Category : Books

LOW DOWN DIRTY VOTE

It’s still July, so I still have my red, white, and blue “things” around the house. That’s my also my excuse for repurposing a Fourth of July blog, which is also a voting blog.

Here it is.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt lived down the street from us in Revere, Massachusetts. He was the best friend our family had. Or so I thought growing up in the early 1940s.

“Roosevelt gave me this job,” my father would say, tapping a small brown envelope of cash, his week’s wages.

“If it weren’t for Roosevelt and the WPA, you wouldn’t be getting new shoes for school,” my mother would remind me.

I pictured a benevolent Mr. Roosevelt driving the old truck that picked up my father and his cronies, day laborers, from the corner of our street, taking them to the construction site of the day. I imagined the WPA, whoever they were, helping my mother shop for my school clothes.

My parents, as well as our neighbors and friends, were acutely aware of House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s All politics is local. My father’s (metal) social security card (below) was a prized possession.

It seemed to me that every year was an election year, every election important to us. My mother especially was always campaigning, urging people to sign this or that petition, to vote, vote, vote. Our front window was never without a sign, RUSSO FOR MAYOR, AVALLONE FOR COUNCIL, SIEGEL FOR SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT.

And it all came together on the Fourth of July. Independence Day and Voting Day were the biggest holidays in our lives, competing with Thanksgiving and Christmas, but better because there was no back-breaking food prep or lugging a tree up the stairs. My father died on July 4, 1981—I’ve always felt that he timed it that way, going up with the glorious fireworks on Revere Beach.

Following politics, debating issues, voting, are still a priority for me. Being invited to contribute a story to LOW DOWN DIRTY VOTE has been a highlight of my year. Thanks to Mysti Berry and the grand array of colleagues in this anthology!

I’m thinking of making a poster of the LOW DOWN DIRTY VOTE cover, and propping it on my lawn.

A Book by Any Other Name

Some claim the e-reader dates back to 1949, when a Spanish school teacher, Angela Robles, wanted to ease the textbook-carrying burden of school children by spooling text into what she termed a “mechanical encyclopedia.”

Jumping ahead, Sony released its e-reader in 2004; the first Kindle appeared in 2007. Enough time for them to be welcomed into the world of readers.

There are many reasons to prefer e-readers to hard copy books, and vice versa. We have issues of eyesight, or cost, or the weight and manageability of one versus the other, for example. But I’m always amazed when I still hear this argument for a paper book:

“I like the smell and feel of a book. No one wants to curl up with a computer screen.”

The smell and feel. If you’re in the Morgan Library, maybe, where you can smell and feel fine leather from ages past.

From the Morgan Library, printable version

But inventory in the bookstores I frequent is made of fragrance-free paper, the same paper as a boarding pass or paper towels. The most you can count on is a bit of bling on the covers.

Fingering pages that used to be a tree seem important to some people, however, and I imagine taking taking a long, long time to get through a Harry Potter as they stop to fondle each page.

Curling up. Except for My First Book Ever, books are not soft and cuddly, but rather a constant source of paper cuts.

This nostalgia for technology past isn’t surprising. We see it with each new invention, that then becomes threatened by yet a newer invention.

I suppose there was a gathering of horsemen around the turn of the twentieth century, all bemoaning the arrival of the automobile.

“I miss the smell of manure,” one might have said.

“And the feel of the saddle under me,” from another.

“There will always be horses,” from a horse trader.

And they’d have been right. But stairs and elevators coexist, along with automobiles. And, yes, we still have horses, though you don’t find them used much for commuting any more.

My e-reader, with an old-time cover. The best of both worlds?

It Takes a Village

It’s only May, and I’ve already been to 3 significant writers’ events this year: Left Coast Crime annual conference in Reno, Nevada; the Edgar™ Banquet; and Malice Domestic, a conference in Bethesda, Maryland. In a couple of months, I’ll be attending a 4th, ThrillerFest, in New York City.

Jeffrey Deaver (the tall one) and me at the podium for the Edgar™Awards

In between there have been writers meetings, bookstore events, and book clubs.

One of the things that worried me when I thought of writing as a career was that it would be a solitary occupation. So much for that.

