Saturday, September 29, 2007

Cocaine Blues

"Amelia McNaughton took corners as though they were a personal affront." Kerry Greenwood in her second Phryne Fisher mystery.

I am a fan of the 1920s, so one day while I was wandering through Houston's famed mystery bookstore Murder By the Book ( I was intrigued when I saw a staff pick set in that era.

I read the book and found it to be completely wonderful and advise you to try it if you like cozy historical mysteries full of wit and quirky characters. Many thanks to staff member, McKenna, for choosing it and thereby introducing me to the world of Phryne Fisher.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Travel to Tampa

Columbia Restaurant in Tampa, circa 1905

"It is impossible to travel faster than the speed of light, and certainly not desirable, as one's hat keeps blowing off." Woody Allen.

I had the pleasure of seeing my close friends Lorin and Brenda last weekend. We ate at a number of delicious restaurants and I thank Brenda's daughter Liz for all her excellent suggestions. I was not disappointed once. In addition to Columbia's wonderful food, the mosaic tile murals were fantastic.

I was relatively low energy in terms of creativity, so it was fortunate that we visited so many coffee shops and drank many mochas. I decided to use my new prologue and got some new scenes written. I also began work on some new goals. And of course, most importantly, I spent time with my kind, funny, and talented friends. For those of you that know them, you will undoubtedly be extremely envious that you didn't get to travel with me to Tampa. This is a most natural reaction, and I recommend that you go to Lorin's website to see where they will be in the coming months so you too can have some face time with this fabulous pair.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Jane's Legacy

"Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery." Jane Austen

While I spent the weekend and subsequent days at Bonnie's, we went to see Becoming Jane. I'm a decided Jane Austen fan, though not rabid about it. Becoming Jane was rather heart-breaking, and I was glad to learn later that the evidence of the cruelly dashed romance between Austen and Lefroy was not significant.

Meanwhile, thinking of her life, I had to reflect upon her early death. She died at 41 after having written 6 novels. Those stories have gone on to inspire countless books, movies, societies, museums, stage plays, and the admiration of millions. Charlotte Bronte and Mark Twain were quite critical of her work, but I find I can love it without guilt. If characters are put through their trials and tribulations, they usually deserve a happy ending. While I can sometimes enjoy a novel where things are dark and scary or dreary, as an author, I am usually with Jane. Let others dwell in the darkness, I prefer the light. It seems I am not the only one.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

For the Love of Leonard

"They say that 'guns don't kill people, people kill people.' Well, I think the gun helps." Eddie Izzard.

I was quite exhausted when I went to see 3:10 to Yuma. It was a relief that the gunfire was so loud and so frequent since it kept my mind from drifting toward sleep in the dark theatre. Christian Bale was excellent, and Russell Crowe was mesmerizing. Though some moments were far-fetched, the performances made up for them.

The story was written by fellow Motown scribe, Elmore Leonard, who began writing in 1935. Many of his stories have been made into movies, including Out Of Sight, a favorite of mine. Having seen several of Jennifer Lopez's other films, it would be my decided preference that she only work with George Clooney in crime story films adapted from Leonard novels. If she decides to take this advice she will be happy to know that the talented Mr. Leonard, who must be around 110 years old, is still writing.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

MTV Generation's Book Club

"I believe in clubs for women, but only if every other form of persuasion fails." W.C. Fields

I have wanted a book club of my very own for some time, but many of the open-to-the-public book clubs around town focus on the meaty "classics," which, since they were written at a time when authors got paid by the word, often have a flagrant disregard for pacing. As much as I liked and admired Anna Karenina while reading it, I couldn't help but picture Tolstoy sitting at his desk saying, "My characters have suffered for their choices, why not you?"

Anyway, I was inquiring yet again at Book Stop about in-house book clubs and trying to psych myself up for Proust when a woman came in searching for the Chick Lit meets Skewer the Rich book The Devil In the Junior League. It turned out she was buying it for a book club. A private book club. One that incorporates authors who write humor. After I chatted her up and managed to obtain an invitation, I nearly fell to my knees to kiss the carpet she walked on.

When I began reading The Devil In the Junior League however, I questioned my choice. The main character is funny, but she's such an enormous snob, a rich, beautiful woman who delights in telling us she's gotten everything she's ever wanted with ease. At first, it was difficult to relate to her. Difficult, in fact, not to throw her and the book she lives in out the window. But I knew that the author, Linda Francis Lee, must have had plans to redeem her, and I admired Lee for even making the attempt. It takes a courageous author to showcase a main character in such a way.

Fortunately, Lee does a wonderful job with this material. By the end, I was rooting whole-heartedly for main character Frede to rule the day. Of note, I especially enjoyed the book's driving pace at the end. Clearly, Lee is a product of the MTV generation/Gen X/Gen Y sensibility that says a quick progression keeps one from losing the short-attention-spanned reader. If you like Chick Lit/Skewer the Rich books, The Devil in the Junior League is an excellent read.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tuesday Mourn

Midtown New York, recalled on a September 11th morning.

