish lot, and we tend to adopt animals we’ve seen in the movies (particularly some dog breeds) without paying any attention to their temperaments – or ours. But along the way, I also learned some wonderful things about pet love. It’s as blind as human love. To the adoring heart, a budgie and a boa can be equally adorable, and the company of a cool, calm, and beautiful reptile can provide as much solace to a lizard lover as the kneading purr of my Musetta does for me. Ultimately, whether we choose our pets – or our pets choose us – the connection is as deep and real as any other emotional bond. Declan’s dad may disagree, but just wait till Declan gets his first puppy.

So I’ve got to ask: Do you have a pet? How did you end up with that particular animal? Or maybe the real question is, how did your pet end up with you?

* A version of this blog originally appeared on Writers Plot, but it's a topic near and dear to me, so I thought I'd repost here.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A cat shooting in Texas

Now that I have your attention, let me state for the record: I would never shoot a cat in one of my books (and certainly never in real life). I may have multiple human victims in my mysteries, but all my cats have happy endings (and if I ruin some of the suspense for readers by saying that, so be it. I don't like reading books in which animals are harmed, and as a reader, I'd want to know that.)

But there's a case in Texas that has been on my mind, and those of animal lovers everywhere. In brief, a bird lover, seeking to protect the endangered piping plover, shot a cat he saw hunting the plovers. He was charged with animal cruelty. Cat lovers have been outraged – and so have bird lovers, who say that the animals we have introduced into the environment (i.e., cats that roam free) are threatening birds and other elements of the delicate native ecosystem. As much as I am pro-feline, I have to admit it's a complicated issue. This story is particularly of interest to me because this conflict – animal welfare (i.e., the pro-cat side) vs. animal rights (often the folks on the side of native species, and sometimes anti-domestic animal) – is at the core of my soon-to-be-released mystery, Cries and Whiskers.

Today, this particular tragedy may be at an end. Yesterday, a judge announced a mistrial, after the jury declared that it was "hopelessly deadlocked," according to this story in The New York Times. One big legal issue in the case was the question of whether or not the cat, which lived beneath a toll bridge, was "owned." According to an outdated Texas law, only "owned" animals – that is, not ferals – are protected under state animal cruelty laws. Ferals, that is, genetically domestic animals such as cats, dogs, pigs, etc., that have been abandoned by their owners, lost, or simply bred and colonized in the wild, are not. The feline victim in Texas had lived under the bridge, i.e., "outdoors," but had been given food and toys by the caretaker of the bridge.

The outcome may be as good as was possible in one way: The uproar about the case has caused Texas to change its animal cruelty law, removing the requirement that a cat be "owned" in order to be protected by law. And while nothing will bring that poor grey-and-white tabby back, or console the toll-bridge caretaker who fed, played with, and clearly loved him, at least Texas has taken a smart legal step. And maybe brought an important debate to light.

My take is that a reasonable truce is possible. For our beloved pets' own safety, as well as for that of their prey, I'd rather all cats be kept in happy, safe, and loving homes. I also hope that abandoned and lost pets can be rescued, and replaced into loving homes. But I also believe in, and support, TNR – trap, neuter, return – of feral cats. Truly feral cats, which have never known human love, usually cannot be made into happy housepets. The best resolution, therefore, seems to be to keep them disease free (trapped ferals are given shots), fed, and also neutered, so that their numbers don't increase. Of course, some people think differently. They see letting cats out as part of their contract with these little tigers, and they take the death of their prey as part of nature's deal. And, of course, as long as people keep dumping pets, letting unwanted cats and dogs loose so they can "fend for themselves," the problem won't disappear. And cases like this one in Texas will keep happening.

What do you think? Do you keep your cats in or let them out? How would you have ruled, had you been on that jury? Can you come up with a better resolution?

* * *
On another note, entirely, I guestblogged over at Writers Plot, today, talking about the the role of our pets in our lives – and why we love the pets we do. Thanks to the marvelous mystery writers who keep this blog going for the opportunity!

