Sunday, September 30, 2012


Back in 2009, when I was about halfway through writing the third Poke Rafferty book, Breathing Water, I began to hear a voice in my ear.

It had an attitude and a tone that definitely didn't belong in a somewhat grim Bangkok thriller.  What it sounded like was  the San Fernando Valley.  What it really sounded like was a crook.

I ignored it for a few weeks, but it kept coming back.  It was especially vociferous at night, when I was trying to go to sleep, and in the shower, which is where I usually go for ideas on the book I'm writing.  (When I'm having a hard time, I'm so clean I squeak.)  It wouldn't quit.

So I put Breathing Water aside for a few days and listened to it. And it told me a short story about a crook and a hamster. Someone said there was a story competition I could enter if I wrote something about Australia, so I changed the hamster into a koala bear and called the story "Koala Mode."  My agent didn't like the story (he was right) so I didn't enter the contest, but the experience introduced me to a character named Louie the Lost.

In the story, Louie, a former getaway driver who changed his career got his nickname when he made a wrong turn in Compton following a diamond heist, buys the koala bear from a fence named Stinky Tetweiler (his family invented the perfume strip).  Louie falls in love with the little bear because it is, as he says, so ootsa-pootsa cute, but somebody steals it.  In his eagerness to get his pet back, Louie turns to someone I hadn't seen coming, Junior Bender.  Junior, I learned as I wrote, was a burglar who worked as a private eye for crooks.

When I finished Breathing Water, I sat down, flexed my fingers, drew a deep breath, and wrote an opening sentence: "If I'd liked expressionism, I might have been okay."  Six weeks later I had  a book called Crashed, narrated by Junior, with Louie and Stinky in supporting roles. The koala didn't make the cut.  It was the fastest I ever wrote a book, if we don't count the 72-hour pulp novels I knocked out in the seventies betwen Friday morning and very early in the morning of the Monday they were due, guided out of the ether by red wine, cigarettes, panic, and amphetamines.  Not only had I written Crashed in record (sober) time, but I'd laughed myself senseless doing it

So I went to work on The Queen of Patpong and, from time to time, made notes about a story that would become the second Junior book, Little Elvises.  In the meantime, Crashed was turned down by my publisher of the moment, HarperCollins, to whom I was under exclusive contract, so it seemed Junior would never be published.

HarperCollins let go of me after Queen, and by then I'd put Crashed up as an ebook.  When I finished Little Elvises, it also went up as an ebook. In the meantime, the amazingly cool people at Soho gave Poke a new home.  Immediately after I wrote the fifth Poke book, The Fear Artist, for them, I spent an absolutely wonderful seven weeks writing a third Junior, The Fame Thief, and I prepared it for ebook publication, too.

But in the darkness, fate moved its heavy hand.  My agent, Bob Mecoy, sent The Fame Thief to Juliet Grames, the head editor at Soho, and to my film agent, Steve Fisher.  Within about a week we had an offer from Soho for the entire series in hardcover/paperback and another offer from Blackstone, for audio.  And then Steve called to say that two production entities, Lionsgate and another biggie which I won't name, were both bidding for film and TV rights.  Lionsgate won.

The deal got written up in the book trades and in Variety as a "trifecta."  My little ebooks were suddenly a "multimedia platform," whatever that means.

Whether there will ever actually be a film version is in the laps of Lionsgate, but the hardcovers and the audio will make their appearance beginning November 13 with the publication of Crashed.  Then an extremely accelerated publication schedule will see Little Elvises coming out on January 29 and The Fame Thief on June 4, by which time I think I'm supposed to have written the fourth, which is tentatively titled King Maybe.

And there are these three great Soho covers, which look to me like hard candies that might have a mildly poisonous center.

So life is good, this week.  And next week is Bouchercon.

-- Tim, Sundays

Saturday, September 29, 2012

An Exchange of Values

Next week is Bouchercon—a terrific mystery convention that will be hosted by the grand city of Cleveland aka The Rock ‘n’ Roll Capital of the World. 

Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
I know Cleveland well, for I grew up in Pittsburgh rooting for its Steelers against Cleveland’s “despised” Browns.  I didn’t know better then, but in later years when I returned as a lawyer representing companies based in Moses Cleaveland’s namesake city, I felt their pain when the football team’s owner, the late Art Modell, made The Move in 1996 which took the beloved Brownie players and staff to Poe-ville (a teaser for mystery fans), leaving behind empty uniforms, a legendary football team name, and disheartened fans.  But unknowingly, Modell had forever united Cleveland and Pittsburgh fans in one great common cause: to root against Modell’s new team, the [add modifier of your choice] Baltimore Ravens.

