Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Me and Lee Child - EEK!

The Midwest Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America is sponsoring The MWA Hot Ticket Event at Bouchercon which is a way fans can win one of ten lucky tickets that will enable them to spend approximately an hour with one of their favorite MWA authors at B'con this year. The authors participating are:
There were rules about How to get a HOT TICKET posted at the MWA Midwest Chapter website, and the Bouchercon 2009 website, and it was announced at DorothyL and several other places. The rules were stated as follows: The quest for one of the first five tickets for each author begins now! Tell us, in less than 150 words, why you should get a ticket. Be creative! For example, tell us about your six degrees of separation from the author, or cite a quote from one of their books and what it means to you, or tell us the question you’ve always wanted to ask him or her. You have 150 words to convince us you’re the one who should be in that small group setting. Give us your best reason!

Second Chances:
If you don’t win one of the first five tickets, don’t despair…there’s a second chance drawing for the remaining five tickets to each author’s event. Watch this website for more details on how to get into the second chance drawing, or visit the MWA booth at Bouchercon to enter.

What a lovely idea they came up with!

The opportunity to be a part of an hour visit with one of these legends of the mystery world just sounded too cool to pass up. And after some waffling, I decided to try my hand at writing 150 words about why I should be one the lucky people selected. And if I could choose just one of these authors to spend an hour with, who would it be?

I chose Lee Child.

Most everyone who knows me knows I'm over the moon crazy about Lee Child's work (and him - isn't he dishy?!), but making that choice wasn't as easy as it sounds. I mean, look at the names on that list! And while I could have tried my hand at writing something for more than one - well, I'll tell you. I worked so long and so hard on the piece I did for Lee Child, I just didn't think I had it in me to do it again.

Many of you may have figured out by now, being concise is not one of my strong suits. Getting to the point takes me awhile. As far as I'm concerned, 150 words is just warming up! Michael Dean, a very dear friend of mine who I will miss till the day I die, used to say this to me almost every day - "Kaye. Can we just have The Reader's Digest version, please?!" I just never have gotten that right, I'm afraid (apologies to Michael, who I'm sure never expected me to).

But I guess my 150 words were O.K., 'cause I've been chosen as one of the lucky people who will get to spend about an hour with Lee Child along with 9 more lucky people. Hooray and Yippee Skippy!

Will it be fun?!

Am I excited?!

Boy Howdy!


I am over the moon!

If you read my post Bouchercon 2008 - My First B'con, you may remember me squealing about meeting Mr. Child, thanks to an introduction by my friend Sandra Ruttan. And even working up the nerve to ask him if we could have a picture taken together. And being lucky enough to have Reed Farrel Coleman take the picture (one of the few of me that turned out fairly well!).



Seems I'll be having some things to squeal about right here at Meanderings and Muses when I return from this year's Bouchercon too.

Pfft! was there ever any doubt?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Alice Duncan Doing What She Always Wanted to Do

Award-winning author Alice Duncan lives with a herd of wild dachshunds (enriched from time to time with fosterees from New Mexico Dachshund Rescue) in Roswell, New Mexico. She's not a UFO enthusiast; she's in Roswell because her mother's family settled there fifty years before the aliens crashed. Since her two daughters live in California, where Alice was born, she aims to return there as soon as possible. Alice would love to hear from you at alice@aliceduncan.net. And be sure to visit her website at http://aliceduncan.net/

Doing What I Always Wanted to Do

by Alice Duncan

First of all, the only thing I ever wanted to do in my life was write novels. When I was a little girl and someone would ask me what I wanted to “be” when I grew up, I’d say, “an author.” Mind you, the question itself seems stupid to me now. What a child will be when he or she grows up is an adult human being, a condition that comes with its own limitations. Puppies grow up to be dogs, just like kittens grow up to be cats. Personally, I prefer puppies to kittens and dogs to cats, but that’s bias on my part. Both dogs and cats are easier to get along with than your average adult human being. I think, although I’m not sure, that we’re each born with certain talents. I wish I’d been born with a gift for making money, which sounds a whole lot more useful than being born possessed of a way with words.

Anyhow, it took me a very long time to begin writing books. For one thing I was a single mother to two little girls to support and rear. We never got goodies like child support or alimony, so I supported the kids via my work as a secretary, which I hated very, very, much, thank you. Writing takes lots and lots of time, and I didn’t have any.

However, after my children grew up, I had a little extra time with which to do fun stuff. I took a couple of night classes in creative writing, but I still couldn’t imagine tackling anything as complicated as a book. Not only that,
but I couldn’t for the life of me decide what to write, and sustaining 400 manuscript pages about nothing, while it has been done, didn’t appeal to me, literary fiction not being my cup of tea. At any rate, for several years, I expressed my creative side by singing and dancing with several different Eastern European folk-dancing and singing groups (you can see pictures and even hear a couple of songs on my website, on the “Biography” page).

The groups to which I added my modest talents were Avaz, Gypsy and Zhena (the chorus). I’d always secretly harbored a wish to sing grand opera, but female tenors aren’t in great demand in opera. Fortunately for me, they were in demand in Bulgarian choruses; ergo, my stint with Zhena. Anyway, singing and dancing were fun, but neither produced any books. And then my feet went south on me (traumatic arthritic, which has now spread into a sort of universal bodily arthritis), and I had no outlet for my creative side. I took up compulsive baking for a while and then compulsive eating, but that only made me fat.

Oddly enough, it was in October of 1993 when, as my daughter Robin and I were in New Mexico on vacation and were driving to Fort Sumner to see Billy the Kid’s grave, that I wrote a description of the landscape. I wrote it in a little notebook snatched from my purse and hastily stuffed back into it and didn’t tell Robin or anyone else what I’d done, because I didn’t know what to do with it. I did, however, begin writing little blurbs in my notebook from time to time.

Around that time, a friend of mine, Linda Hart, a folk dancing-and-singing buddy, persuaded me to read a modern-day romance novel. I’d always eschewed (geshundheit) romance novels because of the sleazy covers. But I read a couple and discovered that’s what I wanted to write, astonishingly enough. In spite of my overall rough life and a hideous predilection to choose the absolute worst men in the world, I wanted to believe in everlasting romance. Go figure. Anyhow, I started writing books.

After I’d written a couple of more-or-less novels, I took a class called “Writing for Publication,” taught by a wonderful woman named Meredith Brucker, at San Marino High School in San Marino, CA. The class met on Tuesday nights, which were also folk-dance nights, but I attended the class anyway. Meredith taught us exactly how to create and present proposals for novels and send them to agents and editors. So I did. By that time I’d become thoroughly obsessed with writing and selling novels. I was 49 years old, and had all but given up on my life’s dream. Anyway, I went a little wild, became positively single-minded in my pursuit of publication and wrote constantly (when I wasn’t at my cursed day job, and sometimes even then. Don’t tell anybody).

Then I began sending off proposals like a fanatical fiend. I started with agents, some of whom were kind, but none of whom was willing to take a chance on me. I continued to write. I finally penned (or computered) a book I really thought might have a chance. I called it BRIGHT ANGEL. In a frenzy of activity right before Christmas in 1993, I sent off seven proposals to seven different publishers, foregoing the agent thing since agent-seeking didn’t seem to be panning out for me.

