Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Where in the World Are Becky, Chris, & Hilary?

You might be wondering what I'm doing, blogging at Criminal Minds on a Tuesday. That's normally my fabulous friend Rebecca Cantrell's slot. I'm sad to report that Becky won't be blogging here on a regular basis anymore, but she has promised to come by and visit from time to time. The good news is that less blogging gives her more time to write. Have you heard about the project she's working on now? That would be the recently-announced BLOOD GOSPEL, a novel she's writing with James Rollins. I'm hoping she drops in to give us an update soon!

My former slot on Sunday is being taken over by another amazing friend of mine: Chris F. Holm. You may know him from his acclaimed short-story collection 8 POUNDS. If not, get ready to hear a lot about his debut novel, DEAD HARVEST, which is being released today by Angry Robot Books. (Congrats, Chris!) I was lucky enough to get an advance read; I find it tough to write blurbs, but it was very easy to praise Chris's work. "Chris F. Holm clearly had both angels and devils watching over him as he wrote DEAD HARVEST. Thrilling, riveting and hardboiled as hell, this stunning debut still manages to be incredibly soulful. If I could recommend one book to everyone this year, this would be it." I stand by those words. You can read an excerpt on Criminal Element. If you haven't ordered the book already, please do yourself a favor and get it now!

I've got news, too: THE NEXT ONE TO FALL came out two weeks ago, and I'm just back from my tour of the Southwest. I had the pleasure of visiting Murder by the Book in Houston, BookPeople (really MysteryPeople) in Austin, The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, and the Velma Teague Library in Glendale, Arizona. My heartfelt thanks to the stores (and library) that hosted me, and to everyone who came out to meet me. I'm honored and grateful for the warm welcome I received. Before I left, I also had a fantastic launch party at The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City. Want to see photos from the party and the tour so far? I'll be adding to the album as I go. Next stops: Book Revue in Huntington, New York (tonight!); the Ancaster Branch of the Hamilton Public Library on March 7th; and the Canadian launch party for THE NEXT ONE TO FALL at Ben McNally Books in Toronto on March 8th. After that: Denver, LA, San Diego, San Francisco, and more.

The photo above was taken at Murder by the Book, which had just received the latest issue of Crimespree Magazine (issue #45) on the day I spoke there. I'm so very grateful for Ruth Jordan and Jen Forbus's interview with me, and for Jon Jordan's very kind editorial. Most of all, I'm grateful for all of the support I've received. It's exhilarating and humbling at the same time.

If you want to see what else I've been up to lately, you'll find that here. Now, the Carmen Sandiego portion of today's program. Check out this photo. The clues are below!

1. This photograph might give you the impression you're standing in a remote location, but you're actually in a large city... the eastern edge of a large city.

2. The limestone cliffs reminded early settlers of the white cliffs of England's Yorkshire coast. The original town was named for a Yorkshire town. That town had since become part of a large metropolis, but this district is still commonly referred to by its original English name.

3. This is a very popular location for filming television and movie scenes. On film, it's been depicted as a remote island and as a village in India, among other places.

4. The area is of at least as much interest to scientists as it is to filmmakers. There is a current, ongoing controversy about measuring wind speed in the area. Local residents are not happy about that at all.

5. Did I mention residents? You can't see them in the photo, but there are houses at the top of the cliffs. Not giant mansions for megalomaniacs who want to pretend they're on a desert island... just nice family homes with an extraordinary view.

6. The water you see in the photo is fresh water, not salt.

Looking forward to hearing your best guesses!

Monday, February 27, 2012

It's My Day!

By Reece Hirsch

This week we’re playing “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”  Here are six clues to a city that I’m very fond of:

1.  I once ran into a bearded man on the sidewalk in this city wearing a full, white bridal gown and veil who was saying to everyone in earshot, “IT’S MY DAY!”

2.  This city has more restaurants per capita than any city in the United States, including Red’s Java House and what may be the best sourdough and cheddar cheeseburger on the planet.

3.  It is a place where visitors must fear the beard.

4.  This city boasts the only pirate supply store that I’m aware of, complete with peg legs, eye patches and lard.

5. There is a plaque somewhere in this city that reads, “On approximately this spot Miles Archer, partner of Sam Spade, was done in by Brigid O’Shaughnessy.”

6.   This city is home to Miranda Corby, a worthy successor to Spade and Archer if ever there was one.

So, where is Carmen Sandiego?  I’ll be the first to admit that you get no points for difficulty for this one.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Anti-Seduction

Vicki here today to confess that a great weight of responsibility lies on an author’s shoulders. Not only does the lowly scribe have to manage her own life, and all that that entails, but look at all the other people she is responsible for.

Romantic matters are a case in point. I am now writing the sixth book in the Constable Molly Smith series. Along with assorted minor characters there are now three couples whose love lives I have to balance. One long-time relationship and two fairly new ones.

I would dearly like to have all those relationships progress smoothly to a state of total bliss, but unfortunately that’s not what interesting books are made of. So sometimes I have to go right out and whisper sweet anti-seductions in one character’s ear or another.

In the book in progress, Molly Smith meets a guy on the ski slopes. Now, she’s a near-Olympic class skier and this guy turns out to be not only handsome and charming but almost as good as she is. So our characters zip around the slopes for a few chapters. Flirting, smiling, laughing, wondering if there’s that certain something in the other.

Why, they seem almost perfect for each other!

Can’t have that now can we?

So the author (aka the puppet master) whispers sweet nothings into his ear.

“Police! Drop the weapon!”

“You’re a cop?”

“Are we still on for tomorrow?”


