Monday, December 29, 2008

Farewell, Eartha Kitt

Chanteuse, actress, outspoken performer, and all around diva Eartha Kitt died on Christmas Day. Linda L. Richards has details and links on her blog. Here, I'll just say that I had the privilege of seeing Kitt perform a year ago last summer at the Newport Jazz Festival. At that point, she must have been dealing with the cancer that took her life, but she was magnificent. In the days since, I've read several obits, and have been newly impressed by her strength (the daughter of an unwed mother, she pretty much had to fend for herself for much of her youth) and her brave candor (Lady Bird Johnson asked Kitt what she thought about the Vietnam War. Kitt told her – and had to move to Europe as a result of the blacklist that followed).

What a great lady! Put on a copy of "Santa Baby" tonight, even though it's after the holiday, and remember her. Eartha Kitt, RIP.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Welcome back!

Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas! The solstice has passed. The sun is returning! It may be 16 degrees out now, but spring will come again. Let's celebrate!

Do you have a holiday tradition? Jon and I light my family's old menorah. Usually, we save our presents for each other till the last night. But with the storm and all, we gave each other one present each on Sunday! (He got a bottle of Scotch, as human anti-freeze; I got an Edward Gorey cat pin!) We're seeing lots of friends over the next two weeks, folks coming to town and others who just finally have time. And on Christmas Day we're going to the movies with another friend - and then out for Chinese!

Friday, December 19, 2008

New Year's Resolution: Learn to Write!

What are your plans for 2009? Have you made any resolutions? I can't help you lose weight or quit smoking, but I might be able to help with another popular resolution. If you're one of the many folks who have promised yourself that 2009 will be the year you finally start writing, why not take a course? Sometimes the structure of a course, with its guided excercises and deadlines, is all you need! I'm telling you this now because I'm in line to teach "Essential Beginnings" through the UCLA Extension writers program in January. "Essential Beginnings" is a six-week workshop designed to get anyone up and writing in a supportive and encouraging environment. Curious? Check out my course (and hundreds more) here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

18th Century mayhem

"A fellow by the name of Revere. Lives up in the North End. Charges a fortune..."

Murder, mystery, and lots of mayhem in pre-Revolutionary Boston – all in Jill Lepore's and Jane Kamensky's Blindspot, read my San Francisco Chronicle review here

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday Message from Roy Blount Jr.

I've been talking to booksellers lately who report that times are hard. And local booksellers aren't known for vast reserves of capital, so a serious dip in sales can be devastating. Booksellers don't lose enough money, however, to receive congressional attention. A government bailout isn't in the cards.

We don't want bookstores to die. Authors need them, and so do neighborhoods. So let's mount a book-buying splurge. Get your friends together, go to your local bookstore and have a book-buying party. Buy the rest of your presents, but that's just for starters. Clear out the mysteries, wrap up the histories, beam up the science fiction! Round up the westerns, go crazy for self-help, say yes to the university press books! Get a load of those coffee-table books, fatten up on slim volumes of verse, and take a chance on romance!

There will be birthdays in the next twelve months; books keep well; they're easy to wrap: buy those books now. Buy replacements for any books looking raggedy on your shelves. Stockpile children's books as gifts for friends who look like they may eventually give birth. Hold off on the flat-screen TV and the GPS (they'll be cheaper after the holidays) and buy many, many books.

Enjoy the holidays.

Roy Blount Jr.
President, Authors Guild

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The deep breath...

I know in some ways this is the crazy season, but really, isn't it also the deep breath before the plunge?

I've pretty much finished a rough draft of my "pet noir," I expect to have some good news to announce in the new year, and I've got "Probable Claws" coming out in April. But right now, freelance is dying down. Editors are taking off for vacations (or getting laid off). Things are quieting down. We're planning a couple of dinners out with friends, some quiet holiday celebrations. It's the deep breath before the plunge into the next busy year, I think, and I'm savoring it.

What about you? Crazed or quiet?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Santa clawed

Hey, I understand holiday stress! I'm trying to get all my work done – more on this, soon – and still manage to have a little fun, see some friends, etc., this holiday season. So I know what this kitty was going through. That said, did he have to bite Santa? Poor Benny. Poor Santa!

Monday, December 8, 2008

David Liss returns with "The Whiskey Rebels"

David Liss has returned to historical mysteries with The Whiskey Rebels, a thoroughly enjoyable book. As I wrote in today's Boston Globe:

"Blame the speculators! Banks are unstable, and the nation itself appears on the verge of collapse. Americans have turned against each other, each convinced that the other side is intent on destroying the country. No, it's not 2008, it's 1792, but that doesn't mean that the means and motives aren't the same. Indeed, in his engaging new historical novel, David Liss recounts the dawn of the fledgling US banking industry up through its almost-demise, in the 18th-century Whiskey Rebellion, through characters as intriguing, and often as disreputable, as many we are observing today...."

(Read more here.)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

"Dumb Beasts" – my first pet noir

from Dumb Beasts, from Deadfall: Crime Stories by New England Authors

I really didn’t want to go over when Mrs. M. called. Sheila, as I think of her. With most people I’m on a first-name basis immediately. They’ve invited me into their homes, into some of their most intimate relationships, after all. It only makes sense. But not her. We were introduced formally the first time I came over, but although I immediately reached out, saying, “It’s Beth. Please, call me Beth,” she never reciprocated.

Her husband’s another sort entirely. I think it was his idea to call me the first time. At any rate, he was the one who cared, who wanted everyone to get along. She might’ve complained about the noise, though. I wouldn’t have put that past her.

It was a compatibility issue, that first time. The dog had been hers originally, a yappy little Yorkshire terrier, spoiled and insecure. More of a fashion accessory than a companion, I figured, them both being blondes and all. The Yorkie had been understandably unsettled when they had moved into his townhouse. The presence of his pets – a cat, a parrot, an aquarium full of fish – didn’t help the Yorkie’s mood, and, to be fair, the cat – an elderly Persian – hadn’t made it any easier. But I think they would have worked it out. Animals do. She was the problem. Couldn’t stand the barking, the hissing, the squawking.

I tried to tell her it was all part of the change, everybody finding their new place in the social order. She was having none of it. I thought that what really got her was Bridget’s betrayal. Bridget – that’s the Yorkie – took to Paul right away. I try to keep my feelings out of it. I’m not here for the people anyway. It’s all about the animals. ...

What do you think?
By the way, there's a book launching party for
Deadfall next Tuesday, Dec. 16, at Redbones, in Davis Square, Somerville, 5:30-7 p.m. Come by and say hi. We'll have books for sale, and you can also order it here.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Revolutionary fiction!

Long-time friends Jill Lepore and Jane Kamensky didn't set out to write a bodice ripper in Blindspot (Spiegel & Grau). But when the two historians – Lepore is the David Woods Kemper professor of American history at Harvard and Kamensky is chair of Brandeis' history department – started drafting a two-character sketch for the 70th birthday of their mentor, historian John Demos, the characters carried them off. Six hundred pages later, their personae – "a Gentleman in Exile and a Lady in Disguise," as the subtitle explains – have involved themselves in murder, scandal, slave stealing, and some very hot sex, all in Boston on the eve of the American Revolution.

I got to spend some time with Jill and Jane. To read our chat, click here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Parties, parties, parties...

