Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Writing Meta, No. Whatever

I was emailing someone the other day about a wee crisis of confidence about my writing, and they scoffed. Because, yes, I'm a decent writer, but not a great writer. My long-term goal is to continuously take it up a notch at a time, so by the time I'm ninety I *will* be a great writer. I honestly believe that. Book by book, chapter by chapter, I will get there. Perhaps a bit of a hopeless dream, but it's my hopeless dream and I'm reaching for it. Anyway, that's not germane to what I want to say today.

This mini-hissy fit was brought on by section in my new book that wasn't working. The words fit together okay, and there was the tee-hees in the the right places, but it didn't work. By that I mean where in the hell was the passion? I don't mean sex on the kitchen floor passion, but an underlying sense that the author feels this down to their bone marrow and you (the reader) should too, by dint of their writing. Now, I'm not writing the sort of book that elicits, in general, that sort of reaction. However, there should be this underlying sense that *I* care about what I'm saying, that my words are making my passion your passion. Even in a beach read there should be a thread of passion running through a book. Otherwise you'll stop reading my book at Chapter 4 and throw it back into your beach bag, slop on some more sunscreen, and rummage around for another book to fill the time. I've failed you. You've walked through that door that says "Exit," and you're about to walk through another writer's door. Crap

Yes, I've said here that you can't please all readers all the time. It's just not possible. I'm always floored when I rave about a book and someone else says, "Meh." It's even worse when I respect that person's opinion and they hate a book I thought was brilliant. For instance (small rec inserted here), I loved Steve Martin's "Shopgirl," and a friend hated it, and I thought, "WHAT? ARE YOU CRAZY?"

I'm digressing, as usual. Anyway, I should love what I'm writing because that passion will, guaranteed, translate to the page. That is part of the problem with the current push to make authors churn out a book a year. They are scrambling to find that plot, that idea that can sustain 80,000 words, which is a hell of a lot different than writing 80,000 words because, oh my god, you must hear this. A series is hard enough to pull off, but I can't be the only person for whom the series has become a reader's landmine. The writers are so bored with these characters you can practically hear the yawning as you turn the pages.

So, say I haven't fulfilled my end of the bargain. I've churned out something that I don't particularly care about but fulfills my contractual obligations. That ennui easily translates to the page, and chances are that the next time you (the reader you) want a beach read for that plane ride, you'll buy that author that sated your reading jones the last time: *not* me. Clearly, it behooves me to keep you interested. But beyond even the monetary considerations, read my book because I have a story worth telling--or I should--and I want you to hear it. I feel passionately about these characters and I want to share that passion. That girl A is writing a book and girl B is a better writer and boy A is a jerk but has a nice jaw and boy B is friendly and tall and a little bit clumsy. Park your butt in the chair, the plane seat, down on the beach blanket and listen to me.

There was a girl...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What Kind of Fool Am I?

Every author that I know Goggles their name to see what the word is about their book. In this technological embarrassment of riches, you can even put the name of your book on alert. You get both the wheat and the chaff. I've gotten alerts where people rave about my book, and I've gotten alerts where people say that it's lousy. In fact, I got one today that said my second book was exactly that. Which, hey, part of the writing gig is that you have to accept (or it will drive you crazy) that you cannot please all readers. There is a certain percentage that you cannot win over. Your style, your voice, your pacing doesn't work for these people. You have to give it up with grace. Plus, let's be honest here; I'm not writing literature. Some people who write in this genre ARE but not me. I'm writing beach reads because that's what I have the time to write. I might be deluding myself that I could write a bigger book if I had time--I do honestly believe that--but if wishes were horses, beggars would ride shit.

Another technological bonus with this reading and writing thing are all these sites devoted to developing connections with other readers. I have a GoodReads page, and a Red Room page, and a couple of others, but mostly I stick to the GoodReads page because I have friends there. It started out as a promo for my books, but since I couldn't figure out how to showcase my books, it's become more of a place for me to gas about books I've read. It's my opinion, nothing more than that. Like above, some books work for me, some don't. I'd like to think that the years I've spent learning how to write have given me some insight into why some books work and other don't, but maybe not. It's my space. Just like this is my space. To write about books I liked and didn't like.

I try to be fair here. I KNOW how it feels to read that your book didn't work for the reader. In fact, I experienced that sense of gloom just today! So when I post a book review here or on GoodReads, I try to be careful and give an honest assessment of why a book worked and why it didn't. For me.

And this is where the foolish part comes in. Because I am both a reader and a writer, I'm vulnerable. Someone could retaliate and go to and use their little rating system and kill my ratings. Or be affronted that I didn't write a glowing review about their friend's book so they slammed my book in their blog. Or the author themselves sets up a sock puppet to trash my book. The possibilities for sabotage are endless.

Do I intend to stop posting my opinions on my GoodReads or my blog? Nope. Because I stand behind my words. They are important to me. If I can't write what I want to write here, what's the point? But I'm also aware that I might pay a price for my honesty. Welcome to the new age of writing. The brickbats are to the left.

Monday, November 23, 2009

State of the Book

I have just hit the 20,000 word mark. At this point you should know if a book is working or not. You've established enough of the story so that the general trajectory is fixed to a point and the characterizations are fairly fleshed out. In other words, you've reached the point where you know if you have a viable concept. Yes, we are cooking with gas, kittens!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Do you know what I love about writing? It's not static. Just as much as a reader is at the mercy of the writer, the writer is at the mercy of her/his id. Each book I've written has been different, and by that I mean the process has been different. Some of this is due to circumstance, some of it is that my ability to write has improved, but I think it's because every book is a treasure hunt, for the author as well as the reader. That's why it's so cool. The first book was the endless rewrite. Part of that was because it was such a horrible book and HAD to be rewritten to make it into an intelligent whole. The second book was the book that I thought I'd never finish--that little ovarian cancer scare--but also, and I think this is fairly common with a second book, I lost my confidence. I had to get it back paragraph by paragraph. It was extremely painful emotionally, but it's amazing what being told you don't have stage four cancer can do for your productivity! Who cares if it's horrible? I'm here to write it!

This book is an interesting mix. I see a rewrite in front of me (mostly the beginning, always the hardest part for me), but I also have that confidence, that sense, oh, let's just have fun here, shall we? Yeah. I'm having fun.

But mostly, and, obviously, I don't think this is true for everyone, but I'm coming at this as a wreader. At some point you should surprise yourself. That a paragraph or a scene pops out of nowhere and you type away not sure if it's going to work and then it's sit back and go, whoa. It's as if I were channeling that scene not writing it. You sit back, reread it, and then, hopefully, smile and say to yourself: I like that. Don't know where it came from but YOWZAH!

Of course, there's always the YOWZNOES! The snake pit of cliche that dogs every writer. Those phrases that one tends to use to death. I've found that phrase cloud pretty helpful. I now have a list of words and phrases I am not allowed to use.

