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sophie littlefield

Fun at Bouchercon 2012

Last week was Bouchercon, but it was also my fourth blogoversary. While everyone thought they were attending the world mystery convention, I knew it was really my blogoversary party, where I celebrated with some wonderful people I got to meet only after starting this site.

By now, you may have read many recaps already, so I’ll just post some photos that represent how much fun I had. I got some authors and friends to make silly faces for my photo-booth app. It gives me strips of four just like a real photo booth, but when I went to upload them here, it got really crowded because 20 strips = 80 pictures.

So I had to select one frame from each strip that’s my favorite, which was extremely hard to do because there were so many hilarious shots. Sometimes the winner came down to which one wasn’t blurry from us laughing so hard.

I hope you enjoy the gallery (click on each to see slightly larger image). And that last author? No, he wasn’t at B’con this year, but I included the photo because I needed even columns.

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Favorite Books and Movies of 2011

I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth, just traveling still and wrapping up my magical, mystery tour. During the past two weeks, I’ve often been uncertain of what day it was, but I’m pretty sure today is the last in 2011 so I thought I’d write about some favorite books and movies I experienced this year. I’m lurking in the parking lot outside a Dunkin’ Donuts stealing its Wi-Fi so hopefully I can do this quickly. Click on links to read my reviews.

Favorite revival of a classic character: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz. The author perfectly captured Dr. Watson’s narrative voice, and provided not one but two clever mysteries that could only be solved by the inimitable Sherlock Holmes.

Favorite Scandinavian crime novel: The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen. I read some excellent ones, including Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist and Lene Kaaberbol & Agnete Friis’s The Boy in the Suitcase, but Keeper has the edge because of the engaging crime-solving duo of Carl Morck and his assistant, Assad, and the humor Adler-Olsen injects into a grim story.

Book that caused me to lose most water weight: Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington. The story of a fifteen-year-old coping with her father going away to war made me weep copiously, while also making me laugh in parts and swoon over the beauty of its prose.

Craziest adventures: Duane Swierczynski’s Fun & Games and Hell & Gone. You don’t just read these novels—the first two in the Charlie Hardie trilogy—you experience them in a visceral way, the whole time thinking, “What the hell?” and “More!” Luckily, there is more coming in March—the final installment, Point & Shoot.

Favorite thriller that made me invest in Purell: Brett Battles’ Sick. Technically, life as we know it hasn’t ended yet, but it will if Daniel Ash and his colleagues can’t stop some seriously screwed-up people. No one is safe in this story, not even children, which ratchets up the tension. Full disclosure: I was a Beta reader and copyedited it, but the novel was already pretty kick-ass when it came to me.

Favorite dystopian zombie sexy hybrid: Sophie Littlefield’s Aftertime. I read neither dystopian nor zombie novels, but this one, about a mother searching for her child in a world after something terrible happened, moved me and scared me. It also has a really hot sex scene that you probably shouldn’t read in front of your parents or a priest.

Most entertaining true stories: Tina Fey’s Bossypants. I don’t read memoirs, either, but devoured this thing in about one sitting because it’s hilarious and insightful. If she writes another book on the correct method of flossing, I’d read that, too.

Favorite overall movie: The Artist. It made me happy and the smile lingers weeks later. This ties in with the next award for…

Best supporting animal: Uggie from The Artist. He had strong competition from the horses who played Joey in War Horse and Snowy in The Adventures of Tintin, but Uggie did all the acting and stunts himself, while three horses shared duty as Joey and Snowy isn’t real.

Most surprisingly good rom-com: Crazy, Stupid, Love. Romantic comedies are hard to pull off and usually end up being corny, but this one is actually romantic and funny, thanks to Steve Carell, Emma Stone, Julianne Moore, and Ryan Gosling. Gosling’s abs should’ve also received top billing.

Most jaw-dropping stunts: Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol. All-out fun, with innovative action scenes that did look pretty impossible to pull off.

Darkest, coolest noir: Drive. This movie left me shaking, it was so tense and good. Out of all the stellar performances Gosling turned in this year, this was my favorite.

Most affecting performance by an actor playing an icon: Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn. Everyone has an opinion about Marilyn and knows so much about her already, but Williams still manages to bring out interesting facets of the legend’s psyche and make our heart break all over again.

My battery light on the laptop is flashing so I’d better wrap this up. Plus, the Dunkin’ Donuts manager is eyeing me suspiciously from the window. Hope you have a fun but safe New Year’s Eve and a magnificent 2012 that goes beyond your imagination.

 

 

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Nerdfest Finale—Quiz Answers, Nerdy Slide Show, and Giveaway Winners

For the past four days, I’ve been running nerdy anecdotes from crime authors who were generous enough to share their stories and, in some cases, pictures as well. They did it to help me celebrate my third blogoversary today. I profusely thank them and you for reading, promoting, playing along, and coming back for the final blowout. Hope you’ve had as much fun as I have, and that you found some new authors to check out after you read about their amazing feats of nerdiness.