Sometimes people ask me about signed books, so I thought I'd speak out and remind folks that if they want signed copies of any of my books, the best way to do it is to catch me at one of the season's PARTIES! This Friday, I'll be at Kate's Mystery Books, for example. Officially, I'm signing 6-6:45, but I intend to be there the whole time. And next Tuesday is the party for Deadfall: Crime Stories by New England Authors at Redbones Barbecue. (Deadfall has my pet-noir short story, "Dumb Beasts," in it.)

Of course, sometimes you can't make it to a party. But I'll be at both – as will my books – which means these are great places to get me to sign copies. One smart reader has already contacted Level Best Books to order a book, and has arranged for me to personalize an inscription at the Redbones party (after which, her copy will be mailed to her). But if anyone else wants a copy for the holidays, please just call or email either Kate or the Level Best Books folks. Let them know what you want, and I'll sign 'em!

*Just got this!*
Check out the authors who will be signing at Kate's on Friday. Come if you can. Call to order a signed book if you can't!
Holiday Party Schedule

Steve Anable, Linda Barnes, Sibylle Barrasso, Gary Braver, Jan Brogan, Susan Conant, Joe Finder, Kate Flora, Gary Goshgarian, Robert Parker

Judy Copek, David Daniels, Lynne Heitman, Chuck Hogan, Susan Kelly, William Landay, Dennis Lehane, Chris Mooney, Clea Simon – Me!, Leslie Wheeler

Johnny Barnes, James Benn, Alex Carr, Jane Langton, James Lynch, Rick Marinick, William Martin, Katharine Hall Page, Jenny Siler, Jere Smith, Mary Anne Tirone-Smith, Sarah Smith, Dave Zeltserman

Susan Atwell, Dana Cameron, James Bartlett, Sheila Connolly, Hallie Ephron, Debra Feldman, Beth Kanell, Steve Kelner, Toni Kelner, M.E. Kemp, Hank Phillip Ryan, D.G. Stern
Kate's Mystery Books
2211 Mass. Ave.
Cambridge, MA. 02140

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

How We Do It: Two Writers Talk Technique

Seasonal Effectiveness Disorder?

With Thanksgiving over and winter really in the air, sister author Caroline Leavitt and I decided to tackle how we write over this season – and through the holidays. Here's her take; mine is on her blog, here.

Is it true that to everything, including writing, there is a season (turn, turn, turn.) Well, it used to be that comic novels and beach books came out in the summer, and the most serious stuff came out in the fall, but now it seems that books come out any season at all (which is a good thing.)

For me, writing is something I have to do. I need it, I crave it, it’s an addiction, even on the days when putting a single word like “he” on the page is traumatic. Stories form and take years to get right, so whether it is frigid out or boiling, makes no difference to me—I still need and want to work. I’m more of an indoor, urban girl, so I don’t feel the pull of a sunny gorgeous day or the need to get out and romp in the snow as much as I feel a yearning to finish a chapter, a tug to meet my deadlines. That said, there is the thanksgiving through New Years problem, and then there is August, where somehow, for me, all bets are off.

It’s easy to see why. No one else is working. Around the holidays, there is so much family stuff going on so much to do in NYC, and let’s not even begin to talk about the movies that are out. August, the month when all shrinks seem to vacation, is actually more of a problem for me because of the intense heat (give me air conditioning and make it extra frosty) and the sense of pure summer laziness. I want to write—I just also want to nap or have another iced lemonade. I know a lot of people get depressed with SAD in the winter when light is more precious, but for me, the blinding heat and light of August puts me in a cantankerous mood. Nothing feels right to me in August, nothing seems to work well, and I admit, until I see the first signs of wool clothes in the store, I can’t seem to catch a breath, let alone write a decent sentence.

How do the holidays affect your writing or other work? Let us know!

Monday, December 1, 2008

"Probable Claws" ARC WINNERS!!

Drumroll, please....

The winners of advance, uncorrected reading copies of my April mystery, "Probable Claws," are Gina Teh, Krista Schnee, and Debbie Bogenschutz! My good friend and fellow author Vicki Croke ("The Lady and the Panda," among other books) drew three names at random for me. These three advance readers will be getting their copies soon. Everyone else will have to wait till April ... but thank you for playing!

(Note to the winners: This pretty cover is NOT on the advance edition yet. Sorry!)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Okay, this may finally be just too odd. But click on it anyway – and happy holiday to all of you!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A last gasp...

Well, I no longer have a column. But the new, redesigned Globe did allow me to sneak in an interview with jazz DJ Jeff Turton today.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

What we're doing wrong...

I got the email on Friday. "Help! I've done my words for the day – but now I'm beginning to see everything I'm doing wrong with this book." And it hit me, that's exactly how I feel, too! Now that I'm deep deep into the first draft of my pet-psychic mystery, I'm seeing things I should have done differently, asking myself questions that I should have considered from the start. My pet psychic is a grouch, a hard-boiled bad girl who just happens to be able to talk to her cat. So... would she eat meat (after all, her cat does)? Or would she be a reluctant vegetarian? How much would that bichon frisé resemble his gossipy owner? And would the kitten really be that clueless?

These are the questions that are only occuring to me now, 60,000 words in. But what I keep reminding myself is that this is a first draft. A rough draft. Supposedly the novelist Frederic Barthelme dictates his first drafts into a tape recorder, needing simply to create some raw text to work with. Supposedly the fact that these questions are surfacing now is a good thing. After all, I'll get to respond to them on the rewrite. I hope.

(and on the good-news side: I've hit 60,000 words!)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pie eyed

I love to cook. Love it, but I'm not a baker. I have a theory that we're different types of people. Bakers have to be scientists. The chemistry of cakes rising, of baking powder and glutens, depends on exact measures. On precision. I'm not like that. I'm an improviser, an "I'll just add a touch of this, a sprinkle of that"-type chef, happiest with a simmering pot on the stove top. But next week, I've been called on to provide desserts. For starters, my mom (who we're seeing on Wed.) wants a mince pie. Then (on Thurs.), we're visiting Jon's family. I know I can do a good pecan pie (they're pretty basic) and I thought I'd throw in some good bittersweet chocolate pieces to jazz that up. And I like my own pumpkin pie, because I like to add ginger and cloves, etc. But apple pie – anything with a double crust – frankly scares me, and I've spent the morning on Epicurious and related sites trying to conquer my particular kitchen demon.

Any good recipes you'd care to share? Any kitchen terrors you'll own up to?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My dream

So, last night I dreamt that Musetta was blogging for Obama. Didn't matter that the election was over. She was at the computer at all hours, and she had all these piles of papers (research) around her, the phone was ringing, and people were bringing her news items at all hours. I wanted to be supportive, but it was sort of disruptive.

What's up with that?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Probable Claws is coming out this spring! I've got a great cover and the book is now available for pre-ordering on Amazon,, and through the Poisoned Pen Press website. I've also got some advance copies and would love to offer them to readers. So here's the deal: If you can answer the following question (answer can be found on my home site) and you will commit to sharing your opinion of "Probable Claws" in a chat group, blog, or on Amazon by April 1, you could win an advance copy! (Note: These advance copies only have a plain cover, and they still have lots of typos.) I'll choose three winners at random from everyone who emails me beween now and Nov. 27.

QUESTION: What was the name of my "eminence grisé"?

Email me your answer – and your pledge to read and review the book by April 1 – and best of luck!

