Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Few of My Favorite Blogs

There are a ton of terrific blogs out there.

No matter what you might want to read about, chances are you can probably find it in the land of the blogs. Some are better than others, and new ones are popping up every day. In addition to the blogs I love which have to do with mysteries and crime fiction, I've found several blogs I enjoy dealing with a wealth of different topics. Everything from being an introvert, to hats, to tree houses, and tea parties, and an ever growing abundance of sometimes obscure, arcane, esoteric, and/or just plain ol' fun "stuff." Everyone on God's green earth should now be able to find a blog out there to fill their wants, their needs or maybe just a daily fix for whatever sparks their fancy.

I've decided that there are some blogs I'm going to squeal about. Just 'cause. My favorites are, of course, shown here in my blog roll, but if I read something that I find especially interesting in some fashion, I'm going to mention it here in case you might find it interesting too. And I hope you'll share some of your favorites in return.

Want to read about food? (This is one of my favorite topics, for sure). Want to read about food written by someone who also happens to share our love of books, who reads a LOT, and owns more books than the average human being, AND, as an added bonus, writes beautifully? Then you need to be finding your way over to "will read for food: notes from a bookseller-at-large." I love this blog. It's written by Nicki Leone. Nicki is amazing. As you browse around this site, you'll find other things of interest that she does, and that she writes about, and you'll wonder how on earth she finds the time to be involved in so much, and still have the time to share it all with us in her blogs and newsletters. You know how we all have said at some point, "I'd read her grocery list and enjoy it?" Well. Nicki is one of those writers. And she's generous with her gifts, and with her knowledge.

She's also a contributor to "BiblioBuffet: Writing Worth Reading, Reading Worth Writing About," which is another of my favorite places to visit. Have you been there? Don't miss it. If you're here at Meanderings and Muses, you're obviously a reader, and you just need to stop by BiblioBuffet. You'll be happy I sent you. Promise.

Nicki also writes a newsletter - "Lady Banks' Commonplace Book," which is a newsletter for people interested in Southern literature, sponsored by booksellers who are members of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) and featuring an overview of literary news and events as found on Authors 'Round the South.

I hope you'll take the time to read some of Nicki's work. You'll be a fan in no time. Just like me.

Another blog I enjoy is "BREVITY's Creative Nonfiction Blog; Write Hard, Write Smart." Since I've started blogging I've become very interested in creative nonfiction writing, and this is a great spot.

and one more.

This is a brand new blogspot, and it just so happens Harley was invited to participate. And - bless his lovely Corgi heart, he invited me to come along. Check out, please, "Coffee With a Canine." It is TOO fun!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Split Personality by Sandra Parshall

Sandra Parshall was born and raised in South Carolina, and the first job that paid her for writing was that of weekend obituary columnist on her hometown paper, The Spartanburg Herald. She eventually became a reporter -- after putting together a feature on her own initiative and giving it to the editor to prove she could do it. From there she went to jobs on newspapers in West Virginia and The Baltimore Evening Sun. She covered everything from school board meetings to a mining disaster, health care in prisons, poverty in Appalachia, and the experiences of Native Americans living in the city.

Sandy has written fiction since childhood, but didn't find the genre she felt comfortable in -- mystery/suspense -- until a few years ago. The Heat of the Moon was her first attempt at psychological suspense. Her friend Babs calls it "Sandy's pecan pie dream book" because the entire story came to her during a fitful night after she had overindulged in holiday dessert. With its publication, she’s setting off on a new phase of life, and making a lot of new friends along the way.

She has lived for many years in the Washington, DC, area, and currently shares a house in McLean, Virginia, with her husband, a long-time Washington journalist, and two unbelievably spoiled cats.

DISTURBING THE DEAD--Benjamin Franklin Award Finalist
Agatha Award winner

Split Personality
by Sandra Parshall

When I see the beautiful pictures Kaye posts here of her mountain home, part of me feels an almost irresistible urge to pack up household, husband, and cats and move immediately to some remote spot where I would be surrounded by nature and spared the intrusion of most humans. But another part of me holds back, listing all the advantages of living in the Washington, DC, area and asking if I really want to give up all that.

I want both. I can’t have both.

And that, I think, also defines my feelings about being published and being required to promote what I’ve published. I want everyone to read my books. I want everyone to know my name. At the same time, I want to live in seclusion, spending my days writing with never a thought for selling.

When I have book signings scheduled, I dread them in the same way I might dread major surgery. How can I, with my fundamentally shy, retiring personality, spend two hours in a bookstore, begging people to buy my books? I’ve done it before, but I can never quite recall how I worked up the nerve. Each time feels brand new. But personal contact with booksellers and readers is important – and if I’m having a good day, and people are buying books, after the first hour I’m no longer anxious and I’m actually enjoying the event. I’m still exhausted by the end of it, though, because it’s such an unnatural exertion.

