Friday, December 22, 2006

Thank you, Graham!!!

Let us all pause and give a big shout out to Graham Powell, whose Crimespot is the one-stop shopping spot for all mystery and crime blogs. Check there first to find the most recently updated blogs, by category.

Thanks a million for all your work, Graham!!

Alex

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Dare to be bad

"Dare to be bad."

This is what my jazz teacher said in the middle of dance class last night, to try to push some younger students into taking more chances. He went on to say "I'd much rather have you be over the top and have to tell you 'That's too much, now, sweetie, tone it down'. It's much easier to get you to scale it back than to get you up to performance level to begin with."

As in dance, so in writing, I think.

"Dare to be bad" is not a new concept for me. DTBB was our motto in my college theater group. It was amazingly liberating. I mean, what's the worst that can happen on stage? You can suck. Furthermore, you're going to suck. Guaranteed. Sometimes you just suck.

But once you get over your fear of sucking? That fearlessness translates into a confidence that takes you places you were always afraid to go, before. And once you've made a bad choice, you've eliminated somethiing that doesn't work and are one step closer to finding something that does work.

Same with the page. So you write a scene, chapter, sequence that sucks. It's just paper. Throw it away. Use what you just learned to write something better.

Don't mind me, I'm just speaking to myself, here, because I'm having performance anxiety about my third book. But hearing those particular words coming out of my teacher's mouth last night reminded me - you get nowhere in dance, writing or life - without risk.

Dare to be bad.

Hah. This week, I am fearless. ;)

Friday, December 08, 2006

Ken Bruen and Dream Tag

It's cocktail hour over at Good Girls Kill For Money, so come have a Tiny Guinness with Tasha and her guest, the most excellent Ken Bruen, one of my new favorite people in the universe.

Also, we're playing Tag at Murderati today. Here's the scary and illuminating question: What are the five things YOU'D like to do someday?

Play if you dare...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Trader Joe's - THANK GOD

The very first North Carolina Trader Joe's opened last week in Cary - known around Raleigh as "Stepford", but that's another post. The important thing is, the new store is a ten-minute drive from my Raleigh house.

In California, we all take TJ's for granted. With the rock bottom prices on staples like milk, nuts and of course, wine; and the vast variety of specialty foods that can only be described as FUN - there's really no need to grocery shop anywhere else and the place is so COMFORTABLE. And the staff are all so happy and helpful (real salaries, profit participation and medical benefits will do that, funny, isn't it?).

I swear half the time I jump on the plane to go back to LA it's because I miss Trader Joe's. And I haven't bought cheese, which normally I live on, even once in Raleigh because after TJ's, the prices are just criminal.

So of course I went to TJ's on Saturday. It looked like the place had been hit by looters. The shelves were practically empty - but the register lines stretched to the back of the store. It was a 45-minute wait to check out, and you could barely move through the rivers of people in the aisles, but no one was complaining - the general mood was giddiness, if not sheer ecstasy.

Some of us have been waiting a long time for this. And others are catching on.

I talked to people in line who have been driving to DC (up to now the closest TJ's) to get their fix. Once people heard I'm from California, I became the expert from afar and had people coming up to me from all over the store asking for recommendations. I myself, absolutely NOT a foodie, bought almost $300 worth and half my favorite things were already out of stock. But the best thing was seeing all these people who had never been inside a Trader Joe's, wandering wide-eyed around the aisles like children on Christmas morning. Converts if I've ever seen it.

Yes, it was a good week in Raleigh. The times, they are a changin'.


http://www.traderjoes.com/

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Book drive for Nidorf Juvenile Detention Center

The UCLA YALSA chapter (Young Adult Library Services Association) is having a book drive over the holidays to collect books for the Nidorf Juvenile Detention Center in Los Angeles and has created a Nidorf Wish List on Amazon.

Books can also be dropped off in person at UCLA's Powell Library.

Paperbacks only please! These books are to go into the living units, where the kids can only have paperbacks. There is an urgent need to provide books to this population--thanks so much for doing your part!

For more information please e mail: books4nidorf@earthlink.net

Monday, December 04, 2006

Murderati bound

I am thrilled and honored to announce that I've joined the wild and wicked cast of Murderati, my favorite murder blog. I'll be blogging there on Saturdays, and of course mixing it up with the gang throughout the week, as well as doing my posts here on Mondays and whenever else the spirit (or procrastination) moves me.

Here's a look at the new lineup - hope to see you there!

Monday, November 27, 2006

On the beach

I’m at the beach this weekend.

Southerners have many fine qualities, I’m finding. The men are incorrigible flirts, the women have roll-on-the-floor wicked senses of humor, they can all cook like pros, they’re all so very, very, well, colorful.

But one quality I simply adore about Southerners is that so many of them seem to have beach houses, and consequently so many parties mean “at the beach.” This is not so much the case in California, where we have no dearth of world-class parties, but no mere mortal can afford beach property.

Going to the beach for the day is lovely, but waking up with the ocean outside your door is profound.

All these long walks on the sand and all these hours of simply staring at the sun changing on the water is being clarifying, as always. Like having my mind vacuum-cleaned. I have to say I probably wouldn’t feel the need to write at all if I lived right on the sea like this. I’d be teaching yoga and meditating my way off this Wheel of Karma (which at my current rate, if desire is what keeps us cycling through lives, will not happen for another seven millennia).

I don’t know how long it would take the ocean to wash the compulsion to write out of me – probably would have to measure it in years. But just over the last few days I’ve achieved some kind of balance – long stretches of mindlessness and also some serious work done on my story for THE DARKER MASK - I had several scenes to write before it was actually complete, and this weekend I wrote all of but one of them (and totally freaked myself out with the solution in the process). Maybe there’s something to this short story thing afer all.

And maybe I would be a better person if I lived at the beach. I would be different, that’s for sure.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Turn and Face the Strange Changes

I’m back from the road. Actually got back last week but have been unburying myself from piled-up mail, backed-up e mail, and mountains of cat hair ever since. Plus, you know, sleeping. I could easily use another three weeks of sleep.

I’m still waking up and having no idea where I am. I suppose that will pass.

It’s disorienting not to be moving. And I feel like I’ve changed in some fundamental way. People I’ve known for a long time are telling me that I’m different. They say I seem happier. That’s a funny thing to hear because I feel just as chaotic inside as I’ve always been. And yet I know there’s been some kind of shift. It’s something to do with identity. For all that I live in my head I’m really a terribly concrete person, and it is so endlessly satisfying to have a real book out, and another one already turned in. It just explains and justifies everything, somehow.

But I do feel different, and I’m not entirely sure who I am any more. I’m watching myself as I would a stranger, trying to figure out what she’s thinking, what she’s going to do next. It’s a little scary so I have thrown myself back into the two things that are most familiar to me – writing and dance.

In the morning I work on my story for THE DARKER MASK. In the afternoon I work on TRAVELLER’S TALE. While usually I want silence when I’m writing, now I play music all day long – I can’t get enough of it – everything. Old surprise tapes. U-2 endlessly, Van Morrison, Lightning Hopkins, Todd Rundgren, Modest Mouse - even, weirdly, Diana Ross. Evenings are dance classes, then back to writing again for a few hours. I went back to jazz and was thrilled yesterday to get to do a combination to “All That Jazz” – the equivalent of a dance orgasm. Tonight I’ll go swing dancing for a bit and that will also feel somewhat like home, although I’m not entirely sure that I’m ready for so many strangers touching me just yet. But at least I won’t have to talk.

The thing is, none of these familiar things feel the same, either. I’m very restless, burning up. Perhaps it’s just that this stage of writing is always like this - like being pregnant. Not that I know – this is pure speculation. But I’m irritable, and uncomfortable, and hungry all the time – not for food - and there’s not much else I want to think about – it’s all about the baby (book), and I just want it to be DONE, and OUT, but of course it’s going to grow on its own time – such a long time, too. But I know the only way to take this edge off is to finish.

And I know all this has brought me close to who and what I’m supposed to be. But it’s all very strange.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Virtual Cocktail Party

It's Friday - (how did that happen? In fact, how did NOVEMBER happen?).

That means drinks on the Good Girls, with Elizabeth Letts.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

HARROWING tour: Cape Fear (Week 8, Cont.)

So I woke up in Fayetteville, still alive, which I have to think is good.

Mad drive back to Wilmington for my Cape Fear panel. The morning was moody and stunningly beautiful, dark banks of clouds high in the sky and the gauziest veil of clouds very low, practically right above the car, and a strong, strong wind that gusted leaves in cyclones along the way.

I made my reading right on the dot, miraculous! And then did two more panels: Fearless Self Promotion and Writing Crime for the Screen. I got to reconnect with new NC author friends Katy Munger and Sarah Shaber and a crop of magnificent librarians from the New Hanover Library, which hosted the Festival.

After my last panel I snuck out and walked around downtown Wilmington. What a fabulous port town – old historic buildings and far enough south to have actual Spanish moss. Not as many ghosts per capita as Savannah, but you can tell there are a few. The sky had cleared and there was a gale-force wind – it was a challenge to walk in it, especially with this hair. I did the Riverwalk, which is technically the Intracoastal Waterway Walk. There was a horrifically young bridal party taking photos by a trolley, bracing against the wind and overpowering sun. As I kept walking I realized that this wedding had hired out one restaurant patio for the ceremony, another for the dinner party, PLUS a whole ship, I guess for the night. (So who’s Daddy, I wonder?) It’s my opinion that the bridal party was far too young to take full advantage of the potential decadence of that setting.

The yachts berthed along the Riverwalk were lavishly decorated for Halloween – ghosts flying from railings, huge black spiders clinging to ropes and nets, gravestones on the decks. I’d forgotten it was Halloween already and was sad not to be anywhere near the Castro, but this was great eye candy.

