New Year

The end of the year is right there ahead of us. How the heck did that happen? November, for me, was so packed with events, responsibilities and activities (some fun, some not at all) that I made it up mind to take it a single day at a time. And at the same time, I was trying to get ahead on various tasks so if anything happened to throw the schedule off….and something would…In other words, the month flew by.

And then it was December. New book, Brooklyn Secrets, launched Dec 1! Hanuka ( 2 1/2 year old granddaughter lighting candles and tearing into the wrapping paper was a sight to remember) lights

Block association cookie swap (What was I thinking? Really???) Neighborhood parties with elegant food, and one more still to go. (Baking to bring something to said parties.) tips-how-to-make-holiday-christmas-cookies_608

And I look up and here we are, December 29 as I write this. How did that ever happen?

So best wishes to all the other Women of Mystery and every reader, for great reading, great writing, great health in 2016. And if it isn’t hoping for too much,more light, more sanity, more kindness in our weary old world.

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On the (Guest Blog) Road Again

It’s almost here. In less than a month, my new book, Brooklyn Secrets, will be out in the world. I am appropriately excited and nervous. It was a harder book to write than I expected and while I hope I succeeded, who knows? Brooklyn Secrets Cover

So I am sidetracking anxiety by immersing myself in publicity activities. We are supposed to do that anyway, so it serves two purposes. Here’s what I am up to over the next month plus.

Guest Blogging dates for now. I’d be happy to do more. I have topics for some as I write this somewhat in advance.

11/5 Jungle Reds. Stretching as a Writer (see above)
11/17 Crime Writers Chronicle
11/30 Bookbrowsing (PJ Nunn)
12/2 Auntie M
12/7 Lori Rader-Day (Lori asks the questions)
12/8 CnC Books Blog
12/10 Wicked Cozy Are my Books Cozies?
12/TBA Dru’s Book Musing Day in the Life

Will I run out of things to say? Not at all likely. I am a talkative person, in real life or on paper (using “paper” loosely!) Will I run out of things worth saying? Hmmm

There are also a few events:

Launch (!!!)

December 3. At New York’s well-known Mysterious Bookshop, at 6:30. 298327_268242919874769_957023598_n

Naturally you are all invited. There will be interesting talk. Friendly folks. And cookies that look like the book cover! Somewhat like this: rec logo big

Brooklyn Public Library

I have finally succeeded in making the right contacts there. (There are disadvantages in living in a city with a writer on every street corner. Librarians and bookstores are not necessarily excited about one being a “local” author). However:

Dec 8 I will be a guest at the Brooklyn Collection, part of their monthly programs on Brooklyn history, which is exciting and appropriate.

TBA later: I am hoping to connect also with the historic Stone Avenue branch of the library, the setting of some crucial scenes in Brooklyn Secrets. stone02_bc

Gettysburg

I went to Gettysburg this weekend. It was a pilgrimage of sorts, but not in the usual way. No ancestor of mine fought there; they were all still in the Russian Empire, trying to survive life under the tsars. I am not a re-enactor, nor do I want to be. I am not a Civil War specialist in any way. So here is an explanation. As often the case with me, it involves a book.

Anyone who knows me, or has read one of my own books, or has even read a review of one of my books, will know that I am interested in history. However, military history would be not be included in that. I am very interested in how wartime affects people’s lives, but battles themselves? Not so much. I can’t seem to grasp the logistics of it all and the troop names all sound the same to me.

Then I read Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, which is about the Battle of Gettysburg. Officially considered a novel, in fact almost of the characters are historical figures and almost all their thoughts and dialogue is taken from their own diaries and letters. It seemed to me an astonishing success at breathing life into old bones, and I was so impressed I immediately wrote my brother. He is well-known historian and one of his specialties is the Civil War. I said Killer Angels was probably not scholarly enough for his interests, but had he ever read it? And how stunned I was by it. And he wrote back that not only had he read it, he had assigned it in his introduction to the Civil War classes. shaara

Ever since, I have wanted to go to Gettysburg. It is about a three-hour drive from where we live, a convenient weekend trip. I am here to say it was definitely worth it. We lucked out and it was beautiful fall weather in rural Pennsylvania. Iron Brigade, McPherson's Woods, Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

What I had never grasped, or even imagined, is that it is not a “battlefield.” The battle lasted three days and moved all over the terrain including the town.Pierce12220810 You can’t walk it in a day and most people either drive on a self-guided tour, bike (!), take a bus tour or hire a guide who will drive and explain and be available for questions.