Monday, November 12, 2007

The last days of Kay Scarpetta?

I didn't mean to bring this up on Veteran's Day, but perhaps it is appropriate. After all, today as we remember those who have served to protect our country in real life, it isn't that far a leap to look at those who work to protect us in their fictional worlds as well.

Today, I'm wondering: Is Patricia Cornwell's forensic protagonist Kay Scarpetta too far gone? Has she been hounded, wounded, pushed beyond sympathy? That's a question I was mulling as I wrote this review of the new "Book of the Dead" for the Boston Globe.

I was a huge fan of Cornwell when she started, and I still think few do the forensics – the sheer science – of murder better. But, is it time, perhaps, for a rest?

According to Entertainment Weekly, 1.5 million of these books were printed. Was that a mistake? Do people still read Cornwell? Do you?

This opens a bigger can of worms: When should a series end? Are there some series that you'd like to go on forever? Are there some that you used to love but that now deserve to be retired? What keeps you reading a series? Is it that you love the characters? And what can, ultimately, make you turn away from a long-running fiction addiction? This can be a touchy subject, I know, but it is one that we authors and readers need to consider.

THIS JUST IN! I never thought I'd say this, but THANK YOU, KIRKUS REVIEWS! In the latest (well, the Nov. 15 edition) Kirkus, their reviewer said all sorts of nice things about Cries and Whiskers, concluding by saying: "A fast-paced look at the Boston music scene and a delight for cat fanciers."
(You can click on "Kirkus" above for the full review.)

Best wishes for a peaceful, thoughtful Veteran's Day.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Guest blogger: Karen E. Olson

Today, I'm pleased as punch to be hosting a guest blog by mystery author Karen E. Olson, whose new Annie Seymore mystery, Dead of the Day is just out. This is the third in the Annie Seymour series, which is set in Karen's home city of New Haven, and really give readers a feel for the neighborhoods, the people, and the marvelous food! I've loved these books, which feature a very real and very spunky reporter, since the first, Sacred Cows, and cannot wait to read the new installment. I'll get to hear some of the stories behind it, too: Karen and I will be speaking together at Brookline Booksmith on Dec. 11.

In consideration of my overall theme, Karen wrote today about music:

One thing I’m asked a lot is whether I listen to music when I write. I don’t. I think it’s all those years of working in a big newsroom, with no walls or cubicles, and learning how to shut out the sounds of people talking, phones ringing, keyboards clacking. Sometimes I try to put a CD on while I write, but usually I realize an hour later that the music hasn’t been playing for a while and I just never noticed.

But music does have its place in my books. My reporter protagonist, Annie Seymour, has a real fondness for the Rolling Stones. In every book, she’s listening to their music in her car as she drives around covering stories. I’ve said that if there’s ever a movie made from the series, the Stones have to provide the soundtrack.

I did wrestle with this decision, though. It’s the old Stones vs. Beatles question, and I sit squarely on the Beatles side of that. I’ve always liked the Stones enough, but the Beatles were who I lipsinced to when I was in elementary school with my best friend Alison Prendergast. I wasn’t quite sure just who the Stones were for a few more years (I blame my parents for that; they were quite unhip in the Sixties and for years I thought Jose Feliciano had written “Light My Fire.” I was shocked to find out it was a Doors song.)

But because readers think that Annie is me (writing in first person does lend itself to that, and it doesn’t help that Annie’s a longtime journalist, like I am), I wanted to give her something that really wasn’t me, even if my readers might not know that.

In DEAD OF THE DAY, the third in the series that’s just out this week, I wanted to throw Annie out of her comfort zone a little, in more ways than one. One of those ways was to take away her Stones tapes. She loses them in a unique way and is forced to listen to borrowed CDs. I gave her the White Stripes and Our Lady Peace, in order to expand her horizons a little.

Let’s just say that Annie is a creature of habit and while she listens to the CDs because she doesn’t have any others, she’s back to listening to the Stones in the next book.

As readers, do you notice the music in the books or is it just background noise?