But football is not what this is about. And since next week will be a lighter topic for sure, I want to get something serious off my chest. 
Two brief newspaper articles from very different parts of the world caught my eye this week. To me they demonstrated a decidedly different effort at exporting values.  Perhaps that’s a somewhat overblown observation, but hey, it’s my keyboard.
One, from the September 24th issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (by Eric Schwartzel), was titled “Reed Smith Announces Alliance With Greek Firm.”  Reed Smith started out as a local Pittsburgh law firm but is now a major player on the international stage. The firm obviously sees opportunity in Greece’s economic turmoil, and plans to work with its new Greek colleagues on projects and transactions expected to come out of the country’s crumbling economic situation—assuming contemplated sweeping reforms to the country's business and government structures actually occur. 
It should be an interesting education for all concerned, not the least of which for Greeks unaccustomed to paying legal fees on the order charged by US firms.  This effort to introduce such sophisticated legal resources to the Greek business community is something not often seen before. I applaud the effort and wish it well.
The second article appeared on September 22nd in Kathimerini, Athens’ newspaper of record, and caught my eye with the headline “Golden Dawn sets up in NYC.”   According to Kathimerini, it’s part of a general drive by Golden Dawn to “promote its ideas” to Greeks abroad and “The party’s NYC website calls on diaspora Greeks to donate food, clothing and medicine to the party’s charity drives, which are limited to Greeks only. The first collection of aid from the New York branch has already reached Greece and was recently distributed in Aspropyrgos, western Athens, party officials told Kathimerini. A similar drive took place in Melbourne and Montreal, they said.”
For those of you unfamiliar with Golden Dawn, I’ve written about it twice before here (Greece Cannot Allow That to Happen and I Will Not Be Silent), and I undoubtedly will again.  Golden Dawn is the neo-fascist Greek political party Chrysi Avgi, that publically glorifies Nazism in its logo, team colors, salute, and hailing of Nazi leaders of the Third Reich in its publications. 
Golden Dawn in Greek Parliament
It also received 7% of the popular vote in Greece’s last parliamentary last election giving it 18 of 300 seats in Parliament and is said in some polls to now rank third among Greece’s political parties were a new election held today.  As Greece is now run by a coalition of three parties sparring with each other over what may or may not lead to financial Armageddon for the country…do the math and shiver.
I’m not sure Greece’s political leaders (for the moment) get it. Golden Dawn is for real.  It’s not sitting back and letting events come to them. They are out there every day, boldly preaching hate in sophisticated ways, learning and adapting their message as they go—and expanding their political base and influence as they do. 
Their foreign efforts reflected in that newspaper headline are undoubtedly part of a well thought out plan intended to expand their power back home. 
Golden Dawn knows that Greeks in the Diaspora can vote in Greek elections if they’re willing to come home to do so.   And what better way to woo potential Greek supporters than dressed as an angel of mercy carrying a Spartan sword.  To those struggling in Greece looking for a scape goat for their lot, Golden Dawn preaches unvarnished hate of immigrants—backed up by highly publicized assaults—but in countries where such conduct would not be tolerated they’re savvy enough to package themselves as messengers of compassion. 
It’s a win-win for Golden Dawn on both sides of the ocean.  To Greeks living abroad looking for some way to help with the struggles of their countrymen back home, Golden Dawn provides the means, and for those in want in Greece they provide what is needed.  Golden Dawn is performing a valuable service for all and incurring debts of gratitude they undoubtedly expect to be expressed in votes at the appropriate time.
Golden Dawn passing out food in return for identity card information
But Golden Dawn is not an angel of mercy.  It is hate spewing, ultra-nationalist organization that can only lead Greece down a path to ruin.  Here’s its message that Kathimerini found posted on Golden Dawn’s website:
“The unholy alliance of the bankers, the media, corrupt politicians and the educational system are vehemently attempting to extinguish all traces of Hellenism -- past, present and future -- through poverty, historical revisionism, media distortions and third world immigration…Golden Dawn is the only party that truly recognizes the problem and has the solution.”
See any familiar buzzwords in there, folks?
There is no doubt in my mind that Golden Dawn will push their agenda as far as the “civilized” world allows them.  And with Greece being the birthplace of our western civilization, let us pray that won’t be very far.

