Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sisterhood is Powerful

Okay, she's not a cat. But the four-year-old Ms. G. may be the first official female groundhog of Groundhog's Day. Mass. resident? You can vote for Ms. G. here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Theda #4

Well, folks, after much soul searching (and bugging of friends, relatives, and total strangers), I am happy to announce the working title of Theda Krakow mystery #4: PROBABLE CLAWS.

This title, suggested independently by both Phil Mann and Rob Chalfen though what became an avalanche of emails (and a lot of fun) has narrowly beaten out THE SOUND AND THE FURRY, HISS OF DEATH, and BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG KITTY. All of which make me smile.

Of course, titles are really up to my publisher, but I'm going to lobby for PROBABLE CLAWS. And at least I have something to put on my ongoing work-in-progress besides "Theda4."

If all goes according to plan, look for the new Theda in early spring, '09. And now, back to work.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Blogging for Patry

Last summer, I was invited to participate in a very fun event, down on the edge of Cape Cod in Falmouth. Called "Death and Dessert," it brought a few of us authors together with a lovely crowd ... and lots of really great sweets! While I tried to avert my eyes from the frosted brownies, I found myself chatting with my fellow panelists. David Hosp, a sweet, funny guy, I'd met before. He writes legal thrillers, which makes sense, because he's a lawyer. Paul Kemprecos I'd never met before, but he was who I hope to be at some point - wise, wry, self-effacing, and just lovely. The fourth panelist was a local woman I couldn't believe I hadn't met in person before, Patry Francis. Patry and I knew each other from the online community Readerville, so I knew she was the author of a debut novel, The Liar's Diary, which sounded marvelous. But even she expressed some surprise to find herself in our midst. Not that "The Liar's Diary" doesn't have suspense, but it's more than a thriller, more than a family story. More poetic and yet readable.

Today, "The Liar's Diary" comes out in paperback. Patry is recovering from cancer and around the country (maybe around the world), people are blogging for her. So take a look at Patry Francis's "The Liar's Diary" today, or at least check out this trailer. You'll be glad you did!

Friday, January 25, 2008

The fumes made me do it

"A prize-winning novelist has won a settlement of more than £100,000 after she claimed to have become so intoxicated by fumes from a nearby shoe factory that she was reduced to writing thrillers."

Thanks to Sarah Weinman for posting the complete article over at her Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind crime fiction blog.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Cats & puns & rock & roll?

Hi, my name is Clea and I need help.

I am addicted to puns and literary references. It probably started back when my father first handed me a wooden quarter-sized disc with the letters TUIT on it. "Have you ever said you'll do something when you can get a round to it? Now you have one!" He'd smile at this point and point out the obvious: "It's a Round Tuit!" Maybe it's genetic.

The condition continued with my last nonfiction book, "The Feline Mystique," a play on "The Feminine Mystique." And I've certainly indulged it with my mysteries: "Mew is for Murder" plays (or is supposed to play) on both "Murder in the Mews" and "M is for Murder." "Cattery Row," which does in fact deal with catteries, on "Cannery Row," and my new "Cries and Whiskers" on Bergman's great "Cries and Whispers."

But, you see, now I'm having problems. I'm deep into Theda #4, and I haven't yet come up with a good title. Something that immediately says both "cat" and "great work of art" (I'm being somewhat facetious here). If it also says "murder" or "mystery," so much the better. I've been playing with "Claws of Death," or some other claws/clause pun (I'm a former copy editor). But do you have any ideas? "Gimme Shelters"? "Whisker to a Scream"? (Sadly, "Whisker of Evil" has already been used.)

Come on, how much worse can yours be? If I use yours, I'll not only send you a signed book, I'll thank you in the acknowledgments of Theda #4, Title TBA.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Hear ye, hear ye!

Cries and Whiskers is an audio book! (Here it is on, also on Amazon as a CD-ROM, wonder if they'll send me one of those?) My copies of the Blackstone Audio eight-CD set (hey, it's unabridged) just arrived. I'm a little afraid to listen, lest reader Tavia Gilbert doesn't sound like Theda to me. But I am thrilled.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Should this be in a family newspaper?

File under "heavy petting" (and "equal time" for this blog): I love this. If a dog can smile, Joan Lowell Smith's husky is smiling.

photo credit: Jim Pathe/The Star-Ledger

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Steve Dale's PetCast

Columnist and WGN-AM (720) Chicago radio personality Steve Dale named "Cries and Whiskers" a "pick of the litter," and interviewed me for his Pet Central show. Here's the PetCast. (I'm up after "The Shelter Dog." Equal time?)

