Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Very Unimportant Announcement

Tonight, I discovered my first gray hair.

To be honest, I saw it a week ago but I pretended it was a blonde highlight.

I don't look in the mirror much. When I think of myself -- the person I feel like I really am -- I'm somewhere in my late twenties or maybe early thirties. Don't get me wrong; I wouldn't want to go back. It's been an interesting, rich life so far and I can't wait to see what happens next. I've made some terrible mistakes and I've done some things I'm proud of. I'm looking forward to the next decade.

But there is a strange sensation that comes with the realization that no matter who I am inside, this outer vessel that carries me around is on a predetermined schedule, moving toward a natural expiration that I have no control over and yet I feel unchanged. On some mornings I wake up and I notice the lines around my eyes and I wonder who the middle aged woman staring back at me could possibly be. I don't quite recognize the physical entity who is now undoubtedly an inch shorter than I claim to be and who is a little wider than she once was.

When I see very old people, I now understand that they are who they always were. When I see people half my age, I understand how they probably see me.

It doesn't make me sad.

It doesn't make me wistful.

It's just -- surprising.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Books I Read in July 2008

Here it is, nearly the end of August and I’ve yet to post the books I read in July.

Inglorious, by Joanna Kavenna was another ARE I received from LibraryThing and I really looked forward to reading it.

Her mother’s death and a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the superficiality of her life are the catalysts for thirty-five year old Rosa to impulsively quit her job as a successful journalist for a London newspaper and enter a painfully long meltdown. Rosa has no prospects or plans and her life rapidly disintegrates. A decade-long live-in relationship with her handsome, but vapid boyfriend abruptly ends and she moves in with a friend. She soon finds out that her ex and her closest friend are about to be married. Without income or job prospects (she’s not really looking), her debt mounts and she wears out one and then another friend’s hospitality. She’s reduced her assets down to a few changes of clothes and a copy of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and the complete works of Shakespeare as the train wreck continues in painful slow motion.

You can read the rest of my review at The Book Book here. This was a tough book for me to write about because I was obligated to review it and I wanted to love it. Joanna Kavenna is a very talented author and I will read her next book because I think she’s got incredible promise.

A Three Dog Life, A Memoir by Abigail Thomas was an optional reading assignment for the Grand Lake Retreat. I’m not a huge fan of memoir, but you can’t keep me out of a book discussion, so I read it and I liked it a lot. Abigail Thomas’s husband was hit by a car and suffered profound brain injury. He was conscious, but severely brain damaged, to the point that she had to put him in an institution. The memoir is really a series of separate essays, rather than a linear story and in fact, several of the chapters were published as stand-alone pieces. I found it interesting that most of the people who read the book were disappointed because they felt that the author didn’t reveal herself and seemed too detached. I liked her for that, I suppose because I tend to be that way myself in a crisis situation. She was pragmatic about her situation, and yet she remains loyal to her husband, visits him often and continues on with her life, changed as it is.

“I remember sitting in the little office with the head of the program. I liked her very much. We had grown to know each other well over the past year. ‘What options do we have?’ I asked. She looked uncomfortable. I could look for a nursing home with a locked unit, she said, although she knew of no place offhand, or I could take him home. Take him home? I was terrified. What would happen to us? Where would my life go? I wouldn’t be Rich’s wife; I would be his jailor and my own. This was a sacrifice that made no sense, I couldn’t do it. It has taken me almost five years to accept this about myself. What kind of woman was I? What about my wedding vows? Who was I that keeping hold of my own life was more important than taking care of my husband? I kept forgetting the fact that I actually couldn’t take care of him, no two people could have taken care of a man in Rich’s condition. Why then did I feel so ashamed? What standard do we women hold ourselves to? After all these years I can finally say the words I want to live my life without feeling unnatural, selfish, cowardly. The social worker didn’t last long."

