Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Change of Life

I was intriqued by Leslie Budewitz’s double-life as Montana lawyer, cozy novelist and author of the tell-all insider’s book, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure. It’s the real deal. Reviewed next month — Robert Knightly

Like most writers, for years I stole bits of time from myself–and my day job–to write. Half a dozen published stories, four mystery novels in boxes in the closet, and a notebook filled with ideas–one line, two paragraphs, three pages.

So the thrill of selling a book was doubly strange, because my first book intermingled my two jobs. Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books, 2011) is aimed at the writer–of novels, stories, screenplays, and more–who recognizes that a legal thread runs through the fictional world, and that getting key details wrong can unravel the entire plot. It’s also useful for nonfiction writers who want a primer on the criminal and civil legal systems.

Now that I’m making the transition from practicing law to writing full-time, I’ve been thinking about how my day job of nearly thirty years has influenced my writing. Most notably, my legal work gave me the subject matter for Books, Crooks & Counselors. It gave me first-hand experience with many of the issues of criminal and civil law I wrote about, the skills to research what I didn’t know, and the ability to identify what writers needed to know. It enabled me to give them real-life examples, and ideas for using legal issues to complicate and deepen their own work.

It's given me discipline and experience writing on deadline. You can’t tell a judge you’ve got writers’ block.

It's taught me to think about my readers and what they need to know–whether it’s to make a decision about a case or get caught up in a novel. As a civil trial lawyer, I might write to a client, an insurance adjuster and his or her supervisors, opposing counsel, a trial judge or an appellate judge—each with different interests and needs. That experience has taught me to think ahead to what my readers will do with the information I give them, and plan my own next steps. It's also taught me how to read more carefully.

While my legal career has been a boon to my nonfiction, it's also a great help for writing fiction—even in my cozy mysteries, where lawyers take a back seat to small-town shopkeepers, artists, and chefs. Lawyers can choose to solve problems—or make them worse. And since story depends on giving our characters goals, thwarting them, and repeating the process for 300 pages, it’s great to be able to analyze both sides. And while making things worse is an irresponsible choice in real life, what fun in fiction!

Writers, how has your day job benefitted your writing? And readers, does knowing what an author does–or did–by day influence your book choices?

Thanks to Bob for inviting me to join you today!

Leslie Budewitz is a mystery writer and practicing lawyer. Her first book, Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books, Oct 2011), won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction, and has been nominated for the 2012 Anthony and Macavity Awards. Read an excerpt and more articles for writers on her website ( and blog (, or join her on Facebook at

Her cozy series, tentatively titled The Food Lovers Village Mysteries, set in a small lakeside community in Northwest Montana and featuring the manager of a specialty local food market, will debut from Berkley Prime Crime in 2013.

Leslie lives in Northwest Montana with her husband, a doctor of natural medicine, and their Burmese cat Ruff, an avid birdwatcher.

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Trip to Deer Isle

Here' a travelogue for you! Harold and I just returned from visiting friends in Deer Isle, Maine. We took pictures.

The tide is coming in.
One of those Down-East Yankee buildings, sitting on a rock.

Stonington farmer's market. Yum.

On a local hiking trail.

Me on the hiking trail, hoping not to be shot for a deer.

Moon over Deer Isle. Good night, all.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Internet Constant Contact: How Much Is Too Much?

We need to talk.  Before my thoughts on this subject solidify.

On Facebook, two or three of my friends tend to post or share pictures eight or ten times quickly within half an hour or so.  On Twitter, there are people who tweet twelve or fifteen times a day.

“Bling!”  “Bling!” If my phone makes a noise announcing a text message, I pay attention.  It could be a family member who needs help.  It could be a witty friend inviting me for a chat and a glass or three of wine.  It could be my agent announcing a movie deal!  Most likely: it’s another writer tweeting to announce a new blog post.  Sometimes, it all seems like a bit much.

I agree wholeheartedly that we all need to take full advantage of the opportunities available from sites like Facebook and Twitter.  I have a feeling I don’t do enough.  You may feel the same.  Like most of the writers I know well, I am more or less desperate to attract attention to my work.  I am not at all above using shameless self-promotion.  Look what I am doing right now, for instance.  And yes, I will FB and tweet links to this rant.  This is all true.  But that said, I for one will benefit from some discussion of the question “How much is too much?” Is all this social media stuff something to do while procrastinating about getting on with the next book? 

