Thursday, December 16, 2010

"No Construction without Deconstruction"

It’s one of those clichés of contemporary China reporting, at least of the big cities: the only constant is change. I don’t like thinking in clichés, and I like to find the exceptions, in any case. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been so drawn to the Gulou area, the Drum and Bell Tower, one of the last holdouts of old Beijing.

I mean, Qianmen is a joke. A reconstructed Main Street Qing Dynasty Disneyland, with Starbucks and a Canon store and all manner of luxury goods that people may or may not actually be buying. Off Qianmen proper, there are still alleys of sorts, with vendors selling Mao tchotckes and shoes and jackets and toys, but the surrounding hutongs, most of them are gone or abandoned: gray ghosts of half-destroyed buildings, walls surrounding rubble. This surprised me, a little, that there was still the faux wall, the plastic mural demonstrating how the area would be improved and “reconstructed,” which I thought had been put up in haste for the Olympics, to cover up what hadn’t been finished. But there are still vast tracts of destruction that haven’t been replaced by anything.

I’d heard of plans to “reconstruct” Gulou, replacing the hutongs there with something called a “Time Culture City,” complete with shopping mall. If you haven’t seen this area of Beijing, it’s hard to picture just how absurd this plan seems. Most of the buildings are original architecture, or close to it: one story, modest, made of gray brick. A shopping mall? Here? What could possibly be left of the neighborhood after that was done? The Drum and Bell Towers, surrounded by Starbucks, Cold Stone Creameries and Apple Stores?

Preservationists, both Chinese and foreign, howled in outrage. So much of what Beijing once was, is gone forever; was it really necessary to “improve” this one, last hold-out?

For once, the planning agency backed down. There would be no “Time Culture City,” no mall. Just a small museum.

Maybe a line in the sand had finally been drawn.

But a friend of mine who has a house in the area had warned me that the area had already seen a lot of demolition. All those food vendors on the west side of Jiu Gulou Street? Gone.

NOT the yangrouchuanr vendor! I wrote back. This guy made THE best mutton skewers in Beijing. He took pride in his work. Beautiful cubes of meat, heavily spiced, and he cooked them perfectly, turning them just so.

Afraid so, my friend responded. And the squid-on-a-stick guy too.

Still, I wasn’t prepared, when I finally saw it.

I and a friend were meeting other friends at my favorite hutong bar. The friend I was with is Chinese but not familiar with this neighborhood. I don’t think she understood why I started ranting about the destruction, about how angry I was. “Barbarians!” I believe I said. More than once.

Some of this demolition had already happened a year ago, the last time I was there, but the scope of razed landscape has expanded. All along the west side of the street, as I’d been warned. There are buildings behind blue construction walls that had been recently renovated, which makes no sense at all. And on the east side, several blocks from Andingmen south are…gone. Just a pile of dirt, a lunar landscape behind tin barricades.

A few blocks below that, things seemed normal. That was a relief. My alley shortcut to the Drum and Bell Tower plaza was there. And the towers themselves still stood, not that I expected them to be gone, but still, it was a relief, seeing them there, the plaza itself and the surrounding buildings unchanged.

On the southern terminus of Gulou Dong Dajie is another huge mountain of dirt.***

(***EDITED: If I'm reading the GT article correctly, this will be the location of the new "Time Museum." Actually this seems like a good location for it, and I'm hoping that I've got this right)

“Why?” I ranted. Why had they done this? Why do they need to tear down everything, to make it all new? I get building a strong and modern China, but where is all that pride in “5000 years of civilization,” anyway?

Walking down the street toward our destination, I had an even worse surprise.

I’d always noticed the military base on the north side of the street, in the middle of the stretch between the Drum Tower and Nanluoguxiang (a popular redeveloped alley full of shops). It seemed out of place in the neighborhood, but you could pretend it wasn’t there: the gate to it was small, with a single soldier standing sentry, and the little shops surrounding it hid most of what was behind them.

Now, it’s as though the base has nearly engulfed the neighborhood. It’s almost impossible to exaggerate how out of place these monolithic buildings are, with their red seals of government, surrounded by cranes promising even more cancerous expansion. It’s like some bad science fiction movie, where the oppressive imperial invaders have taken over some planet of peaceful locals, their machines and installations looming over everything, promising destruction if the natives step out of line.

Okay, I’m being dramatic here, and I realize that. I’m a foreigner, after all. It’s not my country, not my place. But it breaks my heart all the same. It’s especially painful, not just because of a bunch of old buildings being torn down. As a lot of the people who live in them will tell you, the hutong housing can be pretty grim. Slums, really. There are plenty of hutong residents who would take compensation, if it’s decent, and move to some nice high-rise, with modern plumbing.

But this particular neighborhood is alive with small, unique businesses, cafes, and clubs. It has a bohemian vibe and a vibrant street-life. Why here?

(Apparently many of the people who live and work near the installation are furious with the construction and the disruption it’s caused, and the paltry compensation they’ve received or have been offered to relocate).

“I can’t believe this!” I near-shouted to the friend I was meeting—I’d had to call him because I was so disoriented that I was afraid I’d miss the bar.

“Well, the only upside is that in thirty years, they’re really going to regret it,” he said.

“That’s not really an upside,” I replied, and he agreed that it really wasn’t.

I have to hope that what replaces the rubble is something appropriate to the neighborhood. Reconstructed hutong buildings are far far better than high-rises, and who knows? Maybe they will be an improvement over what was there before. Maybe.

At least my favorite bar is still there. Crowded, filled with a smoky fug from having the windows sealed against the winter cold. The owner’s two cats were there as well, one curled in a chair, which she refused to vacate, the other stretched out on top of a cabinet.

There, with my friends, a mixed group of Americans, Chinese and Brits, I felt what it was I love about coming here: the buzz, the unique mix of excitement and contentment I have when I’m engaged, listening to the stories of people who have something interesting to say, with whom I have something in common. And when I and two of my friends went out to the tiny courtyard, to get some fresh air, the owner brought me his coat to wear, so that I wouldn’t be cold.

It’s easy to forget what’s outside, when you’re in a little hutong bar, surrounded by friends.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Reporting from Swedish Town

Apologies for the paucity of posts — I have not had access to my own laptop for most of the trip. I have a bunch of stuff to share, and I should be able to start posting it in a couple of days.

Including a visit to Swedish Town! Just outside of Shanghai. Where my friend and I are drinking a "Fetish Coffee."

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Beijing, Greetings From!

I am sitting in a Starbucks in Haidian District, which those of you who've read my book might appreciate. But you know, they have good coffee and internet. Two of my life essentials.