But I can’t leave you on a downer, so here’s a clip of what to me is a truly great love song. It’s easy to be in love when you’re young and have met someone new. A bit more difficult as age and familiarity creep up. Kingdom of Days by Bruce Springsteen.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Seduction of the Innocent

Psychiatrist Fredric Wertham was scared for America’s children. They were tying bath towels around their necks and running around playing Superman, jumping off of the roofs of their houses and breaking their legs and arms. There was rich man Bruce Wayne, who by night was the criminal’s scourge, Batman, and his young, ahem, “ward,” the teenaged Dick Grayson, the barelegged, masked Robin the Boy Wonder. When he wasn’t endangering the under-aged lad, exposing him to riff-raff like the Joker and the guns and knives of his henchmen, they were lazing about Wayne manor in the mornings, each in a smoking jacket and ascot. Holy gay undercurrent Dark Knight!

What were the disturbing fantasies the scantily clad Phantom Lady, her well-endowed bosom fairly falling out of her plunging V-top as she was bound, barely, by ropes fueling in pubescent boys? Indeed a look over to the right of the infamous cover Wertham cited, Phantom Lady No. 17 from 1948 one might agree with ol’ Freddy – interestingly too, the cover was drawn by Matt Baker, one of the few African Americans working in comics in those days. And what sort of message were youths receiving what with hanging bodies, their eye bulging out or a decapitated woman’s head on the covers of horror comic books?

Relating the aforementioned and much more, like kids setting themselves on fire imitating the Human Torch, Wertham published his study and conclusions as a book, Seduction of the Innocent in 1954. Parents and educators were alarmed and in the resulting furor, which included a Senate sub-committee hearing on juvenile delinquency, with an emphasis on these subversive comics and the gentlemen of Eastern European heritage who published them, The Comics Code of America was born. It was an industry-funded self-censorship body that among its edicts stated:

“Crimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal…Policeman, judges, government officials, and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority…Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism and werewolfism are prohibited.”

Some might argue Wertham seduced a ‘50s-era nation stuck between the old ways and anxious about the oncoming of the Atomic Age, bringing with it stuff like creeping communism and Negroes making noises down south. Or that if there is no sentry, a guardian against our base desires, we will forever give in to that which tempts and seduces us – comic books then, video games now. But I am seduced with the idea that counter to the Code, the ghost of Fredric Wertham returns to be a consultant on moral decency. Bad good girl Phantom Lady gets wind of this and returning from limbo, must do battle against Wertahm’s ghoulish acolytes to protect our freedoms. I’ll be right there with her, carrying some safety pins in case, you know, her costume comes undone.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Play At Your Own Risk

Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

Honey, I have a headache. A bad one. Usually, I write my blogs a bit in advance to protect myself from the totally not in the mood to be smart, funny, sexy risks. What can I say? I'm not Rebecca -- I can't bring it every day without fail. And I wasn't lucky enough to be Josh or Michael who honestly got double quantities of the flirting as breathing thing. There are days -- and this is one -- where there is pretty much nothing I could say, or hear, that wouldn't cast a restraining order quality around the romantic initialization moment.

I suppose it explains why I write non-sequentially. If I didn't play to the moment, I might not ever finish a project while I patiently or impatiently wait for the right color on my writing mood ring. For some reason, I don't have as much trouble with regular moments of literary homicidal rage. Sometimes, even I'm surprised when a character gets on my nerves and has an unfortunate accident.

The romantic interlude is much harder. I suppose it might be because, on a personal basis, I can be a bit schizophrenic. One birthday I might find receipt of lock picks the most personal, alluring gift and then I might follow that up with a Valentine's Day chocolate box treated as an attempt on my blood-sugar challenged existence. Words are the same. Maybe they work, maybe they don't but I'm never really sure until the instant they fill the dialogue balloon above my head. I remember being greatly swayed by "dare you" once although quite recently I responded with a snarky "what are we, 6?" I love the men who can recite poetry casually but have never felt drawn to the Irish drinking ditty. Aren't they mostly the same? I find breaking into song of any sort off-putting and the traditional comment on my looks are almost always met with scorn. On the other hand, I remember a very pleasant evening spent in the company of someone who responded to my elevator look and a simple "nice." (In my defense, it was during my shallow years which I think might be mostly behind me but you never really know that, either, do you?)

A friend of mine once told me that there was a period of time during which gay men carried handkerchiefs of different colors all of which had particularly meanings to advise the interested of the carrier's state of mind. No pick up lines, no uncertainty, no drifting into a minefield of bad day, bad timing and no chance of saying the wrong thing and turning a love sonnet into a Tim Burton script. I find the idea incredibly refreshing but with my sense of style, I might be back for more aspirin.

Thanks for being in the mood to read.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

I’m Easy

By Michael

I admit it: I’m easy to seduce – a not unusual condition for a guy, but who am I to argue with biology?

A cheap date, I’m happy with the chicken mole at Nuevo Léon in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood (you can carry me out the door for less than ten bucks), though I’ll roll over and expose my belly if you treat me to a couple slices of abalone sashimi at Japonica in New York or a plate of vegetarian pork at Heaven’s Dog in San Francisco.

Put Etta James’s “I’d Rather Go Blind” on the stereo when we get home and you’ll see me doing dances I really shouldn’t do. Play it a second time, and I’ll sing along using a fake Brazilian accent.

I don’t mind being plied with alcohol, my chosen brands being Maker’s Mark bourbon and Hornitos tequila – though I’ll drink most cabernets that sell for more than seven bucks a bottle and any beer, whatever the price.

But if you really want to move my soul, try a few lines from Raymond Chandler. Vivian Sternwood in The Big Sleep would be good. Say, “My God, you big handsome brute! I ought to throw a Buick at you!” and I’ll start humming Ravel’s Bolero. Follow it up with, “I loathe masterful men,” and steam will pour from my nose and ears. Or give me some James Cain. Try Cora from The Postman Always Rings Twice: say, “Yes! Yes, Frank, yes!” – substituting “Michael” for “Frank,” please – and I won’t say no.

Eyes, ears, tongue. These are the pathways to my desire – very wide pathways: superhighways, great salt flats.

