Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mystery Men I Have Loved

There have been many fictional characters who have stolen my heart. Hundreds, perhaps. But number one might have to be Lew Archer, Ross MacDonald's flawed and lonely detective, who, like Philip Marlowe before him, did his best to clean up L.A.

What if someone (by a huge stretch of the imagination) asked me to cast Lew Archer today? Here are some of my choices.

Bryan Cranston has proved he can play a goofball on Malcolm in the Middle and received award nominations for his performances, but he's earned his Emmys for the much more serious Breaking Bad. (Cranston image link here). Cranston has the depth to capture the sometimes haunted nature of Lew Archer, the lone crusader for right in a city full of wrong.

On the other hand, Greg Kinnear, who is generally movie star handsome (link here), has shown in his distinguished career that he is willing to play characters with depth and soul, characters who age and reveal their flaws because doing so is inevitable. Kinnear's ability to be painfully human would make him a good choice for Archer.

How's my casting? Who would you choose?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

In Praise of The Detective

"Much of the literature of our time is formless and shapeless; the detective story on the other hand can and frequently does have a form as demanding as that of a Mozart symphony, while, at the same time, offering the literary artist a medium of inquiry into human folly and psychology and the life of his times."

--S.B. Hough,1980 (quoted from The Mystery Lover's Book of Quotations)

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Writer's Headache

As a member of that club that spends much of the day squinting at a screen, I am prone to the kind of headache that starts right behind the eyes and then dwells in the lower forehead, ominous as a cloud. At this time of year, the headache risk is exacerbated by the allergens in the air, which dry out my eyes and make my contact lenses uncomfortable. If I take out the lenses too late, BOOM. The headache is there and it's not leaving.

The problem with these headaches, aside from an annoying low-level pain, is that they prevent any sort of creative endeavor. I can't write, can't read, can't even summon the energy to pay bills.

The headache is resistant to Advil and massage. We cannot kill the monster with these weapons, as a wise man once said.

For me, then, the writer's headache is a more serious threat than writer's block.

Does anyone else experience this phenomenon?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Criminal Flower

According to my handy flower dictionary, the unassuming Tamarisk tree is associated with the quality of criminality.

The Tamarisk, an ancient flower mentioned more than once in the Bible, is also said to be the favorite flower of the god Apollo in Greek mythology. How it came to be representative of all things criminal I do not know, but one does not question the Bulfinch Guide.

The ancients believed that the tamarisk was unlucky, although it was said, in mythology, to have shielded the dead body of Osiris from Typhon. In the Old Testament, the tamarisk trees were the ones from which manna fell in the desert.

In general they were believed to have magical powers, and yet to be "unlucky."

Perhaps they should be associated more with paradox than with criminality.

Photo link here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

My Favorite Interviews Part Two

I interviewed Kathy Brandt three years ago about her Caribbean mysteries and her underwater crime scene investigator, Hannah Sampson. Kathy made the ocean's depths seem very fascinating.

Sean Chercover's awards keep rolling in, and in 2008 he talked with me about writing, baseball, and the word "dudgeon."

Mark Coggins and I share a love for Raymond Chandler's THE LONG GOODBYE. But Coggins took his love of Chandler all the way to Oxford, where he viewed some original manuscripts, including some pages from that now-famous mystery novel. Coggins himself has been compared, as a writer, to both Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.

Because Michael A. Black knows martial arts, I obsessed over his ability to beat people up; but he revealed himself as more of a pacifist. He assured me that "tough really isn't so much about muscle as it is about mental strength." I will have to keep that in mind.

D.C. Brod is a fan of another famous writer: John D. MacDonald. She spoke of his influence on her writing, but also of her fascination with crows and Arthurian mythology.

Jane Cleland's antique-themed mysteries are quite popular, and in her interview she revealed that her expertise came from ownership of her own antiques and rare book shop. But Cleland is an entrepreneur who is a practiced public speaker as well as a mystery writer.

Susan Wittig-Albert's mysteries have made her famous, but she has a PhD and once lived the life of an academic, until she got "fed up with academic politics" and quit her professorial gig.

