Friday, June 28, 2013

Heat and Sand

I’m either or concerning this week’s question about do I like to read about exotic locales or familiar ones.  Having been born and raised in Los Angeles, it is the case this city is a much different place in many ways than the city I grew up in or even attempted to capture in my first novel set after, but linked to the ’92 riots, Violent Spring in 1993.  My old neighborhood in South Central was changing then, and that transformation from majority black to majority Latino now two decades later is firmly rooted.
For me in a mystery novel, or one that’s not in the genre, it’s about how does the writer weave in the setting in the context of their narrative.  Recently for the book club my wife and I belong to, a book club I hasten to add that doesn’t read fiction, we read Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger.  The book was published in 1959 (covering Thesiger’s five excursions from 1945-1950) and not to be all PC, it’s safe to say Mr. Thesiger is a romantic colonial if such is not a contradiction in terms. 

“Arabs have little if any sense of colour-bar; socially they treat a slave, however black, as one of themselves.”      

Yet even give this kind of, er, insight, the book offers his on the ground experiences traveling the Empty Quarter, the Rub' al Khali, the Sea of Sand that spills across four Arab nations.  The modern reader can get beyond his “noble savage” riffs to get a sense of Bedouin life, the food, the customs, and what the area was like before oil was discovered.  For sure he lacks an historical understanding of his surroundings – my wife Gilda referred to him a cross between Rudyard Kipling and Ernest Hemingway.  Indeed he was a boxing champ at Oxford.   But the book has worth not in a sociological sense, but in at least pulling back the curtain of an area that had little contact with the outside world at that time.

Sights and sounds, smells and ways of dress, the food and the way people talk be it in a dress shop on a busy street in Beijing to your detective asking questions of waitress in a Muong-Mexican cafĂ© in Long Beach, the writer is tasked with capturing these sensations for the reader.  To deposit us there, let us soak in the atmosphere yet not get bogged down in an information dump.

Let me end then with an extended tip of my hat to Richard Matheson who departed this realm earlier this week.  He gave you vivid place and setting, and putting you in the head of his tormented characters than Matheson in such imaginings as The Shrinking Man, the harried, terrified driver in “Duel,” the haunted Robert Neville in I Am Legend, the child-thing in the basement in the short story “Born of Man and Woman,” and the classic Twilight Zone episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”

His work can be read without any pre-qualifications.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Familiar Surroundings

by Alan

Some people love to read about exotic new places, while some prefer
settings they recognize. How about you?

I thought a lot about this question (I usually think a lot about our very-thought provoking questions), and finally came to a realization.

I’m not a very adventurous soul, in real life or vicariously, so I guess it follows that I don’t care much about traveling to exotic places, physically or in my head. It’s no surprise, then, that I prefer reading about places I’ve been, where I can recognize landmarks or restaurants or neatly-kept neighborhoods. Where I can practically taste the local culinary specialties because I’ve tasted them before.

Okay, I’ll stipulate I’m boring.

(Of course, maybe here’s the spot in the blog post where I should also stipulate that I’m not much into settings, period. Give me some compelling characters in a high-stakes conflict, and you can put them in a closet, for all I care. Yeah, not much of a “settings” guy.)100_2648

Now, I’m not a total dweeb. There are many books I’ve loved set in unusual places, but these places are typically set apart by their physical characteristics, rather than their cultures. Think harsh, extreme environments. Like the bottom of the ocean (Sphere) or the jungle (Congo) or Antarctica (Freezing Point) or outer space (any of a hundred space operas). Those types of settings—where the characters must struggle against the elements to survive—are pretty awesome, in my totally unadventurous opinion.


