Tuesday, October 30, 2007

New York, New York

Off to New York to 1) see our darling daughter and her husband 2) attend Backspace Agent Conference 3) find a museum we've never been to 4) go to the Statue of Liberty with my brother and his wife who've never been there 4) go to a cute town upstate (Cold Spring?) 5) see a few plays 6) try to write story about Australia for crimespace contest 7) go to the Strand Bookstore 8) see the Jeremy Blake exhibit at the Feigen gallery 9) have lunch with two special friends 10) have two dinners with a few more special friends.
My husband will look at the Jack Kerouac papers at the NYPL for a book on writers on the road.

Anyone have something else that's fun? Any restaurants? Anyone free for lunch?

Monday, October 29, 2007

400 Year Old Clam Found

I had no idea clams lived this long. I would have guessed they lived a matter of a season or two with the way they give clamming licenses out at Wellfleet. I just listened to the story on NPR where the scientist said they had to kill it to determine the age. "There's lot more around up in Greenland," he explained when the host queried their actions.
And sure, you bloody scientists will kill them all too--a contest to find the oldest will ensue. Why do we need to know a clam's age? If it isn't polite to ask about age, where's the good manners in killing them to determine it.
How would the marine biologist like it if we cut him up to count his rings?
ET-phone home.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

La Doulos by Jean Pierre Melville

There are some films widely praised that certain viewers just don't get and this was one of those for me. I liked the cinematography, the lighting, the music, the acting and the first and last ten minutes. Both scenes were shocking and imaginative, if a trifle Shakespearian.
But in between was a complex plot that had to be explained to the audience in its entirety near the end. The explanation of what actually transpired took at least 10 minutes of film time. It seemed like a ham-handed technique. I think in the best films the audience comes to understand what happened on their own.
I also thought the film worked best from the POV of the original protagonist but somewhere the POV shifed to Belmondo's, and it lost its tightness for me. What happened often seemed arbitrary and even after the explication, I said, "huh?"
Is there a film that others revere that leaves you cold? This is my pick. Good looks only go so far.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Goodbye Columbus

I don't "do" audio books too often. Too hard to stop a DVD in its tracks. And they seem longer on tape than on the page.
But if I'm cleaning my entire house or taking a long trip, I find one to listen to.
If there's one story or movie that takes me back to my youth, it's this one.
The movie came out when I was twenty and encapsulates my youth.
I wasn't Jewish or rich (like Brenda Potemkin) but I was the same age, from the same geographic area, and part of the same time. And although Ali McGraw and Richard Benjamin were not great actors, they did nail these roles.
Now here was a movie that did credit to the book. You can actually read or listen to it and remember scenes from the movie that played out exactly like the book.
What film most perfectly encapsulates your youth? And please don't say The Wedding Crashers. Pretend you're older than that. Also what films are most faithful to the book?
I am so hoping the forthcoming Revolutionary Road will be one of them. We Don't Live Here Anymore did Andre Dubus proud last year and Little Children was another. But it's rare.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Die a Little To Become a Film

I try not to mention my family too often, but I had to put this on here just to have a record of it for myself. Pretty damned cool if the writers don't strike before the screenplay is finished. Go Megan.

Jessica Biel set to Die a Little
Hottie du jour Jessica Biel is preparing to star in the thriller Die a Little, based on Megan Abbott's acclaimed 2006 novel about a schoolteacher whose life is thrown out of whack when her detective brother falls for a mysterious woman. Although the book is set in the 1950s, the movie will take place in the present. Biel, who optioned the book and will serve as a producer on the film, will play the femme fatale, not the bookworm. (Hollywood Reporter)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


It's finally occured to me that I am not taking advantage of working at a university to supplement my woefully inadequate knowledge of police investigatory work on crimes so I've signed up for a class next semester.

Winter Term 2008
CRJ 5150 Criminalistics
Course Description: Application of the physical and biological sciences to criminal investigation; ballistics, fingerprints, DNA, trace evidence, drugs, arson and explosives, questioned documents, introduction to forensic anthropology, courtroom testimony, ethics.

