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.