I sat at an outdoor patio and watched the sun go down over the waterway – with an anniversary couple on either side of me. We had lovely random chat – and they were all very excited to hear about THE HARROWING. I think possibly you make your best sales just sitting there letting people come to you.

But the culmination of the whole trip was getting in the car to drive the next morning and having a whole set of very dark songs play on the radio, starting with Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen”. And suddenly there was the whole story I had felt prickling in the bookstore with the clerks. I knew I just HAD it. So I drove and talked it into my mini tape recorder and, hallelujah, it looks like I’m going to make my DARKER MASK deadline after all.

The next day, Halloween, I flew to LA and wrote 13 pages, start to finish, and blocked out the whole thing. Lots more work to do, but it's there - a whole story – my first ever – on Halloween. And definitely as dark and spooky as the day.

Sometimes it’s pretty fucking great to be a writer.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Virtual Cocktail Party

Alyssa Goodnight and some swoony Neruda at the Virtual Cocktail Party today!

http://www.good-girls-kill.com/

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

HARROWING tour, week 8: The Leaves Change

I had events all oer North Carolina last week and it was just thrilling to hit the road, and discover the leaves were changing (I'm from California, right? This whole season thing is SURREAL...) It was such a clear week, and I drove from Raleigh to Charlotte to Gastonia to Salisbury amidst green with blazes of gold, amber, magenta, saffron, the brightest oranges… it must make people giddy, seriously – it did me.

I very much enjoyed my readings and signings at Park Road Books, the Literary Book Post, the Gaston County Library – and the media interviews went smashingly – I’ve hit my stride and don’t even really need to prepare for them any more, except of course for reciting Hamlet’s Speech To The Players to warm up. Because, you know, it just works. And I’m enjoying the different questions and observations that come up in each interview – you actually do learn more about your writing, doing all this.

Then it all got even better. I drove to Wilmington for the Cape Fear Crime Festival. Now, this took some maneuvering. In some explicable scheduling glitch, I had a signing in Salisbury on Thursday, had to drive four hours to Wilmington that night so I could be up at 5 am for a 6 am TV interview, then had my first panel at Cape Fear – “What’s it like to be a New Author?”, moderated by the massively fun Jesse Kellerman (who had my life in theater, I felt like I was seeing my life flash before my eyes, listening to him…)

Then I had to drive two and a half hours back to Fayetteville for a signing there. Madness – but I got it all done. I don’t THINK I have any more days quite that crazy coming up. I truly hope not.

I walked out of the Fayetteville signing (Books a Million) and it was pouring. Really, a gale. I had some insane thought of trying to get back to Wilmington anyway, because I had a 9:30 am reading – but as soon as I hit the freeway it was quite clear to me that I could actually die out there on the road (this state is so DARK…) You just don’t take your chances in a city everyone calls “Fatalburg.”

So I opted for the first hotel I saw.

That weird trip to Fayetteville was worth its weight in gold, though, because I met two really lovely bookstore clerks, Ashley and Bryan, and we had a rambling existential conversation about ghosts and psychic phenomena (Ashley is one hell of a psychic…) and the whole encounter reminded me of a seed of an idea that I thought might just work as my story for THE DARKER MASK anthology, due December 8, eeek!

THE DARKER MASK is something I said yes to, caught up in Chris Chambers’ and Gary Phillips and Reed Farrel Coleman’s and Walter Mosley's enthusiasm, and the sheer honor of being asked - without really considering that I’ve never written a short story in my life and I don’t have the slightest clue how to go about it. It’s a whole different animal than scripts or plays or novels – baffling.

I’d actually called Chris in a panic last week, saying I just didn't think I could do it with my tour lasting until late in November – but that night I sent that idea into whatever subconscious cooker exists – you know - down there - and hoped for the best.

Being a writer is ALL about hoping for the best.

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Okay, I think I'm back.

I know, I know, I know. Nothing from me for a while. What can I say? I snapped. It was all too much. I dropped off the map. Maybe I'll talk about it eventually. Then again, maybe I won't.

But I am somewhat - SOMEWHAT - back in control. Now in Charlotte, NC, doing interviews, signings, libraries. Just had a fantastic radio interview at Gaston College - so great to be asked such interesting questions, and to be dimly lit and forthcoming (I'm sorry, but who is NOT going to be forthcoming with such a hugely phallic microphone in front of you?) in a cubbyhole of a college radio studio (TOTAL flashbacks to my days keeping punk DJ friends at Berkeley late-night company until the sun came up...).

One of the coolest things about all these interviews is that you learn so much about yourself and your writing. I talked for at least an hour with this Charlotte Observer reporter this week, and this is the interview that came out of it. Out of all the things I said to her, I would never have expected this distillation... but it's probably my favorite interview so far, for reasons I have not yet had enough time to define.

It is truly amazing what gets reflected back to you. Oh, and just wait till I tell you about Vicki.

Vicki the prom ghost. Talk about a flashback...

Friday, October 20, 2006

Should we or shouldn't we?

The ironic, charming, and very noir Wallace Stroby is the guest of the Virtual Cocktail Party over at Good Girls Kill For Money, today.

Among other gems, we find this:

TASHA: What’s the most agonizing part of writing a book?

WALLACE: For me, the beginning, the middle and the end. Also, the ramp-up to the beginning, and the letdown when it’s finished. Outside of that, it’s all great.


Okay, well, whew, limp with relief. It's NOT just me.

This ties in with a question I've been pondering this week:

Should we ever - EVER - tell someone that they should be a writer? I mean, that is, people who are not already unswervingly, suicidally committed to it?

Once in a while I'll meet someone who is such a good storyteller, so mindblowingly creative, that I find the words coming out of my mouth - "You really should be writing." Because, of course, I want to read the stuff. And maybe because I'd like to see this person creatively fulfilled, something dreamy like that.

But lately I've been stopping and wondering - What the hell am I thinking, telling ANYONE to be a writer? You either are, or you aren't, right? If you're not, why would I wish it on you, especially if I actually like you? This is not something to do, this is something you do if you virtually cannot do anything else.

It's like wishing drug addiction on a person, really. So isn't it better NOT to encourage it? And just stick with practical advice for the people who are certifiably (and I do mean certifiably) writers already, God help them?

I wonder.

Friday, October 13, 2006

At long last... dance.

I had a dance class last night for the first time in – oh God, ages. I am turning into a sea slug on this tour, but finally, finally… movement. Jazz, but to a hard driving swing song, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. A little disorienting to have actual choreography to swing; no partner, no following, but who cares?

It was ecstatic. It was lifesaving. I will be so sore by sunset (it always takes about 24 hours for the real pain to kick in) I will probably not be able to walk tomorrow, because of course I overdid it, but I don’t care. I could have gone all night.

If I don’t get to dance more, in the middle of all this craziness, I will do something drastic. It’s almost interesting to think what I might do, if it weren’t so completely terrifying. It’s quite possible that I’m dangerously chemically imbalanced and the only thing keeping me rational and productive is my classes and dance nights. Maybe otherwise I would be in an institution, somewhere. Seriously.

What do other people do to keep balance? How can you not be explosively physical after all this horrifying, calcifying sitting and thinking?

Honestly, I wouldn’t write at all if I could just dance.

But is that a total lie?

The contradiction is about killing me.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

HARROWING tour, week 5: San Francisco/Berkeley

Oh, I was working it this week. Hard. The Northern California Independent Booksellers Association trade show in Oakland. Three formal booksignings, a bunch of drive-bys, an alumni reception at Berkeley. Reviewers, booksellers, book club leaders, aspiring writers. I suppose I could have done more, even in Bay Area traffic, but not by much.

But this week was also about writing, and life, and that weird Twlight Zone between the two.

And I took a couple of walks along the edge, because, you know, that’s my job.

And the edge is what my next novel, THE TRAVELLER’S TALE, is all about, and San Francisco, though far from the setting of TRAVELLER, will inform it on every page.

I am all too familiar with this city’s precipices.

There’s Golden Gate Park, of course, otherwise known as Wonderland. Walk a couple of miles, or even a couple of blocks, and you will inevitably slip down one rabbit hole or another. It might be the contact high from the clouds of green smoke wafting from every other dreadlocked spacy teenager or maybe the sight of that creek that flows inexplicably upstream to the lagoon, or the blinding Victorian whiteness of the newly restored Conservatory of Flowers, with its vulvic tropical treasures, or the pollen from those sweet tiny daisies that are such an imprint from my childhood (stoned longhaired girls cooing over my blonde hair and putting daisy chains around my neck…)

This weekend the whole park was taken over by a Bluegrass Festival to rival Woodstock, complete with mud from the latest downpour (the weather, as usual, went from typhoon to heatwave to autumn gorgeous to pea soup fog, in all of four days). My brother and best friend from college and I raced over after my last convention event on Sunday, a half hour hike into the Park (ah, yes, and this is why San Francisco is such a fabulous city for asses and thighs – the constant uphill walks…)

There were five stages in different groves of the park, each with a different unbelievably brilliant act, plus buskers in every available space in between. There were fans from as far as Canada and Alaska and Berlin.

We got there just in time for Richard Thompson, truly one of the most transcendent musicians I’ve seen in a long, long time. Rolling Stone has called him one of the 20 greatest guitar players of all time, and that’s no lie. It was just him, on acoustic guitar, and I swear you could hear three to five instruments at any given moment, plus a voice from some Irish version of Heaven.

