Saturday, June 30, 2007
Zsa Zsa parallels Paris Hilton in some ways. Both were famous for no particular reason, and people both love and hate them for their ostentatious wealth, their excesses, their beauty. Both have served time in jail; Zsa Zsa famously slapped a policeman back in 1989. Both women have had very public and plentiful love affairs. Zsa Zsa had a head start, and has racked up nine husbands; she is still married to the ninth, although he is openly unfaithful to her.
I suppose we can look at them and say that they are the worst sort of social evil, people playing with their wealth and fame while others starve and die. But, for all her sins, or perhaps because of them, Zsa Zsa is a Hollywood legend, and somehow I want better for her than to be in a wheelchair, carted to court because her husband is accusing her only daughter, Francesca, of "elder abuse." Francesca, in turn, is accusing him, Frederic Prinz von Anhalt, of abusing her, as well. Poor Zsa Zsa. Even the mighty fall, and Paris, too, like all of us, will one day have to address her frail humanity.
Despite the parallels, I see some differences between the two women. Zsa Zsa's legend, for whatever reason, has lasted; I doubt that Paris's will. Zsa Zsa's was invested with a glamour that Paris' generation simply cannot achieve. And though Zsa Zsa did not come from a poor background, she did come from a place of revolution; she also lost family members in the Holocaust, which means that she understood pain and suffering, and perhaps that explains why she was so grasping.
In the final assessment, I might be defending Zsa Zsa out of nostalgia, or because I find her current state sad. She is said to be different, more quiet and withdrawn, since her sisters have died. Together they were a force, but Zsa Zsa alone has lost some sparkle, and she is almost ninety years old.
Still, I know that Zsa Zsa spirit is still there; I hope her life isn't as bad as it seems.
Friday, June 29, 2007
WHAT IS SUCCESS?
by Ralph Waldo Emerson
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived;
This is to have succeeded.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
All that I know
Of a certain star
Is, it can throw
(Like the angled spar)
Now a dart of red,
Now a dart of blue;
Till my friends have said
They would fain see, too,
My star that dartles the red and the blue!
Then it stops like a bird; like a flower, hangs furled;
They must solace themselves with the Saturn above it.
What matter to me if their star is the world?
Mine has opened its soul to me; therefore I love it.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
"monster" at all, and not just a "mystery," shows that we all love our bogey stories, and we love the thought of something undiscovered out there, like a UFO or life on other planets. In a way, I'm content to just let all those mysteries be. It's the mystery that creates the wonder, not the solution.
This famous photo of "Nessie" was taken by a surgeon on vacation at Loch Ness in the 1930's. I believe it's the most famous photo of the monster. However, recently someone else has added to the Nessie museum of evidence. A man named Gordon Holmes has video footage of something he saw in the Loch.
From ABC News: "'I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw this jet black thing, about 45 feet long, moving fairly fast in the water,' said Gordon Holmes, the 55-year-old a lab technician from Shipley, Yorkshire, who took the video Saturday."
Holmes' video has got people talking again, and the skeptics say he has done it just in time for tourist season. But the romantics like me say that the monster does exist--that in fact he cannot live there alone, but must have a family. What he is remains a mystery, and that mystery is compounded by the fact that Loch Ness is huge, and deeper than the North Sea.
Scientists have tried to find the monster before, but without luck. The question is, do we really want it found? Or would we prefer to cling to possibility?
Monday, June 25, 2007
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
It's little I care what path I take,
And where it leads it's little I care;
But out of this house, lest my heart break,
I must go, and off somewhere.
It's little I know what's in my heart,
What's in my mind it's little I know;
But there's that in me must up and start,
And it's little I care where my feet go. . . .
Saturday, June 23, 2007
One of the first problems Remington faced was that the letters on the keyboard were alphabetical, and therefore some of the most commonly-used letters would jam when the type bars came up in quick succession. Sholes addressed this problem by inventing what we now know as the QWERTY keyboard, which re-arranged the alphabet so that none of the commonly-used letters would be tapped in quick succession. People were trained in the QWERTY method, and now almost every keyboard in the world has the same basic structure.
Why are women indebted to Sholes? Because men still clung to the more "elegant" pastime of handwriting, it was women who were often sent to the training sessions to learn the use of the unwieldy typewriters; this gave women a valuable spot in the workplace which they had not been allowed before.
Sholes was born in Milwaukee, which is why that Wisconsin town claims it is the "birthplace of the typewriter."
To read more about Sholes, click here or here.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Gar Anthony Haywood on The Great Crime Writers, The Influence of Children, and the Importance of Timing
I’m curious about your name. Is it just Gar, or is it short for something like Garfield? If it’s the latter, were you named for the assassinated president?
I suppose being named for an assassinated president would make for a more exciting story, but the truth is I was named after the Gar fish. For those who aren't familiar with the specie, imagine a small barracuda with the whiskers of a catfish that's been hit flush in the face with a waffle iron. Yeah, I know. My father could be cruel that way.
You have great writing credentials: you’ve won the Shamus and Anthony awards for your crime novels; you’ve written for the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times; you’ve written for the television dramas New York Undercover and The District; and your work has been compared to that of Elmore Leonard. It’s probably unfair to ask which of your accomplishments you’re most proud of, so I’ll phrase it this way: what’s been the pinnacle of your career so far?
Winning the Shamus for FEAR OF THE DARK was definitely a highlight. But I think I'm most proud of being a favorite author of the poet Nikki Giovanni, who actually attended a signing of mine in Washington, D.C. several years ago. Humbling experiences like that don't happen every day.
