Friday, October 29, 2010

What's so great about Halloween

I'm surprised at the number of kids who tell me that Halloween is their favorite holiday--over Christmas with all the presents and the tree, over 4th of July with the parades and fireworks, or Easter with the chocolate eggs.

I'm also surprised at the costumes they choose. I think my girls were always something sweet and adorable--princesses and fairies and maybe a good witch or two. But my little granddaughter Mary has been a vampire, two years in a row. What's more, she is so convincing about it that her teacher last year had to ask her mother to speak to her about scaring the other children.
"They think she's a real vampire," the teacher said.
So Clare spoke to her and she agreed she wouldn't try to tell them she was a real vampire any longer.
So guess what she told them?
She told them she was really a werewolf instead!

So is this the main reason that kids like Halloween? Not the candy? They love the power of being able to scare people, and feeling just a little scared themselves. Mary for the rest of the year is a sweet, well-behaved little girl (if a rather good actress).

But I'm also surprised at the number of adults who say they love Halloween. I suppose again it's the costumes, the taking on a character so different from our own--pretending to be evil, or sexy, or both. It's the one day nobody stops us if we act strangely or look even stranger.
But it's not for everyone. You try getting my husband to select a costume for a party tomorrow night. He's agreed to look like an Englishman from the 1930s, wearing blazer, bow tie, yachting cap, white flannel trousers.  And what does he normally wear--blazer, sometimes bow tie, sometimes light trousers. And he thinks this is a costume???
I'm going as my character, Lady Georgie in my blond flapper wig, long backless evening dress and long pearls. Still looking for cigarette holder, and you know what? They don't seem to make candy cigaretts any more so I'll have to pay for a pack of real cigs--almost more expensive than the rest of the costume.
 I expect we'll have fun, but it's not my favorite holiday. My favorites involve the family, around the dinner table, fire crackling merrily, Christmas carols on the stereo, tree twinkling with lights in one corner. Or Thanksgiving is almost as good.

You know how Halloween started, don't you? It's a Celtic festival that was adopted into the Christian calendar. It is the one night of the year when the door bewteen the two worlds opened and the dead came among us. And people put on scary costumes--skeletons and ghosts--so that the dead would think they were one of their own and wouldn't take them to the otherworld with them.
Do you think they'd be convinced by a man in a bow tie and yachting cap?

Do you love Halloween?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Jungle Red

Sorry, I haven't posted all week on this blog, but I have a good excuse--apart from the Giants.
It is my week to blog on Jungle Red Writers ( and I've been blogging every day this week.

If you have a moment please jump over to that site: I've discussed Sex and the Single Sleuth, a true crime story about human hearts found in jars at a local cemetery. I've interviewed Tasha Alexander. And today a lovely true story about an old blind woman who acquired a whole new circle of young friends who took turns reading her favorite books to her. And this was in New York, the last place you'd expect such neighborly behavior among strangers.

And tomorrow a whimsical look at childhood pastimes. See you over there!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Rain, Rain Go Away!

Yesterday it started raining in Northern California and my thoughts turned instantly to Arizona. I started going through my wardrobe deciding which clothes I needed to take with me, which items from my office. Our condo is actually well stocked with clothes basics but there are some items I need for when I'm giving talks etc. And some favorites that have to come with me to both places.

Now I know that rain is a good thing. After a dry summer we need a good wet winter in California to fill those reservoirs, prevent fires and make things grow. But I'm sorry. I just don't like rain, or cold--apart from the occasional crisp day on the ski slopes. Other people say that they couldn't live without the four seasons, but I would be happy with sun every day. In fact I feel cheated if I don't wake to blue skies.

This aversion to rain and dark skies is strange, considering I was born and grew up in a country where rain and dark skies are the norm for much of the year. But I realize now that I've always suffered from SAD--the seasonal disorder that makes the body not work well in lack of sunlight. Not only do I find it hard to leave the comfort of my bed in winter, I actually feel depressed. Clearly my body was designed to hibernate and not emerge until springtime (no wonder I've always had an affinity with bears!)

But I have a book that needs to be written during the winter months. So I do the next best thing to hibernation--I escape to Arizona. I wake to the sun sending stripes on my wall through the fronds of the palm tree outside my window. We go for long walks in the desert and take photos of cactus and birds and the most incredible sunsets. And I've come to the conclusion that the stork actually dropped me into the wrong country at birth. I wasn't supposed to be British. The Brits put on their wellies and raincoats and stomp merrily through the puddles, chanting things like, "This rain will be good for the cabbages."