I don't know why it is that I almost always end up in Beijing in the winter, but here I am again. I could smell the coal dust the moment I stepped onto the jetway, which puts me in a nostalgic mood. And makes my bronchi hurt, but oh well...

I hope to be blogging more regularly while I'm here, depending on internet availability. Unfortunately the Great Firewall is in one of its "Blogger is a danger to the Harmonious Society™" moods, so I can only get here when I am on my own laptop or at another computer with a VPN.

In the meantime, I'll be scouring the neighborhood (which I don't know well) for other life necessities such as Kleenex, a China Construction Bank, Yanjing Beer and dumplings...

Friday, November 19, 2010

An Overdue Announcement...

I mentioned in my post below that I was excited about my new representation without going into any specifics. I wasn't trying to be coy; I just wanted to deal with one thing at a time.

Then I ended up preempting the announcement that I planned here in an interview by the fabulous Jan O'Hara on Writer Unboxed.

So this is way overdue—I'm staying with Curtis Brown, and my new agent there is Katherine Fausset. I've had a great experience at Curtis Brown. They are a class act all the way. And Katherine is not only a wonderful, insightful editorial agent, with an interesting and simpatico client list, she's a cook! Who's written cookbooks! As a non-cook who really enjoys good food, I find this tremendously impressive...

Friday, November 05, 2010

Endings and Beginnings...

There's a classic Peanuts strip where one of the characters, Linus, I think, quotes: "It's better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness." And Lucy scowls, raises her fist to the heavens and screams: "STOOPID DARKNESS!"

I try not to be a Lucy in life. I try to keep a good attitude and to not to spend too much time obsessing on bad stuff. But honestly I'm not the sunniest of personalities. I'm just not wired that way.

One of the greatest things about working with my agent, Nathan Bransford, is that he appreciates the darkness in my work (and there's a fair amount of it), and yet he is such a positive, upbeat and encouraging person to work with. That helped me be upbeat through some pretty tough times and channel the dark stuff into the work, where it belongs.

We've had an amazing creative partnership. For those out there who think that nothing happens in publishing without connections, I'll start by saying that I had never met Nathan and did not have any "in" with him before he agreed to represent me. I just wrote a query and sent it. He liked it, asked to see the partial and then the full, and then we started working together.

He is a hands-on guy, the best editor I've ever worked with, with an incredibly sharp eye for both big-picture strokes and the smallest detail. That didn't mean that we always agreed, but if Nathan saw a problem, there was a problem. Sometimes the problem was with what surrounded the thing that wasn't working. Sometimes I'd take an oblique or even contrary approach to fix what was wrong. And again that was one of the coolest things about our working relationship. He's a tough reader, but not a dictatorial one, and there was never one absolute "right" way to problem-solve.

Not every moment was easy. But overall...

We had fun.

If you're a writer who hangs out on the interwebz at all, then you know that Nathan is leaving agenting and going into a new career. I'm excited for him and to say that I wish him every success hugely understates the depths of my goodwill and appreciation.

Nathan took a chance on me. He took me on as a client, worked closely and incredibly hard on both helping me get the book(s) into shape, selling ROCK PAPER TIGER and negotiating the contract. He was there for every question and crisis, and his optimism never flagged. His faith in me as a writer launched my career and completely changed my life. I could not have asked for a more supportive partner, and I'm so happy that we got to share the excitement of ROCK PAPER TIGER's publication and success.

I'm going into another situation that I'm very excited about and that I think is going to be a wonderful relationship. Change can be bracing, stimulating, and a good thing. And all of this was handled with kindness, professionalism and grace.

But it's still hard, because I am mourning the end of a working relationship that has been one of the most significant of my life.

I'm supposed to be a writer, but I don't have the words to express my gratitude.

Thanks, Nathan. It really has been fun.

Thursday, November 04, 2010


To all the lovely people who have left comments in the last week or so (two weeks?), apologies for just now noticing that I wasn't getting the notifications of them. It should be fixed, or I will just have to do it the old-fashioned way, by, you know, looking at the blog.

Thank you for your thoughts!

ROCK PAPER TIGER in Amazon's Best Books of 2010

I'm very excited to announce that ROCK PAPER TIGER made Amazon's Top 100 Books of 2010 (that's fiction and non-fiction) and is one of Amazon's Top 10 Mysteries & Thrillers. I'm in some heady company on these lists, and I am really honored to be placed among them.

Before RPT's publication, I hadn't realized that Amazon has a team of book editors who read and actively promote titles. And they don't just make safe or obvious choices -- they choose a lot of edgy, interesting and important work. Take a look at the lists, and also, their book blog, Omnivoracious, and you'll see what I mean.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I came home from my first Bouchercon with a bagful of books, a bunch of new friends and a bit of a cold, so forgive me if I keep this brief...

For those unfamiliar, Bouchercon is the Big Kahuna of mystery/suspense conventions. It's a reader-oriented convention, meaning that authors have a chance to interact with fans, and vice-versa. On the author side, every year reads like a list of "Who's Who" in the mystery/suspense world. This year's attendees included Lee Child, Val McDermid, Denise Mina, Laurie King, Kate Atkinson, Gregg Hurtwitz, Michael Connelly, oh hell there were so many people just look here if you're curious...

The point being it's awesome and kind of overwhelming. For every person I got to meet, there were two more I somehow missed who I dearly would have loved to have encountered. There are panels galore, on every conceivable mystery-writing topic and on the publishing industry in general. We had a wonderful hospitality suite run by Sisters In Crime, Northern California, who kept the place stocked with an amazing range of snacks, and most importantly, coffee (Bouchercons primarily run on two things: coffee and booze).

The best part for me was that I got to hang out with a bunch of awesome writers from Soho Press, and a team from Soho Press itself. I'd had the pleasure of meeting a few fellow Soho authors, Cara Black and Stuart Neville, on previous occasions, but this was the first time that I got to meet James Benn, Henry Chang and Jassy MacKenzie. What a great bunch of folks. I know this because we traveled as a pack. Just call us the Soho Criminals. Oh yes...there may be a out, Bouchercon St. Louis...

Here we are in front of M is for Mystery, preparing for our pre-con kick-off event. I think for many in the audience the highlight was getting to hear from publisher Bronwen Hruska, publicist Justin Hargett and marketing maven Ailen Lujo, who together provided an inside peek at the workings of a publishing house, along with a taste of their real passion and enthusiasm for the business.

On Saturday, we trooped over to Oakland to do a meet and greet at the Northern California Independent Bookseller's Association convention. After that, I sort of strong-armed the group into taking the ferry back to San Francisco (we'd BART-ed over). Okay, look, the ferry is awesome! It just is. Only takes a half hour. And it was a beautiful day.

Here are Cara and Jassy enjoying the cruise.