Friday, September 28, 2012

It'll All End in Beers

London's history is so rich that barely a week goes by when I don't learn something new. For example, and it still staggers me given my interest in a) death, b) London's past and c) beer, it was only Wednesday this week I came across the London Beer Flood of 1814. Now I want to write books about it.

The story, so far, is this: in 1814 the boozers of London, of which there were many, were served by a host of breweries in and around the capital. One was the Meux and Company Brewery on Tottenham Court Road (the present Dominion Theatre occupies part of the site.) On October 17 that year a vast vat of ale, twenty feet high, containing 610,000 litres of nut brown porter (a million pints of beer!) ruptured and caused a pressure explosion. This caused other vats and barrels of beer nearby to erupt too, and the result was a tidal wave of beer which smashed through the brewery wall and destroyed and flooded several houses nearby. Back then, the parish of St Giles was a poor one, and many families lived hugger-mugger in slum tenements and basements. Eight (nine in some reports) people were drowned by the tsunami of booze, including a three-year-old child. It was daytime and many of the houses were empty. Had it happened at night, many more would have died.

A rescue operation began to save others who had been washed away or trapped. Yet this was London. Just as concerted was the attempt to get as rat-arsed as possible on free grog. People turned up with the pans, tankards, cups and all manner of receptacles to scoop up as much beer as they could. Others simply knelt down and started supping, all of which did little to help the cops find and save those affected. The rescued were taken to hospital, where a riot almost broke out when the inpatients smelled the beer fumes rising off those coming in and thought there was a hospital party going on to which they had not been invited. What the local residents didn't harvest or glug had to be pumped out of cellars and streets. The whole area stank of beer for months.

The brewery were hauled before the court to answer for the deaths that had been caused, but a judge and a jury ruled, unbelievably, that the accident was an Act of God. Bizarrely, the brewery managed to reclaim the duty they had paid on the spilt beer, which allowed therm to go on trading until they eventually closed in 1922.

cheers (sort of appropriate this week)

Dan - Friday

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Math in Mysteries

Moriarty's evil plans!
Some time ago, I wrote a blog about the mysteries surrounding certain ideas in mathematics.  I’d like to turn that on its head.  What about mathematics in mysteries?  There’s quite a comprehensive history of the involvement of mathematics in mysteries by Alex Kasman in Notices of the American Mathematical Society which you can find here.  Because of my previous life (as a mathematician) I’m somewhat interested in this.

Probably the earliest reference to math in mystery fiction was by Edgar Allan Poe in The Purloined Letter. He made his thoughts about mathematicians rather clear when he had Dupin reject the possibility that the crime was committed by a “mere mathematician” because, in that case, he could “not have reasoned at all”.  That has been pretty much the stereotype of the mathematician in fiction – fixated on his subject, socially inept, and, if anything, a more likely candidate for the murderer than the detective.  In Agatha Christie’s The Bird with the Broken Wing, for example, the murderer is a mathematician who appears to be irrational as a result of being one rather than having any serious motive for his crime.

But there have been a few mathematical characters that didn’t fit that stereotype. We might start with the movie: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.  Everyone knows that Holmes’ nemesis – nearly the ultimate nemesis – was Moriarty.  In the movie, Holmes (Robert Downey) was pitted against Moriarty (Jared Harris) in a life and death struggle very loosely based on The Final Problem.  Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t say a lot about Moriarty’s background, but Holmes described him as “a mathematical genius” and we learn that he wrote two important mathematical books.  One was A Treatise on the Binomial Theorem (which, Holmes tells us, won Moriarty a chair at a British university) and the other was The Dynamics of an Asteroid, which Isaac Asimov deduced was part of an ultimate plot to hold the whole world to ransom by steering an asteroid to crash into it.  So we discover that Moriarty is fiendishly mathematical.

