Monday, December 31, 2007

Ave atque Vale, Annus MMVII

"We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day." -- Edith Lovejoy Pierce (b. 1904), poet

I thank my friend Shauna Roberts for the quotation, which is perfect to start off the New Year.

I believe in new beginnings, and I like them. I always make New Year's resolutions, although I rarely stick to them for long. I am an optimist. I always try again.

2007 was not a good year for me. I suffered through a variety of worries: extreme anxiety for a beloved family member dealing with addiction, as well as my own health problems, financial worries, caretaking responsibilities, job issues, and free-floating anxiety.

Today marks the end of 2007, however, and tomorrow is a new year. I mentally erase the blackboard of 2007, washing it clean for the new self-history I will write in 2008.

Things for which I was especially thankful in 2007:
  • My Family: I love them and they love me, even when we are in conflict.
  • My Friends--especially Brenda, Carolyn, Cheryl and Joanne: their love and support have rescued me from despair.
  • My Writer's Group, Wordsmiths (Laura, Candice, Charles, Steve, and Emily): They are not only professional colleagues, but also good friends; their opinions, tastes and judgment in literary and other matters are significant to me; their concern during my dark times over the past year has helped enormously.
  • My Pets--the dogs (Dozia, Galadriel, Squeaky) and the cats (Katy, Harmony, Precious): their unconditional love and eagerness to please have comforted me through dark times.
  • My Job: Even when there is chaos at home, at the office things are orderly, logical, peaceful and predictable.
  • My Books: Reading them lets me escape into other minds, other lives, and other worlds; possessing them makes me feel rich, replete, rapturous and reverent. When I am anxious I sort out piles of books and I am calmed.

I will post my New Year's Resolutions for 2008 tomorrow.

Happy New Year to all my blog-friends. I'm grateful to have "met" you over the past year, through our exchanges of posts and comments.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Few Interesting Links, and Some Greetings

A few interesting articles:

If you like Top Ten lists, Time Magazine has 50 Top 10 Lists of 2007 for you.

Over at The Outfit: A Collective of Chicago Crime Writers, Kevin Guilfoyle talks about how media coverage of books nowadays tends to focus more on the business of publishing rather than on the products of the publishing houses. As an example, Guilfoyle links to "Anatomy of a Thriller," the Wall Street Journal's recent article on the prepublication promotional machine kicking into high gear for a debut book by a new thriller writer who received a million-dollar advance (28-year-old screenwriter Tom Rob Smith). Cleverly, Guilfoyle titles his blog entry "Don't Know Much about Anatomy."

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it; Season's Greetings to those who don't. And for those who not only don't celebrate, but don't want anyone else to celebrate, Bah Humbug!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pantsing to the Max: The Dickens Challenge

I've posted several times on the Plotter versus Pantser styles of writing. Recently I invited multi-published author Timothy Hallinan to guest on my blog, and he wrote an excellent entry on how a pantser writes a book proposal. I first learned of Tim on reading an excellent article he wrote for The Internet Writing Journal, called To Outline or Not to Outline--a big issue for pantsers, who generally are uncomfortable with extensive advance plotting of their books.

Now Tim Hallinan writes to me with an interesting proposal for courageous pantsers:

Hi, Sphinx Ink --

If you get a chance, look at my latest blog at
It issues a challenge to writers to do what Dickens did, and post a chapter at a time AS THEY WRITE THE NOVEL, meaning it's pantsing to the max.

I've said I'll attempt it if two other people are crazy enough to join me.

Is this something you'd like either to attempt or to share with your blog community? I'm sending it to half a dozen writers with sites and also posting it on Crimespace.

Let me know.


What say ye, O bold and faithful pantsers? Shall ye try your hands at this experiment? Can you emulate Charles Dickens, whose chapters were printed week-by-week in the newspaper as he wrote them?

Visit Tim's blog and let him know.

(I am thinking about it...thinking....thinking....)

Sunday, December 09, 2007


Today I'm posting a miscellany of small items:

I am sporting a cast on my right forearm. Last week I fell in my house and fractured a small bone in my right wrist (the radial styloid process, if that means anything to you). It's awkward, considering I'm right-handed, but I'm still managing to drive, type and write, albeit with some difficulty. The last time I had a fracture I was eight years old--broke my collarbone jumping over a Hula Hoop. How casts have changed since then! Now they're made of fiberglass (much lighter than plaster) and they come in colors. I chose purple, in honor of LSU (whose football team will be playing for the national college championship on January 7, against Ohio State).

Apropos my November 24 post on Laura Joh Rowland, see Shauna Roberts' For Love of Words blog. Shauna has posted an excellent interview with Laura--insightful questions and thoughtful answers that give good insight into Laura's writing process.

Recently I read the memoirs of both Eric Clapton and Pattie Boyd. I enjoyed both, especially Boyd's, which is better-written. (Boyd shares credit with a co-writer; Clapton doesn't, so perhaps he actually wrote it himself.) I plan to post an in-depth discussion and comparison of the books when I have time. As one who came of age in the Vietnam era--I graduated high school in 1968--the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the whole "British invasion" of popular British music and culture are an integral part of my memories. The rumors about Clapton (I still remember the "Clapton is God" graffiti) and Boyd (muse and wife to two of the greatest rock musicians of all time) were both romantic and titillating. More to come in my (future) post on the subjects.

Currently I'm reading Empire of Ivory, fourth in Naomi Novik's Temeraire series, which I highly recommend. They are alternate-history fantasy novels that recount the adventures of a British military officer during the Napoleonic wars, but with a big twist: in this version of history, there are dragons, which humans use to help them in battle and otherwise. The dragons are highly intelligent and can speak human languages. The Temeraire website describes them as, "A reimagining of the epic events of the Napoleonic Wars with an air force—an air force of dragons, manned by crews of aviators." The books are fascinating and well-written, with lots of action, battle scenes, and surprises. They can be read for pleasure only, or for those who like more substance in their stories, they can be read for the deeper social questions they pose. Peter Jackson, who directed the Lord of the Rings movies, has optioned the Temeraire series for film.

Next in line in my TBR pile is Richard Matheson's My Name is Legend. Matheson is a prolific scifi/horror writer, dozens of whose stories and books have been made into movies and TV shows. I remember seeing the title I Am Legend around for years, but the advent of the upcoming movie starring Will Smith piqued my interest enough that I decided to read the book before I see the movie. I'll let you know what I think about the book versus the movie after I've read the one and seen the other.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Laura Joh Rowland

My friend Laura Joh Rowland, author of the Sano Ichiro mystery series, has promised to be a guest blogger on Sphinx Ink. However, this week she's proofing galleys for a new book and hasn't time to send an article--instead she sent a photo from her recent trip to China, with a little comment:

Hi, Sphinx Ink,

Thank you for inviting me to be a guest on your blog.

Last month I went to China, my first time since 1978. I found it spectacularly transformed. (For more on that subject, check my website at, where I'll be posting a photo essay about my trip.) Here's a picture of me cruising the Li River in Guilin.


Laura's newest book in the Sano Ichiro series, The Snow Empress, was released earlier this month, and has garnered kudos and honors--Publishers Weekly not only gave it a starred review, but also named it one of the best books of 2007. PW says, "Demonstrating an impressive level of sustained excellence, Rowland’s mysteries set in 17th-century Japan form one of the best recent series in the genre.... Compelling pacing and well-rounded characters enhance the intriguing plot and will draw in new readers as well as longtime fans."