And here are the Soho Criminals assembled. I was really happy that everyone liked the experience as much as I do. If I lived up there, I'd commute this way as often as possible.

Publisher Bronwen Hruska, Henry Chang and Jassy MacKenzie, at dinner in North Beach.

All of us, post-pasta coma...

Central to all Bouchercons is the hotel bar. It has been rumored that Stuart Neville and I closed the bar one evening. This is not exactly the truth. One Gary Corby was also involved. Gary is a fine author and a great companion. He is also Australian. And a Vegemite pusher. I offer as evidence the photo below...

I will neither confirm nor deny that a tube of the stuff made its way into my suitcase and home to Venice Beach...

To sum, if you read or write mysteries, thrillers, suspense novels, or even strange literary hybrids such as Rock Paper Tiger, you owe it to yourself to get to a Bouchercon. Just watch out for that Corby guy. I hear the Vegemite is addictive...

Friday, September 17, 2010


When I was a kid, we had an eight-track player in the car. The car might have been a Thunderbird, something like that, I don’t remember for sure. But I remember the 8-track. The way it clicked at inconvenient moments, double-clutching to the next song on the album.

Part of the reason that I don’t remember the car for certain is that my dad liked to get a new car every two years or so. I think the cars must have been leased by then. I only remember two cars of his clearly. The first was a yellow Rambler station wagon that we had when I was a really little kid. I loved that car. I think I cried when he sold it. The second was a yellow Nissan 240Z. He got that one after he and my mom divorced.

I had a more complicated relationship to that car. On the one hand, I liked it — it was cool-looking, and fast. On the other, it was basically a two-seater, so whenever my sister and I were both passengers, one of us would have to ride in the back cargo area, basically lying down, which wasn’t very comfortable.

This was, needless to say, in a time before seatbelt laws.

Better than the cars, I remember the music, the stuff on those eight-track cassettes. My dad was partial to Blood, Sweat and Tears, Frank Sinatra and Johnny Cash. Other stuff that a few years ago got weirdly hip, and I would kind of feel a little snug for knowing and liking it already. Lounge music. Brazilian Jazz. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.

(Okay, I’m not sure if that last one is considered “hip,” but I still love it, and that was the first concert I ever attended, me, my sister and my parents).

Most of these selections make a lot of sense, given my dad. Frank “I Did It My Way” Sinatra? That fits. Johnny Cash’s hard-luck songs of prisons and frustration and temptation—very much my father. Blood Sweat And Tears existential “Spinning Wheel” and “When I Die” – yeah, those make sense.

One of my dad’s favorites was one that I didn’t think to question until very recently, and that was the soundtrack to “Hair.”

Full title: “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical.”

I’m not sure why it took me so long to consider how very strange this was.

My dad was a Korean War veteran who lied about his age so he could enlist in the Air Force and get away from the slums of the Bronx. He was seventeen years old. Too young to go off to war, when you think about it. But then, a lot of soldiers are.

I heard some strange stories about that time, once when he was very drunk and I was a little bombed myself. They came out after a dinner in Ohio, where he and his wife were living during one of his corporate assignments. I’d just come back from China, and though I had been on the other side of the planet, it was my first visit to Ohio, the first time that I’d ever realized my California upbringing might be considered strange or exotic by other Americans.

We’d gone to a restaurant (and like most Ohio restaurants then, the menu was nearly all meat and potatoes, so I was already in full-on California snob mode), gotten into a good-natured argument at dinner, something about Ronald Reagan, whom I predictably loathed and my dad worshipped.

We weren’t fighting at all. We were bantering, really. Having fun.

I can’t remember what set the older guy at the next table off, something I said about Reagan’s use of cheap flag and apple pie symbolism (I was young, okay?), and this man got really pissed off. He told me, and this I do remember clearly: “You’d better shut your mouth, little girl.”

I remember that I had a beer in my hand. I remember that I wanted to dump it on his head. But instead I got up and walked out to the lobby, because if I’d stayed another moment, I would have done it.

My dad was furious at the guy. He got up, and I thought maybe they were going to have a fight. I liked that, in a way, that my dad was actually mad on my behalf, that he was standing up for my right to express myself, even though he completely disagreed with me and we’d had some massive fights about this stuff in the past (and would continue to do so after).

I can’t remember what my step-mom did during all of this. I imagine that she was appalled and tried to calm things down.

What happened was, eventually my dad came out of the restaurant and drove the three of us home.

I asked what had happened. I was hoping, I guess, that Dad had continued to defend me to this asshole. No such luck. “He lost a brother at Pearl Harbor,” my dad informed me solemnly. And I’m like, oh, and this gives him the right to threaten me?

Again, I can’t remember exactly what happened, except that somehow the two of us were drinking and yelling at each other, and eventually my dad broke down in sobs about something that had happened in Korea, something that involved an accident on the plane (a big bomber—he was a radioman) and a guy whose head got blown off.

I really don’t know what to say about that. I don’t know what actually happened, if it even really happened; I don’t know anything more than that, than what he said, and the sobbing.

But I’m telling things out of order, as usual.

My dad was a Kennedy Democrat when he was younger, even though he spent most of his working career in the aerospace and “paramilitary electronics” industries. Sometime after JFK was assassinated and Vietnam escalated, he changed, like many. My mom did not. If anything she got to be more liberal.

This created a lot of tension in the house. My mom had the “Another Mother For Peace” poster. My dad had the faux peace symbol with the B-52 bomber forming the chicken leg and the graphic, “Peace Hell. Bomb Hanoi.”

So, you would think that I might have questioned why my dad loved “Hair” so much.

You know, the Broadway musical about a bunch of hippies dropping acid, making love, and protesting Vietnam.

Rather than questioning, because, hey, I actually was a little kid at the time, I was more interested in the songs my parents would attempt to censor when they clicked around on the eight-track.

One of them was a song sung by the African American cast members, about Abraham Lincoln. The parents would let us listen to most of this and then there was one part they would always turn down. The song that came after that, they’d let us listen to, in which the woman sings of her disgust about how the ideals of the Declaration of Independence are so much empty rhetoric, and at the end she laughs at Lincoln’s assassination, and says, “Shit, I ain’t dying for no white man.”

This upset me a lot when I was nine years old. I didn’t like that the America in this song wasn’t the America I’d been brought up to believe in. More importantly, I didn’t like the idea that people hated me for things I couldn’t change about myself. I’m selfish that way.

But they let us listen to the song where the black guy sings about all the horrible names he’s called. They let us listen to the song about LBJ and “the youth of America on LSD.” They let us listen to, well, everything on that album, about kids tripping and people being torn up by shrapnel and bombs in Vietnam, about “peace, love, freedom, flowers, happiness,” – everything except for one line in the first Abraham Lincoln song.