Some day, I'm going to make a map about the writing process. Sort of like a Candyland for writers (I overuse "sort of" ALL THE TIME). The "cliche" spot where when you land it bumps you back to the "Land of Snores." The "Doldrums" where you can't get out because you're writing but not going any place constructive in the book. It's only when you draw a "Delete last chapter" card that you get free. Wow. I think I have a really good idea here!

See. The Id. So sneaky. So fun.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Book Review: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

Any book that opens with the author having to undergo a hysterectomy has me hooked. I had one and nothing says ma soeur like matching scars.

Aside from the nascent bonding over major surgery, Rhoda Janzen’s memoir of her Mennonite childhood also rings a lot of similar bells. I didn’t grow up Mennonite, but I did grow up the child of immigrants, and I share many of her social disconnects. Ms. Janzen fills this memoir with many references to dishes that are particular to Mennonite culture. My mother’s refrigerator never had a can of Coke in it until she bought a six-pack in response to my children’s request for “soda.” She grew up in dairy country in Ireland where beverages consisted of either milk or booze. Since she wasn’t in the habit of pouring her children a pint, we drank milk at all three meals. I imagine Ms. Janzen can relate. In addition, she has a mother that sounds a lot like my mother. My mother isn’t religious but she might as well be. Ms. Janzen’s mother hands out hugs with jars of strawberry jam; my mother hugs and then knits, whatever, for whomever. And yes, my family have the same sort of inbred discussions that she has at her family table: the obligatory rehashing of old gossip, with a fresh helping of new gossip, what the relatives are up to, what the neighbors are up to, etc.

So much of this memoir I connected with on a fundamental level.

The good: Clearly this writer is smart and adept at writing. I feel the need to say this because, alas (she uses that construction as well; how much we have in common in terms of style is a little creepy), good writing is in short supply these days. She salts info dumps on Mennonite culture throughout this memoir and yet they don’t feel like info dumps. The snippets glide and out of the general story and by the end of the book, by golly, you know a ton about Mennonite culture. This is shockingly hard to do, and I very much appreciated the skill it took to not make it seem like Mennonite 1A. Part of this deft slight of hand is accomplished because she’s damn amusing. Yes, this book is funny, witty, and well written.

The bad: This book scored many points as I chuckled through paragraph after paragraph and yet. It starts off the hysterectomy. The admittedly difficult husband proves to be quite adept at dealing with ensuing medical nightmares, only to abandon her for another man. The joke about her getting dumped by her husband for another guy gets far too much play, especially when we realize three-quarters of the way through the book that this husband had a sexual relationship with another man before they were married. At that point all those previous tee hees about and “Bob” seem a little hollow.

Post dump she spends her sabbatical with her parents. The disconnect between the humor and the reality in this book creates a gap that the author has trouble filling. We have many pages devoted to lovely and funny family interaction during this sabbatical. (I mean really funny; I snorted milk through my nose reading about the Scrabble game and you can believe that the next time I play Scrabble, I’m going to present lionhairs as a legitimate word). As the memoir progresses, however, the previous humorous asides on the husband cannot hide how toxic this marriage was. I came away wondering, why did you abandon these charming people for that asshole? I don’t believe she ever answers that question successfully. Because it was obvious that while married she must have lived a compartmentalized life, visiting her family without the uber controlling, disapproving, judgmental Nick. I’m reaching here, but I guess the point is that it worked both ways. By marrying him, she escaped the family dynamic that wouldn’t have readily accepted her as the intellectual free spirit that Nick approved (and leeched off of).

As the novels progresses, the ugly truth about her marriage arrives in drips and drabs. By the end of the book we are madly in love with her family, and she finishes the book with the conclusion that she's come “home.” In light of the charming portrayals of her family (even the odd childhood isn’t that odd; I, too, wore weird clothes because my mother didn’t know any differently and bought me weird clothes), by the end of this novel we’re asking ourselves, “What in the hell took you so long?” There is no clear understanding why she hitches her star to this handsome, charming, bi-polar jerk. I found myself looking for clues that she didn’t provide. I suppose it was because he offered an escape. Someone who would support her determined quest that was in flagrant opposition to everything her Mennonite culture championed. It was also someone who reinforced the strict hierarchical, paternal construct she grew up with. I was looking for—and didn’t find—her own epiphany that her parents determining what she wore as a child and teenager in homage to her Mennonite tenets was no different—at least in my eyes—to her husband picking out her wardrobe in homage to his dictates about what was chic.

It is not until the last third of the book do we see how truly grim her marriage was; their relationship and his subsequent flight isn’t really the stuff of humor. I think that there is another story lurking here that isn’t funny at all. A story about a woman who is caught between two worlds destined to collide, the collateral damage a given. Only once is there a scene where her lack of faith and chosen lifestyle is an issue, and that's with brothers that she admits are practical strangers. I think that since faith is such a driving force in her immediate family that less effort might have been paid to the lying about being allergic to raisins versus being an agnostic with a father who she acknowledges is the Mennonite equivalent of the Pope.

She ends this book with the conviction that she’s come home, but I’m not sure that she made a compelling argument as to why she had to leave.

Thanks to Ashley Pattison of Henry Holt and Co. for the ARC.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Miscell Any

We've just returned from New Orleans. We had a marvelous time, the first real vacation we've had without the children in, well, ever. I love my kids. They are easy going and fun and all around marvelous, and yet, traveling with kids has its givens. My son would have loved the swamp tour but not the four hours on the roads seeing countryside. My daughter would have loved the trip to the plantations, but not so much the menus that were mostly shrimp and if not shrimp then pork and if not pork then crawdads. It was just easier, you know? I do love New Orleans; its food, its architecture. I don't even mind the humidity that makes you feel deliciously lazy.

Restaurant rec: the Green Goddess in New Orleans on 307 Exchange Place. It's been a long time since I've eaten at a restaurant where the chefs cared so much about the food and were still having fun, just like the chef scene in San Francisco when I was cooking. All about pushing those boundaries. Some of the dishes didn't work quite as well as you would hope, while others knocked my frigging socks off, but it's that experimentation that I adored. And to say they didn't work just means that they were only delicious as opposed to orgasmic. That's what this wee place is trying to do. Get you to gasp when you're eating. Highly recommended. We loved it so much we went back twice. Toques off to Chef Chris DeBarr.

I took two books with me on this trip that ended up having tremendous relevance. One, was a book about Joan Root, the filmmaker and conservationist who was murdered in her Kenyan home in 2006, and the second is Annette Gordon-Reed's history on the Hemingses of Monticello. The first book read like a beefed up Vanity Fair article (which indeed it was), but had its own inevitable sense of tragedy that trumped the sensationalistic tone that haunts those sort of articles. Basically, you have a corrupt government and a bunch of white conservationists who are a holdover from the colonial period and the indigenous population who need work and corporations who don't give a rat's ass about the environment, throw in some hardcore thugs, and, unsurprisingly, people get murdered. She was gunned down in her bedroom by someone wielding an AK-47. I was shocked to read that she was just one of a series of people who'd been killed in the lawlessness that has characterized Kenya in the last twenty years. Joan Root joins Dian Fossey and the Adamsons of Born Free fame, all of them murdered.