"Terrorism (takes) us back to ages we thought were long gone if we allow it a free hand to corrupt democratic societies and destroy the basic rules of international life." Jacques Chirac, speech to UN Assembly Sept. 24th 1986

"Never give in. Never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy." Sir Winston Churchill

"I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone." Edith Cavell, prior to her execution on October 12, 1915

Freedom is not free, but...

"war is a poor chisel to carve out tomorrows." Martin Luther King Jr.

I hope for better days ahead for this troubled rock we live on, especially today.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Dawn of a New Day

"In the hour of adversity, be not without hope. For crystal rain falls from black clouds." Persian Poem

Despite the fact that I have been alarmingly social recently, I can not help but feel a bit disconnected from the world. I am adrift in the pages of my novel, while the place where I once worked churns on without me. I boxed up my things last week and most of those boxes still sit in the trunk of my car, as if, by lacking a proper place in my house, they are forced to ride around aimlessly on errands.

Luckily, I have not been without company. Best friends David and Bonnie have been close at hand this weekend. It's an important thing for a writer to have close ties because one can get so lost in the words. Especially me, especially when editing. I'm supposed to be smoothing things out, but rather than carrying a sliver of sandpaper, I seem to be carrying a hammer and a power saw with jagged teeth. I have ripped out a character from my novel, and I can almost see the slashmarks on the pages. This description reminds me very much of Jasper Fforde's novel, The Erye Affair. It was a surreal reading experience, which I recommend. He is an extremely clever author, though I can not for the life of me understand why he insists on adding a superfluous 'F' and 'e' onto his name when the entire car-buying world knows that the correct spelling is Ford.

I had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Fforde during a luncheon. He was handsome and witty in that charming British way. I would likely have married him had it not been for the small problem of his traveling companion, she claimed to be his wife.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Dragon Slayer Checks Self for Scales

"Don't give a woman advice; one should never give a woman anything she can't wear in the evening." Oscar Wilde

A friend of a friend, KR, is a writer. On hearing that I was going to published, KR asked if she might talk to me about what steps she could take to arrive in the same happy predicament. I spoke to her by phone, talking about the ways she might procede to get her manuscript in front of industry professionals, namely agents and editors.

As we talked, it seemed to me that she also wanted some feedback on her work from another writer. Since once upon a time, I was desperate for that same thing, I did what I told myself I would not. I offered to read her first chapter. Gads.

Critiques are the trickiest bits of business. My intentions are good, but I can be blunt, which leaves me in great fear of becoming like the anti-role model, Tough Cookie. Tough Cookie is a best-selling author who during a writing workshop gleefully warned us that even her NYT bestselling critique partner has to drink alcohol before reading a TC critique of her work. When we pressed on, asking her if she would critique our work, she seemed to morph into Jack Nicholson in that famous scene from A Few Good Men when he's told that the lawyer wants the truth and he snaps, "You can't handle the truth." Proceed at your own risk was the definite message from TC. She claimed with a trace of malevolent pride that her critiques had made some unpublished writers quit writing altogether.

Stop me writing? You and what army, I thought defiantly. I've been trying to quit for years and can't. Underneath my bravado though there was some uncertainty. There are many ways a critique can wound. She couldn't stop me writing, but she might make me question my ability to do it. What if she tore my work to pieces and undermined my confidence? Dangerous proposition to slip her my story I thought, reflecting that the old line that the pen is mightier than the sword was surely written in anticipation of the poison ink from women just such as TC.

To hell with fear, I thought. I gave her my pages. It turned out that there was nothing soul-shattering in her comments. I took what I thought would make the work better and discarded the rest. With Goliath successfully slain, I still walked away with the sobering reminder that in this business, it helps to have a bullet-proof ego.

I read KR's pages and liked them, but I was not without suggestions. Having been to countless lectures on the craft and the business of writing, I told her all the things I wished people had told me early on. And as soon as I e-mailed the document, I regretted it. What if I hurt her feelings? What if she felt that rather than trying to be helpful, I was trying to be condescending? What if I came across like a watered-down but still malignant version of TC? Perish the thought.

I went to sleep at 1 am and woke at 5 am, a sure sign that the stress levels in my subconscious are too high. My first thought upon waking was that I hope my advice helps rather than hurts KR. My other thought was that while it takes courage to ask for an honest critique, it sometimes takes just as much courage to give one.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Intrepid Tuesday

"There is no cure for life or death except to try to enjoy the interval." George Santayana

The triumphant hiker in the top photograph is Helen H. She has accompanied her father, my colleague Stephen, to most of the cocktail parties I have had at my Houston home. I have found that among 20 - 30 adults and no children, she is remarkably self-confident and also much less prone to spill things from her party glass after several refills than most of the other party-goers or myself. In other words, she makes an ideal guest, and I suspect that one day she will conquer the world as well as she conquered this mountain. She is pictured at the top of Black Crater Mountain in central Oregon with Mt. Jefferson in the background.

The other stunning picture is of the north slope (looking north) of Crater Lake in the late afternoon. Thanks to Helen's father for the great travel photos.

Kissing the Suspect Release!

Chapter 1 Callie Melville was wanted by the law, but to put it that way made things sound worse than they were. She hoped. The rumors...