Getting a substantive conversation going on a blog is a tricky business, but I hold out hope that you will weigh in on this.  How much is just enough when it comes to these sorts of communications?  And how many tweets or postings a day would you say are too many?  How should we space them out?  And how would you politely tell that wonderful writer whose work you so admire that telling everyone on FB every time her cat sneezes is not going to get us to like her more?

 Before I start annoying the stuffing out of all my friends, I really need to know what you think?

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Royal Victoria

Today's guest is Leighton Gage, in a reposting of an article from Murder is Everywhere. Author of the acclaimed Chief Inspector Mario Silva series, set in Brazil, he has lived in Australia, Europe, and South America and traveled widely in Asia and Africa. He visited Spain in the time of Franco, Portugal in the time of Salazar, South Africa in the time of apartheid, Chile in the time of Pinochet, Argentina in the time of the junta, Prague, East Germany, and Yugoslavia under the Communist yoke. He and his wife spend much of the year in a small town near São Paulo,and the rest in Europe and the United States, where they have children and grandchildren.

The country I live in is a naturalist’s dream, a place where more than 1,200 new species of plant and vertebrate have been discovered over the course of the last ten years. That’s, roughly, one every three days. The Amazon region alone consists of over 600 distinct terrestrial and freshwater habitats, from swamps to grasslands to lowland forests, and it houses an incredible 10% of the world’s known species.

The Victória Régia, the Royal Victoria, is one of them. Its round leaves can attain a diameter of up to 2.5 meters (almost 100 inches), making it the largest water lily in the world.

And those leaves, while floating, can support up to 40 kilograms (almost 90 pounds) of weight.

The fragrant flowers open only at night. The petals, when they bloom, are white, often a slight pink...

...but turn darker as they age.

The plant was first brought to Europe by a German naturalist and explorer by the name of Robert Hermann Schumburgk. (And, no, that’s not a typographical error. That’s actually the way he spelled it. Schumburgk.)

Herr Schumburgk, while poking around South America in the mid 1830’s, came across the plant and brought it back to the Royal Gardens, where he named it after the reigning queen.

Her Majesty (shown here much later in life, but I liked the picture) was amused. She awarded him a knighthood.

The Indians of the Amazon, of course, had another name for their biggest water lily. That name translates (from Tupi-Guarani into English) as “the star of the waters” – and they tell a legend about how the name came about:

Back in the days when the world began, the moon, as dawn approached, would sink beyond the hills, there to consort with one of his chosen maidens.

And, if he truly liked the girl, he’d transform her into a star in the sky.

Naiá, the daughter of a chief, and a princess of the tribe, yearned to be chosen. So, each night, when her parents were asleep, she’d climb into the hills and follow the moon. But he never paid any attention to her. Then, one night, she saw his image in the clear waters of a lake. Thinking he’d come to visit her at last, she plunged in – and was never seen again.

The moon was touched. To repay her for her sacrifice, he transformed her into a star different from the stars in the sky. He made her the “star of the waters”. And so was born the plant with flowers that only open at sunset, when the moon rises to dominate the sky.

Leighton Gage

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Reach Exceeds the Grasp

With all the brouhaha about Tom Cruise cast as Jack Reacher, I wonder if we Reacher fans should organize a Reacher March to Hollywood!

The news about that Little Guy playing the Big Guy has flooded the air waves.

Articles, posts, blogs, tweets, - a verbal tsunami has hit the civilized world.

When I first got the news, I thought maybe I was off-base. After all, the Little Guy has made a lot of dough. He's not bad cinematically.

Then the verbal volcanos took over. Erupted from Vesuvius to Iceland.

People yelled from roof gardens. In bars, barns , barnyards and barrios.

Blue-blooded dowagers leaped on the tea tables at the Colony Club, yelling, "Non! Cruise cannot Reach!"

Even the staid Harvard Club posted a modest notice: " Members may not mention Cruise."

The New York Athletic Club was bolder. Signs appeared in all massage rooms: "Members may Reach, not Cruise!"

Even Mike and Chuck stopped weekly reruns of the Little Guy in all Manhattan movie houses.

