Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sour Grapes, or a Reason to Worry?

If you're interested in the world of publishing, then you're aware that Amazon has been moving aggressively to take over some of the traditional publishers' territory by  providing a venue for new authors to publish ebooks, establishing its own publishing house, and cutting deals directly with established authors to publish and sale their books in both traditional and electronic formats.  Both agents and publishers are being cut out by Amazon, and the industry is worried.  Now Barnes and Noble has announced that it will not carry books published by Amazon Publishing.

Amazon's actions look like some much-needed democratization in publishing, and normally I'd be all for competition as it tends to result in a better product for the consumer.  But the lawyer in me can't help but worry about the consolidation of production and distribution (i.e., the publishing and retailing functions).  That's never a good thing for the people who actually produce the product, as it significantly lessens the ability to negotiate a reasonable price for the product.  Authors may soon find themselves dealing with a hegemon.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Peat Monster

As most of you know, India likes a wee dram of whisky now and then.  Personally, I prefer gin (which in India’s time was the scourge of the masses).  My husband, however, has fallen prey to the siren’s song of the uisge beatha.

He is so smitten by her that he orders whiskies from out of state if he can’t find what he wants locally (although we have a really nice liquor and wine store locally).  He tracks the FedEx delivery on his computer and anxiously awaits the ring of the doorbell on delivery day.

Lately he’s been consumed by whiskies from Islay which are known for their strong peat flavor, in particular those from the Ardbeg Distillery.  Always drunk straight up (perhaps with a tiny splash of spring water), but never over ice or with soda – “God forbid one ruin the purity” I have been informed.  

Whisky lovers use phrases like these to describe their favorite drink:  peat, earth, lamp oil, medicinal, thistle, wood smoke, briny and bonfire.  I ask you, would you drink something that tastes like briny lamp oil? 

Now I am not one to dissuade another from life’s pleasures, unless it also infringes upon my own enjoyment of the same.  I must admit that I experience a sinking feeling when I hear the sound of the cork being removed from the bottle as my husband  begins preparing dinner.  He insists that mis en place and drinking go hand in hand.  I will concede this issue to a point, but I've had more than one dinner fall victim to the Peat Monster.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pamela Branch - Vintage Mystery Review

LION IN THE CELLAR – Pamela Branch (1951)

This is an absolute roller-coaster ride of a book.  In 158 pages, Branch juggles over two dozen characters (including a retired lion tamer, an undertaker, three cleaning ladies, an amateur scientist, a herbalist who dabbles in astrology, various criminals, sweet Sukie Chandor,  her law student husband Hugh and her murderous Uncle George), a horse, a goat, a cat, a stuffed lion, and two corpses.  It’s a tribute to her skill that each character, including the animals, is richly drawn and readily distinguished from the others, which is no small feat when working on a canvas this tiny.  Add black humor, hilarious dialogue and a series of improbable events to the mixture, and you wind up with a real treat.

Young Sukie Chandor is sweet and kind, and nobody at the Carp public house minds that her mother is in an insane asylum and that her grandmother hung for killing five people with an axe.  That is, until Sukie discovers the body of veterinary surgeon Bentley in her yard with a bloody axe nearby.  Sukie doesn’t think she killed him, but she isn’t sure.  All she knows is that she must dispose of the body, and she enlists a few of the regulars at the Carp to help her.  This would be a capitol idea if only the regulars didn’t have a few scores to settle among themselves, thereby spending a great deal of time leaving corpses and clues around to incriminate each other.  Before long, Sukie is raiding the housekeeping money to pay blackmail and Hugh is busy applying the principles of “Criminal Law in a Nutshell” to the situation.  In desperation, Sukie calls Uncle George, a well-dressed strangler with a taste for the good life, to help her dispose of the bodies.  All sorts of mayhem ensues.

This is a rich, frothy confection of a book.  If you like your vintage mysteries straightforward, stay away from this one.  But if you like the madcap, the whimsical and the frivolous, then this will be your cup of tea.  Fans of Edmund Crispin would enjoy Branch’s work.

Pamela Branch is an entry in my “Persons of Interest” category over at Bev's Vintage Mystery Challenge.  I'll see if I can sum up Branch in a few phrases:  Born in Ceylon. Urdu speaker.  Horse trainer.  Painter.  World Traveler.  Lived in a tent in the Himalayas and on a houseboat in Kashmir.   Attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.  Hunted with hawks and guns.  At least, this is what she claimed.  After reading Lion in the Cellar, I can see her gleefully indulging in some serious leg-pulling.  I hope it's all true, though we'll never know.  Visit the Rue Morgue Press site here for a more complete bio (from which I extracted the preceding).  I also located a blog post from Caustic Cover Critic which shows covers of her other novels and allows you to read a page from Lion in the Cellar.    

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Choosing a Title

I've posted before about India's third adventure, in which she penetrates a cell of anarchists.  Nineteenth century anarchists were either (a) juvenile, (b) very savvy when it came to public relations, or (c) both.  The cells (or 'combat units' as they liked to call themselves) usually operated under a sinister name, such as the 'Black Banner' or the 'Black Flag.'  Black was definitely the color of choice, although red made an appearance from time to time.

