Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Changed my mind after seeing The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Saw "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" on Saturday night with my husband and younger daughter and I'm not so cynical about endings anymore (see post below)(though I almost wish I still could be; you'll understand if you keep reading). My daughter had read the book, so she knew how it would end.

SPOILER ALERT: stop reading now if you don't want to know anything about how this movie/book ends!

Yes, it's a Holocaust movie, so of course much of the "ending" is already known. But I kept thinking -- hoping -- that at least the little boys would be okay. That someone at the last minute would get there just in time to save them. I envisioned an ending like "A Beautiful Life" (which, if you haven't seen, you MUST see. The ending is fabulous.) Alas, the "Hollywood" ending I wanted didn't come to pass (and it's so unusual for me to want a Hollywood ending). But, it's a more powerful movie because of it. Go see it, but take some tissues. Or read the book!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Thoughts while watching To Kill a Mockingbird

On Thanksgiving night, after stuffing ourselves with turkey and other goodies, my family and I sat down to watch To Kill a Mockingbird. The novel by Harper Lee (on which the movie is based) is one of my favorites, but for some reason I never saw the movie. Even my 16 year old daughter had seen it in school.

First I'll say this: it's good I knew the story so well, because at times the kids' accents were so thick, I had trouble catching some of what they said. Part of this could have also been the difference in film/sound quality from what we're used to now.

Second: Gregory Peck was perfect in the role of Atticus Finch.

Third, and the reason for this blog post: It occurred to me while watching that if Harper Lee had written her novel today, she probably would have been pressured to change at least a few of the scenes so as not to disappoint the audience. For example, there's the long courtroom scene where Atticus proves that Tom Robinson, because of his lame left arm, couldn't have assaulted Mayella Ewell the way she (and her father and the sheriff) testified. Atticus gives an incredibly eloquent closing argument, but the jury still comes back with a guilty verdict. It's painful to read (and watch). Nowadays, I'm just not sure a writer could get away with this. Readers have certain expectations (in this case, that justice will prevail). Even if the guilty verdict were allowed to stand at the book stage, the film version would surely nip the "problem" in the bud. Hollywood nowadays would never allow such a verdict. Can't have the audience leaving the theatre without a smile on its face.

Then there's the scene near the end, when Atticus goes with Jem to the Robinson house to break the news to the family that Tom Robinson is dead. Bob Ewell shows up, and Atticus comes out of the Robinson house and stands before him. Ewell spits in Atticus' face, and there's a moment when the audience is just waiting for Atticus to haul off and hit him. To say Ewell deserves it is an understatement. Of course the audience wants Atticus to hit him. Even Atticus wants to hit him. In the film, you can just see his mind considering the possibility, you can see the desire. But no matter how much the audience wants it, Harper Lee knew Atticus was a better man than that. His response is hard to watch, just like the guilty verdict, but it's the only response befitting him: he walks away.

I wonder if, in today's version, he still would . . .

Monday, November 24, 2008

My New Website is Live!

To check it out, you can click on the first link to the left under Websites I Like, or click here.

There's a link for signing up for my mailing list (which will be used only for updates about my books or events, I promise!) and information for book clubs, too.

Let me know how you like it!

Thanks to Authorbytes for doing such a nice job. :-)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lessons Learned, from a Debut Novelist

I've written about Laura Benedict before, and if you look to the left, you'll see her first novel, Isabella Moon, is on my list of books recently read. Her second novel, Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts, above, goes on sale this January, and I can't wait to read it. I instantly liked Laura the first time I read her blog, Notes From the Handbasket, and my initial instincts about her were confirmed when I met her in person at Thrillerfest. She's down to earth and a warm, generous person. She has a wonderful way of expressing certain thoughts about writing and publishing -- very honest and open about the process and the business -- and I find myself screaming "Yes! Yes!" at my computer screen when I read some of her blog posts.

Laura recently guest-blogged at the Fantasy Debut blog about her first year as a published author, and I encourage all writers -- especially those who are unpublished or those who have a contract but whose release date is sometime in the future -- to read what she has to say. These are things to keep in the "Things I wish I'd known" file. It's also a great article for readers and fans who wonder what it's really like to be a first time author . . . :-)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Scenes from the Road -- October TELL NO LIES Travel

"Cousin Su's Book Club" Wilmington, DE -- These ladies were an inquisitive bunch. They asked some great, thoughtful questions about characters, theme, plot. Careful readers: an author's dream.

Westtown Friends School "Parent Book Club", Westtown, PA -- Another great group. They had a lot of questions about the publishing business and writing in general. (And they all wanted my St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake recipe!) ;-) Thanks to my friend Kathy of idesign (in the brown V-neck on the couch) for suggesting me as a guest author . . .

At The Big Read, in St. Louis. This day was a blast. I participated in a panel discussion (above) with fellow authors Tess Gerritsen, Emilie Richards, and Joanna Campbell Slan. Below: Afterwards, at the book-signing table.

Later, I sat in on an excellent workshop (about marketing your book) presented by Joanna and another St. Louis author, Angie Fox. But the highlight of the day? Dinner on the Hill with Joanna and Emilie at Trattoria Marcella, and then dessert at Ted Drewes. Here we are (below) at Ted Drewes with St. Louis sculptor extraordinaire, Tyrone De la Venta -- who looked like a friendly guy and so we asked him to take our picture. Little did we know we'd meet an artist with sculptures displayed throughout the city.

Above: New fans Candice McBain and Barb Cassens of Ballwin, MO came to hear me speak at the Kirkwood Public Library. (Thanks for taking a chance on me, Candice and Barb!) Below: Snacks and drinks with family and friends after the event. I think the Florida weather had followed me to Missouri.

Below: Here I am with Vicki Erwin (owner of Main Street Books in St. Charles, MO)(who treated me to a lovely dinner at the Mother-in-Law House Restaurant in St. Charles a few nights later) and Sarah Erwin (of the Kirkwood Public Library) (yes, they are related!)