In addition, PW published an interview with Laura on September 24, 2007, which you can read via this link.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hallinan on Managing Writing Sessions, Part 3

Tim Hallinan has posted the third (and final) segment of his essay "The Writing Session." Key phrases: getting there, tuning in, opening up, and turning on the sorter. Thanks, Tim, for an inspiring and helpful series.

For a good laugh, see his Nov. 22 entry, "America’s Next Top Writer."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Hallinan on Managing Writing Sessions, Part 2

Tim Hallinan has posted Part 2 of his blog essay on managing writing sessions. (For a link to Part 1, see my previous entry.)

This one discusses how to have a productive session. It's excellent. Read it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tim Hallinan/Managing Writing Sessions

Check out Tim Hallinan's The Blog Cabin for a good post on managing writing sessions. In "The Writing Session (1)" Tim gives some solid advice to those of us who despair of ever finishing a manuscript. He deftly puts together some tips on overcoming the fears that stop some of us from completing stories or novels we start writing. I admit, I've seen all these tips before in one form or another, but I like the way Tim organizes them and sets them out.

I have no problem at all writing nonfiction. I write legal opinions in my day job and have been doing it for so many years it is second nature. I edited a newsletter for a writers' group for several years, which included writing most of the copy for the newsletter, and I always found it easy and enjoyable. My writing problems arise when I try to write fiction. Despite my long-professed desire to be a novelist, I have the greatest difficulty making myself work on my manuscripts-in-progress. When I sit down to work on one or another of the several novels I've started, my mind goes blank, I become uncontrollably restless, and everything I set down seems trite or stereotypical or something everyone's done before.

Tim has promised a Part II of "The Writing Session," and I look forward to reading it.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Memento Mori II: All Saints Day

Today marks the anniversary of my first posting on this blog. On November 1, 2006, I wrote "Memento Mori," in which I talked about our South Louisiana custom of visiting the cemeteries and remembering our dead on this day, All Saints Day. In keeping with our custom, I plan to visit my family's plot in Metairie Cemetery, one of the most beautiful and historic cemeteries in New Orleans. Buried in our plot are my maternal grandparents; my brother and a cousin, both of whom died in their early 20s; several uncles, an aunt, and other more distant relatives.

Setting aside any religious overtones, I find the practice of remembering our dead soothing and comforting. It's good to revive memories of those we loved. And don't we all hope we, too, will be remembered when we're gone? I shed a few tears when I follow the yearly rite, but tears are good for the soul.

For more information about New Orleans' cemeteries, visit "New Orleans Cemetery Tours" on my friend Sharon Keating's New Orleans for Visitors blog. The photo above is by Sharon Keating.

(Oh yeah, another good thing about All Saints Day is that I get the day off work.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Two for the Price of One

Gasp! It's been a while since I last posted. I hope all of you in blogland haven't given up on me. I won't offer excuses for my silence. Suffice it to say, I'm back.

Why not celebrate my return online with something funny? Check out this hilarious review of The Twilight Lord, a Bertrice Small book, from 2 for the price of 1. Hint: The heroine has two lovers. One of the lovers has two, er...appendages...and, well, read the review to find out the shocking story!

My reaction? Eeewww.

I admit to having read several Bertrice Small books years ago. Her characters' sexual escapades are, well, not in tune with my fantasies, so I stopped reading her. She's still a bestselling romance author, however, and I'm sure her bank account hasn't noticed that I'm no longer buying her books.

Friday, September 28, 2007

A Pantser Speaks: Writing the Book Proposal

How cool is this? The blogosphere puts us all within only a couple of degrees of separation.

On September 8th, I posted The Pantsers' P.O.V. in response to a A Question for Pantsers by C.S. Harris, who wondered how seat-of-the-pants authors write book proposals. I posted a link for "To Outline or Not to Outline," an Internet Writing Journal article by Timothy Hallinan. In it, Hallinan described the writing process of a writer who doesn't like to plot his books ahead of time.

Within a few days, Tim Hallinan himself contacted me. I wrote back to him, and he offered to send me an article on how he writes book proposals.

* * * * * * * * * *
Tim Hallinan's A Nail Through the Heart (William Morrow, June 2007), first in his new Poke Rafferty thriller series, was a July BookSense Pick and has garnered high praise. Kirkus Reviews calls it "ultimately enthralling"; BookSense calls it "first of a truly remarkable series"; NYT bestselling author John Lescroart says, "Hallinan's a writer's writer, and this is great stuff"; NYT bestselling author T. Jefferson Parker calls the book ", bold, disturbing and beautifully written."

Tim's bio on the book flap states:

Timothy Hallinan divides his time between Los Angeles and Southeast Asia, primarily Thailand, where he has lived off and on for more than twenty years. As a principal in one of America's top television-based public-relations firms, he represented programs sponsored by many Fortune 500 companies and pioneered new methods of making television programming accessible to teachers. He also taught writing for many years.

I am thrilled to present Tim Hallinan as my first guest blogger. Welcome, Tim!

* * * * * * * * * *

I can't outline. For one thing, I don't think that way. I think that plot is what characters do, not a box to squeeze characters into.

For another, the one time I tried to write a novel to an outline, it bored me silly. I wasn't having fun, and I think that fun is one of the kinds of energy that finds its way onto the page. So I'm a seat-of-the-pants writer who comes up with a basic situation and a handful of characters and then lets the characters lead me through the story.

So how do I write a book proposal?

One answer is that I actually don't. I write series novels, which makes things a little easier. The publisher is invested in the idea of the series continuing, so they usually accept a truncated outline, which I'll describe in a second. But I've sold the first book in both of my series by writing the whole damn thing and then submitting it. And I wish I could write them all that way.

However, the way contracts are written, the first payment on books three and four is signaled by acceptance of a proposal. So this is what I do.

I figure out my basic situation and who the main characters might be. Then I write four or five chapters (say, 10,000 words) to make sure I actually want to write it. (I don't want to be stuck for a year with a story that's going to die on me.) By that point, I've created some momentum and I usually know where I'm going, at least through the first major reversal in the book. I write a proposal to that point and then generalize on where I think it's going from there. I throw in anything and everything that's both plausible and (in one way or another) exciting. THIS IS NOT AN OUTLINE. It's something like, "But Poke finds that the best intentions can have unforeseen consequences . . ." and then throw in everything but the kitchen sink. Then I share it with a few people and add any good ideas they have. After my agent says it looks okay, I send it to my editor.

And then, when I write the book, I pretty much forget about it. I figure that no editor will question whether I stuck to the proposal if the finished book is better than the proposal. So far, I've been lucky and I haven't had one sent back.

Hope this is helpful to someone.

Tim Hallinan

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Flavor of the Old West

Tim Hallinan, whose article I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in "The Pantsers P.O.V.," has a great blog entry today. As he travels through the desert Southwest on a book tour, he's noticing,

We all know about the Arizona towns with butch names — Tombstone, Deadwood, Red Rock, even Yuma. But we don’t hear much about towns with names like Florence and Queen Creek. With nothing to do except drive, I asked myself why, and below is the reason I came up with.