I’m curious about your fictional sleuths, the Loudermilks. They’re a couple on the verge of fulfilling their retirement dreams—he an ex-cop, she an English teacher. Before becoming embroiled in a mystery, they are heading out in their truck and attached Airstream trailer for a wonderful adventure. Did you ever have dreams of touring the country and leaving your cares (and children) behind?
When I wrote the Loudermilk novels, my children were still rather young, so it was difficult for me to fully relate to Joe and Dottie's desire to ditch their own brood and never look back. However, now that my four kids are 22, 20, 7 and 4, respectively, I find myself scanning the Airstream catalog all the time. (No, just kidding. My babies are nothing like Joe and Dottie's crazies.)
In a related question, I’ve done some poking around on the Airstream website. This trailer, also known as “the silver palace,” is all of the following: sleek, silver, cool, expensive. Did you pick this kind of trailer at random, did you research it, or do you perhaps own your own silver palace?
When I first came up with the idea for the series, I had no particular brand of trailer home in mind. But my agent at the time, Dominick Abel, suggested I give the Loudermilks an Airstream trailer, because a) they're very distinctive looking, as you point out, and b) in terms of brand loyalty, Airstream owners make Harley Davidson fans look like rank amateurs. And Dominick was right. All my research indicated that, if I wrote Joe to accurately depict a dedicated Airstream owner, he'd be a fanatic from whom I could derive much comedy relief.
You’re also a graphic designer of some renown. You seem to have a lot of neurons on the right side of your brain, and they say that this neuron clustering is hereditary. Did you have creative parents?
My late father was an architect and furniture designer. My mother, who has also passed away, was a career housewife, which some people might argue is the most creative professional endeavor of all.
How did you happen to create Aaron Gunner, your African-American private eye? Was he someone you consciously wanted to create, or did he creep into your consciousness?
There was no creeping involved. Gunner was a very deliberate creation, formed over years of reading in the P.I. genre without ever coming across a credible contemporary African-American protagonist. Most of the choices I made regarding the character and the novel that introduced him (FEAR OF THE DARK), in fact, were extremely calculated. For instance, I knew early on that Gunner would operate much in the same way that the television detective who inspired his name---Peter Gunn---did, which is to say, out of an unusual workspace (a barbershop instead of a jazz club) and with the aid of a large cast of colorful friends and informants. Even Lilly Tennell, who owns the Acey Deuce bar where Gunner conducts a great deal of his business, was intended to be my take on the owner/operator of Peter Gunn's favorite jazz club, Mother's.
You list four authors on the “recommended reading” portion of your website: Ross MacDonald, Robert Crais, Lawrence Block, and Gary Philips, all of whose works are suggested as tutorials for would-be crime writers. What makes their writing such good reading?
Smarts. Flavor. Originality. Who does Elvis Cole remind you of? Matthew Scudder or Ivan Monk? Nobody, because these characters are fully formed and non-derivative.
Your upcoming novel, Cemetery Road, is a stand-alone book about a man coming back to L.A.—and his roots—to look into the death of an old friend. This in itself makes me think of Ross MacDonald, since his character Lew Archer more often than not found himself investigating crimes of the past—sometimes twenty or thirty years cold. Do you see comparisons between your work and MacDonald’s?
Every night. In my dreams. The truth is, CEMETERY ROAD marks my first real attempt to mix past and present storylines the way MacDonald did so brilliantly. It's a difficult stunt to pull off successfully, because timing is everything---switch time frames too late or too soon, or reveal too much or not enough at a critical moment, and you throw the rhythm of your story off completely. How MacDonald performed this balancing act as well and as often as he did remains an absolute wonder to me.
Me, too. He's the greatest. Your Ray Shannon novels are more lighthearted, and have elicited the comparisons to Elmore Leonard mentioned earlier. They say you can’t “write funny” unless you have a sense of humor. Are you a funny person?
I'm utterly hilarious. Sometimes even deliberately.
You live in Los Angeles, the land of Philip Marlowe. Are your books set in L.A.?
Do you ever think of Marlowe when you’re driving the mean streets? :)
CEMETERY ROAD and all of my Gunners have been set in L.A., but Marlowe isn't what I think of when I drive around the city. Instead, I think of all the predominantly non-white corners of L.A. that Marlowe never set foot in, either because Chandler wasn't comfortable taking him there, or didn't feel the need. These places tend to be Gunner's L.A. turf, and I'm happy to have it mostly to myself (with apologies to Gary Phillips and Paula Woods, among others---sorry, homies!).
The Chicago Sun-Times said that your novel Firecracker was “machine-gun paced.” How do you create this kind of tempo? Do you have a writing method, or do you simply hear the dialogue in your head?
Pacing and tempo are all about that word I used earlier: "timing." I always try to get in and out of a scene as quickly as possible, no matter what's happening in it, because I suspect a reader's patience for any scene is likely to be even shorter than mine. Essentially, I write the bare bones of what I see and hear, then move on, without bothering to describe things (clothing, furniture, weather) that have no real bearing on the plot.
You have four children, and the Loudermilks have five. Obviously one set of children is fictional, but do your children ever inspire the scenes that you write about parenting?
All the time. While much has been made of Joe and Dottie's impatience with their quintet of terror, what people always seem to remember about them, what strikes readers as the pair's most realistic feature, is how much they genuinely love their kids. That love always shines through, because for Joe and Dottie (and me), love comes first above all else.
Have your children inherited the right-brain neuron clusters?
Courtney (22) aspires to a screenwriting career; Erin (20) wants to teach; Maya (7) plays piano and writes poetry; and Jackson (4) creates mayhem. Whatever part of the brain they use most often, it's sometimes for certain (as Dottie Loudermilk might say) that they're only using one half, at the most.