On my last night in St. Louis, I spoke at the St. Charles Library. Below is the amazing sign that greeted me (Thanks Sara Nielsen and everyone there!):

If you look close on the left, you can see me next to the sign. ;-)

As if all this wasn't enough, I also did a few booksignings (but forgot to take pics): one during Educator Appreciation Weekend at the Borders in Sunset Hills, MO (thanks to Margaret Holden at Borders for inviting me), and another at the the Barnes & Noble in Exton, PA. I also spent a few days in Baltimore at Bouchercon (a huge mystery fan conference), where I met up with some of the fellow International Thriller Writers I'd met at Thrillerfest in July, like Julie Kramer (my roomie), Kelli Stanley, Andy Harp (thanks for a great lunch on the Harbor, Andy!), Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Sibylle Barrasso . I was also fortunate to meet Martin Edwards, a UK author who'd interviewed me long distance for Shots Magazine during the UK release of TELL NO LIES. Weaving through the crowds one day, I ran into fellow Central Florida (and St. Martin's) authors Bob Morris (whose latest book, A Deadly Silver Sea, is out later this month) and Tom Cavanagh. And I even got up the nerve to introduce myself to Harlan Coben . . . I hadn't needed to be nervous, though; he was an incredibly nice guy. All in all, it was quite a conference, and I didn't even experience the whole four days.
On second thought, it was quite a month. :-)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Aspiring Writers, NanoWrimo Starts November 1st!

What's NanoWrimo, you ask?

It stands for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a 175 page (50,000 word) novel between November 1 and November 30.

Learn all about it at http://www.nanowrimo.org/.

I participated in 2005 and 2006, and though I didn't finish by the deadline during either year -- it sure kick-started my writing! I've decided to do it this year as a way to start working regularly on my third novel.

Give it a try, and good luck!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Joanna Slan: Scrapbooking + Passion = Paper, Scissors, Death, A Murder Mystery

On October 11, I'll be at the Big Read Festival in St. Louis. I'll be on a panel with mystery authors Tess Gerritsen and Emilie Richards. (Okay, I'm nervous just saying that! I mean, those are some big names in the book world!) But I think my nerves will be calmed somewhat because Joanna Slan, the President of the local Sisters in Crime chapter, will be moderating.

In our discussions about the upcoming panel, Joanna and I got a chance to know each other a little bit, and it's apparent to me that Joanna has one of those plucky personalities that can make even the gruffest person smile. She's full of energy and positive attitude, and it rubs off on anyone who crosses her path.

Joanna's celebrating the recent release (September 1, 2008) of her first novel, Paper, Scissors, Death, the first in The Kiki Lowenstein Scrap-N-Craft Mystery Series. She took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to answer some questions. I hope you'll take a few moments to learn a bit about Joanna and her novel, and if you're in the St. Louis area on October 11, come out and see all of us!

Julie: I must admit, this is the first time I've ever seen a novel in which scrapbooking played a major role. Why scrapbooking?

Joanna: Scrapbookers are very passionate people. We create pages—which are very artistic and time-consuming—about our families, our friends and our lives. Seemed to me that with all that emotional investment (plus sharp tools like craft knives and chemicals like glue), murder was bound to happen. Besides, one in every three homes in the US has a scrapbooker in it. There’s bound to be a few who either have or have wanted to strangle someone!

Julie: Tell us about your heroine, Kiki Lowenstein, and how you came up with her story.

Joanna: She’s a lot like me. She looks a lot dumber than she is. She ticks people off, although she doesn’t mean to. She apologizes to grocery carts when she bumps them. She worries a lot, but probably about all the wrong things. She loves animals, hates bullies, adores scrapbooking and she’s very hard on herself.

Ironically, now that other scrapbookers are reading Paper, Scissors, Death, they tell me they see themselves in Kiki!

Julie: Ironically, you were born in Florida and now live in St. Louis, and I was born in St. Louis and now live in Florida. But we both made the choice to set our novels in St. Louis! What made you choose that city as your setting?

Joanna: I felt that St. Louis was underused as a setting. This is such a quirky place. You’ve got mystery and history. Where else can you visit the zoo and not get a straw in your drink because it could hurt the animals, but you CAN buy yourself a beer? We finally slipped to #2 in murders in the country, so I figured I better hurry up and write this before we became all boring.

Julie: Since everyone asks me this question, I'll ask you: Are any of the characters in your novel based upon real people?

Joanna: Yep. Me. And there are aspects of people I’ve known in a lot of my characters. Mert, Kiki’s best friend, is also her former cleaning lady. She carries around business cards that read, “Got dirt? Get Mert.” And she’s patterned after a cleaning lady we once had who bragged to me, “I got me a vacuum cleaner that can suck up a bowling ball.” Luckily, we don’t bowl. I did make sure the dogs were in their crate before she came.

Julie: You've been a writer for some time, but this is your first novel. What made you want to write a mystery (a series, in fact)? How did the process differ for you, if at all, from writing non-fiction? And tell us a little about the road to getting your novel published.

Joanna: Oh, I think lying is fun. And even though I wrote fiction, I was always interested in stories. In fact one of my books is a college textbook on using stories when you are public speaking. It’s called Using Stories and Humor: Grab Your Audience. Sounds faintly violent, doesn’t it?

The process is different in that you have so much bigger of a canvas, of a universe when you write fiction and it’s a challenge to narrow that down so your plot is zingy.

I started working on the book and then went to SleuthFest. There I pitched a young man from New York who thought I was nuts. “Who cares about scrapbooking?” he said. Yeah, well, hell-oo. The entire world does NOT revolve around Times Square, bud.

The second agent I pitched loved the idea, and thought I was a hoot.

Julie: Any advice for aspiring writers?

Joanna: Enter at your own risk. Woooo-ha-ha-ha. This is a weird world, and if you aren’t absolutely compelled to write, it might be tough going. Find some good friends in the business. Learn as much as you can. Smile and be professional. And write a darn good book!

Julie: Thank you, Joanna! Good luck with Paper, Scissors, Death!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Motorcycles and Novel Revisions

Really, there is a connection here between the two . . . I promise.

