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!)