I experience the same contradictory reactions when I attend Bouchercon. I’m relaxed about Malice Domestic because it’s local (I can come home at the end of the day) and relatively small and many members of my Sisters in Crime chapter attend. I see friendly faces everywhere I turn. Bouchercon is another story. It terrifies me. I am the littlest of little fish in that enormous pond. I am as starstruck as any other fan when I pass famous authors in the halls or stand in their signing lines, and if I ever end up on a panel with Big Name writers (that hasn’t happened so far), I probably won’t be able to utter a coherent sentence. Observing the stars of the genre from a distance, I find myself wondering what the heck I’m doing there. Who do I think I am, presuming to mix with such people? The reclusive side of my nature takes over, and I flee to my room for a period of restorative solitude. After a while, I start wondering what I’m missing, and soon enough I’m in the flow again, feeling lucky to be there.

I know other writers who are torn between a need to be alone and the need to get out into the real world and sell their products. And I know some who are so outgoing, who have so much fun at appearances and conferences, that they’re reluctant to return to the hermit-like existence required to write a book. Still others move freely and happily between their public and private lives. The notions I used to have about “the writer’s personality” went out the window when I started meeting professional writers and realized that they’re as different from one another as people in any other line of work, and no label fits all of them.

The label I would give myself is Split Personality. Like a cat, when I’m in, I want to be out, and when I’m out, I’m yearning to be in. It’s a little late to change my basic nature, so I’m learning how to pace myself at conferences, how to avoid doing so much promotion that I can’t get back into the mood to sit alone and write, and how to enjoy both halves of the writer’s existence.

I’ll probably never run off to a mountaintop to live like a hermit, but I’m learning how to create my own little oasis and retreat to it when the world overwhelms me.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sissyfriss Sockmonkey and Lou Lou Skiptoo Host a Tea Party

You may remember that today is Tea Party Day. We're joining Vanessa from A Fanciful Twist in hosting the 2nd Annual Mad Tea Party.

You may also remember that Donald and I discovered we have a conflict today and almost had to cancel the party, but my girlfriend Sissyfriss Sockmonkey jumped in and agreed to host it for me. This all worked out beautifully 'cause today is the day Sissy's book group was meeting and they all agreed it sounded fun to have a full fledged tea party. And it should be great fun!

But poor Sissyfriss is a nervous wreck. She always throws really lovely parties, but gets awfully nervous beforehand. She's asked her best gal pal, Lou Lou Skiptoo, to come early and help her get things ready. Sissyfriss and Lou Lou have been very best friends since the cradle. and oh my - do they have stories to tell. Whew. The trouble these girls have managed to get themselves into . . .

But. they're grown up ladies now and all that silliness is behind them.


They're both here and I'm leaving!

Things are like 42 whirlwinds around this house!

These gals are busy bustling about and I hear the tinkle clink of dishes and wine glasses (wait - - - - WINE GLASSES!?!?) coming out of the china cabinet.

AND the dessert caterer has arrived! How Lovely! We've used these folks before and they do lovely, scrumptious desserts!

Donald and I are on our way out the door, but I hope some of you will stop in and enjoy the party. And I promise to post pictures as soon as I get home.

I did manage to get Sissy and Lou Lou to sit down long enough to snap a picture of the two of them. They are adorable!!

(wine glasses? It's a TEA party . . . .
oh my . . . .

it's going to be fine fine fine
I am not going to fret about this

gonna be fine

wine glasses?? . . )

Part Two

Well, okeey doke.

Donald and I are home, and things look as though a good time was had by all!

Poor Sissyfriss and Pitiful Lou Lou must have worked awfully hard 'cause they're both sound asleep on the bed and snoring to beat the band!!!!!! (don't tell them I mentioned the snoring, okay?).

From the number of wine bottles we found in the trash, it is no wonder they're sleeping and snoring. big sigh.

They left the camera out for us with a note that neither of them are very computer savy, so would I mind loading their pictures, so I'll do that. And I'll try to include a few of their little notes they left me giving some party highlights.

Sissy and Lou Lou enjoyed the desserts we had when we threw ourselves the Meanderings and Muses Milestone party to celebrate having 10,000 visitors. They enjoyed them so much, they hired the same dessert caterer. I'm sure hoping they saved us some!!

From these pictures, I'd have to say it looks as though there was a good turn out! I recognize some of Sissy and Lou Lou's friends and wish I'd been here to visit with them. I see Harley here saying "Hey!" to Benjamin.

Benjamin hasn't been by to see us in forever!

While Sissyfriss was welcoming guests and mingling, Lou Lou Skiptoo took care of putting out dishes for the dessert buffet

This is Maudie with Lou Lou,

and this is Victoria

and these are just a few of the goodies they're having

and here's a couple pictures of some more of Sissy and Lou Lou's guests

From the looks of these pictures, I'd have to say we almost had the makings of a Teddy Bear's picnic here.

