Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A Sunday in Paris: Memorial for the Deportees and Victims

Monday, June 29, 2020

Mistaken Identity

Annamaria on Monday

In the old days, before algorithms, it was people that guessed wrong about me. 

Mostly, my clients around the US used to hypothesize about who I am, and often they were mistaken.  Many seemed to assume I was Jewish.  I figured they based that on the fact that I was short, dark-haired, came from New York, and ran my own business.  This misassumption was, I guess, their motivation for telling me, in tones that lingered between admiring and patronizing, how much I looked like Barbra Streisand.

 I never tried to disabuse them of that except to smile and say, “Please don’t ask me to sing.” 

If such a conversation led me reveal that I was born in New Jersey of Italian descent, within thirty seconds someone said the word “mafia” or mentioned Tony Soprano.

I knew it was no use trying to defend my ethnic group from such stereotyping.

Perhaps it was my accent that caused so many of my Midwestern clients to wonder about my background.  I fully admit that I speak like the New Yorker I am proud to be.

On my first trip to Kenya, I met a very elegant and ultra-snobbish retired English physician, who lives in Mombasa.  We had many interesting conversations while on a tour of World War I battlefields.  Until one day, when he brought up my speech patterns by asking with his best toffee-nosed disdain, “Is that the Bronx, I detect?” 

In my best Bronx intonation, I said, "No honey.  If you want da Bronx, I can give you da Bronx, but if ya really want da Bronx, ya gotta listen to Bugs Bunny.  Bugs really knows how da tawk da Bronx.

When I then gave him my quite good imitation of a BBC announcer, he urged me to speak in that way all the time so that people would understand that I was a woman of some intelligence.  I smiled and kept to myself my preference—to sound like who I really am and let people like him understand that even human beings who are not upper-class English have brains in their heads.

Not long ago, I asked science if it had an opinion of who I am.  I had my DNA tested.  The first report I received pegged me at 73% Greco-Italian, 12% Middle Eastern, 5% European Jewish, and 9% Caucuses.  That made sense to me, considering that my grandparents were all born in southern Italy and two were from Sicily—a land that has been conquered by all the invaders of the Mediterranean basin since time immemorial.  Lately, Ancestry has changed their thinking about me.  They now say I am:

My guess is that they have since discovered that just about all people of Southern Italian descent share the same mixed up gene pool that they first found in me.  So they no longer make those minute distinctions.  I kinda liked them though. 

Nowadays, the algorithms of the world are busy coming to their own conclusions about me, which are even more far-off than the Streisand resemblance.

According to what the software of internet advertisers are “discovering” about me, I am a Black-Jewish-Chinese woman.   I know this because of ads placed to appeal to me.

On-line social media sometimes shows me advertising meant to appeal to Blacks.  I also get direct mail promotions and invitations in my mailbox aimed at Black families.  This is understandable since I have been a long-time member of the NAACP, which I joined because—in the 1960s—I supported the Advancement of Colored People.  I still do.  Of late, also, I have been seen on Facebook wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt and displaying photos of public art that support that movement.  If the snooping market researchers  want to think I am Black—okay by me.

My on-line subscription to the New York Times, on the other hand, thinks I am Jewish.  So, it often shows me ads in Hebrew and things like this come in the mail:

As do solicitations to join all sorts of Jewish organizations and causes.  This—most likely—because I make donations to support efforts of Jews to find a path to peaceful coexistence with Palestine.

Why I am thought by some to be Chinese is a mystery to me.  I know this mistaken identity is the case because I regularly, both on my cell phone and my landline,  receive robocalls in Chinese.  When I say…

Wǒ zhǐ huì shuō yīdiǎn zhōngwén
(I speak only a little Chinese)

…the callers just hang up.  They probably know from my accent that I won’t understand anything but an odd word now and then if they try to sell me something in Mandarin.  How did I get on record as Chinese?  I did study the language for a few years, just before and after visiting China in 1986.  Otherwise, my only theory about this is that my legal name is Patricia King and that means I sometimes appear on lists as P. King.

The real me finds ALL of this delightful.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Creating Order From Chaos

Zoë Sharp

A couple of weeks ago, I resigned myself to the horrors of a new computer. 

This is always a nightmare of acclimatising to upgraded operating systems, trusty programs that are no longer available, and incompatible files.

I hate it.

It’s one reason, I confess, that I finally went over to the Dark Side with my last computer and bought a MacBook Air. It’s been absolutely wonderful, and has served me faithfully for the past seven years—far longer, I have to admit, than any of my previous PC laptops lasted.