You can see right away that titling India #3 something like India Black and the Black Flag just doesn't sound right.  Casting about for a title, I chose India Black and the Dark Legion.  I wasn't enamored with this title, so I sent an alternative to my editor:  India Black and the Infernal Machines.  Anarchist bombs were often referred to by the police and the press as 'infernal machines.'  That title didn't grab me either.  Emily the editor has suggested India Black and the Shadows of Anarchy, which I'm inclined to go with.  You wouldn't think you could invent an entire world and people it with imaginary characters and still not be able to come up with a simple thing like a title but, trust me, it can be done.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Welcome to the new blog.  I hope this one will be more visually interesting and user-friendly in terms of leaving comments.  I'll be talking about the things that interest me:  India, French and Vincent, as well as writing, reading, history, shooting, working out, vintage mysteries, music, things that make me laugh, and assorted other topics.  I promise that I will not pontificate about a certain election that's looming on the horizon, despite the temptation to do so.

Fantastic Review

I have to share this one.  It's a glowing review from Open Letters Monthly, an ezine devoted to the arts and literature.  I'll also be doing a Q & A and I'll let you know when that's posted.  My thanks to Steve Donoghue for such a terrific review.  I'm afraid this one may go to India's head.

Here's a link to my Q&A with Open Letters Monthly.

India's First Interview

Lesa very kindly allowed me to interview India for her blog.  See what our heroine has to say for herself here.

2012 Writing Projects

After a month of hedonistic pleasure, it's time to return to work.  Here's what I'll be doing in 2012:

This month I'll be giving India #3 a final read through before it goes off to the editor at the end of the month.  I abhor proof reading, but it must be done and done carefully.

I'll be doing the research for India # 4.  I have two ideas in mind for her next adventure, subject to the issues discussed in the next paragraph.

I'll be drafting two proposals for India #4 and sending them to my agent Ann for her reaction.  I do not have a contract for a 4th book, and I'll be talking to Ann about whether to invest the time in writing the 4th now without a clear commitment from the publisher.  As much as I enjoy India (and I know that if you're reading this blog that you do as well) the bottom line is that publishing is all about selling books.  How #3 sells will be critical, but of course we won't know the sales figures for many months, hence my uncertainty about proceeding with the 4th novel now.

I have started the research for novel about a female OSS agent set in Washington, D.C. during World War II.  I envision this as a series, with the agent taking on increasingly dangerous assignments as the war progresses.

That should be enough to keep me busy.  I can tell from comments I receive from friends and contacts that the publication of a novel is considered some magical moment that confers legitimacy on the author.  Well, it's a nice validation of your efforts, but you're only as good as your last book.  You have to keep writing and pushing yourself to produce the next manuscript.

That's what I'll be doing during 2012.  Hope you come along for the ride.

2012 Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge

My reading is all over the place.  One month I'm hooked on detective novels and the next I'm devouring Russian history.  I could never join a book group because I like to read what I want to read, when I want to read it.  The exception for me was Bev's 2011 Vintage Mystery Challenge.  I signed up to read 16 books, and tried to choose authors I hadn't read in a while or had never tried.  I had so much fun that I'm ready for Bev's Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge 2012.  I'm doing two levels this year:  Golden Age Girls and something in the Murderous Miscellany category I'm calling "Persons of Interest."  These are authors who led very interesting lives.  We'll meet masters of real-life espionage, former POW's, dancers, and a woman who fled Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution.  This one will be fun.  Here's the list.

Golden Age Girls:

The Lighthearted Quest - Ann Bridge (1956)

The Shape of a Stain - E.X. Ferrars (1942)

The Bells of Old Bailey - Dorothy Bowers (1947)

Who Killed the Curate? - Joan Coggin (1944)

The Black Smith - Constance & Gwyneth Little (1950)

Green December Grows the Graveyard - Maureen Sarsfield (1945)

Home Sweet Homicide - Craig Rice (1944)

Murder on the Purple Water - Frances Crane (1947)

Persons of Interest (Murderous Miscellany):

Lion in the Cellar - Pamela Branch (1951)

An Oxford Tragedy - J.C. Masterman (1931)

Corpse des Ballet - Lucy Cores (1944)

Death in the Quadrangle - Eilis Dillon (1956)

Murder Makes Me Nervous - Margaret Scherf (1948)

She Shall Have Murder - Delano Ames (1948)

The Widening Stain - Morris Bishop (1942)

Be Shot for Sixpence - Michael Gilbert

The Vesper Service Murders - Van Wyck Mason (1931)

Wedding Planners With Guns

I had no idea that Hillary Clinton's protection detail has several female agents.  Here is an article about them, and here is a great photo essay.  The title of this post comes from an agent's description of her job.

Nancy Wake

I am fascinated by the women who served in the OSS (the forerunner of the CIA) and the British Special Operations Executive in World War II.   Nancy Wake was the "most redoubtable" of SOE agents who operated in France, according to the Economist, and she died last week at 98.  Here's her obituary from the Telegraph.