Migration Patterns, Stories by Gary Schanbacher is a beautiful collection of eight short stories and a novella. Many of the stories are linked, and many of the characters reflect the migratory nature of those living in between what was wild and what’s now developed, or developing.

The book was also one we discussed at Grand Lake and Gary Schanbacher is a Colorado writer who workshopped most of these stories with Lighthouse, over the course of about eight years. His journey to publication is somewhat of a Cinderella story that I hope to tell in an upcoming Q&A with him.

One final note of serendipity – Ernest Hebert, one of my favorite authors emailed me just before I bought the book and he recommended it. He was of the PEN/Hemingway judges and Migration Patterns was a 2007 finalist.

This is from the novella, The Sea in These Hills:

“In the distance, the mountains slowly grew from the horizon like huge ocean swells. July, and snow still capped the peaks. Clayton recognized that they could swallow up a man and knew he would travel straight into the middle of them. He came up on the city of Denver, a hazy oddity of office towers and stockyards and converging rail tracks planted at the very edge of the foothills. The owner of the Cadillac slept on, so Clayton continued driving west, past hogbacks that reminded him of the armor plates of a stegosaurus, then, downshifting, up into the mountains. Even in July, the air was cool, and the sleeping man unconsciously crossed his arms and snorted once. An hour into high country, the road pleated into a series of switchbacks that traversed the side of a mountain. Clayton’s progress was slowed by a logging truck creeping uphill. The whining of the truck’s engine finally woke the sleeping man, who sat up in his seat, massaged his temples with his thumb and forefinger, and looked about him in temporary confusion.”

Tethered, A Novel by Amy MacKinnon. I have delayed this posting, largely because I wanted to write something that would do justice to this book. It deserves its own post and it will have one soon. Many of you know Amy from The Writers' Group. Amy has been a wonderful friend and a generous blogger who has shared her journey to publication in her posts.

Larramie, at Seize a Daisy did an absolutely fantastic post about Tethered here and I urge you to read it:

“Although there have been many fiction and non-fiction works presented here at Seize a Daisy over the past twenty-two months, Amy MacKinnon and her debut novel, Tethered, hold a unique and fascinating distinction. For unlike all the other authors -- who had already completed/sold and were anxiously awaiting their book's publication date --, Amy shared her real-time journey through these stages in her weekly Tuesday posts at The Writers' Group. And those of us who have followed her feel an extra sense of pride and excitement about next Tuesday, August 12th, when Tethered is released and Amy MacKinnon officially becomes a novelist.” Continue reading this fine post here.

I have read many debuts. I have loved many of them. Tethered is the most powerful that I’ve read. Amy tells a rich, textured story through characters with depth and heart. It is honest and real and true. Tethered is a must-read. Amy MacKinnon is the real thing.

How Fiction Works, by James Wood is a fascinating study of the elements of fiction, written by one of the most well known literary critics of our time. I dog-earred this book and will read it many times. It’s written much in the tradition of E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel and fair warning, this is a book geared toward what I would characterize as “serious fiction”. Wood uses many examples to illustrate his points, from Cervantes to Dickens to Tolstoy to Ian McEwan, Iris Murdoch and Philip Roth.

He has this to say on character:

“A great deal of nonsense is written every day about characters in fiction – from the side of those who believe too much in character and from the side of those who believe too little. Those who believe too much have an iron set of prejudices about what characters are: we should get to ‘know’ them; they should not be ‘stereotypes’; they should have an ‘inside’ as well as an outside, depth as well as surface; they should ‘grow’ and ‘develop’; pretty much like us. In The New York Times, a critic complains that the ‘decrepit womanizer’ played by the septuagenarian Peter O’Toole in the film Venus (written by Hanif Kureishi) and Hector, the elderly teacher ‘who gropes his male students’ in The History Boys (written by Alan Bennett), are meant to be relatively ‘benign’, but instead their actual behavior makes them seem ‘venal and self-deluding.’ There is what she calls ‘a significant ick factor’ in watching such elderly people ‘stalking’ their young victims. But, she argues, instead of portraying these characters as the predators they really are, the filmmakers seem to want us to sympathize with, even applaud such behavior. The problem with The History Boys is that it ‘assumes that the audience will embrace its lecherous hero as fully as the film’s creators do.’

