Saturday, December 31, 2005
I heard a story on NPR yesterday about obituaries written by the departed's family. Being writers, we certainly don't want to leave our obits in the hands of amateurs who would focus on trivialities like surviving family members. I mean, who is this about, anyway?
So your end of the year assignment is:
Write your own obit in 50 words or less. Non-fiction writers must stick to the facts. The rest of us can do what we always do and make shit up. Happy New Year and we'll see you in 2006.
This is mine:
David was a convivial drinker who quit once but didn't see the point. He was a writer of fiction and his books have entertained dozens of readers. In lieu of flowers, donations should be sent to the Blue Bayou Blues Club to pay for Another Round.
Friday, December 30, 2005
In the past twelve months I've been to three conferences and met some smart, funny, kind and talented people. But enough about bartenders. Let's meet some writers.
Here are a few:
JD (Dusty) Rhoades - Dusty and I had our novels released in the same month and he's already sold two more in his redneck noir series while I'm still trying to finish my second. Copious envy aside, Dusty is a terrific writer and an even better bar companion, as people at Bouchercon discovered.
Duane Swierczynski - Writer of The Wheelman, a novel that's getting the kind of raves you can't buy. He, Dusty and I are all published by St. Martins Minotaur, and I'm grateful that someone has a harder name to spell than mine.
David Montgomery - He's young, too young to know as much as he does about crime fiction. I think he's an 80-year-old safecracker who stays youthful by practicing the dark arts. Besides being a critic, that is.
Bryon Quertermous - Another impossibly young person and brave enough to admit to a group of crime writers that he liked You've Got Mail more than Chinatown. That takes guts, and I salute him for that. Now get back to work.
Ray Banks - I met Ray in Chicago and we spent a great deal of time talking about offing pets. Ray also wrote a story that I thought was one of the best things I'd read in 2005 and that was Philly's Last Dance. Damn, that was a great piece. But we both lost the Derringer to Sandy Balzo.
Sandy Balzo - Sandy's book is Uncommon Grounds, nominated this year for Edgar's Best First Novel. Sandy's not only talented, but beautiful, and she's won so many awards in such a short time that I believe she's also in league with Satan. Sandy, can you give me his number?
Michele Martinez - Michele is the most self-effacing graduate of Harvard and Stanford Law that I've ever met. She's also a former federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, which means she could kick your ass in court without breaking a sweat. Her first book, Most Wanted, has earned well-deserved praise and I understand her second book in the series is another hit. Well done.
Con Lehane - I met Con in Chicago and bent his ear over some of the worst Chinese food I've ever eaten. I'm sure he was wondering just who in the hell I was and why we'd picked that God-awful restaurant. But he's a gentlemen who knows more about writing than I'll ever know.
Jeff Shelby - Another first timer, his novel Killer Swell puts murder in that glossy brochure of a city, San Diego. We spent too little time at Cape Fear because he had a plane to catch, but I'm looking forward to next year and his next book featuring his surfer PI, Noah Braddock.
Steve Miller - He interviewed me for Mystery News and then spent an hour (I'm sure it seemed longer) at Bouchercon listening (or pretending to listen) while Jim Winter and I trashed Cincinnati. Steve is another man who enthusiastically gives his support and encouragement.
Olen Steinhauer - Olen is a thoughtful, funny, and generous person I know only through pixels. But that will soon change. No, I'm not emigrating to Budapest, as good as that sounds. But I am going to pick up Bridge of Sighs. Then I'll know him in print.
John Rickards - We met in Chicago but didn't have much time to talk. I do love his blog, he's on my reading list, and in Chicago he gave me his cold. How could a relationship be more intimate?
Sarah Weinman - Although I haven't met Sarah, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind is one of my daily reads. She's another one who knows more about writers, publishers, editors, critics, books and the business than any sane human should. Truly, a woman with a gift. We're all waiting for her novel. Sarah?
Without question, my year was made far more interesting by these people. And if I missed your name, it has more to do with nap time than neglect. Any minute, the orderly will be around to wheel me into the sun room.
Happy New Year to all and may 2006 bring us all the success we can handle.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Years ago, when I was in advertising, I met a man who asked what I did for a living. I told him I was a copywriter.
He said proudly, "Oh, my sister's a real writer. She works for the newspaper."
So I wanted to be a real writer and the newspaper wasn't hiring. That's why I write novels.
Down there in the Sexual Prose post, Ted Baker gives us a link to a Washington Post article by Sue Monk Kidd, the author of The Secret Life of Bees. It's right here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/01/AR2005120100929_pf.html
In the article, Kidd says,
"As a relatively new novelist, I had never fully examined the noble and ignoble reasons for doing what I do."
But you're different. You know exactly why you do what you do. So tell us. Why do you write?
(Be sure to click on the "Why not be a writer" article. It's hilarious.)
When I started this blog in 1953, I promised myself I wouldn't post anything political. There are some great blogs who cover this stuff better than I can. I recommend First Draft and TPM. You can see their links over there.
But I can't do this any more. I've been outraged since 1968 and I'm not only tired, I'm losing friends. Christmas night an army buddy called and the Christmas cheer quickly swirled down the drain and I found myself on Christmas night yelling into the phone about labor, health care and that dead alcoholic, Joe McCarthy. My friend hung up and followed with an email that said I was now his enemy. That's right. His enemy. And I felt like shit.
I'm trying to wean myself from this divisive bullshit. For those of you who live elsewhere, count your blessings. Things are ugly here in the USA, with a surprising number of people eager to declare war on their friends and neighbors.
So, this will be the last time I post anything political. At least for 2005.