The world of commerce got into the act. Tiffany, Cartier, Brooks Bros. and Men's Warehouse put huge signs in their front windows: " Keep Reaching with Reacher! No Cruising on These Premises! "

Then Janet Maslin came out in Section C of The Grey Lady: "Mr. Cruise seems such a wrong choice to play the jumbo vigilante..."

The critic mentioned Reacher's 6-foot-5-inch frame. ( Later, when I saw all the PR for John Taylor, of the Gridiron Developmental Football League, who stands 6-feet-11-inches, my first thought was - if they make a movie on this guy, starring the Little Guy, they'll have to put his pants on stilts!)

Maslin goes on to praise the "sang-froid" of Reacher's delivery. I wonder if the Little Guy knows what that means!

Deborah Sinclaire, Editor-in-Chief of the bomClub, wrote: " Now, I have to admit, I have some qualms about the casting of this movie…"

Hey, you, tell me your thoughts on this hot topic!

I'm open to a good verbal fight - unless you're 6-foot-5!

Thelma Straw

Friday, September 21, 2012

Rudolf Bing and Mrs. Glaser

Mrs. Glaser was my home room teacher in 11th grade. She was the first person ever to give me career advice. I remember her fondly for taking the trouble to do that, and also for her accent; she came from somewhere in the South, and instead of losing her native way of speaking after many years in New Jersey she elaborated on it and polished it up for effect, much of it comic. "Roo-een," she used to say. "We are facing roo-een."

Rudolf Bing
Anyway, she perceived that I was facing roo-een instead of the wild success that my talents should have made possible for me, and so she called me up to her desk one day and gave me advice. It was useful advice. If I had been a more success-prone person I would have followed it. As I did not, and in my small way suffered roo-een as a result, I will now pass it on to you. Perhaps you can do something with it.

"Rudolf Bing decided when he was twenty years old that he would become the manager of the Metropolitan Opera by the time he was thirty," she said. "World War II was the only thing that got in his way." She took a piece of paper and drew a straight line with an arrow on the end. There was Bing. There was the Metropolitan Opera. He went straight for it.

"He focused on one thing," she said. "You are focusing on too many things." She drew a number of zig-zags. "Acting. Drawing. Writing." I nodded. Yes. All these things were good. Clearly, however, I could see that Rudolf Bing was outpacing me. "Choose one thing," she said. "Focus on that." I nodded. I never forgot the talk or the diagram. But I never focused all that well, either, and I never caught up to Rudolf.

So there you have it. Monomania is the way to success in life. Unless it isn't. Some say that in the modern economy you have to be nimble and willing to try a number of things. Would you like fries with that?

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Other Side of My Story

Today I want you to meet Carlo Pisacane, Duke of San Giovanni, Italian patriot, one of the first socialist thinkers and writers, and my ancestor.

Frequent readers of this blog have heard me go on rhapsodically about my Sicilian heritage and brag that, while I am not the coal miner’s daughter, I am the coal miner’s granddaughter. You have also met my grandfather on my mother’s side—Gennaro Pisacane, grower of a fig tree in New Jersey and guardian angel of my early childhood. Shortly before he died, he told me that there was a statue of his grandfather in Rome. I pictured something that looked like Caesar in a toga.

Carlo, who was either Gennaro’s grandfather or great-grandfather, was something akin to an Italian Patrick Henry, a patriot famous within the country, but unknown outside of it. A poem about him, La Spigolatrice di Sapri by Luigi Mercantini was translated as The Gleaner of Sapri by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The poem is written as a first person account by a woman who saw a boat carrying revolutionaries coming to free her people.

Carlo Pisacane was born in Naples of an impoverished noble family, words that equally apply to Gennaro. Carlo attended The Nunziatella military academy and served in the Neapolitan army. He became imbued with the ideas and ideals of Giuseppe Mazzini and devoted the rest of his short life to bringing to a unified Italy a liberal, classless, anti-authoritarian society with freedom and justice for all.

After a brief stay in England and France, where he served in the French army in Algeria, he returned to Italy to take part in the 1848 revolution and the ephemeral Roman Republic. Mazzini proposed an expedition aimed at overthrowing the Bourbon monarchy in the Kingdom of Naples. Pisacane, a son of that part of the peninsula, volunteered to lead the expedition. Their thought was that even a small invading force would inspire an insurrection among the oppressed and impoverished underclass. On the 25th of June 1857, the Cagliari sailed from Genoa carrying Pisacane and twenty-two other, like-minded revolutionaries. En route to the south, they stopped at the island of Ponza the Bay of Naples and freed 300 political prisoners who joined them.