I'm winding my way through the Gordon-Reed book. It's a little overwritten, but then again I'm betting it's in reaction to her first book, which pretty much ended the debate on whether Jefferson had fathered children by Sally Hemings. I imagine she is writing to deal with those who can't wrap their minds around the fact that Jefferson would actually sleep with a slave woman. I don't have a problem with that because, hello, brilliant though he was, he was pretty morally bankrupt in my book. Please do not tell me it was the time. He kept slaves even though he knew it was immoral, but he couldn't live his life as he envisioned it without slavery. Aside from the global issue, what about sleeping with your wife's half-sister, fathered by your father-in-law... You get the picture.

Anyway, my little commentary aside, Gordon-Reed makes a lot of leaps here, and I understand why (sources being thin on the ground), but what is more fascinating is how the Virginia ruling class actually applied a different set of laws to slaves so that they could maintain this system (as opposed to laws governing the white and free population). It was a bash to fit solution. General law deemed that your status in life was passed down through your father. That wouldn't do at ALL in a slave-owning culture, therefore, they changed the law so that status was passed down through the mother. A simple, yet effective solution. Of course it also gave complete latitude to white men who wanted to bed black women and not have their bi-racial children actually be legitimate heirs. Even when Jefferson was ambassador to France, he never registered his slaves as dictated by French law, because then if they decided to declare themselves free, he would have had to free them. So he didn't. Another charming bash to fit solution to his little slave problem.

So I'm reading these books while in New Orleans. I have lived through my own natural disasters: an earthquake and a firestorm. You live in California, you're going to face one or the other at some point. Fortunately, I wasn't on a freeway when the earthquake hit, and I lived far enough away from the firestorm that I didn't lose my home. I know lots of people who did, who ended up fighting with insurance companies, and getting FEMA loans to rebuild, and who were genuinely scarred but who survived. Four years later I wouldn't say that New Orleans is surviving. Lots and lots of boarded up buildings, even now, with the telltale watermarks on the roofs. The only places that have full parking lots are the Lowes and the Home Depots, yet we saw block after block of foundations. Just foundations. Even now. Occasionally, you'd see that someone had rebuilt, but you had to ask yourself why? Because to either side of them were the outlines of foundations with nothing on top of them. Generally, the areas that were most devastated by the water were inhabited by the poor. The areas that were devastated by the firestorm here in California were populated by upper middle-class types, who knew that if the insurance company jerked you around, you called a lawyer. Houses were rebuilt and FEMA money came through. People were not living in trailers two years down the road.

I picked up the Times Picayune every day we were in New Orleans. On every page there was an article about someone being indicted. Every day. Every page. Obama came through while we were there and I thought, pick up the paper, dude. It's all there. That's why four years down the road you're in St. Bernard's Parish and the water is gone and the bulldozers have moved in but that's about all you can say. The land grab must be imminent. If you don't rebuild, then the property only loses in value every day it sits vacant. And when you have block after block, then, well. People with the checkbooks are waiting. It's going to be pennies on the dollar.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Book Rec and Whining

I've started my new book. This is a bit of a departure for me, and I'm having a whole hell of a lot of fun with the concept. It's the first idea in a long time that's actually excited me. I'm up to roughly 13,000 words, and I've made a vow to finish this by Christmas, which isn't impossible, although extremely ambitious.

And then I got derailed for a couple of weeks by what Truman Capote called the mean reds. Because I read a book. One of the most marvelous books I've read in ages. I keep haphazard, barely legible lists (I found a napkin the other day with five book titles on it!) squirreled away in odd places, and this book's title kept cropping up: Call Me by Your Name, by Andre Aciman. It is a stunning read. A coming of age story set in Italy, the protagonist is seventeen-year-old boy named Elio and his lover is a twenty-four-year old academic named Oliver. Note I use the word lover; I don't use it lightly. This book is about falling in love. This book is about falling in love so deeply and completely and totally that it ruins your life in a sense. The bar has been set so high that no one else comes close. I'm sounding like the blurb off the back of a cheap romance novel. He doesn't. Trust me on this. This is best book I've read in couple of years and ranks up there with one of the best books I've read period.

So why the mean reds? Because it’s so beautifully written that it sucked all confidence out of me. Even at the top of my game (I use that term lightly), I couldn’t write like this because it’s not my voice. Truthfully, the author whose voice probably most resembles mine is Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote Eat, Pray, Love. That’s my voice or what my voice could be and I’m not complaining. But. Mr. Aciman’s voice is one rich sentence after another, evocative yet simple writing, that manages to pack a wow on every page. I will not be that writer. But I can certainly be a better writer. I’m working on that. Even while fully acknowledging that, well, my brain just doesn’t work that way, it still gutted me.

I know a lot of authors who stop reading when they are working on a project. I’ve never been one of them, but, hey, now joining that bandwagon because I’ve lost two weeks here. Frankly, it’s rare when I read a book that silences my own ego. That says quite a lot about me, I know, and another book I would recommend on this subject is Betsy Lerner’s Forest for the Trees. She does a fab job of getting into the writer’s psyche and laying out the ridiculous (and, obviously, as neurotic as hell) pinball mechanism of the writer’s id: rampaging, insufferable egotism going hand in hand with crippling self-doubt. Welcome to my world. Anyway, part of why I’ve never bothered to adhere to that dictum is that I rarely read anything that wows me. And I mean truly wows me. Aciman’s book had me gasping in delight with every page. That just doesn’t happen anymore, so I’ve never felt the need to not read while knee-deep in a book project.

Some of this is because, well, books just aren’t that good anymore. They are rushed through the publishing process, the most important criteria being their sales potential. Being the hot book. Not being the well-written hot book. No, the operative word here is hot. Books aren’t edited anymore, and I’m now convinced they aren’t even copy edited anymore. Spell check and slap a cover on it. That’s about that size of it these days. So books that might have been great with a lot more work are mediocre. I can’t tell you the number of books I’ve read in the last five years that had the bones of great. Another six months of hard work would have propelled that book from okay to decent or from decent to marvelous (and for those who know me, no, I’m not discussing the last Harry Potter book because that’s flat out stroke inducing).

Since mystery is the genre I write in, do we even need to say major plot busts? Do we need to say sloppy construction, contrived endings, half-realized characterizations, and, sigh, on and on. It’s all about sales these days. And while I understand better than most people why book sales are plummeting (I have a fifteen-year-old son and reading is just another word for torture), I also say to you, well, you’re producing schlock. Maybe why your sales are tanking?