On Monday, January 17, 1994, the date of the massive Northridge earthquake, I got a call at work from a woman named Abigail Kamen, who claimed she was an editor and telephoning from Harper Collins. I very nearly fainted, but didn’t, which was a good thing since she went on to ask if my book, BRIGHT ANGEL, was complete. I said (rather breathlessly) that it was. She asked me to send the whole manuscript. I was in a state the likes of which I can’t even describe when that phone call ended.

Almost at once after that, my boss called from Boston and asked about the quake. I said we were having awful aftershocks (true), dust and plaster kept falling from the ceiling (true), and it was scary to be in the building (not quite so true, but I was working on another agenda at the time). So he told me to go home. I did. While there (after discovering that my dog Weenie had eaten an entire box of oatmeal that had fallen from a shelf after the quake. Fortunately, she didn’t burst) I printed out my precious manuscript and sent it off FedEx to Abigail Kamen at Harper Collins. On the Friday of that very same week, January 21, Abigail Kamen called to tell me Harper wanted to publish my book. I was at work and couldn’t scream, but I called everyone I knew and told them I’d succeeded at last in selling a book. The feeling was indescribable, so I won’t try to describe it. Anyhow, it didn’t last.

At that time in what I laughingly call my writing career I belonged to the Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America. I’d joined at Meredith Brucker's suggestion and had been attending for a couple of months before my first book sold. This was another fortunate circumstance for me, because RWA/OCC had (still has, actually) a plethora of published writers, most of whom were willing and even eager to help a newbie like me seek representation from a reputable agent. Maureen Child said I should query Linda Kruger, an agent who worked with Evan Fogelman in Dallas, TX, so I did. Linda took me on. By gum, I then not only had a publisher, but I also had an agent! I was on top of the world. That didn’t last, either.

One day shortly thereafter, Abigail Kamen called and told me that I had to change the title of my book. Evidently angels were big at the time in the publishing world, and she didn’t want the buying public to think my romance novel had anything to do with the current angel craze (which, she gave me to understand, included guardian angels, etc.). So I wracked my brain (which hurt) and called my critique partner, Monica Stoner. Monica, not being stifled with my creative block, came up with a dozen or so apt titles, which I dutifully scratched down. Then, right before I sent the list to Abigail, I bethought myself of one of the songs we used to sing during the “American” part of Avaz’s typical performance routine, “I’ll Fly Away.” Oddly enough, Abigail liked ONE BRIGHT MORNING instead of any of Monica’s titles, so my first published opus became ONE BRIGHT MORNING.

By the way, when I told Marilyn Brucker that Harper had bought my book, she was ecstatic. Not only that, she told me I was the best writer she’d ever had in any of her classes. That made me very happy. What made me a little less happy was that she and asked me to read from ONE BRIGHT MORNING at the South Pasadena Public Library. Mind you, I adored libraries and I adored Meredith (still do). But I was a little shy. My shyness abated somewhat, although my bafflement soared, when I read the first sentence of ONE BRIGHT MORNING (“Maggie had the blasphemous thought that God was seriously at fault when He created women”) and the audience laughed. I was flummoxed, since the line wasn’t supposed to be funny.

It didn’t dawn on me until several books after that first one that I couldn’t help myself. Even when I don’t think I’m doing it, I tend to write funny. I figure it’s because I grew up in a very difficult family and resorted to humor to keep myself safe. So sue me.

As all of the above was going on, I kept writing. For my option book to ONE BRIGHT MORNING, I sent Harper (through Linda Kruger, bless her) TEXAS LONESOME, featuring Emily von Plotz, who supported her eccentric aunt and uncle by writing an advice column in a newspaper. Her uncle Ludwig bred dachshunds. His first breeding pair, from which he expected great things, were Hilda and Gustav. By that time I’d joined a critique group, and one of the ladies in it was named Hilda. Hilda objected violently to having a dog named after her, so I changed Hilda’s name to Helga. By the way, Harper published a beefcake calendar the year TEXAS LONESOME was published (1995), and Will Tate, the hero from the book, was Mr. August.

Another thing about TEXAS LONESOME: I was pleased that I got to include in the novel my second passion, dachshunds, for which I’ve harbored an inexplicable fondness ever since I saw my very first one at the age of six or thereabouts. I thought it was the funniest-looking dog I’d ever seen and am in love with the breed to this day. I even belong to New Mexico Dachshund Rescue, which kind of gives me an excuse for accumulating wiener dogs. Fortunately for my home and my sanity, most of the wieners who come to me are foster dogs and are adopted by other people. Eventually. I do, however, have a herd of five dachshunds and a ringer, who I think is sort of a combination miniature pinscher and Chihuahua. I called him a pinchihuahua until I learned that the first part of that name is a very naughty word in Spanish. I still maintain the title fits him, but that’s neither here nor there.

While all of the above was happening, Linda was dutifully sending more work to Harper and, since I was possessed by demons and writing at a blinding clip, other publishers. Then Harper dumped me. I was crushed. Defeated. Heartbroken.

Then, a few months later, Harper dumped almost all their romance writers. Turned out they’d expanded too fast and were cutting back on their romance line. Naturally, they didn’t tell me that, so I thought my being let go was all my fault and that I was a terrible writer (which isn’t true and never has been, by golly). I’ve come to understand that we bottom-feeder authors are seldom told anything even resembling the truth from publishers, but at the time I was totally humiliated.

In the meantime Linda had approached Berkley with SWEET CHARITY, a novel aimed at Berkley’s family-oriented line called “Homespun;” Dorchester (Leisure Books), with a sweet book called CHRISTMAS PIE; and Dell, with CHRISTMAS PIE, a book I had titled PRINCE CHARLEY and my two published books.

Joanna Cagan at Leisure shortly thereafter called Linda and said Leisure wanted to buy CHRISTMAS PIE, which had been plotted at a weekend getaway with my critique group.

Linda then called Laura Cifelli at Dell to tell her about this. Laura asked Linda to wait a minute because at that very moment, she was reading TEXAS LONESOME, loved it, and she told Linda that Dell wanted me but didn’t know which book they wanted yet. However they did want the name Alice Duncan to be associated solely with Dell.

So Linda and I decided I should be Emma Craig (that’s what my maternal grandmother thought her maiden name was. She was wrong, but that’s another story) for Leisure and Alice Duncan for Dell. Linda also told me that Leisure was creating a new line of books called “It’s a Dog’s Life.” Well, that, as they say, was right up my alley, me being a dog person and all. So I began writing ROSAMUNDA’S REVENGE, a historical romance novel featuring Rosamunda, a most superior Yorkshire terrier. I think I like the beginning of ROSAMUNDA’S REVENGE better than most of the openings of my other books (“Rosamunda took one look at the tall man striding across the lobby floor and knew him for a man who favored big dogs. Hunting dogs. Dogs with thick fur and lots of fleas. Dogs with bone heads. Dogs with little brains, big feet, no social graces, huge rumbling barks and bad breath. So she bit him on the ankle. She would have kneecapped him, but she couldn’t reach.”) The book was set in New Mexico Territory in the 1890s, and “to kneecap” didn’t become a legitimate verb until the 1920s, but I figured that if you begin a book in a Yorkshire terrier’s point of view, nothing much matters a whole lot in the way of verisimilitude.