I'm curious, too! Please let us know.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

"Mad Skillz"

Got this right after I dropped Deb Grabien off at the T. Deb was our guest while in town to promote two (count'em!) new books, New-Slain Knight and Still Life with Devils with a stop at Kate's Mystery Books. I ended up having a great time talking to Deb (she has wonderful stories, particularly of the rock world) and also got to chat with Kate. All in all a good time – but wouldn't it have been better if we had this feline DJ on hand?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Cats on the road!

A big THANK YOU to the Cheshire Cat Club of Edgewater, NJ. They had me speak at their cat show yesterday, and it was a blast. Despite getting lost in Fort Lee, we managed to make it to the show in time for the cat fashion show, which was frankly hilarious. None of the cats seemed to mind, maybe they enjoyed the attention. And in the midst of signing books, a friendly breeder brought over a Turkish Angora (see pic below) for me to hold. (Don't tell Musetta.) Thank you, all!

I can't expect quite the same treatment (or cats) at all my upcoming events. But I am beginning to schedule some talks for Cries and Whiskers. If you're near New York City, I'll be having a book party at Partners and Crime on Monday, Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. That Friday, Dec. 7, again at 7, I'm having another at Harvard Book Store (and I hope to sign at Kate's Mystery Books holiday party earlier, 5:30-6 p,m.). And the following week, on Tues., Dec. 11, I'll be joined by my buddy Karen E. Olson at Brookline Booksmith. All free, of course. Let's get this party started!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

the cheap catch-up

Doesn't that sound like a Ross MacDonald title? In reality, the lovely and brilliant folks at Worldwide Mystery (a branch of Harlequin) have decided to publish a mass market (i.e., less than $5) version of my very first mystery, "Mew is for Murder" in November. (Click here to see it for real and buy it.) Worldwide only sells online (how do you think they keep their prices so low?) and they only print a limited number of books, so this is a limited-time offer. Once the books are gone, they're gone!

This fall, they're making the deal even better with a free shipping offer. So, if you'd like to catch up with my Theda Krakow series, or with any of the many other authors (including my sister Sisters in Crime Cynthia Riggs, Susan Oleksiew, Leslie Wheeler, and many many others), click on this link for the deal. (This is the classic book club deal where they'll keep sending you books if you don't cancel after you get your freebies. But maybe that's not a bad thing?)

Yes, it says "eHarlequin." Don't be scared. Just go over to the right and click on "mysteries," and there we will be...

Enjoy An Exclusive Offer from

Oh! And I almost forgot! My review for the Boston Phoenix of Rebecca Barry's lovely, if Richard Russo-esque short story collection.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

A very silly time waster just perfect for the holiday: Cat Bowling. And no, no cats were hurt. They were "spared." Oooh! What's your highest score? I got a 92, but after way too many tries.

Happy Halloween, especially to all the black cats out there. Which reminds me of the song, how does it go? "We're bringing kitty back..."

Presenting... Murray!

Congratulations and a big "thank you" to Jacqueline and Graig Fantuzzi, who won the right to name a cat in my next mystery. Their donation to Boston's Animal Rescue League will help pay for adoptions, spay and neuters, and tons of other great services to animals and animal lovers.

As a small thank you, their wonderful marmalade cat, Murray, will make his fictional debut in my next mystery. Isn't he lovely?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"Oh! Boston you're my home!"

... no this isn't the Standell's "Dirty Water." But, hey, they weren't a Boston band. Instead, here's a clip of World Series-winning closing pitcher Jonathon Papelbon doing his dance to the Dropkick Murphys' "Tessie." (My husband - a native New Englander - says he knows I've become a real Red Sox fan because even when the score was 11-2 I was still convinced they were going to lose. But we didn't!)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sample chapter Sunday!

Don't know where you are, but here in New England it's rainy and damp. A good day to curl up with a good book. Want to browse without leaving the house? The blog Reviewed by Liz has started offering "Sample Chapter Sundays," where mystery authors are invited to post links to the first chapters of new or upcoming books. Great idea, huh?