Monday, January 14, 2008


I review "Night Train to Lisbon" for the Boston Globe. Didn't like it much.

But I was happy to see TNR mentioned in this story about feral cats in today's Globe.

Posting for Patry

Hi folks,

I'm a member of Backspace, , a fun and supportive writing site, of which Karen Dionne is the administrator. She sent this email around a few days ago, and I've signed up. So, you'll be hearing more from me on this on Jan. 29. But in case any of you out there are bloggers, I'm posting Karen's invite. We all write alone, doesn't mean we can't have a community!

all best,

Hi, all -

A Backspace member, Patry Francis, whose debut novel THE LIAR'S DIARY is due to come out in trade paper on January 29, was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. She's had several surgeries and her prognosis is good, but since she's home recuperating, she won't be able to do anything with regard to promotion.

A few of her author friends are arranging a THE LIAR'S DIARY Blog Day for her on January 29, and the idea has REALLY taken off. In just one week, 120 authors have already agreed to blog about Patry's book on the 29th, including a couple with amazingly huge readerships, like Neil Gaiman and Jennifer Weiner, as well as a few who blog in conjunction with online magazines like Writers Digest and SMITH Magazine.

Most of the bloggers, though, are ordinary folks whose blogs haven't yet attained that reach, but still want to help. Susan Henderson is keeping the list on her website, LitPark. It's growing by the minute, and no wonder; Patry is a lovely person, who is dealing with her situation unsentimentally, and with courage and grace. (Read more here.)

We're asking folks who'd like to join this project to email me, so I can add them to the bloggers' list. Brilliance Audio is making a special clip available, and Circle of Seven Productions is putting together a short video, and I'll email these materials along with a press release from Patry's publisher and appropriate links to bloggers a few days before the event.

It's our hope that as the number of bloggers continues to grow, this event might expand beyond the Internet to radio and print. Individually, there's not a lot any one of us can do, but collectively, the impact will be significant!

If you could help spread the word by forwarding this email to those you think might want to get involved, or by blogging about her book on the 29th, that'd be great!

Thanks very much on Patry's behalf for your support and help -

All best,

Karen Dionne, Administrator, Backspace LLC
FREEZING POINT (coming October 2008 from Berkley)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Guest blog: Brett Milano

Brett Milano has done a lot of things in his life, many of which have to do with rock and roll and some with cats. So when I saw this stellar review of his new book, The Sound of Our Town: A History of Boston Rock, I knew I had to ask him to blog.

Take it away, Brett!

In the 1920s, there existed an over-the-counter alcoholic tonic, beloved by certain blues artists, known as Hadacol. According to legend, that medical-sounding name came about because they hadda call it somethin’.

I kept a lot of the same logic in mind when I chose names for my cats…After a few days being able to settle on a name, you wind up punting because “Hey, cat!” isn’t working anymore. Being of a musical persuasion, I tend to name my cats after musicians. Though those names don’t always suit the character. During the ’80s I loved the Ramones, so it made sense that I named my cat—a big, floppy black Persian—after the bass player, Dee Dee. But it must be said that he bore no resemblance to the band’s scrawny, wired-up bassist. If anything, I heard often that he looked more like James Brown. There were times when he vocalized like him too, though his moves, bless his heart, were a whole lot clumsier. And he’d never wear a cape, no matter how many times you tried to drape it round him.

The dilemma turned up when I recently came to own a big, grand, silver Maine coon. Musical names in fact run in his family: His dad, the most prolific stud cat of his neighborhood, had earned the name Led Zeppelin—not just for the sexual connotation, but because he did resemble that silver blimp on the band’s album covers. My guy had been christened Mick, as in Jagger. While the name seemed appropriate swagger-wise, it didn’t sit well with either of us: the name doesn’t roll off the tongue (a good cat name should be at least two syllables), and seemed a bit generic—while my cat was anything but. Given my love for New Orleans music, I started going through the musicians’ names in search of an appropriate monicker.