The Taste_cover for websiteBSP: Today and tomorrow, my horror/thriller THE TASTE, is FREE for Kindle. Download your copy today! What have you got to lose (except maybe your lunch)?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What Draws Me To A Book

By Tracy Kiely
When I reach for a new book, I tend to focus more on the character/plot summary rather than the locale in which the action takes place. For the most part.  If I wander into a bookstore (which, by the way, is harder and harder to do these days, but that’s another post) and I come across a mystery set in England in the Twenties or Thirties, chances are I’m buying it (unless I already own it, but again that particular rule isn’t set in stone either). But in those cases, I’m not buying the book for it’s depictions of the English countryside, but for it’s atmosphere of a time gone by. I’m a sucker for glossy portrayals of an era when there were butlers and lady’s maids and elaborate picnic lunches on the lawn. Nine times out of ten they are completely unrealistic depictions, but then so aren’t amateur sleuths solving multiple homicides in between popping in and out of French windows and playing lawn tennis.
Rather than making me reach for a book, the setting can actually have the opposite effect. Show me a book about a serial killer terrorizing teachers in Afghanistan, and I will politely demur.
Can one politely demur? Does one every rudely demur? Is this one of those redundant phrases like “safe haven” and “regular routine”? Crap, now I’m going to be Googling that for the next hour.
Anyway, please don’t judge me, but I simply don’t have the mental strength to go to Afghanistan (or anywhere where there is chaos and cruelty and injustice). I have three children, who are lovely creatures, but they provide all the chaos and sibling cruelty and injustice that I can handle.  In addition, they are all sadly afflicted with Idontseeititis.  This means that in their wake is a never-ending trail of clutter and chaos. They regard the task of putting away their dishes as a grown up version of Pin The Tail On The Donkey. They get the dishes close to the dishwasher, but no one every really nails it.
I read books because I like the story or the characters (or because I’m stuck somewhere in a public setting and am desperate not to make eye contact with the crazy lady who thinks her ex-boyfriend has bugged her tuna sandwich). From what I’ve seen, very few authors can pull off a setting central book without coming across like a travel guide.
So. In summary:  While I don’t usually choose books based on setting, I will make this one exception– I will read one if it takes place in:
The Tundra – The Frozen Tundra
Here’s the summary:
A woman with a tattoo of a tuna fish on the nape of her neck is on an airplane carrying foreign imports when it is hi-jacked by a bald-headed armed gunman. A violent struggle occurs which causes the plane to crash land in the frozen tundra where our heroine must find safe haven and basic necessities.
I will now cease and desist.     

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Home and Away: Reading Habits

Some people love to read about exotic new places, while some prefer settings they recognize. How about you?

By Vicki Delany

Can I say both?

When I travel, I love to read books set in the places I’m going. 

Not the ideal place to be reading Arthur Perez-Reverte
Two years ago, when I was on safari in Kenya, I was sitting by the campfire in front of the tents, hoping to hear the roar of a lion, reading The Fencing Master by Arturo Perez-Reverte.  Something, I thought, isn’t right about this.  When reading I like to feel that I’m connected to the place I am reading about. If lucky and a good book I can get immersed in the setting and the time frame and feel, for a few short moments, as if I’m really there.  So it was a startling uncomfortable disconnect to be jerked back from the streets of Spain circa 1800 to the wilds of Africa circa 2011.  And, vice versa. 

The next time I was in Africa, in April, I took along books by Michael Stanley and Deon Meyer. Much more satisfying.
Reading in Uganda

As for when I am not travelling, I guess I’m more of a comfortable read sort of person.  I love British novels (generally speaking) and read so many of them that the UK seems like a familiar place.   Think Peter Robinson, Susan Hill, Deborah Crombie. 

Canadian books are special to me as I want to read stories about my country and our history and contemporary problems and for that I enjoy Barbara Fradkin, R.J. Harlick, Deryn Collier and countless others.  (And a special mention to our newest Criminal Mind, Robin Spano!)  
Relaxing at home with a good Canadian book. 

The US is both exotic and familiar in many ways.  So I enjoy books by the likes of Julia Spenser-Fleming and William Kent Krueger that have a feeling of familiarity.

I’m hoping to go to Madrid next year. I’ll be looking for more Reverte for that. Any suggestions for books set in Spain I might use to get me into the mood are welcome!

In other news, Goodreads is having a giveaway of the ARC of my forthcoming book, A COLD WHITE SUN, the sixth in the Constable Molly Smith series.  If you’d like to enter click here.  


Monday, June 24, 2013

Reading My Way to Somewhere New

Some people love to read about exotic new places, while some prefer settings they recognize. How about you?

by Meredith Cole

Yes. Both. I love reading a book set in an exotic place and experiencing (vicariously) the sights and sounds of somewhere new. It's (almost) like going on vacation there. I also enjoy reading books set in places I've visited or lived (at least most of the time). It's fun to know a little something so you can picture the corner or place exactly when the character does something in the story. The only problem I've encountered with reading books set in familiar settings is when the author is clearly unfamiliar with the place they're writing about, and starts to get confused or muff up their geography. I find this very distracting!