And it’s not ready for the great parts bin in the sky quite yet. Removing all the accumulated rubbish and rebooting the operating system will apparently see it keep going for quite a while longer. At least, I hope so…

The real problem is that when I first gave myself MacBook Airs and graces, I was not doing nearly as much photo manipulation as I am now, having taken a deep dive into cover design. I need something with a faster processor and now seemed the ideal time to go back to a desktop. So, I’ve bought myself an iMac and, once I stopped cursing at it and threatening to throw it out of the window—and when I discovered how to switch off the dreaded Cloud that seemed to be eating all my files and regurgitating them in corrupted guise—I think I’ve finally made friends with it.

The almost blank desktop screen is strangely calming.

But, I did say ‘almost’ there. Because already four or five folders and icons have crept onto the right-hand side and I know I won’t ever get a better time to bring some organisational order to the way I work.

The question I face is…how?

At the moment I have, for example, a folder marked FICTION. That leads to more folders titled things like CHARLIE FOX SERIES, LAKES TRILOGY, SHORT STORIES, STANDALONES, etc.

Those in turn lead to more folders, one for each title. So, in the case of the latest Charlie Fox novel, I have a pathway that goes FICTION > CHARLIE FOX SERIES > BAD TURN.

So far, so good.

In the {TITLE} folder live all the peripheral documents, such as:

Acknowledgements. There’s nothing worse than the book coming out and you realise you’ve forgotten to thank someone who provided vital information right at the start of the project. I keep a document on the go and drop names into it as soon as they occur.

Jacket Copy. This is the brief book synopsis that normally appears on the back of the book jacket, or on the retailer page. I usually write this before I even start on the book itself, to keep myself tuned to the basic idea. It can be very helpful to run this by interested parties and watch their reactions carefully. If they look intrigued, you know you might just have something…

Metadata. By the time I’ve finished a book and it’s ready to upload, this file usually runs to about 25 pages. It contains every piece of information on the book that I need in order to register the ISBN number and upload it, including keywords, categories, page counts, descriptions, etc. Trying to go through this process without a giant crib sheet is incredibly difficult. I can’t believe it took me so long to put together a template for this file.

Outline. Sometimes this is the kind of thing I could show a publisher but more often than not, it’s my own personal writing outline, with a full character list, back story, and what happens off-camera to explain how the elements of the story slot together. It changes—a LOT—during the course of writing the book. I will usually also have:

Story Breakdown. This is more like a conventional publisher synopsis, with the plot divided into three acts and the turning point of each act noted. This is more of a note on structure than story.

And then I have my Summary. Even if you don’t plot beforehand, I always recommend keeping a summary of the book as you write it. Just a paragraph on each chapter with the main point of action, dialogue, and character development. If structural edits are needed afterwards, I note them on the summary to work out how best to incorporate them into the book as a whole.

Other folders in the {TITLE} folder are BOOK, which is where I actually keep my work-in-progress documents. I’ve always written each draft chapter in a separate document, then dropped it into the overall book doc when it’s done.

There’s also a COVER folder, where I keep different versions of the final cover images, including the spine and back cover, hi-res for print use, and lo-res for website or internet use.

Another folder is called EDITS AND FEEDBACK, which is fairly self-explanatory. It’s where I keep all the emails and notes from beta readers, my Advance Reader Team, copyeditor, and proofreader.

A further folder is marked RESEARCH, where I store any articles on related topics, and images that might come in useful while writing, such as this one of the layout of a truck braking system, which anyone who read BAD TURN will realise the significance of.

I also keep any pictures of actors, etc, who have the look of characters in the book. I labelled this one of Everett McGill as ‘Conrad Epps’:

Everett McGill as Conrad Epps
And this one of Oded Fehr as ‘Khalid Hamzeh’:

Oded Fehr as Khalid Hamzeh
I also keep a folder for REVIEWS, although I try not to look at them too much. That way, madness lies…

And then there are the folders for book production—PRINT and VELLUM & EBOOK.

PRINT contains the content pdfs for the paperback, hardcover and large print editions, the cover templates and actual full-wrap cover files, and the downloaded proofs. If I’ve used any special fonts, they’ll be in another folder in this folder.

The VELLUM & EBOOK folder contains the Vellum document, which is the program I use to convert a Word doc to ebook formats and print-ready pdf, plus the mobi and epub files for both the ARC and the final versions, and the Vellum-produced cover images to upload.