Oh, but I’m also married – happily – and that makes my condition of easy seducibility both more difficult on the one hand and simpler on the other. On the one hand, my wife has seen me dance and is embarrassed and she’s unimpressed by my Brazilian accent. On the other hand, on every birthday I give her copies of The Big Sleep and The Postman Always Rings Twice, each Valentine’s Day I give her an Etta James CD, and you know where we go to dinner.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Art of Seduction

By Tracy Kiely

Seduction is an art form. There is no magic line that guarantees romantic success. Nobody ever had me at “hello,” and I find it hard to believe that any rational man would be intrigued by the offer to “come up and see me sometime.” Honestly, that line sounds like something you’d hear on Dateline followed by Keith Morrison’s sad voice observing, “Of course, no one ever would see Barry Jacobs again.”

Seduction depends on the time, the place, and the person. What worked on me in my youth would have no effect now. That said, I present you with a historical list of successful lines:

Pre-school: “Hey, would you like to share my Hostess Cupcake?”

Grade school: “Wanna couple skate? I can skate backwards.”

Middle school: Honestly, any overt interest at this horribly awkward age found me skittering away in terror. But based on the pictures that I’ve come across of me from this era, I don’t think it was an issue anyway.

High School: “Hey, a bunch of us are going to X’s house to watch Monty Python and then head down to Georgetown to catch the midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Want to come?”

College: “No, you’re not boring me at all. Maybe we could grab a beer and you can tell me more about the visual metaphors in Hitchcock’s movies?”

Early 20’s: “No, you’re not boring me at all. Maybe we could go to dinner and you can tell me more about the visual metaphors in Hitchcock’s movies?”

Late 20’s: “Seriously honey, from behind you can’t tell you’re pregnant at all.”

Early 30’s: “Pack your bags. My mom is coming to watch the kids for the weekend.”

Late 30’s: “X just threw up all over the bathroom, but I cleaned it up.”

40’s: “How about we get take out, a bottle of wine, go upstairs and lock the door, and pretend we can’t hear what the kids are doing?”

So there you have it. Not exactly the phrases you'd expect to hear from seduction masters such as Cary Grant, Bogie, or George Clooney, but they did the trick for me.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How to Seduce Me

by Josh

First: be limber.

No, silly, not physically limber. I can barely touch my toes, and that's when I'm sitting. Although now that you mention it, if you are physically limber, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's always good to have someone handy who can touch my toes.

What I meant by "limber," of course, is verbal dexterity. I enjoy conversations which are more than mere variations on "how was your day" and "what do you want for dinner" and "should that really be green?" Tickle me with your allusions; thrill me with your paraprosdokians.

Yeah, I may be a bit of an intellectual elitist and I hope you are too. If music be the fruit of love, language has to be at least the pizza.

Second: be open-minded. If you want to mix up your Dickens with Danielle Steele, have at it. I won't judge - and I hope you won't judge me when I mix up my Shakespeare with Stephen King. See, Plato was wrong. Being judgmental is actually counter-intuitive to intellectualism; intellectuals should have enough wisdom to know better.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Seduction of the Moment

I am 10 days away from meeting my deadline for Hide and Seek, my 8th Odelia Grey novel. This is important because the words that would have seduced me two months ago, or even one month ago, mean nothing to me today.

For example, two months ago the words 50% off, sexy, chocolate, beautiful, bonus and free might have made me purr like one of my cats. They wouldn't even have had to been uttered by my all-time film heart throbs, Alan Rickman or Armand Assante. Nope, just hearing those words would have sent my heart to pitter-pattering.

Today the words that would send me into nirvana would be extension (although I'm already on one), time off, and sleep.

But the words that would be the icing on the cake, the roar in my engine, the cabana boy in my dream vacation, would have to be THE END, typed by me at the end of this manuscript.

Trust me, when it happens, it will be earth shaking and orgasmic, even if Alan and Armand are not here to enjoy it with me.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Double Trouble

By Hilary Davidson

My second novel, THE NEXT ONE TO FALL, was published by Forge this week, on Valentine’s Day (a fact you may already know, thanks to this valentine from my fabulous friend Rebecca Cantrell). It’s an ironic release date, since the book features a wealthy man whose wives and other female companions have a strange habit of going missing… or turning up dead. Romantic, the book is not. But it does bring back Lily Moore, the main character from THE DAMAGE DONE, and her best friend, Jesse Robb, and it sets them loose in Peru.

I had an amazing launch party thanks to the wonderful staff of The Mysterious Bookshop and to all of the friends who turned out for it. By the time you read this, I'll have visited Murder by the Book in Houston and BookPeople in Austin to talk about the book. Next up: The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, and the Velma Teague Library in Glendale, Arizona.

Crimespree Magazine #45 — with a cover story about me! — is now in print and available online. Many, many thanks to Jon Jordan, Ruth Jordan and Jen Forbus. If you're not a subscriber, you should fix that now.

Thanks are also owed to the kind people who've let me stop by their blogs lately: Jen Forbus, Elizabeth A. White, Chris F. Holm, Todd Ritter, and the fabulous ladies at Jungle Red Writers. I'm also grateful to a long list of reviewers, including Ms. Forbus and Ms. White, as well as Lesa Holstine, Jedidiah Ayres, Carolyn Cooke, Katrina Niidas Holm, and Laurie Grassi. The people behind Criminal Element have been fantastic. An extra-special thank-you to Scott Montgomery, who has interviewed me and written a lot of wonderful things about THE NEXT ONE TO FALL. My thanks to everyone who has supported the book. I couldn't do this without you.

PS If you want to see Peru through my eyes, take a look at these images from my trip there. There's more than just llamas... but yes, there are lots of llamas.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Importance Of Hitting Deadlines

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by. - Douglas Adams

I hate being late. Really, it goes beyond mere pet peeve. And I absolutely hate missing a deadline.

Like this one.