Anyway, Mr. Aciman’s book is so far from schlock that I urge you to read it. Other books that wowed me: Feast of Love by Charles Baxter. It’s more accessible than Aciman's book, but if multiple POVs bother you, then this isn’t the book for you (although I thought that part of the power of this book was how well he manipulated the POVs). What a touching, lovely book. Speaking of touching, read Calvin Trilling’s About Alice. This is also about finding true love. He wrote this after his wife had died, so it’s from the other end of the spectrum, at the end of a great love as opposed to the beginning. I loved Alice, too, by the end. Another book that I thought was stunning, certainly along the lines of Aciman’s book, was Hollinghurst’s Line of Beauty. I was cooking when AIDS started to devastate the S.F. chef community, so this book packed a punch like you wouldn’t believe, but it doesn’t need that backdrop to be a powerful, gorgeous read. All these books are completely different in style, but they share one thing. They say what they want to say well. Language is a song to them.

Back to writing.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Google and Roman Polanski

I haven't forgotten about the Mysterious Food crossword puzzle. I've been beset with a horrible virus and for some reason (even though I've eliminated the virus), gmail is giving me terrible trouble. So much trouble that to type a single sentence can take me up to five minutes. I keep running virus scans, etc., but to no avail. Ideas, oh wiser ones?

Roman Polanski. No, I wasn't shocked that Woody Allen came out in support of Mr. Polanski given Mr. Allen's history of seducing minors. Other Hollywood luminaries who signed this petition did shock me. Apparently, if you're rich and famous and connected, then rape is okay. I read one more apologia about how he's suffered and I'm going to scream bloody murder. How he's been in exile. How he was a victim of the Holocaust. How he lost his wife. I grew up in California. I know these facts. You know what? Boo fucking hoo. It does not give him a free pass. I repeat. It does not give him a free pass.

And I say to those people who clamour that he's paid for his crime. How? How did he pay for his crime? His victim had to sue him in a civil trial for reparations. Sue him! Did he fund crisis hotlines for rape victims? Did he crusade for victims of violent crime? Did he lecture on the evils of drugs and alcohol to teenagers? No, he did not. He did none of those things. He went to France, made movies, bought a chalet, drank wine, got married, had a couple of kids of his own, and won an Oscar for his work. In fact, he lived the EXACT SAME LIFE he would have lived had he not attacked that girl. Nothing changed for him. Not a thing.

That can't be said for the kid he raped, now can it?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Could I Possibly Admire This Woman Any More?

Given that I adored Meryl Streep's interpretation of Julia Child in the movie "Julie and Julia," naturally, I rushed out and bought My Life in France. Oh! What a marvelous book! This is one of those books where there really aren't enough exclamation points to do it justice.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Julia Child had quite a persnickety side to her. The recipes had to be right! Her frustrations with Simone Beck were rooted in that intuitive flair that the French chefs that I knew had and with which "Simca" approached their collaboration. Julia thought that all fine and good, but not for a cookbook. The bit on beurre blanc cracked me up. But that sort of dogged pursuit characterized her personality and, I think, was critical to her success. Although she had flair, it wasn't about her flair. It was about you and her cookbook propped open on your kitchen counter. By god you were going to make something that would make your guests grin with pleasure. She guaranteed it. You didn't need flair. You had her looking over your metaphorical shoulder, telling you to add the stock NOW.

Of course, there's lots of description of the food, but the food doesn't exist in a vacuum. It's the people at the table, their friends, the conversations, the ambiance of the restaurant, the collective appreciation of the food and the people eating it, in short, it's the whole enchilada that makes France so magical for her. As much as this book is about her evolution into the persona that became "Julia Child," there isn't a chapter that doesn't include descriptions of people, who they meet, who they like, the people who become their dear, dear friends. The book is as much a paean to her love of food as it is her love for the table and who is sitting around it.

This is certainly why I went into cooking. It was the ambiance around my mother's dining room table that inspired me cook. That wonderful moment when you raise your glass of wine to each other in the most basic spirit of camaraderie. We are breaking bread. Together.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Computers are evil and Canada

I have wasted an entire week of my life trying to deal with a computer virus on my new laptop. And as much as I hate Microsoft on principle, I've been on the phone with a number (FAR TOO MANY) of extremely helpful phone minions. Depending on the severity of the problem, they keep bumping you up to someone more savvy. But it took hours of phone time on crappy connections, and while I have some facility with accents, a weak connection makes that sort of back and forth difficult. What command? Plus, the entire thing was a PC guilt trip because I really couldn't hear, but I was sure they thought I was being an American xenophobe. Sigh. Is xenophobe a word? You know what I mean.

Anyway, am setting up daughter in new apartment for her second year of college. It's in a kick-ass part of town with lots of, well, everything around her. Kinda funky, but then that's college and I am envious. Living in a semi-dump has its advantages. Life is simpler. No hanging baskets or roses to fret over. No driveways to seal. Meals are haphazard affairs. Not that I don't love my house, my yard, my cats, but all these silent demands for attention tend to overwhelm on occasion. Love the roses, hate the upkeep deal. But then I do love roses and we put up these graceful trellises, and once again it's that no free lunch deal. Trellises+roses=beauty+upkeep.

And let's not even talk about the college issue. I buy lottery tickets on a half-assed basis, and my greatest fantasy is not about buying that chateau in France with my millions. It's about buying time. I would become a full-time student again. I'd start off in landscape architecture (Gertrude Jekyll being an idol of mine) and then? Who knows? I think college is wasted on the young. What I know now? I look at the list of my daughter's classes and I salivate over the possibilities.

I return to the U.S. tomorrow. And book number three. I am up to 9000 words and have a goal of finishing this sucker by Christmas. Ambitious, but not impossible. I have reached a stage in my writing where the process is more intense, but it's neater and cleaner. I write and it takes twice as long to finish a chapter, but it's a chapter where the concept is done. Written in stone. That's why I love writing. It's not static. The process changes the more adept you get. In some ways it's much harder, because I tend to overwrite and then I must go back and parse out all the bullshit writing, but now at least I have goals. How to get there, conversely, has because harder because I am less satisfied with my writing the more I write, but having goals is half the battle. What am I achieving in this chapter? You should always have a goal--actually several goals--in each chapter.

Edit. Winning the lottery would allow me to write full time. Perchance to dream.

Will post answers to crossword puzzle. Got derailed on that because of ugly virus and then getting daughter settled. There really aren't enough hours in the day.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Fun and Games!

Back in the days before Bridge Baron, I was a crossword puzzle freak. Surfing around on the net--god, I love the Internet--I found a plethora of crossword puzzle maker sites. The first person to finish gets a free copy of my book, Roux Morgue. Have fun. It's tricksy!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mom

It's my mother's birthday today. She's an extraordinary woman, not for the large things she's done (not that she was a slouch in her career--far from it), but one of those unsung heroes who concentrate on the small. As in: knitting baby blankets for her neighbors who are expecting; carrying dog treats at all times because you never know when you're going to meet a dog; having the new widow over for dinner; that sort of thing. It's not large stuff, but as you age you realize that small things sometimes aren't so small, you know? My parents have become the majordomos of the small cul-de-sac that they live on, the people that the neighbors come to when there's a problem. Why? Because people know that they care.