Finally got the bike -- it'll be two weeks this Saturday but last week with Tropical Storm Fay, I didn't get a chance to ride it much. Today I rode with my youngest on the back to her busstop. This is my risk-taker child, and she freaked out about the helmet, of all things! "I can't breathe! It's making me feel claustrophobic!" The possibility that she could break her head open or scrape across the pavement as her skin peels off didn't seem to faze her. She was bothered by that hard bubble on her head! I reminded her that if she wants to skydive (which she claims to want to do, and I believe her; we are alike in our risk-taking propensities), she'll have to wear a helmet for that, too.

So the motorcycle desire was always there, dormant in the recesses of my brain from when I used to ride on the back of my brother's bike, but when we moved to Florida -- where motorcycles are everywhere -- it began to push its way to the front. Somewhere along the way I decided to make the protagonist of my second novel a biker. Nothing hardcore. He's just a guy who likes to ride and his mode of transportation is a bike. He's a Floridian, and it just seemed to fit him. But the more I wrote, the more I wanted to be riding a bike myself. And I figured, hey, it can only improve the writing, right? ;-) So last May I took the rider safety course and got my motorcycle endorsement. And for my birthday in June, my wonderful hubby totally surprised me by giving me a gift certificate with the picture of a Harley on it; it was his way of giving me his blessing to get a bike. When we finally stopped traveling this summer, and I had time to do my research, I found the one I wanted and it was delivered just as Fay was making her way through the Caribbean . . .

It's a Kawasaki Vulcan 500. (I checked out Harleys and just decided they were too big for me, for now.) I love it! I'm thinking of naming it . . . (sick, sick, I know. My kids laughed at me.)

Meanwhile, I'm back to working on revisions to the novel. (Or that's what I'm supposed to be doing, instead of writing blog posts). But I'm having trouble with my ending. I made a big change to the story after the fact, and the change really affects my end, so it's the one thing I still need to revise, but I haven't been able to yet. (In fact, I don't think I should even use the word "revise" -- I think I'll be writing what will essentially be a whole new last chapter . . . ) I've been spending a lot of time thinking about it, but when I'm on Inked-In or doing other things, I always have the sense that I should be writing the ending, not thinking about it. But I know that if I'm not careful, it can easily slip into the "cheesy" category and I do not want that to happen. So am I avoiding? Or is all this "thinking" I'm doing just something I have to do before I can get down to business? In the past, whenever I've been stumped about a plot point or how to do a scene, it does eventually come to me, often at the most unlikely times . . . So maybe all this fretting is for naught . . .

Oh, and yes, I think riding the bike has helped with the authenticity in the writing! ;-)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

RIP LeRoi Moore (1961-2008)

Anyone who really knows me knows of my love for all things Dave Matthews Band. I'd intended to sit down at the keyboard this morning and blog about motorcycles, hurricane days, etc., but I turned on my computer to find the news of LeRoi Moore's passing last night. I'm still a little bit in shock. He'd been seriously injured in an ATV accident in June but there seemed to be no reason to think he wouldn't recover. Obviously, I didn't personally know him, but I've attended so many DMB concerts over the years that when I read the news, it truly felt like a friend had died. For those who have formed their opinions about DMB merely from what they've heard on the radio, it's with a heavy heart that I offer a few clips to show the uninitiated what the fans already know . . . RIP, LeRoi. The shows will never be the same.

"#41" has always been one of my favorite songs, if not the favorite. The version that gives me chills is on a CD that only fan club members receive, and I couldn't figure out how to post a link so it could be heard, so this video will have to do. The video quality isn't great, but it will give you a taste. LeRoi's sax can be heard throughout, and he's got a solo starting at about 4:45 minutes in, but it doesn't even compare to his playing on the 20 minute version I can't seem to post . . .

"Seek Up" is another favorite. This is only a clip -- not the whole song -- but again, it will show you what you'll never hear on the radio.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Writing at the Beach

Yeah, yeah, I know I promised a Thrillerfest post, but the draft post has become long and unwieldy and I want to make sure I mention everyone and everything, so it just hasn't gotten finished . . . Now I'm at the beach (Daytona Beach Shores) with my laptop and my draft is at home on a Word document on my PC . . . Hopefully, next week.

I had a note from Jennifer Greenhill-Taylor (a wonderful lady and the co-founder, along with Joseph Hayes, of one of my favorite sites, Inked-In), asking me how my week at the beach is going. I quickly rattled off a response because I was so excited by everything I'm getting done on Book 2, and then it dawned on me: Hey, I could blog about this.

Some of you know that I've just begun working on my revisions to my second novel. I'd turned in the manuscript in May, and a few weeks back I received comments from my editors. I spent some time thinking about the comments and then, talking them over with both editors (UK and US). Though I'd already fiddled a bit with a few edits, this week is the first time in a while I've been able to spend long days doing nothing but writing and revising. I love it. THIS is the reason I write.

My girls are here with me around the clock, and Rick drives out each evening after work and then leaves early the next morning to head back to his office. I get up when he leaves, make my coffee, and get to work. I love the silence of the mornings, and the temperature is still nice enough to sit outside for a while. Eventually I wake my younger daughter and get her to surf camp. The older one and her friend (who is here with us, too) sleep in. On Tuesday, I set myself up on the beach near the surfers and made revisions to my manuscript by hand. Except for the campers, the beach is still pretty empty at that time of the morning. Because a large part of my story takes place in Florida, I find the writing just pours out of me when I'm immersed in the setting.

On Wednesday, I did it a bit differently. My skin needed a break from the sun and my writing needed the laptop, so I came back to the house after dropping off my surfer. Spent most of the day writing at the kitchen table.

Thursday was our anniversary -- 21 years married and a few months shy of 26 years together -- so Rick took off work and we played at the beach. Later, when surf camp was done for the day, the whole family went jet-skiing on the river. The jet-skiing was fun, but the best part was the dolphins! We must have seen about 10 of them, swimming right next to our jet-skis and showing off for us. Later, Rick and I drove down to New Smyrna for dinner at a place recommended by my friend and book club buddy Diane, The Garlic. Beautiful setting and the food and service both were excellent.