I’d been a physicist for a long time. No one does physics alone, not since Newton, anyway. Who can accommodate something like a 17-mile-long tunnel to house a collider, or a 192-beam laser, in her garage?

Physicists gather around huge equipment in giant laboratories these days, working as a team. My graduate school mates and I spent long hours together in the same laboratory every day, sharing power supplies, monster-mentor stories, and data. We became close friends and knew each others’ families as well as our own for a few years.

All the while, I’d wanted to be a published writer—something with more popular potential than my technical papers on the scattering properties of a titanium dioxide crystal. But I couldn’t imagine sitting alone in a room with pen and paper, or keyboard and monitor, pouring out my thoughts and plots, in solitary confinement.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that writing—mystery writing especially—was a community endeavor. I discovered not only professional organizations and critique groups, but book clubs, conferences, Internet lists and groups, and blogging colleagues. Who knew?

Sure, there’s a lot of me-and-my-chair for hours at a time, but I always know I can call or email any number of colleagues if I want to brainstorm a plot point, or discuss a new character I’m developing. With each book, my acknowledgments list gets longer.

Also, like physics, writing requires research. Most of it is people-oriented, which has turned out to be quite a bonus. In the course of writing themes and subplots for 25 books, I’ve interviewed an embalmer, a veterinarian, a medevac helicopter pilot, an ice climber, a telephone lineman, a hotel administrator, an elevator maintenance man, a postmistress, a musician, and countless experts in forensics, and—uh—ways to kill people. I even have a special cop who never minds answering procedural questions.

I’ve gone to conferences in cities I’d never have visited otherwise, like Omaha and Boise and Milwaukee (I usually fly over these states on my way to and from San Francisco and Boston or New York.)

And the readers! In each series I’ve tried to make the protagonist sleuth someone readers would like to have lunch with. I’m still amazed and pleased when readers approach me, through email or at a signing, with a kind word about my books, and I remember whom I’m writing for.

Research at the Morgan Library

I’m sure some writers prefer go it alone, but I never would have made it.

The writing and reading community are smart, fun, and generous.

I’m glad I found them.

A Pebble in My Shoe

I’m just back from New York City and the Edgar™ Awards. If you missed the nominations and the grand banquet where winners were announced, go here.

Jeffrey Deaver, MWA President (the tall one) and me at the podium.

The event had me thinking of Edgar Allan Poe and his legacy for mystery writers especially. But it’s this quote of his that I relate to above all:

The past is a pebble in my shoe.

And we probably all feel the same way about a pebble in our shoe: Out!

The high school history teacher tasked with giving me a healthy respect for the past failed—maybe because his primary duty, for which he was hired, was to coach the football team to victory. (He failed at that, too.)

But I can’t blame Mr. F. forever. I’ve had ample time to visit the past in a meaningful way, to learn the details of wars, to imagine lunch with the greats of bygone ages.

We see this “poll question” all the time: if you could visit the past, whom would you have lunch with?

I suppose I could go back and ask Poe if he could sleep at night after writing the “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I couldn’t, after reading, the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. The same with his “The Cask of Amontillado.” I was young enough to worry myself sick that I’d hurt someone enough for him to seek that level of revenge.

If I ever did have a chance to time travel, I’d go forward, not back.

I don’t want to revisit the time when some women had their lower ribs surgically removed to achieve a more pleasing (to whom?) waistline. And I already know all I want to about the days before plumbing and the zipper and all the iStuff.

I’d like to visit the future, find out what becomes of the Kindle.

It’s fun to have my slide rule hanging in my office, as a reminder of earlier times, but I wouldn’t want to give up my computer.

I’d love to go away for a while and rest, and then come back in 60 or so years and talk to those who are now toddlers.

Some questions for them:

1. Has there been a First Gentleman in the White House yet?

2. Was there a revival of regular cinematic dramas—no comic heroes, no animation, no “special” effects?

3. Did we ever give peace a chance?

4. Did Amy Adams’s face ever wrinkle?

5. What’s the official language of the United States?

. . .  and more.

Of course I could read sci fi and get someone’s idea of the future, or I could write it myself and make my own predictions.

But I want to know what actually happens, whether there’ll be paper books in the year 2100, and what became of the kids who grew up hearing “Good job!” just for waking up in the morning?