See his blog entry, "Death at the Chokegulch Saloon," for his answer.

Very clever, Tim.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Boo-Hoos for Newspaper Book Sections

Over the past couple of years several newspapers around the country have canceled their book review sections. Book lovers have greeted this development with sorrow, fearing it reflects a decline of reading in the population overall.

Yesterday Kassia Krozser commented on the phenomenon in her Booksquare blog. In "Stop Your Sobbing," she makes some acerbic points I hadn't considered, and her excellent essay gave me a new point of view on the situation. She points out:

[Steve] Wasserman [former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review] seems to put the failure of newspaper books reviews on the shoulders of some sort of anti-intellectual movement. Perhaps instead of blaming the public for a lack intellectual rigor, Wasserman and others should consider their failure to communicate. It isn’t the failure of the citizens of Los Angeles or any other community to read; it is a failure of book review editors to connect with those readers.

Instead of valuing the whole audience, they cherished only a small percentage. This, more than anything, is why book reviews are being cut. Book critics often point to the sports sections of newspapers as low revenue generators. Why isn’t sports coverage being cut?

The obvious answer is that people don’t subscribe to newspapers for book reviews; they do subscribe for sports coverage. Possibly a less examined reason — but one that is often valid when it comes to the Los Angeles Times — is that sportswriting is often more compelling and emotionally engaging than literary criticism. Oops, did I really say that? I think the fact that the section of the paper devoted to good writing is drier than toast is proof positive of every student’s nightmares are about reading.

Where is the passion, the enthusiasm, the joy that comes from reading something wonderful and wanting to share it with the world? Is it completely impossible to be analytical, thoughtful, and interesting? Writing about books should not inspire boredom, it should inspire someone to buy and read books.

* * *

To the book critics of America, I say it’s time to stop your sobbing. If you are as important and relevant as you say you are, prove it.

Food for thought. Certainly, all of us who love genre fiction know that standard book review sources tend to ignore our favorite types of books. As a result, many genre book review sites have sprung up across the Web over the years, some becoming very popular. And of course, we now have the ubiquitous Amazon review, straight from the keyboards of actual readers. (Oh, okay, we have to allow for the sandbagging by authors and their friends and/or enemies....)

The book review is not dying. It's just appearing in other places, and from other sources, than before.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Pantsers' P.O.V.

Publishers generally require an unpublished fiction author to have a completed manuscript before they will buy the book. After the first novel, however, most publishers will offer the writer a book contract based on a proposal, which is the first three chapters and a synopsis of the full book.

A couple of days ago C.S. Harris posted "A Question for Pantsers" on her blog. C.S. is a plotter, who plans her books fully before she starts writing the first line of prose. She wanted to know how pantsers--writers who write "by the seat of their pants," not plotting the story fully in advance--come up with synopses for their book proposals.

I am a pantser, but can't answer her question because I am unpublished--and also because I have never yet finished a manuscript.

(Aside: "Aha," say the plotters, "You can't finish because you don't plot!")

The Internet Writing Journal recently posted an interesting article by Timothy Hallinan. His seventh novel, A Nail through the Heart, was released this summer. In "To Outline or Not to Outline," Hallinan explains his writing process. He doesn't mention how he deals with writing a proposal, but he does give a good description of the way many pantsers probably work. Here's an excerpt:

I personally can't stand to outline. My main problem is that I don't know my characters well enough until I've written about them at some length, and it doesn't work for me to try to force them into a story they might outgrow. I want them to grow as I write them, and then I want the story to grow out of them. [Emphasis added.]

Someone once said, "We learn what we're writing about by writing about it." For me, and for most of the other novelists I know, writing a novel is (to use an inelegant simile) like circling a drain. We start out by working around the edges of our story, and then the spiral narrows as the story, and our characters, become clearer to us. We center in on the things that really matter.

I particularly like his "circling a drain" metaphor for closing in on his story by starting at its edges. I recommend you read the entire article for a fuller explanation. I do wonder, however, how he writes a book proposal. Surely he has done so, since he's had several novels published before this one. In addition, his new book is first in a series, so he'll have to present something to his publisher to get contracts for the later books.

Maybe I'll go to Hallinan's website and email him about it.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

2007 Hugo Awards Announced

From the Hugo Awards website:

The results of the 2007 Hugo Awards, as announced at Nippon 2007, the 65th World Science Fiction Convention, in Yokohama, Japan, on September 1st 2007, are as follows:

Best Novel: Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge [Tor, 2006]

Best Novella: “A Billion Eves” by Robert Reed [Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2006]

Best Novelette: “The Djinn’s Wife” by Ian McDonald [Asimov’s July 2006]

Best Short Story: “Impossible Dreams” by Tim Pratt [Asimov’s July 2006]

Best Related Non-Fiction Book: James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B Sheldon by Julie Phillips [St. Martin’s Press, 2006]

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro. Directed by Guillermo del Toro [Picturehouse]

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Doctor Who - “Girl in the Fireplace” (2006) Written by Steven Moffat. Directed by Euros Lyn [BBC Wales/BBC1]

Best Editor, Long Form: Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Best Editor, Short Form: Gordon Van Gelder

Best Professional Artist: Donato Giancola

Best Semiprozine: Locus ed. by Charles N. Brown, Kirsten Gong-Wong and Liza Groen Trombi

Best Fanzine: Science-Fiction Five-Yearly ed. by Lee Hoffman, Geri Sullivan, and Randy Byers

Best Fan Writer: Dave Langford

Best Fan Artist: Frank Wu

The winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, sponsored by Dell Magazines and administered on their behalf by the World Science Fiction Society, is:

Naomi Novik

Full details of the nominees and voting figures can be found here.

Friday, August 31, 2007

K+2Y: I got by with a little help from my friends

As you know, Wednesday (August 29) marked the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Here in the greater New Orleans area, it was commemorated by dozens of events--prayer services, memorial ceremonies, solemn convocations, art shows, musical performances, brunch/lunch/dinner gatherings, and assemblies of survivors. I observed the day by meeting a group of friends for lunch at VooDoo Barbecue (in New Orleans, nearly every event starts with food, ends with food, or centers on food). We adjourned for dessert to the home of one among us, Laura Joh Rowland. Laura's home, in the Gentilly neighborhood, sustained major damage, but has been restored. Originally we planned to head out from Laura's for a tour of some of the worst-affected areas--Chalmette, the Ninth Ward, Lakeview--but the sky was pouring rain and some of us were feeling our arthritis too much to go farther afield.

It was a good day. Being with my friends comforted me and lifted my spirits. There's an underlying sadness now to gatherings in this city; we always are aware--sometimes subliminally--of those who didn't survive the disaster and those who haven't returned from afar. Yet with each gathering we celebrate that we're still here, we still have friends here, we still have life. Love and human connections and our bond with This City are what keep us going.