I also did some reading this week. Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan was first. It was this month's book for my book club. Hard to believe this was the author's first novel. It's beautifully written and even if you've never been interested in Frank Lloyd Wright in the past, this book will get you interested. It's a great love story, and an even better book club pick; LOTS of stuff to talk about.

Next was a completely different type of novel, Hold Tight, by Harlan Coben. This was my first Harlan Coben novel and it was so different from what I expected (though I understand that this book might be a bit of a departure from his other stuff?). Though it's a mystery, it's so much more. It touches on a lot of "big" issues: the parent/teen relationship, how we really don't know our kids (and can't), whether spying on them is (or ever can be) justified, etc. I really enjoyed it, perhaps because my children are at that age (cough, cough). But a warning: it leaves you with more questions than answers . . . This is another one that would generate lots of discussion at a book group.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Jungle Red Writers

The wonderfully supportive and award-winning author/Boston investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan has posted an interview of me over at Jungle Red Writers. We talk about how I came up with the idea for Tell No Lies, writing from a male point of view, and other odds and ends. Stop by and say hello, and try to guess the "little white lie" . . .

You'll see that Hank mentions Thrillerfest . . . I'll be posting any day now about my amazing experience at Thrillerfest earlier this month, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Dutch cover for TELL NO LIES

Whew! Now that the red has faded from my cheeks, I'm able to post the Dutch cover for TELL NO LIES, being released in the Netherlands this September ('08) by the Dutch publisher, Unieboek.

Friday, June 27, 2008

TELL NO LIES made it to Australia!

I let out my own little whoop when I saw the following post from my Australian friend Davina at Inked-In. Here's what she wrote:

Julie Compton hits Australia - I "Tell No Lies"

My copy found and bought today is here on my desk. That was sleakly done, lass :) I was checking the new releases for my pleasure reading because I'm down to only a dozen or so in reserve (you gotta keep a bunch in case you have to go through them to find one that suits your mood), and there it was, brazen as you like and not a word of warning. When I saw it let out a whoop, and the girl came over to see what had excited me so. She giggled when I told her about you, Julie, and said she wished she knew people who wrote the books she puts on the shelves and how interesting these writer must be. I put her straight, knowing you wouldn't mind :-)Then she wanted to know what you looked like, no picture came with the books. Next thing I know I have a wee bunch of the staff around me. Hopefully they will now feel like they know you and push Tell No Lies and get more in. I offered to do a signing on your behalf but they didn't take me up on it :O)

What great news to wake up to on a Friday morning . . . Now I have to tell my brother (who lived there for many years) so he can tell all his friends! :-)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Gooey Butter Cake, Savannah, Dave Matthews Band, Tell No Lies . . .

Well, the Gooey Butter Cake just came out of the oven and in a few minutes I'll abandon one writing activity (another read-through of Book 2, which -- though it's already gone to the editors -- keeps pulling me back to make more changes while I wait for their comments) to get ready for another (my booksigning at the Savannah Barnes & Noble tonight).

Those who have attended some of my booksignings know that I like to bake St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake to offer to anyone who stops by my table. (Sorry, St. Louis folks, I didn't do this when I was there at Left Bank Books in May, but I'm planning to for my July visits to the Borders in Ballwin!) It's a yummy little tie-in to the book for no other reason than it's a St. Louis specialty and Tell No Lies is set in St. Louis. But people seem to enjoy it and I enjoy sharing it with them (whether they buy a book or not).

Tonight should be low key compared to some of the other signings I've done because, except for my friend and former colleague Frank and his wife Liz (see post about Savannah), I don't know anyone in Savannah. Frank was kind enough to circulate an announcement about the event to everyone at the law firm where he works and to the Savannah bankruptcy bar listserve. Now that's friendship! But I'm still expecting it to be quiet. After all, most people won't show up for a booksigning of someone they don't know. Best to set expectations low and consider anything else mere icing on the cake. (Not on the Gooey Butter Cake though; it's sweet enough without icing . . .)

This will be the last signing for awhile, until I'm back in St. Louis in mid-July. I've got a lot of good stories to tell from my trips, and I hope to have the time to blog about a few of them in the next weeks. I've also come across a few really interesting articles lately (some about writing, some about politics) that I want to blog about. I'm making myself a list . . .

Until then, I think I'm due for a Dave Matthews Band mention. I ran across this blog post, and whether you like DMB's music or not, you gotta love this (scroll down to the June 22, 2008 entry). Say what you will, but Dave is just a stand up (no pun intended) sort of guy.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

St. Louis Launch of TELL NO LIES - What a Weekend!

My mother-in-law had great advice for me when I was in St. Louis last week for the launch of Tell No Lies (and for other things, too, as you'll see below). She said: "Julie, just take a deep breath and enjoy the moment so you'll remember it." She was so right.

These past few days, it's truly felt like I'm living my dreams. When you write your first novel, you can only hope that someday a publisher will want to publish it and readers will want to read it. Dream number one came true when Macmillan offered me a contract to publish both Tell No Lies and my second novel (still untitled - but officially sent off to my editor today!). Dream number two came true last Thursday night at Left Bank Books. I was simply overwhelmed by the number of people who turned out to show their support, listen to me blabber on and read from the novel, and buy books! The bookstore was packed with family, friends, friends of family and friends, and even some people who just heard about me and/or the book in the media. Afterwards, Shane at Left Bank (who, by the way, gave an introduction that blew me away --he should be a publicist -- he made me sound much better than I am) said they'd sold out! I am so blessed and grateful, and I hope I remembered to tell everyone that several times! THANK YOU TO EVERYONE!
On to some more pics. . . (will someone please tell me how to get pictures to go where you want them on Blogger . . .? And how to label them?)
This is my friend Lisa, who has been a great cheerleader -- talking the book up at every chance she gets and putting me in contact with some crucial media contacts. Top left below: I had nothing to do with the magazine placement behind me! I have my husband to thank for those hi-jinks. Middle right below: Sunny, my fabulous mother-in-law, and Missouri Supreme Court Judge Mary Russell. (How many writers can say they've had a Supreme Court judge at their book launch?)