In other words, artists should not ask us to try to understand characters we cannot approve of – or not until after they have firmly and unequivocally condemned them. The idea that we might feel that ‘ick factor’ and simultaneously see life through the eyes of these two aging and lecherous men, and that this moving out of ourselves into realms beyond our daily experience might be a moral and sympathetic education of its own kind, seems beyond this particular commentator, of whom all one can say is that she is unlikely to be so unforgiving when she herself has reached seventy. But there is nothing egregious about this article. A glance at the thousands of foolish ‘reader reviews’ on Amazon.com, with their complaints about ‘dislikeable characters’, confirms a contagion of moralizing niceness.”

This book is not going to appeal to every writer. I think it will appeal to any writer who enjoys the classics and who enjoys "serious fiction" -- it sounds pretentious to even write it, but I think everyone knows what I mean by the term. I think that regardless of what you write, if you do have an appreciation for serious fiction, there are some excellent observations in this book.

Catching Genius, A Novel by Kristy Kiernan is a novel I waited far too long to read. With my stubborn resistance to reading books that everyone seems to be reading and talking about, I deprived myself of this smart, beautifully written book for over eighteen months. Once again, Larramie at Seize a Daisy, a debut novelist’s fairy godmother had this to say in February of 2007:

Presenting Debutante Kristy Kiernan with

Catching Genius

Reviews for Catching Genius

BookPage: “stunning debut,” “mesmerizing,” and “a must read…”

Publisher’s Weekly: “a moving novel about forgiveness and the fragility of family,”

Harriet Klausner, online book reviewer: “a delightful look at how childhood relationships make the adults…readers will appreciate Kiernan’s poignant look at the changing relationship between two sisters.”

If Kristy Kiernan's name sounds familiar, you have a good memory. Introduced in the January 8, 2007 post, An Invitation to the Debutante Ball, Kristy explained her intention for the grog: "I wanted to bring fresh voices together and present them to readers in a one-stop shop format and let them get to know about us and our novels in a unique way before they had to search for us in a bookstore full of the same authors they've seen for years and years." Until now, she has shared the weekly spotlight with her fellow five Debs, but Kristy will soon garner individual attention when her novel, Catching Genius is released on Tuesday, March 6th.

Since that date is only a week and a day away, it's time for you to get to know her better. In the bio posted at The Debutante Ball, you would read:

"Kristy Kiernan was raised in Florida as one of the beach-rats she often writes about and dreaming of writing a novel. But the exciting life of serving Manhattans and pot stickers at a trendy, striped-shirt establishment beckoned, and Kristy answered the siren song, fetchingly bedecked in suspenders with pithy buttons and WOW pins (WOW stood for: we really should give you some money for working the past 72 hours; how ’bout this shiny PIN instead?!), and tres chic hats trailing polka-dot ribbons. She often wore matching polka-dot shoelaces.

This glamorous life couldn’t last long, and before Kristy knew it she was married to renowned art-dealer hunk, Richard, and working in the construction industry as a purchasing agent. No more WOW pins or hats, but she occasionally tried to sneak out of the house in those polka-dot shoelaces. Luckily, she was stopped by previously mentioned hunk.

Alas, the construction industry didn’t keep Kristy’s creative side happy (really, who could tame her?!), and Richard, never one to sit idly by while his love was pining for an outlet, encouraged her to follow her dream (actually, he told her to write a book or stop whining about it). The journey has a happy ending. Kristy’s first novel, Catching Genius, will be published by Berkley Books in March of 2007."

