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 placeƩ 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.

Thank you, Worldwide!

Oh, my! I just heard from my editor at Worldwide Mysteries, which publishes mass market paperbacks of previously published mysteries - and he told me that their edition of Mew is for Murder sold 17,232 copies! I don't think I've sold that many of anything ever. Maybe I shouldn't admit that, but it's true. Now Worldwide is offering a lovely mass market edition of Cattery Row, so here's hoping this is a trend!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Agatha, libraries, pet psychics, and...

It's official! The new Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading edition of Agatha Christie's The Secret Adversary, with my introduction, will be published next March, same month as Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles, also with a new intro by moi. Right around then, Cambridge Voices should also be coming out (see below), with my short story, "Lady in Waiting." Plus, the next Level Best anthology, Deadfall, will have my short mystery, "Dumb Beasts" in it. So the next eight months should be pretty busy. As for Probable Claws? I'll let you know when I do!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Cattery Row in paperback!

Mass market paperback, that is (i.e., smaller – and significantly cheaper). Worldwide Mystery has just published this new edition of my second mystery, Cattery Row, available only online (to check it out, click here) and with an absolutely wonderful new cover. Don't you think so?

Cattery Row Worldwide Mystery edition.

Friday, August 1, 2008


Do you think it was just coincidence that the second season of HBO's "Mad Men" started on July 27, my birthday? After all, I am a redhead ... though probably more Peggy (on the left) than Joan

If you have questions you'd like answered, check out the wonderful, inevitable "What Would Don Draper Do?"