I hope this is the best one for a crime fiction writer. I am totally geeked about being back in a classroom after ten years. I emailed the guy and he's willing to have me in there with all the cops. Even suggested an anthropology course to go with it.

Any other suggestions on how to get up to snuff? I don't think I'll ever write stories heavy on these aspects of crime, but damn it would be nice to have some understanding of it. I just wish I had taken my friend Maria up on her suggestion that I visit a mortuary before writing my novel.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Almost Moon

I haven't read this book. I read The Lovely Bones and thought it to be a very good first novel: well-written and a great concept, maybe less than fully successful perhaps, but certainly a fine first novel.
Sebold's second novel, The Almost Moon, is now being subjected to reviews that seem to foam at the mouth in their effort to savage this book. Several, and no need to say which ones, are so negative that as a reader I cringed when reading them. There is no reason to write reviews that personally attack the author's motives. No reason to get such pleasure out of the task. You can taste the blood they draw.
Yet the The Almost Moon is #40 on Amazon right now. Most people don't read reviews for better or worse, it seems.
I think of David Montgomery who has said on his blog that he usually refrains from reviewing books he really doesn't care for. Is this the proper tact to take? Do reviewers owe their audience a scathing review of a book if it deserves it, or is it more about taking revenge on a writer who was too successful their first time out of the gate? What are the duties of a reviewer? Of course, they must sometimes write poor reviews but they shouldn't be so hateful. Or should they?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Good Blog

I read somewhere that the most widely read and influential blogs are ones that get written five days a week. This is kind of an odd thing because few single -person blogs could be very good that often. I mean how often do you have anything pithy to say. On the other hand, perhaps people get addicted to a voice, or an ongoing situation, or a political opinion or the idea they are participating in a blogger's life. Especially if it's a writer they read, an actor they enjoy, a pundit they admire.
Some blogs invite the sharing of stories like Laura Lippman's The Memory Project.
The blogs I like most are single-person blogs with varied subject matter. Or ones that are so honest they blow you off the page. Or ones where the writer is so nice, you want to spend time with him/her. Or ones that do a great job in reviewing books and movies. Or ones that serve as the town crier for the business.
One thing I dislike about multi-person blogs is that I often think it's Suzie when its Bob. So please follow the British model and say "Suzie here" right off the bat. Don't make me scroll down the side bar and figure out what day it is.
What do you like most in a blog? Do you think "more" is better.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

It's been a good run but

television and me might be finished. I watch two or three episodes of a show, quickly see where it's going, and get bored. This wasn't as likely to happen when each episode of a series was self-contained. But now with these arcs, boy it gets tiring once you see where you're headed. Those Darlings on Dirty Sexy Money are tedious. How many scenes of them frolicking and being thoughtless do we need? And since they've assigned characteristics to characters, wow, do they drive it home. Does Sharon Gless have to smoke and whine in every frame of Burn Notice?Chuck, are we going to watch the same dynamic play out each week? He flashes through his computer chip of a brain, spots the enemy and the stalwart three go after him. Those are three shows I'm done with.
Pushing Daisies, cute as all get out. Right? But the two leads are immediately in love--BORING. And the cursed voice-over--which doomed Earl for me---is driving me mad. A little of that guy's voice goes a long way. It's too soothing. Reminds me of a voice-over from a children's movie. This one I may try once more because it does have terrific visuals. And that Chuck is so pretty. We sure are loaded with Chucks right now. Two at movies and two on TV. The Curse of the Chucks.
So I'm left with Mad Men, 30 Rock and The Office. And Mad Men's last episode is tonight. My tv past has had its ups and downs, but it's all down now. At least until The Wire.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

How Do You Get Ideas for Stories?