Mac (as in Rebennack, a/k/a Dr. John) was an early contender, but had the same problem as Mick: Not enough resonance, though my cat does share some of the Doctor’s imposing character. Fess, as in Professor Longhair, was also briefly considered. Finally I went down the list of Neville Brothers. Art and Charles were too common to be good cat names. Aaron? Getting closer, though how can you give that name to a doesn’t like to meow? (This, I have to say, was strictly a phase: He now meows in three languages and sings gospel). So I went with the fourth brother, Cyril. Not only is it a fine-sounding name—the Cy sound is perfect for calling cats across the room—but it suits him; Cyril being the most fiery of the four Nevilles and the percussionist (my Cyril mainly plays percussion by knocking bottles off shelves). He began responding to the name almost immediately, emitting a little chirrup whenever he’s called, so it must be working. Besides, I hadda call him something.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Library cats

It must be something in the air. I guest blogged over at Jungle Red today in praise of libraries. And then I heard that another blog was starting a "library cat" blog, the idea being to solicit library cat stories for an e-book celebrating National Library Week this spring, April 13-19. No pay, but a nice way for writers – even unknowns – to get a little exposure. I mean, cats... books... what's not to like? At any rate, when A Library Cat's owner, Marisa D'Vari and I chatted, she offered to write "a little something," which includes an interview with her own feline bibliophile, Apricat:

Love cats? Love mysteries?

My name is Apricat and I convinced my human to create a blog called A Library Cat, and on it, collect stories of all of us felines who love to hang out in libraries and read books.

Of course, we don’t really “read” … personally, I prefer to curl up on top of a good book and simply absorb what it has to say. Personally, I visit the New York Public Library on fifth avenue every day. I like to see the lions in front of the Library (a symbol of the cat kingdom, even though they are inferior creatures) and like to give motivational talks to the stray and street cats in the area. My human is forcing me to say that my favorite books are Building Buzz: How to Reach and Impress Your Target Audience, and Creating Characters: Let Them Whisper Their Secrets, [both by Marisa - ed.note] but I prefer to read about the way people worshipped cats in ancient Egypt. Clea Simon and Musetta have invited me to interview my human about why she created this blog.

Q: Marisa (I always call my human by her first name) why did you create A Library Cat?
A: National Library Week 2008 is celebrated (April 13-19). It was created by the American Library Association in 1958, and is a reminder for people to visit and support their local libraries.

Q: Why are you asking cats to submit their library reading experiences?
A: As you said, Apricat, Cats love to absorb information – you are a curious species! Just like you love to read my books at the New York Public Library, other cats around the United States like to read books their humans have written personally or enjoy reading. Some cats just like to read books about other cats.

Q: What are you doing with the stories?
A: People can write stories under 500 words (see guidelines below) and send them to me in an email at I will post them on the web. Then, about a month before National Library week, I will turn the stories into an ebook and make them available for a free download. People will find out about the download via press releases I will write to call attention to the holiday and the Library cat ebook.

Q: Why would cats (or their humans) want to participate?
A: If the cat or human has a web site or book to promote, I include live links to Amazon or their web site. The links will be live in the ebook as well.

Here are the guidelines:

Marisa D’Vari is collecting fun stories of under 500 words about what books your cat would read if allowed to spend the day browsing at your local library. Stories must include the name and a descriptor of your local library, and the title of the book your cat would read. And hey, if the cat happens to read the book you wrote, so much the better. A link to Amazon or your web site will appear in the header (see example below) and the text. An ebook of the stories will be put into a ebook to help celebrate National Library Week 2008(April 13-19), a holiday created by the American Library Association, and available for a free download from A Library Cat site. I will send out the press releases to promote the ebook and web featuring your story/links closer to National Library Week. Here is a sample of how Cynthia Baxter, author of "The Reigning Cats & Dogs Mystery Series" (Bantam Books) submitted her story.

Questions? Contact

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Guest Blogger: Linda L. Richards

What’s in a name, anyway? This question came up for me again a few days ago, when Clea and I were making preparations for my visit here. At one point she said something like, “it’s a good thing the protagonist of your book is named Kitty, ‘cause she’ll feel right at home on my blog.”

And I laughed, of course, because it was funny and because Clea has the sort of witty energy that’s difficult to resist when she wants you to smile. But at the same time, I thought about what she’d said. Kitty. At this point, I’m having a tough time remembering where that even came from. And her last name: Pangborn? That I remember: I pulled it right out of the air. But I envisioned this young socialite thrust onto hard times. And she’s born a Katherine: Katherine right down to her matched luggage and her hand-stitched towels. And then the world changes -- the stock market crashes, her father kills himself, The Depression sweeps the country -- and she reluctantly emerges as “Kitty:” someone who puts up with a diminutive because she must. (Sorry, Clea: nothing at all to do with cats!)

Now here’s a secret, something I haven’t told anyone else. A secret about Dexter Theroux, the main male character in Death Was the Other Woman. No one has asked me why I settled him with “Dexter.” And it’s a pretty good question: one especially apt for this venue.