This post was supposed to be up, oh, nine, ten hours ago? Something like that. So you can imagine when I woke up, yelled, "Shit!" and scared the dogs, who then proceeded to jump on my head.

All 160 pounds.  The dogs, not my head.

And then I spent twenty minutes trying to figure out what to write about. So I thought I'd write about deadlines. It's funny where we find inspiration. For me it's in panic.

Anyway, the point is that missing deadlines is bad. It's unprofessional, anxiety inducing and gives you gout. Okay, maybe not gout, but I wouldn't be surprised.

We've all done it. Missed our homework, screwed up in a project, been a week late to work after waking up from binge drinking Thunderbird and wondering how we ended up in a Shanghai brothel next to a cabaret singer named Pepe Von Bulow.

But there's a balance to maintain. Sometimes the work simply isn't done. Sometimes it's not as good as it could be. Nobody wants to turn in crap even if it's on time. I missed a deadline turning in my second book to my publisher. There are reasons, sure, but they all come down to excuses. It was late, I got an extension and I hit the second deadline.

Was it the best it could be? I don't know. Was it the best I could deliver? I think so. I sent it out to beta readers, got some feedback, made some changes. I'm not entirely happy with it, but it had reached the point where I honestly didn't know what else to do with it. I don't think it's perfect, but I do think it's good.

There's a saying, "Perfect is the enemy of good." The problem with perfect is that it doesn't exist. Particularly in books. Tastes are so subjective and quality is so often conflated with personal preference that you're never going to hit that mark for everyone.

If you spend all your time trying to make something perfect you're never going to finish it and chances are you're going to overshoot the mark. So focus on making it good, not perfect. Let it have flaws. Chances are you can fix them later. And if you can't, well, sometimes them's the breaks.

I'm not saying don't do your best work, but I am saying don't shoot for an impossible standard. Every time you look at your previous work you're going to find something you want to change. Stop it. It's not going to serve you. At some point you just have to say it's done and turn the damn thing in.

And really try to get it in on time. It cuts down on the panic.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Seduce your significant other with words: the FAIL version

Thanks to Criminal Minds for having me here.   I’ll be writing a few posts while Kelli’s away, so let me introduce myself. 

Gary says: "Hi!"
I write mysteries set in the ancient world, as does Kelli.  The difference is, Kelli’s books are set in Roman Britain, starring a Roman doctor, while mine are in ancient Greece.  My detective is Nicolaos, who walks the mean streets of classical Athens, and though Nico’s a detective, what's really on his mind is how to get closer (much closer) to Diotima, an intelligent and annoyingly virgin priestess of Artemis.

And therein lies a problem for poor Nicolaos, because like most men, he’s not so good at the mushy stuff. 

Mushy stuff can be a particular challenge for we male writers!  Most men manage to attract a charming wife regardless of our defects, but when you’re a writer, you not only have to do it for yourself, but then you have to write seductive lines for your hero.  In my case, I solved this problem by applying to my hero the same savoir faire that I exhibit in real life.

Witness the following disaster.  We join our heroes as they hide in a cupboard, where they’ve been trapped, while two suspects have kinky sex in the room outside.  This is Nico’s seduction technique:

I glanced to my side at Diotima.  She watched intently through the crack in the cupboard door. 

I put out my hand.  She must have felt the movement because she took my hand.  I squeezed.  She squeezed back, not taking her eye off the action outside.  Was she holding my hand for comfort, or because she was getting excited too?

I had to do something.  Now or never.  I let go Diotima’s hand and edged mine up to Diotima’s bottom.  I waited for her reaction.  She was still peering through the crack, but I felt her press back the slightest amount.  So I put my other hand on her breast.

She gasped, slapped my hand away and turned to me.  “No, Nicolaos.  What are you doing?”  She said it quietly but with force.

“I would have thought that was obvious,” I whispered.  “I want to have sex with you.”

On the other side of the doors, the bed was creaking.  Mnesiptolema was moaning.

In here?” Diotima fairly shrieked.  Fortunately the groans on the other side drowned her out.

“Oh!  Oh!  Oh!”

Diotima looked away.  I saw her face was flushed, but whether the emotion was anger or something else I didn’t know.  She took a step toward me. 

“Nicolaos, I—”

“Ooh!”  That was Archeptolis.

“Aah!”  That was Mnesiptolema.

At least someone got to have simultaneous orgasms, I though sourly.

Diotima is likely to remain annoyingly virgin while things like this happen. 

I confess I have no problem writing failed seduction lines!  I guess this means my chances of ever writing a James Bond script are limited.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Seduction - duction - what's your function

Okay - with apologies to schoolhouse rock - and the actual theme of this weeks question which I'm guessing everyone will avoid in one way or another - here are my thoughts on seduction through the art of words.

Why? Why would we try to do this? No, seriously. There is no good outcome to being a silver tongued rapscallion.

If you successfully woo and seduce your significant other with a string of beautiful words. What are you going to do next time? You can't say the same thing - your eyes are like pools of luminescent moonbeams - you can't say that twice. The response will be - you said that last time, what else do you got?

And if you're not successful then what ? If you mention some flower that she's never heard of or compare her to some work of art she doesn't find particularly attractive or if she says "your biceps are so strong" shortly after you failed to open the tomato sauce jar without fetching a hammer, you are just going backwards.

No, no, no. In this case less is definitely more. Her beauty is always indescribable - so why try. Your masculinity is better served by a few well placed touches and some type of cooing noise - even if she is merely suppressing a laugh.

Yes - I think this is the best policy - plus it always seems as if people are mad about getting seduced. Rarely on a soap-opera do you hear a character shout "You seduced me..and I liked it!" No - I'm afraid its always followed by an icy stare or a plate thrown through the air.

Best to avoid all this and let your touch do the talking. Of course I guess we have to do some talking to get there in the first place. Grrrr.... Its a vicious circle.

Do you women see what valentine's day does to us men?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine’s Day to Hilary and Lily!