Cemetery Road is coming out soon. What are you writing now?
Another standalone thriller and my seventh Aaron Gunner novel.
What’s the current book on your bedside table?
There are always more than one. At the moment, the stack looks like this:
WATER FOR ELEPHANTS by Sara Gruen
CASE HISTORIES by Kate Atkinson
A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING by Bill Bryson
REDWALL by Brian Jacques
THE BLUE EDGE OF MIDNIGHT by Jonathan King
Some people might believe negative stereotypes of Los Angeles, whether because of smog, crime, Hollywood types, etc. What would you tell them they should see in Los Angeles that would give them a whole new image of this place?
My home. No SUVs in the driveway, tofu in the 'fridge, or emergency phone numbers for plastic surgeons pinned to the kitchen cork board.
Good to know. How can readers find out more about your work?
Visit my website --- www.garanthonyhaywood.com --- where I try to keep the latest news about my work up to date.
I think you've given us lots of great ideas for summer reading! Thanks very much for chatting with me, Gar!
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Ah, that Errol Flynn could really hurl a deer carcass in a way to win a little girl's heart. My mother, watching with a stern expression while she did her knitting, told me that Errol Flynn was too MUCH of a heartbreaker, that was his problem. But I think she liked him too, falling captive to the Flynn charm that is captured forever on film even though Flynn lived for only fifty years.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Check out the event here.
If you're in the Chicago area and love books, this is the place for you!
So this summer I am being conscious of the value of rest, and trying to embrace peaceful thoughts.
Having said that, I must now be off to work. :) I'm teaching a little summer school course on creative writing. It's basically fun work, though, so it shouldn't interfere with my summer rejuvenation plan.
How do you use the summer to regroup?
Monday, June 18, 2007
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Shane has also been interviewed here (click Shane's interview) and is a noted best-selling author of two novels starring Naperville Illinois police detective Emily Thompson, who battles serial killers. The beginning of Shane's new book, Cut to the Bone, is a chilling description of an electrocution, and Shane discussed some of the research that he's done for his series, including reading about the history of electrocution and going on drive-alongs with the Naperville police.
Both writers agreed that while the research is interesting, it is sometimes possible to become so consumed by the research that they have to remind themselves to get back to the book, to the story, and to press on with their creative visions.
It's always interesting to hear authors talk about their methods and their challenges, and especially about the things that spark creativity. I'm looking forward to reading both of these books this summer!
What are you reading now?
Friday, June 15, 2007
I don't suppose this sounds cheery, and certainly there's not much humor in his novels, but I read them for their poetry. Macdonald does something with diction that not everyone else can achieve; he uses simile and metaphor almost constantly, and for someone else that would seem overdone, but in his books it becomes a tribute to metaphor, and a way to more deeply understand both his characters and his detective, Lew Archer, who might be one of the most melancholy gumshoes I've ever encountered.
The other satisfying thing about this novel is that it captures so much of its time period. In this case it was the mid-seventies (and it was Macdonald's last book), but he began in the fifties, and each novel carries with it a nostalgic look at its age. His fictional "Santa Teresa" was later resurrected by Sue Grafton in her alphabet mysteries, and she claims Macdonald as a major influence on her writing.
Now that I've finished The Blue Hammer, which was the end for Macdonald and for Archer, I think I'd like to go back to the beginning, to his book The Moving Target, which was written almost thirty years before in 1949.
If anyone wants to read a good short sample of Macdonald's fiction, I very much like his story "Midnight Blue," and it captures the spirit of Archer in a more compressed form.
Thank goodness for old books and comfortable chairs.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Then again, there is always the if-you-can't-beat-em-join-em mentality. I could write a mystery with a penguin protagonist; perhaps some bandwagon type would snatch it right up and sell it to kiddies in time for Christmas.
Am I wrong? Am I unfairly slandering penguins? Let me know your thoughts on penguin p.r. :)
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
My father says this is because I am letting the other plants choke the life out of the peonies; but I'm not sure this is the answer. I miss the burgeoning loveliness of a whole bush of peonies in full bloom. People walking down the street used to ask us which plant was emanating that wonderful scent.
While pursuing the mystery of the declining peonies, I looked them up in my handy Bulfinch's guide, and found that they were named for Paeion, a legendary physician, since they were among the earliest medicinal flowers. They are the symbol, however, of SHAME, since "necklaces of seeds were worn to counter shameful diseases like leprosy, lunacy, epilepsy and chronic nightmares, and the roots were also worn by children to help them cut their teeth." Hmmm. If I don't whip my peonies into shape, we will not be protected from leprosy--and am I mistaken in thinking that my lunacy is growing in proportion to the plant's decline? :)
Peonies were also said to be like mandrakes, in that when someone tried to uproot them, they cried so horribly that the uprooter would die. They solved this by suggesting that dogs should pull them out (although they don't mention if the dogs were immune to the shrieking).
In any case, if anyone can answer the mystery of my declining peonies, I would be grateful for your gardening advice.
(Source of quote: Todd, Pamela. A FLORAL TREASURY: THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS. Bulfinch, Little Brown: 1993.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Today marks the birth date of Anne Frank, the young German-Jewish girl who hid for two years from the Nazis in a room above her father's office in Amsterdam. Anne was born in 1929. During her time in hiding, she kept a world-famous diary that chronicled her hopes and fears, as well as her daily habits. The basic mystery at the root of Anne's diary notations was reflected in her disbelief of what was happening to Germany, to humanity.