Unlike Garibaldi who came a few years later, Pisacane was more of writer and thinker than a military leader. He and his men landed at Sapri on the Bay of Policastro, 120 miles south of Naples. The uprising he had hoped for did not take place. In the Cilento hills near the town of Padula, they were overwhelmed. Some say Carlo was stabbed by locals who mistook him for a gypsy out to steal their food. Others say that, in the face of being taken by the Bourbon Militia, he turned his pistol on himself. He was not quite 39 years old.

He had by then published three books, all about freedom and the greater social good. My favorite quote from him: “Ideas result from deeds, not the latter from the former, and the people will not be free when they are educated, but educated when they are free.”

Here are the last lines of the poem as translated by Longfellow:

"They were three hundred and they would not fly,
They seemed three thousand, and they wished to die,
But wished to die with weapons in their hand....
... they were three hundred, they were young and strong,

And they are dead!"

“Victory, when it is in accord with progress, merits the applause of the people; but a heroic defeat merits their tender compassion. The one is magnificent, the other sublime... John Brown is greater than Washington, and Pisacane is greater than Garibaldi.” Volume V, book 1 of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (published in 1862):

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, September 17, 2012

How I Cured My Ailing Main Character

Donna Huston Murray, author of Cured, offers us another post today, reposted from her web site at

The ride from Philadelphia to Ithaca, NY, feels especially long in bad weather. I spent the time with a yellow tablet in my lap playing with names for a Pennsylvania farmer’s daughter who would become a cop. As the main character of my new suspense series, I might need to live with the name for years to come—if I should be so lucky. Before my husband and I arrived at the Thomas Farm B&B, the birth certificate read, “Lauren Beck.” Who she was remained to be seen.

For November games Hench usually spirits me up to the press box where he does radio for the University of Pennsylvania football. That day, rather than cramming into the booth with the guys, I was invited into Cornell’s adjacent VIP lounge. There I laid about as low as an antelope in a lion den until I heard a woman talking about a recipe for pumpkin-pecan pie. With Thanksgiving coming I couldn’t resist. As usual, the recipe did me no good whatsoever–unless you count meeting the prototype for my new alter-ego.

After being cured of an illness that had her in and out of an iron lung for several years, Carol Brentlinger gave sky-diving a go–about forty-three times. She fed sharks underwater, and, as a colonel in the Commemorative Air Force, flew retired WWI bombers for fun. Her bravery awed me. What a fabulous heroine she would be!

Sadly, my then agent disagreed, and sadly she was more right than wrong. Readers ride on a character’s emotional coattails. Since Lauren Version One feared nothing, the tension I was working so hard to inject into CURED went unnoticed. I didn’t have a suspense novel, I had a grocery list.

For longer than I care to admit, I struggled to change Lauren’s personality, nearly reverse it, morph her into more of a wimp like me. For my seven previous novels the main character was me, and that had worked. However, I cannot carry a gun or bring off a swear word convincingly. I’ve seen the faces.

An author’s goal, among other things, is to sound like yourself. Finding my voice the first time took several years; but when I did, it was like receiving a lifetime railway pass. I could climb on the Ginger Barnes Main Line Mystery train and write without concern for the physicality of getting from here to there. Or, put another way, it was like touch-typing. Try changing that. Not easy.

Lauren was now both insecure and strong. She sounded like Carol Brentlinger one minute and Ginger Barnes the next. I stopped, wrote another book, then returned. What was happening to Lauren was also happening to me. We were emerging from difficulties together, feeling vulnerable but able to gather enough confidence to bypass the New York publishers and declare our independence. And yet the verbal merge remained incomplete. My daughter, who happens to teach creative writing, recommended that Lauren and I sit down with a glass of wine.

“Who are you?” I asked over my share of merlot, and finally–finally–Lauren told me.

Donna Huston Murray

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Two Untimely Deaths

Marilyn Meredith has guested for us before. The occasion is the release of Raging Water, to be reviewed next month, her 12th mystery featuring Tempe Crabtree, Deputy Sheriff in the mountain community of Bear Creek. Marilyn is a fellow police procedural author of the cozy persuasion, never shortchanging on suspense or surprise.