By Rebecca Cantrell

Today I am cavalierly ignoring this week’s question to send out hearts and flowers to 7 Criminal Minds’ own Hilary Davidson because today is the launch of her latest novel, “The Next One to Fall.” A stunning Valentine’s Day present for a great friend and a terrific writer.

Publishers Weekly says “Davidson’s exciting follow-up to her debut, 2010’s The Damage Done... The rich history and geography of Peru add depth to an engrossing mystery that constantly keeps the reader guessing.”

And Kirkus Reviews chimes in with “Davidson’s rendering of Machu Picchu and Cusco would merit a pisco sour toast even from the great Jan Morris.”

When you launch your debut book, your friends and family take notice (as in, “I thought she was just messing around all those years she said she was writing a book, but she actually did.”) and you get reviews and it’s an round wonderful experience.

That kind of tapers off for the second book, or the third one, or the fourth, or the fifth. I’m the fourth of five children, the one that there aren’t any baby pictures of because by the time you get that far, a new tooth is not the big deal it once was. It just means you’ll be using it to bite your sister.

But I want to bring back a bit of that debut magic. It’s still a big deal. The book usually involves a year of writing and a year of waiting, which puts the book gestation period in line with an elephant’s. It’s a gargantuan task.

I’m finishing up another book myself soon (just the writing part, not the waiting one), and I’ve been thinking of rituals to celebrate when you’re done. Champagne? Chocolate? Ice cream? The lone cigarette in “Misery.” What do YOU think would be an appropriate ritual for finishing a book? What do you do? What should Hilary do?

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Playlist's The Thing

By Reece Hirsch

Thanks to Steve Jobs and the iPod, our lives really do have soundtracks now, and here’s mine. There’s no theme, and they aren’t my all-time favorites, but these ten songs are all in heavy rotation this week as I ride the BART train to work.

"If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)" by The Staple Singers. This is the follow-up single to their classic “I’ll Take You There” and has the same irresistible pop-gospel vibe, but it’s far too good to be dismissed as a knock-off. And who wouldn’t like to go with Mavis, Pops and the gang to a world with “no economical exploitation, no political domination”? Not a bad theme song for the Occupy movement.  In memory of Don Cornelius, click on the link for a major Seventies Soul Train flashback.

“Darkness” by Leonard Cohen. I haven’t fully absorbed Cohen’s new CD Old Ideas, but this bluesy track already stands out. Sample lyric: “I caught the darkness/Drinkin’ from your cup/I said ‘Is this contagious?’/She said, ‘Just drink it up.’”

"Dawned on Me" by Wilco. This insanely upbeat song from The Whole Love is guaranteed to lift your mood. Like a few songs that Jeff Tweedy has written lately, the melody reminds me of All Things Must Pass-era George Harrison.

"Little Black Submarines" by The Black Keys. The El Camino CD is getting a lot of play from me right now. I didn’t think they could top Brothers, but they did. I could have picked just about any track from the CD, but I like the way this song starts acoustic and then achieves total heaviosity.

 "You've Got To Be Kidding" by Graham Parker and The Rumor. Although he was once characterized as the poor man’s Elvis Costello, lately I find myself returning to Howlin’ Wind and Heat Treatment even more often than Elvis’s early records because Graham is a more soulful singer. This bitterly sarcastic put-down song is what “Positively Fourth Street” would sound like if it had been recorded by Jamaican producer Leslie Kong.

"Sometimes I Don't Need To Believe In Anything" by Teenage Fanclub. This band is my go-to happy music. Gnarly guitars, sweet harmonies and huge pop hooks – what’s not to like? Like most of us, the boys have grown a little more melancholy with age and turned down the volume a bit, but this song from their last CD Shadows is pure pop ebullience filtered through middle-aged wisdom.

"Flesh and Blood" by Solomon Burke. This R&B great passed away in 2010, but not before staging a furious comeback, as demonstrated by this dark, hellacious, epic wail of torment and remorse, penned by Joe Henry. Need a soundtrack for the dark night of your soul? Here you go.

 "Raymond Chandler Evening" by Robyn Hitchcock. Since this is Criminal Minds, I had to include this song, which is as short, sweet and moody as a Chandler short story.  How’s this for a haiku distillation of noir? “It’s a Raymond Chandler evening/And the pavements are all wet/And I’m lurking in the shadows/’Cause it hasn’t happened yet.”

"Birthday Boy" by The Drive-by Truckers.  The first line is a short story by itself:  "Which one's the birthday boy? she said, I ain't got all night."  The Drive-by Truckers are one of the best live bands around and they have been consistently making solid records for years. If you’re not familiar, start with Southern Rock Opera.  On the CD, this is a great rock and roll song, but the linked acoustic version is also nice.

"England 2, Colombia 0" by Kirsty MacColl. Most people know the late, great Kirsty best for her duet with Shane MacGowan of the Pogues in “Fairytale of New York,” but she was also one of the best pop songwriters and wittiest lyricists I can think of. Take, for example, this song about a woman who goes out on a date to find out in the nick of time that the man she's with is married, as a soccer match plays in the background. "And I know just how those Colombians feel …."

Bonus Tracks:  "Rider" by Okkervil River; "Excuses" by The Morning Benders; "Heart Full of Love" by The Invincibles; "You Said Something" by P.J. Harvey; "Barstool Blues" by Neil Young & Crazy Horse; "Rocket Man" by My Morning Jacket; "Castanets" by Alejandro Escovedo; "Strange Powers" by The Magnetic Fields; "Gettin' Grown" by Cee-Lo Green & His Perfect Imperfections; and "Chinatown" by Destroyer.

Secret, Hidden Tracks:  "Another Girl, Another Planet" by The Replacements (covering The Only Ones);  "Champagne and Reefer" by Buddy Guy and the Rolling Stones (Buddy Guy's glare is worth the price of admission).

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Soundtrack of my life? Do I have one?

Vicki here.

