Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Imitation of a Dark Blond

Bjorn Leggo-Saab Freudsen - Standing in for Leye Adenle this Wednesday.

A fragment from my upcoming London Times bestseller: The Laughing Faceless Detective With the Frost Tattoo.

Everett Kaser
who, like me, lives in a gloomy place.

I rubbed my eyes, trying to force the image outside the car window to come into focus.
            I wished I had stayed with goop.  But it was illegal. The sticky, black-brown paste my brother cooked up in his lab at the university every Friday afternoon had had its base in hashish.  Hagar had spread it, still warm enough to be soft, onto cigarette papers, which we rolled and smoked.  Hagar had given it its American namegoop.
It lighted me up.
            If I could take a few hits on goop right now, this bleak landscape would assume the aspect of a brilliant minimalist painting. Even in this relentlessly somber light, where the color of the sky exactly matched the wet concrete pavement.
            If I were high on goop, this thin strip of blue water between the endless bands of grey would take on gleaming intensity.  Painful because it was the shade of Sigrid's eyes.  It reminded me of death.  One death I could not stop. And all the deaths I could not stop investigating.  Not even goop, with its silly American namesilly like all Americanscould erase my agony.
            It had, in the end, taken away Hagar's passionhis work at the university. He had been shamed into resigning.  "For using his laboratory to manufacture a banned substance," the letter from the Department Rector had said.  Hagar had taken his own life.
            I did not.  Coward that I am, I had turned to a weaker, but the only legal means of dulling my pain.  Drink.
            And so I never drive.  I look out the window while my partner drives us to the investigation of yet another death.  And I rub my drunken eyes.  And I try to bring into focus that thin stripe of blue between the interminable bands of grey.  And try not to see in it the color of Sigrid's eyes.
            "I think it's the next turning on the left," Nils said.  "Can you see the spinning light of the squad car through the mist?"
            I could not. "Yes," I said.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Road to My Debut Novel

Annamaria on Monday

We left La Paz early in the morning, in a land rover, carrying our drinking water for a week.

We were supposedly on the Pan-American Highway.  In many places, it was nothing more than a dry riverbed.

For the first full day, as we climbed from nine thousand to ten thousand to eleven thousand feet, we saw the land around us become more and more barren, until it resembled no place on earth that I had known.  The surface of the moon is what it brought to mind.

We occasionally saw a llama, or three.  And a settlement.  In that wasteland, living off the animals was the only choice.  Though we saw no other human beings, we saw the places they had built and inhabited.  At the lower (if you can call them that) elevations there were a few plants that might keep the beasts alive.  After a while there was nothing--not a blade of grass, not an insect, not a reptile.

Along the way, we stopped to eat our lunch.  A llama came and stuck her head between Naty and me, turning to look from one to the other as our conversation bounced back and forth. 

Portrait of Barbara Ann
 After lunch, it was my turn to drive.  That meant I got to choose the music.   My playlist was a selection of lively songs to keep me alert after eating. Just before I put the car in gear, the llama came to the driver’s side, stuck her head in the window, and stared at the car radio.  I observed that that might have been the very first time on earth that a llama heard the Beach Boys singing “Barbara Ann.”

By dusk that first day, we arrived in Oruru—elevation 3709 meters (12K feet), where we checked into the Hotel Terminal.  Which by the way, was not heated.  Maybe a hot shower would help?  No, maybe not.  My guidebook said that the water was heated instantaneously by electricity, and there was danger of electrocution.

We kept on our clothing, piled on all the blankets we could find, and shivered anyway.  Soon the whole building was throbbing with the music and dancing from a wedding on the ground floor.  I wanted to go down and see it, but David declared that it would be rude for a foreigner to go and gawk at the locals on their wedding day.  I guessed he was right.  But to this day, I am sorry I didn’t see it when I had the chance.

The next day offered only an endless moonscape, until we passed a dip in the altitude and saw a few trees.  That fleeting greenery disappeared as we climbed again—to thirteen thousand feet, where I was astonished to see a huge sign, welcoming us to Potosi’, declared by UNESCO in 1987 as part of the patrimony of humanity.

What?  What was a part of the patrimony of humanity doing on the surface of the moon?

When we entered the city, we found the answer:  A Seventeenth Century Spanish city, with splendid baroque architecture.  But not in the style of the European baroque with cherubs and rose garlands.  Mestizo baroque has as its motifs the faces and nature of South America.  What a knock out!  I remain astonished to this day.

After learning about the history from the guides and locals, I hungered for more.  Then on Day2 of our stay, we were touring a cloistered convent—still in use.  