Ahhhh - and here's a clue as to where some of that wine went . . . . . . .

And after Sissyfriss Sockmonkey and Lou Lou Skiptoo said their final goodbyes to their guests, they did what all girlfriends do after a party.

Sat down for a chat about it.

and chat they did.

They had themselves a "Post Party Replay," complete with giggles, snorts, and another glass of wine.

And they agreed that it was a fine fine party, and that everyone had themselves a gay old time.

And then they took a nap.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summer Reading - Part One

Seems it's that time of year when we start seeing Summer Reading Lists all over the place. And - - since I'm one who cannot for the life of me resist a list, I, of course, have my very own summer reading list. ta da!

The one book I'm really impatiently awaiting and tapping my toe for is Pat Conroy's newest. SOUTH OF BROAD. This surprises no one, I'm sure, after the love note to Pat Conroy I left here awhile back. If I were a wealthy woman, I'd buy one of those ARCs available at abebooks.com for somewhere between $50-$75.00. But, big sigh, I'm not. So I'll just continue the toe tapping thing till August 11th when it will finally be released.

This from patconroy.com:

"Against the sumptuous backdrop of Charleston, South Carolina, SOUTH OF BROAD gathers a unique cast of sinners and saints. Leopold Bloom King, our narrator, is the son of an amiable, loving father who teaches science at the local high school. His mother, an ex-nun, is the high school principal and a well-known Joyce scholar. After Leo's older brother commits suicide at the age of thirteen, the family struggles with the shattering effects of his death, and Leo, lonely and isolated, searches for something to sustain him. Eventually, he finds his answer when he becomes part of a tightly knit group of high school seniors that includes friends Sheba and Trevor Poe, glamorous twins with an alcoholic mother and a prison-escapee father; hardscrabble mountain runaways Niles and Starla Whitehead; socialite Molly Huger and her boyfriend, Chadworth Rutledge X; and an ever-widening circle whose liaisons will ripple across two decades-from 1960s counterculture through the dawn of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. The ties among them endure for years, surviving marriages happy and troubled, unrequited loves and unspoken longings, hard-won successes and devastating breakdowns, and Charleston's dark legacy of racism and class divisions. But the final test of friendship that brings them to San Francisco is something no one is prepared for South of Broad is Pat Conroy at his finest; a long-awaited work from a great American writer whose passion for life and language knows no bounds."

In the meantime, I have some additional books on my Summer Reading List. These are only some of the novels I'm looking forward to reading - we'll do another list in a week or so. But for today, I'm going to kinda stick with a theme - beach related, and southern. Two of my favorite things, in reading and in life.

Here's another August release. One of my favorite series ever. I look forward to Margaret Maron's newest "Deborah" every August. As soon as I get my hands on one, I race through it to see what Deborah's latest adventure entails, then sit down and read it again savoring each word. I welcome Deborah Knott and her family into my home with open arms and talk about her like she's a real person.

SAND SHARKS takes Deborah to Wrightsville Beach. I'm particularly looking forward to this one. Wrightsville Beach isn't far from Topsail Island, where Donald and Harley and I spent a week in May, and blogged about right here. Twice! I'm still finding myself looking at the pictures we took while there and dreaming about being back. It's a beautiful part of North Carolina, and since no one captures atmosphere, or writes a better sense of place than Ms. Maron, I'm especially excited to see what SAND SHARKS brings us. The series remains at the tippy top of my "auto-buy books."

Speaking of Topsail Island. Diane Chamberlain writes beautifully about this enchanting spot. Her latest, SECRETS SHE LEFT BEHIND, is ABSOLUTELY on my list of Summer Reading.

Surprisingly, I've heard very little chatter about the new Rebecca Wells novel. THE CROWNING GLORY OF CALLA LILLY PONDER will be released in July. I'm thinking perhaps Ms. Wells' last novel, YA-YAs in BLOOM was a bit of a disappointment to some fans of the earlier Ya-Ya novels. I liked it just fine. Mostly, I think I was especially blown away by the fact that Ms. Wells was able to even write that book while she was suffering dreadfully with Lyme's Disease. I'm excited about reading this one. Amazon.com says "The novel is chock-full of Southern charm and sassy wisdom." Sounds good to me. I'm a fan of Southern charm and sassy wisdom, for sure.

Sticking with my whole "wishing I was still at the beach" theme I can't seem to move beyond this year, I'm also looking forward to reading Patti Callahan Henry's DRIFTWOOD SUMMER where three sisters reunite to save the family’s beach-community bookstore.

One of my favorite writers of "All Things Southern" is Dorothea Benton Frank. She has written a sequel to her very first novel, SULLIVAN'S ISLAND. RETURN TO SULLIVAN'S ISLAND promises a return to a breathtakingly beautiful place, with some of the most eccentric, wild and funny characters you'll ever hope to meet. If you're not familiar with Ms. Frank, do check out her webpage and learn how she came to write her first novel. It's quite the story.

