Saturday, January 13, 2018

From Myanmar to Me: An Answer For Why I Do What I Do


I’m on a plane bound from Denver to Los Angeles, in the midst of a month-long puddle jumping book tour of the sort that might lead saner folk to question the wisdom of my choice of life style. I won’t mention the book title here, because I’m posting a photo of the cover as part of my story, and wouldn’t want to be perceived as overdoing the subtle hawking of my wares.

Anyway, I was scanning through my past eight years of MIE posts—hard to believe it’s been eight years—and came across one I’d written in 2010 in answer to “Why do you do what you do.”  What I wrote back then still applies today.  So, here goes. 

It all started a little over eight years ago in the reception area of a New York City law firm when I’d stopped by to say hello to old friends.  Sort of like the moth drawn back to its flame experience, what with my name once appearing on that sign in the photo below.  Now my moniker appears elsewhere, on things such as the item pictured to the right (AN AEGEAN APRIL)

One of the most common interview questions asked me then (and now) is, “Why did you give up your partnership in a successful law practice to become a writer?”  I do not take that as criticism of the value of my prose, but of my sanity.  Translated, the question means, “Were you out of your &%^# mind to give up that kind of money just to write books?”

My answer is always the same:  Once I realized that I would not live forever the decision was simple.  I walked away to do what I truly loved and always longed to do.  I think most of my colleagues at the law firm understood my thinking, for they continue doing today what they want to do, practicing law.  Different strokes, so to speak.

But for those of you out there who still don’t quite get it, perhaps this anecdote from my visit back to the firm will help you understand.

So, a lawyer walks into a law firm...

After an hour or so of exchanging hellos and catching up on missed gossip, I bumped into a friend leaving one meeting and running out of the office to another.  He and I practiced law together for over forty years.  Let’s call him Roy.

We did a quick hug and exchange of information on the kids and grandchildren.  I could tell he was
in a hurry—I remember those days in nightmares—but he pulled me into his office and made a speaker phone call to another friend and former partner (let’s call him Steve, and since his wife features in the story let’s call her Virginia).

“Steve, it’s Roy. Jeff’s here.  Tell him that story about your trip.”

“What, no photos?” I said.

“I’ll send you a couple.  One is of three of your fans waving to you.”  Steve always was a bit of a (loveable) wiseass. 

He and Virginia are adventurous world travelers and I’m certain Steve doesn’t mind sleeping under the stars—as long as there are five of them.  Their journey this time began with a flight into the airport at Sittwe, a coastal town on the Bay of Bengal.  Sittwe is the capital of the western Burmese state of Rakhine.  It is the birthplace of British writer Hector Hugh Monro, better known by his pen name of Saki, and the town is badly in need of a better press agent.  As one travel site puts it, “Only an overnight stop is warranted here…to board a boat for the 50 mile journey up the Kaladan River or to start the day-long drive to remote and little-visited Mrauk U.”

Having undoubtedly enjoyed Sittwe to no end, Steve and Virginia were off on their five-hour trip up river; an adventure I’m sure of the Bogie and Great Kate The African Queen (1951) variety putting Steve in generally the same state of mind as Captain Charlie Allnut.

When the couple finally arrived at Mrauk Oo (or Mrauk-U if that helps you figure out how to pronounce m’yawk-oo) they must have been wowed.  How could they not?  It’s an ancient city surrounded by hundreds of significant monuments enshrining relics dating back to Buddha's lifetime.  Mrauk Oo is one of South East Asia’s splendid archeological sites; a glorious place forgotten both by time and the Ritz-Carlton.

But enough about that, let’s get to the important part of Steve’s story.  I’ll let him pick up from here in his own words.

“We were exhausted after the boat trip, standing in the lobby of this charming hotel in the middle of nowhere, trying to find out where—and what—we could eat when this gracious tattooed lady at the desk said, ‘Don’t worry, sir, I will take care of everything.  Please wait over there,’ and she pointed us toward a tiny room. ‘It’s our library.’

“Some library, a couple of bookshelves with maybe sixty books max, no more than a half dozen in English.” 

Yes, folks, I’m sure you can tell what’s coming.

“So here we were in the middle of nowhere, away from all ties to modern civilization, and what did I see staring me in the face but a copy of your book! Murder in Mykonos!”

I’m still smiling.  The writing life is valued by rewards of a different measure from those of my past, and this utterly unexpected one was priceless.

Thank you Steve and Roy for sharing, and Virginia for the photos.  It meant a lot.  And, yes, I think that hotel deserves five stars on Trip Advisor just for its discerning taste in literature.


Jeff’s Upcoming Events

My ninth Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novel, AN AEGEAN APRIL, published on January 2, 2018 and here is the first stage of my book tour:

Saturday, January 13 @ 2 PM                      
Book Carnival 
Orange, CA

Sunday, January 14 @ 2 PM
Mysterious Galaxy
San Diego, CA

Wednesday, January 17 @ 7 PM      
Third Place Books (Lake Forest Park)
Seattle, WA

Thursday, January 18 @ 7 PM
Janet Rudolph’s Mystery Readers Literary Salon
Berkeley, CA

Sunday, January 21 @ 7 PM
Book Passage
Corte Madera, CA

Thursday, January 25 @ 6:30 PM
Mysterious Bookshop
New York, NY

Friday, February 2 @ 7PM
Centuries & Sleuths (Forest Park)
Chicago, IL

Saturday, February 3 @ 12 PM
Once Upon A Crime

Minneapolis, MN


  1. Just goes to show, "six degrees" is probably two more than is needed. It's truly a small, small world. VERY cool story, though, and you were rightly pleased!

    1. It was one of those incidents that puts a smile on your face, and falls into the forever memory bank.

  2. I’m hoping to make it to Janets and see you Monsieur - travel safe!

  3. What a great story, my brother. I hope you are enjoying your tour and that they day will come when we are both in NYC at the same time. Love to the photobomber!!

  4. Introduced neighbors to your insightful books. You may find one next in the Caribbean. Looking forward to reading latest!

    1. Thanks, Liz, that’s terrific to hear. With weather in the northeast being what it is, I may search for that copy personally!