The fields are full of monuments to the various regiments who fought there. It is a little weird, and at the same time, touching as it illustrates the grief after the battle. Gettysburg_National_Military_Park_60

One of the most unusual I saw was a tepee with an Indian, in memory of the fallen of 42nd New York, nicknamed the Tammany regiment and place by Tammany Hall. Yes, it’s a portrait of Chief Tammany, for whom the society was named.42NY-4c (If you click on the photo, it enlarges to a more interesting picture).

There is a visitors’ center with a museum, an excellent introductory film and a cyclorama of the battle. That is, as I learned there, a gigantic circular painting of the battle. The audience stands in the middle and a sound and light show duplicates the battle field experience. I think you have to be there to get the cyclorama!

All in all, the history geek in my family ( me) was glad we went, and even the non-history geek ( my husband) admitted that it was an interesting day. If you have any interest, I recommend the trip and would be happy to share information. I’d suggest making it two days…and avoid parent’s Weekend at Gettysburg College!

One final thought. Mystery writers are strange people. Because when we arrived and I saw the sign stating the park is closed between 7 PM and 8 AM, I immediately thought”What if…? What if some teenagers sneak in, on a dare? And find something? Or someone finds them? Or there are ghosts? If any place is haunted, this place is. Or…?” Put up your hand if you have had similar moments! :-)

Bookseller’s Convention

I had an interesting experience recently which is worth sharing, so here is my report:

In June, someone at my publisher sent a list of the fall regional trade shows to authors with a new book out or ARC available for one coming soon. Would we like to participate in a show, sitting at the Ingram booth? Turned out there was one in October in New Jersey, reasonable driving distance, so I said yes. I didn’t know what to expect, but why not? ingram2

It was in a large hotel in Somerset (a Doubletree), with restaurants, meeting rooms for the booksellers and an exhibit hall. That looked quite familiar to anyone who has been to Malice or Bouchercon, only this time it was the booksellers doing the browsing. The exhibitors were the publishers and wholesalers introducing new fall books. My badge was waiting for me, there was a big stack of ARC’s for Brooklyn Secrets and the friendly Ingram rep encouraged me to talk to anyone who walked by and not to wait for them to come to me. I said “Do you want a book?” About 98% of them did! They wanted them signed, they wanted to know about the series, they were happy to have eye-catching post cards about the other books, they were not put off by ARCS. (They are booksellers; of course they weren’t.) books We chatted about where they were from, I met someone whose boss I had recently interviewed for an MWA/NY project, I met someone from the bookstore nearest my home, I met someone from a bookstore in a Delaware beach town who invited me to come do a program at her store!

In other words, I was out making friends for my books. Many ARCS were given out and now many booksellers know me and my books and perhaps will remember when it comes time to order stock and make recommendations to customers. It was easy and it was fun. Unless you really, really hate talking to strangers, I definitely recommend saying yes if have the opportunity.

(PS – these are not photos of the actual event. I need to get better at remembering to do that.)

Memory, That Trickster

I’ve been thinking about memory lately, and how well or badly it serves us. My own memory is not as useful as it once was, that’s for sure. I always made lists and posted memos to myself. Now I have to remember to look at the lists! And my once enormous fund of completely useless factoids is slipping away.

But here, I am thinking about something more complicated, the twists our memories can take.

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This began with a long-running disagreement between two people I know well. As they both talked to me, I observed that they kept going back to certain sore points. OK. But they kept forgetting any details that did not support their emotional story line. It seems our memories, like our computers, can’t hold unlimited data. We unconsciously select what we can use, or what interests us, or even just what stuck at a moment when the memory card had some available space. mem1

Some more examples:

– a relative was collecting some family history. Having my dad and one of his sisters in the same room, she interviewed them about their mother’s background. And not one thing they thought they knew was the same! Her father had died in Russia when she was young and the only detail they agreed on was which relative brought her to the US. That was because they had both known him. It was very funny.

– the time I finally owned up, as an adult, to being scared of dogs as a child. My sister said, “That’s because of the time a dog grabbed your mitten with his teeth and dragged you.” It all came back to me instantly, but I had completely forgotten it until then.