Another perennial favorite of mine is Mary Kay Andrews. Her newest, THE FIXER UPPER finds us carrying on with another of her courageous, outrageous southern women characters who is, by God, going to show the world just how strong she really is. And will have everyone falling completely in love with her while doing it.

AND I'm excited about the next Bobbie Faye adventure. Toni McGee Causey's WHEN A MAN LOVES A WEAPON comes out in August. Bobbie Faye is a HOOT and I love her.

You know who is missing from this list? A woman whose writing I love more than I can even say - Anne Rivers Siddons. I haven't seen any mention of anything new from her, but we'll just cross our fingers and hope it'll be soon.

O.K. - that's a partial list of what I plan on reading this summer. Now let's hear what's on your list!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Happy Father's Day

Daughters and their daddies.

There's a special bond between the two, and if you grew up with a dad like mine it makes for fun and lovely memories. And some terrific stories when you're all grown up. All grown up maybe, but at times miss your dad so badly you feel as small and unprotected as you did when you were 4 and wanted him to chase away the monsters living in your bedroom closet.

Here are a few of my memories of my dad . . .

From the time I was 3 months old until I was 16 we lived in a wonderful old apartment in Cambridge, Md. The Arcade Apartments. I loved that place. All the rooms were big and spacious and the living room and the dining room had big bay windows with window seats. The kitchen was huge and our stove was an old one that sat up on legs. Remember those old stoves? Anyone else have one of those?

A friend of my mother's, Clara Rook, kept bringing me little chicks one Easter. Those pitiful little chicks that people would dye pink and blue and green at Easter time? AWFUL! and, of course, they usually died fairly quickly, bless their hearts. Well, my sweetie pies didn't. They just kept getting bigger and bigger. In an apartment! Daddy knew I loved those chicks. Every time the subject came up about them being too big to live in an apartment, I would start crying. Finally my dad put some chicken wire around the legs of that old stove and put the chickies in there. You just know how much my mother loved this, right? The chicks just kept growing and one morning I woke up hearing my dad yelling some pretty bad words. The chicks had knocked down the chicken wire and they were all hopping on Mom & Dad's bed. For real.

The chicks went to granny's that day. I was told they were going there so they'd have a big yard to "play" in. uh huh. Sunday Dinner. I'll never get over it. We went to my grandmother's for dinner and the minute I walked into the dining room I spied the fried chicken on platters on the table. Mother tells me I just squalled "My Sweetie Pies! Oh Nooooooo - You've cooked my Sweetie Pies!" and cried and cried and cried. Heartbroken. And nobody ate fried chicken that day.

I have a million memories of that apartment. But let me set the record straight - it wasn't a fancy big city type apartment. This was small town living. And we were not wealthy people; not by any stretch of the imagination. There was no private entrance into our apartment. There was a downstairs lobby, and in the lobby was the entrance to the Arcade Movie Theater. If we were out and arrived home before the movie started, it meant mingling with the line of people buying tickets to see a movie before we would get upstairs and into our apartment. Since it was a small town and everyone knew everyone, it sometimes took awhile to get through all the "Hi, How are You's?" and get up the stairs to home. And, since neither of us had a key to the apartment, which meant it was never locked, we also never knew who might be there waiting for us when we did get home. But it seemed there was always someone. It might have been one of my many aunts or uncle or cousins - there was a gracious plenty of them. Or it might be one of dad's cronies, or one of mother's girlfriends, or friends of mine from school. Amazingly enough now as it might sound, it was never cause for concern back then. It was just an accepted thing. That apartment was, as my mom often said, "Grand Central Station." (There are enough of these stories to keep this little blog of mine going for the next several years.)

There was also a jewelry store owned by Mr. & Mrs. Henry DeVoe in the lobby of the Arcade. Sometimes on Saturdays they would babysit me while Mother did the grocery shopping if Dad had to work. It was the beginning of my love affair with jewelry. Mr. DeVoe was my buddy - he opened my first charge account. Remember the silver bands we called "Friendship Rings?" They were $1.00. Sterling silver bands for $1.00. Can you imagine? Well, I loved those, but would lose them often. He would let me charge one and pay him on installments out of my allowance. About the time I'd have one paid off, I'd lose it and he would let me charge another one.

There was also a beauty shop, and an insurance company and I was in and out of those places like I owned them. I don't know why those people put up with it. If some poor woman was having her hair washed, I'd just march right over while she had her head in the sink and strike up a conversation.

I don't think I'd trade my growing up years in Cambridge for a beezillion dollars.