Friendly, a bit glib and ever imaginative, that might be your first impression of this Deb; but check out her website, Kristy Kiernan, and you'll find more revealing insights:

"Kristy was born in Tennessee and raised on the beaches of southwest Florida, where she learned to read by watching her mother draw letters in the sand. The day she discovered that the letters formed words she knew she wanted to write. "Though I don't remember it," Kiernan says, "my mother told me that when I was five I suddenly stopped building my sandcastle, squinted up at her and declared, 'When I'm done with all the grown-up stuff, I'm going to be a writer.' I'm not sure I'm done with all the grown-up stuff, but at least I fulfilled the writing prophecy.""

That debut writing prophecy is fulfilled in Catching Genius and here's a brief synopsis:

"As children, Connie and Estella were best friends -- until Estella was discovered to be a math prodigy, which led to the sisters' estrangement. Now, years later, they are forced to reunite on the Gulf Coast of Florida as they pack up their childhood home and ready it for sale. The reunion comes at a time when both Connie and Estella must come to terms with painful revelations and devastating consequences in their own lives. And once again, her sister's genius may alter Connie's life in ways she cannot control."

You can read the rest of Larramie's post here.

I started reading this fascinating book and finished it in two days. I could not put it down. Matters of Faith, Kristy Kiernan's second novel was released earlier this month and now sits on my TBR stack.

* * *

Once again, it's taken a long time to write this post and yet I feel my meager comments about these books have been woefully inadequate.

Writing has been good. Ever since I've forced myself to cut down on the time I spend on line, I've continued to make steady forward progress on "The Foundling Wheel". Word count today stands at 38,430. I'm not tearing through it, but I'm happy with where I am. I have resisted most urges to go back and fiddle with what I have and I'm hoping that with a little luck, I'll have that finished first shitty draft by the end of the year. By then, I'll have something I can rewrite and with any luck, it may turn into something I can revise. If it turns out to be simply a learning tool and I decide to bury the whole thing in the back yard, I'll be happy with that too.

I did start another book in July and I'm still not finished with it because it's an audio book. I never cared much for audio books before because I found that if I tried to listen to them while driving, or doing anything else, my mind wandered. I started to listen to Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore at night when I was finished reading whatever "real" book was was working on and I found that lying in the dark with no distractions, I really like being read to. Unfortunately, it's the perfect solution to my hyperactive mind and in this case, the two English narrators have the most soothing, delightful voices that I'm usually asleep within fifteen or twenty minutes. Tendency toward insomnia: solved; however, it's taking me a very long time to finish and I've listened to most of the book at least twice. Murakami is a genius.

What have you been reading lately? Do you listen to audio books? What do you think of the experience? How's your writing going?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Writing Resolutions

The Acme Author's Link (a great blog with some great writing tips) has posted Tim Hallinan's ten writing resolutions here.

I highly recommend you hop on over and check them out. I am going to have them tattooed onto my forearms (sort of like that guy from the movie, Memento). Tim's closing words ought to whet your appetite to check out the ten resolutions:

"I could easily list ten more, but ten is the tradition. So I'll add an eleventh in the guise of a closing paragraph. In the first chapter of his new memoir, What I Think About When I Think About Running, the great Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami quotes a marathon runner as saying, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” I need to keep that in mind whenever I write.

What that means to me is that there are going to be times when writing hurts: when the words won't come, when the story seems to end in a blind alley, when your characters all turn into people so awful that you would come back from the dead just to prevent them from attending your funeral. All of that is inevitable. What's optional is internalizing that, handing it to the writing demons so they can make me doubt my idea, my characters, my talent. The trick to writing (for me, at least) is the same as the trick for running: keep going anyway. The pain may be there, but I can run (or write) through it as long as I don't turn it into suffering.
And get the next word on the page, which is all that really matters."

Tim Hallinan

I find I'm constantly reassessing what I need to focus on and work harder at, but my writing process is still evolving dramatically. What about you? Do you often set new resolutions or goals for yourself? What are some of yours?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Negative Space

What happened to me when I decided to banish myself from the internet: I WROTE MORE.