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Bar'king up the wrong tree?"

Sheesh! That said, my buddy, animal expert Vicki Croke, and her wolfhound Tally weigh in on President-elect Obama's possibly puppy choices.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What's a pet psychic supposed to do?

Ever wonder if our animals know more about us than we'd like them to? Ever wonder if they'll talk? That's the idea behind "Dumb Beasts," my first pet psychic short mystery. It's just one of the short stories in the brand new Deadfall: Crime Stories by New England Writers, which is just coming out now.

Order Deadfall here.

John Leonard

Alas, the great, smart, funny, liberal critic John Leonard has died today. Gawker has the obit.

I know Michael Crichton also passed this week, but I didn't post anything. Partly because with all the election euphoria, I didn't want to. Partly because I have mixed feelings about Crichton. Granted, I loved him when I was younger. I remember the film version of "The Andromeda Strain" scaring the pants off me (though, a few years ago when I rented it, it had aged very badly). But in recent years, he'd gotten weird and cranky. We're all entitled to some extent, but writing an anti-global-warming novel? When you're a scientist?

Leave it at this, I'm sorry for his family. And I'm really going to miss John Leonard.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Today's the day

Just vote, and you'll have done your job today.

"I'm not voting, cause there ain't gonna be no change until Jehovah comes." That was what one older Floridian told me when I called to prompt her to vote today. I started to argue, then realized, well, she probably isn't registered. And odds are, she wouldn't vote for my candidate anyway!

Anyone else out there phone banking or calling from home*, canvassing, or whatever? Anyone have any horror stories about waits at the polls? (Even here in liberal-lefty Cambridge, there's a wait! But a short one, about 25 minutes.) Anyone see someone get turned away?

*If anyone wants the info for calling voters from home, email me!

Monday, November 3, 2008

How We Do It: Two Writers Talk Technique

This month's shared blog focuses on friendship and jealousy between writers. As always, Caroline has a great take. You can see mine on her blog

Writers need support—and other writers. But what happens when your friend gets that 6-figure deal and you get another rejection and maybe it’s even a form letter and they spelled your name wrong, too?

How do you handle jealousy and envy?

First some definitions. Envy is the desire for something that someone else has. Jealousy is the feeling that someone has something that you feel belongs to you. And both are evil emotions which will hurt you.

This is all something Clea Simon and I have been talking about this week, and I think it’s important to realize that jealousy and envy are natural emotions, but that they have to do with your views on scarcity. Are you jealous because you think your friend got something so there isn’t enough to go around? Or are you envious because you think it means your friend is talented and the only thing you should be writing is “Vegetable salad” on a menu pad at Arby’s? Both of these scenarios have solutions. Scarcity is a myth—there is plenty for everyone, and worrying about your own talent is insecurity and you can easily shut it up by just writing some more.

A writer friend and I used to routinely deal with our throbs of jealousy when someone got something we wanted by instantly congratulating the person and writing a lovely note to them. Karma, we figured, might protect us, and in fact, writing those notes did diffuse our heart-wrenching yearning to “have what she’s (or he’s) having.” I’ve also been blessed with enough generous writing friends to know that their success often paves the way for opportunities for me (and vice versa). Of course you are going to feel the stings of jealousy, but when you begin to realize that we writers are all in the same boat, bobbing about at the mercy of publishers, editors, reviews an media, you begin to realize that the sharks bite at everyone one time or another, and that there really is room for all of us in the boat, which to my mind, is headed for Rome.

Case in point, my friend MJ Rose just got a rave Editor's Pick review of her book The Memorist in People. I was so excited, I screamed. I know how much this means to her-and I also know how much she deserves it (the book is that good.) All I want to do is share in her joy.

Thanks, Caroline. And YAY MJ!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I get all my news from The Weekly Reader

As goes the Weekly Reader, so goes the nation?
(thanks to )
That said, it still can't hurt to make some more phone calls!

Weekly Reader Calls It for Obama
In contrast to McInturff, the Weekly Reader's quadrennial poll of students from kindergarten to 12th grade predicts that Obama will win big time, with 55% of the vote to McCain's 43%. This survey has been surprisingly accurate in the past, getting 12 of the past 13 presidential elections right, missing only Bill Clinton's win in a 3-way race in 1992. The survey's accuracy may be due to children getting most of their political views from their parents and the children's views may more accurately reflect what their parents are really thinking than what the parents are telling the pollsters.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Roasted author!

Yikes! I'm on the skewer today over at Book Roast ! I've already answered a bunch of questions for the moderator and handed over excerpts, bits and pieces, and along the way some trivia that nobody else knows in preparation. I'll be taking questions (and, probably, some jabs) all day today. I hope the roast master will be gentle...come on over and join the fun.

Monday, October 27, 2008

R.I.P., Tony Hillerman

Tony Hillerman has died at the age of 83. Over at her blog, Sarah Weinman rounds up the tributes of this wonderful writer, who brought the Southwest and Native American culture alive for so many through his mysteries.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Oooh.... scary!

Walking home from a concert last night, we saw lots of small groups wandering the streets - most in costume. It was a blustery night, not too cold, but windy and rainy, and often we'd see couples with raincoats and umbrellas. Not till we were close would we notice the green makeup or the glitter on their eyes. One young man was courteously carrying a young woman done up in some kind of colorful spangly outfit. Didn't get a chance to ask if she'd been taken a fall on the wet pavement or she simply didn't want to get damp. Halloween week is here!

On a less scary note, I've been reading the ARC of Probable Claws and I'm really liking it! In all fairness, I'm way too close to judge the plot. Will there be any mystery in it for people who haven't read it a zillion times before? I hope so, but I honestly don't know. The good news is that I am enjoying the writing. Soon, I think I'll have a contest to give away a few of these ARCs, so maybe I can hear what real readers think.

In the meantime, I'm going to be the featured "roasted" author on Tuesday over at Book Roast . I'll post again on Tuesday, but keep it in mind. I have no idea WHAT the hosts will ask me... but I'm prepared for some Halloween tricks (and treats).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Oui, On Peut!"

Oh, I love this video! Black and white, male and female, cajun (fiddle) and zydeco (accordion) musicians together, singing a pro-hope, pro-Obama "Oui, On Peut!" ("Yes, We Can"). Lousiana may be a red state, but it's got a blue heart – and you can dance to it!

(The Band includes Zydeco Joe, Christine Balfa, Corey Ledet, Dirk Powell and others)

End of an era

Well, here it is, my last Boston Globe "Radio Tracks" column. The summer Arbitron ratings are out, but I figured I'd close out with something fun – and give a last boost to college radio, my favorite form of the medium. Maybe not my best written column, but I had a hard time with these last three, knowing that my gig was coming to an end. Of course, my one-line farewell was cut, but at least I was warned.

Oh, I also had a review of Christopher G. Moore's "Spirit House" run today, too.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The fear factor

It's now 2 p.m., and I've only read 14 pages. But hey, at least I've read 14 pages!

No, despite my post of a few days ago, I have not yet geared myself up to read my ARCs of Probable Claws. (I know! I know!) Instead, I'm back into a project that I put aside a few months back. At that time, I thought I'd focus on my pet-psychic mystery and I've been going great guns with that one. Having a blast. Jotting down plot points and bits of witty (I hope) dialogue on different colored stickies. Just loving it and making great progress.

