Tuesday, December 30, 2008


This was a month of family birthdays, and today is mine. I'm taking suggestions for fun birthday activities. So far I'm planning to get myself a flower at the florist and buy a new pair of jeans. :)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas in Retrospect

"Christmas is not what it was! Such is the perennial cry at Twelfth Night. The turkey, it is said, was tougher than usual; the New Year balls were less exciting, the singing of the choir feeble by previous comparisons. And thus it shall probably ever be. For to capture the excitement of our youth we must wait for our second childhood."

--James P. Kenion

Friday, December 26, 2008

Post Holiday Relief

Christmas is a wonderful and a beautiful time, but the day after Christmas is a restful escape. No packages to wrap, no items to remember to pack into the car, no stressing over the present that didn't arrive in time.

Today is a matter of quiet sorting through the rubble, permeated by gratitude for the gifts found within it. It's a day of remembering all of the funny things people said yesterday at the big family gathering, but also a day of facing the scale and promising to be good from here on in.

It's a day for reading the books you received as gifts, or watching those DVDs that someone thoughtfully selected.

Here the roads are treacherous and slicked with ice, but we have enough within our house--gifts and food and good feelings--to last for quite a while.

Happy Boxing Day to all!

(PS This little gnome lives in my parents' back yard. Their house is like a winter wonderland, and he presides over their frozen pond.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

Merry Christmas to you, blog readers! May you be blessed with a peaceful and happy holiday and a New Year filled with pleasant surprises.

Here's to all the GOOD news that 2009 will bring!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Fear Not The Cold

"Heap on more wood!--the wind is chill;

But let it whistle as it will;

We'll keep our Christmas merry still."

--Sir Walter Scott, Marmion

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Midwestern Snow Storm

Bing Crosby would be thrilled; there's no WAY we're not going to have a White Christmas this year--and by "we" I basically mean the Midwest.

This was a picture of my drive home yesterday; it was as hazardous as it looks. A new storm is coming tonight.

Here's a photo of my street:

It's absolutely beautiful, if you're inside looking out. If you're driving in it, it's a white nightmare.

I already got the call that school is cancelled tomorrow, so I guess just this once I can sit and drink tea and watch the maelstrom from a safe, skidless environment.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tim Maleeny On Bribing the Mob, Living Vicariously, and Dining With Twain

Tim, thanks for agreeing to chat again on the blog.

You have a new book out this month called Greasing the Piñata. Why would one grease a piñata? Isn’t it dangerous enough when blindfolded children are armed with baseball bats?

Greasing is an old mob term for trying to bribe a public official, and one of the characters in this novel is a U.S. Senator. As for the piñata, much of the story takes place in Mexico, and the term ends up being used as a metaphor for politicians in general. At one point in the book a police inspector from Mexico City says, “Politicians are like piñatas. If you want something good to come out of them, you have to beat them up sometimes.”

Ah--that makes sense. Your book, like all of your Cape Weathers mysteries, starts off with action and suspense. What were your favorite action flicks when you were a kid? I’m guessing you were a Mannix guy.

Mannix not so much, not sure why. I might have been watching cartoons instead. But I grew up surrounded by the pulp adventures from the thirties and forties, thanks to my parents. Tarzan, Doc Savage, The Shadow. And we used to go the public library on Saturdays and watch the old adventure serial films, the episodes that would always end with a train collision, or someone falling off a cliff, that sort of thing. Great fun.

How cool. Will you be taking a promotion break to have some quiet Christmas time? Is it tough to begin promoting in December?

You have to split the tour, so I did as many bookstore appearances as I could in December, mostly closer to home, and then I’ll start traveling again in mid-January. Dates are still being added, so I’ll be updating my site about once a week through February.

You are now with Poisoned Pen Press. Has the transition (from Midnight Ink) been an easy one?

Poisoned Pen is remarkable, really a delight to work with, and they’ve also been very successful as a publisher despite all the horror stories you hear about the state of publishing today. They publish more mysteries annually than any other publisher with the exception of St. Martin’s. They keep their standards really high but they have an incredibly eclectic stable of authors, which I think makes things a lot more interesting, both for readers and the writers. Everyone has made me feel very welcome.

Your creation Cape Weathers is the kind of guy who follows his gut, even if that pisses people off. Part of this is a hard-boiled mystery convention; however, if you suddenly became a P.I., would you be like Cape Weathers?

I’d love to be a cross between Cape and my other protagonist, Sally, who tends to be a bit more sure of herself than Cape — he’s probably more stubborn than wise. But Cape often says and does things that I wish I could in real life — some of them outrageous — so there’s definitely some aspect of living vicariously through your characters going on when I write.