When I was younger I believed I had it covered; I didn't need anyone to watch my "back." And I grew older and realized that, no, it's not covered and perhaps it was never covered and, god, do I have a bulls-eye or something because I keep getting hit with metaphorical arrows. Mom's always there with whatever emotional band-aids she's got in her "mother" arsenal, patching me up and sending me out into the world as "healed" as possible.

I've entered a point in my life where my friends' parents are dying. My father died a couple of years ago, and while I mourn him, I mourn the person he wanted to be, not the person he was. That's easy mourning because that person isn't real. With my mother, it will be bone-marrow deep mourning because she's really pretty goddamn perfect as a mother. Not that she's perfect as a person, but she's a phenomenal mother.

So hat's off, Mom, because words really are inadequate to express how much I love and admire you.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Spin-off Meta

What I failed to mention in my previous post was that you must see this movie and sit through the self-indulgent Julie bits to see the marvelous and superb and OMG! acting chops of Meryl Streep. Something else that I didn't mention and really, this is so important. I imagine the people who go to movies and watch chase scenes or want to hear snark or chortle at my dick is bigger than your dick sensibility (I am now done with Judd Apatow) will find this movie incredibly dull. It's about marriage and relationships and passion. Jane Austen territory, frankly.

Anyway, the real point of this post today is about blogging and how me! me! me! centric the concept of blogging is. Which, as you recall, was the problem I had with the Julie bits of that movie. Also, an aside here. Am I the ONLY one who has trouble with it being called Julie and Julia? Ahem. You are piggybacking on the fame of the most famous American chef of the last half century and you don't even have the courtesy to give her top billing? I think that says, uh, volumes about the entire project.

I have trouble keep up with this blog because it's not interactive enough. It's ridiculously difficult to respond to people who do comment, and although I have a fairly sizable ego, it really isn't about me. I'd like it to be about "us." Where you can email me and say, "Well, I thought that movie was perfectly lovely and this is why..." I don't mind discussion, dissension, or even vague hostility. Because now we can talk!

This is why I will never, ever have a Twitter account and why I find Facebook similiarly irritating. Both mediums are geared toward people making pronouncements, ninety percent of the time about themselves. I'm writing. I'm cooking. I just cut the tip of my finger making a peach pie for the guests coming over to dinner tonight. Crap, it hurts. It's all about the person typing (or not or at least not well because I did make a peach pie today and my finger does hurt). In fact, I went to respond to a friend of mine who commented on my Facebook link to the review of J&J, and I proceeded to write a reply and found to my horror that I couldn't even finish my paragraph. Word limit. WHAT?

This isn't social networking, it's aggrandize-working and to me it feels like the other half is missing. Not that I want one hundred people to comment, but I dislike this sense of a vaccuum. That I'm talktalktalking about me. Not that I don't have plenty to say, but dialogue is a hell of a lot more fun.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Julie and Julia

I should preface this by saying that I was fortunate enough to have met Julia Child and her sister, Dorothy Cousins, when I was still a student at the California Culinary Academy. This was at the beginning of the food revolution in California, and the school was hosting a benefit. The speaker list included the usual culinary stars of those days. I'm not going to list the speakers because, with a couple of important exceptions, the tone of the evening was all pretty damn snooty and snotty and elitist, and it was one of those "what in the hell am I doing in this profession" moments.

Julia and her sister were the last to arrive. The movie does a great job of emphasizing how physically imposing they were, but it can't possibly do them justice. I'm fairly tall for a woman, and yet when they entered the room, side by side, there was a little hush. Because they weren't so much as imposing as just THERE. They were large women, but not in the sense of present-day jargon. Tall and healthy, they both looked like they could probably break the neck of a five-hundred pound steer should the occasion warrant it.

And the one thing that the movie did capture so well was the connection between the two of them. Dorothy was a little taller, and she'd lean over to talk to Julia, and Julia would have this intent look on her face as she tried to hear her sister over the din of voices, and there was NO sense of this celebrity and her sister. No sense that Julia was forcing her sister down everyone's throats. It was just McWilliams girls out for the night.

I asked her to autograph a cookbook for my mother, and it wasn't whipping out the pen and a quick scrawl. She ASKED about my mother and when she'd signed the book (Julia Child and Company, by the way), she said to me, "Aren't you sweet? I do hope she likes the book." It wasn't a staged scenario. I came away from that encounter thinking, "Oh, she's tall, and, oh, thank you for saying that I'm sweet, and I know my mother will love the book."

Again, I'm not going to name names here, but the high point of the evening was when another speaker got on his/her high horse about some sort of nonsense that doesn't bear repeating; basically, people were jockeying for position and fetishizing food as a way to get there. The speakers were sitting in rocking chairs, and by the end of this insufferable speech Julia was rocking so violently that I half expected it to fly off the dais. In the nicest way possible she put this person in his/her place and basically said, oh, please. It's just food and we should enjoy it, but it's not a religion. She brought the entire tone of the evening back to earth. Which was, I think, her true gift. Yes, she could cook and had a delightful personality that television showcased so well, but in the end, she was someone who enjoyed a damn good meal with a decent glass of wine, surrounded by friends and/or family. Which is precisely why I went into cooking.

And that's why the Julie part of the move fails so miserably, and I don't even think that the director got it, and certainly the writer, Julie Powell, didn't get it. Because the cooking was never about Julia Child tooting her own horn. She loved food because food was lovable. She understood it and she undoubtedly had a phenomenal gift for it. But what the movie so lovingly portrayed was that her marriage and her relationships with people were the key, with food being an important satellite. During the numerous scenes when they are having dinner parties or eating in restaurants, the movie doesn't focus on people loving Julia Child's cooking. The movie focuses on Julia Child and her wonderful husband and their special relationship and the fact she's a funny, intelligent woman. And a damn good cook.

Cut to modern-day Julie portions of the film: the movie (and I imagine the blog) focuses on Julie and how SHE'S becoming a good cook and how her husband and everyone else are satellites. I don't know how faithful this is to the blog, but I will say from the movie that Julie Powell has a bunch of really ugly, unhappy, and obnoxious friends. I assume that this is what propels her into the kitchen in the first place, but the repeated cutting back and forth between a woman with a hell of a lot of self-respect to a woman who has none and who basically embraces her "bitch" cannot help but come off as, well, bitchy and self-serving. The modern-day dinner parties are all about the food. How good this is. It's great. Man, I love this. They might as well be at SEPARATE tables because there is no camaraderie between any of these people. I disliked them. I didn't see Julie's accomplishments as anything but a leap-frog off of Julia Child's accomplishments. Because it was always about the food and Julie Powell saying, "SEE! SEE! ME! ME! I MADE THIS!"