By the way, the “It’s a Dog’s Life” books all had a little ribbon imprinted with the dog’s picture name on the covers of the book. Rosamunda didn’t fit on the ribbon. Leisure asked me to change the name. Instead, I changed a plot point, and they managed to fit the “Rosie,” a nickname Rosamunda detested, on the stupid ribbon. Still, it’s a cute book. I even got a note from the copy editor saying how much she enjoyed it. That doesn’t happen often, believe me.

About that same time, Denise Silvestro at Berkley called Linda and said Berkley wanted SWEET CHARITY for their “Homespun” line. Since I was already Alice Duncan and Emma Craig, I became Rachel Wilson (my mother’s middle and maiden names) for Berkley.

Laura Cifelli at Dell decided to buy PRINCE CHARLEY for Dell, but they changed the name to WILD DREAM (the hero’s name is Charley Wilde). I hated the title, but adored the book’s cover, which (at my suggestion, believe it or not) featured a solitary man, the first solo-male cover Dell had ever done. Naturally, they nixed my suggestion that Charley hold a B-flat cornet, an instrument that is actually a big part of the book’s plot, but still, it’s a great cover.

Dell then decided to buy SECRET HEARTS (which I’d called DIME NOVEL, because the heroine writes dime novels featuring Tuscaloosa Tom Pardee, a fellow patterned after the heroine’s employer’s nephew). There’s a story connected with that cover art as well. The cover of SECRET HEARTS also featured a solo male. However, Tuscaloosa Tom Pardee, the dime-novel hero, had a beautiful droopy mustache. The Powers That Be told me to shave poor Tom since mustaches don’t do well on romance-novel covers. So I did. Both Claire (the dime novelist) and I were terribly disappointed. It’s still a nice cover.

While all the rest of this junk was going on, Leisure asked me to participate in some anthologies, which I did. The stories
Jack of Hearts,” McBroom Sweeps Clean” and “Merry Gentlemen” were published in three different anthologies. If you care enough, you can check them out on my website.

Then Linda sent PHOEBE’S VALENTINE to Dell. The staff at Dell went through many confusions and contortions, causing much here-ing and there-ing for all concerned, and Dell dumped me. Naturally, this gave rise to millions of additional self-doubts, but I had so much work to do by then, this dumping didn’t bother me as much as the first one did. I was, however, beginning to get the notion that the books I wrote didn’t exactly fit into the mainstream of the romance population. It was a discouraging notion, since I wanted my books to be liked by readers as well as editors. Editors seemed like my writing, but once my books hit the shelves, nobody seemed to want to buy them.

By that time I’d nearly finished another book for Berkley’s “Homespun” line when Linda called to tell me that “Homespun” was defunct, and Berkley was beginning a line called “Haunting Hearts.” It had never once crossed my mind to write a paranormal romance. In truth, the idea didn’t appeal to me one little bit, either. However, as I rewatched I Married a Witch, on TV one night, the notion of having a bad guy’s soul enter a good guy’s body via a sip of corn liquor took root, and RESTLESS SPIRITS was born. Here, too, I had nothing to do with the title. I’d called my opus THE SOUL OF CHESTER PEASE, which I think is ever so much more evocative than RESTLESS SPIRITS. Besides, Chester Pease’s soul is the one who caused all the trouble. But I didn’t have any say in the matter. By the way, the poor fellow who swallowed Chester Pease’s soul was named Harry Potter, and my book came out first! Unfortunately, my Harry Potter didn’t create the stir J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter did. Story of my life.

However, that’s how I began to write a bunch of books for “Jove Haunting Hearts,” Including the following:

HEAVEN’S PROMISE. This one was set in a reformatted Palmyra, Maine, where my paternal relations came from. There’s a big pointy headstone in the cemetery in Palmyra, under which my paternal grandmother, Afton Homstead (no E after the M) was buried. In order to give the characters a place to sit whilst chatting with the ghost, I flattened the tombstone. By the way, this book was inspired by an old dancing pal of mine. Art Aratin suggested I write a book featuring Danilo the Gypsy King, in honor of our deceased dancing-and-singing colleague Danny Matousek, who was an incredibly talented man. So I did, and this was it. Then came:

BITTERSWEET SUMMER, set in Bittersweet, New York, and SPIRIT OF LOVE, set in New Mexico Territory.

Leisure also decided to buy more of my books. They, too, had a paranormal line, so I wrote a proposal for a series of books featuring a mighty wizard named Alexander McMurdo, who ran a wagon yard in Rio Hondo, New Mexico Territory. Rio Hondo, by the way, was the first name of Roswell, New Mexico, where I now live. Mind you, I’m not terribly in love with Roswell, but my grandparents settled there fifty years before the aliens crashed, so here I am now. These books included:


Whilst in the throes of writing romances and getting a little jaded therefrom, I decided to try my hand at writing westerns. What the heck, you know? Westerns have a much lower sales rate than romances in general, but my romances seldom broke even anyhow, so I started a couple of westerns, created proposals for them, and Linda, submitted my efforts different publishers. Darned if a Signet editor didn’t ask if I’d be willing to write for their “Trailsman” line. I bought a couple of “Trailsman” books, read them, and figured why not? So I wrote PECOS BELLE BRIGADE and CALIFORNIA CRUSADER. It turned out I didn’t have a handle on the whole male-fantasy thing, which involves women of all ages (but mostly young and ravishing) jumping the bones of our hero Skye Fargo, who has a big beard and wears buckskins (which I figured must have smelled to high heck by the time he got them off). Sigh. At any rate, my western-writing endeavor died an untimely death.

About that time, Berkley decided to bury its “Haunting Hearts” line, and begin an “Irish Eyes” line. You might have noticed that I pretty much stuck close to home in my writing endeavors up to that time. There was a really, really good reason for that. I’m an American and, while I’d love to travel the world one day, I don’t know squat about how life in other countries goes on, except through novels, and I don’t think they’re a good-enough educational source by which to sop up entire cultures. I wracked my brain again (and it hurt again), trying to think of anything I knew about the Irish and Ireland. What I came up with was: potato famine, leprechauns, rampant alcoholism and political upheaval.

Unfortunately, the folks at Berkley didn’t want any of that stuff to show up in the books, so I was stumped. Then I considered sending an American woman to Ireland. I went to the library, checked out every single book I could find about Ireland and wrote, basically, a travelogue. I wasn’t awfully proud of that book, but Berkley bought it anyway. Its title was MY WILD IRISH ROSE and the less said about it, the better.

Leisure, meanwhile, decided they wanted me to write paranormal romances for their fairy-tale line. I again went to the library and this time checked out all sorts of fairy-tale books. I was appalled. Did you know that the Little Mermaid’s boyfriend dies in the story (or maybe it was the Little Mermaid herself who died. I can’t remember)? And that Rapunzel’s lover got his eyes gouged out by thorns? Well . . . suffice it to say I wasn’t enchanted. However, there was one story in which the human beans (as opposed to pintos or limas) seemed to come out on top, and that was the tale of Rumpelstiltskin. So I wrote COOKING UP TROUBLE for Leisure. They gave me a fabulous cover with none other than John Da’Salvo on the it and my name in gilt lettering. I felt good.