My dad played basketball, and was apparently quite good. While growing up, I would hear stories about his basketball career. Many times in school my teachers and parents of my friends seemed stunned when realizing who I was - that I could be Alan Wilkinson's daughter and not have any more athletic ability than Adam's house cat was just not understood.

I had been gone from Cambridge for many, many years, and my dad had been gone for many years when Donald and I were home for a visit. We had gone out to the High Spot for dinner with our friends Pam and R.T., who I grew up with and graduated from Cambridge High with. Pam said there was someone in the restaurant she wanted me to meet - he had been a friend of my dad's. When she introduced me, he said he had played ball with my dad and besides my dad being quite talented, he had a trait which he admired even more and that was the simple fact that my dad was also a gentleman - off and on the court. "A good, clean playing ballplayer," he said. and I promptly burst into tears.

It's a lovely thing to have someone remember your dad in such a sweet and simple, exceptionally special way.

He was a very good man, my dad.

"My father didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it."
Clarence B. Kelland

1. Lewis, 2. Irvin, 3. Roy, 4. Ethel, 5. Alan (my dad), 6. Pop Pop (Irvin), 7. Belle, 8. Grandmother Laura Mae. Picture taken by older brother Ed

Dad taught me to ride a bike - and I vividly remember when he was trying to teach me how to drive a car he made a comment or two about how the bike learning experience had been a whole lot more fun and less traumatic for both of us.

We were all three HUGE Oriole fans and it was a very big deal and very special occasion for us to go to Baltimore for a game. Not as big a deal as going there for a Colt's game, but still a big deal.

And pretty special to get to Ocean City too. (Think he's wondering "What's with the HAT?!)

Pop Pop's 90th Birthday - July 18, 1965

In front - Aunt Belle, Dad

In back - Uncle Lewis, Pop-Pop, Uncle Irv, Uncle Roy, Aunt Ethel, Uncle Ed

Deep sea fishing - Morehead City, NC

"It's sad when our daddies die. It makes one less person inside."
Pamela Ribon.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

An Interview with Author Robert Fate

A huge welcome to one of my favorite authors. Mr. Robert Fate, besides being the author of the hugely popular Baby Shark series, is, I believe, the person the term "Renaissance Man" was coined for. He is also one of the original nice guys and has graciously agreed to an interview here at Meanderings and Muses.

So. Everyone. Meet and make welcome, please - -

Mr. Robert Fate - - -

Robert Fate has served in the Marine Corps, studied at the Sorbonne, and worked as an oilfield roughneck, a TV cameraman, a fashion model, a chef, a sales executive, a fabric painter for the garment industry, a scriptwriter for the soap Search for Tomorrow, an independent film producer, and an Academy Award-winning special effects technician. Around the age of 70, he tried his hand at writing crime fiction, which resulted in the Baby Shark series, told in the voice of a young woman named Kristin. The series has gotten good reviews and award nominations. (Baby Shark and Baby Shark's Beaumont Blues, the first two books in the series, are Anthony Award finalists. Book three, Baby Shark's High Plains Redemption, earned a starred Kirkus review, and the first book in the series has been optioned by Hollywood.)

Bob lives in Los Angeles with his wife Fern, a ceramic artist. Their daughter Jenny is a senior at USC. The family has a dog, four cats, and a turtle named Pharrell.

1. Bob, I've mentioned this to you a few times - every single interview I've read that you've done just fascinates me because I ALWAYS learn something new. You continue to surprise me. But with all the surprises and all the things I now know about you and about Kristin, I haven't learned anything much about Otis. People ask how much of you might be in the character of Kristin, I'd like to know how much of you might be Otis Millett? What's your relationship with Otis? Is he someone (or perhaps a lot of someones) you know or knew in your past? Where did he come from––did he just knock on the door to your mind while you were writing and say "Hey - Kristin needs me. YOU need me - let me in!"

Otis is a creation, a character that was needed to fill out a portrait of the time and place, but he is very real in the sense that I grew up around guys like him––bigger than life with a wobbly moral compass, polite to women and old folks and an adversary’s worst nightmare. He isn’t book smart, but he’s street savvy, crafty, dogged, and brutal when he needs to be in the pursuit of justice.

There was a big guy, a bootlegger, who lived down the block and around the corner from my house––this was in the forties in Oklahoma City, after the war. I was ten or eleven or so. He would occasionally pay me and other kids to unload boxes of whiskey from his pickup and carry them into his garage. We all knew what he did for a living and that it was illegal (and the neighborhood knew, too, one assumes), but he provided ice cream money and a smidgeon of excitement when he allowed us to share in his criminal activity, so I never discussed his business with anyone.

Well, late one evening, some buddies of mine and I saw a couple of guys breaking into his garage. We immediately told the bootlegger and then got to see him hand out some justice. After he beat them silly, he and one of the would-be thieves each took a hand and dragged the unconscious one out to the street and put him in their car and they drove away. There we were, the grinning neighborhood kids, all keeping our traps shut and just following the action as if we were at the circus. After the whuppin’, the big bootlegger pulled out some change and gave us all a reward for fast action. The truth was, we would’ve paid him for the entertainment. So, maybe Otis is a little bit of that guy, except bigger and meaner, but definitely full of the same kinds of contrasts.

