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.