Library Journal praises your “labyrinth of plot twists.” How do you come up with your plots? Do they just pop into your head? Do you use endless post-it notes like Elmore Leonard? Or perhaps a giant blackboard?

I’d love to have a giant blackboard, but first I’d need a giant wall. Post-its and scraps of paper with illegible notes are a common site in my office. The basic premise usually pops into my head, but then I try to think of the most elaborate scheme imaginable based on that simple beginning. Then I twist and twist again — kind of like Chubby Checker — and then I try to write myself out of the maze I’ve built. Most of the time it works.

Do you have time to read these days? If so, what’s your latest book?

I still read voraciously but less than I used to, sadly, because writing takes so much time. (Especially if you misplace a post-it note.) I recently read The Big O by Declan Burke, and it’s genius from page one. Victor Gischler’s Go-Go Girls Of The Apocalypse is a wildly entertaining vision of the near future that might change how you look at the present. And my latest read is Shanghai Moon by S.J. Rozan, and it’s mesmerizing, like being transported in time. Really great.

Will you continue the Cape Weathers series, or are you venturing into new fiction territory?

Yes to both questions. The next book after Piñata is a standalone novel called JUMP, which will be released in June 2009. Imagine Elmore Leonard writing an Agatha Christie novel, a dead body and ten suspects all in a tight location, but with personalities that might be a bit more quirky and twisted than you’ll find in a traditional mystery. It’s part crime novel and part romance, sort of a guide to finding true love in the midst of a multiple homicide.

After that I return to Cape and Sally, another book in the series that I’m working on now. (Provocative title to be determined.)

That's some excellent salesmanship; I will be looking for Jump.

If you and Cape Weathers went out on the town (hypothetically you’d still be single) and approached a beautiful woman, who would win her heart—you or Cape? Why?

Definitely Cape, though he’d choose the one woman in the joint guaranteed to break his heart. If only he could learn from his mistakes — or from mine, and vice versa — then maybe we’d both score.

Yeah, and "if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a merry Christmas." I don't even know who I'm quoting (or misquoting) there, but it seemed appropriate.

Would Greasing the Piñata make a good Christmas present? (That question will be my Christmas present to you. :))

John Lescroart, a truly great writer, called Greasing The Piñata a “tequila-soaked adventure”, and what could be better than tequila on a cold winter’s day? But unlike tequila, my book can provide hours of memorable mayhem without the hangover the next day. It’s also more desirable than a lump of coal, according to a recent survey my publisher conducted among both naughty and nice kids.

Think of it as a chance to travel to Mexico this holiday season without dealing with those long lines at the airport.

Sounds good. What are your big plans for 2009?

Play with my kids every chance I get. Write another book, and maybe get on fewer airplanes. I’m really hoping scientists figure out teleportation soon.

If you were to write in any genre outside of mystery, what would it be?

If I can find the time, I’m hoping to write a young adult novel next year, something with a mystery angle but more in the fantasy genre.

Well, Harry Potter and Twilight have shown us that young people like their fantasy.

I’m feeling hypothetical today: if you could get a writing lesson from any writer, living or dead, whose words of wisdom would you want?

Elmore Leonard’s book on writing is great, I’d love to be able to sit down with him and talk at length. Ray Bradbury and Lawrence Block are also favorites, each for a different reason, and their books on writing have been great sources of confidence and inspiration.

For the dead guys I’d love to chat with Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mark Twain, and Teddy Roosevelt, maybe all at the same time.

Imagine what a spirited conversation that would be! No pun intended.

Good luck with the book, Tim, and thanks for creating such a fun duo in Cape and Sally.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What We Take for Granted

Ironically I was discussing Chinua Achebe's THINGS FALL APART on Friday with my high school students; we came to the conclusion that there's nothing on earth that doesn't eventually fall apart, and one of our examples was the human body itself.

It seems the older I get the more parts of me I have to acknowledge I have taken for granted: the knees, the fingers, and now--the back. I lifted a very, very heavy bag on Friday with the rather stupid assumption that if I could lift it, it was safe to lift. I held the thing (which housed 42 10-page research papers and their accompanying index cards) in my left hand.

The next day the right side of me--mostly my right lower back--was giving me great pain. Today, wearing a support bandage left over from my husband's back injury, I feel chastened and foolish and . . . old.

Yes, things do fall apart, and I am a living example of what the flesh is heir to. Meanwhile, hot water bottles and Tiger Balm are my good friends. :)

(This picture of my cat really has nothing to do with the post except that carefully wrapped Christmas packages also fall apart--in fact they are torn apart with savage glee).

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Great Reads and Tough Women

I'm still reeling from hearing that I live in "the most corrupt state in the union." But the solution to all bad things is to read a good book, and I've been enjoying two good ones.