One Sunday morning while we were getting ready for Sunday School our pastor received a call from a deputy asking for information about one of the members because she’d died. This woman was a bit odd, eccentric, lived on social security disability and hypochondriac, but was only in her late forties.

Even though she faithfully attended the church services, none of us knew any family members to contact though she had spoken about having a daughter. The pastor suggested the deputy visit her best friend who lived in a nearby low-income housing complex. When he went there, he found that woman dead too. She had no family at all.
Because the deputies in our county are also deputy coroners, they can pronounce someone dead without a doctor or autopsy.

What those of us who knew these women found unusual was the fact that both died the same night. Both were found sitting up. Pain medication was missing from the first woman’s house. None of this was investigated mainly because no one cared. Some family did turn up to claim the few possessions but didn’t ask any questions about the woman’s death.

When I started thinking about what I would write for my next Deputy Tempe Crabtree, I decided to write a different version and outcome in honor of these two women’s mysterious deaths.

Marilyn Meredith

Deputy Tempe Crabtree’s investigation of the murder of two close friends is complicated when relentless rain turns Bear Creek into a raging river. Homes are inundated and a mud slide blocks the only road out of Bear Creek stranding many—including the murderer.

The book can be found in all the usual places and also on the publisher’s website.

Contest: The person who leaves comments on the most blogs will have his/her name used for a character in my next book—can choose if you want it in a Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery or a Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novel.

Bio: Marilyn Meredith is the author of over thirty published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest Raging Water from Mundania Press. Writing as F. M. Meredith, her latest Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novel us No Bells, the forth from Oak Tree Press. Marilyn is a member of EPIC, three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Visit her at and follow her blog at

I know there are some people who like to read a series in order, but let me reassure you that every book is complete. Though the characters grow through each book, the crime is always solved. Here is the order of the books for anyone who wants to know: Deadly Trail, Deadly Omen, Unequally Yoked, Intervention, Wing Beat, Calling the Dead, Judgment Fire, Kindred Spirits, Dispel the Mist, Invisible Path, Bears With Us, Raging Water.

Friday, September 14, 2012

How Not to Spend Money While Shopping

Too tight.
I went out to the stores today, looking for a long top that would cover my behind in these pants, which are nice pants but too tight through the middle for someone of my particular shape and size. With a long, baggy top, they look great. Naturally anything I bought to wear with them would have to harmonize in color and texture. Right? And be long. Tunic-length.

First thing I did was to buy a pair of chinos that fit better than these pants, so that I have something to wear with my normal shirts. These pants are made to resemble leggings. You've seen them on the young girls, no doubt. On the young girls they look fine. You've also seen them on the not so young girls, and you may have thought, why is she wearing that? She looks as if she waded in paint up to her waist and then forgot to get dressed, and furthermore she ought to lose twenty pounds. Not a flattering look. But, as I say, if one wears a long top one can sort of rock it.

I went into a small store that looked as if it might have something that would work and described my requirements to the store owner, who was sitting behind the cash register wishing somebody would come in and actually buy something.

"We haven't any tunics," he said. "Tunics are for spring."

A rack of long knitted tops caught my eye. "These are nice," I said.

"They're all cotton."

"I like cotton." I held the greeny-gray one up to these pants, and the color was wrong – that is, almost the same, neither matching nor contrasting in a good way.

The storekeeper chuckled. "I had a woman come in here last week," he said. "She was your age. Or, no, she was probably older than you. She had a book her mother had made up for her, divided in four, three months for each section. Every section had samples of material in the colors for that season. In the spring you wear this. In the fall you wear that. She hadn't updated it in sixty years. Some of those colors don't even exist anymore."

Pantone Colors for Fall 2012

As I stood there wondering how a color could cease to exist, he decribed how some faceless dictator at Pantone issued yearly edicts three years in advance – this is what color the cars will be, this is what color the clothing will be, these are the colors that will no longer exist. I was reminded of the editor in The Devil Wears Prada, who had the incredible hubris to insist that Vogue Magazine (or whatever they called it) had invented the color blue.

