Saturday, March 29, 2014

Day Pass – Left Coast Crime

Saturday morning was spent on a road trip from the Central Valley so my Day Pass was half-shot before I even checked in at Left Coast Crime. I made it to the Portola’s DeAnza Room No. 2 just as the Thriller panel ended, and snapped my first photo of the afternoon—an achy-breaky snapshot that would scare small children on Halloween.

What’s my excuse? Would you believe an earthquake rumbled through as I snapped the shutter? No? Give me a minute. I’ll think of something. I have permission from Timothy Hallinan and Keith Raffel to post this photo. Great writers and good sports, those two.

Keith Raffel has served as counsel to the Senate Intelligence

Committee, founded an internet software company and taught writing at Harvard. Two of his thrillers made my all-time favorites list.

In A FINE AND DANGEROUS SEASON, set during the Cuban missile crisis, President Kennedy President Kennedy calls on a college friend to work behind the scenes, giving the Russians enough wiggle room to avoid war. In DOT DEAD, a Silicon Valley executive goes home at noon to change his mismatched socks and finds his housekeeper dead in his bed, making him the obvious suspect.

Keith brought me up to date on his thriller-in-progress. TEMPLE MOUNT moves from the wealthy enclave of Woodside, California to Jerusalem. Logline: A Silicon Valley entrepreneur finds himself heir to the secret of the lost Ark of the Covenant. You can read the first four chapters on Keith’s blog at Be sure to follow the Kickstarter link to read how he fully funded the book in 30 days and how he uses “crowd editing.”

Timothy Hallinan lives half the year in Southeast Asia and half the year in Southern California. He has a life many writers might envy but he doesn't take it for granted or rest on his laurels. He’s juggling three series, with all titles available to his devoted readers. He doesn’t waste time. He wrote CRASHED, the first Junior Bender book, in six weeks.

Junior Bender is the crook's crook, for hire to L.A.’s underworld elite. THE FAME THIEF was a nominee for the Lefty Award at LCC. Lionsgate bought film/TV rights to the series.

HERBIE’S GAME is coming from Soho Press in July. It’s funny, reflective and beautifully written, with a darker edge than earlier books in the series. Junior suffers a great loss and tries to put his life into some kind of meaningful perspective while struggling with the idea that “if you can’t get closure, get even.” It’s a big book at more than 100,000 words, but the short chapters are laid out so skillfully that the story is easy to follow.

Also bought for film is THE FEAR ARTIST, a Poke Rafferty book. Set in Bangkok during the worst monsoon season in 60 years. Poke Rafferty gets caught in an assassination scenario against a backdrop of Washington D.C.'s fear that the Muslim uprising in Thailand could open a new Islamic terror front. A knockout book and one of my all-time favorites.

In the 1990s Tim wrote six novels featuring a Los Angeles private eye named Simeon Grist. All six have found new life as e-books, available for Kindle. In Tim’s words: “I’m up to my mustache in books.” In the works are a new Poke Rafferty book and a new Junior Bender.

Tim gave me another tsk-tsk nudge about finishing my second book, which has been stuck on Chapter 16 almost forever. Tim’s advice: “Just write the rest, put it away for two weeks, then go back and edit it.” Worth a shot. If I ever finish this recap I’ll try it.

Tim estimates that 98 per cent of all novels that people begin are never finished. He posted an excellent segment call “Finish Your Novel” on his blog. Check it out at

I was early for the Amateur Sleuth panel in DeAnza Room No. 2 so I had time for a photo and quick chat with Naomi Hirahara and Diane Vallere.

One of my favorite characters of the past few years is Mas Arai, an amiable, aging gardener introduced by Naomi in THE SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI. Naomi has said that Mas Arai is modeled after her father Isamu, also known as “Sam.” Both the fictional character and the real man were in Hiroshima when the atom bomb was dropped 69 years ago—August 6, 1945.

Isamu was born in the U.S. but taken to Japan as a small child. In a 2011 interview on National Public Radio (NPR) Naomi says both of her parents were in Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped. Her mother, Mayumi, lived in the countryside, but her father was only a few miles from ground zero. She believes his after-school job at the Hiroshima train station saved Isamu Hirahara's life.