I'm joining the throng this week, and will be posting links to the first chapters of Cries and Whiskers and also to the excerpt of the new mass market (i.e., cheap) version of Mew is for Murder (This one doesn't lead directly to the excerpt: you still have to click on "Read Excerpt." Sorry about that!) Why not join us? Maybe you'll discover another favorite read?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

This is brilliant.

Cats AND Crime AND Rock & Roll! Plus, if you listen to the end, a little lesson in cat care (keep that kitty amused).

Thanks to the mystery writers over at First Offenders for turning me onto this, "The Mean Kitty Song." (Have I mentioned? Musetta is also a foot biter.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Guest blogger: Hank Phillippi Ryan

To celebrate the launch of Hank Phillippi Ryan's second Charlie McNally mystery, Face Time, I asked Hank if she'd consider guest blogging. Despite an incredibly hectic schedule, which not only includes book promotion but also her regular serious news job over at Boston's NBC affiliate, WHDH-TV, she said, "Sure!" And within hours had sent me the following entry, which invites us behind the scenes of both her family and her mystery-writing process.

And, by the way, if I remember correctly from Prime Time, Charlie has a cat. So, without further ado, here's a peek inside the world of Hank Phillippi Ryan:

My mother is so mad at me. She’s in the midst of reading Face Time, the newest Charlotte McNally Mystery. It’s being released this week! I say: Hooray. So far, Mom says: I’m sure that’s lovely, dear. You can imagine the tone.

Mom is terrific. She’s almost 80, and is absolutely beautiful. An artist, a reader, a wonderful intellect. (She doesn’t have a computer, so she’s not reading this.) I’m her oldest daughter, and any psychologist will tell you that can cause some friction.

So anyway. Why is mom mad? She thinks I’ve “used her for art.”

It’s true: Charlie McNally’s mother in Face Time is a bit—persnickety. She’s opinionated. She thinks, for instance, that Charlotte might want to give up her very successful 20-year TV career to marry some tycoon and become a tycoon wife. No matter that Charlie is happy with the personal life (pretty happy, at least, for a 46-year-old single woman who is married to her job) and happy with her professional life (pretty happy, at least, even though she’s fearful she’s gong go be replaced by someone younger). Mom also thinks Charlotte (she refuses to call her Charlie, saying, “nicknames are for stuffed animals and men who play sports”) might want to visit the plastic surgeon for some face time of her own.

Now Mrs. McNally is not, I repeat, not, my mother. But in these days of controversy over whether books that are purported to be memoirs are actually true—I find myself fighting to convince her that my book is truly fiction.

It’s ALL MADE UP, I tell her. Yes, Charlie has a Mom, and I have a Mom. But I’m not Charlie and she’s not you.

Silence on the other end of the phone.

“Of course it’s me,” she finally says. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

So I’m wondering, do any of you have a problem with this? Do people “recognize” themselves in your books—and you have to convince them it’s a fictional character they’re recognizing? Would you “use” someone for “art”?

Or if you’re a reader, do you assume fictional characters are real people just put on paper?

And as it turns out—as Mom will find out if she’ll just get to the end of the book—it’s not only a mystery, and a romance, but kind of a love story between mothers and daughters. My editor said she cried. One reviewer has said she cried. (Which is odd, you have to admit, in a murder mystery.)

Yes, as authors we take elements of reality. Then we polish, and tweak, and exaggerate, and accessorize. But the fun is making up something completely new. Creating a new world. New characters and new relationships. And it’s ALL MADE UP.

Okay, Mom?

Hey, you said this so well, I'm going to send it to my own mom. Thanks, Hank!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Dexter loses his rock 'n' roll...

At least, that's more or less the premise of Jeff Lindsay's wonderful new Dexter in the Dark, which I reviewed in today's Boston Globe. Is it a departure from the previous Dexter books? Well, yes, but what would you expect in the third of a series?

There's been much talk about serial killers as super heroes, but I think that Lindsay's jovial protagonist strikes home (so to speak) because he's such an Everyman. I mean, at times, wouldn't we all like to be like Dexter?