And I've just realized that I've set my next Royal Spyness book on the French Riviera where my heroine has joined all the English who flee south for the winter. So maybe I'm not such a strange bird after all. Maybe most of my compatriots would seek sunshine if they could, and indeed many Brits now own homes in Spain or take a winter holiday in the Caribbean. And maybe my heroine is becoming an alter ego.

Hands up--who likes the four seasons? Who would opt for eternal summer?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Let's Go, Giants!

You may be surprised to discover this, from my demure and British demeanor, but I am a rabid sports fan. Of a competitive nature myself, I love watching any kind of sport--even lawn bowling, which is about a slow and sedate as it gets. However I really love it when I can cheer for MY TEAM.

So for the past few weeks I have been going through a regular dose of Giant's torture. It seems they can never win a game by a clear margin. It has to come down to one run, or, as it was in last night's game, going into the ninth tied. I have a feeling this can't be good for the heart. And baseball is the most heart-stopping game I know. Other games--soccer, tennis, are constant motion, constant give and take with a point here, a point there. In baseball time freezes. All the focus is on two figures-pitcher and batter. One wrongly placed pitch, one good swing of the bat and the world changes. It's like a brilliant chess game.

The other thing that I find fascinating is the pyschology of sports fans. If you've been to a big stadium to watch a game, you're witnessing the closest thing to a tribe we have in the current century. Forty thousand hearts beating as one. An overwhelming sense of kinship, togetherness. Every player down there is our brother, and his triumphs and defeats are our triumphs and defeats.

Tonight it's game five and the Giants could win the pennant. I only wish I could be there to be part of that tribe, chanting "Let's go Giants." clap  clap  clap-clap-clap."  I join in at home. Husband John looks at me and rolls his eyes.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Party's Over.

I've been silent for a while because I've been at Bouchercon--the World Mystery Convetnion, which was held only a few miles from me in San Francisco this weekend. Bouchercon is one of those enormous conventions that takes place all over the USA, sometimes in Canada or even in UK. (I'm waiting for Australia next!). And brings in writers, publishers, reviewers and readers from all over the world. There was a good British contingent--note I say British, not English, because Val McDermid and Denise Mina would kill me. There was Irish representation and even Icelandic.

The local guest of honor was Laurie R. King, of Mary Russell fame. The international guest of honor was Denise Mina from Scotland and Lee Child was given a distinguished contribution to the genre honor. Lee brought with him not only members of his family--brother Andrew with lovely new wife Tasha Alexander, and niece Dana, but four Jack Reacher lookalikes for his Reachers Creatures party on Friday night. Imagine four buff guys, all six foot five and wearing tight Tshirts! That and the Dove bars in hospitality were highlights for me (okay, I'm shallow). Lee and Laurie were ominpresent, always with time to chat to everyone and epitomizing how generous and welcoming the mystery comunity is.

Other highlights were my non-panel--billed as a conversation with 3 goddesses (Louise Penny, Deborah Crombie and moi) It is so easy to chat with them, especially as they are two of my favorite writers and the audience seems to enjoy our completely unscripted chats; then applauding my blogmate, fellow Jungle Red Writer Hank Phillippi Ryan, as she won best short story on her birthday.

This picture is from our last goddess conversation. I'm still waiting for someone to send me the pictures that were taken this time. Oh, and I'm so glad I didn't wear the same jacket!

These conventions seem to turn into non-stop eating and drinking. Hi, how are you? let's grab a coffee. let's do breakfast tomorrow... let's have a drink at the bar to catch up. No wonder the line in the ladies room was always so long.  It was good to catch up with so many friends I hadn't seen in a while. All I had to do was stand at the bottom of the escalator and the whole world came to me! My one disappointment was missing my look-alike twin Meg Chittenden. She was supposed to attend but instead was rushed to hospital with clots in her lung. I hope she felt the love we all sent her.

So I realize I've given the scoop on a convention without one single piece of dirt to dish. The reason for this is that I was away for the juicy bits. I didn't stay in the convention hotel as I live just across the Bay--so I missed out on the fun late night stuff (memo to self--don't to that again. Lost half the fun). Also I was whisked across the Bay to the booksellers convention in Oakland to attend their author reception and sign books for my Royal Spyness publisher so I couldn't attend that publisher's party. I did attend the Minotaur party and stood between my favorite ancient Romans Lindsay Davies and Steven Saylor, and the Touchstone release party for their new serial novel. 