In a followup to my August 28 post on Chris Rose, here's a link to "As Not Read by Oprah," his column published on Wednesday--the day he was to appear on the Oprah show. He was bummed out because they would not allow him to mention his book in any way. (They only wanted him because he went public with his bout of depression.) With his usual sardonic wit, he points out why they were wrong.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

1 Dead in Attic

I write to extol 1 DEAD IN ATTIC: AFTER KATRINA, by Chris Rose, just released by Simon & Schuster. Chris Rose is a columnist for the Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans. Before Katrina, his column covered celebrities, entertainment and popular culture, with a humorous focus. After Katrina, he left his family in Maryland, where they had evacuated before the storm, and returned alone to New Orleans. He sweated, he struggled, he sorrowed, and he suffered like the rest of us in the days and weeks after the apocalypse. Writing about New Orleans’ struggle to recover from devastation, he recounted his own experiences, feelings, and despair in lucid and colorful words that brought tears to our eyes. He underwent a breakdown, falling into a pit of desperation out of which he struggled to climb. He was honest with us: after disappearing from the newspaper’s pages for weeks, he explained what had happened to him, and how he was recovering. He started back with his column, gradually reinserting the humor for which he had been known pre-Katrina. He kept on keepin’ on. We enjoyed his columns before Katrina, but we grew to idolize him for his post-Katrina essays. He wasn’t born here, he didn’t grow up here, but he knows and understands this city and its people as well as we know ourselves. He is one of us.

Five months after the storm, he self-published a book that collected his columns from September through December 2005, the first four months post-Katrina. He began selling it out of the trunk of his car, sharing the proceeds with a couple of charitable foundations. In a little more than a year, he sold 60,000 copies—extraordinary numbers for a self-published book. As he began planning to self-publish a sequel, Simon & Schuster contacted him. S&S repackaged 1 DEAD IN ATTIC in a new edition, adding what had been planned as the sequel as part of the book. The new version now includes a selection of his columns from right after Katrina through sixteen months post-Katrina—that is, from September 2005 through December 2006.

This is how Simon & Schuster blurbs the new edition:

1 Dead in Attic is a collection of stories by Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose, recounting the first harrowing year and a half of life in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Celebrated as a local treasure and heaped with national praise, Rose provides a rollercoaster ride of observation, commentary, emotion, tragedy, and even humor -- in a way that only he could find in a devastated wasteland.

They are stories of the dead and the living, stories of survivors and believers, stories of hope and despair. And stories about refrigerators.

1 Dead in Attic freeze-frames New Orleans, caught between an old era and a new, during its most desperate time, as it struggles out of the floodwaters and wills itself back to life.

Last night I attended a library program at which Chris Rose spoke and read from the new book. In a large meeting room—actually two rooms combined—he had a standing-room-only audience, which gave him an ovation as he walked into the room. He spoke a little, showed a wonderful and deeply saddening DVD of post-Katrina photos by his friend Charlie Varley, read two essays from his book, spoke a bit more, then spent almost two hours signing books for the huge crowd. He was to leave New Orleans today to appear on the Oprah show tomorrow—Wednesday, August 29, the two-year anniversary of Katrina—along with other locals, to speak about New Orleans after Katrina. (He says the Oprah people won’t allow him to mention his book, however.)

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you: He was runner-up for an individual Pulitzer Prize in 2006, and also shared in the group Pulitzer awarded to the Times-Picayune for its coverage of Katrina-related events.

If he comes to speak near you, go to hear him. He’s a terrific speaker, and has a profound story to tell. He’s funny, too. You can learn more about the book at the publisher’s website and at the Chris Rose website. Apparently he does not have a publisher-sponsored book tour, but his own website lists the following appearances:

  • Murder by the Book (Houston, TX), Thursday August 30, 2007 7pm; for more information call (713)524-8597
  • Barnes & Noble (Westheimer Rd. Houston, TX), Friday August 31, 2007 7pm; for more information call (713)783-6016
  • AJC Book Fest (Atlanta, GA), Sunday September 1 & 2, 2007; more information to come
  • Ole Miss (Oxford, MS), Tuesday September 4, 2007 1pm; for more information call (662)915-5896
  • Square Books (Oxford, MS), Tuesday September 4, 2007 5pm; for more informaton call (662)236-2262
  • Reed's Gum Tree Books (Tupelo, MS), Wednesday September 5, 2007 12pm; for more information call (662)620-0838
  • Turn Row Books (Greenwood, MS), Wednesday September 5, 2007 5:30pm; for more information call (662)453-5995
  • Lemuria Books (Jackson, MS), Thursday September 6, 2007 5pm; for more information call (601)366-7619
  • Page & Palette (Fairhope, AL), Friday September 7, 2007 6pm; for more information call (251)928-5295
  • Baton Rouge Gallery (Baton Rouge, LA), Sunday September 9, 2007 4pm; for more informaton call (225)383-1470
  • Books-A-Million (Hattiesburg, MS), Tuesday September 11, 2007 7pm; for more information call (601)583-8612
  • Louisiana Book Fest (Baton Rouge, LA), Saturday November 3, 2007

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Difference Between "Mediocre" and "Very Good"

Writer Alex Keegan has a good article in the Internet Writing Journal on what transformed the Oscar-winning film Gladiator (2000, starring Russell Crowe) from a B-movie action flick to an excellent film. In "Shoot the Rhino," Keegan discusses the choices made by the screenplay's three writers. He points out that with only slight differences in the color and sensibility--the tone--the whole movie would have become less appealing. Instead, the writers focused on developing the hero, Maximus, as a man rather than just as a warrior, and made the dialog scenes weightier, "almost Shakespearean." Keegan discusses other tacks the writers took that gave the movie more impact--including convincing the director to leave out a particular special-effects scene. (Keegan doesn't say where he got the information. I assume it must be from interviews in Extras scene of the movie DVD.)

Caveat: If you haven't seen the movie yet, but want to, don't read Keegan's post because it gives away the ending.

Quote of the Day (and good to remember when I'm composing a blog post):
Most blogs suck. I'm being blunt, but no one wants to read about what you
ate for breakfast unless you're a dingo and you ate a baby.
-- Bob Mayer in He Wrote, She Wrote: the Crusie-Mayer Writing Workshop.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Internet Book Marketing Advice

The Crusie-Mayer Writing Workshop blog (also known as He Wrote, She Wrote) has a good post today by Jenny on "Marketing Internet," with advice on ways to promote your book(s) online. Good tips.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Farewell, My Harry...

Boohoo. I just learned yesterday that the SciFi Channel has canceled The Dresden Files series after only one season (12 episodes). Although the TV show did not match the excellence of Jim Butcher's novels, it was enjoyable and I found it worth watching. It was one of those programs that started out a bit weak, but grew better with each episode. Paul Blackthorne was great as Harry Dresden--not only did he look like my idea of the wizard-detective, but also he's a good actor. According to an August 3 item at,
Perhaps not coincidentally, this news comes on the same day that it's been announced that Dresden Files star Paul Blackthorne has joined the cast of new ABC drama Big Shots. Blackthorne will play a high-powered CEO that draws the envy of characters played by Joshua Malina, Dylan McDermott, Christopher Titus, and Michael Vartan. Big Shots will begin airing this Fall on Thursday nights, following Gray's Anatomy on ABC.

I wonder whether the series cancellation was because Blackthorne wanted to move on to bigger and higher-paying things, or whether he moved on because he'd been told the series wouldn't be renewed? We'll probably never know. Well, it was a good run, albeit brief. Fortunately, the single season of The Dresden Files has just been released on DVD, which I plan to purchase. As pointed out by E.A. Solinas in his review on Amazon,

"The Dresden Files" are only loosely based on the Jim Butcher novels -- it's not as dark or as complex, and a lot of characters are changes. But take it as its own animal, and it ends up being a very solid detective series... albeit one where the suspects and victims just happen to be vampires, devils, lycanthropes, incubi and necromancers.