And, while you're here, check out this profile of Hank Phillippi Ryan, whose second mystery, Face Time pubs tomorrow. We love Hank and her sweetie husband Jonathon here at Chez Musetta!

Finally, I am so happy! Thank you, Publishers Weekly.

Friday, September 28, 2007

A life in crime...

... crime fiction, that is. Sister Mystery Writers of America member and Agatha and Anthony award-winning author Rhys Bowen penned this poem, which wonderfully sums up the experience so many of us have on the road.

If you've ever wondered about the exciting world of book touring/signings, wonder no more:

If only you'd come yesterday, I'm sorry no one's here
It's always slow on Saturdays and at this time of year
Too bad tomorrow's Father's Day and everyone's out shopping
Too bad the heat is so intense that everyone is dropping.
You should have been here Friday night, it's always such a lark
We had a line around the block for Mary Higgins Clark.
I'm sorry that it's been so flat
Let's take your picture with the cat.

Rhys Bowen

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Blatant Self Promotion (thank you, Booklist)

I promise, I'm not going to flood anyone's lists with this or bring it up too often in conversation. I'm just posting this here and at Crimespace because, damn it, you write a book alone, you sit around for months wondering about it, and it's just nice to get something like this.

From Oct. 1 Booklist:

Cries and Whiskers
Simon, Clea (author)
Dec. 2007, 260 pp. Poisoned Pen, hardcover, $24.95. (9781590584644)

Freelance journalist Theda Krakow is back with a cat story that is anything but cozy. When an animal-rights activist who cared more about wild creatures than people is killed by a hit-and-run driver, Theda is not particularly upset. She is busy covering the Cambridge, Massachusetts, club scene and investigating a new designer drug that is endangering both musicians and patrons. Her boyfriend, Bill, a homicide detective, is recuperating from a broken leg, and her cat, Musetta, resents the time that she spends with him. When Theda learns that the accident victim was rescuing feral cats during a winter storm, she decides to help her friend Violet, a punk rocker who owns an animal shelter, investigate. As she learns more about the tensions within the animal-rights group and the origins of the dangerous drug, Theda finds that she may have the biggest story of her career. It may also be her last. Simon has written a fast-moving story full of lively characters, both two- and four-legged. This series is highly recommended for mystery fans who love cats but who prefer to leave the crime-solving to humans.
Barbara Bibel
Copyright American Library Association. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Bragging on my buddy (Boston rock)

OK, full disclosure: Brett Milano is a friend. But I'm still wowed and impressed by his new book, The Sound of Our Town, a history of Boston rock. Through lively anecdotes, interviews, and lots of fun facts, he re-creates the history of our little scene, from its now-forgotten doo-wop days, through the "Bosstown Sound" and the glory days of the Rat, up to the present. And the party the packed the Middle East club on Saturday gave us a ton of living examples, from Mickey Clean and Peter Wolf (of J. Geils fame) through Lizzie Borden, Barrence Whitfield, the Lyres, the Nervous Eaters, and more. By the time John Felice (of The Real Kids) took the stage to sing "All Kindsa Girls" with the Shods, I was overwhelmed. What a party! What a book!

And just in case you want to read some unbiased reports, here are the stories in The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, and the excerpt that ran in The Boston Phoenix.

Congratulations, Brett! (Oh yeah, and Brett has a Maine coon cat. As far as I know, he has no criminal connections, though.)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Cats on wheels!

One of our great local shelters here in Boston, Animal Rescue League, has launched a mobile pet adoption van. When I had lunch with two of ARL's guys last week, we talked about this and I asked about screening. After all, for someone to take an animal in while it's still a cute kitten or a puppy only to bring it back a few months later, when it is considered less cute and adoptable, is a crime. But as this article makes clear, the ARL is being pretty good about screening. At any rate, they're trying -- which is why I'm contributing both a set of signed books and the right to name a character to their big October fundraiser "Moonlight Ball", and why we'll be doing a fund-raising event later this year. More details as they come together.