Then racing to another stage to see Emmylou Harris and her band, sitting on a bed of Eucalyptus leaves, one of my favorite scents on the planet…

These events aren’t easy. It’s a hike, and it’s cold, and muddy, and God help you if you actually have to use one of the privies. But that’s all part of the weird, wild experience of it – that no sane person would really put themselves through it, and yet you do, and it’s unforgettable (It all becomes clear, why we all lived in those huge thrift store coats of black cashmere – they were sleeping bag and picnic blanket and concert seating and love nest and body armor, all rolled into one heavy indispensable garment….)

We ate Mexican Food Of The Gods, and danced, and sang along, and watched a sprite of a woman carve incredible designs into leather on the grass in front of us, and I think a skeletal, clearly diseased man might have died in a lawn chair a few rows over….

San Francisco.

Madness, clearly. But divine madness.

(Tomorrow, the Haight...)

Friday, October 06, 2006

TGIF - for the rest of you, maybe!

I'm all over San Francisco, San Mateo, Berkeley and Oakland today. Could be worse!

Tomorrow I'll be ON THE BUBBLE with Elaine Flinn over at Murderati.

I'm sure I said far too much but what can you do? Elaine is the devil.

And don't forget the Virtual Cocktail Party over at Good Girls Kill for Money today!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Bouchercon 2

I am en route to my next tour stop, San Francisco (yeah, baby…) and I am never, never going to be able to find the time to write about B’Con in the detail it deserves, so I will resort to downloading quick highlights. So many stellar moments…

- Working out in the mornings with Kent Krueger and Larry Gandle; pretending to be virtuous...

- Getting to know the Good Girls – being okay with the fact that I’m not so good!

- Finding the St. Martin’s Minotaur party was in a bar – in a church. Now that’s as Traveller as you can get. The sunset through that stained glass.

- Listening to Joe Konrath quote from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”… and winning a hundred bucks off him in a poetry dispute.

- Discovering that my agent and St. Martin’s team are every bit as depraved and excessive as I am – I couldn’t feel more at home.

- Playing a heartbreaking and cathartic version of “Truth or Dare” with Ken, Tasha and Wallace over the biggest spread of cheese products I’ve ever encountered in my life.

- Trying out a VERY subdued version of stunt dressing at this con (I changed outfits four times on Saturday) – and getting unbelievably fun results.

- Proving over and over and over again Miss Manners’ adage that “Flirting is what adults do because it’s simply not practical to have sex with everyone you’re attracted to.”

- The multiple-mirrored shining golden elevator to the Governor’s Club…

- Random wacky moments with my favorite librarians - Doris Ann Norris, Elaine Paquette and Michael Penrod.

- The all 80’s all night soundtrack in The Bar.

- That moment with Lee Child when… well, actually, make that ANY moment with Lee Child.

- Seeing Reed Farrel Coleman win the Triple Crown.

- Going out to lunch with the DL crowd and finding they’re not so scary after all.

- Finally meeting my brilliant web designer, Beth Tindall, and realizing I would never have had the nerve to ask for some of the stuff I did if I’d known what a Dom she is in real life.

- The constantly changing, constantly dramatic weather in Madison.

- The odd experience of having the Capitol building looming up everywhere, everywhere you went.

- Acquiring some great new girlfriends – The Good Girls, Jamie, Kathleen, Kayla, Ann.

- Laura Lippman’s spontaneous tribute to Margaret Maron – yes, we all should be bowing down when she walks into a room.

- Being virtually required to study Jim Born’s body all weekend because I’m writing a cop now, and I just wouldn’t be doing my job if I weren’t taking notes.

- Going to that awesome Farmer’s Market on Capitol Square Saturday morning with Tasha – all the spreads of fruit and flowers and breads and weird granola-y crafts and Amish men selling pies… and that surreal moment of realizing that EVERYONE else on the square was flowing one direction and we were the only two out of thousands trying to go against the flow.

- Just the endless, ravenous, gluttonous, orgiastic talk about WRITING – with WRITERS. God, I needed that.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Donate books to the LA Juvenile Court System:

ATTENTION: READERS, AUTHORS, PUBLISHERS AND BOOKSELLERS:

Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, California is a locked facility housing 700 juveniles awaiting adjudication and sentencing.

"In collaboration with UCLA Department of Library and Information Science, we are in the process of developing a LIBRARY to provide these juveniles with a range of reading materials to instill hope, increase literacy, and combat the boredom of incarceration.

We are looking for individuals and organizations able to DONATE BOOKS, LIBRARY SUPPLIES and FUNDS. (NOTE: These donations would be tax-deductible.")

Make a difference in the lives of our at-risk youth!

Please send materials to:

Attn: Christina M.
16350 Filbert Street
Sylmar, CA 91342

Or call (818) 364-5505 for more information.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Bouchercon

Oh, God. Where do you even start?

Well, okay, look. It should come as no great shock that I had a phenomenal time at this conference – I love this life. And I know what everyone really wants is the dirt, of which there is - prairiesful. (I know, I know, what happens at Bouchercon stays at Bouchercon - you really think I'm going to TALK about any of all that?) But because I am at the moment just too tired to get into the whole extravagant circus of it, I'm going to start with Madison.

What a surprise this town was. It’s gorgeous, and funky, and cool. I mean, even just the descent on the plane – I just couldn’t believe how beautiful it all was – green farmland bordered by trees just starting to change, two enormous turbulent lakes, a really pleasing town layout – and the sky was so dramatic – monolithic banks of clouds and swirling wind.

I flew in on Wednesday, midmorning, and it was a little surreal how empty the airport was – WAY smaller than anything I’m used to. I was completely alone walking out to the taxi stand. We rode through town on a very quaint, very college street – two-story Victorians and bungalows with big porches and beveled glass – it just got more and more charming. My friend Jess who toured for years with the Reduced Shakespeare Co. and has been in every city on this planet told me before I left – “You’ll love it. It’s just like Berkeley.” And he’s right… only it was far less… well, psychotic, I think I mean.

I was delighted to find that the convention hotel, the Madison Concourse, is right in the heart of downtown, just a block away from the Capitol building – a massive domed wedding cake of a building at the absolute center of downtown, with four main streets converging on the Capitol square – green velvet lawns and riots of flowers.

My room wasn’t ready and no one was even around yet and it looked like it was about to pour outside, I mean POUR, and of course I had not brought an umbrella. So I went up to the weight room for a quick workout – this tour thing is turning me into sludge. The pool room was deserted and peaceful, huge windows overlooking the street and skylights. After a nice needed sweat I got into my room with the help of ridiculously cute bellhops (where do they FIND these guys?). Room small but again, nice view. I showered and headed down to the lobby and stepped out of the elevator to run into Dana Cameron and Donna Andrews. No sooner had I hugged them than Reed Farrel Coleman waltzed around the corner (actually Reed doesn’t waltz, he sort of processes like royalty, but you know).

It is a rule of all conventions that the first two people I will meet will be Donna and Dana. There is a corollary rule tha at any convention at which Dana and Donna are NOT in attendance, the first person I will meet will be Reed. Conventions are strange, that way – there seems to be an inexplicable but quite precise cosmic master plan.

To meet the three of them together like that was some kind of portent of excess, conventions converging. That turned out to be accurate, but I'll get to that later. We got the registration thing out of the way, got handed bags full of three hundred pounds of books, and then headed for the bar, cleverly titled The Bar, for a quick drink, because, you know, we’re writers and that’s what we do.

Now, things have gotten pretty crazy, organizationally speaking, since I’ve been on tour, but I did manage to scribble a BOUCHERCON MUST DO list during some plane flight or other, and the first item on the list for Wednesday evening was “Find Lita Weissman”. I’d just met Lita – Westwood Borders Special Events Goddess and force of nature - last week during my LA bookstore blitz, and instantly adored her – we’d promised to find each other at B’Con. But the thing about conventions is that you don’t need to FIND anyone. You merely remain comfortably wherever you are with a vague intention and that person will come to you. And so it was. Lita and I made plans to meet for the next night’s parties, then she went up for a nap and since The Bar was as empty as it would be for the rest of the weekend, and the heavens had not after all opened to a deluge, I decided to take a quick jaunt around downtown Madison, because I had a feeling there was all sorts of material just waiting for me out there and it might be my only chance to scope it out.

I left the hotel without a map, figuring it would be just about impossible to get lost with that Capitol building looming up as a gigantic compass, and when I saw a life-sized mosaic cow statue at the end of the block I knew I’d be able to find the hotel again by looking for the art cow. Anyone who’s actually been to Madison will recognize how amusing this is. Downtown Madison is lousy with life-sized art cows. There are herds of them. I was just laughing out loud about it, which effectively kept the stray homeless men away from me, at least for the moment. It really is a beautiful town – turn of the century brick banks and angular modern glass edifices, funky little boutiques and hip restaurants and, oh yes, all those college boys. I can’t get away from this – apparently TRAVELLER’S TALE is just going to manifest itself around me. Well, and why fight it? I walked all the way down to one of those M lakes and just stared at the water for a while – amazingly choppy, for a lake, you could practically surf on it – and made some notes. I could definitely set at least one of the chapters of Traveller in Madison.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

How far is too far?

I'll be guess blogging on Murder She Writes today... the question is "How Far is Too Far?" (See post below: could really use some help on that one...)

I'll check in with reports from Bouchercon. Maybe!

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How Far Is Too Far?

I had the fun of seeing and hanging and paneling with Deb Le Blanc (and even singing to her, in her absence!) at Heather Graham’s WRITERS FOR NEW ORLEANS conference two weeks ago (Photos HERE.).

And an interesting thing happened that weekend (well, a whole lifetime of interesting things, really, but…) that I’ve been thinking about ever since, and thought I’d talk about it for my guest blog, here.

