Thursday, March 22, 2007


Since I'm shortly to embark on a trip to Dubai (which will include long plane rides, 3 days on the beach in Oman, and a stack of books), I thought I'd get the first 7 books for March out of the way.
HARDSCRABBLE ROAD by Jane Haddam: a Gregor Demarkian mystery. The retired FBI agent is struggling in his personal life and can't quite wrap his head around the oddities of his newest case--a missing homeless man who was accused by a radio personality of procuring drugs for him. Haddam's politics have moved into her books over the years, but they never overtake the story. Her plotting is superb, with corpses turning up where they shouldn't and surprise identifications of said corpses. Recommended series.
MISERY by Stephen King: I picked this up after watching the movie on TV one night. Paul is the popular writer of Misery Chastain, a 19th-century heroine who gets into one romantic scrape after another. Annie Wilkes is Paul's "Number One Fan." When Paul is seriously injured in a car accident in the Colorado mountains, Annie discovers him and takes him to her isolated farm. Crippled by the injuries to his legs, with no phone in the house, trapped with a woman he quickly realizes is insane, Paul must literally write for his life.
WATER LIKE A STONE by Deborah Crombie: Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series. When Duncan brings Gemma and their boys to spend Christmas with his family in Cheshire, he doesn't expect to walk straight into murder. But his sister, Juliet, has discovered the body of a baby, walled up inside an old barn. Juliet's marriage is falling apart, her daughter is increasingly secretive, and another body is found by Kincaid's son. I love this series, and I loved this entry with its mix of family troubles and outside violence. Crombie is brilliant at getting inside people's heads and I love that about her writing.
RED LEAVES/INTERROGATION by Thomas H. Cook: I'm a fan of Cook, who writes psychological standalone novels. RED LEAVES was on many award lists last year and I agree. When an 8-year-old girl goes missing from her home, her teenage babysitter is suspected. The boy is not easy to love, withdrawn and moody and unmotivated. But could he really have hurt a little girl? The story is told through the father's viewpoint, and he comes to see that not only does he not know his son but he doesn't know all the secrets of his own past. Not an easy read and not an easy ending, but beautiful and compelling and the last chapter is very satisfying. INTERROGATION I read immediately after and didn't like as much. A girl has been killed in the 1950s. A suspect has been arrested. But there's no evidence and they can only hold him twelve more hours. So the police give one more try in interrogating the suspect. The story is complex in spite of that simple set-up, but I found it too relentlessly sad for me. Somehow, even with its dark subject, RED LEAVES left me satisfied. INTERROGATION didn't.
DEATH COMES FOR THE FAT MAN by Reginald Hill: Andy Dalziel is the heart and soul of Mid-Yorkshire. When he's severely injured in a terrorist bombing, Peter Pascoe is on a mission to find out what happened and why. While Dalziel floats above his world in a coma, Pascoe puts himself in harm's way by joining up with the British anti-terrorist officers, one of whom may be the enemy. Behind the complicated cover of a new group of Knights Templar who believe in an eye for an eye (or a head for a head), lies the true mystery which is, of course, personal. An excellent addition to the series and one I'll have to read again soon to savor--I was too busy the first time wondering about the outcome for Dalziel.
PAPER WOMAN by Suzanne Adair: in 1780, Sophie Barton is tired of the continuing war. Courted by a British officer and weary of her life working her father's printing press, the twice-widowed Sophie longs for escape. When her father, a patriot, is killed, Sophie determines to find the killer. From Georgia to Florida to Cuba, from spies to assassins to Creek warriors to mysterious emeralds, the book is an interesting look at the south during the Revolutionary War. At times the setting and history overwhelm the story, and I'm still not sure I entirely understand the wrap-up of the plot.

Monday, March 12, 2007

It's official: I'm going to be published.

Before you all start jumping for the phone to congratulate me and/or ask me for money, let me clarify. It's not a big deal. It's not a book; it's not even fiction.

Last year, a friend in my online writing group posted a link to a contest called "Letters to My Mother". They were soliciting submissions for an anthology entitled the same to come out this year around Mother's Day. Last March for my birthmother's birthday, I wrote a letter telling her the reasons I was grateful she was my mother. With a bit of tweaking, I easily had a suitable submission.