So why Dexter? Why not David or Michael or John -- one of those good old saint names that pull so much use. Was something more off-beat called for? Then Percival might have had the same effect. Or Archibald could have served. But the truth is this: at the very moment that the book that would become Death Was the Other Woman was pouring itself into my brain, I was dogsitting my friend Pam’s canine companion. And this dog was a rakish old gentleman: an Australian Shepherd-cross-something-wirey. He had seen his share of summers, this old guy, his coat was thin in spots and his joints could be a bit sore in the morning, but there was something ineffably cool about him. You really got that, if he was a music lover, he’d listen to jazz. And not just any jazz, either. But the kind of cool jazz popularized by Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck. Something that calls for wearing a beret and a slouchy, stripey shirt.

We’d go for walks and he’d be very self-possessed. My own dog, Jett, would be bouncing around, trying to get him to play, and he would play with her, a little indulgently. But there was never any question but that he was thinking his own thoughts and preparing to do his own business. He was courteous to Jett, you understand -- even if that courtesy was sometimes tinged with an aloof superiority that he came by very honestly -- but it was clear that he was focusing on larger issues. And this dog -- of course, and you’ve guessed it by now -- this dog was named Dex.

So, I don’t know, I’m sitting in my studio writing away and Dex has taken up residence somewhere near my feet. (His mom is a writer, so I guess it made sense to him to station himself near the woman making all the sharp clacking sounds on the keyed plastic thing.)

While he’s there, snoring softly, this character waltzes into my manuscript. I recognized him as soon as he walked in. He is tall and good-looking in a 1930s movie star kind of way. But he’s damaged and if you look closely, you can see it in his eyes. And though he’s damaged and even self-medicating, there is a core of moral strength that is sometimes difficult to see. What’s not difficult to see: he’s done some living in those shoes.

The character I was creating is not now a Southerner, but when I first saw him, I thought he was. And because I was writing him, he needed a name right now. When I’m working, my characters must have names in the first instant. The names don’t always stick, and sometimes they go through quite a few changes before I’m done, but this one has stuck just as it came out of my brain that day, with the borrowed dog snoring gently near my feet: Dexter J. Theroux, which seemed to me to be a good name for a damaged Bourbon-sucking Southerner.

After a while, though, I realized that for Dexter to have sustained the kind of damage I required, he probably could not have been an American. The United States got into WW I quite late in the game and I wanted this character to have suffered in the trenches for years. In the end I made him Canadian, which was not a big stretch. In the first place -- and arguably -- Canadian soldiers saw the very worst of that war. The powers that be used the Canadian boys as disposable fighting commodities: you could put them into difficult positions (along with Australians and maybe the Scots) because it didn’t matter as much whether you got them out.

And there were a lot of Canadians living in California in those years. Like, an almost unthinkable number. It was not at all outside of the realm of possibility for Dex to be a Canuck. I did not give him a Quebecois heritage, but I’ve left it open enough that it’s a possibility, especially given the name.

Now Dex -- the original Dex, he of the snores and the scratchy, wirey coat -- passed onto the rainbow bridge in the summer of 2006, just as I was riding the book that would become Death Was the Other Woman to the finish line.

The loss of him left a hole in the world in the place where he used to be and it left a void at the side of the writer whose clacking he heard most often. He does not live on in my novel. That would be silly. A man shouldn’t be a dog. But a bit of him? Maybe a bit of him. The spirit of a too-cool-for-school Dexter, who’s seen enough of life, you can’t impress him anymore, that Dexter lives on in my book, and in her heart.

Monday, January 7, 2008

A different kind of Kitty...

Tomorrow, we'll be turning this space over to Linda L. Richards. In addition to being the editor of January magazine, Linda's a crime fiction author. We'll be celebrating the release of her new Death Was the Other Woman, which takes us back to 1930s Los Angeles in the company of one Kitty Pangborn, the tough and loyal secretary who keeps private eye Dex Theroux off the ropes.

The book has already garnered a good deal of advance praise, but I particularly like this Booklist review. Or maybe I just like the name Kitty...

“Using a female narrator for a Depression-era noir tale seems a calculated strategy, but Richards makes it work naturally. Kitty, whose life of privilege disappeared when her father killed himself after the 1929 stock market crash, brings a peculiarly ironic point of view, filtering the tough guys, broads, gats, and gunsels through a patrician context that makes all the hard-boiled posturing seem as silly as high-society tomfoolery. Honoring the noir tradition while turning it on its head, Richards’ richly detailed period portrays a world in which lifestyles, whether high or low, become an elaborate defense against a harsh environment in which there is only one final act and the trick is to determine the time the curtain falls. Expect to hear more from Kitty Pangborn.”