Regardless of the television industry's fickle finger, Jim Butcher is still writing Dresden books--the best source of entertainment and enjoyment for me. Yo, Butcher--Dresden Forever!

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Continuing Battle: Literary vs. Genre Fiction

The tension within the publishing world over literary fiction versus genre fiction has long interested me. It's a recurring topic of discussion in my weekly writers' group. (All the fiction authors in my group write books classified as genre fiction.) We've noted that some books touted by the lit-crit crowd could easily fit within genre fiction categories, too--but if they were first called genre fiction, many of those lit-crit types would never touch them.

As you can tell from the preceding sentence, I am not among the lit-crit crowd. I love genre fiction, which has been my preferred reading matter for my entire life. As an English major, I put in the required four years of reading literary masterpieces. Some of them I loved--I've read and re-read Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and War and Peace several times each--but many of them I hated. (Get thee behind me, House of the Seven Gables, Moby Dick, and Portrait of a Lady!)

David Lubar's hilarious A Guide to Literary Fiction expresses my point of view on most literary fiction I've read. As he concludes,

One final hint. If you're ever in doubt about whether a story is literary, there's a simple test. Look in the mirror immediately after reading the last sentence. If your eyebrows are closer together than normal, the answer is yes.

(This is off-topic, but funny: According to Lubar's Little-Known Literary Facts, "Research into the archives reveals that Herman Melville was far ahead of his times. His working title for Moby Dick was actually Whaling for Dummies. His publisher changed it without informing him.")

I like books that have a happy ending, or at least an optimistic ending. I've experienced enough tragedy in my own life--I don't want to wallow in the miseries of others. Obviously, negative dramatic events are essential to a book's plot--how else do you put your main character in jeopardy? If I read about someone else's tragedy, however, I want the story to end on a positive note. I don't want to toss and turn through a sleepless night after reading a book whose ending can be paraphrased as, "Abandon hope: life is futile." That seemed to be the message in a lot of the literary fiction I've read.

Booksquare has had a couple of interesting posts recently on genre. Check out "A Rose By Any Other Name: Has Genre Become Irrelevant?", by Pam Jenoff, who "has experienced the ping pong nature of genre designation firsthand (and survived to tell the tale!)," and Why Did the Reader Cross the Aisle?, in which Booksquare (a.k.a. Kassia Krozser) wonders, "The question roiling in the scary place that is my mind is whether or not strict genre categorization serves a book well."

In an excellent post on Teleread, Isabelle Fetherston discusses "Why libraries should offer popular fiction--in both print and e-book formats." She points out that in the 19th century, most libraries didn't carry fiction at all, because librarians believed that reading novels weakened the mind. After libraries began admitting fiction to their collections, many librarians still limited their fiction purchases to classic or educational literature, disdaining books that had popular appeal. In the last 50 years, however, "reader choice has gained more acceptance among librarians—as an important aspect of intellectual freedom." Fetherston says,

The American Library Association even promotes a “Freedom to Read” statement, which includes the following quotes: “The freedom to read is essential to our democracy” and “There is no place in our society for efforts to coerce the taste of others, to confine adults to the reading matter deemed suitable for adolescents, or to inhibit the efforts of writers to achieve artistic expression” (emphasis mine).

She notes, however, there is still a cadre of librarians who believe they should choose what their users read:

In an opinion piece in the December issue of American Libraries, David Isaacson does not object to all novels. But he does “question the argument that libraries should go out of their way to acquire romance novels, thrillers, and other kinds of literature whose primary purpose is escape and titillation.”

Now that makes me angry. If escape and titillation are what I want, it's not Isaacson's place to say I can't have it. I want libraries to include all kinds of fiction in their collections, whether classic, "improving," or "escape" novels.

Let's face it, popular fiction IS genre fiction. Although literary fiction does hit the bestseller lists, those lists are overwhelmingly populated by genre novels. These are the books that satisfy reader fantasies. Including mine.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Riffing on High Concept

Sidney Williams had a recent blog post on high concept. My writers' group has discussed high concept repeatedly, because that seems to be the best way to pitch books as well as scripts nowadays. It's a term that started in the movie industry and has spread to publishing.

In brief, as Wikipedia defines it,
The plot of a high concept movie is easily understood by audiences, and can often be described in a sentence or two, and succinctly summarized by the movie's title. ... Often high concept movies are pitched as combinations of existing high concept movies, or unique twists on existing titles. ... High concept movies often have themes which tie into an area of popular fascination and have a ready-built foundation of subsidiary issues and ever-ramifying facts that can feed the marketing machine, from magazine articles to weblog chatter, on levels ranging from the superficial to the intellectually or factually exhaustive.
Some of the high concept movies Wikipedia lists are Beverly Hills Cop, Home Alone, Jurassic Park, Speed, Star Wars, and Jaws.

On the other hand, screenwriter Steve Kaire defines high concept differently. To him, it's not just a story that can be pitched in one sentence; nor is it one film crossed with another film. In "High Concept Defined Once and For All," an article at the Writers Store website, Kaire says,
Story ideas, treatments and screenplays can all have High Concept premises. But only High Concept projects can be sold from a pitch because they are pitch driven. Non-High Concept projects can't be sold from a pitch because they are execution driven. They have to be read to be appreciated and their appeal isn't obvious by merely running a logline past someone.
According to Kaire, there are five requirements for a high-concept story: (1) The premise should be original and unique; (2) The premise has to have mass audience appeal; (3) The pitch has to be story-specific; (4) The potential must be obvious; and (5) The pitch should be one to three sentences long.

Sidney Williams made several funny high-concept story suggestions in his blog. For example,
North by Northwest meets The Seventh Seal. (Think about it: Death in a crop duster chasing Cary Grant.)

Play along at home if you like and stop chuckling. This is how Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man came about. Curt Siodmak was joking around about movie titles at the Universal commissary one day and wound up with an assignment.
In the comments on Sidney's blog, the ever-inventive Charles Gramlich made some hilarious suggestions, including "Wayne Allen Sallee Versus Stewart Sternberg"--which is the topic of Sidney's followup blog post, "Manly Concepts"--including Sidney's verrrry funnny version of a poster for movie of same. (FMI, see Wayne's blog, Frankenstein 1959 and Stewart's blog, House of Sternberg.)

A real-life example of high concept, and how it can sell your manuscript, is exhibited by a new book coming out this week. According to USA Today, first-time author Patricia Wood pitched her book Lottery as "Forrest Gump wins Powerball," and bingo! she hit the jackpot with a six-figure deal.

Now that's high-concept.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Interesting Links

I came across some good items today to share with you:

At The Outfit: a Collective of Chicago Crime Writers, Kevin Guilfoyle's Don't Touch Me, I'm a Real Live Wire, is chilling--not least because it reports real conversations by a real killer.

C.S. Harris has a thoughtful post today on "Heroes, Villains, and Cognitive Dissonance."

Charles Gramlich of Razored Zen has an interesting discussion of fast-versus-slow suspense in "Suspense Work."

To find out how a deceased novelist continues writing, see today's New York Times--"The Ludlum Conundrum: A Dead Novelist Provides New Thrills."