So--what am I reading now?

I just finished reading ANOTHER SUN by Timothy Williams, a mystery set in Guadeloupe (which definitely qualifies as a place I've never been). The sleuth is a French female judge, an interesting woman in a difficult situation, and I enjoyed learning about Guadeloupe politics as well as about a new place.

On a side note, I thought it was interesting how the cover was a bit similar to my second book, DEAD IN THE WATER. Maybe the same cover designer?

 I like to read a lot of non-fiction, and right now I'm reading something very interesting: THE AUTISTIC BRAIN: THINKING ACROSS THE SPECTRUM by Temple Grandin and Richard Panek. I suppose this qualifies as a setting where we've all been (our brains) but can't really see. Anyway, Temple Grandin is a very fascinating person who has autism, and already totally hooked. So far she's delved into the history of autism and her own experiences.

I'm looking forward to doing a lot of reading this summer (in exotic and familiar locales) and always looking for recommendations-- so please share with us what you're reading!

Friday, June 21, 2013

It's Not the Who, It's The What

By Sue Ann Jaffarian

I have a confession: I seldom read cozies. You know, those light hearted, sweet mysteries spawned by Agatha Christie's legacy.  It's not that I don't like them, and there are many excellent ones out there, but they are too much like my own mystery series and I'm afraid of my voice being tainted by another author's voice. And since I write a couple of books a year, I seldom have down time in which to squeeze in some of those books for fun.

I write humorous, light mysteries. My Ghost of Granny Apples mysteries are true cozies in that there is no sex or violence on the page. My Odelia Grey series is a bit edgier with some sex and violence and adult themes.  In the mystery world, Odelia is usually labeled "soft boiled." Neither are graphic or hard hitting. It would be very easy for ideas and themes to leach into my spongy brain as I read similar work.  It’s the same reason I never read ghost mysteries or vampire books. While I did read a few ghost novels prior to penning the Granny Apples series, they were very few and very different from the idea I had for my own series. I still have never read a vampire novel. Never. I am a virgin in that regard save for my own fang-based books. 

Considering how few "cozies" I've actually read, it's a mystery to me that I manage to write them and write them well. But there you have it.

Also, in my personal reading I generally prefer harder mysteries and general fiction. And although I often read intense fiction, I despise gratuitous violence and sex. If I feel an author has slipped it in purely for shock or market value and not to move along the story, it can ruin the book for me. In my opinion, it’s a cheap shot. A hack habit. I don’t mind it if it’s a necessary part of character development and plot.

Another confession: I am always miffed when I’m buying a book or speaking to another author and they caution me saying, “You won’t like it. It’s hard and edgy.”  This happens to me all the time and even as recently as a few weeks ago.  

Well #*%@ the fiction police.  (How’s that for a cozy answer?)

What gives you the freaking right to decide what I will like or not like based solely on what I write? Or what you think I write, because I doubt you’ve read my books based on your smug and condescending attitude.  

Fellow authors, if you say something like that to me I guarantee I will not purchase and read your book, and not because I’m some senior delicate flower who writes lighter fiction.

Okay, rant over. We are now returned to our regularly scheduled program.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Butlers and wise guys need not apply.

There's three categories of books I can't read while I'm writing.  (Writing meaning first-drafting; chipping the virgin story out of the ground.)

1. Books similar to mine that I want to be able to say I didn't read and haven't stolen from even if we've both got retired burlesque dancers who fly the first air ambulances in Worcestershire and killed their twin brothers with a grapefruit spoon.

So that's Jacqueline Winspear and Rhys Bowen - the other two blonde Brits who live in northen California and write amateur detective stories set in the UK in the 1920s.  And Carola Dunn (as above except it's Oregon) and Kerry Greenwood too.  Which is a lot of great books to not read.  Moof.

2. Books in the wider genre so breathtakingly, heartbreakingly fantabulous that I'd get a case of the why-bothers only Ben, Jerry and Sheldon Cooper could cure.  This sees off Dennis Lehane, Ruth Rendell and Ann Cleeves.  There are more but I need to stop now because even listing them is dispiriting. 