Despite her fears and sadness, Anne Frank clung to hope, a tendency even she herself did not fully understand:
"It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.
It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more." (July 15, 1944)
As the world knows, Anne and her family were betrayed and arrested, and nine months later, at the age of fifteen, Anne died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen.
A wonderful website is devoted to Anne at www.annefrank.com
Monday, June 11, 2007
Wouldn't that make a neat holiday? A day on which everyone was encouraged to sit and think and write? I wonder if that would improve the state of things, or if it would just rile things up. Kafka wrote that "a book should be an ice pick to break up the frozen sea within us." I think writing can have the same effect.
So I'll work at pulling ideas from my own frozen sea.
Saturday, June 09, 2007
I hope that those of you who read it will keep reading and let me know what you'd like to discuss. Thanks for your visit! Here's your glass of cyber champagne: Y
Friday, June 08, 2007
It seems like this book would have taken a long time to write. Do you write full time?
I’m one of the fortunate few, who get to write full time. That wasn’t particularly the case when I started The Cold Dish, but after it started selling I was able to hang up my rope, saddle and tool-belt. I built the ranch where I live myself, and I’m pretty glad I did it when I did ‘cause I don’t think I’d have the time to do it now.
Is Absaroka County a real place?
The series is about Walt Longmire, who is the sheriff in a rural county in northern Wyoming and has been for twenty-three years. Absaroka County is located alongside the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, which is strangely reminiscent of where I live in Johnson and Sheridan Counties, but it is fictitious. My ranch is about eighteen miles from Buffalo, Wyoming, the town from which I modeled Durant, and every time I drive in I get this Capra-esque feeling that I’m in Walt’s world, seeing the place as he would see it.
Your protagonist, Sheriff Walt Longmire, has a cool name. Did you construct it to hint at something about Walt—-as in, “he has long been mired in trouble?”
You know, I’ve been waiting three years for somebody to ask that question. My hat is off to you, Julia. Yes, it’s another metaphor for Walt. When we first meet him in The Cold Dish, he’s pretty depressed about his life, but by the time he’s into the investigation, he’s starting to come out of it. Of course, that’s what makes the ending so bitter-sweet.
Speaking of trouble, Walt seems reminiscent of some detectives of the hard boiled school—like if Lew Archer or Philip Marlowe went to Wyoming. Do you like reading detective fiction?
I’ve read a lot of the ‘golden era’ of crime literature, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Dorothy L. Sayers, but currently I try to stay well-read in all genres. I think you can fall into a trap writing and reading in a single genre. That’s one of the nice things about writing for the contemporary mystery audience, they expect a great deal--character development, arc of story, social conscience, humor, and plausible plot lines… I really enjoy all these approaches, because they raise the bar, and I don’t think that bar can ever be high enough.
Here, here. At the center of the story is Walt’s friendship with Henry Standing Bear. What came first in your imagination—the bond between these men, or the mystery itself?
Their friendship is based on a mutual trust and respect to which the society of the contemporary high plains should aspire, but to which it unfortunately doesn’t always. The friendship is the core of the series, and even though I think each book should have a distinct and interesting plot, I feel that they’re character-driven, with an aesthetic that draws you into the story through the characters.
Did you do any research on a Cheyenne reservation?
I’m fortunate enough to have good friends on both the Crow and Cheyenne Reservations and am lucky enough to be one of the only white men ever asked to raise the center lodge pole in the Cheyenne Sundance, which is quite an honor. Indians are incredible in so many ways, their integrity, their humor, their spirituality… They are the bedrock of what I consider to be the west, and excuse the pun; it would be criminal to leave them out of the books.
Walt has a deputy, Victoria Moretti, who has an interesting relationship with him. Am I allowed to ask if this will ever be a romantic relationship? (Or maybe it has become one—I’ve only read book one).
Because of the strength of the men’s friendship and since the books are told from Walt’s perspective in first-person, there is a propensity for the narrative to be overly masculine, so Walt’s under-sheriff and chief counterbalance is Victoria Moretti, who is everything that Walt is not—female, young, urban, technologically advanced, and profane. Actually, there are a lot of female characters who look after Walt, enough so that my wife calls the novels sneaky-women’s-issues books cleverly disguised as masculine-adventure mysteries. As to the question of whether the relationship between Walt and Vic will go anywhere? Read on…
Your book has subtle literary references, and your bio identifies you as someone with “a background in law enforcement and education.” Does that mean you were once an English teacher?
I’ve taught on a collegiate level, which is only slightly less intense than being a police officer. I love to read, so it was easy to think of Walt as a reader. I think when you’re writing first-person, you kind of have to keep the narrator close to the vest. I’ve been accused of being Walt, but I think he’s more of what I’d like to be in about ten years—-and I’m off to an awfully slow start. In a cinematic-Cimarron sense, he’s a hold-over from an earlier time—-a kind of man exemplified by some of the characters that Gary Cooper played—courageous, quiet, humble and kind.
He did remind me of Gary Cooper! One of my favorite descriptions in the book—and one of the funniest—is Walt’s description of Henry’s truck, which he despises. Did you ever have a vehicle you despised?
I’ve got four trucks, one car, and three motorcycles—-so, you can see a problem here, right? I bought the one you mentioned for a thousand bucks down in Denver. They said it had been used at a Christmas tree farm-—they didn’t tell me it had been used to harvest the things. It’s a tank. It may be ugly but it can be twenty degrees below zero at the shop, and I can go down there and pull the choke and pump the gas and she fires right up. I immortalized her as Henry’s truck, Rez Dawg. I think she’s symbolic in my life as well as in Henry’s, an analogy for something so deep within me that I wouldn’t know where to begin to describe it.