But... someone wants to see the darker book. Well, is willing to look at it. And so I hit the breaks, felt the engine start to seize up, and managed to turn in time. It hasn't been easy. But two loads of laundry, a thorough cleaning and reassembling of the cat's water fountain, and much picking up and putting down of various pens and notepads later, I'm back in it...

so far, not bad!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

End of an era

Well, I'm not the first and I'm afraid I won't be the last, but I'm now a victim of the economy. Although I focus this blog on my crime fiction (and occasional book reviews), for the last 12 years I've also written a weekly column for the Boston Globe about radio. But after next week's column, I will do so no longer. The paper is being "redesigned," i.e., made smaller, and my column has been eliminated.

Wait a minute. Writing about radio? Yes, the column – called "Radio Tracks" – let me write about everything from a beloved old-school soul and R&B music show on a tiny college station ("Captain Al's R&B Jukebox" on on WMBR), radio historians (like this week's on Donna Halper, my penultimate column), Howard Stern, Don Imus, and the ups and downs of a fledgling medium known as Internet radio. And ratings. Those quarterly Arbitron ratings. Okay, so I won't miss explaining AQH – average quarter hour – to both readers and, inevitably, the copy desk.

Anyway, there hasn't been all that much overlap between my column and my fiction life (though some folks who know me recognize some of Theda's misadventures). But some of you do, so here's my chance to say farewell! I'll run a link to my last column whenever it runs (originally on Thursdays, now often held till Saturday). Thanks for tuning in!

Interview: John Hodgman

I sat down with the funny man for the Boston Phoenix.

Long before John Hodgman became universally recognized as the systems-challenged PC in Apple’s ads, he was writing fake trivia for such publications as McSweeney’s and the New York TImes Magazine. Discussing his new book, More Information Than You Require (Dutton), he explains how a former clarinetist-turned-literary agent could become the face of a reviled computer and, possibly, one of the smarter humorists on the planet.

There’s one phase in your first book, The Areas of My Expertise, that I just love: “the made-up truth.”

I wrote that book and I wrote that phrase, but then Stephen Colbert put it so much better, with the word “truthiness.” When he wrote that, my heart both leapt and sank, which caused me to go to the hospital. It’s such a perfect assessment of the new kind of truth that we are all wrestling with – and that I am profiting by.

Do we live in particularly funny times?
I think these times are possibly hilarious, but it’s a laugh to keep from crying hilarity. But I don’t know if that’s particularly unusual to these times. There have been difficult times throughout history, and that is why there has been humor. There was a lot of great Black Plague humor, for example. I don’t know if that’s true. If they existed, I’d love to read the transcripts of some Black Plague standup comedy.

I think that right now we live in extremely and refreshingly surprising times. I think what made the previous eight years sort of difficult was that they were no longer funny after a while. Unless you were a supporter of the Bush administration, and there are reasonable people who are, you got used to being told that it is raining when many, many people are urinating on you - and no one really questioning that.

Read more here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

You're dead to me!

Oh, lordy. My ARC (advance reading copies) of Probable Claws have arrived. The new mystery doesn't publish until April, but these are the advances that go out to Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, Kirkus, and other long-lead reviewers. Because Poisoned Pen is also a smaller press, this is also the first time I've seen my book set in type! (Bigger publishers usually send out unbound pages - this is bound like a book, though without the fancy cover.) I'm supposed to read it through over the next few weeks for typos and minor changes. And I'm terrified! When I was writing this book, I loved it. The characters were real to me and I fretted over them as if they were my children.

Now I'm caught up in my new project, tentatively called Dogs Don't Lie, and I'm finding it horribly difficult to go back. What was once a living story is now entombed in pages. What if the story doesn't race along of its own accord? What if I no longer like the characters? What if my beloved fourth mystery, once so alive, is now dead to me?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Traps to avoid (when you're writing your mystery)

I'm a member of Sisters in Crime (a great organization that's open to male mystery writers and mystery fans of all genders, too) and today the group's chat invited suspense master James Frey to answer some questions. One of the first was "What are some common mistakes you see among novice writers"? I hope nobody will mind if I print his answer in its entirety, because I thought it was very smart and useful. Here 'tis:

I can give you few common beginner mistakes:

1. The hero is often inert. Other characters may be active, but the hero just sits and watches and thinks.

2. A lack of conflict in the scenes. Often the dialog has a lot of information but not a lot of conflict.

3. The dialog is trite. The lines are what I call "pedestrian." There's no color or metaphor in them.

4. The obstacles in the path of the hero are too easily overcome.

5. There is no mystery in the murder. Okay, there's a mystery as to who did it--there's a body--but there's not really a mystery in the sense that say, there's a bullet wound but no bullet, or the victim was in a glass elevator and was strangled while three thousand people could have seen the killer (but didn't), or a toy doll was found holding the murder weapon with nobody around.

6. There's nothing special about the hero.

Thank you, James!

How We Do It: Two Comics on Writing

For a change. A very funny (and decidedly unhelpful) take on the writer-editor relationship by British comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Having trouble working today. Something has crashed on my computer and I can't find my mouse. (Okay, did all your friends send this to you, too?)

Happy Bouchercon, you mystery folks who are in Baltimore!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Cats for Obama

Cast your kitty's vote on this Catster poll!

And... my review of Gioia Timpanelli's "What Makes a Child Lucky" in today's San Francisco Chronicle

Monday, October 6, 2008

Not a cat...

But still pretty cool! As a kid who grew up worshipping the Blue Whale at American Museum of Natural History, I was thrilled to read about this sighting of a real blue whale, off the coast of Gloucester. I've seen dozens of humpbacks and minkes on whale watches, and to be honest, they kind of look like this. But I figure the experts know, and I'll take their word for it.

photo courtesy of the Whale Center of New England.

How We Do It: Two Writers Talk Technique

Caroline Leavitt and I have a pact. Each weekday, we are to write 1,000 words on our work in progress. Not on our freelance, but on our fun stuff - our novels. In today's blog on Caroline's site, I talk about why I think that works. Here, Caroline gives her own take! Let us know what you think.

A thousand words about love…
By Caroline Leavitt

It is a kind of love, this writing business, and Clea and I set up a bargain between us. Every day, except for weekends, we would pound out a thousand words on our novel. I’ve been determined to write in a more orderly way, since my last novel took me four years, and so did the one before it, and a lot of that time was because I didn’t write every day (life gets in the way), or I panicked about a bad stretch and stopped writing hoping something would rescue me. Or I simple didn’t write as much as I should have.

It isn’t always easy to produce a thousand words a day. Some days, I sit and stare at the computer and in desperation, rewrite a page from the previous day hoping to jumpstart my subconscious into creating something. It doesn’t always work. Some days, too, it is akin to root canal. Try as I might, the characters are so wooden they have splinters and the plot is so creaky it needs oil.

But some days, it works. Some days I write two t housand words. There’s a great satisfaction in getting those pages done, and the writing muscle grows stronger with this exercise. Lately, I’ve been having good writing days. The story is unwinding and I sit down with real peace, purpose and pleasure at my desk. I’m convinced this is from the hard work I’ve put in these past weeks, and my determination And it’s made me realize just how much I love writing—the whole messy, frustrating, insane, beautiful process of it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Men and cats

It's a trend! And I get quoted in the New York Times!

Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times
MAN’S NEW Best Friend Adam Fulrath, a k a “straight geeky guy,” with his cat Parappa, a k a his “primary relationship.”

Friday, October 3, 2008

Tapped out?

Did anyone else notice how often Sarah Palin used the verb "to tap" while debating Joe Biden last night? Does everyone here know that to "tap" is colloquial for "to fuck." As in, "McCain tapped that"? Is some Rovian strategist congratulating himself right now, thinking, "America wants to tap that, yes!"

Maybe I'm just losing it.

(I was mashing up some butternut squash for dinner when in her first answer Palin said something about "Saturday soccer games." I screamed and almost threw a spoonful of mashed squash at the TV. Then I realized that I was in my own house, it was my TV, and I really like mashed butternut squash and didn't want to waste it on her.)

Speaking of Sarah Palin: Don't forget that it is still Banned Books Week!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Evil in Paradise*

So ... get this. It's a lovely autumn day outside. Crisp, clear, sunny, and I'm finally over my cold, so I just took a break to meet a friend for tea. I pin my "Cat Lovers for Obama" button on my sweater and head out, happy as a lark. Halfway into Central Square, I run into a tall, well-dressed youngish man who calls out to me, "Is that an Obama button?" I stop, turn, and say, "Yes." I mean, hey, I live in Cambridge, the People's Republik. One of the two most liberal cities in our country (the other being San Francisco, though I know parts of the Upper West Side come close). I'm used to people stopping to ask me where I got such a cute button - and I'm trying to remember as I turn if it was or org. And as I turn and smile at him, he asks me, "Do you have a moment for some dialogue?"

And I think, uh oh. But hey, maybe he wants to know what Obama plans for the economy. Or maybe he's nervous about Obama's stance on "the war on terror," such as it is. These are reasonable concerns, and I do understand (really, most of the time) that differing opinions (and fears) will make some people support McCain. So I say, "Well, I'm running late, but I have a moment." And I try to summon up everything I've read recently, trying to get ready to respond.

But then I realize – and it takes me a few moments – that he's asking me, "What will Obama do about black men raping white woman." HUH? Yeah, that's what he's on about. So I tell him that I believe Obama will help the crime rate by helping the economy, and that if more people have access to jobs and education, the crime rate will drop. But he continues, "But what about when black men rape white women..." and he starts spouting some made-up numbers. So I counter: "But that's a fallacy. Most attacks on women are perpetrated by people they know. So most rapes are black on black or white on white." He's not listening and is still talking. So I keep talking. "Most sexual assaults of all kinds are perpetrated by someone who the victim already knows - husbands, ex-boyfriends, etc." (This is true, look it up.) He's still going on. So I finally wise up and just yell out: "YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT! I'M A WHITE WOMAN AND I'M VOTING FOR OBAMA." And I turn and walk away.

Just then, a black woman walks by us and turns to me, asking, "What was he on about?" "Crazy fucking racist," I respond, and we walk together the next few blocks, having a nice chat about violence against women and self-defense courses we have both taken.

Man. In Cambridge. This really makes me worry about the rest of the country.

*I'm not saying "serpent" because I'm not going to blame some innocent reptile for this. It's purely human.

Remembering Al Lupo

"The former longtime Globe columnist was this community's historian and its clarion. Humanity is poorer for his passing."

A very nice man, remembered here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

If only...

However, this story has me pretty much convinced that we need to have some kind of bailout now.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Banned Books Week (Pt. 2)

David Ulin, books editor over at the Los Angeles Times, has an interesting piece in today's paper. We should fight the banning of books, he says. But to ignore the potentially inflammatory nature of some books ("Mein Kampf," for example) is disingenuous. In other words, don't be simplistic.


Not exactly PC

Just got to interview the charming and thoughtful John Hodgman, author of the spanking new More Information Than You Require. We spoke for an upcoming piece in the Boston Phoenix; I'll post a link when that runs. But in brief, I will say he was a lovely, intelligent (for a Yalie) conversationalist. We ended up talking more about politics than about humor, and he cheered me up with his insight into why we may end up electing the Democratic ticket.

We did chat about humor some. To wit: "What amuses me, particularly when we’re talking about historical stuff, is using absurdity or exaggeration simply to remind us how absurd reality actually is – and was. The idea that Jimmy Carter actually went on television to tell us to turn down our thermostats and wear a sweater is so bizarre. It’s so removed from what we consider political reality today that it seems like it must have been a dream. One of those weird "I was eating peaches with Jimmy Carter and Ralph Waldo Emerson showed up and told us to get lost” sort of things.

And by the way? He uses a Mac.

Monday, September 29, 2008

How We Do It: Two Writers Talk Technique

My dear friend, the lovely and talented Caroline Leavitt, and I have decided to start a regular Monday trade-off of blogs based on questions we've gotten over the years. This week, we're both taking on the balancing act that most working writers face: how we make money and art, ideally without losing our minds.

Clea Simon and I have been talking a lot about how people perceive writers and the work we really do. Outside of a very lucky view who get gigantic advances or movie deals or who are married to people of means, most writers I know have to have other jobs. (Note: the key words are HAVE TO.) A lot teach and have jobs at universities. Most oil in freelance writing world. It isn't always easy.

So what do I do and how do I do it? I teach advanced novel writing through UCLA, a dream job if there ever was one. It's all on line, and I can do it at three in the morning if I want. I write press releases for a vanity publisher. I name things for a few namers. I have private clients whose manuscripts I mentor, and I sometimes do this work for agents. I write children's books for two different companies and I ghostwrite. I write a book column for The Boston Globe and I'm the books editor for Dame Magazine and I am a book critic for People.

I love all my jobs. I really do. They're all varied and interesting and creative and I get to do some good and give back. But most importantly, I can make my own hours. I can work at home right across the hall from my honey. Is there a downside?

Well, my husband, a writer and editor at Jazz Times, works the same way I do, which means we pay for our own health insurance, which is the price of a small country. We know all too well the ebb and flow of freelance jobs (My husband lost one big one the day he told his boss I was pregnant.) We have a son and we worry about money all the time.

it's hard sometimes, too, to remember that the writing has to come first. You might have twelve things due that day, but you have to get in those thousand words. Or at least, in an emergency, 500.

But this kind of life is really lucky. It's a gift. i wouldn't trade it and it suits me. The one time I held a fulltime job, at the now defunct and odious Columbia House Video Club, I had anxiety attacks. I was yelled at for not having "a marketing personality." I was told that everyone knew I was a novelist and there fore I must be thinking more about plot than videos, and so every mistake would be blamed on me. But I was fast and smart and good at my job and I knew they would never fire me. I left on my own, saying that while I was physically able to do the job, I was spiritually unable. I never looked back! And I never, never, ever wake up with that rock in the pit of my stomach anymore.

Thanks, Caroline! You can read my thoughts on Caroline's blog.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Read...while you still can!

Sound like something out of Orwell's "1984"? It's not. If some folks have their way, a huge range of books – covering everything from health (including our reproductive systems) to fiction (including Phillip Pullman, Mark Twain, and that great, terrifying Orwell novel) – will not be available in our public libraries or schools.

Does this matter? Of course it does! Especially as the economy worsens, more and more of us will be looking to read, and to educate our children, using public resources – resources our tax dollars have paid for.

Today marks the beginning of the Banned Book Week, a time when we should celebrate our freedom to read – while we still have it! Read one of the most frequently challenged books of last year. Support your local library. And make sure you know which candidates support our continued intellectual freedom.