Middle left above: my nephew Robbie and soon-to-be sister-in-law Devorah.
To the top right: Clyde and Phyllis (Clyde finding out the main character is not him . . .) Bottom left: The banners that greeted us upon our arrival at my in-laws. (It was also my daughter's 16th b-day this past weekend!) (I'll post more pics when I figure out to do it right . . .)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Today's the Day! TELL NO LIES U.S. Release!

Today's the day! My novel Tell No Lies is officially available for sale in the United States!

A woman where Rick works came into his office yesterday and told him she saw it on the "New Fiction" shelf over the weekend at Barnes & Noble, so last night we stopped in and got a sneak preview.

The store employees saw us taking pictures and before I knew it, I was signing stock. Thanks to Scott, Sarah and James for being so gracious and excited for me (and to James for recommending some books to my daughter Jessie). I hope B & N appreciates you!
I'm heading out tomorrow for St. Louis and the launch at Left Bank Books on Thursday. I'm excited but VERY nervous . . . :-)

Monday, May 05, 2008

Guest Blogging at Moments in Crime

I'll be guest blogging this week (May 5 - 11) on the St. Martin's Moments in Crime blog. Stop by, say hello, and make a comment or two!

But first, because I promised him I would, here's a picture of Klaus at the New Orleans Jazzfest this past weekend.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Great Reads

I've read some excellent books lately -- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Heaven Lake by John Dalton. The Book Thief is incredibly sad but oh so well-written. It's just beautiful.

But it's Heaven Lake (another gorgeous book that I was sad to have end) that I want to talk about, because I have an interesting story about how I came to read it.

A long time ago, when I still lived in St. Louis (my hometown!), I participated in a small writing workshop at the local YMCA. At the time, I had just become a stay-at-home mom after having my second daughter, and I took the workshop to get myself back into the creative writing mode. Writing was a lifelong love -- I still have journals I wrote in as a kid -- but I had pretty much abandoned it for a while once I started practicing law.

Fast forward a few years -- I was reading Publishers Weekly and saw a blurb about a book that sounded very familiar. I looked at the author's name, John Dalton, and recognized it as the name of my YMCA workshop leader. I knew it had to be the same person because I remembered him talking about the novel he was writing, and the PW blurb matched his description. I held on to the issue for months, intending to look him up and also to search out the novel once it was released, but life got in the way and it never happened.

Fast forward a few more years (to this past fall). I recently remodeled my home office and in the course of sorting through many of my old notes from various writing workshops I've taken over the years, I came across a folder from the YMCA workshop. It reminded me again to look John up, so I got online, contacted him, and ordered the book from Amazon. The book has been sitting on my nightstand for some time (I always have a 'line' of books waiting to be read) and I finally got the chance to delve into it over spring break.

Let me just say this: the year Heaven Lake was released (2004), John won the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award, and for good reason. I couldn't put it down, and I was sad when it ended because I enjoyed the reading of it so much. The writing is gorgeous, the plot and the characters are fresh and interesting, and it's chock full of issues (it's a great book club book). Here's the Amazon link with the summary, etc.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Motorcycle Mama

This is what happens when I wait too long to blog -- I end up with a list of things I've been wanting to write about and then I consider cramming them all into one post. But I won't. Instead, in the next few days, I'll try to cover motorcycles, kayaking, great reads, and probably a few other things I thought of recently but have now forgot . . .

For today, motorcycles . . .

I still have to head over to the DMV office to get the endorsement added to my drivers' license, but other than that -- I'm now legal to ride a motorcycle! I took a course this past weekend at the local Harley dealership and yesterday I passed my test with almost flying colors. (Seems I forgot to brake going into a curve and that cost me some points -- my instructor told me otherwise I would have aced it . . .).

I've been wanting to learn for a long time. As a kid, my brothers rode, and I spent some time as a passenger and loved the thrill of it. The desire has grown since living in Florida, where we're surrounded by bikers. But what finally compelled me to get out there and take the course is the current novel I'm working on. ("The one that was supposed to be turned into the publisher on March 31," she says with a guilty look on her face . . . Luckily, my editor is very understanding and patient.) As the members of my writing workshop know, my main character rides. So I thought now would be the time to make sure I get the finer points of riding right, before I turn the manuscript in. I'd hate to think readers might later see something I'd written and think to themselves, "she got that all wrong!"

Of course, now I'm itching to get a motorcycle, and Rick says, "Wait a minute, I thought you just wanted to do this for your novel." My poor husband. He's even more patient than my editor.

They don't have pink, but I like this yellow one. :-)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Book Reviews, Falling Literacy, and Odds and Ends

I'll do the Odds and Ends first:

1. My editor shared the news yesterday that Kirkus has given Tell No Lies a starred review. The news made my day. (I'll post the link when it's up).

2. I'm drinking my coffee this morning from one of my favorite mugs (second only to my Pac Man one from college), the one with the quote from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: "Well-behaved women seldom make history." Apparently this quote has been taken (and exploited) out of context, see Slate article about Ulrich and her book of the same name, but I still love it. I've never been one for behaving too well, at least not in the way others always want/expect you to. It's made life difficult at times, but interesting.

3. From the annals of "Stating the Obvious": I turned on my radio in the shower this morning and caught the very tail end of a DJ giving a news report, and she was quoting someone as saying "We wouldn't have so much violence if people behaved better." Now there's some amazing, thoughtful insight about solving society's problems! Someone please tell me the person making this statement wasn't someone high up in our government . . .

4. Re: listening to the radio in the shower. Somewhere along the way, I must have told my publisher that the initial seed for the idea for Tell No Lies came to me in the shower (which is true), though I didn't mention the radio part. This factual tidbit has been passed along to interviewers, I guess, because I've had a few ask me about it during interviews. I realize now that it would have made more sense to them if they knew I had a radio in the shower . . . (I'd heard a news story that sparked a trail of ideas and, combined with another story I'd read in the newspaper, led to the idea for the novel).