 Eventually, Isamu returned to the U.S. (and) settled in the hills above Pasadena … The hostility toward Japanese — including Japanese-Americans — made it hard for many to find jobs, regardless of their education or background. Hirahara wanted to reflect that struggle in her books.

Naomi’s latest adventure is a new series starring Officer Ellie Rush, a rookie LAPD bike cop who dreams of becoming a homicide detective. Berkley will release MURDER ON BAMBOO LANE on April 1.

Diane Vallere is a new author to me and I love the introduction—PILLOW STALK.

Madison Night owns Mad For Mod, an interior decorating business in a small Texas town near Dallas, about as far as she could get from Pennsylvania. She's running from a broken heart and she's stuck in the 1950s. She wants to be Doris Day.

Pushing 50, Madison could have stepped out of a Doris Day movie—blonde hair, blue eyes, cute vintage clothes. Her only competitor, Pamela, is also into '50s-style decorating. Unfortunately for both decorators, Pamela ends up dead, with her feet sticking out from underneath Madison's car. Somebody out there is not a fan of Doris Day lookalikes.

Diane also writes the Style & Error Mystery series (currently optioned for TV), and has a new series coming from Berkley Prime Crime in November. The Material Witness Mystery Series features Polyester Monroe who inherits a fabric store from her great uncle.

Diane spent 20 years in the fashion business and is currently President of the Los Angeles Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Lord luv a duck. These people make me feel like such slug.

Naomi moderated the Amateur Sleuth panel, which included Christine Goff, Helen Smith and Rochelle Staab.

Christine Goff writes the Birdwatcher’s Mystery series with a focus on environmental themes. DEATH SHOOTS A BIRDIE (2007) was last in the series, currently out of print.

Currently with her agent is a thriller set in Israel.

Helen Smith lives in London, as in England. Her new comic mystery series features amateur sleuth Emily Castles. In INVITATION TO DIE, Emily is hired to help at an international conference of romance writers. She works with the guest speaker to solve the murder of an American blogger. No, that’s not a spoiler. Smith tells us in the first sentence that the blogger's invitation to the conference is an invitation to die. This is a book I have to read.

Rochelle Staab is a former radio programmer and music industry executive. Her BRUJA BROUHAHA won the 2013 Watson Award for Best Sidekick at last year’s Left Coast Crime. The series sleuths are psychologist Liz Cooper and occult expert Nick Garfield.

In the award-winning book Liz and Nick attend a 60th anniversary celebration for a pair of Santeria practitioners. Liz tries her hand at a divination ritual using four chunks of unshelled coconut. She asks a question and tosses the coconut chunks like dice. All four chunks fall skin up, signifying death. Everyone pretends not to believe the warning, but death breaks up the party brutally and unexpectedly.

This was a lively panel. Moderator Naomi Hirahara got the audience laughing by saying, “Welcome to ASS—A-S-S—Amateur Sleuth Saturday.” She kept things moving by asking questions for panelists to answer without notes. For example, she quoted Stephen King who said that people like to peek into the jobs of other people. Panelists responded by talking about the jobs held by their characters: bird watching, psychology, alternate religions, gardening.

Naomi pulled the audience in by asking them to laugh loud and hysterically, and you never heard such a racket. An hour with ASS was an hour of fun.

And then it was time for a coffee break. My one regret was that I had to skip the hospitality room. It was located down a flight of steps with no ramp and I was trundling along with a walker. I trundled out of the lobby and across the way to the coffee shop. It was a great place, with wall-to-wall windows for watching the passing parade. Then it was back to the lobby to park myself in an alcove and catch 40 winks before meeting the Oak Tree Press group in Jack’s Bar.

Amazing, what you can pack into an afternoon. I met some favorite authors. I hoisted a glass and chowed down in Jack’s Bar with a lively group of Oak Tree authors. Hmmmm, well, I ordered a Diet Coke and a club sandwich, but the company was as bubbly as a glass of champagne. Billie Johnson, Publisher of Oak Tree Oak Tree Press, hosted the informal gathering.

From Cora Ramos’s web site: "My first novel, DANCE THE DREAM AWAKE, emerged from a personal experience that occurred to me while in Mexico in 1987 during the Harmonic Convergence." Set in the Yucatan, it is billed as a paranormal romantic suspense. Cora explores the past lives of her two main characters in her work-in-progress, a "sizzling romance set in Heian Japan, 980 AD.” Cora’s panel was Turning Up The Heat On The Amateur Sleuth.