It was the last day of the conference, and we’d just done a great group booksigning with BENT PAGES BOOKSTORE, and most of us had drifted out to the hall, and the generally supremely elegant and self-possessed Cherry Adair comes stumbling out of the signing room all dazed and flushed and glowing - almost like - well, you know… and she stops and says, not really to anyone in particular, more to herself and anyone who would listen and maybe understand:

“I just met my main character. That little bookseller”… (waving vaguely back toward the signing room)… “She’s my main character in the book I started this week.”

Man oh man, do I know what she means. I met a couple of my own characters that weekend, myself.

Partly that’s New Orleans, a city which, at least for me, seems to magnify intention and desire, all kinds of desire - sometimes for good, sometimes - not. And partly that’s travel in general. But partly, mostly, it’s being a writer, right? You start a new project and when it’s really going right, the story starts to manifest, literally manifest, around you.

(Doesn’t it? You do know what I mean, don’t you? Or have I finally made it over the deep end? No, I have proof. Cherry Adair is my proof. It’s not just me.)

A stranger really will walk up to you and you’re hit with some cosmic thunderbolt, because they are the living image of a character you’re trying to define, and suddenly you understand so much more about your story than you ever realized you were writing. You will find yourself in the exact situation that your main character is struggling with. You will walk around a corner and come face to face with the precise house your villain lives in.

It’s scary and mindblowing and ecstatically wonderful… and very, very disorienting. Reality starts seeming not so real.

Okay, so my question is… how far are we required to go along with this, for the sake of a story? Do the best writers completely abandon themselves to this ride, let the story take them over, start acting out the parts themselves? Do YOU?

Now, obviously, it would be a bad thing if we mystery writers started acting out - our villains, to state the obvious example! And let’s just assume for the sake of all that is holy that I am not looking for permission to behave badly with jailbait bookstore clerks simply because my new main character is a little - voracious, that way.

But we all do research - and when the research starts coming alive, where’s the line? Does everything you do take place behind your desk, or does a little real-life roleplaying help? In fact, does too much stability hinder the writing process, perhaps? (I’m thinking of some of my favorite authors who - while I’m happy that they’re alive - were simply much better writers when they were full-tilt batshit crazy.).

Or am I just trying to rationalize a desire to go farther than I should?

What’s your process? When your story starts coming alive, how far do YOU go?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Harrowing Tour, Week 3, part 1

Phoenix-Sedona

Monday, live TV interview with Good Day Arizona. It was an experience sitting in the lounge waiting for my interview – like being backstage of a vaudeville show: the strangest parade of characters. A woman with a large perfectly coiffured poodle, a blind man with a cane, a hair stylist teerering by in the kinkiest pair of shoes I have ever seen, and I’ve seen some. And yes, a little person marched by to complete the experience.

The anchor, Scott Pasmore, was a big flirt, as was the weatherman, Brad Perry - so we all had a good time. They fought over my book. This is a weird thing to do for a living.

Then I dropped in to talk ghosts with Les at Poisoned Pen, then drove to Sedona to do a screenwriting workshop at the Well Red Coyote - one of the prettiest drives in the US, I think… constantly changing scenery, from white hills to blood red rocks, armies of Saguaro. Sedona is amazing as ever – I swear I breathe better just crossing the city limits. I drove around looking at rock formations until sunset, then had dinner on the patio of vegetarian restaurant DeLish and watched the sun go down over the rocks.

Kris and Joe Neri have a great store and it was a fun group of writers and aspiring writers… I felt fairly useful.

Long drive back to Phoenix in pitch black (but a million stars!), passed out and woke up at 6:30 to fly out. Sitting in O’Hare right now, en route to Madison for Bouchercon. Let's get this party started.

Lessons from the road:

- You can never, EVER have too many bookmarks.
- Always check in at the curb. Counter agents will weigh your overweight baggage but Sky Caps will just smile and call you Shug and handle it for you.
- No matter how horrible and anxiety-ridden and neurotic writing is, NOT writing is so, so much worse.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

HARROWING Tour, Week Two (Cont.)

So Monday and Tuesday (Tour days 15 and 16, I think) were a little odd. I had to do my taxes. For 2005. (Note to new authors: Do NOT leave your taxes for the first week of the launch of your first novel. This seems self-evident, right? But just wait and see what YOU leave festering when you have a second book due the same day your first book is launched.)

I'd done most of the numbers - somehow - in various hotel rooms throughout the South. Finished off on Monday and turned it all in to my accountant on Tuesday. I feel 5 million years younger and 2 tons lighter. Now I can concentrate on WRITING on my off-hours during this tour, of which so far there have been none, but that has to change, because if I don't get some serious writing in soon I'm going to implode.

Wednesday was back to the tour for real. I did a bookstore blitz with LA media escort Ken Wilson, as lauded by Naomi Hirahara on Murderati.com - read in detail here. Ken is amazing, irrepressible, a consummate professional. We did a mad dash of 10 bookstore drop-ins, from Costa Mesa to Santa Monica. LA traffic. Wildfires burning on three sides of the city - by sunset the sky was apocalyptic.

But you can't argue with the method. You run into the store, meet the CRM and manager, sign the stock they have, leave a book for the employee most likely to love your genre and do a staff recommend, leave a stack of bookmarks, and on to the next. The great thing is that after every such visit, your signed books, which may only have been shelved before, are moved to a front table or end cap display. Exhausting, but so effective it seems not optional. Now, this is of course the exact thing Joe Konrath is doing all on his own. But working with Ken has its extreme advantages - he knows EVERYONE, and can steer you to the booksellers who really do hand sell. And there is NO WAY I could have done 20 bookstores in two days by myself, even on my home turf.

I dreamed of malls, that night.

Thursday I drove down to Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego for a lovely evening hosted by Christine, Terri and Sam. Another bookstore you just want to live in.

Friday was my day off - to catch up on my record 888 e mails. Needless to say, I didn't.

Saturday, off with Ken again to do a sweep of selected bookstores in West LA, the Valley and Glendale/Pasadena, timed to arrive at 2 pm for a signing at Dark Delicacies with Barbara Hambly (RENFIELD) and the legendary Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. As owner Del Howson said - "Now that's a pair you want to draw to." I sold out my books, very satisfying! and got to catch up with friends - altogether great day.

Slept 11 hours then caught a plane to Phoenix (LAX is worse than ever, but couldn't get the right flight out of Burbank), where I am now (love the desert!!! - spectacular sunset over a park of surreal red rocks and anthropomorphic Saguaro... I could seriously live here if it weren't so far from the ocean...). Doing a TV spot tomorrow AM - Good Day Arizona, at 11, then hitting Poisoned Pen and then driving to Sedona (LOVE IT - can't wait!!) to do a signing and screenwriting workshop at Well Red Coyote.

Then on to BoucherCon, which actually sounds like a vacation by now! Can't wait to catch up with everyone there.


In case I don't have time to post this later, I'll be guest blogging at Murder She Writes, this Thursday, September 28th. Here's the link.

Friday, September 22, 2006

HARROWING Tour, Week Two

Unbelievable. I have one whole day today that I don't have to be anywhere. I don't have to drive. I don't have to go to any bookstores. I don't have to go through airport security twice at five a.m. because of that new bottle of Allure I forgot I had in my purse.

I have 888 (no lie) unanswered e mails in my inbox, but hey, I get to sit down to do it, right?

I'm going to try to recap the week, because at this rate if I don't make notes on it I'm not going to remember a single thing by mid-next week. (Blogs really do force you to journal - it's probably their best quality.)

So, last weekend, Sept. 15 & 16 was Killer Nashville - a brand new conference sponsored by MWA and put together practically singlehandedly on the Nashville side by the tireless Clay Stafford, with NY support from MWA goddess Margery Flax. I did my first half-hour TV interview with a local Nashville legend, John Seigenthaler, A WORD ON WORDS. It really was one of those Masterpiece Theater, two-armchairs-in-a-fake-book-lined-study interviews - something I never could have imagined myself doing. The lights went on for the taping and I had a moment of thinking - "This is one of those actor dreams, right? Only instead of being on stage and not knowing my lines, I'm supposed to have written a book and I don't know what it's about, and in a moment I'm going to realize I'm naked on top of everything else."

But it went amazingly well - John is a witty and graceful host and actually knew the book better than I do at this point. The producers loved the spot and asked me back next year for THE PRICE.

Then on to three panels and three signings. The whole conference was Southern authors, except for me, the new Southern half-transplant, and Reed Farrel Coleman, representing MWA and as much a fish out of water as I was, with that sexy gravelly Brooklyn accent of his.

My first panel was with Kathy Wall, Gwen Hunter and Mary Soams. All SO lovely and Southern (even though Kathy is a transplant, too, she fakes it a whole hell of a lot better than I do.). Now, I have this habit of balancing social situations. If people around me are talkers, I become the avid listener. If people are shy, I step up and entertain. So with all these Southerners around me, I became more and more Valley Girl as the panel went on. I could see myself doing it, but I couldn't stop myself. I'm sure a few attendees thought I was the flake of the universe, but mostly people were laughing, and we ended up having a good time.

I then had the great pleasure of going out on the town with the always entertaining JT Ellison and her adorable husband Randy. We went to a very LA new restaurant, Radius 10 - industrial chic, with about three dozen songwriters at the bar; then to a fantastic jazz club, Sambuca, very Gothic, really, red carpet and walls and shiny gauzy curtains and black leather couches and all these intimate little nooks and a great deck overlooking downtown and onstage a simply superb jazz combo, all my favorites - Hallelujah I Just Love Her So, Alabama Morning, some Marvin Gaye... just a wonderful evening, and so nice to get to know JT (and score her book, which I can't wait to land in one place long enough to read).

Saturday, more panels, always depressing to talk about screenwriting (!), then a fantastic closing reception at Landmark Books in Franklin - one of those bookstores (in an historic building in a very historic downtown) you just want to LIVE in. I found the most amazing prints from 1880 - absolutely haunted - as the bookstore itself is, apparently! Need to spend some quality time in Franklin, I think, and just see who or what materializes.