And one other song, which they would blank out in its entirety.

It’s hard to catch one line though, all the time. So, one time, we were driving someplace, my folks were chatting, and the Abraham Lincoln song came on, and they just spaced out. And I remember the comic lunge of both of them trying to turn down the volume in time for the offensive line.

They lunged. And missed. And we heard it: “Emancin-mother-fuckin-pater of the slaves, yeah yeah yeah! Emancin-mother-fuckin-pater…”

After that, they pretty much gave up on censoring that song. What was the point? We’d heard the forbidden words.

But the one song, the one that was entirely forbidden, they managed to turn that one down.

Every. Time.

This piqued my curiosity.

I think it was one of my best elementary school pals, Anne McDonald, who enlightened me. Her parents had the actual LP. So one afternoon, after school, she got out the album and we put it on the turntable, and we listened until we got to the Forbidden Song.

Before, I’d always heard the organ chord that began it, and that was the signal for my parents to lower the volume. This time, I got to listen:

“Sodomy….fellatio…cunnilingus…pederasty….Father, why do these words sound so nasty? Masturbation….can be fun…join the Holy-orgy Kama Sutra…everyone…”

Sigh. I guess it’s pretty predictable that it all came down to sex.

Of course at the time, neither Anne nor I knew what some of those words even meant. I remember we very studiously put the needle down on the track over and over and over until we thought we’d gotten all the words sounded out correctly, and then we looked them up in the dictionary.

But as usual, I digress.

My dad died at the end of December. It was both a shock and not surprising, and I guess there’s a lot that I might want to say about that, some day, but not now.

I have a really terrible memory in many ways, and I always have. But one thing I remember very well is music. Songs. Words and tunes. Orchestrations, even. Like an eight-track playing in my head.

At some point, shortly after my dad died, I was thinking about songs that he liked. And my sister came down to my place with her boyfriend, and some other friends came over, and we drank a lot of wine, and I did, “the Dad Mix.” All kinds of tunes that I had that I knew he loved. Brazil 66. “Spinning Wheel.” “Come Fly With Me.” “Folsom Prison.”

And that might have been when I remembered “Hair,” which at the time I didn’t have.

A couple days later, I bought the CD. I’ve listened to it a bunch of times since then, mostly while on long car trips, in the dark. I listen to the songs about hippies, and drugs, and “long beautiful hair,” and “two-hundred and fifty-six Vietcong captured.”

“Ripped open by metal explosions.”

I listen to the Sodomy song, all the way through.

And I wonder, what the fuck does this say about my father, the hawk, the Reagan Republican, the guy who worked in the defense industry, whose corporate nickname was “the Hatchet-man.” Who one time called me up, drunk and in despair, because he’d had to fire a couple hundred or thousand people, I don’t remember how many.

Who retired early, rode horses, built wooden camp cupboards modeled after the ones carried on covered wagons: a cowboy from the Bronx. Who certified as an EMT (which I used to kid him about, because I’d done that first), and even said once that helping people made up for a lot of other things in his life. I’m pretty sure he actually said that to me, and that I’m not just making it up, reading between the lines.

I can only guess, because I’ll never get to ask him. But I think I can guess right, guess some of it, at least.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Big, Giant Head Part 2...

An author friend of mine told me a couple of months ago that she called the publication process "Crazy Town." As in "You are now entering Crazy Town." I can attest to this.

I think I've said this already, but at the risk of repeating myself, I didn't really expect getting published to be, you know, that big a deal. I mean, I knew it was a good thing. A very good thing. That I'd beaten all kinds of crazy odds achieving this particular milestone. But I figured the book would get published, and I'd move on to the next thing, whatever that would be. That it wouldn't leave any particular imprint on my psyche. All that had already happened. I'd gotten an agent. Gotten a deal. Next!

Well, not so much. This has been an utterly life-changing experience. After years of doing creative projects that generally went no further than me and a few of my closest friends and relatives, of mostly staying behind the scenes, working for other people, all of a sudden, it's me out there. I've been calling it "My Big, Giant, Head." Like, I go to some website, and I mean, something big, like, the LA Times Book Blog, and there it is: My Big Giant Head.

It's...pretty cool, overall. But disorienting.

And, you know, the downside. You Most of which have been really positive and thoughtful. And I totally accept that not everyone is going to like everything that I do. Intellectually, I accept this.

Emotionally? It's not always the easiest thing.

You know, most writers are introverts. A lot of people who know me are surprised to hear me say that I am one, because I can be pretty social (and I used to sing in a rock band and stuff), but I am. I've always kept a pretty strict zone of privacy. My very own Fortress of Solitude. It's weird being public, even on the small level that I am. Weird being judged for things that are pretty intangible at times, or at least highly subjective.

Mostly it's been great. The totally cool part is suddenly connecting with all these people I don't actually know, having created something that they've responded to, that means something to them. That's been really awesome. I am amazed and astounded by the thoughtful book people out there populating the Interwebz, so many that I'm reluctant to start a list for fear of leaving someone out (rapid mumble "the Rejectionist, Moonrat, Kingdom Books, Dirtysexybooks, all the awesome people at BookBrowse, Sia McKye, Danwei, That's Shanghai, That's Beijing, Susan Kason, Crime Spree, Mysterious Writers, Mystery Scene, oh shit I KNOW I am leaving people out, just go to my Facebook Author page, where I post all this stuff!")

...Er, where was I?

Oh yeah. These are folks who by and large do this out of passion for books, because they give a damn about books and readers and the larger world. With the mainstream media's coverage of books shrinking daily, the work these volunteers (and I mean "volunteer" like you guys are the cultural version of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade) are doing is vital, and important, and I bow to all of you.

And by this, I don't mean to slight the professional book reviewers, at Publisher's Weekly and the New York Times and the Miami Herald and the LA Times, know? I just can't summarize in a few sentences the value of those people who are hanging in there and fighting the good fight for literature and culture and books and maintaining a space for thoughtful analysis in the face of a business environment that doesn't much value these things.

And then...there are the bookstore owners and workers. Oh, man. I meant to write about my experiences on the mini-tour much earlier. I went to some amazing bookstores. Mystery Books and Book Soup in LA, Village Books in the Palisades, M is for Mystery in San Francisco, Poison Pen in Phoenix, Murder by the Book in Houston. A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland, Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego...what these institutions and the people who own and run them and the customers who support them do for authors is absolutely remarkable. They create communities. They take chances. Without them, the literary world would be a much poorer, narrower place. I had such a wonderful time meeting these book people, fellow authors, and readers. Thank you. Every one of you.