And what radicals are behind this? Well, the American Library Association is one co-sponsor. Their literature points out the importance, saying:

“Intellectual freedom can exist only where two essential conditions are met: first, that all individuals have the right to hold any belief on any subject and to convey their ideas in any form they deem appropriate; and second, that society makes an equal commitment to the right of unrestricted access to information and ideas regardless of the communication medium used, the content of the work, and the viewpoints of both the author and receiver of information. Freedom to express oneself through a chosen mode of communication, including the Internet, becomes virtually meaningless if access to that information is not protected. Intellectual freedom implies a circle, and that circle is broken if either freedom of expression or access to ideas is stifled.”

Friday, September 26, 2008

Tricks and treats

Wow, summer is just barely over and already there's a chill in the air. The trees are beginning to blaze orange and red. And for anyone who loves cats - or a slightly scary bit of woo-woo, that can only mean one thing: Halloween is on the way!
One of the groups I chat with was looking for Halloween read so I'm going to blow my own horn and remind you all that my Cattery Row works as a Halloween-themed mystery. As it opens, it's early October in New England. The leaves are changing and Violet's shelter is preparing to host a Halloween party that will have games and prizes centered on cat-themed myths and legends. But someone is stealing cats...

In terms of other spooky/scary fun: I confess, I've been totally won over by the very real-seeming Southern Gothic of "True Blood" on HBO. I wanted to like them because I'd read so much about how Charlaine Harris, once a midlist author (like me), trusted her muse and came up with the idea of telepathic waittress Sookie Stackhouse and a near-future in which vampires would be campaigning for their rights - and I love them! So, tell me, do you have a favorite Halloween story or show? Something spooky for the season?

(and yeah, the new Worldwide Mystery edition of Cattery Row is less than $5, too.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Books for Barack!

Man, most of the writers I know are broke. No exaggeration. And yet check this out: Author Ayelet Waldman sent out an email asking authors to donate books for a Barack Obama fund drive and she's gotten more than a thousand donations. She's gotten so many books that instead of trying to auction them all off, she's started "Books for Barack." The idea is that anyone who donates $250 will get a package of ten books, chosen at random, from the hundreds of signed, often rare first editions that she has received. And she continues to get more books! (That's her up top, surrounded.)

Writers are the coolest people – tied only by people who read. So check it out. Put your money where your heart is. Donate a book (or three) or send a donation and get the best surprise package in the world: Ten books ... and change!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Respect for the reader

I am not a master of mysteries. With each book, I learn more about plotting, characterization, spinning out the strands that will keep readers involved. But I love mysteries, and I am grateful for the interest and support of the readers who have encouraged and maybe even enjoyed my fledgling efforts.

That's why I was so ticked off when I opened Entertainment Weekly and read the following from Dennis Lehane, talking about mysteries: ''I was never comfortable with them anyway. I'd be writing these friggin' whodunits,'' he laughs, getting excited, ''and I could care less. I wanna tell everybody on page 2, he killed so-and-so, he done it! If you look at my books in that regard — and I'll be 100 percent honest about my flaws — you can see how I was whipping out the kitchen sink just to obscure s---, like the identity of the serial killer or whatever, and that's why the books got so labyrinthian in the last 100 pages.''

Lehane, for those who don't know, just published a non-mystery, an E.L. Doctorow-style historical epic called "The Given Day." I'm happy for him. But to launch his new venture, he has stirred up the whole genre war issue (are mysteries literature?, etc.) and it has given me a headache. I understand trying to drum up attention, but this simply shows a lack of respect for the reader (never mind the genre). I've never been a fan of Lehane, and after reading this I'm even less inclined to try his so-called "serious" fiction. If you don't love the genre – and respect the readers – you shouldn't have been writing mysteries. Shame on you, Dennis.

Friday, September 19, 2008

First, you get the rust...

As you've heard me complain, getting back into the writing discipline is hard, hard, hard. But I've been making myself churn out some words every day - knowing that they maybe total trash - following the theory that you let the tape run and eventually clean water comes out. Well, it's not exactly gushing yet. But I did wake up last night thinking, "Of course! she doesn't understand!" (which makes sense in the context of my work in progress). Very refreshing.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More than 140,000 responses...

from women of all ages, religions, and ethnicities. Read some of them here. And please do what you can: donate your money, your time, get a friend registered. Wear a button.

And vote.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The book is dead

The book is dead!

Long live the book!

In other words, kiddos, there's been yet another high profile story on why publishing is a dying industry, focusing on the multi-million dollar deals that don't pan out. Sure, it's hard. But guess what? We midlist authors keep on publishing. So if you all will just keep on reading, I think we'll be okay.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Christie speaks!

Wow! Today's New York Times reveals that a box containing 27 audiotapes of Agatha Christie talking about her life has been discovered!

The reels contain dictation, seemingly done in preparation for writing her autobiography. And what does Dame Agatha, grand mistress of the mystery, have to say? Well, Poirot – her first and most famous detective – was "a complete egoist." Miss Marple, another of her beloved creations, was "puffy and spinsterish."

Friday, September 12, 2008

My pride (Cat Lovers for Obama)

In the lioness sense, that is. Just bought this here. But, hey, if you order the button for fun, you should also go here and make a real donation, too. Every little bit helps!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cats against Palin ...

Thank you, Paul Krugman for this link and quote (in yesterday's NYT blog):

We already had Dogs Against Romney. Now we need Cats Against Palin:

When asked to reveal something about Palin that no one knows, one woman offered, “She doesn’t care for cats very much,” and another chimed in, “Oh, yes, she’s afraid of my cat.”

... the king is dead, long live...

What's in a name? If you're Dr. Hector Carpentier, an impoverished young physician in 1818 Paris, everything....
(my review of Louis Bayard's The Black Tower in today's Boston Globe).

... and finally

Let's not forget those who died seven years ago today. And, let's face it, how the Bush Administration could have averted these attacks.
The warnings were going straight to President Bush each morning in his briefings by the CIA director, George Tenet, and in the presidential daily briefings. It would later be revealed by the 9/11 commission into the September 11 attacks that more than 40 presidential briefings presented to Bush from January 2001 through to September 10, 2001, included references to
bin Laden.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How We Write: Getting Started with Caroline Leavitt

Caroline Leavitt is the kind of friend a writer needs. Highly accomplished (eight novels - see her home page) and unfailingly generous with her time and good thoughts, she's also about 100 pages into her latest novel. But when she and I sat down to discuss writing, "how we get started" came up. So here are Caroline's thoughts on the subject. Mine are running today on her blog.

I’m really honored Clea asked me to guest on her blog. Part of my writing day is always checking in with her. How’s the work going? What are you having problems with? That constant support and connection keeps me going. The lucky thing is we are both starting new novels now, so we’re going through this whole process together and every once in a while, we are going to guest on each other’s blogs to talk about our writing progress. (So be sure to check my blog today for Clea’s entry!)

How do I work? Slowly---I’m in the honeymoon phase right now, where I have about 100 pages that work. The beginning of a novel is always wonderful because you are newly obsessed with the idea, you have a passion for the characters and the first chapter seems great every time you have read it (which at this count, for me, is about ten thousand times.)