– all the times my grown children mention a childhood memory and are shocked that I don’t share it. And all the times I remember pieces of their childhood they have forgotten. We were in the same moment, but experiencing it differently

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– and my favorite – the people who insist the Good Old Days of their youth were better times than now. That time is otherwise known as the Great Depression and World War II. Depression1

This isn’t merely idle musing for mystery writers. The witness who is sure he saw the dead man threaten a cop before the cop started shooting. Or was it the other way around? The classic instance in the classic Twelve Angry Men, where it finally becomes clear that a witness could not have seen what she testified to. (No spoiler but if you’ve never see the movie, go rent it ASAP.)

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Then there is the witness who is sure she would recognize her attacker, until DNA proves otherwise. The suddenly retrieved memory of a long-ago crime. The child who remembers abuse and the parent who denies it ever happened. The child who saw something but did not understand it and reports what he saw with his child’s interpretation.

There is a plot twist in every sentence, isn’t there?

Vacation Reading

In late July I wrote about the books I had saved up to read on a family vacation in Vermont vermont

and I promised reviews when I returned. I also wrote:

“But I think that lovely 2-year old might keep me more distracted than usual.”

Very much the case. ☺ I only read two of my five books, certainly a low for me on vacation. However, they were two extremely good ones. Here is my report.

The Whites by Harry Brandt. whitesThat is a pen name for highly regarded New York novelist Richard Price (Lush Life, Clockers). He is a stunningly excellent writer, whoever he says he is. The title does not refer to race but literature. Every member of a group of cops,old friends, has a case they call “the white”, the big one they can’t forget, the horrible crime they couldn’t quite pin on the person they knew was guilty. The white whale of their career. When one of those suspects turns up murdered, bleeding out at Penn Station, it looks like justice has finally caught up with him. Maybe. And maybe it is something else. crime

The story revolves around Billy, the only one still working as a cop, who has pieced together a real life. Never mind that he works nights; that his father, who lives with him, is deteriorating from dementia; that his hard-working wife suffers from bouts of depression, carrying something inside she can’t even talk about. And then an unknown someone starts to threaten his family in mysterious ways for some unknown reason.

It’s a dark story, with all the characters carrying darkness within as they deal with the darkness outside. There are only a few faint beams of light. Did I believe all of it? Or even most of it? Afterwards, perhaps not. While I was reading, it seemed as real as real life. That is the power of the writing.

A note: this is a complicated story with a lot of characters, so pay sharp attention at the beginning.

I like Ann Cleeves books a lot and have been looking forward to jumping into her most recent Shetland mystery, Thin Air. cover thin

It did not disappoint. I usually enjoy the remote, strange and beautiful setting, and must confess that though I have never been there, I have been to the Orkneys. They are almost as remote, mapshetland and I have fun picturing it all. Cleeves often weaves in old customs and old legends, without overdoing it, adding an lovely extra dimension to the story.

A group of friends have come up from London for a traditional “hamefarin”, a party to introduce a new bride to the Shetland-dwelling family and friends. And one of the women disappears. Just like that, into thin air. Of course it is not “just like that” and it becomes a job for Detective Jimmy Perez, the series protagonist and Shetland native,plus some investigators from the bigger world. It is “simmer dim”, the mysterious days of the long summer twilight. simmer Anything can happen, it seems, even the repeated appearance of the ghost of a long-ago drowned little girl. Jimmy’s job is to see through the mists and uncover the real story. shetland

It’s wonderful twisty, traditional mystery with a very rich background. I thought I’d guessed the crucial fact early on, a possible connection between characters, well-buried in the story. Nope. I could not have been more wrong. The solution was a surprise, but the kind where you say, “Ah. Now it make sense.” Who doesn’t recognize that as classic mystery writing?

Media news: PBS is running a series based on Cleeves Shetland books, and the ones I’ve seen are excellent, with actors familiar from other BBC productions and great scenery. And rumor has it that there is a movie deal for The Whites.

In case there are any doubts – ☺ – I am strongly recommending both books.

Vacation Reading

We are off on vacation next week. We have rented a house in Vermont and will be joined by both grown daughters, both sons-in-law and a 2 year old granddaughter. We have not had a family vacation since there were no sons-in-law, so this will be interesting.(Actually we are very excited) Due to being sick for the last two weeks – and having those weeks be ones full of family, social and various other plans -I am behind on every single thing. Packing, grocery shopping, writing, business matters.