I'm not sure exactly what point I'm trying to make here. I guess this is more of a summing up of my thoughts and experiences over the last couple of months.

Right now, I'm struggling through the creation of my next book. And, yeah, I'd heard of "Second Book Syndrome" and all of that, but it's another one of those things that, until you experience it, you might think you understand it, but you really don't. Well, maybe you will, but I didn't.

The irony of it is, the better Book #1 does, the greater the expectations for Book #2, and the greater the pressure. At least that's how I've experienced it.

Book #2 is coming along. I've come to the realization that for me, the writing comes out of some dark places, and as much as I don't want to go there at times, that's where the book is hiding. In dark corners, underground.

Maybe this is why I always carry a flashlight.


(Apologies for not providing links to all of the wonderful folks listed above. I'm kind of tired. Please check out my Facebook page for those, or if you want any further details, just let me know)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

In which I am too lazy to blog...

...but I am interviewed by Jean Henry Mead at Mysterious People and do a guest post at Kingdom Books.

To tempt you further, Jean has interviewed an amazing range of authors at Mysterious People (and has a book compiling the best of the pieces published by Poisoned Pen Press), and Beth, the co-owner of Kingdom Books, is an author and member of the National Book Critics Circle, with a lot to say about books, authors and writing—so take some time to explore their sites. Lots of great stuff there!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Weirdly Awesome, and Awesomely Weird...

I will be honest—I'm pretty overwhelmed by the stuff that's been happening lately, to the point where I'll just report, for those who haven't heard, that ROCK PAPER TIGER was reviewed in this Sunday's New York Times Book Review, and also, made Amazon's Best Books of 2010...So Far...

This is the kind of thing that I barely even allowed myself to fantasize. I don't think that I actually did. You know, keep your expectations realistic and all that.

I had some idea intellectually of what to expect, getting published. I know other authors who've told me how disorienting and crazy it can be. I thought I had a pretty good idea. I didn't get that high or crazy when I got the deal, though of course I was really thrilled. Stay on an even-keel and all.

The last few weeks have nearly capsized my little boat.

So much for calm. So much for sanity. The highs are higher, the lows are lower—it's the biggest, craziest roller coaster I've ever ridden.

I mean, how many times in your life do you get exactly what you've always wanted? The dream come true? The happy ending?

For me, it's a first.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Writer's Little Helper

So one of the things you do as a published author is sign books.

I have absolutely terrible handwriting, so this is one of those things I'm having to learn how to do. I mean, back in the days of traveler's checks, by the time I'd gotten through a pack of them, my signature only slightly resembled the one I'd begun with.

So if you end up with one of my books with an illegible scrawl that might say "LisaBr....something," yes, it's from me.

I had a case to do tonight, and here's another reason some of them are less than perfect:

Friday, June 18, 2010


So, I'm going to Phoenix next week to the wonderful Poison Pen Bookstore for their annual conference. This is something I have really struggled with. Here's why:

I'm a political person. If you know me, or if you've read my book, that's probably not going to come as a huge shock.

I try to keep an open mind. I don't consider myself dogmatic. But I have some strongly held opinions.

I think Arizona's recently passed immigration law, SB 1070, is criminal. I think it's racist. I think it's un-American.

Before anyone pops on here to lecture me on the border situation or the need for immigration reform, stop. I know. I was born and raised in San Diego. I think our immigration policy has some serious deficiencies. I'm not going to pretend that I'm educated or expert enough in the issue to know the full scope of the problem or offer the best solutions. But I am educated enough to know that what Arizona proposes is not the solution, and that for every person who truly believes it's not as bad as it looks, well, it is. It puts a burden on law enforcement to make snap judgments on a person's immigration status -- to decide if a person "looks" and "acts" "American." If that doesn't lead to racial profiling, I don't know what does.

And you want to know how to gauge the real intent of the people behind this bill? Look at what they're planning next -- they want to strip away citizenship from people born in the U.S.A. who have a parent with illegal status.

It's been a while since High School civics, but I do believe that's un-Constitutional.

I mean, I have enough trouble with denying kids whose parents brought them here as children or even infants without proper documentation. Is it their fault that their parents made this decision? And we're going to deport these kids who are raised in the States, who are culturally American, to a birth country they don't even know?

Americans come in all colors and ethnic backgrounds. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I happen to think that's one of the greatest strengths of this country.

But the Arizona law isn't just about immigrants in general. It's about Mexicans in particular, and that to me is one of the most troubling things about the sentiment driving it.

The southwestern United States shares a cultural heritage with Mexico. This was Mexican territory before it was the US. Yeah, the US won, and those are the facts on the ground. But that doesn't mean we should not acknowledge the long, deep ties between our two countries.

Yes, there's horrific violence along the border. Let's look at why that is. It's mostly a consequence of the drug war going on in Mexico, between the various cartels contending for supremacy and the Mexican military. What's fueling that conflict?

Long-held corruption in the Mexican government, yes. Millions of people living in poverty as well.

The other half of the equation is American demand for drugs, a drug policy that criminalizes behavior and increases violence and, most directly, American guns, up to and including military weapons. America is literally arming the Mexican drug cartels. They don't make guns in Mexico. They strictly control guns in Mexico. American guns are smuggled into Mexico every day, just like drugs are smuggled going the other way.

So, we, the US, are great big enablers of this violence, at best.

Anyway. I could go on, but I think I'll stop here and get to the point.

A number of people, organizations and government entities are boycotting Arizona. The three biggest cities in California are either actively boycotting or have condemned Arizona's actions. I'm glad. I think it's entirely appropriate for a city or state government to condemn the actions of another government entity. I support the people who've chosen to boycott as well. I get it.

And yet I'm going to Phoenix.

After going around and around and around on this, I've come down on the side of fulfilling a prior commitment, and also, supporting an independent bookstore. I'm not sure how I feel about boycotting small businesses run by good people who had nothing to do with decisions by the state legislature, in any case. But particularly when it comes to this business.

I as an author, a debut author in particular, owe a debt to independent bookstores. They are the ones who take chances on new authors. They are the ones who support small presses. They care passionately about books, and they connect readers to authors in a way that a chain bookstore or online entity never will be able to do. And like much of the publishing industry, independent bookstores are going through a tough time. I owe them, as does every author (with the possible exceptions of James Patterson and Stephenie Meyer -- they seem to be doing okay on their own), as does every reader who cares about books.

(I'll be writing more about my own recent mini-book-tour, where all this was really brought home to me, in the next few days)

So, see you at Poison Pen. I'll be the one wearing a "Do I Look Illegal?" T-shirt.

Monday, June 14, 2010

New Reviews!!!

I'm cross-posting this news on my website but promise to have a post up soon reflecting on my recent mini book tour...