3.  Books by writers whose style is insidiously contagious (and who are too famous to hyperlink).

Raymond Chandler is just about the worst of these.  I was reading him once while writing and decided that Dandy Gilver's tea frock could fit her like a mermaid's scales.  Why not?  (I caught it in the edit.)

Ernest Heningway isn't worth the risk either.  Nick and the fish and the big two-hearted river?  Hugh Gilver sometimes poddles off with his rods hoping to catch a salmon but it's not the same.

But pipping them both at the post (or poking them both smartly in the second waistcoat button, as he would say) is PG Wodehouse.  Some of Wodehouse's lines make me laugh out loud no matter how many times I've heard them.  When Bertie Wooster had a hangover and "a cat stamped into the room".  Or when Mr Beach is displeased but says nothing and PW describes it thus -  "ice formed on the butler's upper slopes".  Genius.  Or when  . . . I think it's Bingo Little . . .  sends a telegram that begins - "I say Bertie old boy stop yes Bertie stop I wonder old chap if I might have a word stop"  The narrative goes on - "The telegram is not Bingo's natural form."

So part of the joy of getting that first draft done is to be able to read absolutely anything again.  Mystic River or Right Ho, Jeeves.  The world's my TBR pile.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Shelf Help

by Chris F. Holm

I think Reece nailed this week's question in his post on Monday. (I suggest you check out his post, and while you're at it congratulate him on his new book deal!) Pretty much the only stuff I won't read while I'm writing is anything that plays in the same sandbox. For my Collector series, which straddles the line between old-fashioned noir and the creepier side of fantasy, that means waiting until between books to read Charlie Huston's Joe Pitt series, Neil Gaiman's grown-up fiction, or anything by Stephen Blackmoore or Tim Powers, to name but a few. I also, for the record, had to quit watching Supernatural when they started getting all biblical on me. The last thing I wanted was to get called out for ripping off somebody who simply happened down a similar narrative path.

That said, there are a host of authors whose books I often pluck from the shelf when I need a literary shot in the arm to kick my writing into gear. Hammett, for his grit. Chandler, for his poetry. Block (particularly his Scudder novels), for his raw emotion. Westlake (writing as Stark), for his spare, pitch-black perfection. And of course Dante (with a little help in my edition from Messrs. Longfellow and Dore), for bringing hell to terrifying life in much the way I hope to for my poor, damned Sam.

Sometimes, I'll read 'em clean through while I write, but just as often, I'll simply grab one and read a passage or two at random before I sit down at the keyboard. I'd recommend you try it sometime with your great literary inspirations; you'll be surprised how much it serves to fuel your own creativity, and inform your day's writing. And heck, even if it doesn't, at least you got to read some pretty sentences.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

On Writing While Reading

Question - Whose work can you not read while reading your own?

Answer - Gillian Flynn.

I read Gone Girl a few weeks ago, and it's worth the hype. The book had me in its grip, dreaming its fictive dream, from the opening line to the very last page. (Like many others, I did not love the ending, but I respect its poetic logic.)

The problem: the protagonist, Amy, has a lot in common with the main character in my own work in progress.

Some writers can't read any fiction while writing, but that's not me. I can easily read books I love—even writers whose craft I want to emulate or learn from. I dissect the novel while I read, figure out which elements I can incorporate into my own writing, and often expand my work in progress as a result of a hugely enjoyable read.

After reading Chevy Stevens' Never Knowing, I was so impressed by how she made me sympathize with her bad guy that I emailed her demanding to know her secrets. (She's lovely; she actually responded with some tricks of her tradecraft.) But I could still write.

But ever since Gone Girl, I cannot get Amy out of my head. Which is particularly frustrating when I'm in Megan's head and I hear her talking in Amy's voice rather than her own.

Since I'm not willing to stop writing, and I refuse to admit defeat and change my own protagonist, here's what I do: when Amy creeps in, I take a hard look at Megan and note all the ways that they're different.

Yes, they're both high-strung, intense, wealthy Manhattanites. They both like nice clothes. They're both brilliant. But Amy is warm on the outside and cold and cruel inside. Megan is the opposite: cold outside; warm in. Amy is confident, Megan insecure. Amy's a writer; Megan's a scientist.