I like the covers of your books. Are you pleased with them?
I love the covers of the books, but guess what? They’re changing. Sales for the series have been really good, but not astronomical, so Viking/Penguin wants to go with a change and make the covers more acceptable to a larger, urban audience—-so, I’m going to argue, right?
I guess. You live in a Wyoming town with a population of 25. Could you live in a big city?
I’ve actually lived in a lot of big cities, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Louisville… I’m not metro-phobic, I love cities, but I always knew I’d settle down back in the west and away from it all. I’ve never written as much as I do in Wyoming-it speaks to me.
I was in Wyoming once, and I was forced to go horseback riding on an evil quadriped named Shiny, who spent most of the trail ride trying to ignore me and the fact that my saddle was slowly falling off. Is horseback riding a Wyoming staple? I don’t remember anyone on horseback in the book.
Sorry, it’s a state tradition to put all the tourists on Shiny . . . I grew up riding, but Walt seems to not enjoy it so much. There is a scene on horseback in the latest of the books, Kindness Goes Unpunished. It figures that it would take place in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia and not in Wyoming. It’s my contrary nature, I guess.
Kindness Goes Unpunished is a terrific title!
Your book describes the beauty of Wyoming, and Walt mentions at one point the distinctive nature of Wyoming sunsets/sunrises. I believe this, since I live in the Midwest, where I barely notice the sun at all. Are these beautiful events attributable to the largeness of the Wyoming sky, or is there something else that makes the sunsets memorable?
I think that when you’re a westerner, you ignore nature at your own peril-—everybody knows somebody who had a brother or uncle who went out to feed cows in a blizzard and never came back. It’s harsh but representational of the culture. There’s always the summer, though, and that time in the afternoon when the sun hits the breaks of the Powder River or the Big Horn Mountains just right . . .
Parts of your books also remind me of old westerns. Did you watch those as a kid (or an adult)? Were you ever influenced by people like Zane Gray or Louis L’Amour?
You can’t write about the west and not be influenced by those guys. I think it’s important to acknowledge the iconoclastic aspects of the genre you work in, taking advantage of a high-context relationship with the reader for all sorts of reasons, laughs, for one. I write contemporary novels, but they’re set in the west, so I better know about the west in a non-fiction and fictional sense. I’m probably more influenced by western writers like Walter Van Tilberg Clark, Wallace Stegner, John Steinbeck, and Dorothy Johnson.
Walt and many of his acquaintances know a great deal about guns. Do you have a lot of gun knowledge, or is this something you had to research?
Both. I grew up with a father that knows a great deal about guns, but I also do a lot of research. The hard part is convincing your wife that you really need a Sharps buffalo rifle for research . . .
I can see how that would be a challenge. :)
You seem to have experienced a couple of whirlwind years in the publishing world. What’s been the most surprising to you about the whole book scene?
The closest town to my ranch in northern Wyoming has a population of 25, where PD stands for prairie dog, and if you’ve got a loud voice you’ve got a town meeting, so I enjoy seeing anyone, anywhere. I think I’ve been most surprised by how much people want to visit you, get your signature and make a connection—I understand that and treasure it. I enjoy the emails; the reading/signings—I feel privileged to be part of an age where there is an ease of communication. If I didn’t enjoy people and being a student of human nature, I don’t think I’d be writing for a living—and if I did, I wouldn’t be very good at it. I truly enjoy listening.
A lot of The Cold Dish takes place in the outdoors. Is Wyoming too beautiful a place to waste time indoors?
I like the outdoors and have spent the majority of my adult life in it, but curled up next to a fire with a good book is an awfully nice way to spend a snowy, windy evening . . .
Walt has an intensely spiritual experience. Do you have ghost stories of your own? If so, can you share one?
I’ve had a pretty varied life, and I’m not to the point where I can explain all the things I’ve experienced—-the things I’ve seen out of the corners of my eyes—-that’s for sure. There are stranger things, Horatio, than have been dreamt of in your philosophies . . . I think the trick in those mystical situations that are described in the books is in allowing the reader to interpret along with the characters—-did that really happen or did I imagine that? I’ve been out there on the ragged edge, where you’re talking to people who aren’t there.
I love the Shakespearean parallel. Will the Walt Longmire series be a long one?
That’s what Viking/Penguin tells me. I love the characters and the place, so I don’t ever see not writing them.
SOME BONUS QUESTIONS:
Why did you set the newest in the series in Philadelphia?
When I first started the books as a series, everybody told me that you can’t take the characters out of their environment. As with most rules, I chose to ignore that one and went east. It’s all a question of context and the west within the context of the west is one thing, the west within the context of the east is something very different. I wanted to see what would happen in the development of the characters and their relationships when the playing field was different. I figured I’d either put a finer point on it all, or it would be like a bad episode of McCloud. There were lots of opportunities with Kindness Goes Unpunished to have Walt work in a strange environ and still be effective—he’d be the last to admit it, but he’s a world-class detective. I also wanted to meet Vic Morretti’s family, but the main thing was to define Walt’s relationship with his daughter, Cady. I have two daughters and a new granddaughter—-so family is paramount to me. It is to Walt as well and further defines his sense of community.
Uh--excuse me: there was no bad episode of McCloud! "'Preciate your confidence, Craig!"
Why is there so much humor in your books?