And often, I can't tell you. But this week, the birth of one was easy to track because I was so concerned that I had shut off the part of my brain that's receptive to new ideas as I tried to finish my novel.
I was in Canada and reading The Globe and Mail. There was a very long story on a young sheriff who was killed when he answered a call on a noisy houseparty. I read it thoroughly, but there was very little about a crime in it. Mostly it dealt with the town's sorrow over a man with an eight month old child dying in a remote part of Canada.

Flash forward two days, and I'm back in Detroit on a bus and a woman across from me is reading Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. I wondered what kind of story would this woman like? She was in her sixties, no makeup, plain clothes, but enthralled by that magazine and suddenly the entire story took hold of me. She'd like a story about a young police officer who died needlessly. In my story, he won't be the same guy at all. Already I know he won't be a father and it'll happen in Michigan, where I'm on firmer ground.

Now this is not saying the story will work, or that it will be good or that it will find a home, but it will get written. I'm mostly glad that my brain is listening again.

Can you usually track where your story ideas come from?

Monday, October 15, 2007

How do you know if it's a series or standalone

I wrote the novel thinking it would be a standalone and wrote the protagonist darker than most series characters (okay, Dexter is pretty dark). But now new ideas are bubbling up in my brain. New places she could go, things that could happen. Hey, and I got to like some of her pals. Maybe this always happens after the completion of a novel. Maybe even in lit fiction, the characters continue to act out in the writer's head and it doesn't mean they need another novel. Putting THE END at the end, doesn't necessarily mean the end. How do you know if it isn't the typical detective solving the crime?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

"Place" in fiction

When reader 3 read my WIP, the first non-family member to read it, she red-circled a few parts where I actually described Detroit in more than a sentence or two. Described the politics or level of decay or why there is no shopping in the city or what the public transporation is like. There were only descriptions of a few sentences in each case, but for her it brought the story to a halt. She asked me if I couldn't get the information into a conversation or put it in in some less static way. Or get rid of it and assume if the reader wanted to know about Detroit he'd read another kind of book. I understand her point and in a short story I'd never do this, but I wonder when this sort of thinking took hold. Years ago, we were very willing to allow writers to describe the setting. Now it's all dialogue and short punchy paragraphs in between. I know your thoughts about backstory, but what about setting? Don't a few grafs here and there help you understand the setting? Isn't forcing it into a converstion just as annoying because how often do people actually talk about it in a crime fiction novel? Any examples of writer's who write about their city/town well without being didactic or boring?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Say Something Nice About Detroit Day

We're in Canada (more about that later) and we did what we always do at conferences, looked for a movie theater to escape that awkward opening night cocktail party. We found one nearby and saw Across the Universe, which we loved. I don't understand why the reviews have been so harsh. It was much like Hair but with better music.
Our one bad moment was when the 1967 riots were depicted and although there were riots everything in 1967, they flash to Detroit for a few seconds and the hoots came. Poor Detroit is where a movie always goes to show decay, crime and trouble.
So say something nice about Detroit today. I'll start.
Detroit has two of the most progressive senators: Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

He Sure Can Cook

I have the world's best husband and anyone who knows him will agree. Last night, a Monday night, I came home to grilled veal chops with rosemary, grilled pears, a baked sweet potato squash with cherries, brown sugar, and pecans, and a salad of yellow tomatoes, avocado and leaf lettuce. People, this is a Monday night! Every night is like this and it's why I've gained 25 pounds since he took over the cooking. He's also the gardener and we have the nicest garden you could imagine. Leaving aside his domestic accomplishments, he's good at everthing else too. The author of 14 books, for one thing, but he still reads everything I write as soon as I hand it to him. It's not his birthday until next week, but happy birthday Phil. How did I choose so well at 18? To the man who has never given me one moment of pain in forty years!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Only two years into this crime

writing gig and I find myself going to esoteric ways of killing people off. No kidding. My last two victims died by having things dropped on them: first a mirror and then a school bus. What's your favorite way to knock someone off? Who's used a good method lately? Does a humourous means of death ruin a good story cause I might hoist that school bus back up. It seems pretty strange already.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Five Days