Then jumped a plane for L.A. at six fucking a.m., to arrive at 11 PST and drive (with minutes to spare) to my first signing at the West Hollywood Book Fair. This really was cutting it close and I don't recommend that kind of ridiculously tight scheduling - the stress level is not worth it. But it was home turf and I could drive it in my sleep (which, yeah, actually, I did.)

WeHo was HOT. I mean, Santa Ana, Southern California wildfire season HOT. People were staggering around in a dazed sweat. The festival was bigger than I'd been led to expect, so I was very pleased at my sales at Dark Delicacies and Sisters in Crime, and more people turned out for the Mysterious Galaxy panel than I would have thought, considering the place was a furnace by 4 pm. Old home day all the way around - I caught a quick picnic lunch with a bunch of my Berkeley college friends (SO nice, these random meetings...) had brief encounters with some WriterActioners and some new author friends, the lovely and talented Naomi Hirahara, Brett Battles, Sue Ann Jaffarian (okay, I can't start this list or we'll be here all day) and caught up with Killer Thriller Band producer Bob Levinson and my sister Killerette Harley Jane Kozak. All way too short.

And you know what? Raleigh has many fine qualities, but I really, REALLY miss the cross-dressing.

Cocktail party at dusk at the Blue Whale (the Pacific Design Center, a monument to LA opulence) where I got to reminisce with my former boss from the Bodhi Tree, Stan Madsen, and the real force and heart of the store, Neisha, and also got a great shot of inspiration from the NOW and WriteGirl sponsors of the party. That's right - I ankled the screenwriting gig so I could WRITE STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS without tampering. Really nice to be reminded of the mission.

Whew. That was just three days. A whole week to go. Think I'll take a break and... answer more e mails.

Monday, September 18, 2006

New Orleans photos

Romance writer Brenda Joyce was one of the fun and fabulous authors at Heather Graham's Writers for New Orleans. Brenda has posted photos from the conference on her site (so I don't have to figure out how to!).

Link here

I wrapped up Killer Nashville Saturday night at a really lovely party at the very haunted Landmark Bookstore in Franklin, TN, then hopped a plane to LA at 6 am to get to my first panel at West Hollywood Book Fair - a very HOT but lovely day - got to see tons of old and new friends. No time to write about all right now but I can tell you one standout detail - there were far more transvestites at WeHo than Killer Nashville.

I also saw an amazing sunset - on, yeah, Sunset Blvd. - a surreally huge magenta sun swimming in crimsons and oranges and fuschias... it was straight out of science fiction. I'll never, ever forget the image - it's a good thing I didn't have an accident, I was so mesmerized.

More later!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Scary Virtual Cocktail Party

I'm the guest at the Good Girls Kill for Money Virtual Cocktail Party today - focus on scary.

Drop by and tell what scares YOU!

http://www.good-girls-kill.com/2006/09/15/and-now-back-to-our-regularly-scheduled-program/

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Tour - Week 1 1/2 (the Virtual Everglades)

What a whirlwind. This week, three signings in South Carolina, on to Savannah, next day Orlando for SIBA – the Southern Independent Booksellers Association trade show. Stayed at the very Disneyland Gaylord Palms Resort – a hotel built around a football arena-sized atrium of Everglades recreation – crab shacks and gator lagoons and piped-in mist and cricket sounds and air conditioning and complete and utter lack of bugs. Lavish, but – weird. Had a great time at the MWA/Sisters in Crime booth, ghoulishly decorated under the direction of the tireless and charming Pamela King Cable. We all went out to dinner at an even weirder spot – Celebration – a planned community near the hotel – also very Disney – spotless and plastic. Having never been to Florida I had had no idea how much the Empire had permeated Florida. But surprisingly good Italian food.

Meeting all those independent booksellers at once was just great – I was thinking that it’s just not possible for a tour of individual stores can possibly be as effective.

Then a long drive back up to Charleston, where I spent the night with my screenwriter friend Katherine Fugate, who’s executive producing her first TV pilot, ARMY WIVES, there for Touchstone/Showtime. Charleston is way cool, reeking with history and that great port energy and I can’t wait to go back, but it didn’t get under my skin in the same way Savannah did.

Then drove back to Raleigh to do a reading and signing at the incomparable Quail Ridge Books. What a great event! It’s so much nicer to do an actual interactive talk than to just sit there signing books, and I started rethinking my thinking on bookstore signings. We had dozens of people show up and it was a truly fun evening – owner Nancy Olson is a wickedly witty MC (she called me a degenerate – how could I not love someone who GETS me like that?)

That was my very first time actually reading aloud from the book, and apart from the fact that I really do need to get Lasik surgery, like, yesterday, it went over perfectly. Of course, I’d been able to watch Margaret Maron do a program just a few weeks before, so I was able to steal her technique!

Off to Nashville frighteningly early in the morning – for my first TV interview tomorrow – “A Word on Words” – and then Killer Nashville this weekend – and then L.A. Sunday morning to do the West Hollywood Book Fair, then…

Well, it goes on….

I'm the guest at Tasha Alexander's Virtual Cocktail Party this Friday over at Good Girls Kill for Money, so drop by and have a drink! I myself am going to need one.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Savannah... Wow....

Okay. This book tour road trip thing is amazing - and challenging. Definitely. I naively didn't realize how many reschedulings and adds there would be every day along the way. It's okay, I can handle it. Um... when do I sleep?

I am going to be a basket case by next week, never mind November.

I'm in Savannah, now. I got here at dusk and it is raining like --- hell --- but I just bought an umbrella (for a California girl the idea of packing an umbrella in SEPTEMBER... sheesh...) and walked right out into historic downtown Savannah.

OH. MY. GOD.

Now, maybe it's partly the rain, and partly I'm a sucker for brick and Spanish moss - and ghosts - but this city is AMAZING. It's so beautiful and soft and wet and lacy and fucked up all at once. The river. The cobblestones. The fantasic park squares canopied in oaks, every two blocks. The air (you could really just lie back and sleep on it...) The Cotton Exchange (you want to talk about ghosts? The hair is still standing up on the back of my neck...)

I am as wet as it is possible for a human being to be, without having gone deep sea diving in my clothes, and my new umbrella got blown inside out, but I am FULL of stories already. It's like walking into a full-scale diorama of Pirates of the Caribbean, only - American. I only came back in because a lot of speedy reprobate men were starting to hand me these odd little flowers made of some golden fibery plant material I still can't identify (sugar cane??) but which must have some historic significance, because they're just everywhere. I was afraid to linger long enough to ask. I've read ALICE IN WONDERLAND, okay? (But so, what happens if I eat one? Enquiring minds want to know...)

I really think I need to live here for a while and just see what happens. The writing would be unbelievable, I know.

Give me a port town any day, and I'm home.

Must make all kinds of notes now, but FYI I'm guest blogging for May at http://miladyinsanity.wordpress.com/ tomorrow (blog post immediately below).

You know, last words, in case I end up nibbling on one of these golden flowers as a midnight snack and never being heard from again.

Honestly, it's tempting...


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Writing is My Insanity



In keeping with the title of May’s blog, I thought the topic for my guest blog was pretty obvious.

My Insanity–is writing.

People always think it’s so cool when you tell them you’re a writer. These are clearly people who are not writers. Writing is a really startlingly crazy thing to do–it just doesn’t always look like it from the outside because it involves so much, well, sitting. But what goes on inside my head–WHO in their right mind would want to be inside my mind?

So why do I write? That’s absurdly simple–I can’t help myself. It’s a ompulsion. I know I’m not alone, there, because I know writers. My friends are writers, I work with writers in the WGA, I run a message board for over 1800 professional screenwriters–so I know. Writers run toward the neurotic, the anxiety-prone, the
obsessive, the compulsive, the obsessive-compulsive, the bipolar - and often all at once. (See Kay Jamison’s excellent TOUCHED WITH FIRE for an analysis of the creative temperament and bipolar disorder.) In fact, I’m quite sure someday someone will identify writing as a form of OCD and there will be a simple medication we can take. Not that most of us WILL take it, of course, because like bipolar people, we writers get off on our disease.

And yes, I think writing, actual writing for a living, is a disease.

Because, look - it’s certainly not EASE, now, is it?

An artist friend of mine recently asked me what was the biggest sacrifice I’ve ever made for my art. This is a good question. There are a million sacrifices, all the time. But my actual answer surprised me. My biggest sacrifice has been peace of mind (and possibly my immortal soul, but that’s another blog. Actually it’s my next novel. Well, all right, never mind.)

Here’s the perfect example of what I’m talking about. My first book, THE HARROWING, http://alexandrasokoloff.com/ comes out this weekend. My first book. Everyone keeps asking me, “Aren’t you excited?” Well, aren’t I? MY FIRST BOOK. Published. In fine bookstores near you. I should be on Cloud Nine.

Instead, I’m still frantically arranging different promotional ploys. I’m trying to keep up with the whole Internet thing (The Dark Salon Blog, MySpace, Writer Action, my own website). I’m trying to pack for my tour. I’m reaching out to libraries. I’m trying to figure out Vertical Response so I can send out an announcement. I’m putting the last touches on my second book, THE PRICE (due in to St. Martin’s on Sept.1), and already, compulsively, outlining the third one.

When do I just stop and celebrate?