And then Berkley told Linda that my books always were in the lowest 34% in sales, and they dumped me. Talk about depressing!

Still, I was under the impression that COOKING UP TROUBLE sold fairly well, so I began to write another book for Leisure, this one called GABRIEL’S FATE. It turned out I was wrong about COOKING UP TROUBLE. Leisure told Linda that my books didn’t sell well enough, and they dumped me. They did publish GABRIEL’S FATE, but they tried to give it the same cover they’d used for A GAMBLER’S MAGIC. I protested. I mean, I understand that publishers recycle covers, but that was too much. So they gave me another recycled cover, but at least it wasn’t one from one of my own books.

Thank God Linda still believed in me! She’d already sent some of my work to Kensington, and Amy Garvey offered to buy a series of books I had all planned out for their “Ballads” line. This first series of proposals centered around the earliest days of the motion-picture industry in Southern California. A fellow named Martin Tafft appears in all four books (but he only gets the girl in the last one). What’s more, since the name Alice Duncan had been floating belly-up in the goldfish bowl of publishing for a couple of years, I got to use my own name for the books. Kensington and I were both happy about this, and the “Dream Maker Series” was born:



That was a lot of writing to do in one year, so for my next “Ballads” series proposal, this one taking place at the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbia Exposition, only contained three books:
COMING UP ROSES, which featured Rose Ellen Gilhooley, bareback rider extraordinaire for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, who ended up with H.L. May, a newspaper reporter;

JUST NORTH OF BLISS, which featured Rowena Belle Monroe, a refined southern lady flung helter-skelter into the wilds of the evil North, and who ended up in the arms of the fair’s chief photographer, Win Asher; and
A BICYCLE BUILT FOR TWO, which featured Kate Finney, a girl from the wrong side of Chicago’s tracks. Kate filled in for Little Egypt and worked a fortune-telling venue on the Midway Plaisance. Through no fault of her own, she fell afoul of Alex English, who was one stuffy son of a gun until Kate got through with him.

Along about this time (2002ish), a writer whose books were being published by a print-on-demand publisher called PageFree approached me and asked if I’d be willing to publish a book with PageFree. After looking at the PageFree web site, I told her I’d be darned if I’d pay to have my books published. To me, that seemed the exact wrong way to go about these things. The PageFree publisher then told me she wouldn’t charge for the setting up, so I decide what the heck. Nobody else seemed to want to publisher PHOEBE’S VALENTINE, which is actually one of my favorite books. So I went for it. Now I’m kind of sorry I did, because poor Phoebe probably won’t be picked up by anyone else now that she’s been published once. Not only that, but western historical romances are dead in the water in the romance genre these days. So Phoebe suffered a sad fate, but by this time, one not unexpected by yours truly.

Then it was that I was stricken with the greatest idea of my entire writing life: Daisy Gumm Majesty. Daisy, you see, was born in my own home city of Pasadena, California, and still lived there with her family. The first book was set in 1920. What’s more, Daisy earned her living as a phony spiritualist, because she could make more money doing that than she could doing any of the other work designated for women at the time, and she had to support her war-injured husband Billy. I wanted the books to be historical cozy mysteries. Amy Garvey told Linda that she and Kate Duffy, one of the big muckety-mucks at Kensington, loved the idea for the books but that they’d decided the books didn’t have enough mystery in them. Therefore, they asked me to remove the dead bodies, add a subsidiary romance (because the heroine was already married) and they’d market them as romances. They did, and the books tank. The books were STRONG SPIRITS (I got another complimentary letter from a copy editor for this one) and FINE SPIRITS. As soon as I get my rights back from Kensington, they’re going to be available on Kindle, too, by gum.

Kate Duffy actually called to apologize for the poor marketing of my dearly beloved “Spirits” books. I appreciated her phone call, but was crushed that I wouldn’t be able to write more Daisy books. I’d already begun thinking about a series featuring survivors of the Titanic disaster, which I told Kate about during that telephone call. She was enthusiastic, so I worked up proposals for a series of three books. Since the “Spirits” books bombed, the Powers That Be at Kensington asked me to take a new name. It was thus that Anne Robins (my daughters’ names) was born.

I was in a dreadful funk over the demise of Daisy and had a hard time writing the first Titanic book. Amy Garvey had gone the way of all good editors (she left Kensington and began writing her own books), and I was turned over to Hillary Sares. Hillary was wonderful, and she helped me very much with A PERFECT STRANGER, the first book in the series. After A PERFECT STRANGER the other books come more easily:
A PERFECT ROMANCE (which is my favorite of the series, being in the nature of a romp. Also, the heroine of the piece was rich, a state that was beginning to appeal to me more and more), and


I suggested A PERFECT AFFAIR and A PERFECT DIVORCE, but Hillary didn’t think those would go over too well.

About that time a writing buddy, Mimi Riser, asked if I’d be willing to pen a book or two for a new publisher, New Age Dimensions, which had been established by a friend of hers. Feeling abused and mistreated, I penned another historical cozy mystery (a MYSTERY, darn it!) set in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1923. You can see that I’d somehow managed to get myself stuck in the 1920s. It’s a fascinating era, but I’m not quite sure why I like to stick around in it so much. At any rate, PECOS VALLEY DIAMOND was published by NAD in 2005, and I also wrote its sequel, PECOS VALLEY REVIVAL. These books starred Annabelle Blue, who worked at her family’s mercantile store in Roswell, and featured Phil Gunderson, Annabelle’s erstwhile boyfriend, whom Annabelle dragged along with her into various adventures. Unfortunately for all of us who were connected with NAD, it was financially crushed by Hurricane Wilma in the great hurricane epidemic of 2005. So there I was, stuck with PECOS VALLEY REVIVAL and no place to put it.

Since I was still mourning the loss of Daisy Gumm Majesty and was really sick of writing sex scenes, I started writing LOST AMONG THE ANGELS, yet another historical cozy mystery, this one set in Los Angeles, CA, in 1926. Mercy Allcutt, the heroine of the book, was kind of a consolation prize for me after the death of Daisy. Again, Kensington didn’t think the mystery a big-enough element in the book. They were right, but I was lost again.

And then true tragedy struck when Linda Kruger decided to retire from agenting in order to care for her two-year-old son Tyler. What, I ask you, kind of priority is that???? I was honestly crushed and didn’t know what to do.

Fortunately, by that time, I’d begun editing for Tekno Books, which is the book packager that buys and edits books for Five Star, a publisher that primarily targets libraries. Since I figured what the heck (a recurring theme in my life), I asked if I could submit a book to Tekno. I was told I could, but that just because I edited for them didn’t mean I had any special pull and that my books had to be vetted just like anyone else’s. That was okay with me. By that time, I’d decided I didn’t exactly have my finger on the pulse of the public and that it didn’t matter that I have a niftier turn of phrase than, say, Dan Brown. Mind you, I respect and admire Dan Brown, and even sort of liked the Da Vinci Code. The point is that he’s rich and I’m not, so that tells you how much writing skills mean in the overall scheme of things.

