Thursday, December 27, 2007

My favorite movies of 2007

Some maybe actually 2006 movies. No special order and no real surprises. These were probably on everyone's lists. What were yours?

Painted Veil
Lives of Others
First Snow
51 Birch Street
Away From Her
3:10 to Yuma
Gone Baby Gone
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
Starting Out in the Evening
Sweeney Todd

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Christmas Gift (for me)

If anyone is willing to critique my query letter, which I must start sending out next week, please email me and I'll send it along. It's just one page.
Going to that agency conference in November completely spooked me about query letters. Let alone the damned synopsis. Thanks in advance.

Has Your Blog Changed over the Years

I notice changes in blogs: appearances, disappearances, subject matter, frequency, length of entries. I think as time goes on, it's harder to remain fresh. Also some people who use to discuss their family on their blogs, pulled back from that, perhaps wisely. It becomes an organ of publicity sometimes. How has your blog changed? What trends to you see in other blogs?

Sweeney Todd

Although I found the music in this utterly unmemorable I liked everything else about it. Even Sacha Baron Cohen, who I usually find annoying, did a good job with his role. Great atmosphere and the two leads had the courage to play their parts to the max, leaving us with no sympathy for them by the end. No overacting either. This movie continues the trend in strange hairstyles with Depp's styling. Surely a barber should sport a better coiffure. A-.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Charlie Wilson's War

There was much to like in this movie. Smart way of telling the story, witty dialogue, great scenes of Afghanistan (or its stand in, Morocco) but I have to say Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance, brilliant as usual, threw off the performances of Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. Theirs were the typical Hollywood portrayals, not bad, but a forties style acting; his was a riveting, burn down the house perfomance and the contrast was detrimental to the whole production. I also think the film skirts the final issue-- what happened after we stopped funding Afghanistan-- in an effort to not detract from Charlie Wilson's accomplishiment and much of the audience was puzzled by the cursory mention of funding a school and Congress's refusal to do so.
Tom and Julia like to leave on a high note, Hoffman might have be willing to skulk out. Also a continuation of the strange hair styles we've seen in other films this year. I'd give it a B.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Starting Out in the Evening

This was a terrific movie that beautifully evoked the life of a writer. Great performance by Frank Langella, too. Nuanced, interesting, persuasive. I'd give it a A-. But the movie raises a subject I think about a lot. Passion for a novel. It's been a long time since I have passionately loved a novel. Maybe it's a function of youth--to be able to throw yourself into a book that way. The books I have loved were all read in my teens and twenties--Revolutionary Road, Look Homeward Angel, the early novels of Anne Tyler. The novels of the Canadian Margaret Lawrence, The Great Gatsby and many more. The movie actually raises this issue: a young woman prefers the writer's early works which were about his characters; an older reader liked his later work, which was about issues.
Have you read a book recently you're passionate about? Has that sort of book disappeared or is it my youth that has? Do we reach an age when passion is harder to come by?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Holidays

From the Abbott Family

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Year of the Dog

It's strange how a movie many people liked can just elude you. I'm not sure that when I reached the end I even got the point. That it's better to be crazy and impassioned than sane and passive? I guess that's it. I expected the movie to be humorous--it seldom was. It was grim, slow and overly fond of Molly Shannon's face. Truly this obsession with closeups is getting on my nerves, too. Why must everything be pitched at less than three feet? I'd give it a C.
What movie, generally well reviewed eluded you? Or what movie generally poorly reviewed did you like? I liked Across the Universe, which was pretty well panned.
Also, I find I am a lot harder on movies I see on DVD. Easier to walk out of the living room than a theater.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Am I crazy

to start writing a second book about the same character when I originally thought she was too dark to carry a first novel? Plus I have no idea if that novel will find an agent and publisher. Do people do that--write sequels before the first novel is a sure thing?
I keep trying to return to writing short stories but Violet's still in my head and noticing things through my eyes. Maybe this means by the end of the book she wasn't such a bad girl. Or do people write sequels about not-so-nice protagonists. Of course, I don't mean a Hannibal Lector or Dexter sort of protag. Just your ordinary grumpy, bitchy woman. What do you think?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

In the Middle of a Big Snowstorm in Michigan

I'd like to thank some of the people in the crime fiction world who have enhanced my life over the last year. Thanks to the selfless editors who so tirelessly put out zines. Especially to the following editors who have published my stories this year: Sandra Ruttan, Bryon Quertermous, Todd Robinson, D.Z. Allen, Megan Powell, Gerald So and Kevin Burton Smith, Tony Black, Joede (MystericalE), Steven McDermott, Dave Zeltserman, B.J Bourg, Ed Gorman and John Helfers, Mystery Dawg. There may be more and I apologize if I've forgotten you. And thanks to Tribe whose friendship endures even if FITG is gone. I have had such a good experience with every one of these editors. You are truly amazing.
Thanks to Graham Powell Daniel Hatadi and Tom Piccirilli for running sites that allow us to communicate. Thanks also to bloggers who run blogs that are strictly non-self-promotional--like Rap Sheet, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, Mystery File and many others.
Thanks to the people who stop by this blog now and then to offer advice, solace, congratulations or just to weigh in. I can't tell you how you've brightened my days.
Thanks to my daughter, Megan, who continues to inspire me. She may have tiny feet but she leaves big tracks for me to follow. I am in awe that she spends 40 hours a week raising money for the people of East Harlem and still finds time to write.
It's been a difficult year in many ways, but this is my outlet and I am grateful to have one.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Return of the Uber Mother