Apparently the makers of the movie decided that they needed some genuine mathematical input and approached Alain Goriely and Derek Moultin of Oxford’s Centre for Collaborative Applied Mathematics to design appropriate visuals for the sort of mathematics Moriarty might have been doing for his two books.  They took it greatly to heart, and came up with blackboards full of the stuff meticulously transcribed in the sort of notation in use at the end of the nineteenth century. The n-body problem, the singularity blow-up in the 2-body problem, Poincaré’s homoclinic intersections, and Painlevé’s singularity, all featured.  Probably wisely, most of the material filmed around the mathematics lovingly created by the Oxford dons ended up on the cutting floor.  Still, one scene shows what Holmes is up against when he beards (metaphorically, that is) Moriarty in his den:

Going back to Alex Kasman, he suggests two murder mysteries in which the mathematicians are more three dimensional and the mathematics somewhat believable.  (Neither of the authors is a mathematician so you don’t have to worry about ending up solving Moriarty’s equations.)  The one is AFTER MATH by Miriam Webster and the other is THE FRACTAL MURDERS by Mark Cohen.  Neither of these seem to have hit the best seller lists but I’d like to read them if I can lay my hands on a copy.

Any other suggestions of enjoyable mysteries where math plays an interesting role?

Michael - Thursday

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

See you later

Iceland is now seeking a new name. This is being conducted via the internet and people are urged to enter ideas for a more appropriate, more marketable name for the country, one that will better descibe what it is like to live here or to visit us. Apparently a recent survey conducted on tourist got ten thousand replies regarding the coutry's name being illfitted. Which is true in some sense, what would you expect to see here if you knew nothing of Iceland? Oh yes. Ice, and not of the type you see floating around in cocktails. So the marketing department of Iceland decided a change is due and are seeking a more selling name. And they inted to market trips here using this new name. I am sure this will be done in a manner where the real name will be prominent as well as the catchy one, as there is no reason to make the effort of advertising trips to a country that the airlines have never heard of or google maps.

Lots of suggestions have now been made. The one I like the most is the one that is surely likely to win: Niceland

Then there are the joke ones: Banania, Debt and one invoving a Pen (please note that Iceland is Island in Icelandic).

But for now, goodbye sweet summer, I will miss you:

But we will meet again - same time, same place, although maybe by a different name.
Yrsa - Wednesday

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

chateau, big French hats and la Rentrée

 In France it's la Rentrée - back to school, back to work and la rentrée littéraire - the autumn releases of  646 books either just published or in the process of publication before November. This year there's a bit of an uproar given how the members of the prestigious Goncourt Prize selection committee - who decide the winners - themselves have books coming out this season. Seems they are eligible and reviewing their 'own' work for prize consideration.  Having been on several Edgar judging committees (ie. Best Novel, Best Play, Best Debut for the Mystery Writers of America ) I know that one of our MWA requirements are that one's own work must be taken out of consideration. And you've got to read the books submitted. Tell me, are these prestigious writer folk going to read let's say a gritty crime thriller by Fred Vargas, the French Queen of Crime? Who's on the left and happens to be a woman.
Regarding the 'literary' novels,  Amélie Nothomb publishes a book every year. Twenty years after she published her first book - Hygiene and the Assassin - she's still popular and is kind of like a rock star. She's a bestseller and her TV appearances are an 'event'.  She always wears black and big hats, writes by hand and fills her novel with biographical bits. Her new book is 'Blue Beard' last year's was titled 'Kill the Father.' 

Giscard AuctionIn case you're in France this weekend and looking for a chateau, the former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing's chateau is for sale, with all the furnishings, and open for rubbernecking.

And there just might be an Aubusson rug—or the president’s lawn mower—you never know.

Cara - Tuesday

Monday, September 24, 2012


Jorge Amado didn't write books, he wrote a country. – Mia Couto, Mozambican author.

Jorge Amado died in 2011.
Had he lived, he would have been 100 years old on the 10th of August.

In his lifetime, he wrote more than 30 books, saw them translated into 49 languages, had them published in 55 countries.

This year, to celebrate the centenary of his birth, there are events taking place throughout Brazil and also in cities like London, Paris, Salamanca and Lisbon.

Copies of his books can be found in virtually every public library, of any size, anywhere in the world.
Look for the closest one to you here, in the World Library Catalog:

He tells great stories.
So, if you haven’t read him, and you have any interest whatsoever in Brazil, I suggest you get cracking.

You might start with Dona Flor and her two husbands.

 Bruno Barreto, made a film out of that one back in 1976.

And it remained the most-successful Brazilian feature of all time, until its box-office receipts were finally surpassed (by Elite Troop 2) 35 years later.

Or you might try Gabriela, clove and cinnamon.

The film version was shot back in 1983 and featured Marcello Mastroianni and Sônia Braga.

And there’s a TV version of it running in Brazil at this very moment.