Kristin’s father was a WWII veteran who read existentialists, lived in his car, and hustled pool for a living. If she were to model all men after her father, she would have long ago had to accept oxymoronic behavior. So, Otis with his contrasts wasn’t so hard for her to understand. If Henry Chin became a father figure to Kristin after her own father was murdered, Otis became the loving older brother who would hold her feet to the fire and tell it to her straight.

And, finally, what would a crime story be without a hard-living, take-no-prisoners, grizzled ex-police detective private eye with a surly attitude, a sketchy history, and a shabby office with poor lighting?

2. And I really need to know what gave you the idea of choosing a Chinese-American for Kristin's best ever buddy? This man who saved Kristin's life. I love him. To my thinking, he would at first seem a bit out of the mainstream, but am I right in remembering that there was in fact a fairly large Chinese-American population in the 1950s in Texas? I'm thinking you must have done a good bit of research to get Henry Chin so "right." Am I right, or way off base with this? And while we're chatting about Henry - what on earth is going on with the man's accent? And have you noticed that his English does seem to improve with each book? Do you have anything to do with that or has Henry taken on a life of his own without you?

Henry Chin is a furniture maker, a woodworker, a craftsman. He’s a bright guy who owns a successful cabinetry business. He buried a young wife and then put their only son through college, a son he saw murdered by the same gang that killed Kristin’s father. As you pointed out, he saved Kristin’s life and gave her a home.

The reason Henry’s accent improves from book to book is because he never quits adding to his vocabulary, never quits acquiring idioms, and never loses his curiosity about language in general. At his age, and for the number of years he has lived in America, he is the first to admit that his rusty Chinese is really not much better than his English.

Henry’s most salient features are his humanity and his sense of humor, though his unselfishness and bravery would have to be noted, too. He has lived with bigotry and dismissive rudeness all his adult life and has never let it change him. “I keep eye on donut,” Henry tells us. “Not concerned with hole.”

“Is that a variation on Confucius?” Kristin asks him.

“Variation on fortune cookie,” Henry tells her, and slaps his knee.

Why did Henry Chin take up lodging in the Baby Shark series? Because a cast of outcasts were needed, characters with history, characters who had secrets and knew how to keep them. Outsiders working from within––this was the environment Kristin needed––not black and white, pure gray. Kind-hearted grifters. War hero killers. Good people, who weren’t above working in the shadows if the purpose was honorable, people willing to bear the burden of conscience when the stakes began to rise.

Or, maybe I just like mixing things up. It could be that, too.

3. You know, women in the 1950s were a whole lot different than they are today in a whole lot of ways (was that an understatement?). Back then, a young woman in her early 20s would most likely be married and a "stay at home mom." Kristin is a far cry from that stereotype. Even knowing the brutality that is part of what makes Baby who she is, you really don't explain why she seems determined to stay single. The love between her and her adoring Lee seems strong enough to warrant a commitment in the way of marriage. Will we be learning more about this inability to commit on Kristin's part as the series goes on?

I’m glad you asked about this. I have never wanted any aspect of Kristin’s existence to seem to be a literary device, not her personal life, the incidents of family life she remembers before the deaths of her mother and father, nor her friendships and infatuations, and especially not her love life. I have never felt an inclination to overly expose her private life and have tried to handle those matters in a realistic but considerate way. On the one hand, I think the reader has a right to know, but Kristin has her right to privacy, as well.

Kristin had as normal a childhood as was possible with her father “off at war” the better part of her early years, and then “off shooting pool” after he came back from the Pacific. She was allowed to love him in spite of his truancy, because her mother did. She never heard him condemned for not coming home to stay after the war, but rather they read his letters together that told of his adventures on the road, as they had read his letters from the South Seas. He explained himself to his daughter in the first book as she was deciding whether to go with him, and her response showed the hard-nosed, clear-eyed view of life and compromise that has come to define her as the self-contained warrior we know.

Kristin dropped out of high school and went on the road with her father after her mother died. This was her choice. She was sixteen, resilient, and willing to live out of the backseat of her dad’s Cadillac just to be with him. Then, at age seventeen, after witnessing her father’s murder, she was brutally raped by three men, beaten senseless, and left for dead in a burning building. So, I ask you sincerely, how in the world could anybody expect her to have a normal, loving relationship with anyone after that? Especially a suitor. She needed time to heal.

Indeed, she is nineteen before she can bring herself to even chance a relationship and that ends badly before it can get properly started. So, having been set back again, she kisses a few frogs along the way, but has no success in finding love until she is twenty-one and meets Lee Pierson, the romantic detective. This is in Beaumont Blues. There are complications; it is not easy, but they want it to work, so it does and she ends the book with a boyfriend.