James Fallows is one of the best reporters out there on contemporary China—and he's reviewed Rock Paper Tiger. To say I'm excited is an understatement:
To add to the list of "good fiction set in modern China," check out Rock Paper Tiger, by Lisa Brackmann. It's a mystery/action novel that pretty much pulls off something I would have thought improbable: combining an account of Iraq-war drama (the emphasis is on Abu Ghraib-type themes), with a portrayal of the urban China of these past few years, complete with overhyped art scene, dissident bloggers, lots of young expats, and constant uncertainty about what the government will permit or crack down on. Along the way, lots about the online gaming world that often seems the main passion of youthful Chinese, especially males.
There's more at the link!

Then, a really nice review in the Seattle Times:
In "Rock Paper Tiger" (Soho, 345 pp., $25) — a remarkable debut by Lisa Brackmann — Ellie, a wounded medic and Iraq War vet, is scraping by in a low-rent corner of Beijing. Her friends, scrappy artists with dissident connections, attract the attention of Chinese and American authorities, forcing blunt-speaking Ellie and others into hiding.
Check out the rest at the link!

And finally, one of my very favorite publishing industry bloggers, the Rejectionist, writes a really thoughtful (and funny) review, picking up on aspects of the book that I am so gratified to have recognized:
Possibly it is not a total secret that the Rejectionist has, like, a soft spot for the tough-but-fucked-up lady-heroine! IT IS DEFINITELY NOT BECAUSE WE SEE ELEMENTS OF OURSELF IN THESE FICTIVE REPRESENTATIONS NO IT IS NOT THANK YOU VERY MUCH. Oh, SHUT UP. Anyway! Also very dear to us is the thriller-as-a-vehicle-for-insightful-social-commentary! So you can IMAGINE how much we like insightful thrillers starring tough but fucked-up lady characters! A LOT. That's how much we like them. And GUESS WHAT? They're kind of hard to find (the operative adjective being "insightful," folks)! All of which is to say, we tore through the fantabulous Rock Paper Tiger with RECKLESS ABANDON AND DELIGHT.
Lots more at the link!

Monday, June 07, 2010

Bay Area Folks!

I'm in your neck of the woods for the next couple of days. Today, Monday June 7, at Great Good Place for Books in Oakland/Montclair, at 7 PM, and tomorrow, Tuesday June 8, at M is for Mystery in San Mateo, also at 7 PM.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Greetings from San Francisco—and Houston!

I've had a crazy weekend, flying to Houston very early Saturday AM for an event at Murder By the Books with authors Victor Gischler and Duane Swierczynski.

First, if you are ever anywhere within a hundred, maybe two hundred miles of Houston, go to Murder By the Books. McKenna and David run an amazing store and are just awesome hosts. I'd write another mystery/thriller/suspense-type book just to get a second invitation from them.

That, and meeting maniacs wonderful authors like Victor and Duane made this a truly memorable day. Also, the amazing seafood at that place we went to after.

And oh yeah, the bar fight...

Good times!

I completely spaced out on taking photos, but a part of our talk is available on Youtube thanks to author Bill Crider. I've been too embarrassed busy to watch it yet, but from the opening snip, I look pretty much like a person who didn't sleep and caught a 6 AM flight from LA and arrived at Houston just in time to catch a Supershuttle from George Bush International Airport, get dropped at the wrong Crowne Hyatt on Southwestern Freeway Rd. (I mean, my thinking was, "how many Crowne Hyatts could there be on Southwestern Freeway Rd." Answer: two), catch a cab to the right Crowne Hyatt—a large number of Houston cabbies seem to be Caribbean or W. African immigrants. This cabby was great and had a GPS that played the Racing Fanfare every 15 seconds— and just happened to encounter Victor and Duane in the lobby of the Hyatt, so we cab-pooled to Murder by the Book, and, oh yeah, then we talked for a bit, me on no sleep.

A longer version of our talk, which I'm REALLY scared to watch, is here...

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Launch Day!

It's ROCK PAPER TIGER launch day, and I forgot to post. D'OH!

And now that it's here, I got nuthin'. I'm just incredibly gratified by the response the book is getting.

Some of the stuff that's going on...

The book has been getting some great reviews, which I've been linking to on my Facebook page (it's a "fan" page, so you don't have to have a FB account to view it).

My awesome agent, Nathan Bransford, has the official ROCK PAPER TIGER Chase/Action Writing Contest Extravaganza! up on his blog. You have until Thursday at 4 PM PST to enter your best 500 word chase/action writing sample. The prizes, as usual, are fabulous, so get on over there and check it out!

(and watch his blog for a guest appearance by yours truly)

Finally, I have my very first book signing at the wonderful Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles (Westwood). Details available here!

Oh, and for a look at upcoming events, check out my website under "News." There's a handy calendar there that has all the information.

Thanks to everyone who has supported me along the way. It's been quite a ride!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

About that blogging resolution...

Well, okay, I haven't done very well with that. As mentioned, when I have a big creative project I'm working on, all other writing initiative goes out the window. I'm still working on revisions for the next book (AKA The Book That Ate My Brain), and that is taking up most of my energy.

In the meantime, I'll direct those interested to a couple other things I've done lately.

Here's an essay I wrote for, well, I'm not sure. I think it's Amazon's Kindle blog. Anyway, it's about my first time in China, so be prepared to take a ride on the Wayback Machine. China was a very different place back then.

Here's a more casual post -- me bitching some further thoughts about what it's like to write for publication, and the dreaded Second Book Angst.

Finally, I'd like to invite everyone to check out my Facebook page -- I post one or two links there a day that are relevant to ROCK PAPER TIGER or to upcoming works. I'd love to have you join in the conversation. My thinking is, I'll use the Facebook page for quick, interesting links and the blog for longer posts. Which I will write in the very near future. Honest!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tick. Tick. Tick.

That's the mental clock in my head counting down the days to the ROCK PAPER TIGER official release date (June 1 if you don't have this engraved in your brainpan like I do). I got a bit of a jolt today when several friends emailed and texted me to let me know that Amazon is shipping the book about two weeks early. Eek! I guess this is a pretty common occurrence, so we're still going to pretend that the release date is June 1.

What happens after that? Well, a couple of things for sure. First, I'll be doing guest appearances on a number of blogs (details to be announced as I, um, figure them out). Second, I'll be going on an honest-to-dog, actual, non-virtual book tour! I don't mean I'll be blanketing the country or anything (at least not that I know of), but I'll be appearing in venues throughout California and in a few other places besides...details posted as I get them, on the calendar in the "News" section of my website.