But now, today, I’m venturing a little deeper into my novel, and the ground is giving way a bit. I set up my premise, but now what? (You should know I’m deeply superstitious, and while I can talk about the writing process forever, the thought of talking about the actual characters and plot gives me brain panic) So I gather my courage. I always start by rewriting a little of what I did the day before—say a page—the way you warm up your muscles with stretches before really getting into the exercise. Then I line up music that I know takes about three to four hours to finish. And I work. Today, I’m obsessed with my character Simon’s past and how it impacts his present, so I get to weave in some back-story.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sarah Palin does not represent us

On Wednesday, Sept. 3, two concerned women sent an email to 40 of their friends and colleagues, asking them to respond to Sarah Palin's candidacy as vice president of the United States. These 40 friends and colleagues forwarded the letter to others. By Sunday, the bloggers had received more than 6,000 responses. Here are those responses.

"Come, come, my conservative friend, wipe the dew off your spectacles, and see that the world is moving."
—Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Monday, September 8, 2008

Friday, September 5, 2008


Okay, I'm not sure exactly who did the murder, but if it turns out to be who I think, then I have my murder weapon. I also have a ton more information on the fall guy (or fall dog, to be specific), thanks to a long and very fun conversation with Eddie Ramos, the Duxbury Animal Control Officer (thanks, Eddie!). And I'm facing the hard truth.

It's hard to write. Damned hard.

Especially after a summer of revision and smaller projects, of cleaning up and paring down. It. Is. Difficult. To. Sit. Down. And. Write.

But, you know, after a while research can just be a way of avoiding the necessary. So... I'm doing it. (My current policy is to tell myself that if I can just bash out a rough draft before the new year, I can always trash it and start a new book in January. Reduces the fear element.)

Thought for the day, courtesy of W.B. Yeats:

'A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.'

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Looking for a murder weapon

So after much back and forth and the kind of agony that involves getting a cup of tea. Putting it down. Walking around the house. Checking your email. Putting a load of laundry in. Making another cup of tea, and then realizing you already had one cooling. Checking on the laundry, which hasn't yet reached rinse cycle. Checking your email. Pouring out the tea because it has gone bitter. Checking your email. Finally putting laundry in the drier .... I think I've finally started writing again.

At any rate, today I am going to a nursery/garden supplies store. I'm getting ahead of myself, but if I can find what I hope to find, some of the crucial pieces may just fall into place. I'm looking for a murder weapon!

Back to ... school?

The air is crisper, the brain a bit more alert. Time for new projects. And since I'm hard at work, please let me direct you to the guest blog I wrote on just this topic for Musings of a Bookish Kitty.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Jumping the gun....

OK, more on this when Banned Book Week starts on Sept. 27. But why not start early? After all, it seems quite possible that we may end up with a book banner in the White House if we don't keep on this.

(ADDED LATER: I am, of course, referring to Sarah Palin. And while there has been some question about whether she actually went forward with her plans to ban books from the Wassilla library or what books she wanted banned, the New York Times has reported - after talking to multiple sources - that she "approached the town librarian about the possibility of banning some books." When the town librarian vowed to resist censorship, she fired her. That's enough for me. More than enough.)

Celebrate your freedom while you still have it. Read a frequently banned book and pass one along to a friend. I'm going to start by re-reading Madeleine L'Engle's wonderful A Wrinkle in Time. Dangerous stuff, ideas.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Books: "Those Who Hunt the Night"

Picking up the thread started by Patti Abbott a few months back, I'd like to use today to draw attention to a really fun book, Barbara Hambly's "Those Who Hunt the Night."

I first became aware of Hambly's work through her Benjamin January series, a wonderful mystery series set in New Orleans before the Civil War. Her hero, Benjamin January, is a free person of color whose mother is a placeé and whose sister is a voodoienne. Trained as a physician in Paris, Benjamin has returned to his native city to find an influx of Americans, who don't understand the complex race relations in a city where African American citizens may own slaves. It's a great series, and I recommend it highly.

But while I was on vacation, I stumbled across another Hambly title in a used bookstore. I'd heard that Hambly had written fantasy before she turned to mysteries, but this lovely, fun adventure/mystery is well grounded in historical reality. Well, sort of... The period is early 1900, the dawning of a new "modern" age. Her hero, James Asher, is an Oxford professor, and his wife, Lydia, is a researcher. They are both so well grounded in science that you can imagine their skepticism when they are confronted by a vampire who claims to have been "turned" in the 16th Century. He needs their help to find out who is killing his undead colleagues – and he's willing to hold humanity hostage. By the time Ysidro wins over James and Lydia, I was totally won over as well. I'm not usually a reader of fantasy or "woo woo," but this engaging novel worked. Let's revive it from the dead!

PS. Check out Patti's blog for more forgotten books.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Falling forward

Well, I guess I'm starting my next book on Tuesday. After a long weekend filled with friends and family and maybe one more beach trip. It's Thursday already, so it's not going to happen now. I can't say this week has been a waste. The weather has been gorgeous, just a hint of fall in the air. And I've caught up on some outstanding freelance work – and on some old friends.

But one of those friends is a working artist, a musician and a painter. And when I told her about my dilemma – not sure which project to start on, not sure if I should apply myself or wait for inspiration – she put it quite succinctly. "When I make myself paint, something happens. It may be good, it may very well be bad. But something happens. When I don't make myself paint..."

Point taken. On Tuesday, I'm going to start my real writing again (the freelance is work-for-hire, so that doesn't count). I may have to flush the rust out of the pipes, but at least I'll make something happen.

Do you have any resolutions for the new season?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Guest Blogger: Peggy Ehrhart

Peggy Ehrhart is a writer after my own heart. An English professor turned musician, Ehrhart (pictured above with Homer the cat) penned a smart, stylish first mystery featuring... you guessed it, a blues woman, "Maxx" Maxwell, who sings, leads the band, and also solves crime. Sweet Man is Gone is just out now, and to celebrate, Peggy posed the question...

Why don’t more women play the electric guitar?

I’m the proud owner--and player--of several Strats, but female electric guitarists are such a rarity that when it came time to create my heroine in Sweet Man Is Gone, I went with the stereotype and made her a singer.

But why is the chick always the singer, never the lead guitarist? I’ve decided it’s rooted in profound differences between men and women--a topic for the sociobiologists. But I’m going to take a stab at it.

Most people who play the electric guitar start in their teens. The electric guitar has everything to recommend it to teenage boys and almost nothing to recommend it to teenage girls. And by the time the teen years are past, it’s hard to catch up. I started playing as an adult. I’ve now been at it for fifteen years and play like a fair-to-middling teenage boy.

Guys love gear and girls don’t. Girls are put off by an instrument that seems to require a mastery of electronics.

Playing the electric guitar requires physical exertion, speed, dexterity, and endurance—the very qualities teenage boys would cultivate whether electric guitars existed or not.

Most styles played on the electric guitar require loads of time to master, much of it spent in solitude. It’s a stereotype that women talk more than men and depend on verbal interaction to relate to those around them. But stereotypes are based on fact. I’m not sure most women can cut themselves off from society and devote themselves to hours and hours of practice the way guys do. And women who are introspective loners are more likely to spend their time reading--immersing themselves in words rather than sounds. That’s certainly what I did as a teenager.