The Oprah/James Frey controversy continues: "Publisher blasts Oprah over James Frey Controversy." I wonder what Oprah's reaction will be...for sure, none of Nan Talese's authors will ever again be selected for Oprah's Book Club.

Finally, the Washington Post reports that the new film Becoming Jane Austen is pushing the buttons of those Janeites who insist on historical accuracy: "Pride and Provocation: A New Film Imagines Jane Austen in Love."

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Epilogue to Potter Saga?

Over at Walk on the Weird Side, Kate S has posted a hilarious possibility for an epilogue to the Potter story. Kudos to Kate and to her brother, who sent it to her. And the accompanying photo--naughty, naughty! (Of course, I have wondered whether Hermione would eventually get it on with either Harry or Ron....Apparently I didn't give my imagination enough scope.)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

See Booksquare for promotional ideas

Over at the Booksquare blog, Kassia Krozser is touting the virtues of Sounds like something my published-author friends would find useful. See Book Tours: Finally, Someone Makes It Easy For Everyone. And doesn't she have the coolest logo graphic ever?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Collaborative Writing

I'm seeing more and more collaborative novels on bookshelves nowadays--or perhaps I'm just noticing them more. Two members of my weekly writers' group are collaborating on a new espionage thriller series. Writing as Steven Graham, my buddies Candice Proctor (better known in the blogworld as C.S. Harris) and Steve Harris have their first book together, THE ARCHANGEL PROJECT, coming out in the spring of 2008, with the second one in the works. They've discussed their process a bit at some of our meetings. From what I recall, Steve, who spent years in military intelligence working on classified material, provides the background and research information. He and Candice work out the plot together, with Steve's knowledge of the world of espi0nage the critical factor. They work together on character development and dialogue. Candice writes the prose, while Steve reads and edits her drafts.

(They are married to each other, which I assume makes it easy to find time to work together on the books.)

Other collaborations being published are those between high-profile authors, such as James Patterson and Tom Clancy, with unknown or little-known co-authors. My impression of their arrangements is that the famous author suggests the basic plot, or even the full-blown plot, while the co-author does the actual research and writing. Most important is that the famous author lends his name, which guarantees book sales.

Other writing teams whose books are popular include Tori Carrington a.k.a Lori and Tony Karayianni; C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp; Judith Michael a.k.a. Judith Barnard and Michael Fain; Ellery Queen a.k.a. Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee ; Emma Lathen a.k.a Mary Jane Latsis and Martha Hennissart. There are so many others I won't attempt to list more. In Googling the topic, I came across whole books written about writing collaborations.

Of course, the script of almost every movie is a collaborative effort--it's unusual to find only one name in the credits.

Collaboration is more common in nonfiction work than in fiction, however. (When you're working with facts, facts, facts, it must be easier to divide up writing/research/development duties than dividing up a novel.)

Bob Mayer has a good post on collaborative writing at the Crusie-Mayer Writing Workshop--HE WROTE: Collaborating (aka Bob is always right). His writing collaboration with Jennifer Crusie has resulted in two books so far (the second to be released in August). Theirs is a full collaboration on the entire manuscript, in the sense that each writes approximately half of it. Bob writes the male characters and male P.O.V. scenes, while Jenny does the female characters and female P.O.V. scenes. Bob's post discusses other types of collaborations, too, and makes points about what you have to do to work successfully with a writing collaborator.

I can't really picture ever collaborating with another writer on a book, because I'm pretty much a lone-wolf kind of writer. Who knows, however--it could happen.

Monday, July 09, 2007

George Alec Effinger

On Thursday, July 12, Octavia Books in New Orleans will hold its (sort-of-annual ) George Alec Effinger memorial reading. George Alec Effinger was a noted science fiction writer who lived in New Orleans during most of his last three decades. He died here in April 2002. Effinger's first novel, What Entropy Means to Me (1972), was nominated for the Nebula Award. Schrodinger's Kitten, a novelette, won both the Nebula and the Hugo awards. Although science fiction was his genre, many of his stories also included elements of fantasy and horror. His stories have a sly sense of humor and antic wit.

I'd heard of Effinger over the years numerous times, and had read some of his work during my SF-loving days in my twenties. I didn't know he lived in my town, however, until the early nineties when I joined SOLA, the local chapter of RWA. There I met Laura Joh Rowland, author of the Sano Ichiro historical mysteries set in 16th-century Japan. Laura credits her publishing success to her membership in an ongoing writers' workshop started by George Effinger in the late eighties. Effinger served as mentor to the group almost to the end of his life, until he became too ill to continue. (Laura, with twelve published novels to her credit, has now taken the post of mentor in the group, which continues to meet monthly.) As I grew to know Laura over the years, I heard more about Effinger; he even spoke at SOLA meetings a time or two. Over the years Laura often mentioned Effinger's generosity to and encouragement of aspiring writers.

After Effinger died in 2002 a group of his friends and his former wife, prolific author Barbara Hambly, decided to hold a reading of his work as a memorial to him. A local bookstore, Octavia Books, offered its premises as a place for the reading, and the first George Alec Effinger Memorial Reading took place. Amid chuckles, snorts of laughter, and a few tears, George's nearest and dearest read excerpts of his work. Readers included Barbara Hambly, Laura Joh Rowland, and Andrew Fox (also a member of the Effinger workshop; like Laura, Andrew credits his becoming published to Effinger's encouragement and support).

Sadly, at the time George died most of his work was out of print. In the years since, however, several of his novels and collections of his stories have been reprinted, due at least in part to Barbara Hambly's efforts. Octavia Books has continued to host Effinger memorial readings, held sporadically in conjunction with releases of Effinger's reprinted works. It's always an evening of fun, fellowship, nostalgia, wit, and good humor. This year Andy Fox (see above) is the featured reader. Barbara Hambly won't be there this year, but Laura Rowland will. And so will I, and other Effinger-ites.

If you're going to be in the New Orleans area around 6 p.m. this Thursday, July 12, why not drop by Octavia Books, 513 Octavia Street (corner of Laurel) in New Orleans' Garden District? Come pass a good time and join us in celebrating the genius of George Effinger.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Robert Crais: Elvis Cole / Joe Pike novels

Two years ago I'd heard of Robert Crais, in the sense of seeing his books on shelves in bookstores, but his name didn't mean much to me. I'd even bought and read one of his non-series books, Demolition Angel, which wasn't a waste of time, but didn't drive me to seek out the rest of Crais' oeuvre.

A couple of summers ago, however, I discovered Crais' Elvis Cole mystery series. I'd seen Crais and the series praised in reviews and on websites. When a book I want to read is part of a series, I try to acquire the earlier books in the series so I can start at the beginning. That's what I did with Elvis Cole. From the first page of The Monkey's Raincoat (1987)--the first Elvis Cole book--I relished everything about the character and the writing. I knew I'd be following this series and this writer from then on.

I quickly sought out every other book in the series and tore through them hungrily. I loved the character of Elvis Cole from the first page of the first book. He's a former Army Ranger turned wisecracking private investigator, who wears a Mickey Mouse watch, does yoga to keep in shape, and calls himself the World's Greatest Detective. His jokes are corny but funny; his easygoing humor hides a mordant intelligence and keen observational skills. He's relentless and tough, deadly when he has to be, but has a tender heart. What makes the series great is how Crais develops the character of Elvis Cole more with each book in the series. Now, like every other anxious fan, I wait for the annual installments.