And, with the mention of newspapers, I'll move on to the main point of this post:

I attended Sleuthfest this past weekend in south Florida and had a wonderful time. I hadn't really been too familiar with the mystery genre (and all its sub-genres), but since my novel seems to have been tagged as a legal thriller, I figured I should become a bit more educated on that front. What I found was a great group of people who were very wiling to welcome a new kid on the block and share their expertise.

I attended a talk given by Oline Cogdill, a reviewer for the Sun-Sentinel (if you like books, check out her and Chauncey Mabe's blog), and Cheryl Solomini, a reviewer for Mystery Scene Magazine, and one of the topics that arose was how difficult it is to get review space for books in newspapers. Oline talked about how her pages have been cut drastically in recent years, and of course we're all aware of how some of the biggies -- LA Times Book Review, for example -- are doing away with their stand-alone book review sections.

But Oline made a point that I thought should be repeated in every newspaper editorial board meeting across the country: In this era of falling subscriptions and newspaper sales, why are newspapers cutting out one of the key methods of promoting literacy? If you want to sell more papers, wouldn't it behoove you to cater to the people who like to read? Why, if they want to generate sales, are they catering to the demographic that doesn't even read or subscribe to the paper?

I know, I know, there's probably a valid business reason that the accountants and analysts have come up with to prove the book reviews don't generate ad dollars, but come on. Newspapers are for readers. Books are for readers. Seems it's the same audience. And if you want to increase that audience, don't you have to encourage the activity? Shouldn't you be the first one in line to promote literacy?

Monday, February 25, 2008

No Verdict on the Kindle Yet

The jury's still out at my house on the Kindle. So far, I've read only one book on it: Blood Memory, by Greg Iles. This was my book club's choice for last month (which, by the way, was a very different type of book than those we usually choose), and one thing I didn't like was that I couldn't just flip through the pages at our meeting to find a passage being discussed. I recognize there is probably a way to search for terms, but that's part of my issue: I hate the learning curve that accompanies new technology. I don't want to spend the time figuring out all the intricacies. Picking up a real book is just so much easier! (This is why I never upgrade my cell phone, too.)
Having said that, I loved the way I'm able to adjust the size of the font. My eyesight just isn't what it used to be. (What am I saying? I've never had good eyesight . . . the only difference now is that I'm nearsighted and farsighted!) I also love that I can have the book instantly with just a click on the Amazon site.
I asked my fifteen-year-old daughter, who's also been using it, how she likes it so far. She loves it. Like me, she likes the ability to change the font size, she likes the size of the whole unit (it's small and light, she says), she likes how it stays charged for so long, she likes how, when you turn it on, it automatically goes back to the last page you were reading . . .
Next up, I'll be reading our book club's March pick, The Birth House, by Ami McKay. Maybe I'll take the time to learn some more features before I begin the book. . .
What do you think? Have you tried the Kindle?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Cool Photo

My friend Karen took this picture in her driveway in Acton, Massachusetts. The "hearts" design was caused (unintentionally, believe it or not) by her car tires. I just loved it! Art in the unlikeliest places . . .

(I've also included a little pic of me and Karen goofing off on a frozen lake in New Hampshire, from when I visited her back in January. Fun "girlfriend" time!)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Was I Really in England This Time Last Week?

I just returned Sunday night from England, and it's only Thursday now, but my time spent across the "pond" seems like ages ago. A few people have asked, "Did you go for a book tour?" The answer is no. A few others have asked, "Did you go for your book?" In that case, the answer is yes. There's a difference. Really.

When I planned the trip, I certainly hoped I would have the opportunity to do some "promotional" activities -- and made it clear to the publicist at my publisher that I was at her disposal -- but really, I planned to go regardless. It was a good excuse to visit England and I just wanted to see my book on a store shelf! (Like this picture above)

Until just a week or two before I left Orlando, I thought that would be the extent of it. Shortly before our departure, though, I started getting emails from the publicist about wanting to schedule various events. So yes, it turned into a mini-book tour, I suppose, though our sightseeing heavily outweighed promotional events!
It was all a bit surreal. I did two newspaper interviews, three BBC radio interviews, and signed stock in a few stores in London. The neatest part, by far, was just seeing the book on the shelves. That was a lifelong dream, and regardless of anything else, I'll carry that with me for a long time.The radio interviews were scary. I was nervous before each one (can you tell from the picture?), although once I started talking, I was okay. Ironically, the day or two before the interviews, there had been a big story in the news about the sentencing of some youths who had beat a man to death. Apparently, the sentence was somewhat light given the crime, and the man's wife was calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty in England. Well, one of the "issues" in my novel is the death penalty (my main character opposes it, but fudges his position to get elected as DA), and thank God my publicist gave me a heads up about this current event before the interviews! Each radio interviewer wanted to talk about it. Until then, most interviews I'd done focused on other aspects of the novel, or on why I left law to write, or whether my characters were fictional (I always get a kick out of that question!).
England itself was fantastic. We had three days of sunny weather, temperatures in the 50's (everyone kept telling us how unusual that was, and I told them we brought it from Florida!). The fourth day turned overcast and cold, but the last few days were sunny again (though still cold). We spent our first two days in Berkhamsted with a friend, taking a day trip from there to get a personal tour of Oxford from an English author, Nick Page, who is a friend of our Berkhamsted friend. We had dinner at a cute little country pub called the Alford Arms, just outside of Berkhamsted.

On Wednesday we went into London, and that's the day I did most of the book events (though every day we stopped in book stores!). We had dinner that night with a bunch of folks from Macmillan. They were a great group of people and I immediately felt as ease with them. I think we sat in the restaurant talking and drinking wine for almost 4-1/2 hours. (I love doing this, but my poor hubby can get very fidgety with lingering after the meal is done . . . He was incredibly patient and good-natured about it, though.)

We stayed in a little boutique hotel called Hazlitt's. I would highly recommend it, especially for writers. It's just off of Soho Square. They have a tradition of published authors leaving signed copies of their books, and they have a glass case in a small drawing room where they display them all. I left them one of mine to be added to the group! It was pretty cool for this newbie.

