Sunday, June 27, 2010

Live Bodies in the Room

Last week I attended an author event at my local independent bookstore that drew over 100 people and because I'm involved in one scheduled there this week, I really hope all those readers don't stay home to finish his book.

RiverRun Bookstore has been predicting Justin Cronin will soon be a household name for "The Passage" -- as big of a name as Stephen King and Dan Brown, which helped draw a crowd that, ironically, included one of King's sons. While I wish Justin Cronin every success, I'm wondering what's going to happen for the writers that follow him on the schedule of over 150 events the bookstore hosts each year.

I'm certain Hank Phillippi Ryan, Sheila Connolly, Susan Oleksiw, Steve Liskow and I will have a great time discussing "Beach Reads" recommendations with those who do come out Tuesday night (June 29). For a mystery author, having live bodies in a room -- even if they don't buy books -- is a wonderful thing. The event also will be "livestreamed" so anyone with a computer and Internet access can watch from anywhere in the world via beginning at 7 p.m. -- and submit questions via Twitter.

But an author's fear of a small crowd, or no one at all, showing up is not unwarranted. Athough I love attending book events (click here to see a previous post on the topic), even best-selling, multi-published authors can find themselves sitting alone a table waiting for someone -- anyone at all -- to ask for their autograph or about their book.

Click on the video below for Parnell Hall's humorous take on this topic and see if you can spot me in the line -- to meet Mary Higgins Clark.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

"Mr. Monk" and me....

I am such a fan of the television show/crime-solving character "Monk" that I even have a "Monk" bobblehead doll at my workplace.

Adrian Monk, if you're not familiar with the series that ran for eight seasons on the USA Network and whose finale in December was the most-watched basic cable original drama series telecast of all time, was a brilliant -- but obsessive-compulsive -- and damaged ex-detective often called in by the San Francisco Police Department to help solve criminal cases.

As a mystery writer, I loved the many quirks of the character and admired his investigative skills. The dialogue and plots were always smart and witty, and the actor who portrayed Monk -- Tony Shalhoub -- could say more with a raised eyebrow or a single look than most people can communicate in an hour of talking.

"Monk" will probably live on forever in reruns on the USA cable network and also on the written page as he's the subject of at least 10 "Mr. Monk" spinoff novels by screenwriter, producer and author Lee Goldberg. But for me, "Monk" will always be synonymous with Shalhoub, who won four straight Emmys for the role. (He also may be familiar to some as Italian cabdriver Antonio Scarpacci in the long-running sitcom "Wings.")

It's no secret that one of my hobbies is "meeting" celebrities -- it sounds less dangerous than "stalking" (see this previous blog post for my celebrity encounters) -- and my fun goals last year were to meet the mystery author Dennis Lehane (and see a moose). But I never thought I'd get the opportunity to meet Tony Shalhoub, although in a six-degrees-of-separation kind of thing, he's been friends with one of my co-workers since their Wisconsin school days. However, he has yet to visit her at our New Hampshire place of employment and she can visit his bobbing head doll in my office any time.

So I was thrilled to learn he was starring on Broadway in "Lend Me a Tenor" at the same time our children in exile in D.C. agreed to meet their lonely parents halfway -- in New York City. We laughed our way through Tony's performance and those of the rest of fabulous cast, including Anthony LaPaglia (TV show "Without a Trace"), Justin Bartha ("The Hangover" and "National Treasure" 1 & 2) and Tony's real-life wife, Brooke Adams ("Days of Heaven").

At the end of the play, I positioned myself outside the stage door and handed the camera to No. 2 son. Tony was the last of the actors to exit the theater and graciously sign autographs. When I told him about my Monk bobblehead, he said, "I'm embarrassed," which I thought was a sweet reaction for someone who probably thought he'd encountered a crazed fan. He graciously posed for the photo above after I mentioned my co-worker, but jokingly said he would only do so if I could get her to go see the show, too.

Tony Shalhoub is much more handsome than his Monk bobblehead, by the way -- but not nearly as good-looking as these guys. And they were willing to pose for a New York City photo with me without setting any conditions!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The First Five Lines

When you open a new book, what makes you continue reading it?

Where do you make your decision that the book is worth the investment of your time --first line, first five lines, first page, first chapter? Do you keep going until you reach the end, no matter what? Or will you stop reading when you become bored, confused, disgusted, etc.?

These are important questions to book publishers, literary agents, bookstores and, of course, to authors so that you'll keep reading -- and buying -- books.

I recently entered a blog contest judged by author Sophie Littlefield on the basis of a manuscript's first five lines. It's fascinating how much you can learn about a book -- or what piques your interest -- from five sentences.

Want to see what I mean? Look at the first five sentences of works by the
Sisters in Crime New England members who'll join me to discuss "Beach Read" recommendations at a July 29 event at RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth --and see if you can match them with these mystery titles:

"Drive Time" (Hank Phillippi Ryan)
"Red Delicious Death" (Sheila Connolly)
"Under the Eye of Kali" (Susan Oleksiw)
"Who Wrote the Book of Death?" (Steve Liskow)
"Murder Most Municipal" (Pat Remick)

A."They're all dead."