I liked the idea of that old lady's book. Maybe I'll make one myself and take it with me shopping. I reject the notion of obsolete colors (except, perhaps, for harvest gold refrigerators and avocado stoves). Fall is the season for brown clan plaids! When I walk into a store looking for a nice fall outfit and some clerk tells me that brown clan plaids are so last-century, I'll walk right out again, waving my little book. Think of the money I'll save.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dancing into Autumn

As Louis Armstrong sang, “I dig summer; that’s my time of year.”  I love the bright days, the soft fruits, the big moons, the blooming gardens.  I even love the thunder storms.  But for this year, summer’s days are numbered.  This gorgeous early September is, I remind you, not fall yet but still part of my favorite season.  But autumn nears.  It will be gorgeous, no doubt, but it is the wrong side of winter for me.  The trees now so vibrantly alive will soon show us their true colors and then drop their leaves.  The skies above will turn the same shade as the sidewalks below our feet, and worst of all the dark will descend.  Dusk will come long before supper time.  And there is nothing we can do to stop it.

We can, however, look to brighten up our hearts and souls.  I say we watch a little dancing in the movies.  Try these clips and see if they don’t cheer you up.

You are undoubted familiar with John Travolta’s marvelous turn in “Saturday Night Fever.”  Take another look:

You knew John could do that, but did you know Christopher Walken could do this:

If you have not seen “Pennies from Heaven,” get it.  It could keep you smiling until apple blossom time.

Our finale is the BEST ever.  I quote Frank Sinatra when I say, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Winter is coming to chill us.  I say we stand up to it, face the music, and DANCE!

Annamaria Alfieri

Sunday, September 9, 2012

My Kind of Guy

After "Where do you get your ideas?" people often ask writers "Who is your favorite character?"

Nelson DeMille
A few years ao when I received an ARC of Plum Island by Nelson DeMille, on Page 1 I met a new guy.

"I, John Corey by name, convalescing cop by profession ... "

I read on. I was hooked!

Five books later, I'm still hooked.

And the new John Corey book is due any day now - I can't eat or sleep till I get my hands on it!

Lest you think I'm a nutcase, I'm not totally a one-man-woman.

Other men in my literary life are - Lee Child's Reacher, Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp, W.E.B. Griffin's Charley Castillo, and a few others — but my heart belongs to John Corey!

John sorta grows on you. He's a rara avis. A sui generis. He takes center stage in every act.

John Corey is today's Everyman.

In Plum Island his wit and earthy philosophy were somewhat nascent. Evident, but not full throttle.

In The Lion's Game he took the ball, ran down the field with it, made touchdown after touchdown!

I think he needed Kate, his FBI wife. They play well together on a big stage.

Night Fall revealed deeper layers to John's character, followed by Wild Fire and The Lion.

Lest you think DeMille is un-erudite, his other novels are quite literary - The Talbot Odyssey, Spencerville, The Gate House, The Gold Coast.

BTW, I've paid my own dues with Lucretius' De Rerum Natura (I even wrote a 20th Century Dance Drama based on this), Virgil, Cicero, Ovid, Shakespeare, Ibsen, Dickens, so I'm not ashamed of my fondness for this Corey guy.

John Corey's humor includes a dig at wine. "Never in the course of human events has so much bullshit been concocted about something as small as a grape."

"I can tell the difference between a Merlot and a Budweiser. Blindfolded."

Just when you're about to chalk him up as a wit he removes a veil.

"I was surprised at how much I mised Emma Whitestone, who'd come into my life so quickly and unexpectedly, then moved into another life, somewhere among the constellations perhaps."

"Today, we live inside of microchips with a million paths opening and closing every nanosecond. What's worse, someone else is pushing the buttons."

His voice comes through at its best in Night Fall, based on the true story of the crash of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island on July 17, 1996. In this book the author knocks you over with a PROFOUND surprise at the end.

N.B. If you haven't read this book yet, when you do promise me not to peek at the ending.....!!!!!!!!!

Corey is usually a smart ass, but smooth as ice cream, sassy and charming.

But I think his real self is shown here: "Empathy and sensitivity are not my strong points, but this scene of shared grief and comforting passed through my own death-hardened shell like the warm ocean breeze through a screen door."

His wisdom: "I had this sudden sinking feeling that I was grasping at straws, but when all you've got is straws, you grasp them."

Yes, John Corey can be an obnoxious asshole, but he has an endearing side. You'd have to be insane not to like the guy!

In Night Fall the author gives us a brillant set up. Just as you come face-near the climax, you realize he's played totally fair with you all the way. And you realize you never guessed what he was doing. It is spine-tingling.