Which, having watched her television shows and owning every single one of her books, Julia Child never said.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Started writing new book. Am very excited. Am sure everyone else will hate it. But, am I having fun!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Twilight Zone Time

I miss the diabetic dog dreadfully. We've put down a few animals in our marriage, it's never easy, and this one was painful in the extreme. Winnie was a large lab, around 75 pounds, so her not being around leaves a big hole in the various corners of the house. My husband is still stepping over her in the morning when he reaches the bottom of the stairs and I'm getting up at god o'thirty to let her out so she doesn't piss on the rugs, except, hello? So the other night I hear her tags jingling. I mean jingling, and I'm thinking, get a grip, woman! And I hear it again a couple of nights later. I'm starting to think, hmmm, this is getting a little too Twilight Zone for comfort.

Then at dinner tonight son mentions that he's been going into the garage and playing with her dog collar so he can pretend she's walking into the room.

So I guess I'm not going crazy after all!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Woman's Best Friend

We put the dog down last night. She started to seizure and these seizures weren't your garden-variety, too-much-or-not-enough-glucose-induced seizures. These were brain-related. Doc thinks that she had a benign pituitary tumor that started to grow, hence the adrenal issues up the wazoo. And you guys were right. I knew it was time. I wish she could have gone out in her sleep, but she didn't. She went out frightened and in pain, which was so not the way I wanted it to happen.


Winnie: the best dog in the world

For those of you who aren't dog lovers, or those who don't get the pet thing, it's impossible to explain. When I was a kid, we always had dogs. Even though my mother was a single-parent with little to no support--like hands full!--there was always a dog in the house. Even now, she's got pockets full of dog treats on the off chance she might meet a pooch in her daily wanderings. So yeah, dogs were part of my upbringing. I could point to the dog my father got me for my tenth birthday, a present that banked him an enormous amount of brownie points for all the other times he was less than stellar as a parent. I could also point to the fact that dogs are really the most zen of creatures. They forgive all. They love without qualification. Once they choose you, you are theirs for life. You have this responsibility to keep them fed and happy. You do that and, hello, unqualified love and acceptance. The most uncomplicated relationship parameters ever.

It's been a tough road with her. So much money spent. Lately, so much time trying to keep that damn eye from dissolving. But I will not say it was for naught.

Here's hoping she's now ensconced in dog heaven, chasing balls, going on walks, and stealing food (labs--their favorite pastime).

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ashland et al.

So, had my book gig in Ashland, and, WOW, what a fun weekend. In between the diabetic dog and parental units and health issues, this spring has been pretty crappy, to be honest. Four days before we are supposed to leave, dog dives into a diabetic freefall. We get her more or less stable and have to head off for book gig, leaving poor daughter with the responsibility of med-ing up the dog. Thank heavens for cell phones. We burned up the wires between Ashland and the Bay Area getting hourly dog updates.

Anyway, had a wonderful, wonderful time, mostly due to Maureen of Had a packed house (!) at Bookwagon, talked about mystery, writing, state of the art (?), and had my five minutes of fame on community television interviewed by Danielle Amarotico of Standing Stone Brewery. She was as nervous as I was, which made us partners in "crime." When you're in town, look them up. I had the Indian Pale Ale, husband had the Double Indian Pale Ale, and both were very fine. They are on Oak Street, right near the theaters off of Main. And yeah, I had dessert and the bread pudding was great! In between author-related events, husband and I saw "Much Ado About Nothing" in the outdoor theater. Despite rain all weekend, no rain that night. Had doughnuts and coffee one morning in Lithia Park. Designed by John McLaren of Golden Gate Park fame, it's green and lush, with water and endless trees and I want to live there.

You know, I've never quite gelled here in this upscale suburb I live in, and I find myself always checking out other places to live. Housing prices might dictate that we stay here once the kidlet is done with high school, but I hope not. I'm not really suburb material. And I liked Ashland a lot. One of the things I can't stand about living here is that I am hogtied to my car. Always. I want to live somewhere I can walk. Plus, Ashland has roughly a bazillion independent bookstores. Seriously? On EVERY block in the downtown there is a small bookstore. I'm hooked.

Thanks, Maureen and Ed, for your wonderful hospitality; the nicest weekend I've had in ages.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Reminder! EVENT!

Yes, at Bookwagon in Ashland, Oregon, on Friday, June 12 2 6:00 pm. BE THERE!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Northward Ho!

Hello! We have survived horrible, no good, very bad board meeting. We have had daughter home from college for two solid weeks. We have toiled in the garden to the point where I can actually have my mother over for tea and not be embarrassed about the state of my soil. We are cone-free, the diabetic dog having reached the point where her eye is, well, not seeing but not dying either. We are going to Ashland! Yes, as in Ashland, Oregon.

Yes, peeps, I will be appearing at Bookwagon in Ashland, on Friday, June 12th at 6:00 pm. The lovely folks there have invited me for a book event. For more information, check out

Husband and I used to go there yearly before the children. Children have a way of killing any thoughts of road trips (as if I don't spend enough time in the car as it is), however, we are so looking forward to this. Blasting rock and roll in the car as we head up Highway 5. I've appointed myself in charge of the play list, otherwise it will be five hours of Neil Young. Which. Well. No. Some Allman Brothers, Stones, sneak in some Les Dudek, and some Santana.

See you there.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Beat a Dead Horse? Yes, I Think I Will

Based on the underwhelming response to my post (which I posted to author groups and authors that I know), not too many people care about one entity owning 47% of the book selling market and having a stealth policy on censorship.

And lest you STILL doubt that this isn't some sort of covert policy on amazon's part, an author that I know who wrote a seminal book on gender identity a number of years ago did have her book restored to its previous sales stats and search functions. However, all the reader reviews that she had garnered over the years? Nope. Not restored. So someone who happens upon her book and sees that it's been out ten years or more but only has ONE comment will think, gee, this book must be made of shit because it's been on the market for years and only has one comment. And please do NOT tell me that they can't restore the comments. They have chosen not to.

Stealth censorship. I don't think it can be any plainer.

Another side to the amazon quagmire (I see that Mr. Bezos had no problem using precious ad space to advertise the new Kindle, but then the key word here is advertising as opposed to apologizing, I suppose) is the debut of the larger Kindle.

I can see the benefits of an electronic reader. I think it could keep the less well-known reader competitive (cough, cough). Or at least have a continuing marketplace. But for me the key issue here is that the larger Kindle will, hopefully, keep newspapers alive.

My paper, the S. F. Chronicle (by no means the best paper in the U.S., but I'm fond of it), has had two rounds of massive layouts. One just occurred within the last week and it was devastating. Journalists that I've been reading for years are now gone: their byline cut. And yes, I understand the economics of this, but I consider a newspaper seminal. Not that they are immune to parent company forces, but it seems to me that the newspaper (unlike the television media--can you say Fox news) still has a foothold on relatively unbiased reporting. Or at least, if they have a bias, the desire to get out the story often trumps a newspaper's inherent bias. With television or blog culture, you can just make shit up and most of the time you're not even called on it. Certainly, that's been true of much of the media for the last eight years. Which was why it was so nice to see The National Review's Rosen get his nuts roasted over the coals for his disgusting hit piece piece on Sotomayor. Who hasn't even been NOMINATED yet. I don't know how anyone can attack blog culture (who immediately called him on the carpet for his piece) as being nothing but opinion, when you have an article whose premise is entirely predicated on anonymous sources.