And finally, most styles played on the electric guitar stem ultimately from the blues. The archetypal blues guitarist is male. His persona is that of a virile seducer who can get any woman he wants, a virtuosic player who can outplay any other guitarist. I had a lot of tongue-in-cheek fun with that in Sweet Man Is Gone.

But it’s significant that males start playing the guitar at puberty. It’s a great way to celebrate their developing manhood, and the competitive factor dovetails nicely with the way teenage boys interact with their peers. They compete with each other in everything, and they admire the guys who star—whether at skateboarding, on the football field, or in the band.

Teenage girls interact with each other not by competing, but by cooperating and sharing. Teenage girls who take up the guitar could of course find boys to compete with, but the last thing most girls that age want to do is scare boys away.

Furthermore, for all that teenage girls want to attract the opposite sex, they want to be courted. With rare exceptions they’d be uncomfortable displaying themselves as the blatantly sexual aggressor that the guitar hero tradition demands.

So it’s not surprising that so few women play the electric guitar. The wonder is that any do.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Clearing the deck

So after a week on the beach and more lobster than should be legal, I'm back here at my newly clean desk, thinking about what comes next. Before I left, a friend asked me if I knew which project I wanted to tackle: the grumpy pet psychic detective (based on my "pet noir" short story) or "World Enough," the bigger, possibly darker rock and roll mystery I've been toying with for over a year. Or something completely different. I told her that I didn't know, that I planned on not thinking about it over vacation and letting my subconscious make its own moves. That was easier than I expected. Sitting on the beach reading (Barry Unsworth, Barbara Hambly, Louis Bayard, and – my favorite new discovery – D.J. Taylor, whose Victorian mystery Kept kept me enthralled), swimming, staring at the horizon... it was easy to forget my own projects.

Even the one afternoon when it rained, when we ended up blowing off a lunch date with friends to sit on our tiny porch and watch the lightening recede over Cape Cod Bay, I found myself totally occupied by the present, rather than thoughts of the upcoming or the planned. The one flicker I had was in a dream, in which I was working on a book and was just delirious with glee because I'd just figured out some incredibly clever clue or plot twist. I think it was "World Enough," but all I really recall is that feeling of satisfaction. And then I woke to another breezy, sun-drenched day, water warm enough to swim in, and a great blue heron fishing in the salt marsh.

All in all, quite nice.

But now I'm back, catching up on freelance, and looking ahead and still feeling rather blank. It's the week before Labor Day, so maybe my mind is still on summer break. And I am thinking of that dream and wondering when I'll get back to work. If nothing happens by next Tuesday, I'll make myself write – just to get the muscles moving again. Until then, I'm hoping for another dream...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

What makes a great catsitter

It's not just the security of knowing that our great friend Naomi (of the band Damon and Naomi) would feed and care for Musetta during our absence. It was also receiving this snapshot, from her cell phone, of Musetta waking from a nap "fine and fluffy."

Thank you, Naomi!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Gone fishin'

With Probable Claws in the can (or, at least, in the capable hands of the Poisoned Pen Press production crew), now's a perfect time to go on vacation, don't you think?

Back soon!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Spring ahead... to Probable Claws

Just got the word: Probable Claws, my fourth Theda Krakow mystery, will be published next April by Poisoned Pen Press! More info as I get it, and an excerpt will go up on my site soon. But in the meantime: someone is trying to poison shelter cats, and when Theda investigates she finds herself arrested for murder!

Colin Cotterill: Among the Hmong

In his latest Dr. Siri mystery, The Curse of the Pogo Stick, (which I review in today's Boston Globe) author Colin Cotterill has his Lao hero spend time with the Hmong hill tribes. Although he's taken against his will, Dr. Siri finds himself thoroughly enjoying his time with a people who are victimized by all, but who remain a spiritual and fun-loving people. A really lovely book.

PS. Check out Colin's website. It's fun, too.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Guest Blogger: Lauren Baratz-Losted

My guest today is author Lauren Baratz-Logsted, a multi-talented writer who has authored books in a variety of styles. Her latest, which looks like great fun, is The Sisters Eight a children's series about eight strong girls (sisters, no less) who find themselves and solve a mystery... with the help of their cats. (Here's a link to the first book.) Take it away, Lauren!

We all know the world can be divided into two groups. No, I’m not talking about Democrats and Republicans. I’m talking about Cat People and Dog People; and, since I’m here, I think we all know where my party allegiance lies. In fact, that allegiance is so strong, when I set out to write my first (unsold) book back in 1994, I had my heroine comment on the preference for feline help when solving mysteries, “Ever here that phrase ‘you sly dog’? As if!”

Twelve years later, in December 2006, having been stranded in Colorado by a blizzard, my family embarked on an exciting project: We decided to write a series of books together that would be suitable to the youngest of we three, “we three” meaning me, my husband Greg Logsted (whose YA debut, Something Happened, comes out in November) and our now eight-year-old daughter Jackie. The series, titled The Sisters Eight, would be about octuplets, born on 8/8/2000, whose lives change forever on New Year’s Eve 2007 when Mom goes out to the kitchen for eggnog, Dad goes out to the woodshed for firewood…and neither come back. Now the Eights, as they are known, must endeavor to solve the mystery of what happened to their parents while keeping the wider world from realizing that eight little girls are living home alone.

Jackie named the sisters: Annie, Durinda, Georgia, Jackie, Marcia, Petal, Rebecca, and Zinnia. Even if it’s her mom saying so, I think there are some pretty original names in there and I really like the metafictional hubris of naming a character after herself – the nicest character, of course.

Me, I got to name the eight gray-and-white puffball cats that play an important role in the series: Anthrax, Dandruff, Greatorex, Jaguar, Minx, Precious, Rambunctious, and Zither. I think I did a pretty good job of naming too.

As I say, the cats do have an important role. In order to solve the mystery, each sister must discover her own power, and as the sisters receive their powers, the cats do as well. So that when Annie learns she can _____, Anthrax similarly learns she can…

Well, I guess you’ll just have to start reading the series when it pubs on December 29 in order to find out. Oh, and series publisher Houghton Mifflin has kindly created a website for people to keep up with the Eights.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Chatting with Tana French

Two weeks ago, I got to interview Tana French for the Boston Phoenix. The Edgar-winning author of In the Woods was in town promoting The Likeness, her second smart psychological mystery, and we had a good chat over coffee in the elegant Oak Room. I got to pick the choice bits of our conversation for the Phoenix, which you can read here. But, space being what it is, I couldn't fit everything in. So here are some bonus bits:

You've been successful as an actress, so why start writing?
Everyone else in my family is a writer, but usually nonfiction. I think it's only me and a cousin who write fiction.

I've always written. I used to write short stories,and then some godawful poetry when I was a teenager. I never decided to go back to writing, I just had the idea [for In the Woods] and I really wanted to see how it would turn out. I really didn’t think I could write a book, but I figured I could write a scene, and then another scene, and the next thing I knew I had a chapter.

Does your acting background influence your writing?
Yes, because for me, what the character would do shapes the plot, not vice versa.

There’s a little bombshell dropped at the end of The Likeness that refers back to something in In the Woods. Had you planned this all along?
No, I didn’t have a clue. That showed up halfway through The Likeness when I was starting to write -- it was sort of back engineered. What happens in real life is that you’re wandering around the house daydreamign and you go, "Oh! I know!” ... Your subconscious does stuff that you weren’t planning on, and it seemed obvious, like I’d been planning it all the time.