Aside from telling me about his popular New Jersey mysteries, the wonderful John Dandola was entreated by me to explain why Queen sang "Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the fandango?" He is also an expert on the Vikings. :)

Bill Cameron, in the first of my two interviews with him (the other is at Poe's Deadly Daughters), was kind enough to explain the lure of sushi and why he once made his daughter pose as a dead body.

The great Barbara D'Amato used to be a tiger-handler. That is one of many fascinating things she revealed in our 2006 interview.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My Favorite Interviews

Julia Spencer-Fleming, Thomas H. Cook, Megan Abbott, Robert Wilson, Bob Morris, Marcus Sakey, Craig Johnson, Cornelia Read, Tim Cockey and more wonderful mystery authors were the names I rediscovered while making design changes to the blog. In celebration of some of those fun conversations, I am noting them here for easy access.

Bestselling crime writer Robert Wilson chatted with me about, among other things, the beauty of Africa and his home and office in Portugal.

I talked with Tim Cockey after reading one of his books, THE HEARSE YOU CAME IN ON, and laughing out loud on every other page, mostly because of the wry observations of his hero, Hitchcock Sewell.

Robert Fate is always terrific interview fodder because he's done so many fascinating things--most recently creating the BABY SHARK mystery series.

Marcus Sakey, a fellow Chicago-area author, has a great sense of humor, which is evident in this interview.

Julia Spencer Fleming's books are a huge success; she responds very modestly about them, suggesting that she leads a life "of surpassing dullness." :)

Cornelia Read denies looking anything like Grace Kelly in her interview.

Bob Morris is recuperating this summer from a dumbwaiter accident. It sounds funny, but it wasn't. In any case, he has more interesting things to say in our chat, in which he mentions his relationship with Dave Barry.

Megan Abbott reminds me of Dorothy Parker in this stylish photo; she suggested that the photographer was going for just that sort of New York image.

Thomas H. Cook's RED LEAVES haunted me; too bad I read it after this interview, or I would have asked more about it.

Craig Johnson's mysteries were one of my great recent discoveries. He is as charming in this interview as his protagonist, Walt Longmire, is in Johnson's western-set novels.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Deb Sharp's Book Sells Like Hotcakes

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I went to Florida mystery writer Deb Sharp's Chicago-area signing tonight, thinking to offer her a little co-authorly support. Luckily, she didn't need it. I had to elbow my way up to her little table, and I didn't stay long, fearful that I'd block the endless line. I should be so lucky, Deb. :)

Deb's successful series, which started with MAMA DOES TIME, now continues with MAMA RIDES SHOTGUN. I'm looking forward to reading more about Mama's adventures in Florida, which inspired the TODAY show's Hoda Kotb to say that "Deb Sharp is the next Edna Buchanan!"

Deb is so used to hot Florida summers that she said she had to wear a shawl here in cool Chicago. I told her I like the shawl weather better!

And now, on to reading mysteries . . . .

Monday, July 13, 2009

Hello, Inflation

I was listening to WDRV "The Drive," the Chicago Classic Rock station, when I dropped my son at summer school today. They were doing a retrospective on the year 1967; they played The Moody Blues "Tuesday afternoon" and The Monkees "She." And then they shared this tidbit:

On this day in 1967 McDonalds test-marketed their new burger, the "Big Mac," which offered two beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, onions and pickles on a sesame seed bun--for forty-five cents.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Remembering Marjorie

My husband's mother, Marjorie, would have been 76 today. I have been thinking of her all day--about what a nice person she was, how devoted she was to her husband and her children, how she fell head over heels for her grandchildren, and how, as fate would have it, their babyhood was the last blessing of her life.

This picture was taken about eleven years ago--about two years before Alzheimer's began its evil work in the woman that we all still considered young. She had always had the tendency to jumble her words, to reverse the names of her sons (much to their anger), to pronounce things incorrectly. Her family, with that callousness that we save only for those we love, initially laughed at her, thinking it was an eccentric part of her personality.