Fortunately, I have a stack of unread books on my bedside table, so I am set for vacation reading. As we are traveling by car, I can just throw them in a shopping bag and throw the bag in the trunk. Here’s what’s is going:

Thin Air by Ann Cleeves. A new book by a writer I greatly admire. thinairCan’t wait to start this one
The Last Taxi Ride by A.X. Ahmad (and) Chinatown Beat by Henry Chang. Writers new to me who spoke at a recent MWA/NY meeting. Very intriguing 51xNRMb9sML._AA160_51MRYnVXb2L._AA160_

The Whites by Harry Brandt, who is really Richard Price. Great reviews, solid beginning and I keep getting sidetracked.That is what a long car trip is for.whites

Run You Down by Julia Dahl, 2nd in a new series set in (ta-da) Brooklyn in the secretive ultra-Ortodox Jewish community. The first was a terrific debut and I have met Julia a few times at NY mystery events, so I am interested to see what’s next. 51NMpktG8xL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

Normally that would not be enough – I like a lot insurance on having what I want to read – so I will probably throw in a few more. But I think that lovely 2-year old might keep me more distracted than usual. :-)

Book reports next month.

Fireworks

fireworks

With July coming up in a few days – where did June go? – here is a link to my July 4, 2014 piece at Poisoned Pen Press, my publisher. My regular date there is the 4th of the month, so the holiday is mine if I want it. Also, “birthday thoughts” if I have any, as mine is on May 4.

Slightly in advance, have a happy and safe holiday!

http://www.poisonedpenpress.com/fireworks/

Jury Duty Part 2

Jury duty is: 1. A civic responsibility 2. A time-sucking inconvenience 3. Excellent experience for a mystery writer 4. Tedious 5. Inspiring

Pick one? The correct answer is: All of the above. I’ve just finished being on a trial, my third. It did take six days out of my life.

While waiting in the jury pool, you may read, check mail, do a crossword puzzle.
jurorsroom

However, once selected for a jury, you must pay attention. It can be tedious. (“Stop with the objections already!”) Or interesting. (“That witness keeps changing his mind. Lies or nerves?”) Every time the jury left the box, there was a long list of the same instructions read. (“Ok, we got it the first – second, third – time.”)

The last part, deliberation, is always interesting for the interaction among the jurors, the way people work things out, who is surprising and who surprises himself.

In three trials, one each for homicide, dental malpractice and criminal misdemeanors, no one on any jury has done less than their best to understand the case and apply the law fairly. In short, the system worked. Seeing that in action is actually quite inspiring.

So here are a few random observations:

The first trial was the homicide. The accused owned up to the shooting, possibly because there was an entirely credible witness. The question was whether or not it was self defense. There were a number of possible verdicts and we deliberated for about three days. At least two people reversed themselves as we talked. One was less sure of his original, open-and-shut assumptions and one did the opposite, becoming less sympathetic to the accused.

The first thing that was said when we finally began deliberation: “The only thing I am sure about is that if I am ever in trouble, I want the defense counsel for my lawyer!” We all agreed immediately on that. He was that good.

The second trial was dental malpractice. It would be beyond my powers to describe how boring two days of dental charts are! dental

We learned that in a civil trial,if there is doubt, we were required to find for the defendant, and we did.The plaintiff’s lawyer had not proven his case.

In this most recent trial? Simplifying it, the accused, who had not actually done anything, was frightened when some men approached her and she ran to her car. Turned out they were plainclothes cops, they pursued, they jumped on her car and she kept driving for a brief time. They were hurt, a little, and that is where the charges came from. Was it deliberate? Had they properly identified themselves or not? She said she did not know they were cops and had some reason to believe she had been set up. She is a tough young woman – a boxer! – but had never been in any trouble with the law. On the very first round, five of the six of us voted to acquit, which speaks strongly to which witnesses were convincing.12-Angry-Men-Images

Small observations:

1. In my previous blog on jury duty, I included this impressive photo of a courtroom, pristine and dignified.
courtroom1

Ah, not exactly. The room was quite cluttered and cramped in real life. There is a table for each side, often covered with papers and files. The is a court reporter with a special stand, chair and bulky equipment. On the side there is a another desk for the court officers, also piled with papers and files.

2. Every court officer I have encountered, in all three trials, seemed to be friendly, funny, helpful, at least in dealing with the jury. Are they hired for that personality? Are they trained that way? And who would have expected that, in busy Brooklyn courthouses?

3. First time for me, the judge in this recent case was a woman, perhaps 40, very gracious and pleasant.

judge (this is a stock photo)

4. Completely unimportant but: I have space age metal in both legs. I have never set off an airport metal detector, but I did it every single time I walked into the court building! By the end of the week, I was taking regular kidding from the officers. court

Feel free to ask me questions, here or offline.