I’m a whore for laughs. Seriously, I think that laughter makes the poignant moments more powerful. George Bernard Shaw said, When the mouth is open with laughter you can insert a bitter medicine. I think my mind is working best when I’m laughing, and it is my assumption that the reader’s is as well… I think it’s my job to engage the reader with every tool I have. So, I think that I can do both—-leave ‘em laughing and crying. There was an old rancher who explained cowboy humor to me, which isn’t so different from cop humor, by the way. He said, “Everything’s funny till you’re dead.” Then he paused for a moment and continued, “ . . . and dead can be pretty funny, too.”
Good point. What do you enjoy most about the process?
I enjoy research; the responsibility of ‘getting it right’ is a challenge but a welcomed one. The rewrites are also an epiphany—the time when a good book can become a hell of a lot better. I think that’s where most young authors mess up—-not realizing the value of a rewrite. There’s a funny story about the painter, Matisse. He would sell a painting in Paris and people would come home to find their door open and the artist in there touching up his work. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything I was completely satisfied with—-there’s always something more you could have done. On the down side are hotel rooms and the frightening moment when you wake up and can’t remember where you are. I’m fortunate enough that my wife is able to accompany me, but I miss my horses and my doges when I travel, and I miss the ranch. I need all that to keep me grounded—-the place is my touchstone.
It’ll be out next March and it’s called Another Man’s Moccasins, the fourth installment of the Walt Longmire mysteries. And, it’s two mysteries for the price of one. I talk with a lot of western sheriffs and to a man they said the worst case they have to deal with is the body dump, where a car stops up on a lonely stretch of highway, the trunk opens and a body is thrown out and the car drives away—-there you are with a victim, no ID, no crime scene, nothing. That is what happens to Walt. It’s summer in Absaroka County and the Highway Patrol comes and gets Walt, takes him out to a culvert by the highway, and shows him a dead Asian girl whose neck is broken. Walt knows she is Vietnamese, and it reminds him of his first homicide investigation at Tan Son Nhut air base in Vietnam, circa 1968—-a story he told Vonnie about in The Cold Dish. The subsequent investigation takes Walt back to his days as a Marine Investigator and, believe it or not, the two cases are related.
Cool! I hope to be caught up with the series by then. Thanks so much for talking with me, Craig!
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
I love the title of your book, Little Blue Whales. I haven’t read the whole book yet, though—what does the title refer to?
Hi Julia, and thanks for having me on as a guest. The title of the book has a double meaning, actually. Blue whales, as you probably already know, are the largest creatures on earth. In the novel a small plastic toy blue whale is used to lure the victims down to the beach in hopes of seeing the real thing.
The irony is that blue whales are true creatures of the deep and as a rule never venture in any closer than seventy miles or more of the Oregon coastline, while other more common species, like grey whales, sometimes beach themselves in shallow coastal waters during their winter and spring migrations.
Your novel is preceded by a beautiful quote from Richard Rayner: “Wisdom is what we glean, if we’re lucky, with our minds from the twisted root of the past—so that our hearts can ignore it and proceed at once in the opposite direction.” What made this an important quote to give the readers before they start the book?
Richard Rayner’s 1997 novel, Murder Book, is one of the best pieces of crime fiction I’ve ever read. A murder book is a large, three ring binder which contains all of the investigative reports, evidence sheets, witness statements, crime scene photos, etc. which have been compiled in a homicide investigation.
The story focuses on Billy McGrath, a very flawed L.A. homicide detective who gives everything of himself he has left in order to solve one last big case, even as his personal life is disintegrating all around him. I finished reading the book only months before starting my own novel and when I read that passage—on page 120 of the Harper Collins paperback edition—I finally knew what it was I wanted to write about. So often in life we learn our most important lessons the hard way, and we know what the consequences may be for repeating those same mistakes, but in the end our hearts always seem to lead us forward more often than our heads do. I wanted to write about that…about a tragically flawed man whose past has made him believe he can never truly love, and about the equally flawed woman he falls in love with anyway. In Little Blue Whales police chief Kevin Kearnes is that man, and Britt McGraw is the woman he falls for.
Police Beat says that your book captures "...the real world of police officers...gritty, imperfect, and much more fragile than one would imagine." You have a background in law enforcement. Could you have written this book without that experience?
No, I don’t think I could have written this exact book because it is very much about the way real police officers really are--the good, the bad, and the ugly. When I entered law enforcement almost thirty years ago the police in this country had reached almost folk hero status, and today I consider the quintessential American cop to be almost iconic in our culture. But what people don’t know about “real” police could literally fill a book, and that was one of the goals I set out to accomplish in the writing of Little Blue Whales.
You are a police chief in Rogue River, Oregon, but you have been “a patrolman, a deputy sheriff, a detective, [and] a patrol sergeant.” Was it always your goal to be a chief of police?
Are you kidding? Of all the different jobs and ranks in the police department, being the chief is the absolute worst! Being a chief was never a conscious goal of mine, but not ever having to work graveyard shift again, and always having weekends off, was. So I guess it did kind of work out for me in that regard. Seriously though; I feel good about having earned my way to the top by applying myself and learning all the other jobs and skills in law enforcement it takes to eventually become a chief.
Well, I've learned something today. :)
You state on your website that you were a writer first, but that you entered law enforcement because of “the overpowering allure” of this profession. What is alluring about police work?
The question probably should be; what isn’t alluring about police work? Every person you meet, every scenario you deal with, no matter how similar to other events and people you have already come across on the job, will have a slightly different slant to it. It is both fascinating to see, and to some degree be directly involved with, the entire spectrum of human behavior from the absolutely macabre to the positively wonderful (sometimes all in the same day) every day you go to work.
There is an extended water metaphor in your first chapter. Will water images be important to the theme of this mystery?