When you realize what's on the pages - you stop. You wipe your eyes…

Thanks for listening, friends.

T.J. Straw

P.S. If you too know this guy, please share with us your thoughts on him!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Suitable Topics for a Blog Post

I find myself staring at the blank computer screen once again, with Friday on the way. I turn my eyeballs inward, seeking a topic to bloviate upon for a few paragraphs. What to talk about?

Dinner. I could talk about what I expect to serve for dinner. Alas, I have no idea, except that a can of beans will be involved.

Politics. No, I have sworn off talking about politics until after the election. You all know who you want to vote for, you all know what's at stake, and nothing I say will have any effect. I will remind you to be sure you're registered, and to be sure to show up at the polls on election day. That's all I have to say about that.

Movies. I've seen some corkers since I got Turner Classic Movies up and running again. I'll tell you about some of them later. Not right now.

The triumphs of the writing life. Yes! I finished Monkeystorm (huzzah), and to my eye at least it is good. Harold, a connoisseur of trash fiction, tells me it fulfills all the requirements for a thriller. One of my other first readers found a plot hole which I quickly filled up with blood and gore. But it's short, a mere 55,000 words. I'm not sure I have the nerve to send it to my agent like that.

And yet it occurs to me that Monkeystorm, a story about a video game (among other things), might be packaged with a copy of the actual video game. That way 55,000 words would be plenty. Or not. I'll see what my agent has to say.

Kate Gallison

Monday, September 3, 2012

Humor – The Secret Weapon

When I was newly married and struggling to learn how to write publishable fiction (my ambition from the age of ten), I placed some humorous articles in a local magazine called COUNTY TIMES. I only remember one of the topics – how to get rid of a pile of bricks – but I do remember the pieces were odd and silly and I was thoroughly delighted that an editor put them in print.

Unfortunately, one reader most certainly was not. He sent me hate mail telling me so and in the process taught me this: Comedy is without a doubt the most subjective sort of communication, so count on it at your own risk.

Not crazy about the odds of success, I haven’t written a purely humorous anything since. Instead, I write mysteries around a character who has a lighter way of looking at things. If readers think she’s fun – terrific! But if my jokes go over like another pile of bricks, there’s always that dastardly murder to solve.

Old influences were Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series, Gregory MacDonald’s Fletch books (not the movies) and the film Charade starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. Another special favorite was Hopscotch starring the late Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson. All of them old enough to have whiskers, I know, but they still hold up beautifully.

Which brings me to some of the curiosities I’ve run across regarding humor.

Asked when he planned to do some more serious work, Walter Matthau replied, “Humor is my serious work.” He claimed it was more difficult than “noncomedic or tragic or whatever you want to call it."

Comedian and motivational speaker, David Naster, concurs. “Humor is intellectual… It’s an idea you make funny… [s]ome more complicated than others.”

Street thugs take note: Making someone laugh gives you a certain power over them. Think about it. You’re causing another person to do something they didn’t expect, or perhaps even intend, to do, and usually they’ll thank you for it.

Historians credit the British sense of humor for helping the UK endure two horrific world wars. Our own Bob Hope, and others, did much the same for us. Yet if a funny movie – or book – were to be put up for a prestigious award, most likely it would be laughed off the docket. That subjective problem again.

My first agent may have said it best. “Nobody takes humor seriously.”

Donna Huston Murray

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Killing Fields

An Albany Eye On Crime

Last night he visited me again. Just past midnight, dropping down from the attic into the darkened hallway where I was composing a new story for Weird Tales at my desk in the alcove, the only illumination the pale glow from my computer screen. He flew over my head like always. It was a sweltering August night, my head and face bathed in sweat, the only relief provided by the rapid oscillations of the large ceiling fan overhead. I was only vaguely aware of his presence, then SWAT and, seconds later, SWAT again. Putting on the lights, I see the carcass of the bat lying two steps down on the carpeted staircase, Bridget the cat sniffing it tentatively (Bridget is a scaredy-cat, normally belly to the carpet as she slinks off down the stairs away from bat invaders). I shoo her away and she takes off (Dare I say it? Like a bat out of hell!)