And that’s about it.

What you have to bear in mind is that BAD TURN is book 13 in the Charlie Fox series. I have another 12 {TITLE} folders in the CHARLIE FOX folder, each of which contains all those elements. Often, when I’m putting together a metadata file for one book, I check back to see how I did something on the last. It involves quite a bit of hopping about and I regularly have so many folders open on the desktop I struggle to work out which is which.

It’s not enough to label a folder COVER, I have to call it BT-COVER just to be sure I know which folder I’ve found. Because, that’s not the only place I keep covers…

In the main FICTION folder, I then have another called COVERS. This is where I keep the PhotoShop files of all the covers I’m working on, the jpg images of the final cover, the original images that make up the different covers, their attributions and picture credits, as well as all the draft versions, and covers I played about with that didn’t quite make the cut. I also keep versions with and without a border. The latter feature is something I realised I needed when I started having covers that were either black or white, to make sure the cover edges are visible on all backgrounds, as you can see from the image below.

with and without borders
The reason these are all together like this is because, when I’m building one cover it’s very important to get the elements lined up with those that have come before it. I need to make sure the author name and series indication is in the same size font and in the same position on the cover. For that, it’s easier to keep everything in one place.

Or, at least, I think it is…

Things have become a little easier since I discovered how to use an Alias on a Mac desktop, which is basically a shortcut. (And I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took me to work that one out.) But I’m still left wondering, is there a better way to do this? A more logical layout? A better critical path analysis?

What do you use? All advice gratefully received!

This week’s Word of the Week came courtesy of EvKa. It’s trophallaxis, meaning the mutual exchange of regurgitated liquids between adult insects and their larvae. It also means the transfer of food or other fluids among members of a community through mouth-to-mouth or anus-to-mouth feeding. Along with nutrients, trophallaxis can involve the transfer of molecules such as pheromones, organisms such as symbionts, and information to serve as a form of communication.

(Note to self: if asked to 'communicate' with EvKa, ask questions on method before agreeing…)

Saturday, June 27, 2020

A Pandemic of Populism

For the past three months I’ve been writing a monthly column for Greece’s premier English language magazine, ATHENS INSIDER.  I submit each column untitled, leaving it to the publisher, Sudha Nair-Iliades, to select a title and write an appropriate lede (aka lead).

I get almost as much of a kick out of her take on my brief essay as I do in writing it!  This week she titled the column A PANDEMIC OF POPULISM, and for the lede wrote:

In his third corona series, Jeff Siger ponders on populist choices and consequences when politics trumps science. One of the lessons in June has been how the power of one event can have an impact on global business and popular culture. “When faced with a pandemic disease of the human body or of the body politic, it is only the elected and their electors who can change things for the better…or leave us to the worse,” he concludes.

Here’s my June column:
This is the third of my monthly chronicles on living through pandemic times, as told from the perspective of an American mystery writer who has called Greece home for 35 years. My wife and I are back in lockdown mode at our rural New Jersey farm, having just returned from two weeks in Manhattan, a worldwide coronavirus epicenter.  New York has beaten down the first wave, and is into its re-opening phases, while keeping a sharp eye out for a pandemic that thrives on complacency. 

While in NYC, I thought of the bear that ranges across my farm.  Next time I see him I’ll have to mention I saw Manhattan streets where he could wander more undisturbed than he does through my pasture.  As long as he wears a mask.

The City has a decidedly different vibe from any I’ve sensed in my fifty years living there. People move with decided purpose, keeping strictly to themselves, and virtually all in masks.  Even many homeless are masked. We’re in a thirty-story building, with all but a third of its residents having escaped to places outside the City. A third of the building’s workforce has been struck down by the virus, some for weeks, some for months. One young doorman told me how he’d spent weeks battling the virus alone in his upper-Manhattan apartment, terrorized as he listened to 24/7 wailings of ambulances carrying critically ill to hospitals, wondering whether he’d be next. I see it as a city on the verge of pandemic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In the introduction to my second column my editor wrote, “The emotions that run through this column starkly contrast with the hope he expresses in his first corona chronicle.”

I wonder what the lead will be this time?

In April I wrote how nations found new heroes in public health professionals leading non-partisan efforts.  In May I warned of political leaders pandering to impatient to reopen constituents through partisan attacks discrediting those same heroes. 

I pondered what would happen should politics trump science. I need ponder no longer

In Brazil, which has the second highest number of coronavirus deaths after the US, its President attempted to end coronavirus reporting, as if hoping to hide the consequences of his administration’s blasé attitude toward the pandemic. 