(about that Phoenix date...Arizona, you'd better freakin' come to your senses about that awful immigration bill, and that's all I'm going to say about it for now)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Big Giant Head...

Well, okay, I haven't exactly followed through on my blogging resolutions (though I have accumulated a few more really cute cat photos for Friday). But it's been a pretty interesting week in my writing life.

I knew PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY would be reviewing ROCK PAPER TIGER. I'd done a Q & A for them a little over a month ago, so I was pretty optimistic it would be a decent review. Still, this is new territory for me—another one of those aspects of being a soon-to-be published author that you can think you're prepared for, but until you experience it, well, you're not. I had a nice review come in from Library Journal a few weeks ago (you can read it here), but this is like, you know how when you go to Amazon or Barnes & Nobel and look up a book and it says "Editorial Reviews" and under that it says "From Publisher's Weekly"?

It feels very official.

The fiction reviews come out on Mondays. I woke up at 5:30 Monday AM and thought, should I look or wait till I'm awake?

I decided to get it over with.

Here's the review...It's a good one...and the little red star matches my website.

(okay, I'm not going to lie...getting the star was really awesome!)

Here's the Q & A, which was surprisingly fun to do. It was a phone interview, and in spite of my nerves and general incoherence, I had a great time talking about the book. I don't do too well when asked, "what's your book about?" but it seems that I can talk about it if someone asks me specific questions.

I found out from my lovely editor at Soho that the print version features a photo of me. A friend of mine had a hard copy and scanned the pages for me. Sure enough, taking up a good chunk of real estate at the bottom of the page is my head shot, sort of floating in the text.

It's weird, in a way. I mean, it's kind of weird to enter that whole zone where your image is something separate from yourself—but that's a part of the deal of being an author in the 21st century, and it's not like I don't have some experience with that kind of thing (I mean, hey, I worked in Film/TV). I guess what's really the weirdest thing about it for me is that this is something I've pursued for such a long time—not having a photo of myself in a magazine, but the whole dream of publication. And, whoah, here it is.

I guess I never thought it would actually happen. Or I never really thought about what it would be like if it did. It wasn't something I could really imagine. Maybe I never really tried.

I've been around creative industries and endeavors for a long time. I've told myself for years and years...don't expect a miracle. Don't believe the hype, the myth of instant, overwhelming success. That's not how it happens. One small success doesn't guarantee anything beyond just that.

So okay, I'm still being realistic here. This is just one step (albeit a big one). I have a lot of work to do on my so-called career. For example, a second book that is doing its level best to kill me that I hope is going to turn out okay. It's a struggle.

It's also more fun than I thought it would be.

As a p.s., the San Diego Padres are in first place in the National League West. Truly, it is an age of miracles!

Friday, April 09, 2010

My working method..

I know I promised that I'd be upping the output here, and I definitely plan on taking up some of the suggestions I've been getting --and please, if there's a topic you'd like me to address, just let me know! Put a quarter in. I'll do my best. But right now I'm still running a little behind and am short a few brain-cells. So I thought maybe I'd talk a little bit about how I work. Because a lot of the writers' blogs I read deal with craft and method and, you know, how they write stuff. The problem is, I suck at talking about it, because there really aren't any grand principles, so it's all about tedious detail.

Perhaps instead, a photographic illustration...


And for another angle:

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


The way my writing has gone lately, my first drafts have been long, drawn out affairs, slow and painful to write. Part of the reason is that because I tend to develop the idea at the same time that I'm writing, my focus is a little sketchy. I'm researching, thinking, writing a bit, researching some more.

My first draft is like a really detailed outline and emotional sketch; it's not generally altogether focused and/or complete. But I can see the framework that I have and work with it, and though I still get frustrated at points, it isn't generally the blood oozing from my pores experience of a brutal first draft, where I don't really know what's happening a lot of the time.

The flip-side is, when I start revising a project that's gone this way, that's when I really get obsessive—when I'm in deep Revisionland, I am pretty useless for just about anything else, except regular showers, and that's only because showers help me think.

I'm okay with side projects if I have a specific deadline and somebody tells me what it is I need to do, but the creative, independent thinking part is pretty taken up with trying to get the current big WIP in decent shape.

I really should be blogging in the weeks leading up to my novel release, but I'm low on ideas. So if anyone's reading after my long hiatus, here's the deal: if you have suggestions/requests for topics, fire away—otherwise I'm going to be posting a lot of cute pictures of cats. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I'm hanging out at Sia McKye's today!

Yeah, okay, I haven't posted on my own blog for *mumble, mumble* over a week, but I'm guest-posting at Sia McKye's Over Coffee, on some of the more mundane aspects of getting published. Well, maybe "mundane" is not the best choice of words (doesn't exactly encourage a reader to go have a look now, does it?), but I'm talking about some of the things you may have to do once you get that publishing contract. Stop by! Sia runs a great blog and it's always a good conversation.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Book People are Nice People! (the latest in a series...)

Pardon the double-duty post, but I had to put this in "News" as well as the blog...

I just received the most awesome blurb from author Nicole Mones. This was especially exciting for me because I loved her book, "Lost in Translation," which when it came out, I thought was one of the very few books by a Western writer that presented contemporary China in a way that I believed ("The Last Chinese Chef" is on the top of my To Read list).

I have to put up the blurb here, because it's too awesome not to share:
"Finally a Western writer has taken China’s domestically bestselling genre of wild, louche-life youth and re-imagined it as a highly original expat thriller. It’s a wild ride—but don’t turn the pages too fast. Brackmann’s evocation of China, funny, frustrating, frightening, sometimes tender, and always real, is worth savoring."

- -Nicole Mones, Lost in Translation & The Last Chinese Chef
I can't tell you how truly gratifying it is to have authors whose work I have enjoyed and whose books are on my bookshelves respond to mine with such generosity and understanding.

Jeff Abbott, T. Jefferson Parker, Eliot Pattison, Qiu Xiaolong, and now Nicole Mones, thank you so very much.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

I know, I know...

I have been a Very Bad Blogger. I didn't even manage to do Friday Cat Blogging. I will! I swear!

Things are starting to heat up with Rock Paper Tiger's debut less than three months away. I'm really excited and pleased by all the activity and by the hardworking folks at Soho. I'll have more news to post on that front soon.

Otherwise, hard at work on the new book and fairly disinterested in the Oscars.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The writing process...

So you know that old joke about the anthropologist who is doing field research in a remote jungle, and one night, across the river, drums begin to play, many loud drums. And the anthropologist goes to the village headman, who tells him, "Do not worry about the drums. Worry when the drums stop."

For days and nights, the drums continue, but no matter how many times the anthropologist asks the headman for the meaning of this, the only answer he receives is: "Do not worry about the drums. Worry when the drums stop."