I just finished Thomas Perry's Runner. What an interesting and extremely suspenseful book! I realize that Perry's character, Jane Whitefield, has quite a fan following, but this was my first Jane Whitefield book. I'll certainly be reading the others. Jane, a Native American, has either learned or inherited a feeling of responsibility for those who need help. She is a self-appointed guide for those who are runners, and she is utterly dedicated to keeping them safe.

This is a most interesting premise: Jane is not a police officer, nor is she an FBI agent, but this is her calling. In Runner, she is called out of a five year retirement (she had promised to stay safe for her husband) because a young pregnant woman is in danger. The book focuses on Jane as guide, and all that being a guide entails. She is almost always in danger, but the danger is reciprocal. Those who cross Jane end up being sorry. She is not a vigilante, but she will do anything it takes to protect the innocent.

The reason that Jane is one of my new heroes is that she is tough. She is fair, but she metes out justice, often in a violent form. Those who prey on the innocent, to Jane, are like any animal predators.

If I were in danger, I would want Jane Whitefield on my side.

This book did the unexpected: it kept me awake while I was reading in bed. :)

While I'm on the subject of cool tough women, I have to give a nod to Tim Maleeny's latest Cape Weathers mystery, Greasing the Pinata. Cape's "deadly companion Sally," as the website calls her, is one tough woman, and an important reminder that toughness in a protagonist is just as believable in a woman as it is in a man.

I'll be interviewing Tim in the near future about his series, and you can read a former interview here.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Some Beautiful Winter Writing

"It was on the afternoon of the Christmas Eve, and I was in Mrs. Prothero's garden, waiting for cats, with her son Jim. It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. Sleek and long as jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling, they would slink and sidle over the white back-garden walls, and the lynx-eyed hunters, Jim and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles Road, would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes. The wise cats never appeared. . . ."

From "A Child's Christmas in Wales"
by Dylan Thomas

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Snow Thoughts

The snow came on December 1st, as though the weather follows the calendar. It came again today, and my little son gamely shoveled the yard while my elder son and I slogged through the storm to get him to his high school entrance exam. Yes, my son has reached that milestone that is almost more moving to me than his first day of kindergarten.

So now his moody mother sits and looks at the snow and contemplates the lyrics of "Sunrise, Sunset." :)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Last of the Congenial Shopkeeps

There's no doubt that I can buy office supplies more cheaply at one of those big-box office warehouse supply stores where everyone wears a matching polo shirt and displays, at best, an anemic interest in me, my questions, and my purchases.

Sometimes, though, I put out the extra money that it takes to go to a little local shop. It's one of the last stores of its kind--small, personal, convivial. There isn't much stock, but what's there is interesting and unique. Usually a cat dozes among the Underwood typewriters that make up the window display. Today when I wandered in a woman looked up from her label sorting and gave a friendly smile. A man in shirt and suspenders, whose neck was warmed by a multicolor scarf that may once have belonged to Dr. Who, knew me when I came in because I was clutching my empty cartridge box and had called to reserve one of his.

"Buckley?" he said.

"That's me," I agreed. I saw a little dog in the corner; he seemed impatient to go for a walk and gave a growling sigh.

"Just a minute," said the woman to the doggie. She told me, when I asked, that the dog was a long-haired Schnauzer. He was very cute. Everything about this place was quaint, and the service from the man who immediately placed the requested cartridge in my hand was almost unsettling. It was personal. So few stores provide that anymore.

I hung around after I paid, smiling at the dog and soaking up the ambience of the little stationer's shop. "These cartridges are so expensive these days," I said. "I print out one copy of one manuscript, and the ink is gone."

Dr. Who grinned at me. "Write short stories," he suggested.

"Or haiku," added the woman.

I laughed. "I guess that's the style that fits the new economy."

They agreed, and I took my leave of them. I realized that I missed many stores like this that had once existed near me: the little hardware store which had been owned by the same man for sixty years until he had to close it down, where the merchandise was piled precariously to the ceiling; the woolen shop with exotic yarns and unusual patterns and women who offered knitting lessons; the second-hand bookstores--tons of them--that my husband and I used to stroll to on a Sunday, where cats would lie on the windowsills and mystery paperbacks cost ten cents each.

We may be saving money at the ultra warehouse stores, but we're losing out every time one of these tiny stores closes. These stores are peopled by the real thing--those who care about their products and their customers, and who serve with congeniality.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Thoughts on The Hat

"A hat should be taken off when you greet a lady and left off for the rest of your life. Nothing looks more stupid than a hat."

--P.J. O'Rourke

(my apologies to Bob Hope, whose unassuming likeness I borrowed to accompany this quote).