But things got worse; she forgot important things, like the fact that she had contact lenses in her eyes, or that she had left the stove on, or that the baby's high chair wasn't properly attached. It was at that point that we had to tell her we no longer needed her as a baby sitter, which felt cruel enough. Less than a year later she was much worse, and her husband had to admit he couldn't handle taking care of her on his own, that he feared what she would do in her nocturnal ramblings around their house. She was admitted to a care facility, and he was asked not to visit her more than once a week.

"It agitates the patients," they told him.

This was true. She would pace nervously most of the time--a symptom of the disease, probably because the victims know enough to realize that something significant is gone, and they want it back. Sometimes Marjorie would trip and fall while she did this nervous pacing. Eventually they encouraged her to stay in a wheelchair to reduce the chance of injury. Little by little, she was imprisoned, mind and body.

When she lived in the Alzheimer's Ward, she clung to her husband's name as her final lifeline. We would visit and she would ask us, "Do you know Dick Buckley?"

"Yes," we'd say. "He's your husband. That's his picture on the wall."

"Oh." She obviously didn't remember, but that name rattled around in her head, tormenting her. When he visited her something in her body remembered him; it seemed to respond merely to the sound of his voice. She would ask him to please take her home, and he would cry and tell her he couldn't do that, that she was safer here.

She was; there were caregivers with her always, watching with the vigilance of new mothers, because Alzheimer's patients, like babies, do things without thinking. They eat things that aren't food because they can't remember what food is, or why we eat at all. They can't remember their own names, or the names or faces of the grandchildren they once so dearly loved.

Alzheimer's Disease makes a person die before her death. It forces her to give up everything that she loves and, most precious, to let go of the last tenuous threads of memory so that those who come to visit are merely props, things that require explanations which will not be understood.
Marjorie was a beautiful and loving person, and she would have been horrified to learn of her fate. She was a Ross MacDonald fan, and when we talked about his work, which we both admired, she would shake her head and say, "I heard he had Alzheimer's at the end." She said it as though it were a terrible punishment. Then she would shrug and go into her kitchen to make sandwiches or some delicious meal; she loved to cook, back in the healthy days.

I think of Marjorie often, but today we are all thinking of her, and wishing we could bring her a birthday cake (which she would most likely refuse, because she always watched her figure). She would mostly enjoy the children; she'd offer to play a game with them, just like always, and get right down on the floor to ponder a Stratego Board or laugh over Sorry. She would tell them something nice about themselves, or ask where they got some new stuffed animal, and then she would say her standard Grandma line: "Aren't you lucky? What a lucky boy!"

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Juliet Blackwell Talks About Witchcraft, Good Cooking, and the Dual Nature of Us All

Juliet Blackwell's first Witchcraft Mystery, Secondhand Spirits, comes out today from Obsidian. She was kind enough to share her thoughts about writing and her new series.

Juliet, I just finished Secondhand Spirits and thought it was great fun! How did you come up with the idea of Lily Ivory, a 31-year-old witch who opens a used clothing store in the Haight-Ashbury district?

Hi, Julia, thanks for having me! So glad you enjoyed Secondhand Spirits. Lily Ivory, my protagonist, morphed from an undeveloped idea I had for a much darker paranormal novel. I was talking one day with my editor at Signet, and she asked whether I had a “paranormal novel in a drawer somewhere” since the genre is so popular lately (and most of us writers have manuscripts shoved, willy-nilly, in one drawer or another!). I shared my ideas with her, and then we brainstormed about how to make my character a little less dark, and to put her in a setting that would lend itself to a mystery series.

I wanted Lily to be surrounded by history; she has been estranged from people all her life, but she finds solace in the vibrations of people who have gone before. I thought of an antique shop first, but I’m a vintage clothes lover and one day in a consignment shop on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, it dawned on me: how better to feel vibrations than from vintage clothing?

The Haight-Ashbury setting was a natural–-where better to place a witch who wants to “fit in” with all the odd characters and misfits? And Lily’s age was merely a function of wanting someone old enough to have gained some wisdom and self-awareness, but young enough to still be unsure of her path in the world. That’s how I felt when I was thirty-one, anyway.

Lily is rather a loner, yet she accumulates a great many friends in the book. Will her friends’ characters continue into the next book?

