Monday, August 25, 2008

The List

Sometimes people ask me about how I write, and sometimes... sometimes... I think to answer them. below is a small recounting of an incident that happened to me just today at lunch that I offer in the hopes that it may help a fellow writer.


I turned to page 26 of Anne Lamott’s novel, Joe Jones, and the card fell out. It fluttered to the ground and wedged itself beneath my sneaker. A magazine seed for Oprah’s Magazine, which, I assume, the previous reader had been using as a bookmark. Scrawled on it was a list.

Some of the items were domestic and mundane:


Clean Downstairs

Lunch 12:30

Call Handyman

All of these entries were crossed off with a single, definitive line drawn through them. Others were more personal:

Call Dad


V-Day Gift

Return Library Books

Most of these were crossed out, including, ironically, Return Library Books. Hmmm. Did the list maker check that item off early? Did they cross it out in the library before they returned the card to the book and dropped it in the return slot, or what?

Dad, it seems, went un-called.

By now, I was imagining the person that had written the list. A women almost certainly, given the Oprah magazine seed… plus the handwriting was more curvaceous and elegant than the average male scrawl. But was she young or older? Married or single? Writers think about these things. Not doing so is simply not an option. Call it obsession if you must, but that's just how it works.

I kept reading. The last few items were simply enigmatic:

Walk Chet


Needles/5 Yr.

Contractor 5:30


It was the last entry, with its plaintive question mark that really made me notice the list, partly for the impossible to understand reference but also because of the question it posed. It made me wonder what the list maker needed exactly at DSW? Shoes in general, or something special? High heels for a night on the town or something more practical – silent-soled rubber nurse flats, for instance? What did they require a contractor for? A new roof? No, they would have said “Roofer 5:30” in that case, I’d think. Perhaps a new kitchen. New kitchens are nice. Needles for a 5-year-old? And who exactly is Chet? A dog? A cat? A ferret? A tortoise?

It was the last entry, way at the bottom, that drew my full attention:

Pregnancy Test

This item was crossed off, with multiple lines, as if being exorcised.

I mulled this for about five minutes, wondering of the result had been positive. If so, had it been a relief? A harbinger of joy? A disappointment? A moment of stark, sheet terror? Perhaps all of the above?

Then I remembered that I’d just completed a manuscript for a short story set in a library, which I’d just given to Amy to read. In it, the protagonist falls in love with a women he’s never met but who he learns about via her reserved books at the library. She has a similar last name to his, you see, and he can’t help but begin to notice the books she checks out when he runs into a copy of… Well, you’ll just have to read it yourself to find out more.

The point is that this list, discovered completely via the serendipity of meeting Amy (who, ironically, gave me a copy of Lamott’s book on writing last month and precipitated my checking out Joe Jones in the first place) has now suggested a completely new scene in the story, one that I believe will shore up some of the story’s weak spots.

I’m not going to say that I know what will happen, because my characters have this frustrating way of running off in odd and unexpected directions when faced with the troublesome jams I put them in, but I’m definitely going to have my protagonist check out a book that his love-from-afar has read, and find a falling, fluttering magazine seed landing at his feet. On it will be a list, containing items personal and mundane, enigmatic and alarming. I’m pretty sure that Pregnancy Test will be on that list, likely circled several times. Maybe it will be all in caps or in bold ink. Perhaps I’ll employ an exclamation mark. Several, even.

What will he do in response? Ah, that would be telling.

Onion Targets 430 "Key Voting Demographics"

Ah... the Onion. They really know how to encapsulate the inherent silliness of campaign season. Watch the video HERE (thank you, Andrew Sullivan). My favorite: "Farm Dwelling Self-Published Mystery Novelists", although "Dinty Moore Dads" almost made me spit my coffee...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Final Nights of Sin Cover on

Here's the final cover art for Nights of Sin as posted on Paula Guran's editor blog - glad they got rid of the greenish cast I saw before, although I'm not 100% sure about that font. But, I'll agree - it is a"stunning" sequel, damn skippy.

The back cover text is a bit hard to make out, but it seems pretty good (although it doesn't explain what "pledge" Kirin made at the end of Book 1 - maybe that will be fixed). I can say that if you liked the creepiness of Book 1, particularly the elements pertaining to Kirin's difficult choices regarding the use of what is fundamentally a force for evil and destruction as a tool of justice and good, well, you're in for even more this time.

There were parts of this book that, as a father particularly, were actively difficult for me to write, and I hope that I can evoke the same feeling of escalating dread in you, the reader. Like Blood Magic, this is not a book that's a light read, and I'd have it no other way. Once again, my heartfelt thanks have to go to Juno Books and Paula in particular for taking a chance on me and Kirin - I know my work isn't easily marketed or categorized at times, and I appreciate your confidence in me, my writing, and my characters.

Also, looking at Juno's release schedule, it seems as if I've really set a trend: September's title is Matters of the Blood and November's is Blood Bargain, both from Maria Lima. Glad I didn't go with More Blood Magic or the ever-imaginative Blood Magic II. =)

You can pre-order Nights of Sin right on Amazon HERE. As always, I invite any reader to contact me on this blog or via email with comments, rants, raves or questions. Hope you like reading it half as much as I enjoyed writing it for you all.

Das Boot

People have sometimes asked me why I moved from the stimulating environs of Chicago to the relative wasteland of central Ohio. The reason is simple: that piece of mechanical pestilence known as the Denver Boot. Here's an article from HuffPo, in which Leslie Goldman runs afoul of this yellow menace, to the tune of $1300 (plus $60 removal fee and a loss of an entire day).

May whoever designed this thing rot in a very, very special hell, one involving fat, sleepy-eyed bureaucrats, endless waits in lines stretching to vanishing points, screaming, running, vomiting, eternally-bored children and the tangy, ripe smell of various and sundry unwashed masses. Grrr..