Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I Don't Do Costumes

I have lovely memories of Halloween as a child, trotting down the streets with a plastic pumpkin in my hand, sweating under my little mask, tripping over sidewalks and driveways because I couldn't see where I was going, then gorging myself on candy until I was sick.  Ah, those were the days.

But then I grew up, and for the life of me I can't understand why adults want to dress up for Halloween or turn their home into a miniature haunted house.  I don't do costumes or lighted jack o' lanterns lining the walk.  If I buy candy, it's for me.  What do you call a Scrooge at Halloween?  And as for people who dress up their pets?  Don't get me started.  Okay, I'll admit this one is funny:

Monday, October 29, 2012

Martyn Ashton

Nope, not a new writer.  A rider.  Of bikes that is.  Watch this full screen and leave your house with a smile on your face.

Friday, October 26, 2012


This week I made it through the first draft of India #4.  This is always the ugly part, where I find that I left plot holes (see what I did there?) large enough to envelop giant trucks.  Much red ink is spilled during this process.  Paragraphs and sometimes entire pages move around willy-nilly.  Characters' names are changed, their appearances altered and inevitably I cut something out that I thought was pretty darn good.  I just love chunking that first draft into the waste basket.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Really, Really Bad News

It was a hot summer here and I spent a good part of it relocating my mom from her apartment to an assisted living facility.  Around 3:00 every afternoon, I found myself flagging.  A drive through McDonalds and a large mocha frappe and I was set.  I'm ashamed to say I became addicted.  Last Friday I stopped (after working out, mind you) and picked up one.  Did I mention that they're only $2.78 from 2:00-4:00?
It's only coffee, right?  And a little Hershey's syrup?  And a big blob of whipped cream from a can?  How bad can it be?

680 calories
96 grams of carbohydrates
87 grams of sugar


Monday, October 22, 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012

The TBR Pile

As I traverse the world of book blogs, I hear a universal complaint:  TBR piles have grown to gargantuan proportions and are taking over bloggers' homes.  I've found a solution to that.  Just purchase an ereader.  My TBR pile is now contained in my Kindle and my iPad.

No more piles of books, no more shoe-horning bookshelves into every available space and no more culling books when the herd becomes too large. Genius!  Even better, no feelings of guilt about all the books I'll never get around to reading.  I don't have to open that iPad if I don't want to.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I'm Not Confused Anymore

Silly me.  I thought this political campaign was about important issues like the economy and jobs.  It turns out that here in Missouri, it's actually about whether the state's name is pronounced "Missouree" or "Missouruh."
According to the NY Times (!), this is a burning issue, with candidates flip-flopping like hooked trout, trying to curry favor with the rural dwellers and older voters (who apparently tend to favor "uh" over "ee") and trotting out "ee" whenever they talk to urbanites sipping lattes.

Thanks for clearing that up, NY Times.  This issue goes straight to the top of my list.  A word of advice:  why don't you talk to someone from Missouri who is NOT a politician, linguistics professor, or political operative?  Then you might have learned that most people here could care less how the name is pronounced and find your article downright stupid.

And by the way, is there any chance you'll actually report something substantive about the election in the near future?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Heroes Coffee

My to-do list is too long.  The only way to cope with it is ingesting massive amounts of coffee.  Even our itty-bitty Midwestern city (that's cute, isn't it?) sports several coffee roasteries.  I tried out a new one a few weeks ago and now I'm hooked. 

Heroes Coffee doesn't look particularly inviting, but step inside and smell the Costa Rican and Ethiopian beans roasting.

It's pretty basic inside, with just a few tables and a counter.

The real action takes place behind the plate glass window.

Worth checking out if you're in the area, and they have several franchised coffee shops in the Ozarks.  You can read about them here.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Q & A with Mark Pryor

It's my pleasure to welcome Mark Pryor, author of The Bookseller.  Not only did Library Journal give it a starred review, the book was also awarded "Debut of the Month."  I reviewed it on Monday, and asked Mark to share some more information about himself and his novel.

You’re English by birth, so what prompted you to write a thriller featuring a Texan as the hero?

I've been living in Texas for the past ten years and there's something fascinating and romantic about the place.  Larger than life in so many ways, a place that, whether you love or hate it, conjures images of  the kinds of things great stories are made of-- heroes, bad guys, guns, horses, wide open plains.  But I always knew my novel would be set in Paris so somehow it made perfect sense to put a Texan there.  An old-fashioned Texan in cowboy boots amid the chic-ness of Paris… there's tension before a word's even written!

You’ve succeeded in making me want to visit Paris in the winter.  What is it that draws you to the city?  And why did you choose a winter setting?