And that was the kind of mother I was, I'm afraid. I threw myself into mothering so thoroughly that I had time for little else. This both advantaged and handicapped my kids. I won't go into how; you can guess.
And now my parents have come under the same regime. My 93 year old father moved in with us a few weeks ago able to care for himself in almost every way. Now he comes to me to blow his nose, get his meds, get something to drink. He coughs and I fly downstairs, confusing both of us.
Are you like this as a parent? Was your mother like this? Why do we feel the need to take too good a care of people even when we know it's not the right thing to do.
Anyway, this is what I'm doing nowadays. Being part of what Philip Wylie called "momism" half a century ago. And it ain't necessarily a good thing? I used to be a writer; now I'm just a Mom. My mother even called me that the other day and she isn't senile. Just overhandled.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Group Signing for A Hell of a Woman at Partners and Crime

Didn't my son-in-law Josh Gaylord do a great job? There's tons more but you get the idea.

Friday, December 07, 2007

I'm Not There

Okay, defend this movie. Perhaps I was influenced by the fact that I dragged my 93 year old father old out in the cold and snow to see this. Perhaps I was influenced by my need for linear plots that make sense. Perhaps I regretted that I was unable to see this with Tribe as we'd planned due to my family circumstances. Maybe it's that I saw the terrific Scorcese doc earlier this year. Or that a couple near us provided a running commentary that made even less sense than the movie. But I hated this movie. It was pretentious, arty. and full of banal speeches. It either idealized Dylan or made him ridiculous. And long, oh so long. Perhaps I got tired of sifting through what was real and what wasn't. Maybe it's that I dislike Richard Gere and even Kate Blanchett got tiresome too. Anyway, this is my biggest disappointment of the year. It felt like Lars Von Trier had directed it.
The only thing I liked was the music. So I shut my eyes after a while and pretended I was awake.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Where to Send It?

I just finished what I would call a "nice" crime story, maybe verging on lit fic, but centering on a small town sheriff. A crime takes place but it is not hard-boiled or noir. I could try EQMM but they tend to only take name writers. So where do I send this piece? It's about sadness and angst, not about violence and exploding heads. This is my dilemma. Where do I send stories that really center on the human element but take place in the world of crime? If I had the technical skills, I would start a zine that looked for this type of story. Megan does it and Bryon from time to time. But who else?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"Not Good in Bed"

You hear this line all the time and from my sickbed today I heard Roz tell Daphne that about some date on Frasier-a go-to morning show if I'm sick.
How many ways can someone not be good in bed. I'll start a list

Too quick
Too slow
Overly imaginative
Too fastidious

Got any more? This is not for personal use, btw. Just for writing.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The requirements of the genre

Ed Gorman and others have recently discussed the "don'ts" in attempting a PI novel . The list is so extensive, I have almost always given it a pass. My one foray into it dealt with a retired PI so I could cheat. Having read hundreds of PI novels still doesn't make me an expert on avoiding cliches or employing tropes effectively.

I can more easily enter the arena of suspense where the requirements are less daunting. The thought of trying to pull off a SF novel or SF story is even more challenging. How long would it take to learn the vocabulary alone?

Do you stay away from attempting certain sorts of stories because of the pitfalls in trying to get it right? What is the hardest kind of story for you? Which subgenre is most butchered by amateurs?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Hell of a Woman edited by Megan Abbott

I can't be there but maybe you can...

A Hell of a Woman: An Anthology of Female Noir
Schedule of Events

Laguna Beach
Latitude 33 Bookshop with Theresa Schwegel, Eddie Muller
and Christa Faust
Date: Friday, November 30, 2007
Time: 6:30PM
Location: 311 Ocean Ave, Laguna Beach, CA
Contact: (949) 494-5403

Los Angeles
Mysteries to Die For with Theresa Schwegel, Cornelia Read,
Eddie Muller and Christa Faust
Date: Saturday, December 1, 2007
Time: 10:30AM
Location: Thousand Oaks, CA
Contact: (805) 374-0084

A Hell of a Woman Launch Party
at the Mystery Bookstore
with Christa Faust, Naomi Hirahara, Charlie Huston, Eddie Muller,
Cornelia Read, Theresa Schwegel, Kevin Burton Smith and Robert Ward.
Date: Saturday, December 1, 2007
Time: 2PM
Location: 1036-C Broxton Ave, Westwood
Contact: (310) 209-0415

A Hell of a Woman Group Signing with Christa Faust
and Cornelia Read
Book Em MysteriesDate: Sunday, December 2, 2007
Time: 1PM
Location: 1118 Mission Street, Pasadena
Contact: 626-799-9600 1-800-4BOOKEM New York City

Partners & Crime Bookstore with Sarah Weinman, SJ Rozan,
Charlotte Carter, Annette Meyers, Alison Gaylin, Sandra Scoppettone,
Rebecca Pawel, Reed Farrel Coleman, Jonathan Santlofer,
Wallace Stroby and Charles ArdaiDate: Thursday, December 6, 2007
Time: 7PM
Location: 44 Greenwich Avenue (corner of Charles)
Contact: (212) 243-0440 January San FranciscoNoir City
Date: January 26, 2008
More details to come. February Texas

Murder by the Book with Christa Faust
Date: Saturday, February 23, 2007
Time: TBALocation: 2342 Bissonnet Street, Houston TX
Contact: (713) 524-8597

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Trying to Keep Sane Here

And writing this blog helps.