Luckily for me, the other Tekno editors, those who read my manuscripts, seem so far to have liked them, because Five Star has published:



And then—glory hallelujah!—Five Star bought the third book in my Daisy Gumm Majesty series, HIGH
SPIRITS. Not only that, but they recently bought the fourth book in the series, HUNGRY SPIRITS. I’m hoping like mad that they’ll also buy the Daisy book I’m working on right now, GENTEEL SPIRITS.

And then, on a whim, I sent Tekno PECOS VALLEY REVIVAL, the sole survivor of my New Age Dimensions days, and Five Star decided to buy it! Therefore, PECOS VALLEY REVIVAL will be published some time in 2011. Since the book is set in Roswell, New Mexico, which pretty much looked in 1923 exactly as it looked in 1883, the twenties didn’t do a whole lot of roaring there, but Roswell’s citizens did their best. I don’t know if I’ll write any further PECOS VALLEY books. I’m getting old and tired, and writing really doesn’t pay for itself. The only good thing so far about what I laughingly call my writing career is that I can now supplement my social security income via my editing work for Tekno, which pays ever so much better than writing ever did.

I do, however, hope that Five Star will buy FALLEN ANGELS, the third in my Mercy Allcutt books, and ANCIENT SPIRITS, which should be the end of the Daisy Gumm Majesty books for a reason that will become abundantly clear if the book is ever published. I have planned a fourth Mercy book, ANGELS OF MERCY, but we’ll just have to see about that.

And there you have the essence of my writing career and why, even though I’ve published forty-five novels and three novellas under five different names, none of which anyone’s ever heard of, I remain dirt poor to this day.

Honest to God, I think writing is a genetic glitch. Perhaps doctors will find a cure for it someday.

Alice Duncan (alice@aliceduncan.net)
Angel's Flight 07/09
Hungry Spirits 06/10

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Saturday Meanderings


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Canasta (Spanish for "basket"; pronounced /kəˈnæstə/ in English) is a card game originating in Uruguay, where players attempt to make melds of 7 cards of the same rank, and "go out" by playing all cards in their hand and discarding. It is commonly played by two players with two standard decks of cards, but many variations exist for 3- and 4-player games or teams.

The understatement here is " . . . many variations exist . . ."
Pfft! I'll say!

But. Tonight is Saturday Nite Canasta Nite for me and Donald and Mother (and Harley, of course), and we'll play the only variation we've ever played. We get together every two or three weeks at my mom's for Canasta Nite. Sometimes it includes dinner, sometimes snackies, sometimes dessert. Just depends on what the mood of the group seems to dictate. And since we're all grown-ups (except Harley), if we want to have dessert and then have dinner later - well, that's exactly what we do. That's part of the fun of being a grown-up; rearranging silly rules like dessert coming after dinner. Who says?! harumph.

Tonight it includes pizza. oh boy.

I haven't had pizza in a month. Unusual for me 'cause I am admittedly addicted to pizza. But I'm also in the process of trying to lose 10 pounds. As of this morning, after 4 weeks of pretty steady dieting, I've lost 5 and 1/2 pounds. It's not as easy as it was when I was younger and could drop a few pounds with less effort. Now it takes a lot of effort. And one of the things that works for keeping me on a diet is to celebrate small accomplishments. I'm not sure diet gurus would recommend pizza as a smart reward, but oh well. Tonight we celebrate, tomorrow we go back to the business of losing a few pounds. It's important to me to keep within a weight range in which I'm comfortable in the clothes I have. I like my clothes. AND, I for sure can't afford to buy a whole bunch of new ones if I gain a bunch of weight. That's my motivating factor. When my clothes quit feeling comfortable, time to cut back.


I meander.

I do not want to chat about my weight.

I want to chat about Canasta.

Any of you play? Or did you use to play? I know it used to be a very popular game, but then seemed to have kinda become old hat. I'm hearing a few people mention it recently though, so perhaps it's making a bit of a comeback. Donald and Mother and I have played for many years. And laugh hysterically through it all. It's an evening we all enjoy at many levels. And it's an opportunity for Mother to pet, pamper and spoil Harley, and an opportunity for Harley to jump all over, kiss & lick and otherwise let Mother know he loves her without bounds.

We use a Canasta tray that I remember Mother and Dad using when they would play with friends. We used this same tray when I began playing with them as a young girl. The Canasta tray is plastic, with a basket weave design on the top. Inside the top is an etched caricature of Xavier Cugat and his little doggie Pepito. Remember Xavier? Mostly, I think he's now remembered for being married to entertainer and popular talk show visitor Charo, known for her "coochy coochy coo" with a wiggle and a shake thrown in for good measure. AND - the woman is still performing! Anyway. Xavier Cugat, in addition to being a popular dance band leader, was also recognized as the person responsible for introducing the game of Canasta to the United States. When the Canasta craze was at its peak, Xavier and Pepito endorsed cards, trays, and any other number of related items. How our card tray has survived and stayed with us all these years is amazing to me. and fun. We also, because shuffling two decks of cards is awkward, use an old metal hand crank shuffler. Well, O.K. - I admit it - we use it 'cause it's just fun. We like it. Harley hates it though and barks like a crazy dog while it's being used.

So - off we go to Mother's. Y'all just sit back and enjoy this old video of Charo and Carol Burnett. Priceless.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Neat Stuff ! including a Give-Away

I find the neatest stuff at other people's blogs!

Today at Jen's Book Thoughts there is "neat stuff." Jen has a weekly feature that is one of my favorite things on the web. "Six Word Memoirs," and she has had some of the best and brightest from the mystery world there. Today is a bonus day with Reed Farrel Coleman giving Jen not just one, but six "Six Word Memoirs." He's definitely one of the best and brightest.

Today at Sam Sattler's Book Chase there is "neat stuff." Sam tells us about what might just be the answer to the ebook problem that some of us have experienced. The financial one. But, in addition to the Asus E-Book Reader's probable price (it's not on the market yet, I don't think), is the fact that it also includes a color touchscreen, a speaker, a webcam and a microphone. And it has a dual screen. I do know people who own the Asus Eee PC, and all are impressed with the product and the company.

Today at Significant Objects there is "neat stuff. Laura Lippman (who most definitely fits nicely in the "best and brightest" category mentioned above -as does her Memory Project) gives us her contribution. I love the Significant Objects project (love Laura Lippman too) (did I just sound like Tom Petty singing "Free Falling?"). Anyhooo - If you're not familiar with Significant Objects, please give it look - and today would be the perfect day.


and come back and tell me about more neat stuff!