The answer is–I won’t. I won’t STOP, anyway. I’m certain to do some celebrating at the many conventions I’m going to on tour this fall. Thank God for conventions–they make me feel I have something resembling a life. In fact, by the time you read this, I’ll be in New Orleans with my friend and soul-sister Heather Graham at her Writers for New Orleans Workshop, talking with Heather and Christine Feehan and Cherry Adair and Deborah Leblanc about vampires and ghosts and other things we love that go bump in the night and taking ghost carriage rides and performing some spooky, sexy musical thing with Heather again for the Saturday show. So, you know–it’s not that I can’t party with the best of them. Since I know that’s coming, I can delay some gratification for another week, right? Maybe the actual definition of professional writing is just that: delayed gratification.

And when I actually, finally HAVE to celebrate, I’m pretty darn good at it.

I asked a friend of mine (who as a retired librarian and library liaison of Sisters in Crime knows everything there is to know about authors and the book biz) if it was weird and abnormal of me to be so NOT excited, and she said that it probably had a lot to do with the fact that (as a screenwriter) I’ve been in the writing business for so long, now. It’s true (and I was relieved to hear someone else be so logical about it.). I’ve made my living at writing for a good long time, now, and I know that the external satisfaction is fleeting and insubstantial.

So if seeing my book in bookstores is not the payoff, and if good reviews are not the payoff, and if being contacted for TV and radio interviews is not the payoff, and having total strangers write me
(already!) and tell me how much they loved my book is not the pay off (although I have to admit that’s pretty startlingly wonderful!)…

What IS the payoff, exactly?

The payoff is simply–FINISHING.

I write because there are these people inside my head who are so real to me that I can’t rest until I make them real for other people. Because for some reason I feel an immense, endless obligation to these people–to let them out of my head into the world. I do all this endless, constant, obsessive thing I do - for the sake of IMAGINARY people.

How crazy is that?

But that–is the only–fleeting–peace.

That’s my insanity. And I love it.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Writers for New Orleans

I just wrapped up a fantastic conference and book signing - Heather Graham's Writers For New Orleans, over the Southern Decadence weekend (picture Halloween in the Castro on Bourbon Street - yeow!) - and, well, you can imagine what my head feels like just about now! I had more fun than is probably legal in a significant number of states.

I'm doing the monthly Spotlight interview over at WriterAction.com (the message board for professional screenwriters) - yes, while on tour - and while I was waiting for my next connection at the Memphis airport I checked in and found that along with a flurry of questions about how I made the transition from screenwriter to novelist, I got a kind of in-joke question: "How do you feel about singing?" (from Bob Levinson, the visionary producer of the Killer Thriller Band - see previous posts on ThrillerFest).

But since I am not at the moment capable of coherent thought about real issues of transitioning from screenwriter to author, I actually started sleeplessly and hungoveringly pondering Bob's question, and realized it was - well, relevant.

Singing is so far the best part of being an author - out of a million great things. Who'da thought I'd be using my musical theater training more now than at any time since college (and my lost theatrical period immediately after...?)

My friend and sister Killerette, bestselling author (of 125 books!!!) and force of nature Heather Graham, does these great musical productions for Romantic Times and other conventions, including this one of hers this weekend, and she and a band of her children and devotees, now including me, somehow learned seven New Orleans-centric songs in a four-and-a-half hour rehearsal, complete with historical revue - and performed the whole show Saturday night. And then somehow ended up doing Hand Grenades in a male strip club, and that was all before midnight. I don't dare to start about what happened AFTER...

There is actual relevance to the singing part, though. Being an author is so much about YOU. It's, in fact, ALL about YOU, to a degree that is positively unnerving for me as a screenwriter. For an author, getting any kind of attention and focus is good. I sold a ton of books at the Sunday signing - and I know it has a lot to do with having been front and center in the entertainment portion of the conference.

The fact that one of those songs was Lady Marmelade probably didn't hurt, either.

I LOVE this whole unexpected part - I suddenly feel I have a second career as a rock star.

Kind of.

Along with all those weird and wonderful rock star things like waking up in a different town every day and meeting the most amazing people and bonding with them in ways that you would never expect and knowing that they're going to be friends for life. Nothing like OTR, as my sister and brother and I say... On The Road.

Going to bed, now - but I'll again leave you with the link to the Bourbo Cam. Check it out about eight pm (PST) or 11 pm (EST) tonight - should be some Decadence still going on. At this very moment, not a creature is stirring - the hangovers will last for WEEKS...

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Launch!! (oh my GOD...)

I don't know how this happened, but my HARROWING tour starts tomorrow (actually Friday, but I leave tomorrow). It seems only right to kick off in New Orleans - the most haunted and haunting city - maybe in the world. I'll finally get to STOP all this pre-pub craziness and just celebrate in my favorite place in the country, and also pay tribute, a year after Katrina. Ernesto downsized and moved East, so I think we're in the clear...

My friend and sister Killerette Heather Graham is hosting a Writers For New Orleans workshop, to get people into town to spend some money this week. I'll be doing two panels - one on "Things that Go Bump in the Night", and one on "Pre-Publication Promotion". Not exactly unfamiliar topics! - and I get to talk ghosts with Heather and Christine Feehan and Deborah LeBlanc.

And - we'll be doing some kind of show Saturday night - all I know is I get to do "Lady Marmelade" with Heather. Now I ask you - does it get any better than that? "Lady Marmelade", in New Orleans, with my real soul sister. Man, oh man, do I need to cut loose like that just about now - and LM is about as loose as it gets. Bring it on!

I'm just turning in THE PRICE today - tonight! - so there has been no time AT ALL to really process that THE HARROWING is out... Friday... but I'm starting to get the nicest letters already from people I don't know, which is almost painfully wonderful - people are having JUST the experience of the book that I wanted to create. It's just magic, the way that works... makes all the rest of the craziness worth while.

And it's definitely going to get crazy. After New Orleans it's South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee... and then on to California. (Tour dates here.) I'll be checking in (on my travel-sized Macbook!) and I really will try to document as much of it as possible.

I have to say I'm not ready for all this - I'd just about sell my soul for one more week to prep! - but what the hell - no turning back, now. And really, I live for the road. Nice to have such a great excuse to just hit the highway.

And DANCE.

I'll leave you with my favorite writing procrastination - the Bourbo Cam. Check in about 10 pm this Friday night and you may see me dancing along the street. I'll be the one with the... beads.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Virus!!

I was off line most of last week because of a @#$%^%&* computer virus.

Nothing scarier than being two weeks from your debut novel launch (and simultaneous second book deadline) and being on line and suddenly seeing your “URGENT” e mail automatically delete itself at a rate of two dozen e mails per second.

Not to worry, I have remote backup. And my friends who have Macs read me the riot act about PCs in general and now I have a beautiful brand new MacBook. I have to relearn the whole Mac system and find out where the hell on this lovely new computer all my transferred data is – but whatever. There are certainly worse things. (And may I just say as a public service announcement that MacAfee is useless when it comes to tech support? NEVER AGAIN.)

But of course the whole incident got me thinking about the psychology of virus writers. What in God’s name causes that kind of will to rampant destruction? Don’t get me wrong – no matter how destructive, it’s not on a par with rape or child molestation. But the narcissistic power trip – the love of control – has got to have some crossover pathology with the more sadistic versions. I did some Googling and came up with various, ultimately unsatisfying articles on the syndrome.

- This one not so good – I’m just throwing it in there because it’s odd to see Frontline put its name on something so unsatisfying.

- Here’s a better summation of the points the same expert makes.

- This next one more useful in detail. Teen to 20-something boys are responsible, of course, no surprise there. (This is another post entirely, but you know, if GIRLS suddenly started wreaking this kind of havoc it would be declared a national emergency and no end of money would be put into a solution. I'm just saying.)


I could post more, but I know you all know how to Google.

It’s all been very annoying and stressful and expensive, but the fact is, my third book is going to brush up against this world, so in this case it’s been a useful emotional jump-start on research. The best revenge is to write a bestseller, right?

So take that, virus-writer. Begone, you have no power here.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

New cover, new look

I've been holding on to the old splash page of my website because I loved the hauntedness of it so much, but it was getting ridiculous - The Harrowing is coming out in less than two weeks now, and I need to have the new cover up.

So my fabulous web designer, Beth Tindall, just made a new page, a bit of a movie. It really looks fabulous, and I think gives more of a sense of the book. In fact, I just a minute ago got a nice e mail from someone who loved the intro so much she's already ordered the book. Can't argue with that!

So just for fun:

This is the new

This is the old

Let me know what you think!

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Closing of Cody's

Now this is tragic. Any bookseller going belly up, of course - but this - Cody's Books on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley closing, after 41 iconic years.

Why Booksellers are Going Belly Up

(It was last month, actually, but I missed writing about it because of my computer crash, and this is a great article - not just about Cody's and the book biz but about Berkeley, Telegraph, the whole damn thing.)

I can't imagine Telegraph Ave. without Cody's. Cody's was always the treat store, the homework break, the down time, the refuge, the place to get dry in the rain, a Xanax substitute, an oasis of sanity in the craziness of Berkeley. My blood and tears were in that store, literally.

It was HOME.

I am heartbroken that I will never be able to do a signing there. There's still Cody's in San Francisco and on Fourth Street, but it's not my Cody's.

It's not home.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Pears from Margaret Maron

This was a week of Raleigh author get-togethers. After my night out with the guys on Tuesday, I went on Thursday to a very different kind of meal and gathering - lunch at The Grape with North Carolina mystery goddesses: Sarah Shaber, who writes the Professor Simon Shaw mystery series; Kathy Trobeck, who channels Southern charm and humor as Mary Kay Andrews; Brenda Witchger, who writes mystery and southern fiction as Brynn Bonner; RITA award-winner Diane Chamberlain, who's also new to town and the group; the great Margaret Maron, who needs no introduction (but writes the fantastic Deborah Knott mystery series), and legendary bookseller Nancy Olson, owner of the fabulous Quail Ridge Books and Music (who's already invited me to do a signing for The Harrowing, Tuesday, Sept. 12 at 7 p.m.).