Here's a question: In several recent films, the villain is almost a blank slate, no psychological or other motive is given for his infamy. Is this a good thing? Is evil so universal that we don't need to understand it? If we require psychological underpinnings for our heroes, why not our villains? Even cartoon villains used to have a back story. What do you think?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The cost of aging

We are faced with the probability of spending about $120,000 a year to take care of my parents who now require substantial help. Luckily my savvy brother has managed to parlay their modest savings into something that would allow us a few years of this sort of care. How does anyone afford this otherwise? It is obscene that people who worked hard all their lives often have to end it warehoused. Why don't we provide good health care in this country. European countries value it. Where did we go astray? Why is it better to spend our money on waging war?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Eight Dogs Named Jack by Joe Borri

Just heard about a fellow Detroiter who's published a dynamite book of stories about Detroit and the woods of northern Michigan. It was a finalist in the 2007 USA Today contest in the short story collection category. The stories sound like our kind of thing even if they're not traditional crime stories. Check it out. I will. I added his link to the right if you want to know more about him.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Or does this holiday make you nervous too? Are you afraid that Aunt Em won't get along with Cousin Harry? Will Grandmother Nellie forget her brother is long dead? Will the vegetarians insist on a laboroius main course with brussel sprouts and cumin? Will the meat eaters make fun of the meatless side dishes? Will the males watch football, waiting for the call to the table? Did we give the great grandparents enought attention? Will long-standing grievances be brought out to air? Will the question of when dinner should be served be bandied about? Will the side dishes be a source of anquish? Is a bottle of cheap wine recompense for hours of labor? Will the same people do all the work? Will the out-of-towners expect to be feted while those at home sulk and stew? Will we get into the annual war on religion-whether it has ruined the world or provides comfort and a moral code? What are the best movies of the year? Does Hillary Clinton deserve our support? Are Detroiters more racist than New Yorkers or those from Los Angeles or Minneapolis? What do we do about illegal aliens? I'm ready to run and hide. How about you? Is Thanksgiving at your house a peaceful day? And those damned Lions are gonna lose?

Monday, November 19, 2007

What's Your Favorite Magazine

Back home and there's three weeks worth of magazines to read. I love the luxury of piling them up and going through them over the next few days. We get a lot of magazines. Some I never get to. The pile included The New Yorker (3), The New York Review of Books (2), Real Simple, Bon Appetite, Cooks Illustrated, EW (2), Atlantic Monthly, Newsweek (2), Vegetarian Times (no, we're not but Megan is). We also get Crimespree, Deadly Pleasures, a gardening magazine or two and more I'm probably forgetting. (Those cooking and gardening magazines are my husband's.)
What magazines do you get? Maybe we're missing some good ones. Is magazine reading dying off as more and more publications are zines?

Friday, November 16, 2007


Does this kid rock or what?

I know I should be beginning to make the changes on my ms. an agent suggested. He/She didn't promise to take it if I did, but said it would be a good novel if I did some of what was suggested and that it was good enough to finish even the first read, poor thing that it was. According to the info at Backspace Agents Conference, this is a good sign. The changes are both small and large. One change would be fairly major but I think it's a good one.

I know I should also send out queries to other agents in case I can never satisfy this one.

I want to write a flash piece for JR's new site. I have a few shorts that just need a last go-over. And yet here I sit doing none of the above. I just finished reading one of the middle-brow novels I am attracted to when away from home. It was wayyyyyyyy too long. Are all middlebrow novels too long? I find that they are.

What do you do when immobilized to shake yourself out of it? It's time to go home and sit in my room and work harder than this setup allows me.

Plus my darling grandson started walking while we were away. Nine steps or more. Darn.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Trying to come up with the right name for a character, I realized all the names I never use because they have too much baggage associated with them. This can apply to famous fictional names or famous real names. Name someone Stella and how can you not remember Stanley Kowalski hollering for her in the street? Though young'uns may not have the same association. I'd never use a host of names too closely associated with one character/person.
Another problem is that names date. A person of either age ninety or two could rightly be named Vivian, Ella, Harriet, Evelyn, Isabelle etc. In between we have the generations of Carol, Barbara, Nancy, Pat. Followed by Jennifer, Amy, Chris and Laura.
Someone reading my novel recently hated the protagonist's name (Violet). Said it made her seem like an old lady. Well, yes it did if you were over fifty and you remembered your great aunts having that name. But under thirty, you'd pick it for your baby. It's fresh for them.
Do you have trouble with names? What do you think about the name Violet?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Perhaps in the novel No Country for Old Men, Anton Chigurh was a full-bodied villain, somwhat if not fully explained. Perhaps the reader was given insight into the reasons he'd become a killing machine. But the movie was content with portraying him as merely relentless -no explanation necessary. I think this is a current fad and perhaps reflects the society we live in, but I prefer my villains more along the lines of Norman Bates, with at least some half-baked pscychological reason attached to him. The best villains, at least the ones who are not completelety insane, have some humanity attached to them-only if it's only the love for fine food.
Who are the best villains for you? Lex Luthor, The Termintor, Moriarty, the Poet, Hannibal Lector, Goldfinger? What makes a villain great? Do they have a common trait?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