And, yes, this is where we got Musetta. This is what she looked like in those days:

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I've been tagged

Cyrus, our eminence grisé:

Well, thanks to Caroline Leavitt, I've been tagged.

What is tagging? Well, it seems to be a form of blog chain letter. According to the rules, I'm supposed to list 7 random facts/habits about myself, here, on my blog. Then tag 7 other bloggers by emailing them and telling them, "tag, you're it." and then link to their blogs. Annoying, yeah. But Caroline is not only a friend but also a brilliant writer, so this gives me a chance to link (again) to her blog. And also to link to some other blogs that I really like a lot.

So... my seven:
1. I read my stories out loud to my cat. Really. She doesn't seem to care one way or another, but it helps me get a sense of flow. (And – yay! – I get a cat reference in.)

2. I'm an incredible homebody and get horribly homesick when I have to travel alone. Even though I have met many, many wonderful people (fans and other authors) at various crime fiction conventions, I invariably spend one night alone in my room, avoiding the bar and/or scheduled banquet, watching TV and talking way too long on the phone to my husband.

3. My favorite low-calorie meal for most of my single years was French cut stringbeans and tomato sauce. (My husband knows this, and won't let me get away with it now, but I hope this still counts.)

... man, when you've written three largely memoir nonfiction books, it's hard to come up with something that I haven't told anyone.

4. In times of stress, I re-read my favorite books from childhood. When our cat Cyrus was dying, I re-read "The Lord of the Rings" and the entire "Chronicles of Narnia."

5. I have a hard time driving and listening to music, at least when it's good. I was working at the Globe the first time I heard Sleater-Kinney's "Dig Me Out." I had to pull over and I was late for work.

6. I collect cat tchochkes. On my desk, I have a reproduction of a Benin leopard, a carved stone lion from China, a Southwestern Native American cat fetish, two winged cats (and a proper Singha Terbit - winged lion - in the living room), and a few other assorted stone, glass, ceramic, and metal kitties. No surprise, really, but did you know this about me for sure? No, you didn't.

(note: my cat fetish is much nicer than this one, but I don't have a photo of it.)

7. Because my mom always assumed that I knew things just by instinct (or whatever) and I was too embarrassed to ask, I learned how to use tampons by reading the box. Cosmetics, too. But you can probably tell that by looking at me.

God, am I going to delete these? Maybe. But for now... well, these sort of qualify as cats & crime & rock & roll.

Now to the tagging part: I tag...

Karen Schlosberg, Karen E. Olson, (who has her next Annie Seymour mystery, DEAD OF THE DAY, coming out soon WOOHOO!) David J. Montgomery (great crime fiction blog), Barbara Vey (a really fun book blog on Publisher's Weekly). And... I think that's enough for now. (Besides, Karen Olson's blog is shared by three other excellent crime fiction authors, Alison Gaylin, Jeff Shelby, and Lori. G. Armstrong. Go check out these wonderful blogs – and Caroline's, too!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Not exactly crime fiction...

although there are several murders in this collection. But for once, considering the author's tendencies, I am truly grateful there are no cats among these 16 short stories! In case you can't tell from my Boston Globe review, I preferred Faber's novel, "The Crimson Petal and the White." But as I read more of his work, I have begun to think this fat, fun novel was an anomaly.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

World Literary Day!

Thanks to Oline Cogdill, who used her great books blog to alert us to World Literary Day – Today! Oline is the crime fiction critic for the South Florida Sun Sentinel, and she shares the blog with fellow critic Chauncey Mabe, chatting on a variety of topics about books, the literary life, publishing and more.

So how to celebrate? Read a book, today! (Though if you're here, you probably read at least a little every day.) Re-read an old favorite, and think about why you love this or that book so. Share a book with a friend.

How else to celebrate? Oline suggests sending a book to a serviceman or woman overseas, an idea I second. I'd also send out a little love to your local public library. Where else can you get the world, for free? Think about volunteering or making a donation. At least, thank a librarian today, in any way feasible. (I just finished a short story for a fund-raising and celebratory anthology to be published when my local public library finally finishes its renovations. I cannot wait! And, yes, I'll publish it here if they give me the ok.)