While in Kenya last June, I received an email telling me I was a finalist and should know by the end of September if my entry would be published. Yes, that was indeed six months ago. Welcome to the first lesson of publishing--Patience is a Virtue.

In any case, I got the notification today that my letter will be in the anthology, which should be available shortly. As soon as I have purchasing information, I'll be sure to put up a link.

And I am getting paid for it, the first time I can say that about my writing. Of course, it's all of ten dollars. I figure I might throw caution to the wind and frame the check rather than cash it. Or, as a writer friend suggested, I can scan the check to frame, and then spend it. The best of both worlds!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

I'm in mourning.

Our computer died Monday.

It's not an irretrievable loss. I don't feel the need to throw myself on the burning pyre of its remains. My writing still exists, nicely backed up on my laptop. But there are some losses.

The one I'm noticing most at the moment? The loss of my favorites list online. My laptop had a few of my favorite sites, but most everything I've saved for research purposes over the years was on the other computer. Medical sites on neurosyphillis. Medieval Welsh castles. Common poisons. Tudor battles. History of the Welsh longbow. English/Welsh dictionary. Victorian women's education. History of the British police force, including the number of officers in any London station in 1900. WWI trench poetry. Agents and publishers.

Of course I can find them again. I hope. But it doesn't feel the same. I spent hours on that old computer researching those sites. I loved them, and I loved what they represented about my writing. (If my husband ever dies suddenly from monkshood poisoning, I might have a hard time explaining it away.) My favorites list is a peek into my psyche. Maybe not a pretty one, but revealing.

Now I start over.

Monday, March 05, 2007


THE THIRTEENTH TALE by Diane Setterfield: Vida Winter is a famous novelist whose life is coming to an end. Margaret Lea is the woman chosen to write Winter's biography. Not an easy task, given that Winter has spent her life making up backgrounds for herself as easily as she made up her stories. A tribute to the best gothic novels, in the tradition of Bronte and du Maurier, this book is a wonderful story of twins, haunted houses, mysterious deaths, mistaken identities, and the power of literature. I didn't see the resolution coming, but it was perfect and supported by everything that came before. I loved, loved, loved this story.

I LOVE EVERYBODY AND OTHER ATROCIOUS LIES/THE IDIOT GIRLS' ACTION-ADVENTURE CLUB by Laurie Notaro: two books of humorous essays about one woman's life. I needed easy reading that would make me laugh, and these books did it. My favorite essay has to be about Jerry, the homeless man who shows up to do yard work for her without tools. His method of bringing down a dead orange tree is to throw himself bodily upon the tree and rip off branches with his bare hands and then kick them when they're down. Her writing is funny and her take on life suits my own skewed sense of humor.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Bronte: book club choice. Heathcliff, Cathy, and the Yorkshire moors--I fell in love with this book when I was a teenager and I was glad to see how well it held up for me twenty years later. Though there aren't many likeable characters in this book, the power of the writing and the imagery and the story itself is unique in Victorian novels. Someone said it was poetry masquerading as prose and I agree. Emily Bronte wrote a beautiful book that captures a time and place and people like few writers ever have.

APRIL FOOL'S DAY by Bryce Courtenay: by the writer of THE POWER OF ONE and TANDIA, this is a non-fiction account of his son Damon's life and death. Damon was born with haemophilia and at the age of 17 was infected with HIV from a transfusion. He died of AIDS at 23, on April Fool's Day. Not an easy book to read. I'm glad I did, for it helped me understand things I will never experience, like the constant and increasing pain of a haemophiliac, the crippling of joints as they grow older, and then the terror of a new disease which brings not only physical ruin but social ostracism. The saddest part of the book was when Damon was in the HIV ward in hospital and the boy in the room next to him died all alone because his family wouldn't come see him. My compassion increased in reading this book.

MY COUSIN RACHEL by Daphne du Maurier: I read this so long ago that I couldn't remember the story. I love du Maurier and this is a classic: a young man whose cousin and guardian falls in love in Italy, marries, and then dies after sending several letters that more or less accuse his wife, Rachel, of killing him. Phillip is determined to hate Rachel, but that doesn't last long when she actually shows up in England. At first bewildered, then fascinated, by Rachel, Phillip ends up in love and showering her with gifts. Is it the money Rachel wants? Why has she come to England? And what really happened to her husband? You'll have to read to find out.