What would you want to know?

Left Coast Crime

If things go as planned, I’ll be in Reno at Left Coast Crime this week.

On Friday, March 23, at 2:45, look for me on a panel about crafts mysteries. Otherwise, I’ll be hanging out at the (coffee) bar!

The most fun part of preparing for the conference: making a mini scene for the auction. Here are some raw materials:

Mini slot machines -- the arms work! Click to enlarge.

CASTRO VALLEY READS

The program called One City One Book, or a variation, begun in the nineties, has come to Castro Valley, California.

Here is the history of the program.

Castro Valley Library

Castro Valley readers will be discussing Lab Girl.

The reading group I belong to will discuss this book on Tuesday, March 6, at 6:30 pm — join us if you can! Email camille@minichino.com for details.

Super Books!

I hope you enjoyed Super Bowl as much as I did. Here’s how I spent it: at Mrs. Dalloway’s Book Shop on College Avenue in Berkeley. It has been a while since I’ve browsed in a brick-and-mortar book shop. I highly recommend this one.

Me and Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

There’s no lack of analysis of this quote, the line that opens Virginia Wolff’s novel, but here’s one that I like. The site provides a “pretentious factor” — if you were to drop this quote at a party would your friends be impressed or roll their eyes and never invite you back? What do you think?

The Edgars™

Every year, on January 19, the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe, the Mystery Writers of America announces the nominees for the Edgar™ Award. In case you missed this, here they are, for works published in 2017.

The Awards will be presented to the winners at a gala banquet, April 26, 2018 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City. Will I see you there?

AWARDS banquet, 2015

In the delightfully out-of-focus photo above, you see Stephen King holding his award for “Mr. Mercedes.” I am hugging the stage (very) far left, waiting to usher him off, or vice versa. I was Chair of the Best Novel Committee that year, and this moment was the perk for reading and evaluating more than five hundred novels. (Thanks Best Novel Committee!)

NOMINEES FOR 2017

BEST NOVEL

The Dime by Kathleen Kent (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown & Co./Mulholland Books)
Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown & Co./Mulholland Books)
A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee (Pegasus Books)
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti (Penguin Random House – The Dial Press)

BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR

She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper (HarperCollins – Ecco)
Dark Chapter by Winnie M. Li (Polis Books)
Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love (Penguin Random House – Crown)
Tornado Weather by Deborah E. Kennedy (Macmillan – Flatiron Books)
Idaho by Emily Ruskovich (Random House)

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL

In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen (Amazon Publishing – Thomas & Mercer)
Ragged Lake by Ron Corbett (ECW Press)
Black Fall by Andrew Mayne (HarperCollins Publishers – Harper Paperbacks)
The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola (Sourcebooks – Sourcebooks Landmark)
Penance by Kanae Minato (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown & Co./Mulholland Books)
The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jock Serong (Text Publishing)

BEST FACT CRIME

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (Penguin Random House – Doubleday)
The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn (Simon & Schuster)
American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse (W.W. Norton & Company – Liveright)
The Man From the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery by Bill and Rachel McCarthy James (Simon & Schuster – Scribner)
Mrs. Sherlock Holmes: The True Story of New York City’s Greatest Female Detective and the 1917 Missing Girl Case that Captivated a Nation by Brad Ricca (St. Martin’s Press)

BEST CRITICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL

From Holmes to Sherlock: The Story of the Men and Women who Created an Icon by Mattias Bostrom (Grove/Atlantic – The Mysterious Press)
Manderley Forever: A Biography of Daphne du Maurier by Tatiana de Rosnay (St. Martin’s Press)
Murder in the Closet: Essays on Queer Clues in Crime Fiction Before Stonewall by Curtis Evans (McFarland Publishing)
Chester B. Himes: A Biography by Lawrence P. Jackson (W.W. Norton & Company)
Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes by Michael Sims (Bloomsbury USA)

BEST SHORT STORY

“Spring Break” – New Haven Noir by John Crowley (Akashic Books)
“Hard to Get” – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine by Jeffery Deaver (Dell Magazines)
“Ace in the Hole” – Montana Noir by Eric Heidle (Akashic Books)
“A Moment of Clarity at the Waffle House” – Atlanta Noir by Kenji Jasper (Akashic Books)
“Chin Yong-Yun Stays at Home” – Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine by S.J. Rozan (Dell Magazines)