I think Tom Petty's "Free Falling" falls under neat stuff too - -

Also included under the heading "neat stuff" might be book give-aways. And since I'm enjoying a "neat stuff" kinda evening, I do believe I'll toss in a book to give away. If you're interested in reading Allison Burnett's UNDISCOVERED GYRL just leave a comment saying so. I'll draw the winning name on Sunday evening and send the winner an ARC of the book on Monday. I somehow ended up with two copies in my mailbox, so one of them may as well go flying out to someone who might be interested. From the back cover - "Only on the internet can you have so many friends and be so lonely." Author Rachel Resnick writes - "Imagine an 18-year-old Lolita, updated to the 21st century, blogging her own provocative adventures." I haven't read this book yet, so can't offer an opinion, but will say that from these statements I'm guessing this is a book that might not be everyone's cup of tea.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Rhythm and Rules by Sandra Ruttan

If it's true that a person is the sum of their experiences, it would be hard to describe Sandra Ruttan. She had her first newspaper column at the age of 13, and enjoyed making up stories about her classmates in her elementary school years. During her teen years she worked part-time jobs during the school year, and worked full-time in the summers, doing everything from working cash at Stedmans to being a dishwasher and take-out cashier at Dixie Lee. She worked at Gravenhurst Bakery, and she worked with mentally and physically handicapped adults.

After high school she spent a year living overseas, witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, and covered most of Western Europe. After returning home she studied journalism before moving to Vancouver Island, working as a receptionist. She eventually ended up in Calgary, trained for a career in education, married, moved with her husband's transfers, worked in special education, worked with kids with behavioral issues, traveled to Asia and Africa, got a publishing deal, split up from her husband of eight years, met someone else, became a step-mother, continued writing and publishing books and currently works in a school in Baltimore while researching a new book set in Maryland.

Her fourth book, LULLABY FOR THE NAMELESS, will be in stores in December and has been described as "a police procedural of the first order".


Rhythm and Rules
by Sandra Ruttan

Hey, get rhythm when you get the blues
Hey, get rhythm when you get the blues
Yes a jumpy rhythm makes you feel so fine
It'll shake all the trouble from your worried mind
Get rhythm when you get the blues…

It’s probably safe to say we’ve all been there. A cloud of black fog rolls off your brain but it’s still dark out. You lie in bed for a moment, wondering what time it is, before you sneak a glance at the clock. 5:05 am. No wonder your body is giving you a metaphysical kick in the backside to get up. No wonder your bladder is in complete agreement.

It isn’t until you’re half way to the bathroom that you realize that it’s Saturday. The day you can sleep in. The day you can make up for all the late nights and early mornings throughout the week. The day you’re supposed to be able to relax.

You head back to bed to see if you can’t eek out another hour or two, which is when the cat finds something on the floor that’s suddenly fascinating. All those people who lobby against carpet and for hardwood for health reasons failed to mention the noise factor.

That’s what I was thinking about last Saturday morning as I listened to our one-year-old cat, Mo, knock something around on the floor. The seven-year-old cat, Cookie, was sitting on the bookshelf headboard right above me, growling.

The dog was completely oblivious, stretched out on his back with his head on my leg and his hind paws pushing into Brian. Oblivious until a door across the hallway opened. One of the kids was up. Suddenly, Indy was on his feet, jumping to the floor, racing down the hallway to see who it was.

There was no way I was going to get back to sleep.

I think part of the reason music is such a popular form of expression is because people get into rhythms. We can call them routines, structures, or whatever; we become accustomed to doing certain things at certain times and our bodies tend to protest if we try to push them too far off schedule. Think of how many things we tend to do instinctively – like turning off the stove or turning the coffee pot on - without consciously thinking of them, just because it’s become part of our habit. Our rhythm.

Perhaps I’m more sensitive to the importance of scheduling than most. Five days a week I work in a school in Baltimore. I have spent years working with kids who have learning challenges, and kids who have behavioral issues, and one thing that’s been very important to most of the kids I’ve worked with is a sense of routine. Minimal disruptions can throw them off balance for the rest of the day, and have a profound impact on their mood, ability to focus and behavior. These kids rely on the rhythm of their day to help them stay on track.

I can’t blame Mo for thinking that 5 am is an acceptable time to play. Five days a week I’m up at 5 am, and last I checked he didn’t know how to read a calendar. I can’t blame the kids for getting up early either. After all, five days a week they have to be ready to be out the door at 6:15.

Last night’s episode of The Sopranos sprung to mind: Christopher’s going to help his girlfriend become a producer but the band’s material fails to impress the seasoned music industry expert, Hesh, who points out the songs are all chorus with no verses. The singer starts whining about how songs have followed that same old boring structure for decades.

No record deal for them.

As I was thinking about all of this, my mind kept going back to books. I think it’s the importance of rhythm that can make us frustrated when authors don’t play fair. It would be like listening to the original Johnny Cash song and instead of hitting the chorus the second time a flute cuts in, followed by a guitar solo that seems better suited to a Jimi Hendrix cut than the music of Mr. Cash, and after that someone starts screaming out the lyrics in an undecipherable voice that belongs on stage at a mosh pit.

Following enough conventions to engage readers and not writing a book that’s completely predictable are the goal posts. I’ve been reading a lot lately, and reading books not of my own choosing. Yes, already we’re weeding through books for the Spinetingler Awards next year, and so many books seem to be flipping the bird to readers by breaking the rules and rubbing the reader’s nose in their unwillingness to play fair, while most of the remaining authors seem to have worked from a checklist, so much so that I can predict what will happen page to page, never mind the outcome of the story.

The challenge for us authors is to find original, fresh ways to tell our stories, without disrupting the rhythm for the readers. It’s a delicate balancing act, but part of entertaining readers is satisfying them. I know I can’t please everyone with everything I write, but part of being an author is communicating with readers, and that won’t happen if I show the reader I don’t respect their intelligence, or their expectations.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hey - Was Ed Gorman Hanging Out in My Kitchen ?!?

I recently discovered a new (to me) author. I should be thoroughly embarrassed to admit to not knowing anything about this author previously. And ashamed of myself for not being aware of one of the mystery world's icons.

Ed Gorman is, I think it's fair to say, a prolific writer. He's written about 20 books, and is still writing them. They include five series and a couple of stand-alones. He's edited numerous anthologies. AND he co-founded and edited Mystery Scene Magazine (he is now Contributing Editor). He writes mysteries, crime fiction, horror fiction and western fiction, under three different pen names. AND he writes a blog. Prolific might be a fair term, don't you think?

The book I read was from Mr. Gorman's Sam McCain series - THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED (1999). This from Publisher's Weekly: "There's a dead-on sense of time and place (February 1958 in small-town Iowa) in Gorman's latest, which, despite minor problems with plot resolution, makes an enjoyable start to a new series. Narrator Sam McCain, "a young lawyer in a town that already had too many lawyers," earns most of his income by working as an investigator in Black River Falls for the wealthy and eccentric Judge Esme Anne Whitney, who smokes Gauloises in Chesterfield country and takes pleasure in shooting McCain with rubber bands. The day after a long drive to what turns out to be Buddy Holly's last concert before his fatal plane crash, McCain discovers the body of the wife of Whitney's rotten nephew, Kenny, and then is unable to stop Kenny from killing himself. Everybody, including the loutish local police chief, is sure that Kenny murdered his wife, but McCain has his doubts. Complicating matters are the troubles of a local former football star now crippled by booze and of McCain's teenage sister, who is trying to get an abortion. Gorman sketches the people of Black River Falls, especially McCain's family and various girlfriends, with a sharp eye, and even the very late appearance of a possible villain doesn't spoil the fun: despite the title, Gorman, as usual, rocks."