The rules I set for myself were pretty draconian. I initially set a five day prohibition on posting and commenting on blogs, but I didn’t stop there. No YouTube, podcasts, IM/Chat, LibraryThing, Goodreads, Shelfari, Facebook: the whole Pandora’s Box of internet delights.

I was moderately successful, but I did cheat a little. I commented on a couple of blog posts. I peeked at Google Reader and I read and responded to email. I Twittered.

When I first heard about Twitter I resisted for quite a while. I couldn’t see the point, but I will concede that posting under 140 characters a few times a day was my methadone. It kept me from feeling completely unplugged and it made me want to check in and post that I’d done something useful – like maybe that I’d gotten some writing or reading done.

To help with the unholy temptations, I made some physical accommodations. I put my laptop on my desk and left it there. I kept my notebook and pen within arms reach at all times. Normally, I leave my laptop on the bedside table at night, drag the laptop into the living room when we’re watching a movie and sometimes I bring it into the kitchen or out onto the deck.

Here’s what I found out: no matter how lightweight the web browsing activity is, it is taking up headspace at the time I’m engaged. When I stay away from all distraction and keep my WIP at the forefront of my brain, it tends to stay with me. Even when I’m working, I can keep my WIP somewhere near conscious thought and much to my surprise, I found that I could take short breaks during the work day to jot down ideas and even do some actual writing. The notebook has actually become a replacement addiction for the internet and I now write a little just before I settle in to read at bedtime and I typically write a little as soon as I wake up. I also write down all kinds of random ideas and even bits and pieces of flash fiction. I didn’t do that before.

This morning when I woke up, the electricity was out in my house. I checked all the breakers and wandered around in a caffeine deprived state for a little while and finally saw a neighbor outside who told me that it was out all over our subdivision. She woke up at 4:30 this morning, presumably when it went out and the electric company recording said they hoped to have it back on by 11:30. The electricity was out all day long and didn’t come back until after 7 P.M. Freaky! But, I wrote more, finished one book and got halfway through another (which I read aloud to Scott – kind of fun in an 1840’s way).

I enjoy writing blog posts and reading and commenting on other blogs far too much to quit entirely, but I also feel a whole lot better about engaging with my work and making progress on my WIP than I do about web surfing for most of the day.

I used to think that I needed to schedule time to write and I’d get frustrated when I couldn’t find that time. When I did, it was always a struggle to get back into the current of the WIP. I now know that I can stay in the current as long as I’m not constantly filling that negative headspace with other things.

We could use more days without electricity.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Gift From an Artist's Hands

This morning I was asking Scott questions about using a lathe. I was about to write a scene about a wood worker. He answered my questions and later, went out to spend the afternoon with Dave, a songwriter who lives nearby.

When he came home for dinner, he presented me with this beautiful gift he'd spent all afternoon making -- on a lathe. I am speechless. This pen is simply beautiful.

The Fourth Watcher

Dickens Challenger, Cynthia Mueller has just posted a great review of The Fourth Watcher, by Timothy Hallinan here. Who says we need reviews in newspapers when we have great reviewers like Cindy?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Denver Loves Authors

There it is, Tethered by Amy MacKinnon, right up front on the big kids' table at the Borders at Park Meadows Mall! I haven't written my review up on Tethered yet, but I will soon -- frankly, I'm so worried I won't do it justice -- it's that good. For a taste, check out Larramie's fantastic review here. I met up with Carleen Brice and Karen Carter, just before we headed to Karen's book club party to talk about Orange Mint and Honey with Carleen (that's right, I was a tagalong!).

Karen did a beautiful job setting up a table full of gifts for the guest of honor.

And my photos aren't the best, but I think these will give you an idea of the lovely group that Karen assembled, along with the wonderful dinner.

Denver is getting so literary! A signing and dinner last week with Tim Hallinan, a stop-off to see Amy MacKinnon's book on release date (our mini launch party) and then on to another elegant soiree with Carleen and Karen.