All right, Kaye––I am finally to your question. In High Plains Redemption Kristin discusses with Henry what it is that is keeping her relationship with Lee from becoming more serious. Lee is a police detective and in her pursuit of justice she sometimes finds herself on the other side of the law. If she is truthful with him about some of the things she and Otis have done, she is presenting him with a moral dilemma, as well as putting herself, Otis, and even Henry in danger of arrest. Plus, she sees it as unfair to ask Lee to make choices between the oath he has taken as a police officer to uphold the law, and the temptation of letting her slide on acts for which he would ordinarily arrest people. It’s not easy. She loves Lee, but she can’t be truthful with him. He’s no dummy. He gets it and doesn’t try to press her, because he doesn’t want to lose her. So book three ends with them ignoring the elephant in the room, and not trying too hard to resolve the issues that have them stalemated.

In Jugglers at the Border, book four, you will find Kristin and Lee more relaxed in their roles and a hint––but only a hint––of how they might solve their impasse.

4. One of the things I like SO much about your series is the attention you pay to your peripheral characters. Especially the women. This is a little unusual in a fast paced crime novel, I think. Do you? You do it so beautifully that I find myself wondering what's going on with these characters when they're not "on stage." One is Madam Li, and another is Ivy, the hairdresser. Can you tell us what these "bit players" mean to you that you are able to flesh them out so well? Some of them are truly scene-stealers, even though they may only appear ever so briefly.

There are several reasons I pay the attention I do to peripheral characters. First of all, thumbnails are fun to do. They’re challenging. Many contemporary mystery writers do them well, none any better than Joe Lansdale, though Bruce Cook gets damn close in his latest work. Also, bit players fill out the community that is constructed around the main players, people with everyday cares, and lives more like our own. None of us live in a vacuum. To give Madame Li a dentist cousin who is having a collection problem that Otis is asked to look into makes them all more human. They serve a purpose, too, in giving a first person character someone without an agenda with whom to share thoughts or to fill out background. For instance in a paragraph or two in High Plains Redemption, we get to know Dolores, the owner of the El Coyote Motel in Amarillo, when she tells the story of her ex-husband doing mischief with Sam Two Bears. But along with getting to know her we learn about a younger Kristin, her father, and her friend and pool coach, Harlan. And then, there is always the possibility that Kristin or Otis will need a favor or assistance from one of these bit players somewhere up the line. If the reader has a little history, they join the story more readily––or at least I think so. That’s the reason Mae Haversen is introduced in such detail in Jugglers. She is just the girl behind the counter at the firing range, but after meeting her you would have to agree that she could easily be a part of some future shenanigans with Kristin and Otis, especially since she and Otis show they are romantically interested in one another.

And then, and maybe most importantly, like the people we meet in passing, never to see again, but never to forget, they make our lives richer. That’s my real goal––I want the stew to have many subtle flavors.

5. The question all your readers are dying to hear an answer to - what is happening with the movie?

Ah, the movie. To say that it was thrilling to hear of Hollywood’s interest in book one of my series would fall short of the excitement my family and I felt. There was no reason for us to think we would be so lucky so early in my novel-writing career, and so it came as a surprise––a welcome surprise––but definitely out of left field.

My publisher, Capital Crime Press, called from Colorado (I live in Los Angeles) and said that a producer was interested in discussing the possibility of BABY SHARK becoming a movie. Would I drive over to Beverly Hills, meet with him, and see what was shaking? My publisher said the producer liked the book and thought it would make a good movie. I’d had reviewers say that, Lesa Holstine and Barb Radmore come to mind as early cheerleaders for the Hollywood connection, but this was the producer of MONSTER, starring Academy Award winner Charlize Theron.

As the Talking Heads said, “This ain’t no disco, this ain’t no foolin’ around.”

Well, the producer turned out to be a good guy and perfect for the project. I left that first meeting with him feeling delighted in his interest and lucky he was the experienced and talented Hollywood guy who spoke up. Before I could get to where I’d parked my car, my phone rang. It was my publisher. We had a deal.

Okay. Let me give you an idea of how quickly things moved along. Publishers Weekly reported in December 2007 (the month of the meeting in Beverly Hills) that Brad Wyman at Junction Films, producer of Monster, had optioned Robert Fate’s BABY SHARK. The fact was, the negotiation to obtain an option began in December and was finalized in May 2008. It was a pleasant negotiation and actually moved quickly considering the number of lawyers involved. So, in May 2008, the development process began and BABY SHARK was put on the production schedule at Junction Films with expectations that the film would be shot in 2009.