I had a few emails asking if I’d be sharing any tales of my own. I hadn’t planned to, but then I thought perhaps it would only be fair since I asked others to do it. So here goes.

I once had a crush on this guy, and when I was at his house one day, I saw a chess set sitting on the coffee table. I challenged him to a game, thinking I’d impress him because a) I was good, and b) I didn’t know any other girls who played chess so that would make me cool, right? I checkmated him in about five moves but oddly enough, he never asked me out. Lest you think this happened when I was little and didn’t know better, I did this when I was in college.

I’ll give you a moment to digest that. Drink if you need to. Better? OK, let’s get to the answers!

Day One

A. Brett Battles (directed The Hobbitt musical)

B. Elizabeth Duncan (tried to vote for her amateur sleuth forty times)

C. Colin Cotterill (skinhead jock/closet Boy Scout in short pants)

D. Karin Slaughter (Dutch femurs)

E. Brad Parks (Corky St. James theater nerd)

Day Two

A. Meg Gardiner (Jeopardy! winner)

B. Megan Abbott (Annotated Lolita)

C. Sophie Littlefield (HoJo’s waitress doing square roots)

D. Todd Ritter (Disney geek)

E. Gregg Hurwitz (obsessed with clackety keyboards)

Day Three

A. Laura Benedict (broken book bag at bus stop)

B. Eric Beetner (X-Treme model)

C. Sue Grafton (thought barbecue sauce was soup)

D. T. Jefferson Parker (blowing up spiders in jar)

Day Four

A. Duane Swierczynski (wrote his own blurbs)

B. Tess Gerritsen (taught herself hieroglyphs)

C. Jonathan Hayes (DEVO T-shirt and wrestling headgear)

D. Lisa Lutz (wrote letters to Brando)

E. Hilary Davidson (experimented with clothes)

How did you do? Are you surprised at some of the answers? Before I get to the slide show, I have to reveal the two winners of the giveaway. I plugged all the names into random.org and it selected:

  1. Naomi
  2. Lauren

Congratulations! Naomi, your name was picked first so you get first choice from the list. I hope now you’ll stop feeling stabby and won’t file that complaint.

I believe that’s all the business. As a party favor, here’s the “Before They Were Authors” slide show. Enjoy, and I hope you’ll keep the fun going by leaving your own nerdy stories in the comments. To paraphrase Kenny Loggins, everybody cut nerdloose!

[cincopa AEDAPuahm-ZF]

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Nerdfest: Day Two

Welcome to day two of my nerdypalooza (here are days onethree, and four).

Today’s headliners are:

* Megan Abbott—Megan is an Edgar-winning author of six novels, including the recently released The End of Everything, which has been garnering raves everywhere. She has a PhD from New York University in English and American Literature, and would happily sign your leg with a Sharpie if you ask her.

* Gregg Hurwitz—Gregg has written eleven thrillers, the first of which he sold straight out of college. He has a BA from Harvard and a master’s in Shakespearean Tragedy from Trinity College at the University of Oxford. He also writes for Marvel Comics, likes to Google “unicorn pocket watch” in his spare time, and admires women’s athletic shoes.

* Sophie Littlefield—Sophie writes the Stella Hardesty mystery series, the first of which won her an Anthony Award for Best First Novel. She’s also the author of the Aftertime dystopian series featuring Cass Dollar, and the YA series about Hailey Tarbell that has a second installment, titled Unforsaken, coming out October 11. Sophie will kick you with high heels on if you badmouth Jason Statham, and do not get between her and her kettle-cooked chips, either.

* Todd Ritter—In addition to writing crime novels, Todd has been a journalist for over fifteen years, currently at New Jersey’s The Star-Ledger. His second Kat Campbell mystery, Bad Moon, will be out October 11 and has already received starred reviews from Kirkus and Library Journal. Todd wishes someone would make a reality TV show about sister wives who are hoarders, and he will not hesitate to cut people to get more legroom on planes.

* Meg Gardiner—Meg is the Edgar-winning author of the Evan Delaney and Jo Beckett series. She holds both an undergraduate and law school degree from Stanford. Stephen King is a fan of her work so you know she’s badass. She’s been suspected of bank robbery and fought seagulls for hamburgers, and she would hurl herself out of moving vehicles for the love of Foo Fighters.