New York City literati, eat your hearts out!

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Writer-Politician

Nick Arvin, Denver based author of Articles of War and In the Electric Eden had an interesting Op-Ed piece in Friday's Rocky Mountain News about Obama as a writer.

"In 1995, Barack Obama published a book. He was 33 years old, a recent law school graduate, and the book, Dreams From My Father, received favorable reviews from The New York Times and others. It is a memoir, earnest, soul-searching and even-handed.

Reportedly, at the time that he was writing it, Obama had begun to speak to friends about the possibility of entering politics, but it's difficult to detect an aspirant to national office in the pages of Dreams From My Father. For one thing, the entire book revolves around issues of race - a topic that Obama spent this year avoiding until the Rev. Jeremiah Wright forced the matter. Dreams From My Father sold about 8,000 copies and then fell from sight, which may sound a little dismal but is pretty typical for a literary book.

After Illinois elected Obama to the Senate in 2004, he wrote a second book, The Audacity of Hope. Although politicians "write" books all the time, such books are almost always ghostwritten by others. Obama, however, is known for writing The Audacity of Hope himself. Moreover, he began Dreams From My Father years before he ran for office. In other words, he was a writer first, then a politician.

Most politicians have a simple reason for employing ghostwriters: Writing a good book is hard. In fact, I will tell you: Merely writing a halfway-decent, mostly readable book is hard. It requires a certain mind-set to pursue a single topic through hundreds of pages, and to do it well demands skills that are difficult to learn and require ongoing practice. It also takes a great deal of time.

I'd like to suggest that the fact that Obama is a writer - not just a typer of e-mails and compiler of legal briefs but a writer of literary quality with the ability to craft compelling narrative and interrogate his own feelings on the page - tells us some things about him that are worth considering as he competes for the presidency. These ideas flow from a few simple observations about writers generally."

Click here to read the whole piece. This is certainly food for thought. As a side note, do online newspaper readers actually read what they're commenting on?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I Told You There'd Be Cake

And not only was the cake a damn good looking cake, it was delicious too, and Tim Hallinan was even more interesting, personable and funny than he is on line. It's an interesting thing to "meet" someone face to face when you feel like you know him already -- it certainly saves on the getting to know you small talk. Here's Tim with the cake and here is his post on the signing.

Murder by the Book in Denver is the kind of place I'd love have a signing -- er, um, I mean if I published a book and they invited me.

Here's Lauri, owner of Murder by the Book with the cake and Tim with the actual book:

After the signing, I got Tim, Karen and Scott -- three of my very favorite people -- to hold still for a photo outside Murder by the book.

Okay and of course I had to have a picture too:

After the signing, Tim allowed Scott and I to spirit him away for dinner and we had a great time talking about everything from art forgery to plein air painting to travel, great books, ghosts, religion, the creative process and of course -- writing.
I'm so glad Tim was here to promote The Fourth Watcher. Luckily, he's a fast writer and the next novel of Bangkok, Misdirection should be published sometime in 2009. With a little luck, we'll talk him into coming back to Denver again.

Later this week, I hope to post about the books I read in July. I also hope to capture a few thoughts about my recent self-imposed exile from the internet and how that's working for me.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

An Important Announcement for My Colorado Friends

Most of you who visit here regularly know that I can't say enough about crime fiction author, originator of the Dickens Challenge and blogger extraordinaire, Timothy Hallinan. He will be here in my hometown of Denver this Thursday to sign his latest novel, The Fourth Watcher at Murder by the Book on S. Pearl. at 5:30 P.M.

I confess to having found Tim through the Writer's Resources section of his blog -- where he shares his insights and some great advice on something very near and dear to my heart: Finishing the Novel.

The Fourth Watcher is Tim's 8th published novel, so he really does know a thing or two about finishing novels!