The convent on which my imaginary one is based.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the docent told us, it was a place only for Spanish noblewomen.  “Why would a noblewoman lock herself up in place like this?” David wanted to know. But I was translating the information for him, and by then, the guide had taken us into another room and resumed her tale.  Since I depend on what I know of Latin, Italian, and French to understand Spanish, I needed to concentrate on her talk and couldn’t answer him. 

But that night at dinner I had several answers to David’s question.  A convent school educated woman like me would have no trouble imaging such reasons.  I told him—and Steve and Naty—six.

When I was back home in New York, reading everything I could find on that fascinating place, those reasons turned into women in my head.  And their lives turned into a story: a locked-room mystery in which one of them is threatened by the Inquisition.  Therefore, a mysterious death in the convent must be accounted for.  Otherwise, my imaginary abbess will die at the stake.

City of Silver was a story that would not let me go until I wrote it.

Happy me
David Jay Clark, who made all these photos except this not very good, but happy one.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Surprise! Hokkaido Horserace!

-- Susan, every other Sunday

I'm currently on a three-week mountain climbing trip to Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost major island.

This is what heaven looks like.

In the six days since my arrival, I've summited three major peaks (the smallest was just under 2,000 meters, the highest 2,141), with five more possible climbs on the agenda before I return to Tokyo on September 25.

On the summit of Tomuraushi, 2,141 meters

Some of you may have seen that Hokkaido was rocked by a massive earthquake a little over a week ago (three days before I arrived). The island's 5 million residents have done a shockingly good job of recovering from the quake. Although some areas remain impacted, others have pretty much returned to normal.

Wherein lies a tale.

Two days ago I discovered that my trekking poles, permitted on the bullet train, are not permitted on the ANA flight I'm taking back to Tokyo from the northern Hokkaido city of Wakkanai. Since I travel light, my existing suitcase isn't large enough for the poles, so my guide and I used today's rest day between climbs for a detour to Obihiro, the only designated city in Tokachi prefecture, so I could buy a larger suitcase.

This is neither a city nor my suitcase. In case you were wondering.

While there, my guide discovered that traditional horse racing was taking place at the city's track this afternoon - the first such races since the earthquake. Since I love horses as much as I love mountains, we hopped in the car and reached the track just minutes before the race began.

The horse racing stadium in Obihiro, Hokkaido, Japan

We spent those minutes visiting the retired racehorses stabled near the track. The stable is open so visitors can meet these massive horses (and for the equivalent of $1 you can buy carrots to feed them - which, of course, we did).
This beautiful fellow was such a good racer that he has official citizenship papers in Obihiro.

Hokkaido's traditional racing isn't long-track, high speed racing like you see in the United States. It's short-track-with-two-hills racing referred to as "stop and go!"

The "big hill" on the traditional racing track.

The race takes about five minutes to run, and the horses seemed to enjoy the competition.

Horses coming up the "big hill" in the middle of the race.

This style of racing was invented by Japanese farmers. When the season's work was finished, they challenged one another to see whose horse could run the fastest while pulling a load.

Down the hill! It's like Western racing in slow motion. The crowd loved this part.

Today, the horses (all massive draft animals) pull weighted sleds up the little hill, to the big hill, and to the finish line.

The jockeys have to keep the horses in their lanes, or they will be disqualified.

The horses seemed to be enjoying themselves (I've spent enough time around horses to know - and these were not upset), and the weight isn't heavy enough to be cruel. In fact, the one that won was way behind and clearly decided he didn't want to finish last:

The exciting (first) rush to the finish! (There are eight more horses about 30 yards behind.)

So the 75% mark, he perked his ears forward, lowered his head, and hauled some serious horsie-tush for the finish line.

We got to watch the exciting finish four more times, as the other eight horses made their way to the finish line over the next minute or two.

I love the mountains, but I'm also an enormous fan of experiences--especially those involving traditional culture (and horses), and this was an exciting way to spend my rest day in Obihiro!

See you in two weeks, when I'll be back from the mountains and hopefully sharing more adventures from Japan's far north!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

A Massive Storm's Brewing in the Aegean


This weekend the Southeast US and the Philippines face horrendous storms.  The in-your-face enormity of the potential tragedy faced by the people in the storms’ paths got me to thinking about the region of the world in which I spend more time than anywhere else on earth: Greece’s Aegean Cycladic Islands.

There’s a storm raging through my part of the Aegean.  It’s already hit hard on Mykonos, Santorini, too, and alerts are sounding on other islands.  Paros, Naxos, and Milos sit directly in its path, but they’re far from the only ones at risk.