No Country for Old Men

Exiting the theater, the guy ahead of us in a soldout show said it was the haircut that made it work. He had a point. It was both the haircut and the weapon. This was one of the most violent movies I've ever seen and it was combined with a humor, which sometimes make the violence even less palatable. Laugh now, hide your eyes later. And I did hide them a lot. I don't know what the body count was. Some ungodly number. Did I like it? You bet. Great acting, great diaglogue, great cinematography. I can't remember a bar of music. Was there any? It wasn't exactly fun, but it was great. Does that make any sense?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Pat Dostine

The first thing I do every day is go to Pat Dostine's blog to see if a new picture is up. Pat does his painting after his three tiny children are in bed at night and after a long day as a policy analyst in Detroit. This is one he did recently. He has kindly given me two and I bought a third at a ridiculously low price for my daughter.
A few weeks ago, some guests at our home saw his paintings and immediately contacted a gallery in Chelsea. Michigan and now Pat is going to have a show there. We are so excited for him.
And if you want to get in on the next big thing before it's the next big thing, take a look at his paintigs at or on the link to the right. He's brilliant. (He is also a great writer and plays a mean guitar).

Thursday, November 08, 2007


And I am. My story "A Saving Grace" was selected for THE YEAR'S FINEST CRIME AND MYSTERY STORIES edited by Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg. The story originally appeared in The Thrilling Detective and I thank Gerald So and Kevin Burton Smith for publishing it. A few years ago, I had no confidence I would ever have any success with this business. I still never use the word "writer" to describe myself. But I am starting to believe it might be true. And I thank all the people out there who've helped make it possible for me to believe it. I mentioned most of them in the last post. But now I add the people associated with this project to my list. I am humbled.

Overheard today in New York: "And I told her I wasn't going to let her spend all that money building a monster."


I'm in great company in the lastest issue of Spinetingler. Nice job as always, Sandra.

Also check out the issue of The Thrilling Detective for a good story from Stephan Blackmoore et al.

Isn't it wonderful that people like Sandra, Kevin, Bryon, Megan, Tony, Todd, B.J. D.Z. Mike and all the others who run these zines are willing to do this for so little return. Truly where would we be without you. Thanks to all of you.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Miami Blues

Wow! I loved this book. I also loved Pickup but it's hard to belive it's the same author, even if many years separate the two novels. Pickup could have been written by William Kennedy. It barely feels like a crime novel-it's about down on their heels drunks, stumbling through life. It's heartbreaking, tragic.
Miami Blues could have been written yesteday by any of a bunch of current writers, except Willeford is better, making it impossible to put down. It's funny, scary and quick.
What should I read next and can I find it here in NY? I hope so.
I want more. Give me more.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Pitch Workshop

Four of the eight of us in this workshop are writing crime fiction. The other four are writing sci-fi, historical fiction, lit fiction and nonfiction. We all share one thing. We can't write a decent pitch. In my case, once I say aloud the initial sentence, I'm babbling. And even the first sentence isn't great because I must take two breaths to fit it in. Of course, I smoked years ago and that might account for it. Our coach is brilliant at extracting the elements to emphasize. If only we understood our novel half as well. After some work, I come up with this: Raising the Dead is a suspense novel about a Detroit photographer nearing forty and desperate to succeed. She uses her relationship with a mortician to produce edgy pictures of dead black men. Her new obsession with this subject takes her into still darker territory, involving her in murder, mutilation and the racial and sexual politics of Detroit. What do you think? Remember it's two in the morning. I might come up with something better tomorrow. Does the "politics" thing make it sound like she's running for mayor. HELP.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Before the Devil Know You're Dead

This was a good film yesterday when I saw it. Since then it has risen to a very good film. What I like most about it is that it is not just about a heist gone wrong. It's about a family gone wrong that leads to the heist. Hawke does more with his face than I would have thought possible. His slitty eyes convey weakness and limited intelligence in the subtlest way. His mouth twists with indecision. And Hoffman's always amazing. He breaks your heart but infuriates you in the same frame. He's as out of shape as Marisa Tomei who plays his wife is in shape. Lovely but still playing the slutty wife. Why doesn't someone hire her to play a musician or a missionary?
Albert Finney is the father they deserve. Or they are the sons he deserves. See it. You won't be sorry.