I have been a huge fan of Margaret's since I discovered Bootlegger's Daughter and it's just amazing to me that I am suddenly part of this monthly lunch circle - it's really like being invited to tea with royalty. That is, tea... with a big splash of bootleg whiskey - because these women are just about as far as you can get from sedate. Gracious, yes, and graceful - I really meant it when I said "royalty" - but also wry, witty, wicked - all those W words.

It is just so lovely to have this level of authorial companionship and very touching to me how they've welcomed me into their group when I'm so far from home - so - Southern, really - just as if I were a new young bride (all right, I'm neither young nor a bride, but that's how it FEELS, okay?)

We talk about our books and our publishers and our tours and the South, and they laugh at me when I try to say y'all with a straight face. It's such a window for me into a different universe - and I am so privileged to have these incredible guides for my parallel journeys into the South and into the book world.

I came out of the lunch with one of Brenda's sons (to do my Blog site, I mean!) and a HUGE bag of pears from Margaret's staggeringly prolific trees.

Pears from Margaret Maron. Now THAT - is cool.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

J.A. Konrath comes to town...

I was one of the stops on Joe Konrath's tour last night...

Hmm... that came out wrong. Perhaps a bit too much to drink. That's what happens when you go out with a bunch of writers.

I'll start over. J.A. Konrath was in Raleigh last night as part of his already legendary Rusty Nail Tour and I had the great fun of going out to dinner with him and other local mystery authors J.D. Rhoades, David Terrenoire, and Stacey Cochran, who managed to wrangle us all into the same place at the same time (thanks, Stacey!). Photographic evidence here.

If you don't know J.A. Konrath stop reading this now and get yourself over to his website - but I can't imagine anyone in the mystery world DOESN'T know about him and the Rusty Nail Tour by now.

I'd met Joe briefly at the whirlwind that was ThrillerFest and have been an avid reader of his blog, but last night I really fell for him. (Really. Literally.).

He was worn out, obviously (he'd done ELEVEN bookstores in two states that day, covering a staggering number of miles), but the man just doesn't quit. He lights up talking about books, promotion, publishing - is just a fount of information - and more generous than anyone (in what is a remarkably generous community) about sharing tips and strategies (just check out the free stuff on his website!) He's a total inspiration (get him to show you his tattoos some day. There is the sweetest story behind them - but you need the visuals. Great arms, too!)

I know he could make a mint selling what he knows in CD form and on the lecture circuit, like Hollywood story structure gurus Robert McKee and John Truby. But when I told him so, he said that a) he thought the information should be out there, free, for everyone, and b) he didn't want to be known as "that marketing guy" - but for his books.

He gave me a copy of RUSTY NAIL and I read a little into it when I got home - and he's right. The only purpose of this landmark marketing should be getting these books out there. He's got a unique voice - wry and blunt and really interesting, coming from a sympathetic and prickly heroine - Jack Daniels is simply a perfect name for her. The sometimes laugh-out loud humor (great dialogue!) is startling in juxtaposition to the brutality of the serial killer plot line, but makes the story more accessible to people who wouldn't normally pick up a serial killer story (I myself have written them, but there are certain places I just don't want to go. I may have to avert my eyes sometimes while reading this one, but it's not anything I won't be able to take).

So do yourself a favor - go out and BUY a copy of WHISKEY SOUR if you haven't read it, or RUSTY NAIL if you have, and start working your way through this series.

And check out J.A.'s tour schedule - there's a frighteningly good chance he's coming to your town any minute. Buy him a beer, give him a bed, do his laundry. He's out there on the road for all of us - and he's giving us all the direct line on what he knows. Plus, he's a fun date.

Looking forward to many more drunken nights with Stacey, J.D. and David, too.

(Umm... that came out wrong, didn't it?)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

DEADWOOD

DEADWOOD.

That one word may be all I can manage to write in this post because I simply don't have the literary capacity to write about it and come close to doing it justice.

I would rather watch DEADWOOD than any other show on television. I would rather watch DEADWOOD than any movie out there in theaters. I would rather watch DEADWOOD than anything in the history of film I can buy or rent. I would rather watch DEADWOOD than read - anything.

I. Am. Obsessed.

Where do I begin? The cast? Ian McShane (Disraeli... possibly my very first actor crush). Brad Dourif - one of the best character actors of our time. Keith Carradine (CHOOSE ME? Eeek.) A whole host of actors I'd never heard of before starting to watch the show and whom I now love as much as my own - well, my own characters. There has never been such a collection of incredible actors on the same set - I think maybe ever.

Just when you think it couldn't get any better, the phenomenal Brian Cox waltzes in as the Leading Player. (DEADWOOD is the closest thing we've got to Shakespearean in this lifetime. It's like orgasms on ecstasy.)

I was born and grew up in California so that Gold Rush thing is in my DNA. Even though the story is set in the Dakota Territories, it's like watching a past life. Add to that, I know a couple of the actors on the show. Really intimately, not in the way you're thinking. I was very young and so it's all very mixed up in my head. So watching DEADWOOD is not only like watching a past life, it's like watching my own past, this lifetime. Very disorienting.

It's about morality, and civilization, and how this country was built, and how people come together and learn to work together as a society and create laws and justice, and learn how to live with each other as fulfilled and functioning human beings.

It is - I'll say it again because there's no other word for it - Shakespearean in its depth of characterization and complexity of plot and poetry and passion and savagery.

DEADWOOD is also the most feminist show I've ever seen on television, or maybe anywhere else - because it tells it EXACTLY how it was for women, unvarnished. No voting rights. No property rights. Three career choices: prostitute, wife, or teacher (until you marry). A couple of wild card choices: Madam (selling other women) or living life as a man (Calamity Jane.) The show doesn't for a second flinch away from the brutal realities: being sold into sexual slavery by your own father. Being sold into marriage by your own father (oh right - redundant.) Developing laudanum or alcohol addiction just to keep going. Is it hard to watch? Oh, definitely. But also a huge relief - because it's TRUTH, and these women are so heroic and real in their situations. And they BOND with each other, as real women do - I am sick unto death of seeing women depicted as being always at each other's throats. Not in my world - not in my experience.

There is "language" in the show. Boy howdy, is there. What I mean is, motherfucking cocksucker, there is - which words are used not a few times, but dozens, going on hundreds, of times in the course of an episode. It's profanity taken to an absurd level, used of course to convey the roughness of the times and the people, but taking on a cult comic level of its own, once you get past the initial shock.

This, I know, is off-putting to a lot of people I in fact have not given boxed sets of the show to my own parents, who would be so infinitely delighted by the complex, evolving morality of the show and the stellar production, because they would never be able to get past the language. This is a tragedy I have no idea how to resolve.

If DEADWOOD were on every night, forever, I probably wouldn't even need to write. I could just watch and be content. Tragically, or fortunately, I'm not sure which, the brilliant (and by many accounts, difficult) creator, David Milch - is on to another show and HBO will be ending the series in 3 episodes (with two TV movies planned to finish the story).

I'm not at all sure how I'm going to cope.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Writer Beware - Twenty Worst Agents

Writer Beware’s list of the Twenty Worst Agents is posted on A. C. Crispin and Victoria Strauss’ blog as a public service.

The entire blog is full of great information - check it out!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Sometimes the flubs are the best part.

More on the hidden joys of authorship: J.T. Ellison has a great post on stage fright up on Murderati today, and is asking for authors' most humiliating moments.

Well, where do you even start?

But my actual response surprised me.

The supreme embarrassing moment of my life was on stage. I was in a really spectacular and unique production of ONDINE, playing the Queen and other roles, and there was a royal court scene that the whole cast could never, ever get through without collapsing into hysterical laughter. A lot of this was because of the King, Reed Martin, a brilliant comedian who every rehearsal went out of his way to find new ways to make the rest of us break.

But of course you always somehow pull it together for opening night, and we did a week of performances without a hitch. And then - one night when the King rose grandly from his throne, one of the pearls from his ermine robe caught on the mesh train of my gown. And as he started walking downstage, both our robes rose like the wings of giant swans.

Well, the courtiers almost lost it. The audience totally lost it. But hey, we were professionals, or aspiring, anyway, and the courtiers got hold of themselves and somehow Reed and I did a little shimmy and two-step to get unhooked, shooting each other marital looks of annoyance, and we resumed the scene.

And it happened again. Same pearl, same mesh, same swan wings.

It was pandemonium. We could not stop laughing. Literally. Could. Not. Stop. I know from this moment what it means to be rolling on the floor laughing, because half of the actors on stage were. I was doubled over on my throne, laughing my guts out. The King was collapsed in my lap. The audience was shrieking. We could hear the director out in the house just wailing with laughter. It went on for minutes, which on stage is eternity. I don't know how we finally pulled ourselves together, but somehow we did. And after the show I have never had so many people thank me for the best laugh of their lives.

Now, you may be thinking - "But that's not embarrassing, that's priceless." Well, yeah - it was. But for us, the actors, at the moment - it was the most humiliating thing that had ever happened to us. It's perception, right? We were so worried about doing it RIGHT that we almost missed the moment of transcendence. And it was such a huge catharsis that I've never really been embarrassed by anything since.

An audience loves to see that you're human, and that mistakes are just a part of life. Laugh about it and they'll be laughing with you.

Sometimes the flubs are the best part.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

This is starting to feel real... or a lot like acting.

Some things this week that are making me feel almost like a real author, with a real book coming out in - yike! - a month:

Real Author Thing Number One:. The Harrowing got a 4-star review from Romantic Times yesterday. OH, does that feel good! Not quite real, mind you, but really, REALLY good. Like one of those dreams where... well, all right, never mind that.