Then, in June 2008, the Screen Actors Guild and Hollywood Producers began a squabble over the renewal of their labor agreement, which hasn’t been settled yet––it is now June 2009. Their squabble has created a work stoppage in Hollywood that has cost the motion picture industry and the city of Los Angeles billions of dollars in lost revenues––and way down the line of casualties has been the production of Baby Shark, the movie. But here is the good news, the squabble is near an end, and the word just last week from Brad Wyman is that “things are close.” I don’t know what that means exactly, but I’m being hopeful that Baby Shark might actually get made in 2009 after all.

So, that is what is happening with the movie. Thanks for asking.

6. This is all very exciting!
We will check in with you from time to time to see what the latest word is on the movie, while we continue to enjoy your wonderful Baby Shark novels.
Thank you, Bob, very much for agreeing to this interview. It's been fun!
Now, would you like to leave us with a little bit of your poetry?

Excuse me. My wife is nodding out. I need to catch her before she falls off the couch. It’s been a pleasure talking to you, Kaye.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Photography and the Mystery Writer by Elizabeth Zelvin

Elizabeth Zelvin is a New York City psychotherapist. Her mysteries, DEATH WILL GET YOU SOBER (2008) and DEATH WILL HELP YOU LEAVE HIM (October 2009), feature recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler and his friends, Jimmy the computer genius and Barbara the world-class codependent. A related short story was nominated for an Agatha for Best Short Story, and another appears in the August 2009 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

has been nominated for a Deadly Ink's David Award for Best Mystery or Thriller of 2008. The winner will be announced at the Deadly Ink conference in Parsippany, NJ on June 27. Liz will be on three panels at the conference.

Photography and the Mystery Writer
Elizabeth Zelvin

When Kaye Barley invited me to write a guest blog, she said that pictures would be welcome. That got me thinking about the ways in which photography is important to a 21st century mystery writer like me.

First, the all-important headshot: this appears on the book jacket, the website, the MySpace or other social network page, the blog, the bookmarks, the signs announcing signings and events—in short, everywhere. This is the face I present to the world, so it had better be a good picture. Some people are naturally photogenic. The camera loves them, and they can’t take a bad picture. My father was one, my two-year-old granddaughter is another. I’m not. I was lucky to have a professional photographer (and fellow resident at an arts program) offer to do my headshot on his Nikon before my first book came out. He snapped a hundred photos. The one I fell in love with was the only one in which my head was backlit: my face in shadow, and the sun shining through my fluffy hair like a halo. With a little editing to lighten up the face, it looked great online.

The trouble began when I had prints made. With higher resolution and sharper focus, the halo around my head turned into what looked like clumps of cotton balls perched on top of my head. The custom lab my local photo store sent it to tried and failed three times to get Photoshop to turn the white clumps to brown like the rest of my hair. Take another picture? Forget it! This was the only photo of myself in twenty years that I really liked, and in the next twenty years, I’d only be getting older. Months and much agita later, I finally found someone online who did custom restoration and was able to give me the headshot I had dreamed of.

Next, the equally important cover art: Authors don’t get much say about the covers of their books with big publishers like mine (Minotaur). And I have heard horror stories about some authors getting stuck with covers that downright embarrassed them. But I was lucky. The covers of my debut mystery, DEATH WILL GET YOU SOBER, and the sequel due out in October, DEATH WILL HELP YOU LEAVE HIM,
were designed by a genius, David Rotstein, who’s been nominated for an Anthony for best cover design not only for mine but for a total of three of the five short-listed contenders. I’m not the only one who wondered how he got that glass of whiskey to look as if it had just been shot. David just told me he had the glass shot, yep, with a gun, and had a photographer shoot it with a high-speed camera. I haven’t asked yet, but now I wouldn’t be surprised if he got someone to paint DEATH WILL HELP YOU LEAVE HIM in huge letters in the middle of Park Avenue.

Then there’s the photo gallery on my website. Savvy publicist PJ Nunn of BreakThrough Promotions told me to get plenty of pictures of me with other authors and put them up where surfers searching for these authors can find them. I’ve had a great time doing just that with my little digital camera. I’m lucky to live in New York, where I get to go to all the parties. I also get around to bookstores, conferences, and libraries. It’s hard to choose just a few, but here I am with SJ Rozan (who also goes to all the parties), Mary Higgins Clark, Ken Bruen, and Linda Fairstein. You’ll find these and many more on my website at www.elizabethzelvin.com in the Mystery World Photo Gallery.

Finally, there’s the book trailer video. I did all the photography myself for a one-minute trailer for DEATH WILL HELP YOU LEAVE HIM. I even figured out the video setting on my little digital—well, sort of; I had to cut several minutes of feet and blurry pavement. I won’t release it until closer to the publication date, but here’s a sneak preview of the settings of some of the New York scenes in the book: a body in East Harlem,

a funeral in Brooklyn,

a lingerie boutique,

an Italian bakery,

and a chase in Chinatown.