And now it's the day-after-Christmas feeling and I'm looking through the program and noting all the people I never saw in four days. It's always that way. Back to reality and laundry.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

To Catch a Thief

In August I blogged about having my purse stolen in France and how vulnerable and angry it made me feel.
Well today on my group blog, Jungle Red Writers ( Hallie interviews a young woman who took the law into her own hands, just like our amateur detectives do, and found the man who stole her purse. It's a great success at sleuthing and shows how social media is helping to track down criminals. So do pop over to Jungle Red and read her adventure for yourselves.

By the way, I'll be blogging on the same theme when it's my turn at True Crime Tuesday in two weeks from now.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Not enough hours..

Happy Columbus day everybody. If it's a holiday for you, enjoy. The weather here is fabulous but I don't think I'll be outside much because I have what might be called a busy week ahead:
My primary task is to finish the final polish on my new book which is due at the publisher's NOW. But my ability to focus on this task may be impeded by the following events...
At noon today my daughter and her children are arriving from Phoenix, on their way to visit my other daughter. It will be brief but chaotic with every toy in the house taken out, I fear.
Tomorrow I speak at yet another library
Wednesday we go to pick up the famous 2000 year old librarian Doris Ann Norris, who will be staying with us for the duration of Bouchercon, the world mystery convention which is in San Franicsco this year.
Thursday the convention begins (for me with an invitation to stop by and be welcoming at a new authors breakfast at 8 a.m.)  For once I'm not staying at the convention hotel, but taking the ferry in to the city as the hotel is at the bottom of Market Street where the ferry docks, so this is a lovley way to start the day.
The day ends with a publisher's reception.
Friday into the city again and again a breakfast meeting (why do people always want to meet me at breakfast--don't they know it's not my finest hour?)
Friday evening I have a car provided by my publisher to whisk me across the Bay to the Northern California booksellers convention in Oakland where I'm part of the big author's reception.
Saturday--my panel at the convention is, guess what, at 8:30 a.m. I have to be bright and witty with Louise Penny and Deborah Crombie at that hour.
Saturday night is a disco ball. Not sure about that one. Not too many mystery fans and writers are built for disco dancing.
And Sunday the convention ends with a brunch, then John and I are giving an author friend our famous tour of San Francisco.
And on the seventh day Rhys rested--I hope!
The convention endswi

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How Long is Too Long?

Yesterday I posted on Facebook that I had finished the first draft of my new Lady Georgie book and felt it was a little long, so the next step was to bring out the axe.
I was surprised this morning to see a whole lot of replies saying "please don't cut it. We want your books to be as long as possible." Some were kind enough to add, 'we don't want them to end." but others added, "We love long books."

So now I'm curious--do you love long books? Do you select books based on length? Are you turned off by big fat books or do you look forward to staying with them for a while? Is there a certain length that mysteries should be? (mine are usually around 300 pages. The Molly Murphy series goes a little longer, closer to 400 sometimes).
I'm actually re-reading the last Harry Potter book at the moment--as a sort of wind-down after all the frantic activity in my life this month and I have to say I am not finding the 700 pages to be a chore. it's nice to see, when I pick it up, that there are still a few hundred pages to go.

And of course with my new Kindle the question of the weight of a 700 page book is removed from the equation, isn't it? I can read War and Peace, holding it in one hand!! And speaking of weight--the thinness and lightness of Kindle was one of the factors in deciding to go with it over the iPad or even the Nook. But now I think I should get a case for it and you know what? The cases are heavy. Does that make sense? Can anyone suggest a light little sleeve that keeps out dust but doesn't turn my Kindle into a clunky object?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

It's a Small World

I've just been checking my blog stats and among other things it shows where my blog visitors come from. I was surprised to see that I have visitors from both Russia and Egypt. Either this is wonderful and it means my readership is spreading throughout the world, OR it means someone in Russia is looking for a way to hack/spam/take over my blog and someone in Egypt is similarly looking for a way to infiltrate my blog with terror messages.

Let's hope the former! I'm amazed at how small the world has become. When I ran a contest on a website last year the prize for the entries that had traveled the most miles went to South Africa, followed by Finland. I certainly have friends from all over the world on Facebook. Every now and then I'm reading through Facebook news and a chat button will click on and I find myself chatting with someone from Africa or Australia. How cool is this? Perhaps Facebook will actually achieve what everyone else has tried to do--bring about world peace and understanding!

Today I go literary... I'm reading at Litquake, which is a week long festival of the written word in San Francisco. I'm reading at a theater with fellow crime writers Barry Eisler, Sophie Littlefield and one more, but we follow a group of poets and after us a group of memoirs. I'm going first, thanks to beginning with B,so I'm just hoping that the poet before me hasn't written a long poem about the death of a butterfly or the end of the world, because I intend to make people laugh with an excerpt from Royal Blood.