The stories:

A. First, there are so many [nerdy moments] to choose from. There’s the time I fought my way through a rowdy crowd at the London Planetarium to get a seat for a lecture by two theoretical physicists. (First row for Michio Kaku and John Barrow. Woo!) And there’s my visit to a Star Trek exhibition, where I wore a Captain Kirk shirt. (I was outnerded by a friend who wore Ferengi ears.) But the nerdiest thing I ever did was to read a 500-page reference book in 90 minutes. In a car, on the way to Hollywood. I got a crazy headache from cramming my brain with trivia at 65 mph. But a couple of hours later I also got the correct response when Alex Trebek said, “Australia was originally called ‘Terra Incognita Australis,’ meaning this.” I hit the buzzer and said, “What is ‘Unknown Southern Land?'” I won three times.

B. I have read every single annotation in The Annotated Lolita. Twice. And just recalling it makes me think it’s time to do it again!

C. When I was in high school, I waitressed at a Howard Johnson’s. Some shifts were slower than others, and occasionally I got stuck with one of the dead shifts—weeknights after the dinner hour. We were not allowed to read on the job, and sometimes entire hours would pass with no new customers. To relieve the staggering boredom, I’d take a paper place mat and calculate square roots on the back. The trick was to start with a big number that looked like it might be a prime or at least have few divisors. Something like—say—723,591,117. I’d just pick a number that seemed it might be in the ballpark and give it a try, doing the math with my waitress pencil, then try again and again, narrowing in on the answer until I’d calculated it out to as many decimal points as the remainder of my shift allowed.

D. I am an incurable Disney geek who decided to go to Bouchercon in San Francisco only because I knew The Walt Disney Family Museum was there. I went and it was incredible. The museum, I mean. Although Bouchercon was fun, too.

E. I have a keyboard that I love. It’s REALLY clackety so it’s a lot like writing on a typewriter. In fact, when I’m pounding away, I feel like I’m building something. After six novels, it finally gave out. When I went to order another, I discovered that it had been discontinued and its parent company shut down. After driving to about ten stores, I realized that all the new keyboards are very quiet. I can’t write on a quiet keyboard. I thought my career might be over. I fretted. I stayed up nights. I paced. Then I got determined. After a series of investigative calls, I found myself connected to the night security guard in charge of the warehouse of the former company (which now stored the electronic goods of a new Silicon Valley company). When I offered to Western Union him a goodly amount for weekend beer, he said he’d go on the hunt for me in the dark recesses of the warehouse. Lo and behold, in the back, hidden beneath a tarp, he found a mound of my beloved keyboards. So I bought forty of them. I have them stacked all around my office, like backup security blankets.

Who said what? Leave guesses in the comments and you could win some of these books. Or just play for fun! If you need more info, visit the authors’ websites.
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Reading Wrap-up & Fall 2011 Mini Preview

At the year’s halfway mark, which was, ah, a month and a half ago, I wanted to take a look at the books I’ve read so far to see if I was on track to meet my reading goal of 100 books this year. Seems I’m a little behind; I don’t count ones I didn’t finish or all the manuscripts I read as a copyeditor unless they were published.

But what the hey, I thought I’d share my underachieving list with you anyway, as well as some of the titles I’m most eager to tackle in the coming months. I decided to limit the preview list to books I already have in my TBR pile or else I’d be here ’til next Thursday.

Here’s what I’ve read, with links to my reviews/posts if I wrote one:

1. Heads You Lose—Lisa Lutz and David Heyward
2. Banished—Sophie Littlefield
3. The Brothers of Baker Street—Michael Robertson
4. Learning to Swim—Sara J. Henry
5. The Little Sleep—Paul Tremblay
6. Shadow of Betrayal—Brett Battles
7.  Iron River—T. Jefferson Parker
8.  L.A. Requiem (re-read)—Robert Crais
9.  The Poison Tree—Erin Kelly
10. Spider Bones—Kathy Reichs
11. Djibouti—Elmore Leonard
12. Aftertime—Sophie Littlefield
13. Eyes of the Innocent—Brad Parks
14. When the Thrill Is Gone—Walter Mosley
15. The Border Lords—T. Jefferson Parker
16. The Tiger’s Wife—Téa Obreht
17. Live Wire–Harlan Coben
18. Started Early, Took My Dog—Kate Atkinson
19. Sick—Brett Battles
20. What You See in the Dark—Manuel Muñoz
21. The Informationist—Taylor Stevens
22. Guilt by Association—Marcia Clark
23. Here Comes Mr. Trouble—Brett Battles
24. Bossypants—Tina Fey
25. The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes—Marcus Sakey
26. Fun & Games—Duane Swierczynski
27. Little Girl Gone—Brett Battles
28. Purgatory Chasm—Steve Ulfelder
29. Summer and the City—Candace Bushnell
30. Fallen—Karin Slaughter
31. Before I Go to Sleep—S.J. Watson
32. The Devil She Knows—Bill Loehfelm
33. Creep—Jennifer Hillier
34. A Game of Lies—Rebecca Cantrell
35. Broken—Karin Slaughter
36. What Alice Forgot—Liane Moriarty
37. Alice Bliss—Laura Harrington
38. The Hypnotist—Lars Kepler
39. The Taint of Midas—Anne Zouroudi
40. A Bad Day for Scandal—Sophie Littlefield
41. The Gentlemen’s Hour (re-read)—Don Winslow
42. You’re Next—Gregg Hurwitz
43. One Dog Night—David Rosenfelt (review coming on Shelf Awareness)
44. Killed at the Whim of a Hat—Colin Coterrill (review coming on Shelf Awareness)
45. Stigma—Philip Hawley Jr.
46. The Most Dangerous Thing—Laura Lippman
47. Becoming Quinn—Brett Battles
47. Hideout—Kathleen George (review coming on Shelf Awareness)
48. The Cut—George Pelecanos (review coming on Shelf Awareness)
49. The Cradle in the Grave—Sophie Hannah (review coming on Shelf Awareness)
50. The Pull of Gravity—Brett Battles