Yes, I enjoyed having Lily make friends in the first book. Her personal story –being sent away from her home as a girl, then run out of her small West Texas town altogether as a teenager, then wandering the globe alone for years—-is a powerful motivation. She wants to settle down, create a sense of home, and develop friendships. But that’s not easy, for any of us--it’s always a risk to open yourself up to others. For Lily, as a natural born witch who has been despised for her abilities, it’s even more difficult. So it was lovely to surround her with characters who not only accept her as she is, but celebrate her.

Lily was an interesting character for me, as a writer. It probably sounds strange to say it, but she took a while to open up to me. As I got to know her, I came to love and admire her mix of strength and vulnerability. Her friends will certainly follow her into the next book – one of the things I most like about writing is building whole new worlds full of quirky characters, and I always enjoy them too much to drop them!

You reference many stereotypes of witches in the novel, as well as the historical realities about witches who were burned at the stake. One of your characters cites Arthur Miller’s The Crucible as an example of witch persecution (and persecution in general). Did you do a great deal of research about witches?

When I set out to write a novel featuring a witch, the last thing I wanted to do was produce a sort of warmed-over version of the old “Bewitched” television show (though I must admit I loved that show as a child!) I wanted to treat witchcraft seriously. It has been such an intense, important topic throughout the history of the world . . . besides, I love research! I couldn’t stop reading about witchcraft, not only in Europe but all over the world: Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia . . . witchcraft is, and has been, something of a global obsession. Of course the traditions are all different, but what they share is the mixed respect and fear that people have of witches.

Witches are often associated with health and healing, as in the case of “witch doctors”--this was also true in Europe, where some believe the witch hunts were at least in part a response to the desire to run women out of the health professions. But that association with health can go both ways – when epidemics occur, the local witch healer might be stuck with the blame.

In Secondhand Spirits, Lily Ivory learns to control her powers from a “curandera," which is a sort of Mexican folk healer. That character, Graciela, is based on a fascinating woman I’ve known for many years--she has an intriguing approach to the world, and especially to botanicals and health. I also interviewed any number of self-proclaimed witches, from the US, Scotland, and Mexico, and attended a few local coven meetings. Of course, I did way too much research to include everything in the books, so I write more in detail on my blog (link below).

For instance, did you know that as recently as 1944 a woman, Helen Duncan, was charged--and convicted—-of witchcraft in England? Fascinating.

That is surprising! What was her punishment?

She was imprisoned for nine months. The trial lasted seven days. Mediums and believers of all sorts rallied to her defense and set up a defense fund which allowed her barrister to call 44 witnesses to testify she wasn't a fraud. Ironically, it was precisely their fear that she was NOT a fraud that led to her conviction and sentencing.

The jury deliberated only half an hour before declaring her guilty. Happily, though the court used a law written in 1735 to convict Duncan, at least the punishment for witchcraft had been reformed. Her sentence was nine months in London’s Holloway prison…a step up from the traditional Scottish burning or hanging of witches.

That is bizarre!

On another topic, Lily manages to attract two sexy men in this book; it made me think of the Stephanie Plum triangle in the Janet Evanovich series. Will both men be significant in Lily’s life?

It’s funny, in my last series I had two interesting men in the protagonist’s life as well . . .I know a lot of people think the idea is reminiscent of Evanovich, but I think it’s a common device to show that we’re all attracted to different aspects of ourselves. In Secondhand Spirits, Aidan is a powerful witch very content in the supernatural world, and Max is a cynical “mythbuster” doubtful of magic in general and witchcraft in particular. I think the men represent Lily’s dual, contradictory desires: to be comfortable with her special abilities, but on the other hand to live a “normal” life.

In Cast-Off Coven, the second in the series, Lily meets yet another man –this one was not intended to be a love interest, but sometimes these things happen . . . he made overtures to Lily, and somehow she responded, despite my instructions to the contrary. . . what can I say? Yet another case of characters acting badly. Such is the magic of writing!

Lily has a goblin familiar who looks like a gargoyle. Was he inspired by anything in particular?