Why thank you.  Several things draw me to the city.  In my humble opinion, it's the most visually appealing city in the world.  It's one of the few major European cities not bombed in the war so there's very little of that hideous fifties and sixties concrete that you'll see elsewhere.  It's also a city that's easy to explore on foot, and while you're doing that there are a million cafes where you can sit and rest your weary feet.  The food, too… love the food.  I've heard Paris described as a small city, not just because it's so accessible, but because its many arrondissments are like mini-cities themselves, each with its own nuance and flavor.  I definitely agree with that assessment.

As for the setting being winter, I was there in winter when the story came to me.  Simple, but there you are.  That said, I do think that the weather can be like a character in a book, creating moods and even obstacles for the characters to overcome.  I didn't try for too much of that, but it definitely plays a minor role.  I should also admit that I wanted Hugo to wear a hat and I only wear mine in the winter, so it seemed like he would, too.

Which appeared to you first, your character Hugo or the plotline?

The plot.  I wanted to write a story that revolved around the booksellers who work alongside the River Seine, the bouquinistes, so I began with that.  As I thought more about it, and came up with my crusty old bookseller Max, I wondered who might be a good counterpoint.  Hugo developed fairly quickly in my mind, a sort of coming together of people I've known.  He and Max have enough in common plus enough differences that a "friendship with sparks" seemed natural.

You started work as a journalist.  What initiated the move into law, and the subsequent decision to write?

I did.  When I moved to the US I did some freelancing but found it hard to land a full-time job because I didn't have a US journalism degree.  So, I went to UNC-Chapel Hill to complete that but while there became involved with an anti-death penalty organization, representing death row inmates.  From there, a move to law school seemed logical (oh, about the law v. journalism thing, I tell people, "If I'm going to do a job where people don't respect me, I might as well get paid well for it").  Now, from that background to being a Texas prosecutor, there's another story…!

As for the writing, well, I've always meddled.  I suppose about ten years ago I really thought I'd try and finish a story.  I did, and it was… average, probably.  Then I wrote another, which I liked a lot more.  The desire to write  has always lurked within, it's the end product that's really evolved (one hopes).  Now writing is less a choice than a compulsion--I have two non-Hugo stories I've started to put down on paper and am desperate to finish.  But before I get to them, I have a non-fiction (true crime) deadline and two more Hugo books to finish up.  It's a wonder I have time to work for a living…

Is The Bookseller your first novel?  Could you share with us how it came to be published?

It's the first one I've had published.  I wrote and tried to sell two before, but they never got off the ground.  I'm sure it's because they weren't good enough.  The Bookseller took me about six months to write, then another six months to land an agent.  That was exciting, I can tell you, after two abject failures to have a fair amount of interest from agents.  And I consider myself oh so lucky to have ended up with Ann Collette of the Rees Agency. 

She and I worked for about three months on tightening the book, changing the beginning a little to accelerate the action.  Then I was on submission to publishers for a year, and we got very close with some of the bigger houses but in the end they passed.  That turned out to be a blessing in disguise because  a year after being on submission I got an offer for a three-book deal from Prometheus Books, their new mystery imprint called Seventh Street Books.  The Bookseller is one of two that launches the imprint in October, and the folks there have been simply amazing to work with.

I’ve always assumed an author writes the kind of book he likes to read.  Are you a committed thriller fan?  Who are your favorite writers in the genre?

Yes, I am.  It's pretty much all I read, to be honest.  My favorite author is probably Alan Furst, I devour everything he puts out.  The way he can set up a scene, create atmosphere without drowning the reader in words, it's impressive.  And he's very much in the vein of other writers I like, the older ones like Eric Ambler or Cornell Woolrich.  Really, there are so many great writers out there these days, it's a treat for readers who love the mystery/thriller genre.

You’re an assistant district attorney in Austin, Texas, and have a family.  How and when do you make time to write?

My family has been so supportive and encouraging, that's the "how."  They make time and they don't mind if I take off for a few hours by myself.  I usually go to the library, maybe four to six hours a week, and I write very fast so I can knock out a chapter or three every week.  And when I'm not actually writing, I plan the next scene in my head quite carefully, while I'm working out or walking the dog, for example.  That way, when I do sit down with my laptop it flows from the dense mass that is my head onto the page without too much trouble.

Because I love cowboy boots, I just have to know:  what brand of boots does Hugo prefer?  Or does he have them made by hand?  Describe his favorite pair, please.