So, yes, moral dilemma. With one hand I give amazon a high five, hoping that the larger Kindle will be a rousing success and save the newspaper biz. And with my other hand I wave bye-bye.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Book Rec: Oi, Tudors whores!

Elizabeth & Leicester: Power, Passion, Politics, by Sarah Gristwood

In my youth (god, I can SAY that, how horrible), I was an English history major. At U.C. Berkeley. I actually toyed with the idea of getting a Ph.D, applied, was accepted, and was informed in my acceptance letter that there were no jobs and if I wanted to pursue academia, go forth, but be prepared to flip burgers for a living. Which prompted me to go to cooking school instead! Yes, true story.

History remains a passion and you really can't get any more passionate than those damn Tudors. I have purchased every major popular history on that family and a goodly number of academic tomes on them, and they continue to fascinate.

This is another book on Elizabeth and Leicester. It's well researched, and I like how this author cites other authors' theories (this is a well travelled road and one hell of a crowded field), because a tremendous amount of this is just that: theory. She paints a much broader and interesting portrait of Leicester than I've seen in previous books (sort of the point), with less emphasis on Liz (which is good, because, yeah, I've read a lot on her). There is much sensible interpretation here with some interesting asides. I especially like her take on Cecil and Leicester, which has always been my interpretation, that once Cecil realized that Leicester had no chance of becoming her consort (and more to the point, Leicester realized it), that they could unite and concentrate on their mutual goal. Which was to keep Elizabeth on the throne.

The writing is quite engaging, and I was left with a sadness about these two. They were of a kind. The sort that took fate by its ears and wrestled it to the ground, at great personal cost, however. I didn't need the appendices on popular cinematic treatments, and, I suspect, given the quasi-academic tone of this book, her publisher probably gently insisted on it as a marketing tool. Ignore them. This is welcome addition to my burgeoning bookshelf on the Tudors.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Book review: Harry Potter peeps and the Lexicon

The Lexicon by Steve Vander Ark

I'd been waiting for this book forever. I'm heavily involved in HP fandom (yes, I'm one of those nuts that attend wacko fandom conventions), and I've been following the lawsuit between Mr. Vander Ark and Ms. Rowling for ages. I'm not going to get into the whys and wherefores about the lawsuit because I could see both sides to it. I will say that Mr. Vander Ark's website is superb and a font of knowledge for all things Potterish. Would that I could say the same thing about his book. I bought it, I'm not sorry I bought it, because sometimes it's a bitch just to turn on your laptop when you must know which Death Eaters survived the battle at Hogwarts (which I ended up finding at the Wiki page!), but I was disappointed.

The Lexicon is strictly alphabetical; which means it's set up like a dictionary. Which doesn't really work because I might have an inkling to how a word might be spelled and a vague idea about it's meaning, but in the HP world that means jack shit when you want to know a spell for tying one's shoelaces! I suppose you could look up the Latin for shoelace (I've done that!) and extrapolate from there, but the format assumes--rather conclusively--that you have a pretty accurate working knowledge of the HP world. The lack of an index is pretty damning, and I can only assume it was part of the deal between Vander Ark's publisher and Warner Bros.

For example, a listing of all the spells would seem to be a no brainer, but nope, not available. Who's in Slytherin house? You have to flip through the entire frigging book to find out who is in Slytherin. It certainly is nice to pick up this book and flip the "M"'s so that I can find out how to spell McGonagall (I always want to add another n), but it's frustrating if you want to, say, look up a list of teachers at Hogwarts. It seems like half a book. I find myself going BACK to the website because of the way this book is organized. I had anticipated that I would use this book instead of the website, and now I find that in most cases I will be returning to the website

Book rec: French history, sex, and Louis XIV

Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King by Antonia Fraser

Antonia Fraser rarely disappoints and this book is no exception. This is a nice compliment to the letters of Madame Sevigne, because until now I really could not understand quite the "fervor" of Madame' S's letters to her daughter regarding the rising stars and the been-there-screwed-thats who were gracing or exiting Louis XIV's bed. All is now explained. And yes, we are absolutely indulging in some self-admitted wish fulfillment here, because in the end it is the bookworm, the studious one, the intelligent woman who ends up being the "wife" of Louis XIV in all sense of the word. Okay, aside from shoe-horning myself into Louis XIV's bed (and this man sounds fascinating), what is even MORE fascinating is the tug of war between Louis' emotional needs (his mistresses were not just a f**k), and the direct conflict of maintaining his "mistresse et titres," and his role (which he took extremely seriously) as a moral example, a role that he saw, and others also saw, as part of his role as king. Not to mention, he was as concerned for his mortal soul as any Catholic (and he was quite devout), and his struggles with the church and how this impacted his stature as a moral leader was fascinating. Exceptionally well done book.

The sad case of the slacker blogger

Yeah, it's been a while. I've been distracted. The dog lovingly referred to as the disease magnet contracted a massive eye infection that has resulted in meds that are reaching the stratosphere in terms of dollars. It was like having a newborn, I kid you not. For three weeks solid I was setting my alarm clock every night to med her up every three hours. The good news is that she won't lose her eye. The bad news is that she's blind in one eye. And oi, the diabetes factor and the not-healing factor that goes along with it, and, cripes, I hate diabetes. It's too involved to go into here, but there really is a post lurking in me about dogs, unqualified love, and how much is too much to spend? We reached that point thousands of dollars ago, but... Ugh.

Then one of the parental units had a major illness. He's okay, but it dregged up a lot of stuff about my relationship with my "real" father and my relationship with my stepfather and how I mourned my real father for the father I wish he'd been, and I will mourn my stepfather because he was actually a father to me. You know, came to graduations, etc. That sort of thing. Anyway, he's doing well, back walking his two miles a day, mentally as sharp as a tack, so I don't have to face that just yet. But suckage on a massive scale for a few days.

Then I'm having my post-book existentialist crisis about writing. Won't go into the boring details, but I've just upped my hours at work to help pay for college-age kidlet and I have about twenty books I want to write and no time. And the book business is a BUSINESS (as this blog will attest) and where do I go from here? I don't know. Still mulling this one over.

I am disappointed with Obama and the current stance on the DOJ memos. At least they released them, although they have made it clear that they have no intention of prosecuting those who violated our Constitution. Don't get me started on the wire-tapping. I have become a Glenn Greenwald fanatic over on You should too.