Last week’s question about board games suited me perfectly. This one… not so much. I enjoy listening to music but I am totally tone deaf and really don’t know much about it, other than what I like.

I’ve been trying to learn a bit about opera. Being tone deaf, big brassy music is what I like best. Yesterday I went to my local theatre to see the Met live-via-satellite performance of Gotterdammerung. I bought my ticket in advance and when I got to the booth she said, “You know it’s six hours long?” No I didn’t know (see above for lack of musical education). However, I gamely bought my ticket thinking if I didn’t like it, I could leave during one of the two intermissions.
I did know enough to know that Gotterdammerung is but the fourth of a four part storyline. I have a book at home titled Tolkien’s Ring, which is an exploration of the influences on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (waiting for the LOTR question, here: That’s my niche!) The book contained the entire plot synopsis of Wagner’s Ring Cycle so at least I was able to attend the performance knowing what was going on.

I loved it! At the end, I found it hard to believe I’d been sitting there for six hours (nice comfy seats too). I loved the music, the costumes, the singers. The set, not so much, being more about light and technology than objects, but it was okay. The main character of Brunnhilde was sung by Deborah Voight and she was magnificent. Just spectacular. Interestingly, I find female voices in opera much more powerful than male voices. The best scene yesterday was between Brunnhilde and her Valkyrie sister. Waltraude, the second, the dramatic finale which is all Brunnhilde’s.

So, would I describe Gotterdammerung as the soundtrack of my life? Hardly. No magic rings, no heroes leaping through fire, no sleeping on a rock waiting to be rescued.
No hatred and betrayal, either.

But I loved the performance yesterday. I’d highly recommend that anyone who wants to expanse their musical experience, try attending on of these live performances.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Slippin' Into Darkness

When I was a teenager, the soundtrack was simple and indeed played on a 8-track tape player – and how sad is it that I’m that old – the heft of a portable x-ray machine strapped beneath the dash of my dad’s ’65 Ford Galaxy when I was a senior in high school. Pumped at volume as those of us on the football squad arrived for our Friday night games, the “Theme to Shaft” by Issac Hayes. Cue that great guitar intro:

Who is the man
That would risk his neck for
his brother man?
(all the girls say: Shaft!)
Can ya dig it?

Who's the cat that won't cop out,
When there's danger all about
(all the girls again say: Shaft!)
Right on

But there was also “Lola” from the Kinks that, shall we say, piqued our interests,–

Well, I'm not the world's most physical guy,
But when she squeezed me tight she nearly
broke my spine
Oh my Lola, L-L-Lola

Well, I'm not dumb but I can't understand,
Why she walked like a woman but talked like a man,
Oh my Lola, L-L-Lola, L-L-Lola

Time passes and there were other Friday nights spent in places like the Jockey Club and Jukebox Jury…yes my friends, the Age, the Scourge of Disco had arrived. And what better song encapsulated this ere than “Disco Inferno” by the Tramps (riffed on I shamelessly note in a short story of mine called “Disco Zombies” from the Cocaine Chronicles recently republished in my short story collection, Treacherous: Grifters, Ruffians and Killers)

Satisfaction came in a chain reaction -- Do you hear?
I couldn't get enough, so I had to self destruct,
The heat was on, rising to the top
Everybody's goin' strong
That is when my spark got hot
I heard somebody say

Burn baby burn! -- Disco inferno!
A, ah yeah!

Threaded through those time periods and into my mid to late twenties are those relationships that healed you and took something out of you at the same time. Who better than the Joe Simon in his song “Drowning in the Sea of Love” to express that:

I’ve been down one time,
I’ve been down two times,
Now I’m drowning,
Drowning in the sea of love

And there was Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” song that pretty much summed it up for me and wommin' folk as well --

I got a Black Magic Woman
I got a Black Magic Woman
Yes, I got a Black Magic Woman
She's got me so blind I can't see
But she's a Black Magic Woman and
she's trying to make a devil out of me

For the tough times there’s the two constants, the Boss’ “Darkness on the Edge of Town” –

Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost,
I'll be there on time and I'll pay the cost,
For wanting things that can only be found
In the darkness on the edge of town.

And War’s “Slippin’ into Darkness,”

When I heard my mother say,
You've been slippin' into darkness,
Oh oh oh oh
Pretty soon, you're gonna pay.
Yeah, yeah.

When it comes time to checkout, like how it was used for a dying Russian gangster on an episode of House, maybe that last soundtrack will be the intonations of the late great Eddie Hazel’s guitar magnificence on Funkadelic‘s “Maggot Brain.”

(you can click on Treacherous or "Maggot Brain" for extras by the by)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Clef Notes

Gabriella Herkert
Catnapped and Doggone

Confession time. I'm not a music person. I know we creative types are supposed to be hanging out together and I have nothing but awe for the truly talented musicians and songwriters in the world who manage to tell their stories with rhythm. But the thing is, I grew up in a predominantly silent house. Except for the yelling and name-calling to be expected with eight people and one bathroom, there wasn't a lot of noise much less composition that would lend itself to a background tapestry upon which I could paint my life story.

I was going to write this blog by finding out the top songs in the key moments in my life but figured out that would help everyone do the longevity math and, well, that is not a place I'm going to willingly go. Instead, I chose some key moments, places and people and borrowed quotes from some of my favorite authors that, at least in my rather convoluted thinking, manage to convey the essence of that person I was in that moment. With any luck, once linked, each of these snapshots will flow into the verbal soundtrack of the Life of Gabi.

Of course, I couldn't make it that easy and I'm a little unsettled with simply handing the key that makes me tick over without a little fight, I've written two lists. Mix and match my bulleted moments with the numbered quotation. Any insights are welcome. Answers are at the end.