Finally, late one night, the drums. Stop.

Terrified, the anthropologist runs to the headman. "The drums have stopped! What happens now?!"

"Now comes the bass solo."

Now come the rewrites...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Cat Blogging!

Spike is a 22 pound male, eleven years old, who loves loves loves little Sorscha (she's around 16 years old). The love is mutual. I frequently find the two of them cuddled together and they love to groom each other as well. It's awfully cute!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Mundane Things I Gotta Do...

For some reason, no matter how much time I theoretically have (and not working, there's a lot more of it), I still end up with a sort of tunnel vision when I get close to the finish line on a big project. Or in this case, a draft of a big project. I will emerge now and then from my weird writing coma and note that there are bags of paper (consisting of all the mail I've been shoveling into them that I've otherwise ignored, and the bags are a step up from the Random Piles of Paper that frequently occur before the Bags of Paper step), bills to pay, rugs to vacuum, laundry to do and to fold and to hang, dishes to wash...

In other words, I look up and realize I'm surrounded by chaos. And stuff I gotta do.

In this case, aside from cleaning up the aforementioned mess, I need to do my taxes. I have to put a Reader's Guide together for ROCK PAPER TIGER (a reader's guide? I am clueless!). And because I've met all kinds of wonderful writers lately, I really really really need to update my blogroll and links, particularly because the more organized among those folks have already got me on theirs.

At the moment, though, I'm sitting on my couch with two out of the three kittehs, it's RAINING (again!) with intermittent thunder for good measure, and what I think I'll do next is...continue to sit here a while...

Sunday, February 07, 2010

New commenting system...

In what was one of the more clumsily handled transitions in recent interwebz history, Haloscan was phased out and replaced by something called Echo. We had the option of taking Echo or...nothing! that is, losing all our old comments (they could be "exported" for import into some future theoretical commenting system by a means that didn't yet exist). Anyway I didn't act on this so my account got ported to Echo. And it sort of works, but for some reason the comments aren't showing up on the main page today. You can't get to them by clicking "comment" either, but you will if you click on the title of the post in question.

I'm hoping they will magically fix this but I suppose I need to go complain to someone...

Enjoy the game, those of you who are watching! (I will be)

ETA: Comments are back -- it seems to have been a widespread problem.


ETA 2: Oopsie. Comments are gone again. Sigh.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Take THAT, homicidal WIP!

I typed "End" on the draft at about 3:30 AM Friday. Oh, wait, I actually didn't remember to type "End" till later in the day. But the draft is done, in spite of the sneaky little bastard of an MS trying its best to shorten my life through anxiety-provoking, non-cooperative behavior. Those of you who have had similar writing experiences know what I mean. The rest of you will just have to take my word for it -- the story was out to get me.

Now I need to name it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

On The Job Training...

So today I had kind of a shock...a good one...a Google alert pointed me to a Publisher's Weekly article listing upcoming Spring 2010 fiction/first novels -- one book per publisher -- and ROCK PAPER TIGER was the pick under Soho. I don't know if this is any kind of big deal or not, but it felt a little...weird.

I realized that for all the years I've been writing and pursuing a creative career, I've never actually thought much about what it would feel like to have some small success. I'm still not sure what I feel, to be honest (and it's too early to be making pronouncements about "success" in any case). But I seem to be spending a lot of time reflecting on writing as a career and what it means to be an author, on how I'm handling it and what I might do better.

Writers talk a lot about the passion they have for their work. I'm not sure if passion is what drives me. Passion implies an excitement, a thrill, and though I'll hit stretches when everything flows and I'm feeling some of that, I can't count on passion to get me through an entire novel. Novels are, you know, long. Very very long. And they have to be rewritten a lot. And when you sell them, there's even more work involved.

What I count on instead is a certain pride in craft, consistency and the small amount of discipline that I possess. And patience. Patience that I'm going to be able to solve the next problem in front of me. Patience to not get too freaked out when it isn't coming or it's coming really slowly. The importance of patience is something I'm just now figuring out.

So what does this have to do with my odd reaction about having my book featured in a PW article? (which though hard to define, I'm guessing might have something to do with shyness, embarrassment, a fear of exposure...)

I think, maybe, this is connected to my desire to do a good job. Because at a certain point, namely, the point where people are paying you for your work, it is a job, not just a passion. And right now, one of the things I'm feeling is that I'm not working hard enough at improving my skills, at doing a better job.

I need to read more good books, books that can teach me something about craft. I don't mean books about the craft of writing, but books that illustrate it. I want to read great stories, beautiful language, rounded, developed characters.

Suggestions, anyone?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bad blogger...

No donut. Hell no. I'm having a glass of Rioja...

So far the end of last year and the beginning of this one have been kind of tough. I'm rooting for a positive change when the Year of the Tiger rolls around on February 14th.

Anyway, I'll be back with a new post in a day or two, and hell, I might even do one about writing. Yeah, that.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Please consider a donation for Haiti

The news coming out of Haiti is beyond horrific. So many people already living on the razor's edge; now this.

Nathan Bransford has links to Doctors Without Borders on his site -- they are a fine organization. You can also text "HAITI" to 90999 to donate $10 to @RedCross relief efforts in #Haiti. It is that simple. Learn more here.

I know these are tough times, but every little bit helps in the face of something like this.

UPDATE: The text messaging campaign was set up by the State Department, which is coordinating the massive relief efforts underway. They've already raised three million dollars that's going for immediate needs on the ground. Keep it coming, folks. And you can't go wrong with Doctors Without Borders either. Oxfam is another good choice.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Laura Hruska

This is not the post with which I wanted to return to blogging, but so far this young year seems to be marked by loss.

Laura Hruska, publisher and editor-in-chief of Soho Press, passed away this weekend. She was a cofounder of the press, profoundly shaping its strong and idiosyncratic vision.

I never got to meet Laura. I was hoping to do so this summer. What I know about her is that she helped create a publishing company with real vision and guts and integrity. That she took chances. She took a chance on me and my book, and I will always be profoundly grateful for that.

Another thing I know about her: not long before her death, she did an interview with the Houston Chronicle about Stuart Neville's wonderful GHOSTS OF BELFAST, in which she managed to not only promote the subject of the interview but get in plugs for a whole range of upcoming Soho titles, including mine.

Now that's a publisher.

She will be missed.

Here are some links to articles about her...

Idiosyncratic Mind

Stuart Neville's blog

Shelf Awareness

Houston Chronicle article

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Welcome 2010...

It's a new year and a new decade. I've had some things going on that have made posting impossible for the last two weeks. I'll be back on it soon, with a few more posts about my China trip, among other things...

Wishing everyone the best for this new beginning...