Real Author Thing Number Two: I had a radio interview this morning. Not my first, but it kind of felt like my first. It occurs to me that this interview thing is hideously like pitching, which I oh-so-naively thought I was DONE with when I moved into novels from screenwriting. "Pitching" is basically what you do to get a job in film writing. You go in to the studio, and face a firing line of producers and executives, and you tell your story, acting out the story and all the characters, preferably (I've found) with pictures and props, because, you see, executives don't read. And they watch your performance, and they say yes or no, and they either give you a big check or they don't. Lather, rinse, repeat.

When I moved from acting into film writing, I thought - "Well, hey! I never have to audition for work again!" How laughably wrong. Moving from acting to film writing just meant that I had to WRITE my audition piece, and then perform it on top of that, to get work.

So, now, here I find I am as an author doomed to the same things I hated about acting... the same things I hated about pitching. The stage fright. The distraction for days before a performance. The obsessive acting prep The Day Of: vocalization, a little Shakespeare recitation to get the old vocal cords working, physical warmup... an overdose of caffeine - oh, yeah, and did I mention writing and memorizing the script? And there's the same adrenaline rush as you're doing it, and the adrenaline crash after you're done... the deep desire for alcohol or mindless sex... preferably in combination and excess.

Crazymaking.

And now I find author interviews are just the same damn rollercoaster. And, just tell me the truth, I can take it... I am looking at a whole regular line up of them, incessantly, for the rest of my life.

Right?

You know what I really want to say? All you parents who are trying to discourage your young ones from the acting thing (You know who you are...)? Cease and desist. NOW. Acting is about the most useful class (major, training, lifestyle choice...) I've ever had. I cannot imagine a professional - profession - that would not be exponentially improved by acting training. You do not have to Go Into Theater to benefit from acting training.

LIFE. IS. ACTING.

The thing actors have over the rest of us is knowing how to fake it with more finesse. No less emotional trauma, but more finesse. This is gold, in life and in any business on the planet.

The trick is to get the training that will give you the skills that will advance your professional career - without picking up the addiction and craziness.

I don't have the answer to that one, because clearly I'm addicted to the craziness.

Or I would not be on this same damn rollercoaster, yet again.

Still, it was a good day, yesterday.

Almost - real.

And if not for the acting thing? I don't know how I would have made it.

Monday, July 31, 2006

The book of my dreams...

I got to the end of my writing day on Saturday and couldn't go anywhere because I've sprained my wrist and that means no dancing, no driving - and I thought, well, I'll read! Yay!! But nothing appealed. Nothing. I must have picked up 20 books in a row that I got from Thrillerfest that I've been dying to read and I couldn't get more than a few pages into any of them.

Here's the problem. I know EXACTLY what I want to read. The trouble is, it doesn't exist yet. I have to write it, first.

I swear that's the only reason I'm a writer. Oh, I suppose I like writing fine, in a masochistic kind of way. But I really only do it because no one else has written the exact story and characters I happen to be looking for, so I have to do it myself.

And, oh, help. The book that I want to read that doesn't exist yet is REALLY HARD. It's multiple points of view and stories within stories... to be perfectly honest I'm not sure I'm ready to write it. It will only be my third book and bluntly, I don't know if I have the chops, yet.

But that's the book I want - the one that I kept tossing all those other books aside for because they aren't IT.

So what am I really going to do - stall for another year and write something else instead? How much sense would that make?

I have about a month to decide, while I finish The Price (which, by the way, was the book I was looking for about a year ago, that hadn't been written yet so I had to do it myself...).

But then, well, I'm afraid I know what's coming.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Radio interview tomorrow - that's Tuesday morning, 8/1/06

If you're on the West Coast, or Australia!, I will be talking about The Harrowing tomorrow morning at 8:45 AM, Pacific Time with Baron Ron Herron on AM radio 1290 KZSB

Saturday, July 29, 2006

For a good time...

-- If you're in LA this weekend, check out my friend and Zen Master Bernard Yin, surf guitarist of the gods, with Astra Heights at Fais Do Do.

The "IPO" (International Pop Overthrow) has begun and Astra Heights has been invited back. It all happens Saturday at LA's most underrated club: Fais Do Do. The IPO gigs are extra fun because one has a chance to see numerous bands that come from all over to rock. The band plays a late set so go ahead with whatever plans you might already have and then consider capping it off with us.

Bernard


- And if you're in Raleigh this weekend, there's the long-awaited opening of the Fayetteville Street Mall, Saturday night - 6 p.m - ??? But if you're in Raleigh, you KNEW that! Rumor has it that Royal Crown Revue is set to play this party. Now THAT'S going to be some dancing!!

- And in a theater near you: Big congratulations to funnyman Jeff Lowell on the opening of his movie: JOHN TUCKER MUST DIE this weekend. Go forth and swell his - um - box office!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Let them do the work

My new cyber-friend Heather Brewer has blogged greatly today on the art of acquiring blurbs - and therefore I don't have to - as her method is exactly my own, except I sent letters rather than e mail. I just love the FEEL of a letter, you know? You can't hold an e mail. Well, not the same way.

Also, my Hollywood friend (yes, there IS such a thing, sheesh...) Paul Guyot has blogged greatly on Murderati today about writing and not-writing and the antidote to the latter.

I am so inspired I am taking his advice and WRITING, starting right this minute, rather than all the rest of this not-writing thing that is just so damn easy to do.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Trans-gender trend?

Speaking of sexuality...

Well, we weren't exactly speaking of it, like just this second speaking of it, but it's always on my mind.

I went to a couple of panels at TriNoc this weekend and I counted three trans-gender people there within the three hours I was there. On the panels, I mean - I wasn't counting in the audience.

Now, I'm from Berkeley, where even when you sign up for volunteer work you have to volunteer more specifics about your particular sexuality than most people even know about themselves over the course of a lifetime. In Berkeley meeting three persons of transgender in the same day would barely merit one raised eyebrow hair, but - in Raleigh? North Carolina? Three? In the same room? You could have knocked me over with a feather. (Part of that was the usual Con hotel-captivity-weak-with-hunger vortex, but still).

Is there something going on that I don't know about?

Or is it just the underground comic world?

Or is Raleigh a whole lot more progressive than I had any clue about?

Enquiring minds want to know.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

My Friends Are Stunt Dressers

I couldn't be at Comic Con this year (next year makes more sense anyway because my book will actually be out). But I just found this article in my inbox:

A Los Angeles-area sextet danced away with the Best in Show award for its skit, "Dancing with the Celebrities from the Stars," at Comic-Con's campiest, vampiest event, the annual masquerade contest.

I know those people. I know them well. You see, my friends are stunt dressers.

Now, those of you who don't live in LA have probably never heard this term. Actually, those of you who do live in LA probably haven't heard the term, either, because I'm fairly certain I made it up. But stunt dressing is the only way I can properly describe the phenomenon I'm talking about. And those of you in the SCA, World Con, World Fantasy Con, Comic-Con, StellarCon, AnyCon crowd (you know who you are) know exactly what I mean.

Los Angeles is, after all, home to thousands of professional special effects wizards, costumers, the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, narcissistic histrionics, and actors (oh, wait, that last is redundant. KIDDING. Some of my best friends are actors.).

And in LA, event partying is a competitive sport - literally. Costume contests abound, and some people I know make a very nice auxiliary income from them, around October, especially.

Arguably some even more outrageous stunt dressing goes on in San Francisco, where most of my friends have also spent at least half their lives. Try the Castro on any given Halloween (I'll never forget the life-sized walking convertible with JFK and Jackie... well, all right, never mind that.).

Put all that together and you have what I call stunt dressing. Parties where costumes are NOT optional - not if you don't want to stick out like a wallflower with a sore thumb.

Theme parties used to scare the s - stuffing out of me because I don't think of myself as an crafty person. (You know, craft as in sewing, not all that OTHER stuff, which is another post entirely, but inevitable.) But I do love excess, and after attending a few parties like oh, A Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Voodoo Magic, Survivor (yes, that Survivor), Gilligan's Island, Under the Sea, any number of the requisite Moulin Rouge and Pirates of the Caribbean and Lord of the Rings and Mardi Gras and Tiki parties... well, I started to think about it. I started thinking about what to actually wear to some of these things. I started to think - isn't costuming just as much an artistic expression as words?

And that's how I released my inner Stunt Dresser. I love dressing up as an Elton John song and having people guess which song I am, preferably with touchable clues. I love sequins and feathers and masks. I love a RED party where everyone and everything is - you guessed it. Have one some time and see what it does to the libido - yours and everyone else's, in every possible combination.

Every thrift store is now an opportunity to collect cheap frothy things that will one day make the perfect drop-dead costume. I have hats. I have Victorian opera coats. I have a menagerie of corsets and boas and headgear. I have chain mail I have every possible net garment you can think of. I have more sequined gorgeous confections than you can shake a stick at. I've also recently started on props.

The thing about stunt dressing is that it gives OTHER people so much pleasure. You don't have to make much of an effort to make so many people truly happy that you're wearing part of the party. That's what's so great about it - and if you're shy, I suggest you think about it that way - in terms of how much others will enjoy that you've done it.

My stunt dressing inspiration - I might as well say mistress - is Sa Winfield - costume designer, belly dancer, choreographer, ceramicist, best hostess on the planet, artist of living, mermaid, and stunt dressing diva, just to name a few of her charms.

Those are her thighs in the winning photo, third from the left.

Congratulations on the well-deserved award - and thanks, Sa, for opening up a brave new world. You'll always be Best in Show to me.

And the rest of you? Go ahead. Unleash your inner stunt dresser. There might just be an Elton John song in you that's dying to get out.