It is a devilishly cunning storm; one that comes ashore subtly, offering welcome rain to drought parched islanders, and in so doing distracting the citizenry from the great risks their island faces from what’s coming: gale force winds to level its unprepared institutional authority, torrential rains that drown those brave enough to challenge the invading storm’s will, and massive flooding to forever alter the island’s landscape.

It is a storm unlike any other, for what gives it energy is not warm waters, but cold hard cash.

The islands are experiencing an influx of tourism money unlike any ever experienced before.  And there is no sign of it going away anytime soon. Yes, the types and origins of tourists will change—they always do—and some islanders will go bust because they misjudged the market, but tourism cash will keep coming, and if cash remains the piper, islanders appear willing to keep dancing to the tune, no matter how foreign it may be to their own culture and values.

The islanders say, “We’re just giving the tourists what they want.”  That’s a seductively understandable explanation, one quite compelling on the surface, but dig deeper and you’ll find its insidious ramifications. 

Let’s start from this proposition. If you are willing to provide an environment where the purveyors of vices and their clientele may freely conduct their business without threat of official repercussions, you will always make money.

So, enter the one-week-long tourist (four days longer than the average stay on Mykonos), who during those days lives as if Sodom and Gomorrah is alive and well.  The tourist leaves to return to life at home, one far more limited, ordered and restrictive than the one just enjoyed for a week.  What are the chances of that person’s behavior patterns having been changed by a one-week binge?

Now, let’s look at the islander who spends between four and five months a year, “just giving the tourists what they want.”  How great do you think is the risk facing the islander enabling such aberrant tourist behavior, that it is the islander’s family values that will suffer as a consequence?

Just think about it.

I’m not preaching morality here. I’m just saying that islands that see a golden pot of money to be made in chasing after tourist cash ought to take a long hard look at how far they are willing to go to get it.

Making a deal with the Devil is not new. Nor are the consequences.  The Devil is charming, the Devil is clever, and the Devil knows how to subtly make a deal for the souls of the innocent as well as the greedy. 

In other words, Islanders, heed the warning signs. One hell of a storm is headed your way.

Prepare, if you wish to have a say in saving your island.


Friday, September 14, 2018

The Last Day.

I confess that I did spend some time at the pool at Bouchercon.

It was noisy.

There was a building site right beside it, and then the decibels increased when three pneumatic squawkers  joined us one day.   These are native to Florida I believe. Ladies.  Tattoed. Very Vocal.  Bits of gold on their phones and ankles. Enhanced surgically. Loud. Lots of nails.  Old enough to know better. And if I may say, just a big wrinkly due to over exposure to the sun.  They are feel the need to  vocalise everything. I mean everything. Even from opposite ends of the pool. When two went to the bar the third one got on her phone. Anyway I made notes on who was sleeping with who and what they  were going to do about it.

And they  ask where crime writers get their  ideas... What is it they say? A human survives three minutes without oxygen, three days without water and three months without food.....How long do Florida Squawkers last without talking?


Florida has beautiful but very noisy clouds

Writing a novel transatlantically... crew USA

And crew UK- all from the middle of the  country and up!

talking of up... the roof of the ballroom

my house has a  ceiling like this.... picked out on those colours

this is pretty much how Stan's panel went.....

coffee... there was lots of coffee...

another pic, a ghostly couple...unlike those at the pool who were more of a ghastly trio!

The long view, Stan's panel

Not even glued down. Now in my suitcase... 

The foyer lights

This is the sign for reception

More unusual art. Is that with a really high speed shutter? Anyone?

The baby squirrel that so loved a certain crime writer's testicles.

The Vinoy  from the small bridge

Hotel lobby

Huge porcelain clam flowers in the foyer 

My house looks like this

and this

More in the foyer on the way to the ladies loos

She looks like she's been in the queue for a long time

Croc on the floor,  or alligators?

Signing area, the last morning

The ladies.


The best panel, not being biased, was this one. She was a good moderator with a light touch.
It was about writing about places you don't live, looking at a place with an outsiders  view.
The lady ( don't recall her name but she was sitting next to the American lady with the Irish name who wrote about France) who writes about Japan said something  I will hold onto. She said the Japanese will never say 'You are wrong.' They have a different expression. They say 'My view is different to yours.'
Obviously I would need to extend that to 'My view is different to yours and I am right.' ( Female perspective there).  
But seriously, it's a subtle point that made me think. It could defuse arguments as well as ' I'd rather be happy than right.'

At times, it's very difficult being a writer.

I hope where ever you are, Florence leaves you alone. 

We are down in Indian Rocks, thinking about our flight home.

Caro Ramsay