In the US, the government first abandoned its nationwide public health briefings, relegating US public health officials to soundbite moments on news networks, but now limits even that. Bizarrely, whether to wear or not to wear a mask has morphed into a battleground symbol of which Presidential candidate you support.  Even testing faces that same fate. As for the pandemic, it grinds on inexorably, exacting an ever-increasing toll when prudence preached by public health officials is ignored.

It seems much of the world is living in Alice in Wonderland times, where up is down and down is up.

Aside from wearing a mask and washing your hands, social distancing is a key preventative.  The amount of time you spend in close proximity to another directly influences your risk of infection. Being packed together multiplies your risk, especially when without masks. No (sane) person seems to question those principles.

The question those principles beg is, under what circumstances do the perceived benefits of being part of a large gathering outweigh the potential consequences to you and those you later might infect?

Greece is about to face that question in a head-on test of its commitment to continued strict enforcement of strong public health policies, even if enforcement costs the nation desperately needed tourist cash.  Tourists descending upon the country expecting to experience the same good times as in the past, will find very different rules in place. Stay tuned for next month’s take on how that’s playing out.

As for the rest of our Alice in Wonderland world, much of it will undoubtedly remain fixated on the coronavirus until a vaccine or remedy is available. 

And upon something else. 

Since my last column, a second event of worldwide historic implications has spread around the globe.  The name George Floyd is now known throughout the world, as demonstrators put aside their social distancing concerns in pursuit of social justice. 

Both events are of unique historic significance, taking quick root in popular culture as evidenced by how many global businesses are taking heed. Art, literature, film, fashion, and style are already boring down on the implications of it all…and how the power of one event will affect the impact of the other. 

It’s too soon to tell how each will play out, for there are far too many rapidly moving parts, but I do see one overriding common principle. Whether facing down a pandemic disease of the human body or of the body politic, it is only the elected and their electors who can change things for the better…or leave us to the worse. 

I think I’ll go look for the bear.  He’s more predictable these days than the rest of our world.


Jeff’s Upcoming Events.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020, at 5PM EDT
An International Crime Date with Tim Hallinan, Ragnar Jonasson, and Jeff Siger (moderated by Barbara Peters of Scottsdale’s Poisoned Pen Bookstore)
A Zoom/Facebook Live Event

Friday, June 26, 2020

The Girl In The Blog

A few years ago I was listening to somebody talking at Bouchercon who said that while at  her work she had answered the phone and the man on the other end said ‘Can I speak to one of the girls in the office’ and the author said ‘We follow child labour laws here, we don’t have any "girls in the office"’. 
There was of course resounding applause at the feminist comeback.

Was that a issue of language, rather than gender politics? Surely  language can be very distinct to both time and place. 

At work many patients refer to my Russian colleague as the "Russian boy", and it’s a sign of respect with a little bit of friendship thrown in. My dad would talk about "the boys in the office", my mum talks about "the girls in the knitting bee". Those girls are all over 85. 

More interesting to me and the subject of a few blogs recently has been the use of the word girl in book titles. Just having a 5 minute flick through, I came up with 42.


And I am also guilty,  I put my hand up that I did write a book called The Tambourine Girl, but it was due to be published the same month as a book called The Tangerine Boy, so it was quickly retitled.

So for a bit of lockdown nonsense we could perhaps thinks of some snazzy titles for sequels of what 
the girl did next.

So with a nod to the great Ronnie Barker and his joke What Katy did. What Katy did next and the sequel  Son Of Katy....

Did the Girl on the Train become The Girl in the Window who then became The Girl on the Tracks.

Did the Lost Girls become The Found Girls and then maybe were Gone Girls again

Did the Girl Next Door get friendly with The Girls Upstairs who became The Wild Girls, The Wicked Girls  and the became The Girl Interup…..

Did the Welsh Girl go on holiday with The Swedish Girl and maybe met A Third Girl who was the Girl with Curious Hair and they became The Slaves Girls from Beyond Infinity.

Did the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo become the Girl with rampant Septicaemia. Did The Girl who Kicked the Hornets Nest  end up with a similar fate, as indeed could The Girl who Played with Fire.
(I’m getting the drift that it's dangerous to be a heroine in a Swedish crime book.)

The Girl with the Glass Feet, the Little Match Girl and the Ballerina Girl probably all needed a good chiropodist.