Denise Weeks (aka Shalanna Collins) brought her family to Monterey for a full-fledged vacation. Left Coast Crime was the launch venue of her Bliss Sisters Magical Adventure Series with APRIL, MAYBE JUNE. Her panel was Turning Up The Heat On The Amateur Sleuth.

My favorite of Denise’s books will always be MURDER BY THE MARFA LIGHTS. Marfa is a quirky little town in West Texas where unexplained ghost lights have tantalized locals and tourists since Civil War Days. Dallas resident Ari gets a phone call saying her runaway lover, Aaron, has died in Marfa and left her his substantial estate. Before she discovers what he was really up to, she meets a snake handler, a character who collects poisonous spiders, an Apache lawyer who listens to Navajo prayers on his car radio, and a musician who keeps a pet wolf and smuggles illegal aliens. She also survives the evil intentions of a murderer who wants Aaron’s money-making scheme for himself. A great read!

Marta Chausee’s debut novel, MURDER'S LAST RESORT, won the 2012 Dark Oak Mystery Contest. The novel features Maya French, whose husband owns a luxury hotel in Orlando, Florida. The hotel hosts a conference of upper management but when bodies start piling up, Maya decides to ignore the local cops and do her own nosing around to unmask a killer.

You’d never guess to look at her but last year was the year from hell for Marta. She tells all in Lelia Taylor’s Buried Under Books blog and ends with this:
(Quote) My life is a mess. I’m depleted. Moody and living in boxes in my new place–darling but tiny. I hate my life and what is happening to it. I see my Clydesdale future before me–poor, fat, old, and involuntarily celibate. They shoot horses, don’t they? (End Quote)

Ouch! Maybe a rush of readers to buy her book will help. Meantime, she joined Cora and Denise on the panel Turning Up The Heat On The Amateur Sleuth.

Rabbi Ilene Schneider has a gold-plated bio. Let’s just say she is a retired hospice chaplain and author of the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries – CHANUKAH GUILT and UNLEAVENED DEAD. First published by Swimming Kangaroo in paperback in 2007, the e-book edition of CHANUKAH GUILT was published by Oak Tree in January 2014.  In this series debut Rabbi  Aviva Cohen's life takes a sinister turn when she officiates at an unpopular land developer's funeral and the funeral results in suicide -- or murder.

Ilene’s work–in-progress, YOM KILLER, is about suspicious deaths in a senior citizens facility. Her panel was Unusual Sleuths:Your Day Job Is What?

Sharon A. Moore lives in the desert Southwest and writes full-time after retiring from 39 years as an educator. MISSION IMPASTABLE introduced her "Dinner is Served" culinary mystery series. The protagonists are Alli and her long-time friend Gina who form a personal chef business. Things go well until their first customer ends up dead—from food poisoning. There’s an interesting book trailer on You Tube at  Sharon also writes sizzling romances under the pen name Angelica French.

Lorna Collins and Larry Collins have been married 47 years. Among other projects during a busy life, they helped build a Universal Studios theme park in Osaka, Japan. A writing team, their newest book is an historical novel, THE MEMORY KEEPER, set in San Juan Capistrano. The story is told by a Juaneno Indian who has lived under three flags—Spain, Mexico and the United States. Lorna was on the Small Press v. Independent Panel. Larry was a panelist for Day On The Beach: Murder At The Seashore

D.R.(Diane) Ransdell is a writer, a writing teacher, a traveler and a musician. Wait, there’s more. She moonlights as a mariachi player. She moderated The Character-Driven Mystery

Oak Tree published D.R.’s first mystery, MARIACHI MURDER, in2013. A dangerous woman, a guilty conscience and a mariachi band in jeopardy bedevil Andy Veracruz, all in the midst of a Southern California heat wave. Just wrapping up is ISLAND CASUALTY which takes Andy to Greece. He plans to spend his days swimming and his nights making love. Dream on, Andy.

Writers who stopped in included (not pictured) Marilyn Meredith and M.M. Gornell.

Marilyn Meredith lives near Central California’s Tule River Reservation, which she calls Bear Creek Reservation in her popular, long-running Tempe Crabtree series. Marilyn is like the Energizer Bunny who just keeps going, and going, and going. Marilyn was a panelist for Writing The Native American Protagonist.

M.M. (Madeline) Gornell lives in California’s high desert and writes the Route 66 Mysteries. Her books consistently win awards. Among them is a standalone with a catchy title: DEATH OF A PERFECT MAN. She expects to release RHODES this year. Madeline was on the panel discussion of Small Press Versus Independent.

And so Left Coast Crime goes into the archives. A tip of the hat to the conference organizers and volunteers, and to the hotel staff. They worked miracles.

Books and Cupcakes Book Photo Challenge - March 29


Monday, March 17, 2014

Books and Cupcakes Book Photo Challenge - March 18

"Makes Me Smile"

The High Country Festival of the Book (HCFB) and associated author events are organized by the Friends of the Watauga County Public Library to draw attention to the importance of books, reading, and literacy.  
FRIDAY, JUNE 27     
With Author of Mrs. Poe, Lynn Cullen
At the Boone Golf Club 
Join us for this fund-raising dinner to support the 
Friends of the Library the High Country Festival of the Book  
Tickets to go on sale April 1

Lynn Cullen is the author of The Creation of Eve, named one of the best fiction books of the year by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution; and Reign of Madness, nominated for the Townsend Prize for fiction. She is also the author of numerous award-winning children’s books, including I Am Rembrandt’s Daughter.  Her newest book, Mrs. Poe is an 2013 NPR Best Read, one of the Atlanta Journal's Best Books of 2013, Editor's Pick in Historical Novels Review, and one of Oprah's Books That Make Time Stand Still.  An avid traveler and historian, she lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

1.    A question many writers hear during book signings is "where do
you get your ideas?"  How would you answer this?   Usually I get hooked by something I've read or seen in a museum.  People who have been maligned by history are my favorites—all my books are about people who have had horrible PR, so to speak.  Edgar Allan Poe, victim of the worst smear job in literary history, was just my sort of guy.

2.  Writers often say they're surprised by some things their
characters might do.  Have you experienced this?  If so, do you let
them just run loose for awhile to see where they'll take you or do you
manage to keep them under control at all times?  Ha!  Control them?  I live for my characters to run amuck.  For me as a writer, it’s my biggest thrill to let my characters take me on a wild joyride as I write.  I do very little planning ahead of time—I just have an inkling of the climax—and let the characters show me the way.  The discoveries they reveal to me are worth the years I have to put in
behind a computer screen. 

3. Is there a particular author who inspires you?  I am inspired most by the British writer, Penelope Lively.  I admire her sharp observational powers of human nature, her economy of words, and the deft way that she conveys emotional information between the lines of her stories.   I’m fascinated by how much we humans say to each other is actually unspoken, and Lively is the
master of the heartbreak of the unsaid.   She also inspires me because she started out writing children’s novels, just as I did, and went on to win the Booker Prize for her adult work.  Now that’s inspirational!

4. Is there a book you loved so much, you wish you could re-read it
again for the first time?  I love Penelope Lively’s HEAT WAVE and re-read it to jump-start me whenever I get stuck in my own writing.  WUTHERING HEIGHTS
serves the same purpose.   A more recent book that dazzled me is BEAUTIFUL RUINS.  Reading it each night was a wondrous discovery.

5.  What book(s) are on your nightstand right now?  Alice Munro’s DEAR LIFE is taunting me from the stack piled up next to my lamp.

Books and Cupcakes Book Photo Challenge - March 17


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Book Photo Challenge - March 2


Actually, I have two 

"Oh, Kaye!"

I love it when the first Sunday of the month rolls around, and I get to play "Oh, Kaye!" at Jungle Red.  Today I'm chatting about going to Birmingham and losing my status as a "panel virgin." I hope you'll drop by and say "Hey!"  -

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Book Photo Challenge - March 1

The Last Book I Read

New Photo Challenges

I loved the photo group I was in.  Loved it to pieces!

But, it became too much for me to be involved in and still write and do the other things that need to be done (like laundry, vacuuming, etc - you know, those things).  So I dropped out, but I have missed it.  I still take a lot of pictures, but having that daily prompt helped me move outside my comfort zone with my photos, and that was a good thing.

Today, I ran across this list on Facebook and have decided to give it a try.

Photos and Books - two of my favorite things!