51. Ready Player One—Ernest Cline

Below are the books in my stack, in no particular order, I’m most looking forward to devouring this fall (after I finish my last few summer releases). What titles are on your fall list? How are you doing on your reading goals this year?

 

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Book Review: Sophie Littlefield’s AFTERTIME

Before I get to the review, I want to mention I don’t normally read dystopian fiction, horror, or romance novels and I definitely don’t do zombies. I can handle aliens and Godzilla but zombies give me the creeps.

So what possessed me to read Aftertime (Luna, Feb. 22), which takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, is overrun with flesh-eating zombies, and contains, ah, really steamy scenes? The fact it was written by Sophie Littlefield, who can get me to read anything.

The story (first of a trilogy) begins with Cass waking up in a field with no memories of the past two months. Last she remembers, she was seized by zombies—called Beaters—while she was picking dandelions in a field with her three-year-old daughter, Ruthie. Missing strips of flesh on her body indicate she’d been attacked and zombiefied but for unknown reasons, her body healed itself and she became human again. Now, nothing will stop her as she travels through Beaters-infested terrain to reclaim her daughter, meeting a man named Smoke along the way who turns out to be as seductive and dangerous as his name.

Littlefield excels at keeping the momentum going and she knows how to inject a huge beating heart into any story, even one in which humanity is barely alive. Yes, the zombies are revolting. When they’re feasting on flesh, I almost vomited like a character does in the book. Violent, disturbing things happen but at the center of it all is a woman trying to redeem herself for past mistakes, to finally do the right thing for the right reason: her love for her child. She’s not superhuman; her arduous quest is fueled by maternal instinct but sometimes that’s the most powerful thing of all.

Smoke is more elusive as a character. He’s a little too perfect for me—studly, aces on a motorcycle, trusts Cass instantly though there’s reason to think she might be carrying zombie cooties, he’s strong but tender, etc. Then again, I’m glad Cass has such a man accompanying her. An out-of-shape sissy who hurts himself riding a motorbike and cries for mama when he sees zombies would have been no good. And Smoke doesn’t get to rescue Cass in the end. She leaves him behind on her final task and saves her own damn self.

Littlefield has a way of turning mundane things from Before into wistful memories in Aftertime, making me appreciate what I have here and now. In one scene, Cass closes her eyes and daydreams about vacuuming, moving her arms in the motion of a chore that no longer exists in a world where everyone and everything is dirty. She imagines turning on the faucet at a sink and feeling cold water rush over her arms. All of a sudden I wanted to wash my hands and do some vacuuming—a task I have no love for—just because I can. By the time Cass spots defiant dandelions that refuse to die among the ruins, I was convinced they’re the most beautiful flowers on earth.

Nerd verdict: Engrossing Aftertime

Buy Aftertime from Amazon| B&N| Indie Bookstores

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PCN Weekend Roundup

Photo: Disney/Pixar

On Friday, I saw Toy Story 3 in 3D (it made $109M over the weekend). You’ve probably seen or heard a lot about it by now so I don’t need to go into detail. I’ll just say, yes, I cried. It reminded me of Christopher Robin telling Pooh he has to leave 100 Acre Wood: “I’m not going to do Nothing any more.” Pooh asks, “Never again?” and Christopher Robin says, “Well, not so much. They don’t let you.” Then he asks, “Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?” And “Action!” on the tears streaming down my face.

That’s pretty much what happens in TS3, as the toys come to terms with Andy going away to college and their losing relevance in his life. Their little CGI faces, especially during a pretty disturbing scene where they hold hands and accept their fate, express more emotional depth than some human actors can muster (*cough, Nicolas Cage, cough*). Saying good-bye to our childhood is hard but if we haven’t done it, we wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate the beauty of this movie. Nerd verdict: Moving Story.