No other author, living or dead, has ever captured the essence of the Brazilian soul better than Jorge Amado.

And few have come close.

He’s not the one that professors of Luso-Brazilian literature most commonly recommend to their students.

Those roles are reserved for authors like Clarice Lispector, considered more “literary” in her output.

Nor is Jorge the Brazilian best-selling author of all time.

That distinction is reserved for Paulo Coelho.           

But, when it comes to pure storytelling, to the invention of rich characters, to just plain fun, Jorge can’t be beat.

He once said:                                     

I'm under no illusions about the importance of my work. But if it has any worth, it is that it truly reflects the Brazilian people.

I think he was underestimating himself in the first part.

But so very right when it came to the second.

Leighton - Monday

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Beastly Skies

Jeff Siger's post yesterday about flying pushed my buttons.  If you're allergic to rants you might want to stop reading now.

No businesses in the world get away with treating their customers as badly as do American-owned airlines.  They've engaged in a frenzy of profit-driven mergers until competition is more a memory than a market dynamic and they've piggybacked on all the TSA dreadfulness as an excuse to turn what used to be a relatively pleasant environment--an airplane in flight--into a jail cell at 37.000 feet.

The basic attitude seems to be that passengers are an inconvenience; if only, the airlines seem to say, we could fly all these planes back and forth empty.  But since they can't they've decided that passengers can be herded, strapped in, jammed together with their knees beneath their chins, forbidden to move, fed slop that would cause a riot in most prisons, and ordered to turn off their electronic devices at whim despite the lack of a single study that says that such devices actually interfere with anything.  Not one study.  Not after years of trying.  I personally think that the whole "electronic devices" thing is just the first glimpse they give us of the iron fist in the iron glove.  It says, We can make you do anything and everything and don't you forget it.

Abandon free will, all ye who enter here.

The airline I most regret is United.  Ten years ago, United was among the best U.S. lines.  I liked it enough that I amassed, literally, a million miles on it.  Today it puts into the sky one teensy authoritarian empire after another, all ruled by incompetents--people, I think, whose career as sexual dominants failed because they were too unattractive.

Last month I was in Austin, Texas, waiting for a flight back to Los Angeles.  At 6 PM there were only two United flights left on the electronic status board: my eight o'clock and the 7:30 to San Francisco that preceded it.  At about 6:45 they announced that the San Francisco flight was canceled, and at that moment, both flights winked off the board.

Those of us scheduled for LA wondered, understandably, which of two screw-ups had occurred: did they take the flight off the board by mistake, or did they fail to announce its cancellation by mistake?  One way or another, a mistake had been made.  There actually was a United employee in plain sight, the most unpleasant and officious woman I've ever encountered anywhere outside of a school bus, who spent fifty minutes diddling around with a clipboard, loudly announcing to anyone foolish enough to approach the podium that she was busy "closing out" the canceled flight.  When several people formed a meek little line (the signal that a group of well-trained submissives is assembling) she snarled that it was no good lining up, she wasn't talking to anyone until she'd finished closing out the flight.  And, in fact, we never did hear that the flight was going to take off until it was announced.  For a completely different gate.  See, they couldn't post the gate change because they'd taken the flight off the electronic board.  So we all had to run for the plane.

Competence, anyone?

And United's much-vaunted Mileage Plus program has turned into a bait-and-switch operation.  Two months ago--toward the end of July--I called to see whether I could employ some of my 300,000 unused miles to buy a tourist seat to Bangkok and trade the miles for an upgrade to business.  I said I could leave any day from October 9 to October 31.

Nothing was available.  Three months in advance, twenty-two days to work with, nothing.  On any flight.  So I decided to use miles for my return and asked them to find an available upgrade seat any time between January 14 and January 31 of 2013.

Nothing.  Six months in advance, nothing.  When I asked about February, I was told they don't book upgrades that far in advance.  I wound up buying business class on Asiana, and the thing that soothes my furious heart is that I know I'll have a great flight, much better than I would have had on United.  With people who act like they're happy to see me on their plane.

The explanation for the behavior of United and the other American-owned airlines?  This is Jonathan Turley, a lawyer and travel expert quoted in today's New York Times, and he's not kidding:  “I get the feeling that the airline industry is really waiting for my generation to die,” he said. “We’re the cranky, loud ones because we have a higher expectation. Every day, fewer people remember what it used to be like.”