Next year, we'll talk about true stories that are too good to use, real people versus real characters, comforting agents and agents who are Rotweillers, crappy freelance copy editors and other things related to writing. I promise.
In the meantime, if you've had any fallouts with friends or family over politics, feel free to vent here. It seems to be going around.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
A recent discussion over at Ray Banks' blog centered on why his list of favorite authors was so y-chromosome heavy. This prompted some great suggestions. Take a look at his post about getting in touch with his feminine side at http://thesaturdayboy.typepad.com/
As for living in a single sex ghetto, I'm as guilty as the next guy. I got ten books for Christmas and not one by a woman. Shame. But I've read the big names, you know who they are, and was disappointed. Next year I promise to try again, starting with Sara Gran.
In the discussion, I clumsily introduced something I've noticed but not seen discussed anywhere else, and that's Joe Konrath's non-specific gender marketing of his Jack Daniels series. Ray gave me the following holiday smack-down:
"Sorry, don't do marketing. Do writing. Don't care what gender the reader is, and I'm not about to start calling myself RS Banks to git the laydez."
Stung, I limped away, but I'm still curious if anyone else has talked about this and I'm just late to the party. I can't write with an audience in mind. Like Ray, I just try to write the best damn book I can write and hope it finds readers who will like what I've written. But this is a business, and craft aside, we have to sell books. It looks to me like Joe has consciously tried to attract the larger audience of female readers, partly by salting his serial killer mysteries with his heroine's relationship problems.
I'm not going to get into whether Joe is successful or not. You can make up your own mind and Joe's numbers are sure better than mine.
But I was reading The White Trilogy by Ken Bruen this weekend and in a particularly beautiful chapter he gets inside the head of one his characters, a woman cop named Falls, who knows better but can't help having a brief fling with a charming, poetry writing philanderer. Bruen is so honest and writes so beautifully about this character's hopes for this hopeless relationship, that it makes almost every other male writer (as well as most women writers, to be honest) seem ham-handed and stumbling when it comes to such universal human emotions.
It's unfair, I know, to compare anyone to Ken Bruen, an astonishing talent, but I think his novels must surely cross gender lines. He's too good not to.
As for the rest of us, struggling to write honestly and with some understanding of our fellow humans, why do women writers appeal mostly to women and men to men? What is it about our fiction that splits along these gender lines?
I know this is a large and potentially mine-filled topic, but I'd welcome your thoughts.
Friday, December 23, 2005
Next year I'll write about writing. But for now, here's another snapshot of the always weird, always entertaining human parade.
Here's an artist, Julian Beever, who draws flat pictures that screw with your brain so that your optic center believes it's seeing three dimensions. And we used to have to take chemicals for this.
This is Beever's site: http://users.skynet.be/J.Beever/
Take a look, there's more of his brain-bending stuff, all amazing and more than a little spooky.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
I got this from Laura Lippman's The Memory Project blog who got it from Ed Champion's Return of the Reluctant blog who credits another blog so I don't know where the hell it came from except here:
This is #7 and looks like it could have been evidence seized in that War on Christmas raid I wrote about a few days ago. If you go, check out #8, a vintage shot from 1949. That damn Santa looks more like Satan to me.
Monday, December 19, 2005
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- A group of 40 people dressed in Santa Claus outfits, many of them drunk, went on a rampage through Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, robbing stores, assaulting security guards and urinating from highway overpasses, police said Sunday.
The rampage, dubbed "Santarchy," began early Saturday afternoon when the men, wearing ill-fitting Santa costumes, threw beer bottles and urinated on cars from an overpass, said Auckland Central Police spokesman Noreen Hegarty.
(I love the smell of pine trees, gingerbread cookies and urine in the air. That says Christmas to me.)
Undercover police stepped up the War on Christmas by busting dealers and confiscating illegal plants yesterday in a seasonal sweep code-named Operation O'Reilly. The head of the task force, Sergeant J. D. Rhoades, said, "These dealers set up on any vacant corner, even next to churches. It's disgusting."
The police burned hundreds of the offending shrubbery and accompanying paraphernalia. "There were glass balls, lights, and tinsel," said Officer Duane Swierczynski. "Doesn't anyone think of the children?"
Mayor Jeff Shelby vowed that the crackdown would continue throughout the Solstice. "Miscreants who sell wreaths and misteltoe will find no place to hide in our community," he promised.
In another story, police raided Northpointe Mall and found Polaroid photos of young children, some in tears, sitting on an old man's lap. The children had been enticed into the seasonally explicit pictures by the promises of candy canes and toys. Police also confiscated a list of alleged "naughty" boys and girls. The man in the photos, an S. Claus, address unknown, and several diminutive assistants were taken into custody in what police suspect is gang-related activity.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
As I grow old and calcified, I depend on two sources for new music: my daughter, Molly, who is the hippest person I know, possibly the hippest person on the planet, and my friend Jerry, who finds new stuff all the time in spite of being sober for 18 years.
No more. I have a new source. Plug a band into this site http://liveplasma.com/ and it'll plot out other bands within its musical sphere. Pretty cool.
But not perfect. Type in Blind Blake, an amazing guitar player from the 30's, and the best live plasma comes up with is Justin Timberlake. Not exactly in the same musical universe.
Little Charlie and the Nightcats (a band you should know) = Charlie Poole. Closer than Justin Timberlake, but still no cigar.
Snobbish carping aside, it does give you Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart, Son House, Little Walter, and Jimmy Eat World. Not bad.
(By the way, that poster up there is for our band's debut. If you're in North Carolina, come on by.)
Friday, December 16, 2005
When I drew this Christmas card in 1999, I was hoping that it would be irrelevant in 2005. Unfortunately, it's not.