Other than this, we did all the typical tourist things -- Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Portobello Road Market, St. Paul's Cathedral, London Eye, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, saw a show in the West End, etc. . . . I wanted to go to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre but we ran out of time, and I decided it would be better in warm weather anyway, when we could see a play. I also wanted to see the Tate Modern, but we didn't get there, either. Next time, for sure. And of course we visited bookstore after bookstore. I could have spent hours in Foyles. I was impressed by how many bookstores one small country can support. Sometimes there would be 3 or 4 right near each other, and all were crowded. Who says reading is dead?

I wanted to get down to Dorset to meet my new online friend Innky (his real name is Andy, but he owns an inn, Mortons House Hotel, so he goes by Innky on our online writing community site). I think he was the first Brit to buy my book, and he's been really supportive, plugging it for me at every turn. He's written his own book -- Innkeeping with Mr Fawlty: The Confessions of an Hotelier -- and I understand it's supposed to be quite funny. I'm waiting for my copy to arrive as I type, so I'll post more about it later once I've read it. Anyway, Dorset, Mortons House, and Innky are on the musst-see list for our "warmer weather" trip.

One last pic -- in the airport bookstore (W.H. Smith) on the way home . . .

Monday, February 04, 2008

Idle Musings While Running

Wouldn't it be neat if they had a device that could just transcribe your thoughts to paper, without the need to type them or say them out loud? On second thought, no -- this seems much too 1984-ish. (Can we use that term any more? Is it still relevant now that the date has passed?) The minute such a device exists, "they" will start using against "us" involuntarily . . . I won't even go there. And don't even write to tell me such a thing already exists; I don't want to know.

I had the first thought because I notice I always "write" blog posts in my head as I'm out running, but by the time I return to my computer, I've lost the way I wanted to say it. Sure, I usually remember the idea, but it never comes out on the screen the way it did in my head. By the time I sit in front of the computer, I'm ready to work on fiction, not on blog posts.

Anyway, I was listening to some DMB as I was running, and I realized why women don't mind the long jams at their concerts -- with the long, slow, extended lead ups and then crashing finales as Dave screams like a madman -- and many men, especially male music critics, do. Many guys accuse them of being self-indulgent. I don't think women see it this way. It's like foreplay and sex. I'll leave it to the reader to think about what I mean . . .

I ran alone this morning, and later, because my running partner Monica had to cancel. Monica has a baby -- she is Gerber baby cute, truly -- and baby was up a lot last night. The run reminded me of why I like running early; it was much hotter and much sunnier at 9 a.m. than it is at 6 a.m. (Indeed, right now it's still dark at 6).

On another, totally unrelated point: I think they should draw a line around the baggage claim carousel at airports, about 3 or 4 feet out, and tell everyone to remain behind the line until you spot your piece of luggage. Think how much easier it would be to (1) see the luggage coming on the belt, and (2) retrieve your suitcase once you've spotted it, without the need to force your way through the crowds hovering right at the edge of the belt. It might take a bit before people voluntarily adhered to the system, but I think once they saw how much easier it made the process, it would catch on. What do you think?

Next post: I'll talk about how I like (or not) the new Kindle book reader by Amazon.

Friday, February 01, 2008

It's Been an Exciting Week for TELL NO LIES

A lot has happened this past week with my book, Tell No Lies.
1. Today is the day it officially goes on sale in the UK!
2. Just a week ago my editor here in the US sent me the final cover (at left) for the US edition, which comes out in May. I think it looks fantastic -- very striking, very contemporary. I've been really lucky to have such great designers for my covers. Let me know what you think.
3. On Sunday, the Travel section of the London Telegraph ran an interview with me about Orlando. Here's the link: Telegraph interview.
4. Best of all, the novel garnered some good reviews! Trashionista called it "an excellent pyschological thriller and an extremely polished debut." The UK's Guardian said Tell No Lies is "an absorbing account of an honourable man gradually yielding to multiple temptations," and "a strong debut from a writer who knows her law, and more importantly, can depict the ebb and flow of relationships, the conflict between love and desire and the irresistible urge to self-destruct of a 'man who has everything'."
So it's been a good week . . . I'm smiling.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tales from the Road

What a difference a few hours in a plane makes.

I'm in Concord, Massachusetts. I spend the morning on my first full day here writing in my room at the Hawthorne Inn, and I head out to get some lunch at the Main Streets Market & Cafe in Concord Center. I've brought my laptop because I have visions of sitting in the noise and bustle of life while I eat and get some more writing done. It's nearing the end of the lunch hour: 12:50. I park my car and stroll down Main Street marveling at how damn quaint it is up here in New England. I mean, I used to live here -- one town over in Acton -- so I know this, but still, I love it anew every time.

At the door to the little cafe I stop because on the door there's a sign (similar to the No Shirts, No Shoes, No Service type of sign) that says: Restaurant in Use, No Cell Phones, No Laptops.

I'm bummed. Not about the cell phone ban; if you read this blog with any regularity, you know how perturbed I get with obnoxious cell phone use in public places. But no laptops? Oh, that hits me where it hurts. I'm up here in Massachusetts for two reasons. The first is to visit my girlfriend Karen (yes, the same Karen who gets a grateful nod in the Acknowledgements section of my novel, Tell No Lies), and the second is to write. Karen and I can't get together until Saturday because of her school schedule, so I've come up a few days early to write. A section of the novel I'm currently working on takes place in New England, and I figure it can't hurt to immerse myself in the place since it's been ten years now since we moved away.

Anyway, at first I can't really understand the ban on laptops. After all, I'm eating alone, and the laptop's quiet, so I wouldn't be disturbing anyone. And in my experience, I've noticed that venues that allow - indeed encourage - laptop use tend to be hopping places. They become local hangouts, and that has to be good for business.

But once I'm in the cafe, I start to understand. This place is still hopping at 1:00 p.m. So perhaps they fear that diners using laptops will loiter for hours at a table, which could see several turnovers of customers otherwise.

