Booked

A few nonfiction selections

On LadyKillers recently, we were asked: What do our characters read?

My answer: Not much.

I’m what you might call a heavy reader; I’m not sure why no one in my gallery of characters is even a light reader. They confine themselves to literature that’s pertinent to their jobs or interests, almost never including fiction or reading for relaxation. For example:

• Dr. Gloria Lamerino, retired physicist, reads Physics Today, Scientific American, and the New Yorker cartoons.

• Gerry Porter, retired English teacher and miniaturist, often quotes Shakespeare, but not once in 8 books has she picked up a volume and had a quiet read. She does occasionally leaf through a miniatures or crafts magazine.

• Professor Sophie Knowles, college math teacher, reads and contributes to mathematics journals and puzzle magazines. No fiction.

Finally, with my 4th series, I might have a reader.

• Cassie Miller (debuting in 2015), postmaster in a small Massachusetts town, reads crime fiction. Though I don’t give specific titles, I do have Cassie commenting on certain plot devices, and actually trying to read crime novels or watch crime dramas before bedtime. Granted she’s quickly distracted and turns to focusing on “the case” at hand.

One reason my amateur sleuths don’t read: they’re very busy people! In general, they solve a murder case in a week or at most two weeks. That’s pretty quick, considering real cops sometimes take months, often years. Also, reading is very passive, as opposed to, say, a car chase, a shoot-out, or even a quiet stalking scene. It’s hard to make a reading scene exciting.

She stretched out on the couch, put on her reading glasses, picked up a book, found the bookmark, opened the book,  . . .

See what I mean?

I’m in no such hurry, however, and under no obligation to live an action-packed life, so here’s what I’m reading.

Literary Fiction – recently finished The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, by Jonas Jonasson, not as “original” IMO, as his The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.

Mystery Fiction – often a cozy and a thriller going at the same time. Now: re-reading California Roll by John Vorhaus, for a book club.

Nonfiction – Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices, and Carlin Flora’s Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are

Technical – A new edition of my text for a fall class, Society and Technological Change, by Rudy Volti.

Assorted Magazines: Writers Digest, Publishers Weekly, the New Yorker (cartoons + articles), and for a Real Break, Real Simple.

My Book on TV: A True Story

A few years ago, Hallmark produced a TV movie based on Citizen Jane, a true crime book by Bay Area’s James Dalessandro. In one scene, Jane’s aunt is pictured sitting comfortably, reading. The book: my first, The Hydrogen Murder! She holds it up, the cover plain as day.

And then an intruder breaks in and murders her!

The book falls out of her hands and onto the floor, cover side up, immortalized as a part of the crime scene.

So, although my characters aren’t reading, someone is reading my characters!

Welcome Guest: Patricia Driscoll

Welcoming Patricia Driscoll, mystery writer, probation officer today. (I try to stay on the right side of the law!)

I’d like to thank Camille Minichino for inviting me to be a guest on her blog. After all, I hold Camille partly responsible for getting me involved in this crazy world of mystery writing. Several years ago, I interrupted her while she was taking a quiet break on the patio during the Book Passage Mystery Conference. I asked her to sign my newly purchased copy of “The Nitrogen Murders,” and from there a conversation was born.

What am I working on/writing?

I’m working on the final edits of my sequel to “Shedding Light on Murder.”  The working title is “Shedding Light on Evil.” The setting is an antique lamp store called Pearl’s which is located in a Cape Cod village. The lamp shop is inspired by a real lamp store in Yarmouth Port, where my mother worked for 27 years. It’s a very unique store, with beautiful lamps, mostly glass oil lamps that the owners have refurbished and repaired. They also make shades out of gorgeous papers and fabrics. A nice setting for a cozy mystery.

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

As far as I know, there aren’t any other probation officers or former probation officers writing mysteries. Grace Tolliver, my protagonist, is a former probation officer who has decided to give up her career to take over Pearl’s lamp shop. My experience as a probation officer for San Francisco Adult Probation, gave me exposure to the entire criminal justice system. I like to say that the police have the excitement of the chase, the lawyers the drama of the courtroom, and the probation officers the less than glamorous years spent working with the defendants on a personal basis. P.O.’s visit defendant’s homes, and meet their families, all in an effort to keep them from re-offending.  Experience with issues such as drugs and alcohol, mental health, domestic violence, stalking, gangs, sex abuse, robbery, burglary etc. give the probation officer an up close and personal understanding of the criminal, their motivations and desires. I also interviewed several murderers who were never going to be granted probation, but by law, are entitled to a pre-sentence report. All fodder for mystery writing.

Why do I write what I do?

I spend a lot of time on Cape Cod, as my family lives there. I chose the setting for my books first. I’m inspired by the Cape, a unique place surrounded by water, filled with historic homes, dirt roads that disappear into groves of shrub pines, hidden lakes, and ponds known only to the locals and what I like to think of as curious nooks and crannies. It struck me as a perfect setting for mystery. I write cozies despite my background working with real life offenders, who are anything but cozy.

How does my writing process work?

Since Grace Tolliver is an amateur sleuth I feel that it’s important to have a reason for her to get involved in a case, so I start with that. In “Shedding Light on Murder,” Grace is directly involved because an employee of hers is accused of the murder of a customer, who has been hit over the head with a lamp. (Of course!)

In the sequel, Grace discovers a body floating in a pool, while hiking with the merry widows hiking group. The murdered man is the godson of Bella, Grace’s friend and employee. Bella makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, that Grace will help her find the killer.

Then, I set out the general story line, keeping in mind the basics of novel writing such as acts, characters arcs, and plot twists. I figure out who did the crime, and how the case is solved. I loosely outline the first few chapters. As the story develops, often in ways that surprise me, I make the necessary changes. When I get stuck, I take a long, hard walk up and down the hills in my neighborhood. For some reason, this always works and I get much needed exercise as well!

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:

<><><>

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.

<><><

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.

<><><>

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:

<><><>

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.

<><><>

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?

<><><>

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.