I adore gargoyles; I even have one sitting by my computer watching me all day. I used to live in Princeton, where I would walk the campus to check them all out; and every time I’m in Europe I can’t get enough of them. In New York City, 81 Irving Place, there’s a gargoyle that has big ears and feet, and a friendly expression on his face. He was my specific inspiration

Lily is a very good cook; she says, “There’s a reason that when opening one’s home to guests, the first thing you do is offer food and drink. Cooking is a kind of everyday magic.” That’s a great line; do you cook yourself?

I do love to cook! And if you think about it, it really is a sort of alchemy: taking raw ingredients and creating something entirely different. Sharing food and drink creates an aura of family, trust, and acceptance; the word “companion," for instance, comes from “one who shares bread.” I also believe that food cooked with love is better for you than mass-produced food, and not only because of the contents (my son makes fun of me when I say things like that!). The only difference between me and my character is that Lily bakes a lot, whereas I’m more of a stovetop cook. I especially like to make ethnic foods: Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese . . . . and my super-duper chicken soup is guaranteed to cure whatever ails you!

I want some. Does it cure the desire for food? :)

Lily loves vintage clothing, and you mentioned that you do. Did this inspire her love for it?

Yes! I live in an area that has great consignment shops and vintage clothes stores. The only problems are lack of time to meander (shopping vintage takes much longer, though it’s so much more fun and rewarding!) and my size—I’m no waif, and what with vitamins and good nutrition, even today’s normal-sized woman is often too big for the clothes of our smaller, older generations. But still, I love wandering the aisles and sensing the history, wondering about who wore this dress, what the occasion was, that sort of thing.

Have you ever lived or worked in the Haight?

I worked as a painter in a house just off Haight street (I am a muralist/faux finisher in my other life), but I’ve never lived there. I do have a lot of friends who have, however, and when I thought about where to set this book I spent many days just hanging out, soaking in the culture, and talking to people about their experiences. There are far too many funny, quirky local stories to include in the books, I’m afraid! I had several options for great San Francisco neighborhoods, but I finally decided on the Haight because it is just so distinctive, and has such an interesting history, both good and bad.

Lily’s witchcraft is very positive; it is focused on healing, togetherness, and positive energy. Do you think the connotation of the word “witch” is changing, or that it still evokes negative associations?

That’s a hard one for me to answer, because I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and hang around artists and the like, so around me “witch” is almost always considered positive. But I was just at a family gathering with several Texan relatives, and they all kept asking whether my protagonist was a “white witch” or an “evil witch”, so I guess those stereotypes still run deep! I think the Wiccan religion is changing a lot of people’s conceptions, since its followers often refer to themselves as witches and practice a very loving, open, nature-based spirituality.

On the other hand, I also spend a lot of time with Latinos, many of whom –especially rural folks--have a still-vivid belief in “brujas," most of which are feared. And I do think that when people think historically, they often think of witches as being outcasts and vicious. We all react with fear to the unknown.

True. You also wrote a series of books with your sister as Hailey Lind. Is she working on a solo mystery, as well? Will you be returning to the Hailey Lind art series?

My sister Carolyn is actually working on an academic book right now – she teaches history at Old Dominion University and writes about women’s associations in the antebellum period. But I’m happy to say that we’re working together on the fourth in the Art Lover’s Mystery series, called Arsenic and Old Paint, which will be coming out from Perseverance Press in summer, 2010. Unfortunately, our original publisher, Signet, decided to discontinue the series, but I’m very excited about our new publisher – they put out beautiful trade paperbacks, and I’m writing the book this summer, so my mind is very much with Annie Kincaid and art forgery!

That's great to hear! (My 2006 interview with Hailey Lind is here).

Do you think the Harry Potter books helped to create a more welcoming climate for books about witches and wizards?

I do think so, in general. Still, one of my best friends teaches third grade, and she used to read Harry Potter to her students, but some of the parents complained on religious grounds. So I guess magic is still a hot-button issue for a lot of people, even here in the Bay Area. Personally, I loved the books, in part because they do take magic seriously, as something that needs to be studied and worked at, and as something that involves politics and persecution, as does so much in the world.