People, listen.  When you have to go ANYWHERE, see whether the route is served by a non-U.S. carrier, and if it is, take that plane.  Or, if Virgin America flies your route, take them.  Unless it's completely unavoidable, DO NOT GIVE YOUR MONEY to American-owned airlines.  And especially, do not take United.

There's only one way to improve them.  Unless there's no way around it, don't give them your money.  And don't worry about damaging the American economy.  It's already screwed.  At this point civility is more important than guaranteeing a paycheck and a fat pension for people who should actually be on their hands and knees, scrubbing freeway onramps at rush hour.

Or am I being intemperate?

Tim -- Sundays

Saturday, September 22, 2012

United We Stand...Divided We Fly.

I’m up in the air at the moment. Literally.  Flying from Phoenix to Houston.  Two places I enjoy.  Even in 100-degree weather.  Reminds me of Athens.  Not Mykonos, though, because there we have sea breezes. Do you hear the audible sigh?

Scottsdale is home to my US publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, and they’re terrific people.  I always enjoy my time there…even did a video broadcast of my book event this past Wednesday night at the Poisoned Pen bookstore.  But next time there’s a filming I’ll remember to hold in my belly.  Too much Mexican food on this tour.

In Houston it will be all about grandfatherly joy. Okay, fatherly, too, son.  The grandkids are growing up—five and three.  Life is good (puh, puh, puh).

Except if you have to fly anywhere in the US on a US carrier.  What is it with these folks?  They remind me of an old story my Dad used to tell about the art of negotiating.  A fellow walks into an optometrist looking to buy a pair of glasses and it goes something like this:

Buyer:             “Hi, I’m looking to buy a pair of inexpensive sunglasses. Nothing special.  Just something that will do the job.”

Seller:              “Sure, I can set you up. What kind of frame would you like?” 

Buyer:             “Like I said. ‘Cheap.’”

Seller:              “Absolutely, I get you. How are these?”

Buyer:              “How much?

Seller:              “$50.”

Buyer:             “Sounds reasonable, I’ll take them.”

Seller:              “My pleasure.  Now, what about lenses?

Buyer:             “What do you mean?”

Seller:              “Well, with fine frames like this we generally recommend lenses.”

Buyer:             “I thought they’d come with lenses.”

Seller:              “Not at the price I’m giving you for the frames.”

Buyer:             “How much for the lenses?”

Seller:              “$50.”

Buyer:             “Okay.”

Seller:              “Each.”

I’m sure you get the idea, though the story goes on from there to lens coatings, to “Would you like screws to hold the frames to the optional temples?” to a “free” eye exam—“Since you’re buying such a fine pair of glasses shouldn’t we check to make sure you don’t need prescription lenses?”— etcetera, concluding with, “Now let’s protect your investment with an appropriate case.” 

Little did I realize back then how Dad’s advice would be adopted by today’s US airlines. “You’re travelling across the country and want to check a bag?” it will cost you. “Your bag is two pounds overweight,” it will cost you.  “You’re more than six feet tall and want additional leg room so you’ll not need wheel chair assistance at the other end?” it will cost you.  “You want to eat something more than peanuts during your hours in confinement [the plane I’m currently on said nuts to nuts—take water and like it]?” it will cost you. 

As for the opportunity carriers now offer passengers to purchase early boarding privileges or subscribe to some high interest bearing credit card they’re hawking that includes that benefit, what they’re actually saying is:  “If you want room in the overhead rack for that carryon we say you can carry on (one they keep reducing in size to the undoubted unbounded joy of luggage manufacturers), you better buy this feature.”

Yes, I know all about airline clubs and frequent flyer programs, but unless you’re prepared to join a fleet of clubs or fly sufficiently on one or two lines to amass the required status, you’re left to perhaps one of those credit card companies offering “select” privileges at airline clubs.  What is meant by “select” too often means “Select another way inside, fellow, because we no longer honor that program,” or “We only honor the ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious version’ of that card,” or “Sorry, that doesn’t apply to this airport, we’re a private lounge.”

And pity the poor soul on a plane today who has no credit card to slip and slide for all the joys of flying offered for a price in today’s skies.  Frankly, I’m surprised there’s not a credit card slot required for toilet time, though I’m sure that’s been considered.  It seems the only thing that’s free these days on many carriers is the video we’re all required to watch of the airline’s CEO touting planned “modernization” which, in airline terminology means, “We’re about to offer you a lot less service at a much greater price.” 

