Saturday, February 29, 2020

Ode to Walter Satterthwait

Another good writer has received his angel wings: Walter Satterthwait. He was one of those writers who, IMO, never really got his due. His book, Lizzie, is one of the best character studies ever written. Brilliant book. It goes in and out of print as the market dictates, but if you can find a copy ( is your friend if you can't find it other places), I highly recommend it. Those who love historical mysteries will appreciate his writing. He was a master at capturing a historical period and has written several mysteries with historical characters as protagonists: Houdini and Oscar Wilde come to mind.

I met him at Bouchercon when I was a new writer. My first book had been accepted but wasn't published yet, and I was trying to establish some sort of presence before publication. I was nervous and a little awed, sitting in some outdoor cafe trying not to sound too desperate. Those of you who attended that particular Bouchercon (I had a Sharp's container in my hotel room, and I don't think it's because there was a diabetes convention in town. WHAT a shit show!) will remember that there was no place really to sit and have a drink. The hotel wanted you at the tables. But mystery writers will ALWAYS find a bar or make something into a bar.

Anyway, I was sitting next to Lee Child (here's a gigantic shout out to Lee--what a nice guy, didn't know me from Adam--and bought me several rounds of drinks while we trashed George Bush; what innocent days those were) and Walter Satterthwait and his partner (who I want to say is named Caroline). I had just read Lizzie and was awed by the writing, just bowled over. I gushed to him over what a marvelous read that book was and did he have anything else coming out? He told me that he did, but he was back to tending bar in the mean time to make ends meet. That was roughly twenty years ago, and the publishing market was robust enough that a no-name like me could get a publishing contract. Of course, I was working full-time, but I wasn't an established writer. The publishing climate is a million times worse now, and I see that Satterthwait's last book was published by Mysterious Press, another mystery publisher who's gone under.

But my point is not to whine, but to honor someone I think was a great writer, whose way with words lives on in his books. Isn't that part of the lure of writing? You never really die. Your voice always has a place on the page.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

February is here

I know that we Californians live in a strange land. Many of you are shoveling snow and packing in the supplies for the big freeze that's about to hit. I am watching my magnolia tree begin to blossom, and literally hearing the roses growing. I drove up to my sister's house in Sacramento this weekend for some bonding time and the drive up was a visual extravaganza. The cherry trees were in full flower and the almost trees were beginning to strut their stuff. Although housing has been the driving financial engine up there for many years, I am now seeing vineyard after vineyard hugging both sides of Highway 80. I surmise from this that it's much more profitable to grow grapes or almond trees that it is to build housing. The economic smash hit Sacramento very hard,  there were parts of Sacramento where a huge percentage of the housing stock was underwater. It's obviously much more profitable to grow grapes or almond trees than it is to build housing.

I am working like a fiend on my new Y.A. novel. It's very much coming together, the narrative no longer filled with those annoying holes that you know you have to solve before you can create a satisfying ending. I always have a beginning, a middle, and an end that is set in stone. This helps me not wander too far off from what I'm trying to say. The middle can be squishy, moving earlier or later, and the beginning? Sigh. I always write that at least ten times. I don't change that much, but I am constantly fishing for that beginning that will keep the reader reading. And I never change the ending. Never. Because that is the heart of what I want to say.