I found myself envying Lily’s independence and her bachelorette apartment. It’s probably because you described it as so cozy and comforting, but it might also be because I have children.

Ha! I have a teenager myself – I love him to death, but these are long, loooooong years. The idea of having a little cozy getaway, all to myself, with no one asking for rides or food or homework help or sneering at my music or my use of the language…why yes, that WOULD be refreshing, wouldn’t it!? On the other hand, don’t we always yearn for what we don’t have? Lily feels alone so much of the time, and I think she would love to have a family, and children....

Great point; I'll remember it when my 14-year-old harasses me.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on the fourth in the Art Lover’s Mystery series, Arsenic and Old Paint, which features forged erotica, an exclusive men’s club, and old tunnels under San Francisco’s Chinatown and Nob Hill. I’m also writing the second in the Witchcraft series, A Cast-Off Coven, which will be released June 2010. And next I’ll be starting my new series, which features a cynical, divorced, 40-something failed anthropologist who takes over her father’s upscale home construction company, specializing in renovating historic homes. The first in this series is called If These Walls could Talk. I’m really looking forward to developing that character--she’s snide and wicked and really funny, though basically kind and decent. She says the things I’m afraid to say.

Wow! You are one busy woman.

What are you reading these days?

Right now I’m reading Tim Maleeny’s newest, Jump, which is SO well written and fun. I also have Sophie Littlefield’s first novel, A Bad Day for Sorry, waiting for me--very excited about that one. And not long ago I re-read Evanovich’s Two for the Dough, because it’s perfect bathtub/airplane reading! When I get a few brain cells back, I’m looking forward to Richard Russo’s latest novel – I really love his prose. Oh, and I just finished Dan Savage’s account of adopting a child, fabulous; and Ann Lamott’s Plan B; and A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby; and I re-read Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time. My reading tastes are all over the map, and entirely dependent upon my mood!

What you should market, along with your books, is your energy!

How can readers find out more about Lily Ivory and the Witchcraft mysteries?

Please visit my website at, and check out my blogs at –about witchcraft and the series -- and–about the craft of writing in general; I write every other Wednesday on that one. And I love to hear from readers, write me at or

Thanks for chatting, Juliet.

Thank you for talking to me!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Downloading Poirot

The modern age continues to amaze me, and a nice man named John Bonini, from, just informed me that one can now download Poirot films on iTunes.

Check out Murder in Mesopotamia or The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

So I can purchase one now and watch it on my computer. I realize that most of the world knows this already, but I continue to be fascinated by the seemingly magical things that are now at our fingertips.

Thanks, John! And thanks, Agatha Christie.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Meeting New Zealand Writer Cat Connor

Cat Connor has a book called killerbyte published with rebel epublishers.

Your mystery, killerbyte, is an online book. What are the advantages of publishing this way?

How much time do you have? Publishing with an e-publisher is an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional presses. No carbon miles involved in publishing or distributing my books! Even the artwork is created in environmentally friendly ink etc. The other advantage is being released on a global scale immediately and not having to sell foreign rights. Plus – it’s so easy to download and read right away.
For killerbyte, the e-book made a lot of sense. It deals with issues of internet safety and use of the internet is prevalent throughout the story, so what better medium for a thriller like killerbyte than an e-book?

Your protagonists, Cormac Connelly and Gabrielle Conway, are a cop and a Federal Agent. How did you come up with their characters?

I hate to say this- but Mac (Cormac) was a stock trader, not a cop. :) (Although he does enjoy police work, and he joins the FBI after killerbyte. He holds special agent status in the next book.)

As for how I came up with the characters, they came to me. The initial idea for killerbyte evolved as the characters told me their story. Ellie came first and from thin air! Mac was a mix of imagination and a very good friend.

All of your main characters have Irish names. Is this a tribute to your Irish heritage?

It was actually unintentional, or maybe a subconscious thing. There are a lot of Irish out there . . . we’re prolific, ya know. :)

There are lots of really gross murders in your mystery, and Ellie is constantly getting hurt. Do you see this as a reality of being a special agent?