You know, until reading your question just now, I didn’t even realize there was! But you are very right. Rivers and oceans are a definite theme in the book because water bears things along on its surface, and water sometimes pulls things down. Water gives life and at times, takes life away. The novel is set on the southern Oregon coast where the western continental land mass ends and the Pacific ocean begins. For Kevin Kearnes, the ocean represents a dead end he has reached in his life long race to outrun his past; he can literally run no further. But what he doesn’t know when he arrives in the small coastal community of Cutter Point, OR to take the position of the town’s new police chief is that this life long race has unwittingly brought him full circle, and he is about to come face to face with the past he has so long feared
How did you come up with the idea for Little Blue Whales?
I had to. I was desperate. In 1998 I found myself, by my own accord, going through a divorce and living in a new town on the Oregon coast 600 miles away from my five sons, who were all still living with their mother in Washington state. In almost twenty years of being a husband and father I had always been able to use the rationale of having to fulfill those roles first as my excuse to never seriously begin writing a novel. I moved to Brookings, OR in July of that summer and one August night, on my birthday, I was having dinner alone in the bar of a restaurant down on the beach called Smugglers Cove, watching the sun set over the ocean. I don’t think I had ever been so depressed before in my life.
I missed my kids so much that it hurt, and the new job I had accepted, at first so seemingly perfect, was turning out to be the job from hell. I was watching the sun sinking lower and lower into the water, wondering just how much worse my life could actually become…and that was the instant the idea for the book came to me. I remember thinking: ‘Oh, that’s how some police chief’s life in a similar situation could get even worse! Really worse!” The main plot, theme, characters, and locations began flooding into my brain and I remember asking the only other person in the room, the barmaid, if I could borrow something to write with. The barmaid’s name was “Britt.” She brought me a blue ink pen and a stack of cocktail napkins and for the next hour, non-stop, I wrote the outline to “Little Blue Whales.” I still have those ink stained cocktail napkins in my dresser drawer, but I never saw Britt again.
But that was the easy part! I “thought” about the novel over the course of the next year and didn’t actually start writing it until August of 1999. I finished writing it in late February, 2006.
Wow! That is a romantic tale.
Writing was, for you, a dream deferred for a time. How long did you dream of writing a book before you actually wrote one?
I am somewhat embarrassed to answer this question, but to be honest? Twenty seven years.
Your writing is very poetic. Have you written poetry?
Ha ha! No, not really. I wrote a couple of poems for my wife, JaNell, a few years ago when I was trying to convince her to marry me; but that’s all. Maybe I’ve always been sort of a poet--who just didn’t know it?
Okay, I take back the poetry question. :)
As a career policeman, do you find that your attitude about humanity is optimistic or pessimistic?
I think it is probably a little bit of both. I take humanity in the form it comes to me, and after all these years of wearing a badge, I know better than to try and classify human nature in terms of absolutes. In fact, as a cop, my own personal belief is that human beings are capable of acting absolutely terrible, absolutely wonderful, or absolutely anywhere in the middle of those two extremes.
You have a new book that came out in December called The Sparrow’s Blade. This is an interesting contrast of images. How do you come up with your titles?
Hey, I only wish The Sparrow’s Blade, had already been out since last December! I’m still writing it, and I believe what it says on the website is that it is due out in December, 2007. But that’s OK, because if you would have checked my website a month ago the available date then was listed as October, 2007. That was a little overly optimistic, I’m afraid, and the date had to be moved forward a bit.
As far as titles go: For me; having the perfect title and the perfect cover art concept is a must…before I even begin the actual writing of a book. They act as a kind of “north star,” something I can get a constant visual fix on in order to move the characters and story unerringly in the direction I wish to go. I spoke earlier in the interview about how the title for Little Blue Whales evolved, and the cover art for this book actually depicts a key scene in the story. In The Sparrow's Blade, which is the sequel to Little Blue Whales, the title refers to an ancient samurai sword carried by a Japanese pilot who dies in the only successful attack on mainland American soil in WWII. That pilot, venerated by his unselfish, heroic act for the Empire of Japan, comes to be known as “The Emperor’s Sparrow.” The story, based loosely on an actual event, the September, 1942 bombing near Brookings, OR by a Japanese naval military plane, revolves around what has become of the sword—-now a priceless war relic some sixty- five years later, and worth over a million dollars—-and the people who are willing to die themselves, if need be, in their efforts to reclaim it.
Pretty cool. Having read the first chapter of Little Blue Whales, I sense that being a parent has given depth to your characterizations. Would you say that this is true?
Yes, I would. I certainly have my own regrets about falling short as a parent. Being a writer allows me the ability to try and make amends, in a way, to my sons. To tell them how much I love them and always did love them. And to hopefully show them how to avoid making some of the same mistakes I made as their parent, as two of them are parents with their own children now. The theme of the bond, and the strength of love between fathers and sons, runs undeniably and shamelessly through both books. And that’s something I am quite proud of.
There are probably a million heartbreaking stories from your police career—but what’s the most heartwarming one?
About three years ago a local guy had just gotten out of prison after serving time for killing a motorist in a drunk driving accident. This man was on parole and he and his two children were living with his elderly mother at her house. On Christmas Eve day I responded to a call of a disturbance at their residence. His mother was the one who had called. When I arrived on scene the mother told me her son had “gone crazy”; yelling, screaming, swearing, and that he had kicked the dryer in her laundry room, putting a large dent in it. I was very wary, thinking he was probably drunk or on drugs and that I would have to arrest him for violating his parole, and he would go back to prison. But when I found him in the back yard he was stone cold sober--and crying.