Saturday morning, I finished Cammie McGovern‘s new novel, Neighborhood Watch, after having started it Friday afternoon. It reads like Desperate Housewives, with polite, attractive people living on a bucolic street named after a shrub, hiding secrets in their basements and occasionally committing murder. Betsy Treading, dubbed the Librarian Murderess, is released after being falsely convicted and spending twelve years in prison for killing her neighbor, Linda Sue (not sure about her last name since it says Murphy on the dust jacket but she’s referred to as Linda Sue Nelson in the book). Betsy moves back to Juniper Lane, staying with a friend and looking for the real killer before she can move on.

McGovern has a subtle way of divulging the characters’ secrets that’s quite seductive. Instead of one big revelation, she leaks little tidbits in each chapter, making it seem almost accidental that the information slipped out at all until you realize somewhere near the end you have all the pieces. Many of the characters are flawed but sympathetic and Betsy makes an effective heroine, most touching when she finds a surprisingly tender relationship in an unexpected place. Nerd verdict: Engrossing Watch.

From L: me, Juliet, Sue Ann, Sophie, Travis

My favorite nerd experience this weekend was seeing the dynamic duo of Juliet Blackwell and Sophie Littlefield at their Mystery Bookstore joint signing in Westwood. Blogger extraordinaire le0pard13 also showed up with his lovely daughter and her friend and I had the pleasure of meeting both.

Sophie read from Juliet’s A Cast-Off Coven, the second in her Witchcraft Mystery series about Lily Ivory, while Juliet read from Sophie’s A Bad Day for Pretty, the second adventure featuring the kick-ass Stella Hardesty. (Sophie revealed the tentative titles for the next two Stella books but I’ll await her permission before blabbing.) These are smart books by amazing women so if you haven’t read them yet, you should immediately consider doing so before Stella comes looking for you with her bondage kit and/or Lily throws some black magic your way.

After the signing, which I survived without getting yelled at for climbing on furniture (thank you, Linda!), I got to dine with Sophie, Juliet and three other writers, Paul Levine, Sue Ann Jaffarian and Travis Richardson, all funny, fabulous people. Sophie and Juliet had promised pole dancing but I guess our hunger took precedence (author Stephen Blackmoore, who attended the signing, had also said he’d strip but chickened out last minute).

Dinner conversation included all sorts of interesting topics. Some were X-rated so I can’t recount them here without illustrations but I’m just not good at finger painting. At one point, we did discuss the following question, which I’ll end with, since it’s Monday and you might feel the need to be armed:

If you were a ninja, which weapon would you have?

For the record, I’d carry a sword, throwing stars and a Kenny G CD. Hit the comments and let me know your weapon of choice!

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Nerd Chat with Author Sophie Littlefield + Giveaway

Last year, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sophie Littlefield when she exploded into the publishing world with her debut novel, A Bad Day for Sorry, featuring her take-no-prisoners heroine, Stella Hardesty, illicit protector of abused women. Since then, Sophie’s been blasting her way through Badass Town, racking up Edgar, Anthony, Macavity and Barry Award nominations faster than you can pump a shotgun, winning the Romantic Times Book Reviews Best First Mystery Award.

Today sees the release of Sorry‘s sequel, A Bad Day for Pretty, and I’m thrilled Sophie has agreed to another chat. Last time, she brought beer and fried chicken for everyone; this year she’s giving away free books! (Details below the interview.)

PCN: How has your life changed since you became a published author last year? Do your kids have rock ‘n’ roll tees with your picture and tour dates on them?

Sophie Littlefield: Oh, PCN, you silly. My kids take pains every day to let me know that to them, I’m still the same old Mom they have always known and loved. They make sure I know I’m welcome to do all the same chores and errands I always did. At 9:45 p.m on a recent school night: “Mom, I need to you to go to CVS and get Wite-Out and those pretzels with the cheesy stuff. I’m kinda waiting for the new South Park to come on so I’ll just stay here.”

I’ve definitely been enjoying getting out and traveling a little more, though I was in Times Square a month ago, trying to hail a cab, when my cell phone rang and it was my son. “Mom? Lacrosse practice ended. Where ARE you?” I suggested he ask his dad, which got me an indignant “But Dad’s working!”

PCN: I suppose you wouldn’t want to respond you were also working on the streets of Times Square.

Sophie (in red) with her publicist Sarah Melnyk (L) and editor Toni Plummer (R)

SL: Ha! No, probably not. There’s been lots of glamour, too. I texted my daughter a snapshot from a dress-up awards banquet and she texted back “wht is goin on w ur boob?”

They’re not really picking up on the whole “Mom’s got a life now” thing, but there have been some sweet moments. Like when my last ARC of PRETTY vanished.  I was searching frantically for it when my son said, “Oh I gave it to this girl at school who had a seizure.” I think what I love most about this story is that he doesn’t even know her very well, but his first thought when he found out she had to go to the hospital for tests was “I know just what will cheer her up—a book about a vengeful housewife!”  (She’s doing fine, by the way.)