Not so much. I think it would be rare for a special agent to get into the situations Ellie does. She’s quite a freak magnet.

Ellie does have a bit of bad luck in the injury department; none of them are her fault as such. Having her throat cut by an assailant – then being drugged and slipping on a towel in the bathroom – they weren’t exactly highlights for her.

Still she’s young enough to think she’s ten feet tall and bulletproof. She’s also contrary, and that doesn’t help. She’ll learn with experience, I hope!

You tell the story from two points of view; why did you want to present the mystery from both Ellie’s and Mac’s perspectives?

The story is almost entirely Ellie’s point of view, but Mac wanted a shot at his side, and begged me to let him! Quite frankly, at the time, Ellie was unconscious and not capable of arguing. So, he has a small chapter. Since it’s a character-driven novel, it works better to let the characters take the lead.

You seem to possess some knowledge about both police and medical procedures. Do you have experience in either of these areas?

Yes to both questions. I spent five years working with police, asking a lot of questions, and going out on lots of patrols. This led to an incident whereby I was removed from a jury (and I LOVE jury service, I really do!) and invited/escorted to the judge’s chambers.– It was an accident, kinda- and led to the arresting officer (from the case I was removed from) being told off by the judge for not declaring our relationship earlier. (I was quite stunned because I hadn’t realized we HAD a relationship!) He wasn’t in court when the jury selection was made, and I didn’t recognize his full name!

We recognized each other as the trial began, and he told the prosecutor. Then it was into the judge’s chambers for a discussion on how well we knew each other… apparently me wearing his jacket, setting up checkpoints, and doing walks through hotels meant we knew each other too well for me to return to the jury box.

Lucky really, because about that point I remembered being in the tactic room when the call came in about the case now in front of the jury! I knew way more about the case than I initially thought I knew. Whew!

I wasn’t called again that week, but still had to turn up every day. I spent the week at the back of the courtroom with the bailiff and judge waving to me every morning. (I’m still sorry, Doug - but it was funny, you have to admit, it was funny!)

As for the medical facts and procedures: I’m lucky enough to be able to count an emergency department nurse as a close friend and to have access to emergency department doctors via him.

Some of the scenes in killerbyte involve firsthand knowledge, but friend Eric vetted all the medical scenes. Some scenes caused much amusement, especially the ones involving the drug ketamine. We’re looking for a human guinea pig for a small experiment involving toothpaste and ketamine; any takers?

Is killerbyte your first book?

It’s my first published book. I wrote three books prior to writing killerbyte. I think of them fondly, but they will stay hidden away on my hard drive for now! They had a few similarities to killerbyte in that the main character is a female and an FBI agent. She actually makes an appearance in a few later Conway novels as the Director. It’s great to be able to recycle. (Director O’Hare appears in Terrorbyte, Exacabyte, and Ethernet.)

Your main characters are law enforcement officials, but they also run a poetry chat room. How did you come to combine serial killers, cops, and poetry?

If you get enough death threats while running a poetry chat room, your mind starts putting things together. Probably not everyone’s mind, but mine seems to be continually asking, “What if?” and “Now what?”

It [the chat room] is quite a twisted place, where it seems quite normal to take an internet death threat (or ten) and turn it into a novel.

Poetry is a universal outlet – there are poets hidden in all walks of life. (Even cops and special agents write poetry)

You live in New Zealand. Have you always lived there? If not, how did you end up there?

I am a New Zealander, and New Zealand is my home.

What’s the most beautiful thing about New Zealand?

Me? Oh you mean scenery? Not me, then?

There is much beauty in this country. I love the Marlborough Sounds, the Southern Alps, and most of the South Island. From the north it’s the volcanic mountains in the middle of the Island, and then the rocky southern coasts with their cliffs and crashing waves – and seal colonies.

But the thing I love the most is Wellington City at night- as seen from the Ferry. Possibly because I know I’m home.

I dislike trolls, hobbits, and other remnants of LOTR. (But especially trolls)

What are you writing now?