Five Days was a pretty impressive HBO series that started last Monday. If you have HBO, try the second episode this week.
Other new TV shows, I've stuck with through two episodes are Chuck and Dirty, Sexy Money. Pushing Daisies was charming but it might turn too treacly quickly.
On the movie front, we very much liked Eastern Promises despite a few plot "huhs." The Jane Austen Book Club was pretty good too. (Look, guys, we only get a movie like this twice a year). Yes it was improbable that all the men would turn out to like Jane too and return to their wives, but you never know. Didn't much care for Manufactured Landscapes, a doc. about what industrialization, urbanization and globalization is doing to China. I got the point in fifteen minutes.

Friday, October 05, 2007

To google or not to google

John Rickards is deploring the use of the word "google" in current fiction on his blog Empire of Dirt (http://www.johnrickards.com/). I see some of his points, but I think "google" is not really interchangeable with the term "doing research" because it is so specific to a particular means of researching. When used in a story, it conveys a definite image of someone going to a computer and quickly or not so quickly searching for something. It's so descriptive of the age we live in it must be used to describe this action. In my WIP, a character with no research skills at all is able to find someone quickly by goggling her name. It wouldn't have worked as a plot device without that specific means of research. What do you think? Is the term so specific to this time, it will eventually seem archaic? Is it overused already in novels?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Yesterday's Laughter But a Dim Memory

as I begin compiling a list of agents to query. It seems likely I will be doing this for the rest of 2007. It is shocking how many agencies are closed to even query letters unless you are personally recommended by a current client. One agency virtually threatened legal action should you try to contact them in any way.
Recently universities hiring new professors have begun streamlining their process, making what they require more standardized. But it seems like agents stubbornly insist on individualizing their requirements. There is hardly one name on my list that asks for the same set of things. Google an agent and it takes many tries to actually get the information you need, too
This is why I gave up last year. I only had 12 letters in me then. I am going to New York in three weeks for three weeks, I will do it till then at least. Maybe I can knock at doors while I'm there. I think John Boy Walton did this on The Waltons.
If anyone knows of an agent who's open to a new client, let me know. It's a 72, 000 wrd ms. Suspense.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Big Bang Theory

I am going to go way out on a limb here, risking your disdain, and say I think this is one of the funniest TV shows I've seen in a long time. It's opposite Chuck, which I DVR, and K-ville so it has some tough competition.
Big Bang Theory is filmed in the most conventional way, but the writing is not conventional and the acting is great too. It follows the current trend by being about geeks but it actually writes the lines geeks would say and gives them a personality beyond that. The four guys are physicists, Superman fans, neat freaks, etc. and their interaction with the girl next door are truly funny. (Last night they broke into her apartment and organized it for her.)
Speaking of DVRing, it doesn't pay to watch any hour show now. The commercials take up twenty minutes of each sixty and come close to destroying some narratives. Rescue Me, having a bad season this summer, was made worse by these constant interruptions. The better the show, the more intrusive the commercials.
So go to CBS and watch Big Bang Theory online. I bet you laugh too.

Monday, October 01, 2007


What do you do to relieve stress? I'm wired in such a way that I am always a bit anxious. Circumstances in the last few years have made that stress worse. Sleep is a real issue. I saw an an in Newsweek last week for a $300 gadget called the Stresseraser that sounded promising. So I high-tailed it to Sharper Image to buy Stresseraser. The gadget is based on biofeedback--the notion thaat you can learn to control your breathing and thus feel more relaxed. The problem is you have to watch the little peaks and valleys and get scored on them. Does this sound like something that would reduce stress, getting scored on how stressful your breathing is? Watching the scratchy climb, the precipitous fall. I would have to use this machine all day to get a satisfactory score. No in fact, the longer I use it the worse my score would be.
Next I'm trying Respirate which gives you musical cues rather than pictures. After that it's a hammer to the head.