We have lived in a lot of temporary housing in our lives. There are certain things that are always missing: a bathmat, enough lighting, clean pots, a dishpan. And certain other things are always present: mold, dust, the smell of decay. (Okay so we can't afford a first rate rental).
And why does the smoke alarm battery always die on our watch? This is the second time we have lived in this same shitty place. The last time we bought a lamp, a TV table, a bathmat. Only the TV table remains three years later. I get the disappearing bathmat but who took the lamp.?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

How Far Would You Go

I may have posed this question last year when I was trying to find an agent for a collection of short stories. (What a dream that was). But now it's more pertinent as I head toward a conference. How far would you go in making changes to a novel based on one agent's opinion. In other words, if Agent X says I'd consider taking this on if you cut the first five chapters would you do it? Would you change the ending? Would you redo it first person instead of third? Would you cut out a character the agent doesn't like? Obviously, you're the author, but let's face it in this market, you might have to be willing to go some distance. Or would you do anything without a contract? Do you have enough confidence in your work to remain firm? I don't think I do since it's a first novel. I'm like a five dollar whore on a slow Monday night in Salt Lake City about now? And much like advanced age wouldn't help her draw business, it doesn't help me.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Skeleton Sculptures

I will desist from writing a travel narrative after this, but I found the celebration of the Day of the Dead at my daugher's agency Union Settlement in East Harlem so interesting I had to share. These little babies, and they are tiny, are sculpted from sugar and last indefinitely. The celebration also included a mariachi band, an altar with a skeleton, flowers, candles and incense, dancers. poetry and speeches. Whole families turned out to participate. If I had kept up my Spanish, I could have followed it more closely.

On a darker note, I'm supposed to be writing five things for the Pitch workshop I am attending on Monday night. 1)Why did I write the book? 2)What's the book about? 3)Who's the audience 4 How does it stand out from other books? 5)Three important things to convey to an agent about it. All of the advice is about how to not be too smartass or gliv or immodest. Is that the way people are because my impulse is to put my head down on the desk and sigh. Why the hell did I write this book?

Thursday, November 01, 2007


"Stranded on Third" is a non-crime story. I think it's funny but who knows. Here's the link and hey, I'm in NY looking out at 29th street.

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 ( 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.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Dear Mysta

We like to go antiquing now and then and I am always drawn to the dealers who keep postcards. Not for the side with the destination, but for the occasional note on the back. Funny how often there is no note though. Purchased in lieu of a photograph, I guess. But anyway, the ones that are written out are often interesting and generate story ideas for me. This week, I ran across a bunch from WW II. I guess the caught my attention because of the Ken Burns show. How sad to read these letters home from air, army and naval bases where men were being rushed through training to go to war.
Usually I prefer vacation communications though. Like this one I bought years ago dated 1912 and sent from Atlantic City to Brooklyn.
Dear Mysta.
I'm still intact. It's cold but fine, Yours, LC
Do you ever use things like this to generate stories?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Kevin at 10 months

We'd both forgotten just how busy at 10 month old is. Over a period of several hours yesterday and the day before, he never stopped moving. It's part of the code, I guess, to want to move and climb every minute. I actually heard Issac Asimov discuss it once in terms of eventually getting off this planet when we need to.
Whereas Kevin used to like to sit in laps and be read to, now he wants to throw the book and crawl after it. I was a mother a 22 and a good thing because it much harder for my son and his wife in the mid-thirties.
Hey parents of young children out there. Did you ten month olds never stop moving or do we have to worry about those alphabet prognoses?

Thursday, September 27, 2007


I have a new story at Demolition for those who aren't sick of me. The stories were accepted over many months. Little did I know they'd all come out in a week or two.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Cart Before the Horse

I woke up in a cold sweat last night and I'm on record from the outset that it's the cart before the horse kind of thing. Hell, the horse hasn't even come out of the barn yet. Maybe there is no horse in the barn at all. You get the drift.
This is what I fear: all the stuff that happens after you publish a book: the looking in bookstores that don't carry it; the checking of library sites to see if they have it and if they do have it, is anyone reading it, the bad reviews, the no reviews, the readings or no readings, the obsessiveness you must cultivate to succeed. Can I become this person? The one that drives around the country pushing his book so his publisher will take the next one? Can I make publicizing my book my life.
I have a good friend going through this now with a collection of terrific stories. Should she go into bookstores and ask them to order her book? Should she call and try to set up readings where no one is likely to turn up? How many calls should she make to newspapers? (Why does our local newspaper give no help to local writers?) Should she order a copy every week or so on Amazon to keep her numbers from going too high. Should she even watch those numbers at all or is it likely to make you crazy.
Sometimes writing short stories seems very safe. Maybe only a few people read them, but you're spared a lot of pain. I could just quietly file the novel away. I won't but it's a thought.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

When One Man Dies

There are people you now get to know through the Internet in this strange new world we inhabit. There are voices that attract you more than others, ones that seem to jump off the blog.
Dave White has such a voice and although I've only read one short story by him, I know I'm going to like his first novel. His exuberance, naturalness, niceness has to permeate the pages. I know it will be steeped in those traits.
So give it a try with me. I'm betting we'll all love it.
(The appeal of a blog voice recently worked for me with reading Steven Torres' Concrete Maze. I knew I would like that book too. And I did. )

Monday, September 24, 2007

Shred of Evidence

I have a story up at Shred of Evidence:
(Thanks, Megan)

And I also took second place in the "Skeletons in the Closet" contest at Mysterical E.
Sorry to be about me, me, me today. Tomorrow we can talk about you.