The electronic rights to Terrorbyte sold to Rebel e Publishers on June 26th. So I’m currently working with my editor (I never get tired of saying MY editor) and have just about finished the first round of edits. Terrorbyte will be available before the end of the year.

As for what I’m writing, I’m well into the fifth Conway novel (Satellite) and am working on a short story based on Ellie’s life before killerbyte. Although it’s turning out to be not such a short story after all: maybe a novella.

How did you hook up with Rebel e publishers

I can blame or thank Barry Eisler for that. But I think we’ll thank him! I met Joan through Barry’s forum.

It was just after Penguin NZ told me I wasn’t kiwi enough and passed on the first three Conway novels –despite loving the stories and my writing. They also suggested e-books to me, saying that there was going to be a big push toward e-books for some genres, mine included.

After meeting Joan on the forum and thinking about it for a few days, I decided to be cheeky and approach her publishing company. (I figured the worst they could say was no!) But Joan and Caroline didn’t say no! And I am so glad I did put myself out there! I couldn’t ask for a better team in my corner.

Thanks for chatting with me, Cat.

Thanks for having me, Julia!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Public Enemies and The New Film Style

My second summer movie was the darkly delicious PUBLIC ENEMIES. The film was almost ruined for me by a confusing beginning with shaky and dizzy-making cameras and barely audible dialogue. Michael Mann's style, I have read, is the new face of film-making, and there is much about this film that is undeniably beautiful. However, the close-ups were so laughably close that it made the cameraman seem obsessed with human pores.

What saves the movie, what gives it its energy, is the charm of Johnny Depp and the cool mystery of Christian Bale, and the intensity of the battle between them. A surprisingly great performance by Billy Crudup as a fussy and uptight J. Edgar Hoover gives the movie added authenticity. While I'm not a fan of gun violence, the battles between bank robbers and Feds in this flick are simply spectacular. In one particular scene deep in the Wisconsin forest, the gunfire is as loud and long as a fireworks display, and the surreal backdrop of dark and silent trees to human blood and conflict is one of the more memorable movie moments in my recent history.

Since the movie tells the story of John Dillinger and his eventual demise, it is not a happy story, but it has stayed in my mind long afterward, and for this reason I would say that Mann has been most successful.

Photo link here.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Great Task Remaining

In honor of the day, few words are more appropriate than those of Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address (November 19, 1863). This short speech is beautiful in its parallel structure, its simple phrasing, and its heartfelt message to the people whose hearts were breaking over a war that, it seemed, would never end.

But Lincoln's words (which were not, as legend has it, scrawled hastily on an envelope on the way to the event) retain their dignity 150 years later, and can be applied to the sacrifices of any patriot, from the Minutemen of the Revolution to the veterans of any American war.

Here is Lincoln's beautiful speech:

"Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Friday, July 03, 2009

4th of July Reading

I just finished the fourth Baby Shark and am currently reading Juliet Blackwell's Secondhand Spirits--a nice diversion from reality. But I may have to make a wee trip to the bookstore to get ready for this blissfully long weekend. Send me your good reading suggestions!

Oh, and I have joined Kaye Barley on Coffee With a Canine. It was a lovely bonding experience for me and my dog. :)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Fate's New Mystery

Baby Shark is back in Robert Fate's fourth mystery, Baby Shark's Jugglers at the Border. I always enjoy Robert Fate's writing, which is spare and tough and funny, but I especially enjoy the character of Kristin Van Dijk, who ever refuses to be a victim in a world of bad men.

Thank goodness for the two good men in her life--her partner Otis and her friend Henry.

In this mystery, Otis's long-estranged wife Dixie ends up dead, and Otis wants to know who did it and why. And when he finds out, with the help of his partner, he intends to take justice into his own hands.

I love the character of Otis and he has some of the best lines in the whole book, but it's Kristin who remains front and center. The baby shark is growing up and her teeth are getting sharper.

Also there's a wonderful sense of time period here with all of the 50s era Texas details--particularly a delightful chase scene set on a train.

Loved it!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Cold July

Our weatherman Tom Skilling says that this will be the coldest July 1st in 79 years. In honor of this interesting cold July, I offer you this Dixie Chicks song which is so very apropos.