The Marine girl, the Girl in Hyacinth Blue and the Strawberry Girl should get together and form a rainbow.

And I’d really like to meet The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

Did The Girl who loved Tom Gordon  become the Girl who Divorced Tom Gordon.

Did the Pretty Girl of Slender means remain A Boring Girl until she was given the Pearl Earing?

What kind of noise did The Little Drummer Girl make, quite a different noise to the Girl from  Ipanema.

I do have some concern for  The Girl who Fell from the Sky.  I wonder if she knew The 100 year old Man who Climbed out the Window.

And what about The Morality for Beautiful Girls, is that different to The Morality for Girls with Interesting Facial Features.

If some of these have been made into films I have no idea what the book’s about but I would like to appear in the film based on the book the Girl named Disaster.

Why is it though that substituting woman changes the  feeling of the book completely. Does the word girl imply youth and vulnerability? Or a bigger question... why do publishers  like it so much?


Thursday, June 25, 2020



I have thousands of photos from Ghana, many of them forming backdrops in my novels. Here are some top ten favorites in no particular order. Choose your top three and let me know below.

The dizzying cliffs of Cape Three Points, Western Region (Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Much of the Western Region coast is unspoiled, but developers have their eye on some of this prime real estate. Imagine having a home in this setting--easily a million dollars and up. 


Lush green cocoa forest, Ashanti Region  (Photo: Kwei Quartey)

The Adome Bridge, Volta Region (Photo: Kwei Quartey) 

Almost all chocolate in the world comes from Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana. Cocoa beans grow in red to gold cocoa pods (shown), surrounded by a delicious sweet, tangy pulp. One cocoa tree takes about 7 years to bear fruit, and they are prone to various viruses. They cannot be harvested by machine. Remember these hard-working farmers the next time you have a bar of chocolate and try to always buy Fair Trade.

The Adome Bridge is an arch bridge designed in 1956 and completed in 1957. It spans the Volta River downstream from Lake Volta, the largest man-made lake in the world (by area), formed by the Akosombo Hydroelectric Dam.

The Canopy Walkway at Kakum National Park, Central Region (Photo: Kwei Quartey)

The Kakum Canopy Walkway is 350 meters (1150 feet) long, connecting seven treetops. Because of the tremendous height and the undulation and swaying of the walk, some people panic and are unable to continue forward, and have to be "rescued" by park rangers.

River view from the Royal Senchi Hotel, Akosombo (Photo: Kwei Quartey)

An exceedingly tranquil location south of the Akosombo Hydroelectric Dam. I don't know the details, but the Queen of Denmark paid a royal visit to the hotel in 2017 and dedicated a plaque to the hotel.

Mole National Park, Northern Region, Ghana (Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Nothing more majestic than seeing a family of elephants close up. This herd is on the way to a local watering hole below the Zaina Lodge. The Mole Park also has several antelope varieties, wart hogs, and other animals. Reputed lions are rarely, if ever, seen.

Zaina Lodge, Northern Region (Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Zaina Lodge offers terrific safaris, gourmet meals and beautiful vistas from the infinity pool deck, including a view of one of the favorite watering holes of elephants, which also sometimes wander onto the grounds of the Lodge. It's a real treat to see them up so close.

Hanging out with the "sacred" crocodiles of Paga, Upper East Region

The legend of these crocodiles is that one of them rescued a Paga man being chased by a lion by allowing him to ride on its back to safety. Thereafter, the man made everyone vow never to hurt a crocodile. They are essentially domesticated with frequent meals of live chickens, paid for by intrepid travelers. Reportedly, if you find one of these crocodiles resting outside your house, it's a blessing. A Ghanaian friend of mine declared to me, "Sacred or not, a crocodile is a crocodile and I'm never getting close to one." 

A spontaneous group of children I snapped in the town of Dunkwa, Central Region

Ghanaian children love being photographed! Dunkwa is a town featured in my novel, Gold Of Our Fathers.

A troupe of drummers at the Arts Center, Accra

The group gave me an impromptu, rousing performance when a friend of mine introduced me to them. The Arts Center in Accra (Ac-CRA, not "AC-cra") is a tourist trap from which you cannot easily unentangle yourself from a horde of fast-talking vendors, but in this case, I was with a local and so was left alone (Tip: always go around with a trustworthy local.)

And a bonus:

Volta Lake from the Saint Barbara Church (Photo: Sandister Tei)

I took my own photo years ago from exactly this vantage point, but it really didn't do it justice, so I borrowed this from Wikimedia Commons.