Tim is a generous, wise and funny guy and after following his posts for a few weeks last year, I decided to pick up A Nail Through the Heart, which was the first of the two novels he's written that are set in Bangkok (The Fourth Watcher is the second). I don't read many thrillers, but once I started it, I couldn't put this one down.

This Amazon review of A Nail Through the Heart, although not written by me does capture my thoughts:

"A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART, first in Timothy Hallinan's Poke Rafferty series, is terrific.

Poke Rafferty is an offbeat American travel writer living in Bangkok with a Thai girlfriend, Rose--a former bar girl trying to start a straight business--and a Thai foster daughter, eight-year-old Miaow. The book opens with a murder among thieves. The plot thickens as we meet Poke and his menage, and Miaow insists Poke rescue her street-urchin friend, Superman. Poke reluctantly becomes a missing persons investigator when an Australian woman asks him to help find her uncle, who's apparently lost in the shadowy deeps of the vice-ridden city. Poke becomes involved in animosities left over from war and atrocities of a defunct regime, has to deal with institutional greed and avarice, and must confront the tragedies of Southeast Asia's thriving porn-tourist trade. He soon realizes his main goal is not so much to solve the missing-persons mystery, but to protect Rose, Miaow, Superman, and himself from the accelerating evil around him.

Why I loved this book: The characters are realistic and human, without being stereotypes, and the reader cares about them. The action is fast-paced, relentless, and unpredictable. The book captures the exotic feel of modern-day Southeast Asia, where Westernization of an ancient culture is overlaid by urban blight and underpinned by thousands of years of Oriental civilization and wisdom. Hallinan's writing is rich and descriptive, yet his prose never overwhelms the reader or slows the pace of the story. He's skillful at giving the reader information without clumsy info dumps, so the reader's never pulled out of the story. At the end of the story, I wished for a "prequel" novel, so I could learn more about Poke, Rose, Miaow, and Poke's cop friend, Arthit.

I can't wait to start the second book in the series, THE FOURTH WATCHER. "

Here's my Amazon review of The Fourth Watcher:

In the second book of Timothy Hallinan's beautifully written Bangkok series, we continue to follow Poke Rafferty, an American expatriate who is about to give up writing his "Looking for Trouble" travel series in order to settle down with his new family. In A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART we met Poke's girlfriend Rose, a former bar girl, Miaow, Poke's newly adopted daughter and Arthit, his police officer friend. Creating multi-faceted characters using deceptively simple prose is one of Hallinan's many gifts.

On Peachy, Rose's business partner: "The bank teller's eyes follow her all the way across the lobby: a woman in her late forties, wearing clothes that could provoke buyer's remorse in a seventeen-year-old."

Poke's observation about his father: "Except for a slight stoop, a lot of missing hair, and that shuffling walk, he looks surprisingly like the man Rafferty remembers from all those years ago. He has to be in his seventies, but time has barely laid a glove on him. It strikes Rafferty for the hundredth time that serenity and selfishness aren't that dissimilar. They both keep people young."

Hallinan gives us a view into the experience of being the westerner looking in from the outside, attempting to assimilate, but recognizing and accepting that he will never really "get it". One of the great benefits that come with reading these novels of Bangkok is a glimpse into eastern culture and philosophy and the often humorous view of westerners from an Asian perspective.

The city of Bangkok is a prominent character in THE FOURTH WATCHER and in A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART. Hallinan masterfully reveals a city made up of a unique blend of spirituality, carnality, ghosts, superstitions, the rich, the poor and unseen circles of power and influence.

In THE FOURTH WATCHER, the author deftly weaves together several subplots and skillfully brings them to a satisfying conclusion. One of the things I most admire about this writer is that when he explores dark and violent themes, the worst of both occurs "off screen" and within our own imaginations. Hallinan implies the worst, but does not hit his readers over the head with it.

A wonderful, fast paced read with deeply drawn characters I cared about, a richly textured setting and a gripping story.