One other things, do the checkers at Trader Joe's in your neck of the woods seem cult-like or is it just mine? (cult-like in a good way)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

King Kong: A Fist Full of Quarters

Okay, I told you I see everything and we were the only two people in the audience at the 4:30 show yesterday for this one. But Christopher Guest could not have written a better script. It was one of the funniest movies I've seen this year. The matchup of the arrogant, probably cheating Donkey Kong master of 1982, Billy Mitchell, with the sad sack, neglectful father of 2006, Steve Wiebe, was a classic. Did you know men are still playing these dinosaur games, still struggling to break records set 25 years ago? If it comes you way, give it a try. I guarantee you'll laugh and you'll cry for poor Steve Wiebe. The desire for excellence has no limits. And only men apparently seek excellence in video games. (Okay there was one woman playing)/
(This setup is made for a crime story).

Friday, September 21, 2007

Circling My Mother

In reading this fine book, I am again struck by how the generation of women who came of age in the 1920s through the 1940s seemed to be much more glamorous than the women who followed them. My mother's bureau drawers and closet were filled with mysterious objects, some never identified to my satisfaction. She had a scent, a regimen for getting ready to go out. She wore heels, dresses, hats--things foreign to me then and, even more, now.
Perhaps my generation gave up such things in exchange for other goals. Or possibly we have an aura of our own, but I strongly doubt that my daughter was ever caught up with her mother's mystery. My bureau drawers were dull--no undergarments not easily explained, no regime, no hats or heels, few dresses. In fact, I know she wasn't because she writes of women of earlier generations.
You can see some of this played out on Mad Men. People who weren't alive then believe the show to be an exaggeration. But it really isn't much of one.
This is the kind of post that get no response, but was your mother glamorous? Did feminism erase glamour? Did the sixties make me unwilling to spend much time on such things? Do I regret that I never learned to walk in heels or apply eyeliner with any skill? Maybe.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Two Weeks to Liftoff

I'm about two-three weeks from the start of trying to find an agent, writing the dreaded query letter, shaping the winning synopsis. If anyone has a word of advice, a website they find valuable, a book that helped them, any of that I'd be eternally grateful to hear about it before I make an unecessary mistake. It's a 70,000 word psychological suspense novel with a female protagonist set in Detroit. Thanks. I'm shaking in my shoes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Death at a Funeral

I've seen this movie twice now, don't ask why. Everyone we know assumes that we will see any movie out and they are usually right. But I saw this movie alone in Chicago a few weeks ago. There was a movie theater across the street from our hotel and I couldn't resist seeing something while my husband presented his paper. Three people were in the theater. None of them laughed much and I didn't either. The movie seemed obvious, trite, jejune. I gave it a 5.
Saturday night I saw it again. The theater was packed with guffawing people and suddenly it all seemed quite funny. What seemed obvious three weeks ago now seemed charming, a shared experience. The people we were with, Scottish, were quite enthralled. I enjoyed their enjoyment.
Am I driven by my peers of the moment, or is a comedy especially dependent on the audience? Have you had this experience? Have you changed your opinion of a movie based on the place, people, time you saw it? Am I a sheep, led by the masses? This time I'd give it a 7. That must mean I'm 20% influenced by those around me. Don't do the math.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Has This Happened to You?

Reader # 1 looked at draft#2 and said, I'm 95% there. What's still missing is the protagonist's soul lay bare. Okay, they're my words, but that's what she meant. In a short story, there is no time for this but it's essential in a novel unless I want my protagonist to seem like a sociopath, which doesn't make sense in light of her actions. She's dark but not that dark.
I am finding this very difficult to do. Do your characters ever elude you to the very end of the book (story)? Do you feel you know them but can't quite find a way to imbed this information artfully? First reader says to write (by hand) a monologue where she tells me about herself, all walls down. Ask her questions and write her response.
How do you get the inside out with your writing or is it only me who finds this difficult?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Pulp Pusher

I have a new story at pulppusher. It's the tale of a overly protective father. Hope you like it.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Michigan: A Midwest Mystery

Can someone tell me why a state that's elected two Democratic Senators, a Democratic Governor and voted blue in the last four presidential elections is in a permanent tax revolt? It started in the seventies and has had the state by the throat ever since. In a time of a failing automoile business, and thus falling state revenues, the legislature continues to get rid of things like the business tax and will not raise other taxes to cover the shortfall. An entertainement tax, which few would have even noticed, was gunned down a few months ago by these maniacs. We are about to go down in flames here. These idiots talk about cutting fat; the only fat is on us and so is the joke.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Cringe Factor

In my reading group last night, the discussion of On Chesil Beach kept returning to how much the book made each woman cringe.
I think McEwan was doing this on purpose. By dwelling so emphatically on a wedding night disaster, he was forcing the reader to experience his characters' shame and horror. He did this through some very specific and relentlessly fulsome details.
Making a reader or viewer cringe drives something home. And I am thinking here of the TV show The Office, where Michael's antics often produce a cringe. A few nights ago, in his workshop on diversity Michael managed to offend everyone in the room. All in the Family did it well too.
I'm sure other books and movies do it too. I don't think I could write it though. Fail to pull it off and the writer looks like a racist instead of someone holding racism up for our ridicule.
Who else does it well?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"What's Left Behind"

is a story of mine in the new Mouth Full of Bullets (
B.J. Bourg is trying something new this month. He's going to a print journal for all the new stories. I applaud his chutzpah in a time when most print journals disappear after one or two issues. So if you want to read this exciting story about an aged couple who find a fun way to entertain themselves in their retirement in Mississippi, you'll have to buy the issue for $6.