Friday, September 7, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle

First and foremost, she believed that even young readers could think, could reason, and wanted to explore. She'll be missed.

From the New York Times:
Madeleine L'Engle has died at 88.

(Photo by George M. Gutierrez for the New York Times)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Crime and communists... and no rock 'n' roll

When I was asked to review "Anarchy and Old Dogs," the latest Dr. Siri Investigates mystery from Colin Cotterill, I was thrilled. That glow faded a bit once I read the book; it doesn't seem quite as much fun as its three predecessors. That said, it's still better than much out there. And I hope my Boston Phoenix review directs a few folks to the series, if not this particular book.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Criminal acts (by publishers)

Thoughtful blog by Carmel, Indiana bookstore owner Jim Huang (The Mystery Company) and small publisher in which he discusses the current state of mystery publishing (and bookselling), the ridiculous pressure from NY publishers to break out big from the start with a new novel, and why I have a "Booksense" link on my home page.

Buy your books from an independent bookstore, people. That is, if you want to be able to keep reading a wide variety of books!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Rembering Katrina

Hi folks,
It's a gorgeous, sunny, not-too-hot day here. But I'm listening to the New Orleans community radio station WWOZ online, and with the wonderful music they are playing, they are commemorating the hurricane and subsequent flood of two years ago. As a New Englander, I can only imagine what they're all still going through, but as a frequent visitor I know that the city is vibrant, strong spirited -- and still struggling. New Orleans needs our help more than ever, and if you don't know why, check out these books or Chris Rose's incredibly moving "1 Dead in Attic." Or even, to repeat myself, James Lee Burke's beautiful and furious latest mystery, "The Tin Roof Blowdown."

(and if you want to help, this link to the Tipitina's foundation makes it easy. Or... for the cat tie in, Animal Rescue New Orleans)

Be well, all.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

No cats at all...

Just my latest review covering a different area of interest, mental illness and memoir: my San Francisco Chronicle review of Elyn Sach's memoir, "The Center Cannot Hold."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

1 cat, 1 three-legged raccoon, lots of crime...

I love crime fiction and I love Louisiana music, so it makes sense that I'd love James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux series, right? Therefore, it should be no surprise that I've been blown away by Burke's latest,"The Tin Roof Blowdown." What did surprise me is how many serious issues he raises in this smart, atmospheric mystery set during and immediately after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita played havoc with New Orleans and Southern Louisiana. Corruption and neglect, both local and national. He brings it all in. Read it for the story, for the writing, for Tripod the raccoon and Snuggs the cat. Read it for the politics. A wonderful book.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Cat Underground Railroad?

A most interesting newspaper article in my hometown paper today talks about an "underground railroad" for pets facing euthanasia in shelters. I gather the idea is not unique, and often includes transporting unwanted animals to new owners who will love them, but who could not afford the transportation costs. It's a great story, and certainly heart-warming. Of course, it would not be necessary if we could take a two-pronged preventive approach: Educating pet owners and giving them affordable spay/neuter options, and also supporting community trap-neuter-return programs to lower the number of feral animals. (Is that three?) Anyway, read it and rejoice in the happy story of Jasper and Jillian. And let me know what you think!

Of course, the mystery writer in me is also considering the fiction potential of this story... there are plenty of possibilities here ... any that you'd like to see in print?

Cats Jasper (left) and Jillian with their new owner Sally Holland (right) and friend Kelly Curtis. The photo was taken when the cats reached Maine, before they were driven to Canada. (Photo courtesy of Sally Holland)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

But what about crime?

Faithful blog readers may be wondering, where's the crime?
If I've been cat happy lately, readers, it's not because death (fiction) has taken a holiday. I'm actually hard at work on a mystery project (hinted at a bit lower down), and I hope to be able to tell you more in a few months. A few months?!? Yes, that's how publishing works, kiddos – glacial compared to everything else in this electronic world. But there is a new mystery in the works, and the start of another, too, on the back burner until this one is drafted. I may be breaking format a bit on this one, too, but as a writer and a cat lover, I'm too superstitious to want to write more.