Great question!  He has three pairs, one for work, one for casual, and one for formal events.   All are quite plain, with fairly minimal stitching, he's not a flashy kind of guy.  His casual pair are his favorites, made in Texas by Lucchese.  They are brown and ten years old, worn and a little frayed, but they fit like a glove.  Or two gloves.  As any cowboy will tell you, putting on shoes is a part of getting dressed, whereas pulling on your favorite boots is a pleasure all its own.

Monday, October 8, 2012

New Author, Great Book

Add a new thriller to your bookshelves.  The Bookseller is Mark Pryor’s debut novel, and it’s a cracker.  Library Journal has given it a starred review and named it “Debut Novel of the Month.”  Isn't that a great cover?

Here's the summary from Amazon:

Max—an elderly Paris bookstall owner—is abducted at gunpoint. His friend, Hugo Marston, head of security at the US embassy, looks on helplessly, powerless to do anything to stop the kidnapper. Marston launches a search, enlisting the help of semiretired CIA agent Tom Green. Their investigation reveals that Max was a Holocaust survivor and later became a Nazi hunter. Is his disappearance somehow tied to his grim history, or even to the mysterious old books he sold?

On the streets of Paris, tensions are rising as rival drug gangs engage in violent turf wars. Before long, other booksellers start to disappear, their bodies found floating in the Seine. Though the police are not interested in his opinion, Marston is convinced the hostilities have something to do with the murders of these bouquinistes.

Then he himself becomes a target of the unknown assassins.

Hugo is the sort of understated hero you often find in Alan Furst’s work, with perhaps a bit more grit given his ranching background in Texas and his work as head of security at the American Embassy in Paris.  Hugo is an engaging character, urbane and polished, but also possessing a Texan’s independent streak and a dogged determination to solve the mystery of his friend Max’s disappearance.  There are plenty of red herrings to lead you astray in this very fine and fast-paced debut.  Pryor excels at creating memorable characters; even those who make the briefest of appearances are fully realized.  I particularly like Tom, the semiretired CIA agent.  With his fondness for the bottle and his foul mouth, he makes a great foil for Hugo. 

Let’s see, have I missed anything?  Oh, yes.  There are Nazi hunters and Nazi collaborators, a sexy reporter who may or may not be playing Hugo, an aristocratic bibliophile, and gunplay.  Not enough for you yet?  Add some dazzling descriptions of Paris in winter and a peek into the history of the booksellers who inhabit the stalls along the Seine, and you’ve got an appealing and exciting new thriller to read.  I’m already looking forward to Hugo’s next adventure and hoping there will be many more.  

Mark is an assistant district attorney with the Travis County District Attorney's Office, in Austin, Texas. He is the creator of the true-crime blog DAConfidential. He has appeared on CBS News's 48 Hours and Discovery Channel's Discovery ID: Cold Blood.  Come back on Wednesday when the author graciously consents to answer a few questions for us.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Few Days Off

From writing, that is.  I've been working on arranging reviews for upcoming publications, contacting bloggers who have written reviews of the previous India Black books.  Don't you have a publicist, you ask?  Yes, I do.  But a writer who relies on their publicist to get the word out about new releases is not doing anything to help herself.  The publicist will cover all the major institutional reviewers, such as Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and Library Journal.  She and I will work together to produce a list of bloggers who'll receive the ARC's, but much of this work depends on me.  I know who's reviewed the books in the past, and I'm the one who is constantly searching for new bloggers who might be interested in reading my work.  It takes a lot of time to establish these contacts, but it's worth it.  Not only have I spread the word about India, I've made a number of new friends via the internet.   

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Life's Little Pleasures

I've taken off a few days to steel myself for the task of proofing India #4.  Here's a pictorial essay about my activities over the last four days.  I ate some vegetable korma:

And some chili:

Read this:

And this:  

Watched several games of this:

And several episodes of this (Antiques Roadshow, the British version):

And cleaned this (not really my bathroom, but I like it better than mine and think I'd enjoy cleaning it more than I do my own):

And finally, made a trip to Heroes Coffee and bought some of their Costa Rican decaf roasted on site (you can see the roastery through the window to the right):

What an exciting life.  I start proofing tomorrow.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Code Breaker

Did you know we had female code breakers during both world wars?  Me neither.  Right now I'm reading Inferno by Max Hastings, a riveting history of World War II.  Hastings lauds the work of Joseph Rochefort, a cryptanalyst at Pearl Harbor, who played an instrumental role in the battle of Midway.  I looked up Rochefort on Wikipedia, which led me in turn to this woman:

Agnes Meyer Driscoll.  She graduated from Ohio State University with majors in mathematics, physics, foreign languages and music.  Having no talent in languages, science or music, the thought of one of those is enough to send me into a panic.  Imagine mastering all four.