Speaking of which...With the exception of the eclectic The Spinetingler, it seems like all the other crimes zines have a definite preference for really hard-boiled stories. I sometime write stories like that but at other times I write stories that are not so...tough. I wish someone would come along and start a zine for the other sort of stories. Not necessarily cozies, but for stories where heads don't have to fly across the room.

Goal for the fall: learn the names of all the characters on The Office. I realized last night I still don't know the name of the older, thin, white man who lurks in the corners. And I'm also not sure of the older woman (not Phyllis) who appears less often. I am worried that these names are coming more slowly because 1) I am too old now to learn 12 new names 2) because they look like real people and not movie stars so I find them difficult to sort out. Either way, it sucks.

Monday, September 10, 2007

In Celebration of The New TV season

Shows you wish you'd watched but didn't : Heroes, Friday Night Lights, The Shield, Gilmore Girls, Veronica Mars, Smallville

Shows you wish you hadn't watched but did: Desperate Housewives

Show you wish you'd stayed with: Deadwood, Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Rome

Shows you're glad you ditched: John from Cincinnatti, Nip-Tuck, 24, Prison Break, Studio 64 on the Sunset Strip

Shows you got just right : The Sopranos, The Wire. Big Love, The Brotherhood, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office, Life on Mars

Shows good for an occasional viewing but you'd never tape: Monk, The Closer, Damages, House

Shows that shouldnt have been cancelled but were: Arrested Deveopment, Freaks and Geeks, My So-Called Life, Firefly, Sports Night and a whole slew probably I never even got around to sampling

Shows that jumped the shark this year: Rescue Me, Entourage, 24, My Name is Earl

Shows too soon to tell: Burn Notice, Mad Men, Thirty Rock, Flight of the Conchords

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Just Tell Me What's Wrong With It?

Maybe I'm the only one who has stories like this. Stories that I like, like even like more than stories that have been published. And yet, they sit on my hard drive, gathering dust. With me, they tend to be humorous stories. Or stories I like to think of as humorous. Do you have stories like this? Stories where you can't pinpoint the problem? Stories that you send out over and over.

But once in a while, someone finally gets it. That happened to me this week with a story I really liked but sent to about 15-20 literary outlets over the last two years. This week Storyglossia took it and the editor's comment was, "Boy, you really understood irony here." So finally, someone's head and mine were in the same place. Or maybe we're both a little off.

I still have at least a dozen stories nobody ever got. Maybe I need to send them out again. Maybe my sense of humor has come into vogue finally.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Jumping the Shark: Can You Turn it Around?

As many have pointed out, a number of TV shows have jumped the shark this season. I am thinking of Entourage and Rescue Me to name two. Nip-Tuck jumped last year in perhaps the Evil Knivel of all jumps.
Once the shark is jumped, do shows ever recover their mojo? I think Saturday Night Live had several recoveries but only by hiring new casts and writers. There are also shows that had so-so years amid better ones. Certainly Dallas had a novel way of wiping out a disastrous storyline.
But I can't really think of a good show that deteriorated and then returned to its full glory. Can you?
Interesting to see if 24 can pull it off next season.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I Wake Up Screaming

afraid that I have wasted a lot of time writing a novel that won't be published when I could have been writing short stories that usually do get published. It's a chance that should only be taken while young perhaps. I mean how much time do I have to screw around with this idea--that this novel will ever see light.

As I do the second draft, I'm trying even more to force all internal thoughts into external conversations and action. Since I am reading old books at the same time, this seems crazy. The characters in Willeford and the other mid century writers let you roam around in their characters head for half the book. I like being in their heads. It's easy to follow the action from there. You know what's up with them. But I know this won't work in this style of book--which I now define as a psycho-noir suspense novel.
I wonder if some of this problem with internal thought relates to the disdain for Freudian thinking. Action not rumination is what counts.
Three people have read this book and one of them says it's too rough (my mother), one says not rough enough (my husband) and one says it's okay on the roughness quotient at least (daughter). I guess I should discount my mother . But how rough is too rough when the roughness comes from your protagonist.

Anyway. I do wake up screaming.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Pick-Up by Charles Willeford

When was the last time you read a book so compelling you couldn't put it down? What was it?
For me, it was this novel. It takes a long time in Pick-Up for the reader to understand the protagonist and what he's all about. Why he's in the fix he's in. Maybe you won't understand the full story until the last line. And yet, Willeford is able to tell his story lucidly, making even the most mundane details riveting.
This is basically a story about two drunks. Why does it work so well? Better for me even than Kennedy's drunks in Albany. Because the characters are interesting, the narrative pull inescapable, the writing excellent.
Even when the plot turns a bit unlikely in the last third--the characters remain true to themselves, so you go along with it.
What turned you on this much?