Besides, the next Theda Krakow will be out before you know it! Cries and Whiskers will hit the stores in late November – and as we all know, books make more gifts!

So, until then, enjoy the cat trivia. Crime fiction is happening, behind the scenes, even as you read this...

It was inevitable...

The outing of Oscar has led to the revelation that there are other "death cats," like this cutie, Buckwheat, resident cat in a Seattle nursing home. Now, I prefer "change-of-state-sensitive cats," as a label, myself. But hey, I'm keeping my eye on Musetta. Everytime she jumps on the bed...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The New York Times weighs in

Yesterday's Op Ed page had this to say about mandatory spay-neuter laws. Usually, I adore Verlyn Klinkenborg. He is a wonderfully lyrical writer on other subjects. But this time, I think he may have missed the point. What do you think?

Musetta's fifteen minutes

Musetta, with her editing hat on (metaphorically speaking, though wouldn't that be cute?) has made it into Galleycat today. She's not alone, and it's a toss up whether this book-industry blog is forging some kind of a comment on the popularity of pets as authors' animal companions or simply making a shameless bid to have people like me link to it. But hey, I've got a blog called "Cats & Crime & Rock & Roll," so who am I to talk?


PS - thought I'd post this here. When I read the rest of the Galleycat blog, I felt that I wanted to respond to Lissa Warren's first point (about the commercial nature of cat books). I won't argue with her that such books make the publishing of poetry and first authors (especially literary authors) possible. But I do know what motivates at least some authors of cat books. Anyway, this is what I wrote her and Ron, one of the Galleycat bloggers. Thoughts? Comments?

{my email to Lissa Warren and Ron Hogan}

Please don't think me disingenuous, but it's not simply the commerce (though my "Feline Mystique" is my best selling book to date). It's the coming-out nature of our admission. We love our pets. If we're rational, literate adults, we're a little embarrassed by this fact. But every time we post a picture of our cats or buy a copy of "Catmas Carols" or spend any time on, it's an admission of that fact. Takes the pressure off.

I honestly believe that writing about my screwed-up mentally ill family ("Mad House") freed me to come clean about my love of cats ("Feline Mystique"). Which then freed me to at least temporarily abandon serious, depressing nonfiction and write the kind of fun mysteries that I truly enjoy reading. I am serious about my writing, just not about myself.

Just a thought. Gotta go now, Musetta is staring at me.
cats & crime & rock & roll

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Death Cat of Providence

Meet Oscar, the death cat of Providence. A cat who roams the halls, cuddling up to those who have reached their final hours. Sounds spooky, doesn't it? But in reality, the Providence mentioned is simply the capital of Rhode Island, which while nice is not divine. And the story of Oscar is sweet, rather than evil. But it does lead one to wonder about the paranormal sensitivities of our feline friends, doesn't it?

Globe staff photo/Dina Rudnick

And for more on Oscar, check this out! As some of my friends know, I'm working on a slightly paranormal (yup, "woo woo!") story of a ghost cat. Do you think Oscar should make a cameo appearance? He is a handsome devil!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Murder in the stacks?

Why do writers love libraries? Maybe a better question would be: how could we resist? All those books, all that quiet, all those lovely little corners to hide away in. I recently found that I could get a limited pass to Harvard University's storied Widener Library and, boy, am I having fun. My excuse is that my current work-in-progress features a grad student who just happens to stumble across a body. The body belongs to her roommate, and the stacks are her refuge. But having spent a few hours in the quiet, narrow passageways, with floor-to-ceiling books making everything feel very private, I have a feeling things may change... not sure I want to put a body in there. But maybe... hmmm...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Okay, so it's jazz and cats, and no crime...

Jazz great Charles Mingus's greatest contribution to the world at large may just have been the following detailed instructions, in his own words, on how to train a cat to use a human toilet. . Yes, really.