Notably, in case you're a fan of Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series,
Elvis Cole made an un-named appearance in Michael Connelly’s novel, LOST LIGHT. Harry Bosch made a similar, un-named appearance in RC’s THE LAST DETECTIVE. RC and MC are friends, and thought this would be a fun way to acknowledge each other’s work.
from the FAQ on Crais' website).

Through the Cole series Crais has developed a secondary character so well that the character now has his own series--just started with Crais' most recent book, The Watchman, subtitled "A Joe Pike Novel" (2007).

Joe Pike is Elvis Cole's partner, mysterious, a former Marine war hero, machine-like and powerful in his focus on the job at hand, both fascinating and frightening to everyone he meets. Just as Crais developed Elvis Cole throughout the series, he also developed Joe Pike's character (although at a slower, less-revelatory pace). Pike had a starring role in L.A. Requiem (1999), which not only was a powerful novel, but also revealed Pike's past so that we understand why he is the way he is. We know what drives Joe Pike; unlike Cole, he's not easy to like, but he's powerful, riveting and charismatic. Many critics called L.A. Requiem Crais' best work to that date, and the novel marked a distinct change in Crais' writing style.

Crais also has written three non-series novels: Demolition Angel (2000), Hostage (2001), and The Two-Minute Rule (2006). I mentioned Demolition Angel earlier in this post; it's a dark book, well-done for its kind, but with a damaged, bitter heroine with whom I could not identify. Hostage has a lot of action (well, all Crais' novels have a lot of action) and was made into a pretty-good movie starring Bruce Willis. The Two-Minute Rule features an ex-con bank robber out to avenge the death of his only son; I understand Crais may be writing a second novel featuring that character, Max Holman.

I enjoy seeing the progress of a writer's development, which is why I always try to read an author's books in the order in which they were published. I find Crais' writing addictive. I can see his development as a writer from the earlier books through the latest. The earlier Cole books were well-done, but lighter, with a few bones of their storytelling skeletons poking through. The later books are richer, more complex, and with much broader scope.

Too bad I have to wait another year for the next Robert Crais book.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Evolution of Another Book Cover Design

Riffing off my prior blog entry, here's more from Jenny Crusie on book cover design.

This time she's discussing another collaborative book she has coming out, The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes, a novel written with two other bestselling women authors, Eileen Dreyer and Anne Stuart.

This entry is interesting for several reasons. First, Crusie discusses the differing considerations involved when a book is in mass-market paperback (a much smaller canvas for the cover designer than hardcover or trade paperback). Second, this book's cover went through many more changes than the cover of Agnes and the Hitman, the subject of Crusie's earlier blog entry. Third, the publisher (St. Martin's Paperbacks) allowed them to go through eleven (count 'em, 11) drafts before settling on the final cover--over which the authors apparently had final approval.

Of course, Crusie alone packs a lot of selling power, and adding Dreyer and Stuart to the package means the publisher is anticipating very big sales numbers for this book. It's the Golden Rule: She who has [brings in] the gold makes the rules.

Closing thoughts:
1. Jenny Crusie has two books coming out this summer--The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes, written with Eileen Dreyer and Anne Stuart, in June; Agnes and the Hitman, written with Bob Mayer, in August. She is currently working on a solo book (working title Always Kiss Me Goodnight), good news for the Crusie-holics among us (myself included).

2. Crusie's very cyber-wise and has websites for each of the new books as well as her own website and her blog. (For links to the individual book sites, go to her blog--the links run across the top of the blog page.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Have We Talked about Book Covers Recently?

I've blogged several times about book covers, or at least the unintentional humor to be found in bad ones (see Now for Something Completely Different, Can There Be Too Much of a Good Thing?, Romance Cover Contest 2006). Most authors have no control over, and very little input into, the cover designs for their books. The most they can do is make suggestions, hope the publisher considers them, and pray that the final result will appeal to book buyers. For the fiction authors in my writers' group, covers are a big concern. Last year we devoted a couple of meetings to analyzing and making suggestions for the cover of C.S. Harris' second St. Cyr mystery, When Gods Die--and, whaddyaknow, when she e-mailed her editor with our suggestions, the publisher actually revamped the cover with our list in mind. The final result was a marked improvement over the original.

New-York-Times bestselling author Jennifer Crusie worries about covers, too. Over on Aargh Ink earlier this week, she blogged about the struggle to develop a good cover for the second collaborative novel she's done with thriller author Bob Mayer. Take a look and watch the evolution of a book cover. (Agnes and the Hitman will be released in August.)

For interesting info on the Crusie/Mayer writing collaboration, see their joint site. This is one way to solve the dilemma of portraying the opposite sex--have a co-writer who does the p.o.v. scenes of the characters of his/her gender. Since Crusie is known for her wit and humor, while Mayer presents a tough-guy/macho-man face to the world, reading the potshots they take at each other adds a lot of entertainment value.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Meme about Me

Sidney Williams has tagged me to continue a bloggers' meme. Meme is a word I'd heard before, but I wasn't sure of its meaning, so I looked it up:
NOUN: A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another. ETYMOLOGY: Shortening (modeled on gene) of mimeme, from Greek mimma, something imitated, from mimeisthai, to imitate. See mimesis.--The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed., 2000).
Wikipedia has a much lengthier discussion of meme, and frankly I'm still not sure exactly what it means. Nevertheless, although I was startled to be tagged, I was pleased to be noticed. Hence, I willingly comply. (The problem is whether I can find eight other bloggers to tag in my turn.)

Ah well, here goes, according to the instructions:
  • I have to post these rules before I give you the facts.
  • Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  • People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  • At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
  • Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
Here are my eight:

1. I believe in the supernatural and/or the paranormal--"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Hamlet. Act i. Sc. 5.

2. I believe there are other forms of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.

3. I don't really trust people who dislike animals.

4. I am a major pack rat--mostly of books, papers, and sentimental stuff. I am working on getting rid of the extra stuff before I die, so my family won't curse me while wading through the stacks of Stuff in Boxes. (I don't expect to die for at least another decade or two, but you never know.)

5. I scorn clothing that bears the designer's or manufacturer's label/initials on the outside. Down with apparel snobbery!

6. I scorn the wearing of fur coats and expensive jewelry, the driving of expensive vehicles, and other flaunting of one's wealth and/or social status.

7. Since Hurricane Katrina I've become addicted to watching HGTV, a cable channel about home redecoration and remodeling. So far I haven't made use of the information--too much Stuff in Boxes in the way--but I dream of feathering my nest "as shown on TV."

8. I love owning thousands of books because it means I'll never run out of things to read, and it makes me feel rich and replete.

I'm tagging C.S. Harris, Shauna Roberts, Farrah Rochon, Roz Green, Lana, Charles Gramlich, Stewart Sternberg, and Kate S. Those on my list who have already done their part in such a meme won't even have to respond (just let me know where your meme is posted). As for those who haven't yet "memed," here's your chance to tell other bloggers/blogreaders a few facts about yourself.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Martin Cruz Smith

I return to blogging after yet another prolonged absence. This time it was partly due to loss of my Internet connection. It was days before I could find enough time to stay on the phone with tech support to recover the connection. (My ISP tries to weed out the weak-willed by making the customers first fight their way through a jungle of computer-voice links, then slog through the prolonged "you're-on-hold-but-we-really-value-your-call" waiting period, before reaching someone who can actually help.) Once I got finally got hold of a live human technician, we spent half an hour tracing various software paths to figure out what the problem was. It appears I screwed up some settings while trying to uninstall a piece of hardware a couple of weeks ago. I'm glad to be back online now, after going through days and days of Internet Withdrawal.