A. Reporting day at the United States Military Academy at West Point
B. Circus school
C. Kerouac and Kokopelli
D. Arthur Andersen interview, Bouchercon and parade formation
E. Moving to Austin to write full-time
F. The terme baths at the Grand Wailea Spa, Maui
G. Law school at the University of Oregon
H. Amarillo, Texas
I. 7 Criminal Minds
J. Changing the world

  1. “I can’t swim.” – The Sundance Kid

  2. “You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes.” -- Dr. Seuss

  3. “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” – Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz

  4. “I say beware of all enterprises which require new clothes.” – Henry David Thoreau

  5. “Oh,” said Cecilia with a deep sigh, “but we must live here.” An Irish setter ran out to inspect us. I bent down and patted it. “With a dog,” I added. -- A.A. Milne

  6. “Who leaves the pine-tree, leaves his friend,Unnerves his strength, invites his end.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

  7. “The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.” – Joseph Conrad

  8. “America is my country and Paris is my hometown.” – Gertrude Stein

  9. “Where’s the beef?” – Clara Pell

  10. “Good friends, good books, and a sleep conscience: this is the ideal life.” Mark Twain

A. 4 -- The West Point dress grey uniform is the same outfit worn by the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz. There's a clue in there somewhere.

B. 1 -- I was the first person in my trapeze class to climb all the way to the ceiling using the silks. Then I looked down. Unlike Sundance, I knew it was the fall that was the problem (although technically, it's the landing).

C. 5 -- Ker and Koko are my dogs, past and present. It's not a home without dog hair on everything.

D. 2 -- These are all examples of moments when the brains in my head had to work out the fix for the two left shoes on my feet.

E. 7 -- I turned my world upside down to spend more time writing, moved to Austin and promptly burned my office-cubicle-haven't-seen-the-sun-in-Seattle skin to a crisp.

F. 8 - Everyone has a place they walk into and no is their special place. Those terme baths -- they're mine.

G. 3 - I went from culturally homogenous Midwest to identical soldier Army to the Grateful Dead are in town Eugene, Oregon. Talk about your culture shock.

H. 9 - My mother liked to route our vacations so we could eat at the Big Texas steakhouse. Wisconsin to California via Amarillo, Texas. Is my sense of direction (or dearth of one) any real surprise?

I. 10 - I love our blog community even if my chances of being arrested have increased by a factor of ten thousand.

J. 6 - I've been working with the passionate people at the Rainforest Partnership to bring sustainable incomes to communities in the rainforest while protecting the environment. I don't leave my friends.

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

I Can't Get No

When I was growing up in Chicago, the radio station WRXT mostly aired a consistent if idiosyncratic playlist, but now and then they juxtaposed genres, sounds, and styles. On those occasions, the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” might transition into Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and “War Pigs” transition into a Beethoven piano sonata and the sonata transition into Miles Davis’s “On Green Dolphin Street.” They were (and are) a commercial station, but sometimes they behaved like the unruly, eclectic music fanatics they must have been before they put on their professional hats.

With the WXRT precedent behind me, I construct the following playlist or soundtrack for my life.

Chet Baker, “Let’s Get Lost”

John Coltrane, “Naima”

“Whatever Lola Wants,” Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, as performed by Ella Fitzgerald

Buddy Johnson, “Since I Fell For You”

“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” Rolling Stones

“Blue Skies,” Willie Nelson

Celia Cruz, “Guantanamera”

Don Giovanni (Commandatore Scene), Mozart

“Dance This Mess Around,” B-52’s

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Soundtrack of My Life

By Tracy Kiely

Before I tackle today’s topic – the soundtrack of my life – let me just say that, like a lot of other Anglophile’s, I have of late submerged myself into the posh world of Downton Abbey. (For those of you unfamiliar with this latest Masterpiece series, it follows the Crawley household during the waning days of the Edwardian Era. Or, as the Washington Post stated, “it is lifestyle porn for Anglophiles.”) The scenery is lush, the clothes are gorgeous, and the dialog – especially Dame Maggie Smith’s – is perfect and biting. More than that, though, the portrayal of the unhurried lifestyle of the Edwardian gentry beckons to me from my modern-day world of chaos. So much so, that after a happy visit with the Crawley clan, I have blinked in confusion at the mess strewn around me and begun to call out for Mr. Carson or Mrs. Hughes to set it right.

(And before you start yelling at me that it is in many ways an unrealistic portrayal, and that women, servants, and the lower classes were viewed and many times treated like second class citizens, and that that there were a host of social injustices perpetrated with casual indifference, let me assure you that I know all that. But dammit, it looks pretty and I like to pretend, so let’s move on, shall we?)

Anyway. I mention all of this so you will understand that I would love for my life’s soundtrack to be something sophisticated and elegant, but of course, with a hint of whimsy. The soundtrack to Pride and Prejudice would do nicely, as would just about any period drama from that era.

However, if I am honest with myself, I have to admit that my soundtrack would be something like the Flight of the Bumblebee, and the version I would have would stick and skip.

I have three lovely children who are all displaying age appropriate behavior. My fifteen-year-old son has embraced the eye-rolling condescension of that age with a gusto normally reserved for violent video games. He does not understand what a laundry hamper or dishwasher is for. My twelve-year-old daughter is channeling the drama channel and learning to flounce off in a huff with the best of them. Unlike her brother, she understands what a laundry hamper is for; it is the thing in which you throw all the clothes that slide off of the closet hangers – and is the reason why a winter coat ends up in the laundry room in the middle of August. My third is a nine-year-old boy who can never find his shoes, casually mentions that he’s been brushing his teeth for several days without toothpaste because he couldn’t find any (despite there being three tubes on the sink), and refuses to wear anything other than sports jerseys. My dog likes to retrieve various items, such as the TV remote, and then play hide and seek with it. My cat normally stares at me with the cool indifference typical of his breed, but lately has been following me about and curling up with me. This, of course, only made me remember that story about the cat in the nursing home who could sense death and stayed close to those patients about to die. I have been on high alert all week.