I'm excited about having more in this series to read and hope I enjoy them as much as I did THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED.


What I really want to know is how come a scene I was sure was a memory of mine, and mine alone, ended up in Mr. Gorman's book?!


Only thing I can figure is that he was hanging out with me in the Arcade Apartments in Cambridge, MD when we were kids. He's a few years older than me, but not much. He could have been one of the kids that, as my dad used to say, was "one of Kaye Alan's friends who was always underfoot." But no, I really don't think that's it either.

I guess I have to admit to myself that the memory I cherish must be a memory many of us must share. While I kinda hate that, it's nice to spend a little time remembering those simpler times. Times when wives could afford to be housewives if that's what they wanted, and young mothers could be stay-at-home moms, if that's what they wanted. Times when we kids knew we had to drop whatever ball we were playing with, in whomever's yard we might be playing in, so we could be home and seated at the dinner table at 6:00 p.m. NO excuses.

Times when moms and dads turned up the radio and danced in the kitchen.

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 and
I wrote about it some in my Father's Day post. All the rooms were big and spacious and the living room and the dining room had big bay windows with window seats. There was a wall separating those two rooms, but it was a large archway. The kitchen was huge, and off the kitchen was a pantry which was larger than most kitchens I've had in my homes since then.

That kitchen. Oh my how I loved that kitchen. My memories are many - and still quite vivid. I remember that we rarely used the dining room. I remember sitting around that chrome kitchen table for meals, and continuing to sit for long periods of time after meals talking. Just talking. We three talked about everything. And, my love of sitting around the table talking after a meal has never diminished. I have to feel a small sadness for families today who seem to rarely. if ever, even have a meal around a table together, let alone that special time following the meal. There was always time for Mother and Dad to have another cup of coffee (and yes, that ever present cigarette) just so we could talk.

And I remember the radio playing in the background.

There was always music.

For some reason, even today, when I see an old radio I immediately hear Teresa Brewer in my head singing "Music! Music! Music! - Put Another Nickel In, In the Nickelodeon."

And Bill Haley - oh my! Whenever a Bill Haley and His Comets song came on, my mom and dad would dance. They would dance all over that big ol' kitchen. And they were good! I watched them jitterbug to Bill Haley more times than I can even count.

So, dang. Imagine my surprise when I read "They still dance in the kitchen on Saturday nights, the radio playing the old tunes, Benny Goodman and Harry James and Artie Shaw, . . . " That's Ed Gorman's Sam McCain talking about HIS mom and dad. Not my mom and dad. dang. Oh well, so I now share my memory of Mom and Dad dancing in the kitchen with a fictional character named Sam. I suppose things could be a whole lot worse. How sad to think about neither of us being lucky enough to have that memory.

Donald doesn't know this yet, but he and I have a date to dance in the kitchen tonight . . .

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Clothes Lines Meet and Greet

Saturday, September 12 was a fun day!

Celia Miles and Nancy Dillingham invited all the women who contributed to Clothes Lines to a Coffee/Tea and Cookies Party. It was an opportunity to meet one another, exchange hugs with old friends, take a few pictures and enjoy the camaraderie of being part of a lovely endeavor, of which we're all quite proud.

Thank you Celia and Nancy for a lovely, lovely day.

Mr. Bill Mosher took some terrific pictures which can be found at his webpage, including this one -

I think Celia and Nancy have some plans cooking for upcoming gatherings and I look forward to them. What an honor to be involved in a project with such exceptionally talented women.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

The short-listed blogs which are up for awards for Book Blogger Appreciation Week have been announced.

Sincere congratulations to all the terrific bloggers who were nominated and a round of applause to those who were short-listed for awards. Sadly, Meanderings and Muses did not make it to the short-listed stage,


My friend Jen's wonderful blog - Jen's Book Thoughts - did! For the Best Thriller/Mystery/Suspense Blog - Yay! This is a well deserved honor and I hope she wins - and we can help! Jen does a terrific job and she's gained the respect and admiration of the mystery community in a big way. If you're not familiar with Jen's blogspot, take a peek, and if you like what you see, take a second and vote for her. The voting booth is now open -

Good Luck, Jen!!!! Here's a hug!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Scotland - Crime Fact and Crime Fiction, by Donna Moore

Donna Moore is the author of ...Go to Helena Handbasket which won the Lefty Award in 2007 for the most humourous crime fiction novel.

She has had short stories published in various anthologies - Damn Near Dead, Hell Of A Woman, and Best British Mysteries, as well as online for Pulp Pusher. Donna runs a blog called Big Beat From Badsville which focuses primarily on Scottish crime fiction. Her greatest adventure was traveling to the wilds of the Alaskan Bush two years running to teach creative writing in Yup'ik schools. While there, she held a short story competition for the students and produced an anthology of their stories and poems. She is still in touch with many of the teachers and students and hopes to go back again very soon.

Her second book - OLD DOGS - is coming out next year in both the UK and the US.

OLD DOGS is a crime caper set in Glasgow. It features two septuagenarian ex-hookers turned con artists who decide to steal a pair of golden, jewel-encrusted Shih Tzu dogs from a museum. Unfortunately, they're not the only ones after the dogs - including a pair of Glasgow neds, an out of work insomniac bent on revenge, and an innocent young Scottish islander who wants the dogs returned to the Buddhist monastery they came from. Oh, and there's an Australian hitman after the elderly con artists.

Scotland - Crime Fact and Crime Fiction
by Donna Moore

As I live in Glasgow, and have a blog dedicated to Scottish crime fiction, I thought I would talk a little about the rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh - both in crime fact and crime fiction.

A wide variety of crime fiction writers ply their trade in Scotland. Glasgow and Edinburgh, in particular, seem to have more than their fair share. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the River Clyde is chock full of dead bodies, or that there aren’t enough watering holes for the protagonists not to bump into each other at every turn. Well, I can’t vouch for the number of dead bodies in the Clyde, but Glasgow, at least, certainly has enough pubs.

But first, just the facts ma’am. Scotland is home to around 5.1 million people. Edinburgh, the nation’s capital in the east, has around 472,000 residents in its 100 square miles. Glasgow, in the west, is only 67 square miles but is Scotland’s most highly populated city with around 580,000 residents. A 50 minute train journey separates the two cities, but they’re separated by a heck of a lot more than that. Glaswegians say that the best thing to come out of Edinburgh is the train to Glasgow. Not surprisingly, the phrase is repeated slightly differently if you’re from Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is really dramatic and scenic. It’s built on seven hills and there are some really spectacular views. And it has a castle, lots of tourists, and more than a few blokes in skirts wailing on bagpipes. It’s also the home of Scotland's parliament (personally I think that’s because politicians are too scared to come to Glasgow). The parliament building caused a big stramash in Scotland because the cost of £431m was 10 times over budget. To add insult to injury, it was 3 years behind schedule, but, hey, what's £390m-odd between friends? House prices in Edinburgh are high, and the major employers (well, until recently perhaps) were banks, building societies and, obviously, really slow builders.