The topic on my mind right now is Martin Cruz Smith, whose latest novel (Stalin's Ghost) was just released. He rates a lot of respect in my weekly writers' group. Three of us had read his work and recommended him repeatedly to the others for several years. Two of them finally got around to reading some of his work in the last few months and both have raved about him--see comments on the C.S. Harris blog. (I thought Charles Gramlich had a Martin Cruz Smith entry on his blog, too, but after skimming several months of his entries I can't find it. I guess I was confusing his comments during our meetings with blog commentary.)

Anyway, if you haven't yet read Martin Cruz Smith, try one of his books. I recommend you start with Gorky Park. I've decided to re-read some of his books myself, starting with Gorky Park. I love the character of Arkady Renko; I'm a sucker for a noble hero who fights against overwhelming odds. C.S. Harris' one-sentence analysis of his character in her blog entry (see link above) is spot-on:
[O]ne of the most fascinating aspects of Arkady’s character is that as much as he hates totalitarianism and bureaucracy and coercion, he genuinely believes in all that is good and noble about the pure communist philosophy.

I Googled Martin Cruz Smith and came up with some items of interest. Apparently he's not a cyber-wise author--the only "official website" for him is an amateurish and out-of-date page on However, I found other pieces of interest:

Here are other interviews of him:
He's one of America's best living writers, in my opinion.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Back on the Blog

Egads. It's June 1, and almost a month since I last posted here. My apologies for the extended absence (if there is anyone out there still checking this blog). Life got in my way this month. The last two weeks in particular have been awful.

A long-time coworker committed suicide at his office in the place where I work. I didn't work directly with him, and wasn't close to him, but had known him for many years. He had a wife to whom he'd been married for 30-plus years, and five living children. It is a great tragedy, not only for the obvious reasons but also for others not so obvious.

Apart from that, in another sort of tragedy, I learned that someone I care about is addicted to a powerful substance. That addiction explains certain behaviors in the person I didn't previously understand, but it also presents a fearful picture for the future. I alternate between worrying obsessively over what will happen in this person's life, and then trying not to think about the situation at all. I know addictions can't be overcome unless the addicts are willing to work and suffer to resist whatever it is they're addicted to. I feel helpless.

The nascent worry lines in my forehead now are permanently engraved.

But it is June 1, and that is another month and, to me, June 1 has always represented the start of another season--Summer Vacation from when I was a child in school--and I have always loved the idea of a Fresh Start. I will enter the Summer Season with hope that by its end the things that worry me will have been alleviated, or even cured.

Oops. I just remembered that today is the official start of Hurricane Season...

I will be a positive thinker: No disastrous hurricanes will strike this year. New Orleans will not be hit.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Swords of Talera

My blolleague Charles Gramlich has a new book out. Swords of Talera was previously published in serial form in an SF magazine a number of years ago. Since then he's written two sequels to it, creating his Talera Cycle series. Borgo Press picked up the series for publication and has just released the first book, Swords of Talera, which is now available via Amazon. Since Charles and I have been in the same weekly writers' group for six years now, I've been lucky enough to hear bits and pieces from Nos. 2 (Wings Over Talera) and 3 (Witch of Talera) as he was working on them. Charles has a lyrical writing style and the imagination of a born storyteller whose early influences were Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard. (The Taleran books are of the "sword and planet" genre, a la Burroughs' John Carter of Mars books.)

For more info about the book, see Charles' blog and the Amazon page. If you loved the great swashbuckling fantasy novels of yore, you'll be thrilled by Charles' books. And if you've never read the great swashbuckling fantasy novels of yore, try Charles' book for an exciting introduction to the genre.

Friday, May 04, 2007

"New Orleans Betrayed Again"

After going 10 days without posting, I'm suddenly bubbling over with things I want to post about, but I don't have time to develop the ideas. Here's a quickie that requires no work from me:

Visit my friend Shauna Roberts' blog and read her April 30th entry, "New Orleans Betrayed Again." Here's an excerpt: "Today we learned that foreign countries offered $800,000,000 in desperately needed aid—medical teams, body bags, bottled water, food, rescue dogs, ships to house people left homeless, and more—and our federal government turned almost all of those offers down. What kind of government do we have, to allow such incompetence?"

Ironic, that our government helps its own citizens less than it helps those in other nations, yet at the same time it rejects or ignores offers of help from other nations. Grrrr.

2007 Derringer Award Nominees

Alas, I realized today that it's been 10 days since I last posted here. I've had several topics in mind to write about, but have been tied up taking care of matters in Daily Life. Rather than let my blog go empty another day, I'm posting an entry, which I started several weeks ago and hadn't quite finished. (I can't remember now what else I planned to add, so I hedged by adding a final sentence or two.)

Some of my writing friends bemoan the fact that short fiction has lost so much popularity and is hard to sell nowadays
. Fortunately, there still is a market for short fiction in the mystery genre. Below is the list of nominees for the 2007 Derringer Award, presented by the Short Mystery Fiction Society:


(For Stories Published in 2006)


"Matched Set" by Jan Christensen (Winter 2006, Long Story Short)

"Vigilante" by Barry Ergang (Summer 2006, Mysterical-E)

"Snowflake Therapy" by Michelle Mach (June 2006, Thereby Hangs a Tale)

"Flight School" by Jill Maser (August 28, 2006, Flashshots)

"Home Entertainment" by Sandra Seamans (July/August 2006, A Cruel World)


"Even Steven" by Gail Farrelly (Winter 2006,Mouth Full of Bullets)

"Four For Dinner" by John M. Floyd (Seven by Seven)

"Interview" by Justin Gustainis (October 2006, Cape Fear Crime Festival)

"Elena Speaks of the City, Under Siege" by Steven Torres (September/October 2006, Crimespree Magazine)

"The Worst Door" by Frank Zafiro (January 2006, Dispatch)


"Eden's Bodyguard" by David Bareford (September 2006, Thuglit)

"Shadow People" by Rex Burns (June 2006,Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine)

"Cranked" by Bill Crider (Damn Near Dead: An Anthology of Geezer Noir)

"Uncle Blinky's Corner of the World" by Robert S. Levinson (March/April 2006, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)

"Shanks on the Prowl" by Robert Lopresti (May 2006, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine)


"Signature in Blood" by Annette Dashofy (Winter 2006, Mysterical-E)

"Strictly Business" by Julie Hyzy (These Guns for Hire)

"Daphne MacAndrews and the Smack-Head Junkies" by Stuart MacBride (Damn Near Dead: An Anthology of Geezer Noir)

"See Also Murder" by Larry Sweazy (December 11, 2006, Amazon Shorts)

"The Valley of Angustias" by Steven Torres (October 2006, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine)

The SMFS website does not indicate when the winners for 2007 will be announced. The website also lists past winners, beginning from the first year of the contest in 1998.