Sunday, September 02, 2007

My Kind of Town

Three days in Chicago to attend the American Political Science Association with my husband. Have you ever had dinner with eight political theorists? How many political theorists does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: An infinite number because none of them would ever notice they were sitting in the dark.
And yes, Chicago is the most fantastic US city.
But that's not what this is about. This is about ineptitude. In four days, I never got my laptop functional because suddenly the piece that allows me to add on a keyboard and a mouse and a flash drive would not fit into any port. And still won't.
Also my new cellphone kept sending me messages to set up my voice mail and telling me to hit the pound key, which I did. Then it advised me to seek advice on what the pound key was. Isn't this the pound key ######.
Then four of us went to Oak Park and were give ipods to do an audio tour of Frank Lloyd Wright land and the snotty tech guy warned us that people like us (read old) liked to hit just any old button and if we did hit any old button he couldn't be responsible if we had to listen to the tape in Japanese. So keep your fingers away from this button, you old f****.
Every day I get just a little further behind in the tech war. Skip one step, let one thing pass you buy and you're dead. Of course, you are anyway.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

We Love Detroit

I was worried the film maker would run out of footage in this 2 1/2 minute film but he
didn't. Celebrate Detroit with me. You gotta
love a city that spends half of that time showing you its sports venues. Pity the Detroit Pistons, housed in the burbs.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Some Tips from a Master

Hat tip to Rap Sheet who brought this to my attention.
A lot of this has been said before, but one thing stood out. Mosley suggests that on completion of your work, you tape the whole thing and then listen to it. He claims it will point out a myriad of problems. Has anyone done this? Was it helpful? I don't want to spend the 10 or more hours this would take if it isn't. Also how many people write three hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year? He also totes this as necessary.
I'm not the kind of writer that needs to be inspired but this does seem out of reach for anyone who isn't living off of their royalty checks and advances. But maybe most writers do this. What is your usual schedule?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Explication in Crime Fiction

I really liked I Married a Dead Man a lot. But it was guilty of something I have been trying to steer away from in my writing: the use of lot of explication to move the story along. Now it would be hard to avoid it in the Woorlrich novel. This woman is isolated for very unusual reasons and the only way the story can move forward is by Woolrich puttting the reader inside her head.
If this is the case, is explication permissable or should the author still find ways to convey information through dialogue and action?
My Reader #1 felt that was the main flaw with the first chapter of my novel--too much explication and I can easily omit a lot of it. By why did it work in I Married a Dead Man?
Is explication a dated technique in the novel?
Since there is so little traffic here, I guess I'll put this on crimespace too.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Page Turner

The Page Turner was one of the creepiest movies I've seen in a long time. Directed by Deni Dercourt, it's the story of a child protege who's inadvertently put off stride at an examination. Unable to go on with music after this, she shuts her piano lid and puts away eveything related to music.

Years later, she takes her revenge on the woman who inadvertently caused her disgrace in the most subtle and unexpected ways. (It's like early Chabrol.) The two actresses, Deborah Francois and Catherine Frot are brilliant. Isn't it terrific when you can evoke an atmosphere that is terrifying without a single weapon on display. (Well, there's one but it's within keeping with the milieu) Highly recommended.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Away From It

Steve Allan mentioned his computer had a meltdown, which brought this to mind.

For years, when my husband was writing and I was not, I looked forward to any trip that would take him away from his typewriter (at the time) and let him focus on me (or the kids back then). Now both of us have trouble letting the work go for any extended time. Occasionally I take a laptop along but it usually doesn't work out very well. I can't get the proper focus or mood when I'm looking at a new horizon.

How do you feel about extended periods of time (say, more than a day or two) away from your writing? Does it make you worry that will never be able to work your way back into the story? Do you worry that the "voice" will be lost? Or are we just obsessives at my house?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Working in Detroit

I work at a university where I sometimes advise students. Today a new graduate student, fresh from Pakistan, asked me if I thought it was safe for him to walk to the Welcome Center (a ten minute walk on a college campus). Pakistan! Isn't the place where Obama wants to sent the military to hunt down terrorists? Where would you feel more safe? Detroit or Pakistan?

Thank You, Graham Powell

Do we thank Graham enough for keeping this whole thing flying. Other writers I know bemoan the fact that we have such a terrific way to get our blog read on crimespot. Weeks go by and they never get a comment and often give up blogging. Our ease in communicating here is amazing. And that wouldn't be true without Graham. Thank you so much.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Black Snake Moan

Someone recommended this on their blog recently. Then a friend seconded that review. I was initially put off by the woman in chains poster and the sadistic looking trailers. Boy, am I glad I saw it despite my misgivings. It was a good movie--plot, acting, cinematography, music. It reminded me of a Daniel Woodrell novel. The ending was perfect if enigmatic. Highly recommended. And I didn't know Samuel Jackson was such a great singer. Soundtracks seem to be getting better and better.