BEST JUVENILE

Audacity Jones Steals the Show by Kirby Larson (Scholastic – Scholastic Press)
Vanished! By James Ponti (Simon & Schuster – Aladdin)
The Assassin’s Curse by Kevin Sands (Simon & Schuster – Aladdin)
First Class Murder by Robin Stevens (Simon & Schuster – Simon & Schuster BFYR)
NewsPrints by Ru Xu (Scholastic – Graphix)

BEST YOUNG ADULT

The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom (Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group – Feiwel & Friends)
Grit by Gillian French (HarperCollins Publishers – HarperTeen)
The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak (Simon & Schuster)
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (Simon & Schuster – Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (HarperCollins Publishers – Balzer + Bray)

BEST TELEVISION EPISODE TELEPLAY

“Episode 1” – The Loch, Teleplay by Stephen Brady (Acorn TV)
“Something Happened” – Law and Order: SVU, Teleplay by Michael Chernuchin (NBC Universal/Wolf Entertainment)
“Somebody to Love” – Fargo, Teleplay by Noah Hawley (FX Networks/MGM)
“Gently and the New Age” – George Gently, Teleplay by Robert Murphy (Acorn TV)
“The Blanket Mire” – Vera, Teleplay by Paul Matthew Thompson & Martha Hillier (Acorn TV)

ROBERT L. FISH MEMORIAL AWARD

“The Queen of Secrets” – New Haven Noir by Lisa D. Gray (Akashic Books)

GRAND MASTER

Jane Langton
William Link
Peter Lovesey

RAVEN AWARD

Kristopher Zgorski, BOLO Books
The Raven Bookstore, Lawrence Kansas

ELLERY QUEEN AWARD

Robert Pépin

* * * * * *

THE SIMON & SCHUSTER MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARD

The Vineyard Victims by Ellen Crosby (Minotaur)
You’ll Never Know Dear by Hallie Ephron (HarperCollins – William Morrow)
The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman (HarperCollins – William Morrow Paperbacks)
Uncorking a Lie by Nadine Nettmann (Llewellyn Worldwide – Midnight Ink)
The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day (HarperCollins – William Morrow Paperbacks)

Thesaurus Day

January 18 is Thesaurus Day.

I’ll bet some of you didn’t know that Peter Roget has his own special day. I certainly didn’t, but here it is upon us.

Peter Mark Roget (1779 – 1869) was a British physician, natural theologian and lexicographer. In 1852, he published The Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases.

Here’s the best article I could find on this multitalented scholar.

I looked for a quote from Roget, but couldn’t find one. Instead, I’ll offer these quotes on words:

All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind. — Kahlil Gibran

I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine.–- Emily Dickinson

So many words, so many synonyms

And my favorite:

We have an obligation to use the language. To push ourselves: to find out what words mean and how to deploy them, to communicate clearly, to say what we mean. –- Neil Gaiman

Best of 2017

Might as well face it. SOMEONE is bound to ask our favorite book of 2017.

I’m ready.

How about I name my favorite authors for each country I’ve “visited” in 2017?

• Denmark: Jussi Adler-Olsen, “The Keeper of Lost Causes” and others.

• Norway: Karin Fossum, “Hell Fire” and others.

• Iceland: Arnaldur Indridason, “Reykjavik Nights” and others.

• Scotland: Peter May, “The Black House” and others.

• Britain: Mo Hayder, “The Treatment” and others.

• Russia: Joseph Kanon (American), “Defectors” and others.

What they all have in common: an intense darkness and sense of place. In each case, there is a brooding presence that is the main character, an unrelenting heaviness that is frightening and comforting at the same time.

Nothing in the US, you ask? Sort of.

• New York: James Patterson’s “NYPD Red” series is fun!

And why don’t I slip in a little BSP — a Christmas short story: The Neon Ornaments – find out how Gloria Lamerino and Matt Gennaro met, one Christmas season!

Reconnect with Gloria, Matt, Rose, and Frank