"What?" Meg Corey dragged her gaze from the orderly row of apple trees that marched over the hill. Almost all were past bloom now, and some of them had what even a novice farmer like Meg could identify as apples. Small, maybe, but it was a start. She turned her attention to Carl Frederickson, her beekeeper.

B. I can't wait to tell our secret. And I'll get to do it if we're not all killed first.

We're 10 minutes away from Channel 3 when suddenly the Boston skyline disappears. Murky slush spatters across our windshield, kicked up from the tires of the rattletrap big rig that just swerved in fron tof us on the now slick highway. Eighteen wheels of obstacle, stubbornly obeying the Massachusetts turnpike speed limit.

C. KC Dunham pointed toward the large erasable white board announcing the Question of the Day in precise black lettering: “Who invented peanut butter? Winner gets a free muffin.”

“The Incas, although most people think it was George Washington Carver,” she said without hesitation. “You can keep the muffin.”

The woman holding a steaming pot of coffee behind the cracked Formica counter laughed.
“I was beginning to think I'd never find anyone in this town who appreciates the long and glorious history of my favorite food, after chocolate that is, though they're damn fine together too."

D. No way in Hell her real name is Taliesyn Holroyd.

Everything else about her strikes Greg Nines as unreal, too, from her energy level—which could eclipse a heavy metal band even if she were unplugged—to her clothes, Sex And The City meets Pirates of The Caribbean.

“I need to do this,” Taliesyn—“call me ‘Tally’”—says. Her stiletto boots make her Nines’s six-one. He’s offered her a chair twice, but she keeps pacing, her strut turning her calf-length leather skirt into a major event.

E. Guests from various foreign countries began filling up the Hotel Delite dining room, taking every seat at the main table--this was a small hotel,only eight rooms, with the owner's, Meena Nayar's, suite on the top floor, and that of her niece, Anita Ray, above a separate garage.

Tired after being woken in the middle of the night by festival drumming from a narby temple, Anita sat at a small table along the wall and only half-listened to the guests placing their orders and asking the usual questions. "What is this?" "What does it taste like?"

To see the answers, click here: How did you do? To learn more about the authors, visit:

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Technology is NOT my friend

I gave Husband No. 1 a nifty iPod Nano for his birthday, the first iPod to be owned by the older folks in our house, but he almost didn't get to enjoy it because we couldn't figure out how to open the package.

I kid you not. For 20 minutes, we passed this tiny plastic box back and forth, trying to see where the opening might be so we could remove the device without breaking it. Then we considered whether to revert to our first line of defense when stymied by modern technology -- telephone one of our children. But since it was only 8 a.m. and No. 2 son, the D.C. college boy, had probably just gone to bed and No. 1 son, the D.C. cop, was likely drifting off to sleep after his overnight shift, we decided the only morning that should be spoiled was ours.

Finally, my finger felt the piece of plastic that would lift away our cares -- and the package was open. Later, I learned there are YouTube videos online to show you how to accomplish this task. It's comforting to know there are other technology-challenged folks out there.

But now that the package is open, what's next? The tiny thing is supposed to record up to 5 hours of video. Isn't that amazing? But apparently you need to do more than admire it to get it to work. I'm wondering if by the time No. 1 Husband figures out how to use it, it will be as obsolete as we are.

We did learn recently from No. 1 son that you don't have to actually know how to operate an IPod or have it turned on to be in the IPod zone. He says he sometimes puts the earphones on -- but doesn't turn on the IPod itself -- just so people won't bother him. Hopefully someday we'll figure out how to at least do that.

I'd like to note here that we are not Luddites and we often DO like technology. We spend far too many hours on the computer (scheduling a computer-free day last weekend almost sent us to the hospital in withdrawal) and we even own cell phones (though we probably use only about .00005% of the functions).

There's no doubt that technology can overwhelm us. When our kids gave us a DVD player one Christmas, No. 2 son was still in high school and living at home. Any time we wanted to use the DVD player, we'd simply yell up the stairs "Can you come turn on the movie for us?" No. 2 son's graduation gift to us was an all-in-one remote for idiots.

Just last week, I entered the kitchen to see Husband No. 1 shouting "hello, hello, hello" into my cell phone as it was charging in the kitchen. He thought the sound of a text message arriving was the phone ringing.

I could go on, but No. 1 son's Mothers Day gift to me was a new camera, purchased in frustration over too many years of the zoom lens on my ancient Olympus malfunctioning just as a photo was to be taken. Since my niece's high school graduation is today, I need to review the "manual."

I use the term loosely. I'm not sure there are paper manuals anymore. The one for my new camera is on a CD. And it's supposed to tell me what all the odd symbols are on the outside of my camera (also tiny at 3.5 by 2 inches) and on the screen. (Why would T be a symbol for zoom out and W for zoom in? I know it was made by the Japanese, but isn't technology supposed to be intuitive?)

I just inserted the "manual" into my computer and pulled up the index. The "manual" is 196 pages long! If I were to print it out, it would weigh 10 times more than the camera. And how in the heck am I supposed to remember 196 pages of information connected to symbols that make no sense -- especially at my age?

Good thing we have the kids' phone numbers on speed dial (which they set up). Now if I could only figure out the technology that would make them answer....