PCN: I love that story! What has surprised you the most about your post-publication life?

SL: In all seriousness, it surprised me how right I was about something you and I talked about last year. Remember how I told you I was getting a lot of, erm, unsolicited advice on how to run my career?

PCN: Uh huh. And I instantly disliked the people giving it.

SL: Well, I stuck to my guns and did what I thought was best, keeping my fingers crossed, and in EVERY instance, going with my intuition turned out to be exactly the right thing to do. I’m not saying I have any answers for anyone else, but for me, trusting myself and my few carefully chosen advisors paid off.

PCN: Hooray! There’s a line in Pretty: “The less a woman has to lose, the quicker you better get out of her way.” At what points in your life have people had to get out of your way the quickest?

SL: For a long long time, no one had to get out of my way at all. I’d come upon them blocking my path…and I’d be all “Oh, I’m sorry, I’ll just go around you and try not to make too much noise and can I make you some coffee while I’m here?” even if it meant a detour that cost me time, effort, even pride. I really, really wanted everyone to like me, too, and I allowed their censure or criticism to devastate me.

Then a few things happened. I got sorta middle-aged. Teenagers appeared in my house. A series of reversals required that I earn some actual cash. Suddenly I didn’t have the time or patience to go around making sure everyone was comfortable and happy, that everyone’s feelings were being taken care of, that everyone’s slice of pie was exactly the same fucking size. Oh yeah, deciding my kids were old enough to hear the occasional cuss word might have been a part of it. Uh, that one kind of snowballed.

PCN: Will we ever see a prequel dealing with Stella living with her nightmare husband and leading up to the moment she snapped? I’d like to see how Stella became STELLA.

What happens to household members when they make Sophie mad

SL: Oh, wow! I never thought of that! I would have to wait for a day when I was having a “rage spike,” and just channel it into the story. The only problem is that rather than being a nice “bondage cozy,” it would be more like a Tarantino film, with those scenes where you’re looking around the theater at the other folks wondering if it’s okay that you just laughed or if you’ve just outed yourself as the kind of person who shouldn’t be allowed around children.

PCN: We should go to movies together and laugh at all the wrong stuff! You’ve said Stella is a lot like you. Now that you’re less frustrated with a thriving career, will Stella continue to mellow or will you have to dig deeper for her fury?

SL: It’s kind of funny that everyone—all my pre-pub reviews—seems to agree that Stella is a lot mellower in Book Two. But they also seem to agree that’s a good thing.  One reviewer said that dialing back the action somewhat allows the book to focus more on character development.

I’ve been telling my agent that once I’m raking in the big bucks and am missing that adrenaline surge from wondering when they’ll be turning off the lights, I won’t be able to write any more. Gotta stay lean and agile…

PCN: You’re at least staying busy. Besides Stella, you’ve got a YA novel, Banished, coming out in October and Aftertime, a zombie post-apocalyptic story due in March next year, the first in a three-book deal. It’s being published by Luna, Harlequin’s sci-fi/fantasy imprint, so does that mean we’re gonna see some zombie lovin’?

SL: Ahhh, those zombies! Folks either love ‘em or hate ‘em. I have to say that for me, they are merely an interesting way to introduce drama into a character-driven story.  (e.g. “I love you Maud,” “I love you, too, Gerald-oh-my-god-what-is-that-thing-taking-a-bite-of-your-leg-aaaaahhhhhh!”) In both my young adult and my Luna series, the zombie plot takes a back seat—a very far back seat—to the human drama.

In Banished, it has to do with growing up feeling isolated and alone, and what happens when you reach the brink of adulthood and you have to step up and face your fears while discovering who you really are.

In the Luna books, the post-apocalyptic world, with all of its challenges—yes, including creatures who want to eat you—is just a dramatic backdrop for a story having to do with loss, grief, and reinvention of the self. And there are some really hot ummm…love scenes, NOT with zombies because everyone knows that zombies don’t have sex (S.G. Browne’s wonderful Breathers notwithstanding).

PCN: I didn’t know that! It would’ve been a great excuse when a friend asked me to play a hooker going oral on a zombie in his movie and I really, really didn’t want to (I’m not joking and no, I didn’t do it). What other genre-busting mash-ups would you like to tackle?

Steve Hockensmith & Sophie. Photo: Jen Forbus

SL: Oh, PCN, have I told you about the collaboration I’m doing with Mr. Zombie Boy (aka Steve Hockensmith)? Steve is convinced that swamp creatures are the new black, and I’ve become laser-focused on Malcolm Gladwell’s economic analysis. We’re doing some awesome things with that, kind of a bayou-legend-meets-Tipping Point story with a lot of heart.

Alternatively, I have this insanely good idea for a book that I plan to start writing on January 1 of next year. I just get so excited thinking about it that I can barely get my trembling fingers to type words. It’s something new and different and it’s either brilliant or leaden and unreadable, I can’t decide which.