So if you can stop in on Thursday, please do. Did I mention that I think there will be cake?

Note: I am now returning to the "real" offline world. This was the time sensitive post I mentioned when I went into internet exile, so I'll see you at Murder by the Book or back "out here" next week!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

In Which I Admit I am Powerless

First, I have some good news. I got my Foundling Wheel groove back this weekend and I have a new first chapter, (don’t tsk, you tskers, I really did need to go back and rewrite the beginning of the story so I could pick it back up again in the middle). I finished chapter 12 and got halfway through chapter 13. I’m back in the saddle and crawling forward again.

Now, the bad news: Hi, my name is Lisa and I’m addicted to the internet.

Between the malaise of summer, taking off for that heavenly writing retreat in the mountains and a growing to-do list that I never seem to make any progress on, I have allowed myself to slip into a state of inertia and near-depression. Why can I not get anything done?

I’m like Pavlov’s dog whenever Google reader alerts me to a new blog post or whenever a new email comes in. Not long ago I added fuel to the fire by subscribing to more blogs! I started Twittering – why? I can’t exactly say. And don’t forget Facebook – where I admittedly spend very little time, but do end up wasting time every time I accept an invitation to “friend” someone new. Might as well check out their page and see who else they’re friends with!

I have always rationalized that reading and commenting on blogs doesn’t interfere with the time I so desperately seek to work on The Foundling Wheel. I have a full time job and I tell myself that if, in between tasks at work I read and comment a little here and there, it’s not impinging on writing time because I can’t write while I’m working.

I finally had to call bullshit on my own bullshit this week.

Maybe I couldn’t work on TFW in that stolen ten (okay, twenty) minutes after the Monday morning conference call and before I answered the first email, but if I had used the ten (twenty?) minutes to go and clean the kitchen, write that thank-you note, respond to the two letters still waiting answers, pay my bills, swiffer vac the hallway, run out and restock the fridge, brush my cat, or godforbid go take a walk and get some exercise, perhaps I wouldn’t feel so constantly behind.

Some of you are disciplined, determined souls and I envy and respect you for it. You get a post out there, comment on occasion, but keep your noses to the grindstone and you make progress on your work. Then there’s me who has to click every link on every post. There’s me who somehow ends up watching YouTube videos of Lang Lang at two o’clock in the morning or I wonder whatever happened to that girl I was stationed with in 1982 and I’m on Classmates.com, Whitepages.com and all over the internet following cyber-leads until I find her and in the meantime, holy cow, I wonder what happened to that couple from Minnesota? Damn, Jensen is just too common a name, but I’ll bet they stayed in touch with…

I’m out of control. On a side note: I did reconnect with an old friend from 1982 and I also reconnected with an old childhood friend this week. Evidence of my cyber investigative prowess and I’m delighted to reconnect, but it’s not getting me any closer to “the end”.

This calls for drastic measures. I have to give up the web – cold turkey – for a week, just to see if I can.

I have to prioritize and here are the “must-do” items in order of precedence.

1. Work. I never neglect the hand that feeds me – despite some evidence to the contrary.

2. Work on The Foundling Wheel – too easy to neglect due to poor time management.

3. Take care of my body – I have turned into a junk food eating sloth.

4. Establish a routine and a schedule and stick to it – at least a little.

5. Read. It’s just as important as writing is.

I’ve got at least one time-sensitive blog post that I’ll allow myself this week.

I won’t ignore email. The time it takes to read an answer email is infinitesimal, in comparison to my unbridled out of control web surfing. While I’m “away” please feel free to email me at lisa dot eudaemonia at gmail dot com. As a matter of fact, please do! I'll be suffering severe withdrawal from all of you.

I’ll comment back to this post, but I won’t allow myself to do it until Wednesday.

I won't be reading or commenting on any posts until (ugh) Friday. There, I said it.

Is it just me, or has anyone else had to find ways to set limits on their internet time?

Subscribe Now: Feed Icon

Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf