NYC Quiz

On Sunday 7/13 in New York City, there were many Camilles at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Here are two of them. If you can identify both, a prize is yours!

Top of the Rock

I’m in New York for ThrillerFest, and looking forward to a panel with both old and new friends.

It’s only fitting that I took my first Selfie at the Top of the Rock overlooking Central Park during ThrillerFest 2013. Here it is as a placeholder for next week’s report.

Long May It Wave

I’m a big fan of the American flag. One of my favorite reminders is a present from my sister-in-law, years ago: a flag attached to an electric base. Switch it on and the flag waves!  Here it’s pictured next to the miniature post office I’ve been working on in connection with my new series: the Post Office Mysteries.

THE FLAG is at the very beginning of the first book in the series:

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On most days, I love my job. Who else gets to start the day by raising the American flag outside her office? Military personnel, I suppose, and maybe law enforcement officers. But they have to suit up with a belt full of tools and weapons, while I just shrug into a comfortable blue shirt and a striped scarf with its special, ready-made, sewn-in knot that sits low and soft on my neck. Not exactly clubbing clothes, but then there aren’t any clubs in North Ashcot, Massachusetts, and, anyway, it’s Monday and I’m here to work.

Postmaster Cassie Miller reporting for duty.

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Wishing everyone a great 4th of July weekend!

Blog Hopping with Friends

Diana Orgain, the very talented author of the Maternal Instincts Mystery Series and many other stories, asked me to participate in a BLOG HOP (which is the only kind of hopping you’ll see me do these days!) The blogs are devoted to how writers go through their process of writing. I hope you enjoy our hop, and will tune in to the writers featured at the end of this blog.

Meanwhile, here are my responses to the Blog Hop questions.

What am I working on/writing? I’m working on a new series for  Berkley Prime Crime: the Post Office Mysteries. I’ve been talking about it for a while, but it’s been official for only the last week! (As one of my author friends says, it’s official when the check clears!)

The first book in the series; Death Takes Priority will be released in August 2015. My protagonist, Postmaster Cassie Miller has already taught me a thing or two about the USPS. Did you know, for example:

• The Postal Service delivers to about one hundred fifty-two million addresses nationwide.

•Almost forty million changes of address are processed each year.

• The Postal Service has zero dependence on tax dollars, relying on the sale of products and services for its operating costs.

• There are nearly forty-two thousand zip codes in the country.

• Many famous people have spent time in the Postal Service: Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Harry S Truman; entertainers Rock Hudson, Bing Crosby, and Walt Disney; aviator Charles Lindbergh; and novelist William Faulkner. Also yours truly, and, no, not when it was pony express.

If you have any interesting/fun/horror post office stories, send them along to me!

How does my writing/work differ from others in its genre?

I try to make my characters a little quirky, but not too much. So, Sophie Knowles is obsessed with puzzles; Gerry Porter with dollhouses and her granddaughter; Gloria Lamerino with costume jewelry pins with a science motif; and Cassie Miller, the new girl on the scene, with all things postal. Not that she actually goes postal.

My mysteries are cozy, so no on-camera sex or violence, but also no crazy mothers-in-law with red wigs, and no groan-worthy puns. Not that there’s anything wrong with . . .

Why do I write what I do? I love puzzles, and cozy mysteries present the ultimate puzzle: the whodunit. But there’s more — writing a novel requires an intimate connection with the characters, and I find it hard to sustain that intensity with a really bad person! So, while I love reading Dexter-type books, I can’t write them. I do experiment with nasty protagonists through flash fiction and short stories.

How does my writing process work? Like Diana, I use every trick and procedure I can think of. When one isn’t working I move to the next. For the most part, I’m a pantser—writing by the seat of my pants. BUT at the end of every book, when I’m struggling with tying it all together, I vow to outline the next time. It hasn’t happened yet.

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Next week’s Blog Hop, Monday, June 30 – Meet three awesome writers who will answer the same questions. Rita Lakin, Andrew MacRae, and Ann Parker.

Andrew MacRae is a misplaced Midwesterner who rolled downhill to California and the Bay Area twenty-five years ago. Although his studies were in theater he has worked in the high tech field for most of his adult life, doing engineering work in such fields as real-time process control, operating systems, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. One of his projects in VR was the creation of the Virtual Globe Theatre, a model of Shakespeare’s theater as it stood in 1599.

On the writing side, he has had several mystery and crime stories published recently as well as slipstream, historical stories and children’s stories. For the past dozen years he has also had some success with poetry as well, placing poems in various literary journals and picking up occasional awards.

His mystery writing tends to alternate between cozy and noir. His novel, Murder Misdirected, on the light noir side, is about a pickpocket who picks the wrong pocket one day and is now on the run from the police, the FBI and a mysterious and murderous criminal. While not himself adept at pickpocketing, he is conversant in the techniques and skills employed by those who practice that art and references them in his novel.

In his spare time he leads a monthly folk music jam, hosts a monthly open mic, presents showings of classic movies, produces concerts and staged radio shows and serves on a city historic architecture review board.

Visit Andy at http://www.murdermisdirected.com

Rita Lakin spent twenty-five years in Television as a writer and a producer. Some of her credits include Dr. Kildare, Peyton Place, Mod Squad & Dynasty. She has just completed writing her memoir about those early years in Hollywood, entitled The Only Woman in the Room.

She has written seven comedy mystery novels about Gladdy Gold and her senior group of private eyes. She won Left Coast Crime LEFTY AWARD in 2009 for Getting Old is a Disaster. Her third Gladdy Gold book, Getting Old is Criminal is being produced as a TV movie in Germany.

Her many nominations and awards include Writers Guild of America, MWA Edgar, and the Avery Hopwood award from the University of Michigan.

Visit Rita  at www.ritalakin.com


Ann Parker lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is a science/corporate writer by day and a crime fiction writer by night (sometimes vice versa).

Her award-winning, critically acclaimed Silver Rush historical series, featuring saloon-owner Inez Stannert, is set in 1880s Colorado, primarily in the silver boomtown of Leadville. Books in the series  order include SILVER LIES … IRON TIES … LEADEN SKIES … and, most recently … MERCURY’S RISE.

Her series is published by Poisoned Pen Press, and the books are available in print (hardback and tradepaper), bits and bytes (i.e., ebook), and audiobook formats. Ann has a somewhat dusty personal blog at http://silverrushmysteries.blogspot.com/ (time to pull out the dust rag!) as well as being co-administrator and member blogger of The LadyKillers authors blog: http://theladykillers.typepad.com.

She can be also be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/annparker.writer. Website: www.annparker.net.

Re-Blogging

I’m in a cutting corners kind of place — very busy, so why bother folding pajamas, when you’re just going to have to unfold them to wear them? Have you been there?

That intro is by way of saying, this piece on Fairy Tales is being re-blogged, from the LadyKillers where I also show up. If you’ve read it there and are aggravated at the repeat, let me know, and I’ll never do it again!

A Fairy Tale

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a fairy tale. But if I remember correctly, most of them are scary, with disastrous endings for some, if not all, of the characters, sometimes my favorites. Like the step-mother in Cinderella. Doesn’t she get carted off to jail by CPS? I’m a step-mother, so I wasn’t pleased by that.

I went on a search for “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” to see if there were any with happy endings. I learned that the book contains 209 tales! I clicked on a few, with mixed success, until I came upon this one. At last, a fairy tale that I can use in a math or physics class! Here it is, The Shepherd Boy:

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There was once upon a time a shepherd boy whose fame spread

far and wide because of the wise answers which he gave to every

question.

The king of the country heard of it likewise, but

did not believe it, and sent for the boy. Then he said to

him, if you can give me an answer to three questions which I

will ask you, I will look on you as my own child, and you shall

dwell with me in my royal palace.

The boy said, what are the three questions.

The king said, the first is, how many drops

of water are there in the ocean.  The shepherd boy answered, lord

king, if you will have all the rivers on earth dammed up so that

not a single drop runs from them into the sea until I have

counted it, I will tell you how many drops there are in the sea.

The king said, the next question is, how many stars are there

in the sky.  The shepherd boy said, give me a great sheet of

white paper, and then he made so many fine points on it with a

pen that they could scarcely be seen,

and it was all but impossible to count them,

any one who looked at them would have lost his sight.  Then he

said, there are as many stars in the sky as there are points

on the paper.  Just count them.  But no one was able to do it.

The king said, the third question is, how many seconds of time

are there in eternity.  Then said the shepherd boy, in

lower pomerania is the diamond mountain, which is two miles

high, two miles wide, and two miles deep.  Every hundred

years a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on it, and

when the whole mountain is worn away by this, then the first

second of eternity will be over.

The king said, you have answered the three questions like a

wise man, and shall henceforth dwell with me in my royal

palace, and I will regard you as my own child.

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If you have a better explanation for infinity, or for the limits in calculus, or for the great theological questions, let’s hear them!

A Rose is a Rose

In case you’re tired of hearing my rants about inside v. outside, trees v. buildings — here’s another take on “nature” from my good friend and wonderful writer, Bette Lamb. Thanks for this fragrant, beautiful piece, Bette.

ROSE FEVER

by Bette Lamb

I’m a rose geek. I love them all.

Like the mixtures of people that inhabit the earth, there is no one race, one color that is the most beautiful. We are like a rose-filled garden. Exquisite!
“A rose, is a rose, is a rose.”

I think Gertrude Stein really was a closet rose geek, informing us that merely saying the word rose could encompass everything wondrous and elegant in life. What more need be said, when the word rose says it all?
People? Trees, plants, roses. We’re all alive and vibrant for such a short span of time. And for roses, that interlude is gone in the blink of an eye. But in that moment of existence, they are all ravishing. Every single one.

Yes, I am a rose geek.

What is it about that gorgeous creation? A flower that exists with a wild palette of colors that can make my heart soar every single time I walk into my garden. As I slide by thorns that sometimes glide over my skin, sometimes puncture and hurt, I’m forced from a dreamy state of mind into the reality, the duality of good and evil, the duality of life. Things that are pure can be polluted, beauty can turn ugly, friendships can sour, love can die or turn to hate, or fear.

Many complain about the work it takes to maintain roses. The constant deadheading (I have over fifty roses bushes, so you know I’m busy), and I know the hardest chore is being right there in the early spring ‒ long after the massive job of pruning ‒ watching each plant carefully to catch that moment when a thumbnail spike of green magically pops out from the stems. It’s then I can lay down nitrogen-filled alfalfa pellets that will nourish the earth and my roses. It’s critical. It all has to be done before that spike opens and leafs out or you’ve missed a golden opportunity. And sometimes I do miss that exact moment. But that’s another thing about roses; they’re forgiving. If I’m off in my timing and toss the pellets anyway, everything still seems to work out and I end up with an eye full of the most gorgeous flowers you can image.

They must love me, too.

If you came into my garden and shared those precious moments, you could feel the passion that I and so many others feel when they see this incredible creation we call a rose. Watch people’s eyes light up when you bring them a bouquet right from your own piece of land, your own secret garden. Have you noticed? If you have one or two blossoms that have nose-flaring aromas, every single person experiences instant rapture; even the most cynical among us. It’s hard to resist a ravishing rose staring you in the face. And that’s the rapture I feel when I walk into my garden, particularly at this time of year. My senses swim in a kaleidoscope of color, and I am dazzled, I simply can’t take it all in at once — the different shapes, the reds, the pinks, the yellows.

And the aromas?
Even the ones that don’t have an odor, have a freshness that surrounds you and makes you feel your primal connection to the earth. Every single rose calls out to you and makes you want to stop. And right there in the mix of it all is the miracle of the bees flitting back and forth, sometimes stopping to look at you as if you were a flower. Maybe it’s silly, but they seem to like me hanging out among them as they do their massive job—‒a job that helps to preserve life on our planet.

There are many people in the world who aren’t rose geeks, garden geeks, plant geeks like me. And so many who continue to take for granted all the living wonders of our diverse planet—the same people who never look up at the trees or admire the beauty that the struggle for life creates. But when they smile at single rose, I feel hope.
Someday they’ll understand.
Do you think they will?

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BETTE GOLDEN LAMB has developed parallel careers as an RN, writer, sculptor, and ceramist. Her art works can be found in a number of galleries and in private collections nationally. Bette, unmistakably from the Bronx, says that’s a clue as to why she loves to write dark and gritty thrillers. She has co-authored, with husband J. J., six crime novels, four in the Gina Mazzio RN medical thriller series. She’s also under contract for a stand-alone, Rx Deferred  — a  near-future medical thriller, scheduled to appear in late 2014.

Neither snow nor rain . . .

I’m on a field trip today to a post office in Canyon, CA — research for my new Post Office series, which will be launched next summer.

I’ll be back next week with photos and a report. For now, a look at a miniature I’m building with the help of a 10-y.0. crafter (hmm, like another  series I’m associated with):

My one-inch-to- one-foot-scale post office

Also, for fun: a word about what is (NOT) the official motto of the USPS (it has no motto).

The inscription

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

is loosely based on the ancient Greek equivalent of the pony express. It was translated and inscribed on the James Farley PO Building in New York, now part of the US National Register of Historic Places.

Do you love your post office? Tell me your story and it might be in the series!

A Star is Born

Here’s what happened when my first book, The Hydrogen Murder, came out in 1997.

I set up a signing at a market close to my home. The manager had always dreamed of owning a bookstore and having author signings, and I was only too happy to be her first.

My friend went all out, with a special carpet on the floor, coffee from the café next door. The local paper devoted a couple of column inches to the event. I got all dressed up and lugged a crate of books to the store.

Imagine my excitement when the first customer walked in and headed right for me.

“I saw the announcement. Are you the author?” he asked.

A resounding “Yes!”

The man handed me his card. “I’m an artist. I’d love to talk to you about doing your next book cover.”

Cue the low notes.

That was 17 years ago. Things are about the same; I’m just not shocked any more.

Raise your hand if you like to sell. I mean, sell anything—cookies, your book, a product you’ve created, or yourself.

My hands are by my side. Not a good posture in today’s world of 24/7 marketing and promotion.

For authors, it’s essential to keep our names out there, they tell us. A recent article in a popular writers’ magazine suggests that authors doing signings at bookstores start by “easing a copy” of their book into the hands of anyone who seems curious, and tell them what a “terrific book” it is and how “people are talking about it.”

hahahahahahaha.

Here’s how I started my sales career.

In the early 80s, I formed a company around products I made. The idea was to put images and quotes from science and engineering on common items such as potholders, mugs, note cards … anything that had a design. I wanted to replace the mushrooms and butterflies that dominated kitchen towels with an educational theme.

One of my first products was a calendar of dates in science and engineering. Pre-internet, it took nearly a year of evenings and weekends to come up with at least one entry for every day. For May 29, for example, I typed in Hoover Dam set in concrete, Solar eclipse confirms Einstein’s theory, 1919.

I thought a good market for the calendar might be the many bookstores around the UC campus where I lived. I made a list and ventured out. (Pre-internet, remember.)

I walked into the first bookstore, stepped to counter and said (and this is pretty much verbatim), “Excuse me, I hate to bother you. I have something here and you’re probably not interested. It’s a calendar and I know you already have a lot of them and maybe don’t want another one.”

The response was something like, “Yup. No, thanks.”

I was shocked when the business failed.

I’ve gotten a little better in “promoting my books,” but the phrase still has a slightly grating sound to me. I don’t like people who promote (anything) aggressively; I don’t want to be like them. Yet we’ve seen how often aggressive promotion “wins.”

P. T. Barnum, a pioneer in the art of promotion said, Without promotion, something terrible happens … nothing!

So it’s not enough to make a good product or write a good book, you have tell everyone it’s good; even better if you claim it’s the greatest show on earth.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to do that without blushing.

PUNCTUATION CHECK

My guest today is my good friend Jo Mele. Here’s what she says about herself:

DEPLANING AF 1

Jo Mele, Executive Director, Emeritus College, world traveler, caregiver, mother, grandmother, published author of The Asperger Alphabet, Parents Magazine; Flowers, Fauna & Firearms, Our Trip to Bolivia, The Sun Newspaper; and author of many yet unpublished pieces.

She left out the part about being an inspiration to her students (and mine), and an all-around credit to her native New York.

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PUNCTUATION CHECK by Jo Mele

It took me decades, to get over mentally diagramming, and correctly punctuating each sentence, before I put a word to paper. The result, I stopped writing.

In grammar school (that’s funny) I was the queen of perfect sentence structure, and punctuation. Of course, I only wrote short simple sentences. See Jack run. See Mary run. Boring, but correct! (My computer says that last line is a phrase and to consider revising. Who asked it?)

In a college creative writing class, my papers would often come back marked – grammatically correct but boring sentences.

Another time the prof scrawled in red, you must have gone to parochial school – get over it! (Not quite sure how I should have punctuated all that.)

It was difficult to break away from the rules, and write badly – with confidence.  But I did it.

The result, I’m enjoying writing, and doing it without overthinking each word, comma, or exclamation mark.  I have a lot of run on sentences, but that’s how I talk. I come from a large NY Italian family; if you pause for breath, you lose the floor (to someone with more lung capacity).

I’m taking a writing class, and my instructor says my writing is creative, but my punctuation is awful. (Was that a run-on sentence?) I’m delighted with my work; the writing teacher is not as delighted. The first time I wrote; I’m delighted with the work – the teacher not so much; she took it personally, so I changed it.

I’ve recently resolved the problem, while maintaining my creativity. Someone else reads my work and corrects the punctuation. I should have thought of this sooner. I would have written more.

I know I could learn to punctuate again, but I’d rather be grammatically incorrect than boring. (I wanted to say ‘totally boring’ but I was told not to use ly words.)

Thankfully (Oops, ly again), we now have spell check, and grammar check; where is punctuation check?

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Note from instructor, CM: I’m more and more delighted with Jo’s work each day. Totally.

Blinstrub’s and a Chesterfield

Are you here?

It’s about time I used my computer the way it was meant to be used: to find old friends.

I found this photo in a box of old black-and-whites. It was in a folder marked “Blinstrub’s,” which I remember as a Boston nightclub where everything was happening. If you could afford a night at Blinstrub’s and a pack of cigarettes, you were among the chosen. How you came into such wealth was never questioned.

I searched Google and got its history, but it didn’t help in identifying the men in this photo.

If I don’t find out soon 1) why there are only men in the photo, 2) what they were celebrating, 3) what schemes they came up with — I’m going to make it all up and publish it.

Are you in here? Is your grandfather the third from the front on the left side of the table?

Give me a call!