This is my tenth bat but the first one to be done in by a rapidly whirring ceiling fan in the dark. Occasionally when chasing the bat around the hallway with the lights blazing, it might panic and get whacked by the fan, but not mortally. I figure this was a young’un whose radar had a few kinks to work out. So I picked him up in a towel, as is my custom, and dumped him out the window into the yard. He was still there next morning, DOA.

I found out next day that mine was only one of many visitations by the diminutive brown bats to my neighbors’ stately old houses (mine’s a row house built in 1871). The alarms went out over the neighborhood list serve. I confess I have usually found the complaints of my neighbors living in the gentrified precincts of Center Square, Hudson-Park and the Mansion District of Downtown Albany, more than a little silly: suburban types who’d moved into a City and discovered noise, traffic, and college students taking a leak in the alley next to Dunkin’ Donuts, when not stealing flower pots tastefully arranged on the stoops of their townhouses. But this time I found their comments revealing. I report these (with editorial comment to put things in perspective):

(the Bat-a-phile) “Bats are important. They eat huge quantities of insects. The Little Brown Bat can eat 1,000 mosquitoes in a single hour; the Big Brown Bat can consume 6,000 on a good summer’s night. The little brown bats are recovering from white nose syndrome that has wiped them out in the caves around the State. If you don’t want them in your house, you do need to locate and seal the entrance points to your building. If you have a cat, isolate it in another room; my cat loves catching bats!”

(the Stake-Out) “To find out how they’re getting in, stand outside in the evening and watch how they come out of your house. Start watching at sunset, keep your eye on any small openings until one hour after sunset. Remember that bats can fit through a hole the size of your thumb, and move fast. Do this for several consecutive nights… ”
(the Old Hand) “Close off the room the bat’s in. Open the window wide. Turn a light on by the window so the bat can see you and the exit (Bats are not blind). Bats will follow the air flow; eventually it will leave.”

(the Rustic) “Farmers just hold a broom, bristles up, underneath the bat when it has calmed down, then carry the broom gently to the door or window—POOF! Gone!”

(the Poisoner) “I had a problem with bats at camp for years, but when I put rat Decon in the attic crawl space, that got them!”

(the Serial Killer) “ Disable it with a broom, then capture it with a pillowcase. Then hit it with a hammer and dump it in the trash. Works every time.”

From this, you can see that I am surrounded by helpful neighbors. But I don’t think I’ll mention the Incident of the Lethal Ceiling Fan (I keep thinking of Kafka’s ‘In the Penal Colony’, Poe’s ‘Pit and the Pendulum’). No need to excite the more bloodthirsty among the neighbors.

Having come by a new respect for the little guys, I Googled the Bat. In case you didn’t know:

-Bats are nocturnal, they spend their days sleeping (in your attic) and grooming; they have fur and clean themselves like cats. They hunt by night, by “echolocation”. When bats fly, they project a constant stream of high-pitched sounds only their fellow-bats can hear. When the sound waves hit an insect or other object (me, for instance, in my darkened hallway), the bat zeroes in on its prey or avoids the likes of me…That bats look to get tangled in your hair is an Old Wives’ Tale: he’s just heading for that bug on your head…In winter, the bat goes into Hibernation or Torpor like a bear to conserve body heat, energy (presumably, in your attic).

-Bats are rarely rabid, but if they are found to be in a room with a sleeping person,
contact the Health Department; rabies shots are advised since it’s possible to not realize you’ve been bitten (the bat has small, sharp teeth). And, if you can, hold onto the bat for testing. Don’t touch a bat with bare hands, for obvious reasons. Also because he has “bat bugs”, first cousin to the bed bug, who can switch hosts.

-If you decide to evict your bat colony (yes, the bat is a communal creature), bataphiles caution that the exclusion never be done in June, July or August, when there will be present many young that cannot fly. Wait till Fall, when they have learned to fly. The youngsters are tutored in maternal groups. Each mother bat delivers one baby. And that Little Brown Bat can live 40 years.

Should you wish to get more up-close and personal, there is the annual Great Lakes Bat Festival at the Cranbrook Institute of Science and the Bat Zone, in Bloomfield, Michigan, in mid-July. Its purpose: to spread the message that bats are critical to ecosystems around the world, and need our protection. I believe it. If the little brown bats should ever fail, God forbid, to be on duty in my yard on a summer’s night gobbling up 1,000 mosquitoes an hour, that’s The End of Barbequing As We Know It. Believe it!

Robert Knightly