I am boycotting Yes, another long post that won't see the light of day, but this has not seen much print (although online it seems to be a huge story, largely in part thanks to Twitter), but essentially has been, for a GOOD LONG WHILE, disabling the search capability, deranking, and refusing to publish sales stats for books that deal with GLT issues. FYI, they deranked "Brokeback Mountain" by Annie Proulx! They are claiming it is a recent phenonmena and are blaming it on some poor French programmer (which in doubt, blame the French!) mucking around with the code of their filtering script, but based on the number of blogs I have read on this subject, they've been quietly doing this for yonks. I've been visiting the amazon site for a few days and an apology has yet to appear. I order a ton off of amazon (yes, while supporting the indies as well), but a letter from me will be forthcoming. I was sad to see that this didn't make headlines in the S. F. Chronicle. I disagree with the concept of filtering ANYWAY and this sneaky behind the scenes attempt to control what I buy and what I don't buy is unacceptable. What, your five-year old is going to bring up salacious titles? SO? Another instance of an organization pandering to the right wingnuts, as opposed to putting the responsibility of where all this belongs. With the parents! I'm sure that Borders will appreciate my business. amazon continues to deny that this was nothing more than a glitch, and evidence keeps mounting that, no, it isn't.

And as I'm light on my own book news, I'm going to start posting my book recs here. I don't read as much as I used to, but I can usually tear through a book in a couple of days. Book rec one to follow!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Publishing: a Mess for Our Times

Another interesting link worth checking out:,9171,1873122-1,00.html

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Great and Sad Day

It says something about the last eight years that our new President has to qualify that the United States does not torture. Any more.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

*I* Don't Think So

Every now and then I run across this strange prejudice regarding both writing and reading first-person point-of-view. Since I'm writing in mystery, which has its goddamn ROOTS in Hammett and Chandler, you only hear this sneering in the metaphorical corners, but there is most definitely a prejudice against first-person POV. To which I say, oh, put a sock in it! Some of the greatest writers ever have used first-person POV to marvelous effect. I can't think of few lines ever written in literature that pack more of a punch than Jane Eyre vis a vis Charlotte Bronte saying to me, "Dear Reader, I married him." You go, girl! In my opinion, Lolita wouldn't have half the punch if it were told in third person.

Like all aspects of writing, I see it as a device. Yes, I *do* write in first person, but not always, and it depends on what sort of relationship I want with my character. I think it works so well in crime fiction because it magnifies the sense of isolation of the protagonist. There is nothing more lonely than an "I." The "I" battling the world on its lonesome. In Hammett's no-name detective stories, the protagonist is so isolated that he doesn't even have the fleeting camaraderie of his peers to have a name!

So by writing in first-person POV you sacrifice the broader strokes that a third-person POV inherently confers on you, but you reap other rewards. Of course, it entirely depends on what sort of story you're writing. But it always shocks me when I hear sneering and this tacit tag line that when I'm a mature writer I will start writing in third person POV. Well, in my "book," you don't get more mature than Chandler. I'm in *very* good company!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Eyes Hit Wall

As the Bush Administration winds up its business (hallelujah!), the legal and political excesses of the last eight years will continue to haunt the Obama administration for years to come. I honestly believe that Bush and Cheney are guilty of war crimes, but have no hope that they will ever be tried in a world court. Pity that. The disgusting and abhorrent situation at Gitmo seems to be in the twilight of its existence. I see in the newspaper this morning that another detainee has been quietly let go to return home. For lack of evidence. He's been there for six years. Ho hum, gee, guess we really didn't have enough to try you. Yes, we did violate the Geneva Conventions. So?

And another gem in the newspaper this morning--I swear to god, some days its like you're reading a joke newspaper--but a judge has recently reinstated the lawsuit (that had been tossed out!) of a gentlemen suing the U.S. government because he has credible evidence that we were wired tapping him without proper authority. Remember that? When the Bush administration by-passed Congress AND the NSA and did its illegal fishing into your telephone and bank accounts?

There was so much skullduggery going on then that this was back burnered in light of the Justice Dept business of firing lawyers without cause. Their defense here? That the adminstration could not be brought to trial because they did not admit to the wire-tapping. I had never heard this before, so I laughed out loud until I realized that this WAS the defense. Excuse me? No, Judge, I cannot be tried for stealing that car because I do not ADMIT to stealing that car. Nope, can't hold me for snatching that woman's purse because I do not ADMIT to it. It's like clown college law.

I am so glad this administration is done.

And those Republican lawmakers who are jetting out of D.C. and holing up in Palm Springs to ditch the inauguration of their new President. Shame. On. You.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Happy New Year?

Life has been moderately insane the last few months, and one of the first things to go seems to be this blog. The election consumed me. I have always been fairly political, but the last administration and their practices so disgusted and alarmed me that the thought of another Republican administration was giving me hives. I spent every spare minute I had on-line, switching back and forth between and CNN.

That done, we had a very late Thanksgiving, daughter comes home from college for Christmas, and all of a sudden it's January 10. I pick up my local paper to find that yet another wonderful independent bookstore is closing its doors. After being a fixture on Market Street for several decades, Stacey's is shuttering up. This is/was a marvelous store, several floors with a selection to die for. The only major independent bookseller that I can think of that's still in business in the Bay Area is Book Passage.

For someone like me, a small niche writer, the closing of an independent is another roadblock in the ole writing career. Someone like me doesn't do well in the chains. If on the off chance I can even get them to host a signing, these signings are usually abysmal beyond belief. No sales, no one even interested in hearing you speak. The independents cater to writers like me, willing to take a chance because they tend to be about selling books and not about selling widgets. So my potential audience (read: sales) has just shrunk. Again.

And no one I know is willing to talk about this, but I'm going to throw caution to the winds and just lay this out there. I check out how Roux Morgue is doing on amazon on a fairly frequent basis. Mostly to try to get me motivated to write the next Mary Ryan book, because that Publisher's Weekly star is still really bright and shiny. I also check to see if there are any more reviews by readers. I'm hoping to get at least one more positive review to balance out that person who loathed my book. And it's impossible not to see the stats. It's also impossible not to see that currently there are 40 books for resale at $6.00/piece. Which is right next to the already discounted price of $18.25. Do the math. Is someone going to buy a slightly used book for six bucks versus a new book for eighteen? I don't think so. I understand the resale market is what is keeping a lot of bookstores still open. I would imagine Powell's in Seattle survives BECAUSE of its resale market. I know that for Black Oak Books in Berkeley the resale factor is critical.

But what it means to me is that say I have an event and wow people with my brilliance and truly charming smile. They can purchase that book on amazon for $6.00. It gets even better. I didn't sell a single book at Bouchercon, and yet I had several people come up to me after my panel wanting to say how much they loved the first Mary Ryan book and were so glad to see number two. Emboldened by all these nice comments, I went to the book signing room, had pen ready, and waited in vain. However, I did go back to my room and watched the used book resale numbers on amazon plummet. People were heading back to their rooms, getting online, and buying used copies.

Where does this leave me: with fewer options to sell, as the independents slowly get killed off by amazon, WalMart, COSTCO, and the chains. On the off chance that I can actually connect with a reader who wants to read my stuff, the resale market is in a very good position to trump my original sale.

Ebooks are looking more and more viable for people like me.