Glasgow is, and always has been, an industrial city and centre of trade (originally built up by tobacco merchants who built themselves swanky houses and tried to outdo each other). It was also a major shipbuilding city, before shipbuilding went into decline. It used to be very grimy, with all the buildings covered in centuries of dirt and soot but in the 1980s there was a major city wide clean up and all the buildings were steam cleaned and rejuvenated.

Both Glasgow and Edinburgh have wonderful old buildings in the city centre. A lot of these used to be fancy townhouses, but are now mostly offices. I prefer Glasgow's buildings - most of the city centre of Edinburgh is made of gray stone, and looks spectacular but cold. Glasgow is known for its blond and red sandstone buildings and it feels altogether warmer.

And it’s not only the buildings. There’s a lot of rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh and a lot of this is due to the perceived differences between its residents. Edinburgh and its people are seen as snooty, middle class, reserved, cold, serious, elegant, more refined. Glasgow and its people are seen as down to earth, working class, humorous, livelier, warm, friendlier.

There’s an old saying amongst people in Glasgow that there’s more fun to be had at a Glasgow stabbing than at an Edinburgh wedding. That tells you a lot about both places. I would like to add that I have been to an Edinburgh wedding and I had a whale of a time. I’m unable to vouch for the fun factor at a Glasgow stabbing. Perhaps my invitation got lost in the post. And I’m not even going to mention the football rivalry.

Glasgow drunks are funnier than Edinburgh drunks. If you get stuck next to one on a Glasgow bus, he’ll be more likely to sing you a Frank Sinatra favourite (My Way is the chosen anthem amongst Glasgow drunks – “Hand na-ow, the hend is ne-ah”) than anything else. I'm not kidding. I have been treated to a rendition of this on a bus by a Glasgow drunk whose false teeth didn't fit. He had a perfect, but very ill fitting, set of top dentures and two yellow bottom teeth - and I don't mean two yellow teeth in an otherwise perfect set. That's all he had - two yellow bottom teeth. And his top set moved independently - almost shooting out on occasion, only to be sucked back in again. It was like watching a badly dubbed Hungarian film. An Edinburgh drunk might treat you to an aria from Wagner's Ring Cycle.

Edinburgh likes to see itself as the cultured city, which is why they have a month long festival of theatre, comedy, dance, books, film etc in August, just to prove it. In Glasgow the equivalent is a drunk bloke peeing in the alleyway behind where I work (I jest, of course, Glasgow has great festivals and culture. In fact, last night I went to see Ibsen's GHOSTS at the theatre. That there was a drunk bloke peeing in the car park when we came out did not spoil my enjoyment one jot.)

There’s a lot to see in Edinburgh. Apart from the castle, there are some really great historic buildings, a Museum of Childhood, the cemetery where bodysnatchers Burke and Hare plied their trade and some underground streets which were supposedly blocked off during the plague and the residents left to die a slow painful death (did I mention that Edinburgh was less friendly than Glasgow?). There’s also the Heart of Midlothian. As well as being a football team, this is a paving slab which is in the centre of Edinburgh, it’s heart shaped, and it’s supposed to be at the heart of Midlothian (the district Edinburgh is in). So, unable to come up with something witty or apt, they called it the Heart of Midlothian. It’s supposed to be good luck if you spit on it and means you will come back (Rome gets a lovely fountain full of coins, Scotland gets a bit of stone covered in spit - lovely - no wonder we had the plague).

I once took a friend through to Edinburgh and told her this story, so she decided to spit on it for good luck. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very good luck for her, as the wind was blowing quite strongly and, well, to be frank, she didn’t check the wind direction very carefully and she ended up with a faceful of spit – only some of which was her own. In Glasgow, we don’t have a special place to spit, people just do it wherever they like. I suppose that’s another cultural divide between the two cities.

Glasgow is not as rich in historical culture, and consequently doesn’t have as many tourist attractions, although it does have a beautiful square (if you watch that webcam long enough you will see a drunk bloke peeing on the statue of Queen Victoria), some great museums and galleries. It also has better shopping. Much better shopping. Glasgow also has better clubs (although if you go to some of them, you might be able to test out the Glasgow stabbing/ Edinburgh wedding theory. Clatty Pats, sadly, has since closed down, although a much more upmarket club has taken the name for a special once a month - I wonder if they are resurrecting the sticky carpets along with the cheesy 80s disco music). Many of these clubs are not places to go to when you’re sober. And if you do, you’ll hurriedly remedy that in a bid to forget the whole horrendous experience.

So let’s turn to murder – as, indeed, it seems more and more people in Scotland are doing. A report called Homicide in Scotland revealed that for 2007-2008 there were 114 homicides in Scotland, down slightly from the previous year. But still the highest in Europe per head of population, a title shared with two other countries - Portugal and Finland. The Monty Python team were right, it would seem. Finland does have it all. By the way, you might want to avoid Colombia, Sierra Leone and Honduras...

Back to Scotland. The wild west is the most dangerous place to live with the murder rate in Strathclyde being almost 50% of the total. We’re a bloodthirsty lot over here in the west. Almost half of the attackers were drunk or on drugs (no surprise there, then – presumably they do it when taking time off from peeing in alleyways).

Bizarrely, of the remaining 50% only about a quarter were definitely not on drink or drugs. For the remainder, it was, apparently, impossible to tell. I have that problem every day. Most murders occurred at the weekend and involved young males (with 4 times more men than women being killed), around half of the murders involved stabbings (with shootings accounting for only 4% of the total). 80% of the victims knew their killers and 12% of Scottish murder cases were committed by women

As a 46 year old woman it’s reassuring to note that I’m relatively unlikely to be a murder victim in Glasgow. A thorough analysis of the statistics shows that I can lower my chances still further if I hide the steak-knives, only go out on Tuesdays, and try not to make anyone angry. I’m not convinced, however. Having been mugged three and a half times, I feel as though I may be walking around surrounded by neon lights, only visible to the criminal eye, which spell out ‘Lookee here, a crime waiting for somewhere to happen’.

The traditional view of murder on the east and west coasts is that in Edinburgh the murders are carried out in secret behind the locked doors of elegant Georgian houses, whereas in Glasgow it’s all drugs, razor gangs and Taggart drawling “There’s a boady in thuh riv-uh”. Needless to say, there are plenty of net-curtained suburbs in Glasgow, and the regal Georgian terraces in Edinburgh are just as likely to house brothels and drug dealers as the housing estates are.

I currently feature 90 or so crime writers on my blog - http://www.bigbeatfrombadsville.blogspot.com/ - some of them live in Scotland, some were born in Scotland, some of them set their books here. They range from the cosy, to the ultra dark, and they write about domestic murders, serial killers, conspiracies and random acts of senseless violence. There are amateur sleuths, policemen, PIs and forensic experts. Their books are set in the past, the present and the future, in cities and in towns, and in the highlands and islands. That's rather a lot of crime fiction writers for one small country. It must be something in the water. Probably a dead body.

So, dear Kaye's readers, do you have any favourite Scottish authors? Have I missed any off my list? I'd love to know! And where is your favourite setting for a crime fiction book?

Thank you for having me :o)