And focusing on their differences, I'm managing to push this character forward.

Still, I'll finish writing the first draft of this manuscript before I dive into Flynn's Sharp Objects.

Thanks so much to Hilary Davidson for inviting me to join this funky cast of characters at 7 Criminal Minds. I look forward to biweekly blogging here.

Monday, June 17, 2013

To Read or Not to Read

By Reece Hirsch

The only books that I will not read while I’m writing are the books that I don’t trust myself not to steal from.  By that, I mean books that deal with the same subculture, place or specific type of story that I’m writing.  For example, about half of my current work-in-progress is set in another country.  There are several mystery and crime writers who have placed their stories in that part of the world, and a few them are on my To Be Read list, but I must stay away until this book is done.

If I were to read one of those books, I’m afraid that every plot twist and bit of local color would force me to say, “No, I can’t do that.  I have to go in a different direction.”  I would find myself trying to reverse-engineer a book that was as different as possible from those others.  Writing is difficult enough without that added level of stress.  If I end up employing some similar plot devices or settings, then at least I will have come by them honestly.

I’ve heard some writers say that they don’t like to read truly great writing while they’re working because it's too intimidating.  I understand that point of view, but I don’t share it.  There is something therapeutic about reading a solidly entertaining, craftsmanlike book where you think you understand the writer’s choices and how they could be improved upon.  Sometimes you do learn more from a book’s flaws than from its strengths.

On the other hand, a great book or bit of writing is a mystery, a magic trick that never gives away its secret.  I will never be able to fully understand where these things come from:

*  Cormac McCarthy’s bloody, incantatory Old Testament grandeur;

*  Raymond Chandler's similes;

*  Richard Price's dialogue, particularly when it's being spoken by his cops;

*  Kate Atkinson’s balance between jigsaw-puzzle plotting and complex characterization in Case Histories; and

*  Dehane Lehane’s ability to do so many things at once and superbly in Mystic River.

The only explanation is that these things come from singular talents writing at the top of their game.  Every miraculous, surprising sentence that I read reminds me that I can do better.  I may never be able to get my head around these particular magic tricks to the extent that I could replicate them, but what would be the point in that, anyway?  Reading these writers reminds me that magic is still possible, no matter how humble my attempts to summon it.

Note:  Over the past year or two, more than a few people have asked me, “Where the hell’s your next book?”  Sometimes, and this is particularly true when speaking to other writers, I could sense them delicately refraining from asking the question.  As one writer friend of mine put it, it’s kind of like asking a woman if she’s pregnant.

Well, I'm happy to report that I finally have an answer to the question.  I recently signed a three-book deal with Thomas & Mercer to write a series of thrillers as part of Amazon’s Kindle Serials program.  The books will feature Chris Bruen, a former Department of Justice cybercrimes prosecutor who is now in private practice combating hackers and cybercriminals on behalf of his clients.  THE ADVERSARY, the first book in the series, will begin appearing in installments later this summer.  Being published in serialized form should be fun, and I'll have more to say about that later.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Word Machine

Despite some years devoted to imbibing various concoctions before bed so I could dream clever attributes about my characters and envision twisty plots, from hot toddy, whisky neat to Chamomile tea, the scenarios would not unfold across the landscape of my sub-conscious.  But I now have a shiny new goal to dream about.  This fall in San Antonio they’re opening the first bookless library as part of the state’s ongoing BiblioTech effort.
From the press release: “The $1.5 million facility in Bexar County will not house a single printed book, but will offer 100 e-readers on loan, and 10,000 digital titles accessible to readers via their home computers and digital devices, with more being added regularly.”
I dream then of flying to San Antonio, the plane partially flown on auto-pilot.  The instructions having been texted to me on my iPhone, I call and summon my robot car like the ones Google has been experimenting with these last few years.  The car arrives, a Cadillac CTS with a number by jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery bumping softly on the sound system.  The driverless car whisks me off without incident to the bookless library.
Inside are people, real people, not cutouts or beamed in via closed circuit – though maybe a few are in “attendance” like that.  We chat some.  The librarian, who is also trained in keeping the machines running, introduces me. 
I give my talk about my recent novel, an ebook exclusive, a decades spanning mystery of conspiracy and double dealing and masked vigilantes.  There’s laughter in the right parts and a lively Q & A post the presentation.  I see fingers moving across e-reader devices and I sing their e-reader cases.  Later, checking my account on my IPhone, I see that there’s been a respectable up tick in my ebook sales.
I have a sip or two of whisky neat later in my hotel room, the doors of it zipping open and closed like they do in Star Trek’s Enterprise.  As I drift off to sleep, soon I’m dreaming of building an android to take my dictation of stories.  The robot will begin thinking like me as this process goes on.  At some point, I’ll just have to give her, as I’ll have designed my personal simulacrum, to look like a combination of BeyoncĂ© and JLo, she’ll be able to write like me, with me supplying the outlines.
In the dream I sleep too.  When I wake, my mind has been transported into a Kindle.  N this way I project my stories like someone standing behind a large frosted glass and writing the words backwards with a thoughts the words that appear onscreen to the reader.
I have eliminated the middleman.  I am the machine of words.  