PCN: I can’t wait to see how these Frankenstein babies turn out. Now, “sorry” and “pretty” have had their bad days. What adjective is next in Stella’s sights and when is that day happening?

SL: The next two Stella books are scheduled for spring 2011 and 2012. The third one’s turned in and the fourth is “in development.” As for titles…PCN, I have this great source who comes up with brilliant title ideas, but she demands secrecy. So let’s leave the cloak of mystery unmolested, except to say that she is a lady of a certain age who may or may not have ties to the Polish mafia.

PCN: I normally enjoy molesting mystery cloaks but for you, I’ll leave it alone for now. Thanks so much for chatting!

For more about Sophie, visit her website. Click on “blog” from her adult section (not THAT kind of adult) and you’ll be directed to the 79 other sites she writes for. Her tour dates are here.

Now for the giveaway. Sophie has graciously offered to give away one paperback copy of Sorry and one hardcover of Pretty. The first name randomly drawn will get Pretty, the second winner will receive Sorry, both books will be signed. If you haven’t read Sophie yet, better jump on the bandwagon now while there might still be room. Otherwise, you’ll have to walk alongside and get kicked by the donkey pulling the wagon.

Rules:

  • be e-mail subscriber or Twitter follower (current subscribers/followers automatically get 2 entries; if you tweet about this, you’ll get 3)
  • leave a comment about a bad day you had that ended up being pretty
  • have U.S./Canada address

Giveaway ends Monday, June 14, 5 p.m. PST. Winners will be randomly chosen via Random.org and announced here and on Twitter. Winners will have 48 hours to claim the prize before alternate names are chosen.

Let’s get some pretty in here!

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L.A. TIMES Festival of Books Slide Show

As promised, here’s a slide show of the good times I had at the book festival. This was done in fun so please don’t anyone sue me.

All kidding aside, I know how fortunate I am to have this festival in my backyard every year, even luckier that I have books to read. Thank you to the amazing authors and friends who made this weekend a memorable one for me.

(To read what I learned at the festival, click here. For Jen’s detailed recap of “The Kingpins” panel, go here.)

Photos by Jen Forbus, le0pard13, Brett Battles and me, but mostly them.

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L.A. TIMES Festival of Books Highlights, Part 1

This past weekend was the annual L.A. Times Festival of Books held on the UCLA campus. As usual, the Mystery Bookstore kicked off the festivities with their party Friday night, where authors and fans can schmooze and booze. Normally, I’d rather be thrown out of a speeding car than be subjected to large crowds, but I had a fantastic time because I got to meet some incredible people.

From L.: me, Christine, Jen. Photo by Brett Battles

I have to mention two in particular:  Jen Forbus and Christine, who regularly liven up this site with their insightful, witty comments and have become my cyber pals. They flew in from Ohio and Tennessee, respectively, and are even more spectacular in person. We officially met at the party but I felt like I’d known them for years. They’re the kind of people who make me want to be better.

It would take me 27 days to recap all the fun I had so I’ll just share a few things I found out this weekend (Jen has a more detailed report on the party here). I also put together a slide show here and for even more party photos, click on le0pard13’s post here.

Some tidbits I learned from the party and book festival:

  • Michael Connelly‘s next book, The Reversal, has defense attorney Mickey Haller in a prosecutorial role (Harry Bosch is also in it; the novel comes out this October).
  • Sophie Littlefield is 8′ 5″ in heels and owns it. You also have to stand in line to talk to her at parties because she’s so popular and has every reason to be.
  • Like me, Brett Battles hates it when characters repeatedly address each other by name in conversation.
  • T. Jefferson Parker’s fourth Charlie Hood novel, The Border Lords, is slated for release January 2011.
  • Juliet Blackwell speaks Vietnamese.
  • Reed Farrel Coleman says he writes good sex scenes.
  • Lisa Lutz‘s next book, a standalone, sounds really cool; the writing process she used is interesting (don’t know if I’m allowed to talk about it yet). Putnam’s releasing it next year.
  • According to Connelly, Robert Crais is only on his first station of manhood.
  • Dipping cheese cubes into dip is too much.
  • le0pard13‘s son, little le0pard, is going to be as awesome a man as his dad.
  • Gregg Hurwitz has an impressive eye for fashion accessories.
  • After The Sentry, another Joe Pike adventure (available early next year), Crais will write an Elvis Cole novel.

OK, my bed just called and my exhausted self said, “Coming!” Check out the slide show, featuring photographic evidence of rampant misbehavior, only some of which was mine.

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What’s in a Name?

I recently asked Robert Crais fans in the Craisie Town part of my forum how their feelings about Elvis Cole would be affected if he’d been named something else, like Larry Jones. Blogger le0pard13 said he probably wouldn’t have started reading the books if that were the case, especially if Larry’s partner was named something like Lev Coen instead of Joe Pike.