Add to all this, a book that needs editing, a proposal that needs writing, and a marketing plan that needs marketing, and perhaps you will see why I long for Edwardian calm in the midst of my bumblebee flight.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My Life in Song

by Josh

(with links scattered throughout)

Once upon a time, and a lucky time it was, a boy named Josh was born in the gigantic state of Rhode Island. He was a baby and then he grew up, although not by much. He loathed school but loved writing and the TV. He especially enjoyed the Creature Double Feature which played on Saturday afternoons and the Dialing-for-Dollars B-Movie Extravaganza which played on weekday mornings.

As time passed, he somehow acquired three siblings, a sister and two brothers. He also somehow acquired a fondness for school which replaced his previous loathing. Around this time, he discovered the novels of Stephen King; these in particular infected him with a sinister joy.

He matriculated to the slightly smaller state of New York, which he attended college in Binghamton and gained many friends, several enemies, and one nasty case of mononucleosis. While there, he wrote dozens of plays, ignoring the cries of the masses begging him to desist. He also began work on a screenplay entitled Windfall, which magically won first place in the Open Door Contest co-sponsored by Script Magazine and Dimension Films.

After Binghamton, he lazed down to New York City, worked on Broadway for a spell, and then taught language arts at a special needs yeshiva in Brooklyn. All the while, he subsisted on ramen noodles and hot dogs. He could afford more - these were simply the only meals he knew how to cook. In late 2004, he moved down to Atlanta, Georgia, to be with his family. Four years later, he published his first novel, Nuclear Winter Wonderland, an ode to the bizarre that in no way whatsoever was a reflection of the four years he had now spent with his family. Subsequent novels included While Galileo Preys and Before Cain Strikes.

He now teaches at Georgia Perimeter State College, which used to be called Georgia Perimeter College but eventually manifested a bit of a Louis XIV complex, as has been known to occur. He has been named Campus Professor of the Year by his college newspaper, has won multiple fellowships, and has had seven students so far try to save his soul through prayer. He doesn't believe in God, but he does have a nephew and two nieces and they are as close to the divine as he could ever want or need.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Rainbow Rag

By Sue Ann Jaffarian
When I first saw this week’s question, my initial response wasn’t “Oh, gawd, how do I answer that?” but “Oh, gawd, where do I begin?”
Like most folks, my life has been a study in ups and downs, fits and starts, good, bad, and stupid, with flashes of amazing. Overall, my life has felt like a race in concrete boots with alligators chasing me.
The soundtrack of my life would be just as eclectic, with the theme from Jaws playing side by side with A Moment Like This.  I wish I could do a mix for you, but I’m not very savvy about that kind of stuff, so I’ve narrowed it down to one artist:  Scott Joplin.

I love Joplin’s music. All of it. It has highs and lows. Can be both joyful and mournful. It’s not smooth and easy, but bubbly and awkward, with all the notes travelling together in a frenetic journey, like someone's giving chase and will gobble them up if they stop.
Like my life.
But the last song on the soundtrack would have to be Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. I've heard it for years in movies and on the radio. My niece even used it in her wedding. But it wasn't until recently that I felt compelled to look up the artist I knew simply as "Iz."
It was during this research that I came across the following video of the song. Iz is singing it and at the end of the video is his funeral - a traditional paddle out. It's my new theme song. I even downloaded the video to my iPhone and play it often. To me, it symbolizes joy and hope. Instead of concrete boots and alligators, it conjures up soaring birds, fresh air, and the warmth of the sun, and the love people can pass along to each other.

Thank you, Iz.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Lily Moore's Playlist

My second novel featuring Lily Moore, THE NEXT ONE TO FALL, will be released on Valentine's Day. One of the wonderful things about writing a series character is that you get to know her really, really well. That includes her musical tastes. Lily has an MP3 player, which she has with her in Peru in the book, but it's filled with music that's decades old. One of her favorite songs is Frank Sinatra's version of "I've Got You Under My Skin."

Another song Lily is particularly fond of is one that Sinatra wrote: "I'm a Fool to Want You." I don't know that Sinatra ever admitted this, but the song was supposed to have been inspired by his wife, Ava Gardner, and their rocky relationship. One of Sinatra's arrangers famously said that "It was Ava who taught him how to sing a torch song." The longing and regret is readily apparent in his voice — which is, of course, what appeals so strongly to Lily.

Another singer Lily adores is Ella Fitzgerald. Truth be told, Ella is also one of my all-time favorites. It's almost impossible to pick one song to include, but at the top of both of our lists is "But Not for Me."

In so many ways, Lily lives in the past, so it's a surprise when she discovers a modern-day singer she loves. Have you met Holly Cole? This contemporary chanteuse sounds like a 1940s diva — which is precisely why Lily loves her. Here's "Make It Go Away or Make It Better."

Since THE NEXT ONE TO FALL is just about to come out, there are a few things I should mention. One is the pre-order contest, which is open to anyone in the US or Canada who pre-orders the book in any format: hardcover, eBook, or audio book. The launch party will be at NYC's Mysterious Bookshop on Wednesday, February 15th at 6:30pm — if you're in town, consider yourself invited. After that, I'll be on tour in Houston, Austin, Phoenix/Scottsdale, Glendale (AZ), Long Island (NY), Toronto, Denver, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco... please check out my list of upcoming events, and come say hi if I'm in your town. If you want to keep up with what I'm doing, sign up for my newsletter.

I'm honored that Austin's BookPeople, where I'll be speaking on Saturday, February 18th, has made THE NEXT ONE TO FALL its Mystery Pick of the Month. It's also one of the recommended books of the month from Canada's Chatelaine magazine. THE NEXT ONE TO FALL has received wonderful reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, and Library Journal, as well as from several independent reviewers. I'm also very excited about being Crimespree's cover girl for the January/February 2012 issue — if you don't already subscribe to the magazine, this would be a great time to start! My heartfelt thanks to everyone who has been so supportive of me and my work. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it.