Thursday, June 13, 2013

I’m No Dreamweaver

by Alan

Do you ever dream about your characters? Or other people’s?

To the best of my recollection, I have never dreamed about my characters. Nor about anyone else’s characters.

Most of the people populating my dreams are real—family members, friends, people I’ve met, people I’ve seen in movies or on TV (the actors, not the characters they play, weirdly).colored spiral

Some people like to analyze dreams, putting a lot of stock in what they mean. I’m not one of those people. I believe that dreams are simply a way for my subconscious to blow off a little steam (or a lot of steam, depending on the dream). I don’t think I’d make a very good subject for a psychology experiment.

That’s not to say that my nighttime slumbering isn’t ever productive. Sometimes I will cadge a bit of dialogue from a dream and try to work it into something I’m writing. Like Tracy described in her post yesterday, I’ll wake up, scribble a few ephemeral snatches of something witty or clever on a piece of paper on my nightstand. In the morning, I’m disappointed when it reads, “Mfxxth Strxtmet. WACHNRVPQ!”

Also, on occasion, I’ll get an idea in the middle of the night. When I was at Sleuthfest last year, I woke up one morning at 4 a.m. with a mostly-fully-formed concept for a thriller with a dynamite premise.

Maybe I should take a nap now. I could use another great idea!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I Like Dreaming…Just Not the Results

 By Tracy Kiely

First of all, can I just say that after Vicki’s BRILLIANT blog yesterday, I think we need to shut this question down for the rest of the week. You simply can’t compete with that kind of awesomeness.
Have I ever dreamt about my characters? Um…like Vicki, I have to say “no.”
Now, that’s not to say I haven’t had dreams – vivid dreams – after which I’ve woken up and thought “Holy God! That’s it! That’s the best GD plot I’ve ever heard of! It’s perfect!!” Remember how Stephanie Myer of Twilight fame (and fortune) said that the scene in which Edward reveals his shiny diamond face in the meadow all came from a dream? Well, I’ve had dreams like that. Only way better because there were no vampires and werewolves running around killing each other. (Seriously, this chick makes me wonder about the effects of all that healthy Mormon living. Who, after the age of ten, has dreams like that?  That’s an “I-ate-four-bags-of-chips-and-three-hot-dogs-kind-of-dream.” But then again, she’s the one laughing as she walks her healthy, radical-free body to the bank.)
 Anyway, many times I’ve reached over to my nightstand, grabbed my notebook, and written the dream down, before happily falling back to sleep confident in my amazing imagination and perfect story.  On a few occasions, I’ve actually tried to “jump back” into the dream – that’s how good they were.  Unfortunately, in the morning this is what I usually find:

“Man is running fast because the lady he met on train is bad and has the djfdkjf (illegible word). The people know this and will find him unless he gets to the subway. People can fly.”
“The murderer is still alive and the police think it’s the woman who has the purse. No one knows where it is.”
“It was the barking dog – not the cat.”

I have since stopped leaving a notebook by my bed. Not because I’ve given up on my dreams ever producing a kickass story, but because they are building an assisted living facility down the road from us and I don’t want my notebook to be used as exhibit A in the competency hearing.
So, God bless you Stephanie Meyer. You are a rare bird indeed. As for me, I think I have the Avian flu.