This got me thinking about how character names play a large part in determining whether or not we want to read or watch something. Can you imagine Mark Twain’s tale about Huckleberry Finn being called The Adventures of Herbert Melton? Would 007 be as popular if he introduces himself as “Luftenhoser. Stan Luftenhoser”?

I think for the most part, authors put a lot of thought into character names, trying to make the moniker represent the personality. Crais has said he chose Elvis for his P.I. to let readers know they’re getting someone a little different, not your typical hard-drinking loner detective. Michael Connelly has made known Hieronymous (Harry) Bosch is named after the painter who created visions of chaos because Harry encounters chaos at every murder scene. And I think the last name of Sophie Littlefield‘s Stella Hardesty sounds like “hard as steel,” which she is.

So, have you ever picked up a book simply because you liked a protagonist’s name? Ever shunned a novel or movie because you didn’t? What if Harry Potter had been Harvey Scarsburn?

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Nerdies for Favorite Things of 2009

Hope you all are enjoying the holidays. Me, I’m having so much fun with family, I need more gigabytes in my brain to store all the memories being made.

I get grateful this time of year for 1) making it this far and 2) all the wonderful experiences I had in the last 12 months. So, between all the eating and social gatherings, I present to you my Nerdy Awards for favorite things this year.

Most Valuable Preposition: Up. Apparently, the best way to make sure a movie is good is by putting this two-letter word in the title. Up and Up in the Air tie for best movie I saw this year. Both are perfect blends of comedy and poignancy, light and dark, entertainment and explorations of what makes us human.

Best Reasons for Staying Home Wednesday Nights: Glee, Modern Family and Cougar Town. Wednesday nights are always a party in my house, as I sing along to Glee then laugh my face off with Family and Cougar. You’ve probably heard plenty about the first two but may not know that Cougar‘s cast, led by the game Courteney Cox, has really gelled into one hilarious ensemble.

Most Unique New Voices in Crime Fiction: Chet the Jet from Spencer Quinn’s Dog on It, Pietro Brwna from Josh Bazell’s Beat the Reaper, and Stella Hardesty in Sophie Littlefield‘s A Bad Day for Sorry. The field is crowded with cops and detectives but this year, I met fresh new characters starting with Chet, a dog who narrates the adventures he has while solving crimes with his human partner, Bernie. Brwna is a hit man turned jaded medical intern who uses a deadly weapon I’ve never seen used before. And Littlefield introduced us to a 50-year-old, slightly overweight woman who helps abused women keep their partners in line partly by using S&M restraints. These books are all first in a series so discover them now before the next installments come out (Chet’s new case, Thereby Hangs a Tail, arrives January 5).

Best Noir Debut: Richard Lange‘s This Wicked World. This is Lange’s first novel but it reads like he’s been writing them forever. Worthy of a place on my shelf among the genre’s greats.

Best Avoidance of Sophomore Slump: Gillian Flynn with Dark Places. Her debut, Sharp Objects, was so stunning, I wondered if her second novel would measure up. I was thrilled, then, to find Flynn delving even more deeply into the female psyche’s dark, twisted side in Places. Few writers can write about damaged, prickly women and make them so mesmerizing.

Fattest Books I Finished in Shortest Time: I got lost in Kate Morton’s gothic, 560-page The Forbidden Garden for 3 days, while my eyeballs were glued to the 512 pages in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played with Fire for 34 hours, finishing it in almost one sitting, minus a few hours of sleep.

Most Soul-Shaking Book: Jon Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. This non-fiction tale of a star football-player-turned-soldier gunned down by friendly fire in Afghanistan ripped me apart and made me re-evaluate how I live my life. A searing read I won’t forget anytime soon.

Funniest Person I Least Expected to Be: Brian Williams on 30 Rock. The veteran NBC Nightly News anchor made me laugh hard when he unexpectedly showed up on Rock, telling Tina Fey he wanted to audition for her show within the show by doing a stand-up act. The punchline wasn’t funny at all but Williams’s hammy, goombah delivery was very much so.

Favorite Movie Trend: Women 45 and over kicking ass at the box office. Sandra Bullock had two big hits (The Proposal, The Blind Side), Meryl Streep had three movies (Julie & Julia, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, It’s Complicated), one of which may win her a third Oscar. And Sigourney Weaver returns as sci-fi queen in Avatar. I hope this trend continues so I can stop watching actors get older while their female co-stars get closer to infancy every year.

Best Performance by Any Actor, Male or Female: Mo’Nique in Precious. Not so much a performance as a terrifying inhabitation of a nightmarish character.

Most Memorable Movie Quote: I just met you and I love you.” —Dug the talking dog in Up.

What were some of your favorite things this year?

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