We’re about to land.  So the rant is over.  Until the next leg…assuming I can move the ones I brought with me.

But I’ll be up and moving today (Saturday) at 4:30PM at Murder by the Book in Houston, Texas.  And don’t worry, cash is still accepted there.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Notes from the Underground #1

Actually, that title should read #2 because I blogged about the dry humour of London Underground's staff before here.

But this week, in the light of the disastrous new Apple update, which sent the native maps app into chaos, they surpassed themselves.

Almost as funny, though not quite as chilling, as this sign:

There's a plot right there.


Dan - Friday

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Guest blogger Zoë Sharp

My guest today is Zoë Sharp.  She is the author of the bestselling crime thriller series featuring her ex-Special-Forces-turned-bodyguard heroine, Charlie Fox, of which the latest instalment is DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten.  Her work has been nominated for Edgar, Anthony, Barry (twice), Benjamin Franklin, and Macavity Awards in the United States, as well as the CWA Short Story Dagger. The Charlie Fox series was optioned for TV by Twentieth Century Fox.  She blogs regularly on her own website,, on the acclaimed group blog,, as well as wittering on Twitter (@AuthorZoeSharp) and fooling around on Facebook.

Not only is Zoë a terrific writer, she is also a talented photographer, a (very) fast driver, a sailor, and a target shooter.  When I first met her she was telling a rapt circle of other writers that she could use any prop they gave her to kill someone.  I’m not sure she noticed the radius of the circle increasing. Zoë writes fiction full time in the beautiful Lake District.
Please welcome Zoë Sharp.

Stan - Thursday

Getting From There to Here
Have you ever stopped and looked around you, and wondered how you got from there to here?
I’m not talking about those momentary lapses during familiar journeys when the autopilot takes over, and you suddenly realise you’ve missed your junction on the motorway. Nor am I indulging in some deep cosmic navel-gazing.

Instead, I’m asking the question on a more down-to-earth level—when you first became aware that there was this nebulous thing called ‘a career’ and that you were expected to have one, what did you imagine you would become?

Caroline Bradley
Being a horse-mad child, I naturally wanted to emulate my show-jumping heroes—or in this case, heroines—and in particular Caroline Bradley, who really set light to the sport until her tragic death in 1983 at the age of only thirty-seven.

Sadly, being jumped up and down rather a lot on by very large horses with very big feet soon proved to me I don’t have the nerve for the really big fences, although being a riding instructor is still more or less my only professional qualification.

Clare Francis
I was brought up on a boat, so naturally sailing featured strongly in my early life. I was fascinated by the achievements of transatlantic yachtswoman Clare Francis, devouring her non-fiction works about her voyages, not only several times across the Atlantic, but in the Round Britain Race, the Azores and Back Singlehanded Race, and the Whitbread Round The World Race. And then her highly successful career as a novelist.

Writing, as well as sailing, was one of the mainstays of my early life. Having opted out of mainstream education at the age of twelve (I was a horribly precocious child), I eventually wrote my first full-length novel at fifteen. My father loyally typed it up for me, complete with carbon copies, (cue peals of laughter from anyone under thirty), and it did the rounds of the major publishers, receiving what are known in the trade as “rave rejections”.  Looking back, most fledgling writers today would be incredibly heartened to get the kind of encouraging criticism I received, but at the time I was devastated. I assumed that particular door would remain forever closed to me and looked round for Something Else.

That Something Else included a variety of jobs, some of which I’m not really able to talk about, but suffice to say that during that time I picked up one or two useful skills, including the ability to hit a moving target with a large-calibre rifle at 300 metres with open sights. (No, really—don’t ask.)
Still the writing side of things never quite released its grip on me.

Michele Mouton
As soon as I learned to drive, cars became my passion. I bought an elderly Triumph Spitfire, rebuilt it, resprayed it, and drove it as much in the style of the great Group B World Rally competitor, Michèle Mouton as I was able, considering she had at least ten times the horsepower and four-wheel drive. I would have loved to follow in her footsteps, but elderly British convertibles with no ground clearance were not the most competitive vehicles in which to attempt serious off-roading. 
Change of course

 That passion for cars never faded, though, and almost by accident I fell into writing about classic cars, which combined two loves very nicely. I started doing a few reports for one of the local historic car club magazines. Before I knew it, I was freelancing for the mainstream press, winging it, and praying nobody asked me what qualifications I had for the job. Fortunately, it took one of my commissioning editors four years to do so. By then I was able to tell her, “Well, you’ve been paying me to do it for the past four years. Does that count as qualification enough?”