So in the end, I accept the ban without feeling put out. I enjoy my lunch and just take in the surroundings, which helps the writing just as much if not more than the laptop. And I'm rewarded for my acceptance when I hear a waitress say warily to another worker, "Why's that person taking pictures at the front of the restaurant?" I turn to see what she's talking about, and sure enough, there's a woman just near the front door snapping photos of the restaurant interior. And I realize that's why I love it up here in Massachusetts. All over the rest of America, it seems, people would be mugging for the camera, either overtly or covertly, hoping for their chance to "be seen." Here, though, they still seem to value the concept of privacy, and guard it jealously. That waitress didn't view the camera as an opportunity, but as an intrusion, and there's something sort of refreshing about that in this age of everyone groping desperately for their fifteen minutes of fame.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Amazing Savannah photos

You know how everyone has a place they'd love to live? A place where -- if money, job, children's schools, etc. were no object -- they'd move to in an instant? Well, for my old boss Frank, that place was always Savannah, Georgia. (Clarification: Frank is not old -- sorry about that Frank! -- what I mean is that he was my boss at my last job. Also, Frank is my friend, too, not just my "old boss". He started out a colleague, became a friend, then became my boss, and thankfully, even after that, he remained my friend -- because he's a really neat, interesting guy to have as a friend).

Anyway, not long after I left my last job to move to Florida and do this writing thing full-time, Frank's dream came true. He and his wife now call Savannah home. And that leads me to the point of this post.

This morning I sat at my computer to begin writing a piece for Lake Mary Life Magazine and I found a link to a photo slideshow in my email box, along with the following note from Frank:

I was introduced through a mutual friend to a German freelance photographer Ronald Schmidt and his wife Nadine who were traveling through the southeastern US around Christmas and New Years and were in Savannah from January 4-8.

I think you will all enjoy this incredible photo essay that Ronald produced of Savannah:


Some of these images are just . . . WOW.

And yes that is my Cadillac you see toward the end. I spent the afternoon of Saturday 1/5 with Ronald and Nadine and we rode out to Tybee and climbed the 178 steps of the lighthouse. Too bad Ronald didn't include any views from the top of the lighthouse, including looking back down toward the Cadillac in the parking lot, a view suggesting the car is probably visible from space . . .

If you enjoy photography, you have to check out these photos (and turn up your volume, too). Frank is right -- some of them are WOW. This guy really has an eye. What I found so impressive is that a German photographer could capture so well that sense of Americana -- Savannah-style. (In the interest of full disclosure, Frank mentioned that a couple of the marina photos are from the Charleston area, not Savannah, and one or two near the end (of the train and the skyscraper) we think may be somewhere in Europe).

Sunday, January 06, 2008

NGU: Hard Work Truly Does Pay Off

(January 9th, 2008) Happy Birthday to Dave Matthews (41), from your biggest fan. I read something somewhere that said he stands 6'4". Can that be right? He never looks that tall onstage . . .

Anyway, on to the point of this blog entry.

NGU. My daughter wrote those letters for me on the back of my tank top when I ran (well, okay, let's be honest - ran and walked) the Disney Marathon back in 2004. For those who don't know what the acronym stands for, it's Never Give Up. It's true for running, but it's also true for writing. I have a little story to tell about one of my writing friends from Philly that proves the point.

I met Deb Kossmann back in 1999, shortly after I had moved to Philly and joined a writing group. Deb was another writer in our group. Fast forward to October 2007. I received an email from Deb in which she shared the good news that a humorous piece she'd submitted to a local memoir contest had won first place and would be published in Philly's City Paper. That news alone is enough to make a writer's day. No, her week. Her month. Her year.

But . . . it just so happened that one of the judges of the contest was the editor of the Modern Love column in the Style section of the New York Times. He loved the piece and wanted to publish a shorter version of it in the NYT. So she worked with him to edit it down, and the piece was published on October 28, 2007 (and she got paid for it, too!). Here's the link to Deb's article. It's hilarious and a great read.

Now, if getting published in the New York Times isn't a big enough feather in the cap, it gets even better. The very day it was published -- on a Sunday, no less -- she got a call from a literary agent who read the piece and was interested in representing her! After checking him out (with good results), she eventually signed on and now she's working on a book proposal.

Imagine that. She started with the sole intention of writing a piece to submit to a local contest, and next thing she knows, her piece is published in the NYT and she's got a contract with an agent.

Now, if you just heard this story without knowing anything else about Deb, you'd think -- lucky dog! But the point of this blog entry (in addition to linking everyone who reads this to her funny piece) is that all these good things didn't just fall into her lap. She's been writing for a long time -- at least as long as I've known her and, if I remember correctly, since she was very young (like most writers). And she's been submitting as long as I've known her, too. Sometimes getting acceptances and sometimes getting rejections. I haven't asked her outright, but I suspect, like most of us, she has received more rejections than acceptances. But she didn't give up. She didn't blame the publishing industry, she didn't blame editors, or agents, or anyone. She just kept writing because that's what writers do. They write. They work hard. And sometimes -- there's never any guarantee -- that hard work pays off. So KUDOS to you, Deb! You deserve it.

In that same vein, I'd like to include something my new friend Joseph Hayes (the Burry Man) wrote in his blog (thanks for the reprint permission, Joseph!):

There are five levels of writing, as there are in grief:

People who know the language (they can speak and read) think they can write;
People who think they are writers believe they will be discovered;
People who aren't discovered blame editors, publishers and readers;
People who realize that writing is hard discover whether they are actually writers;
People who actually are writers, write.

'Nuff said. Happy New Year! To the writers out there, keep writing!

TELL NO LIES to be published in Spain

A little update to my last post: I got the good news last month (I've just been derelict in my blogging) that the Spanish book club Circulo de Lectores (part of the Random House Mondadori group) has acquired rights to publish and translate Tell No Lies in Spain.

I had two years of Spanish many, many years ago, so maybe I'll be able to read and actually understand at least some of what I wrote. ;-)