He was angry, and humiliated because it was Christmas Eve and he didn’t have any money to buy his two little girls something for Christmas. I must have been doing some last minute Christmas shopping myself that day or something, because for once I was actually carrying money with me. I talked with him for a minute about controlling his anger and how important that was going to be in the future if he wanted to avoid going back to jail. Then I gave him two twenty dollar bills and drove him down to the shopping center, which was getting ready to close in about half an hour. I felt so damned good, being able to do that! And not just because I had the forty dollars to spare, either. It was because even though I was there for all the wrong reasons, it turned out to be that I was really there at exactly the right time in this family’s life and for all the right reasons. Things like this don’t happen very often on this job but when they do, they tend to stick with you for a very long time. And besides, I am an absolute sucker when it comes to Christmas! I began writing The Sparrow’s Blade on January 1st of this year, when they were still playing Christmas music on all the radio stations. The book opens during the Christmas holiday season and I am hoping and praying it is finished and published in time for Christmas this year.
That's a great story! How can readers find out more about you and your mystery novels?
You can visit my website at www.kennethrlewis.com and read an excerpt there from Little Blue Whales and you can send me an email at email@example.com. You can also check out my Blog and reviews at my book’s site on www.amazon.com
Thanks so much for chatting with me, Ken!
You are very welcome, Julia. I’ll let you know when The Sparrow’s Blade is finally out and maybe we can do this again! It was fun.
(Photos of Oregon provided by Ken Lewis)
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
by Philip Larkin
Why should I let that toad work
Squat on my life?
Can't I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off?
Six days of the week it soils
With its sickening poison--
Just for paying a few bills!
That's out of proportion.
Lots of folk live on their wits;
Losels, loblolly-men, louts--
They don't end as paupers;
Lots of folk live up lanes
With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines--
They seem to like it.
Their nippers have got bare feet,
Their unspeakable wives
Are skinny as whippets--and yet
No one actually starves.
Ah, were I courageous enough
To shout Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that's the stuff
That dreams are made on;
For something sufficiently toad-like
Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow,
And will never allow me to blarney
My way to getting
The fame and the girl and the money
All at one sitting.
I don't say, one bodies the other
One's spiritual truth;
But I do say it's hard to lose either,
When you have both.
Monday, June 04, 2007
Then I noticed that my lawn needed mowing. Once I notice something like this I can't relax until the job is done; I dragged out the mower, primed it, and yanked the cord until the machine sputtered to life. The grass was slightly damp--it had rained earlier--and I didn't want to risk grass stains, so I took off my shoes and mowed the lawn in bare feet.
Boy, did that take me back in time! When's the last time you walked in wet grass in bare feet? I felt like I was ten again, and I remembered how wonderful damp grass feels, and how good it smells when you mow it. Better yet, I ran my cutter over a hidden patch of wild onions, which added their own special aroma to my little summer revel.
I once read that of the five senses, smell is the one most linked to memory. I believe this, especially after an experience like today's, when just smelling freshly-cut grass transported me to the days that I frolicked on my parents' lawn, leaping through a sprinkler and then pretending that my towel, which I tucked into my bathing suit, was the train of a beautiful gown. Never mind that my feet were green from the wet grass (as they were today); for that time, I was royalty, and summer lasted forever.
I think I'm a farm girl at heart, because there's just something about the smell of grass, of earth, that makes me happy. It's aromatherapy, and it's free. Give it a try.
Saturday, June 02, 2007
You are The High Priestess
Science, Wisdom, Knowledge, Education.
The High Priestess is the card of knowledge, instinctual, supernatural, secret knowledge. She holds scrolls of arcane information that she might, or might not reveal to you. The moon crown on her head as well as the crescent by her foot indicates her willingness to illuminate what you otherwise might not see, reveal the secrets you need to know. The High Priestess is also associated with the moon however and can also indicate change or fluxuation, particularily when it comes to your moods.
What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.
Friday, June 01, 2007
Did anyone happen to see this fellow on 60 Minutes recently? He's a 27-year-old savant from England named Daniel Tammett. Daniel has a unique brain, capable of incredible memory feats to which the rest of us could never possibly aspire. As the 60 Minutes website puts it, "Daniel Tammet is unique among savants, because he is blessed with all of the spectacular ability of a savant, but with very little of the disability." He has Asperger's syndrome, but apparently unlike some with Asperger's he has the rare ability to describe and assess his own thinking.
As a remarkable demonstration of Daniel's capabilities, he was asked to memorize the longest version of PI in existence--which Daniel and his colleagues found on a supercomputer in Japan. This version of PI had 22,514 digits. Daniel studied them, absorbed them, then went to Oxford University, where a team of people sat waiting to record the event, and recited them from memory. It took him more than five hours, and, as Morley Safer pointed out on the show, "He didn't make one mistake."
Daniel is careful not to let himself be used as a sort of circus act for people who are curious about his abilities--but he did do one other incredible thing. He was challenged to learn Icelandic, which is considered one of the most difficult languages to learn (and close to what the Vikings spoke). The catch? He was to learn it in one week.
Daniel went to Iceland and worked with tutors for a week, then went on an Icelandic talk show--and spoke about his experiences, in Icelandic.
For me, Daniel's story holds the utmost fascination because it suggests the deep potential of the human brain. Daniel said that when he memorizes numbers he sees not digits but "landscapes." What an amazing idea, and what does it suggest about the possibilities buried deep within the brain's tissue? This, for me, is one of the most fascinating mysteries of life.
You can learn more about Daniel at http://60minutes.yahoo.com/segment/44/brain_man