It did, apparently.

And I might have put aside my fiction ambitions indefinitely, had it not been for the death-threat letters I received in the course of my work, which had two immediate effects. The first of these was that I took a sudden and very keen interest in learning a great deal of self-defence dirty tricks—erm, I mean tactics, and the second was to try to make sense of the whole thing by writing it out of my system.

Now I look back on it, the whole of my life has been useful preparation for getting to this point. Every skill I’ve acquired—every bit of information I’ve picked up, or journey I’ve taken—has informed my writing in some way. No experience, however nasty it might be at the time, is ever wasted.
And I realise that although I may have come to it by a somewhat circuitous route, I am in the incredibly lucky position of having achieved my childhood ambition. 

I am what I’ve always dreamed of being—an author.

What about you? Are you where you hoped you’d be when you first set out? And if you’re doing something completely unexpected (but which you enjoy anyway), how did you stumble onto that path?
And if you’re doing something you don’t enjoy, can you see a way to change course in the near future—a means of getting from here to there?

Good reading,

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The world is a whirpool

The Bloody Scotland festival turned out to be bloody great, as expected. It was held in a town named Stirling, the home to Stirling Bridge where one William Wallace of historical fame led a Scottish army to victory against the English in 1297. Think Braveheart. William Wallace ended his life in one of the most awful ways possible, he was hanged, drawn and quartered. When reading history, one is sometimes tempted to soothe the mind by deducing that the horrors humans have inflicted upon one another through the ages is made up. Exaggerated. That it wasn‘t as bad as we are told.  

For one, of course Nero did not set Rome on fire and play the fiddle while his city was toasted. I will never buy that whopper.

Maybe this view, that people are better than we are led to believe, has something to do with the sheltered life Iceland provides. While in Scotland I had access to a TV. Since this is not an everyday occurrence me and my husband watched one news channel after another, becoming increasingly worried as the reports piled up regarding the state of the world. Much of the Muslim world was going ballistic over an insult to their prophet, China and Japan were bristling their fur over some island and the Occupy Wall Street movement had what appeared to be a pretty serious clash with the law in the States.

It seriously seemed to us that the pressure cooker we call Earth was about to blow. All we wanted to do by the Tuesday was to get home so we would be with our family come nuclear winter.

When we got back to Iceland it was almost as if we had arrived to another planet. The news here was of a completely different category than the international media outlets were pushing. Someone had been arrested for speeding on the road to Keflavík, another driver outside Selfoss had been driving without a license and Iceland was noted in the Economist for having the largest number of tractors per hectare of all countries in the world. These are actual news, not made up.

I quite like the Occupy Wall Street movement. They have a sympathetic cause. What is it about high finance that makes it so repulsive that no one would work at it without being paid a king’s ransom? Since when are the high ranking bankers worth so much more than other employees (of any kind, anywhere) that they need to receive bonuses on top of their already padded paychecks? Can they not just do their job for a salary like the rest of us? Who put this system in place? No more questions. I promise.

I do not know precisely what the China/Japan island argument is all about. I am however sure it is not worth a skirmish between these two nations. Nothing is.

Having seen the movie trailer that caused the Muslim uprising I cannot for the life of me understand what is going on there. I can just say that the old lady that fixed up the fresco in Spain with disastrous results was lucky Christians are not as touchy.
Stirling is home to more than its namesake bridge. It is also the site of a Tower built to honor William Wallace. In 1996, a year after the film Braveheart came out, a Scottish stoneworker was so inspired by the movie that he made a gigantic statue of William Wallace that was soon thereafter found place in vicinity of the monument. The statue was not to everyone’s taste. For one thing it said “Braveheart” in big letters on Wallace’s shield. Reading up on it I found a quote supposedly from a Stirling resident saying it was “a load of crap”.  Locals loathed it, but tourists liked it. Since the locals are just that, i.e. local, they had more say in the matter and the huge statue was removed. The stoneworker tried selling it for about 500 thousand dollars and was hoping for an American buyer. No one came forth. He then tried to give it to Donald Trump but he refused. The statue was too tasteless or cheesy even for Donald Trump. Now that is something.

Maybe someone is at this moment trying to give Donald Trump the restored fresco.

Yrsa - Wednesday