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writing

Nerdy Mad Libs Results

Yesterday we played Mad Libs™, and below are the results, with your words inserted into a fake book review I wrote.

I thought the game would be open for at least a day, but you gave me all the words I needed in several hours. Thank you to everyone who contributed, and if you’d like to do this again, let me know in the comments!

I just read this book that’s so gingery, I couldn’t wait to itch you about it. It takes place during the space age in the Alps, and is the story of an imaginative 17-year-old girl named Lolo, whose life becomes engorged when she finds a magic bunny that turns her into a chupacabra with the ability to skip at will.

She meets a boy named Alfalfa who promises to schmooze ankles with her if she’d let him soar her bunny. Things are picaresque for a while until they encounter the evil noodle, which can blow monocle from its uvula. Together, Lolo and Alfalfa fart the evil noodle and live zestfully ever after.

This book is righteous for all ages so ascend your copy today!

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Nerdy Mad Libs!

Over Thanksgiving, I played Mad Libs™ with some friends and laughed my stuffing off at the results. I’d forgotten how fun it is, how much I enjoyed it as a child, playing with my siblings. So I thought I’d try doing it here. Today, I’m going to ask for a list of words. You leave them in the comments, and when I have all the words I need, I’ll post the result.

Your words will be inserted into a fake book review I wrote, so keep that in mind. Weird, provocative, absurd, could-be-dirty words are encouraged, but no blatantly profane or boring ones, please. Leave words in the order I’ve asked for them, and number them so the people after you know where they are on the list. Example: first commenter should write: 1. [adjective], second commenter 2. [verb], and so on.

Feel free to contribute more than one word, but perhaps not a bunch all at once. Think going back for seconds at the buffet table after others have had a chance to go through the line first.

Have fun, and let’s see your fabulous words!

  1. adjective
  2. verb
  3. decade/time period
  4. place/location
  5. adjective
  6. girl’s name
  7. adjective
  8. noun
  9. mythical creature
  10. verb
  11. ridiculous boys’ name
  12. verb
  13. plural noun
  14. verb
  15. adjective
  16. noun
  17. noun
  18. body part
  19. verb
  20. adverb
  21. adjective
  22. verb
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PCN’s Banished Words

At the start of the year, Lake Superior State University published its annual list of words and phrases it feels should be banished. I perused the list and found that several are not that offensive. “Amazing”? “Baby bump”? “Trickeration”? I’ve never even heard of that last one (I don’t watch sports), much less be sick of it.

So I decided to compile my own list of words that I wish would go away, because they’re annoying, abused, misused, or they just don’t make any sense to me. I want to stop making the expression in this picture because it causes wrinkles.

Here goes:

  • Nom nom. Is this supposed to be an onomatopoeia? It doesn’t sound like any noise I’ve ever heard anyone make while eating something delicious. It sounds more like someone chewing with their mouth open.
  • Interwebs. I think someone was being cute, came up with an alternative to Internet—a smush of Internet and World Wide Web?—and then that person’s friend said, “Hey, that’s cute! I’m going to use it, too!” A million people later, it’s not cute anymore.
  • Lurve. In high school, all the “luv” in my yearbook made my teeth hurt, and now it’s the updated version of the lame-ass alternative people use when they can’t or don’t want to say “love.” Say the real word and mean it, or don’t say it at all. Who wants to be lurved?
  • Shit ____say/s. First it was my dad, then it’s girls, black girls, white girls, San Franciscans, L.A. people, rich people, and now even Liz Lemon. Say it isn’t so, NBC. Enough with all the shit already!
  • Can of whoop/whup ass. It’s not 1998 anymore.

  • Grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. I was in a bookstore recently and saw this phrase as a blurb on 1 out of 2 books I picked up. Granted, I was in the mystery/thriller section so this phrase may not be as prevalent on, say, romance novels (unless the characters like a little rough action). But seeing it on so many books I read has made it completely useless to me, and I wish reviewers/blurb writers would let the phrase go.
  • Totes (in place of “totally”). Do I have to say more?
  • Anyhoo. This one confounds me. It’s not a shorter version of “anyhow,” and is spelled almost exactly the same. When you get to that last letter, is it so much easier to type an “o” instead of a “w”?
  • Literally (when it’s not literal at all). Just today, I read that a recently Oscar-nominated actress said, “Literally, like, my brain snapped in two.” Really?

Of course, I’m not literally having conniptions over these words; this is done in ranty fun. Now it’s your turn. What words or phrases would you like to see exiled from our vernacular? Did I use any of them in this post?

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Snapshot of a Nerdy Mind

I sat down this morning to write a new blog post, but kept getting distracted throughout the day by things I had to do after returning home from a two-week trip. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m easily distracted anyw—squirrel!

After I started over about three times on different topics, I decided to throw up another post where you get to see the crazy my blogging process. Who said it was easy?

10:30 a.m.—It’s so sunny and warm today. Wish I were outside.

10:32—But then I’d have to change out of jammies. Indoor is good.

11:15-–Should I do a book or movie review? Or funny travel stories? Like my falling asleep on the plane and leaning so far into the guy next to me, my head was practically in his lap? And then drooling on him. Okay, maybe leave out the drooling part. But that just leaves me sleeping on some guy. That’s not very interesting.

11:26—Why do I have scratches on my back? There’s another one on my leg. It’s like I was in a cage fight with cheetahs.

Noon—Need a snack. Bacon sounds good. But I just had it for breakfast. Maybe a banana. Hey, I can put clusters of berries around it, take a pic, and send it to Mom! She always giggles when she sees peeled bananas. She’d get a good laugh out of this. Heh heh.

1:42 p.m.—What is Hubster watching out in the living room? Sounds like cowboys but with porn music and horror movie-like screaming. Huh. At least there’s more going on out there than in here. Wait, now there are people speaking Chinese?

3:14—The kid next door should switch to another instrument. He cannot play the tuba. No wonder the dogs are barking.

4:02—Cheese! Hubster just brought in a plate of crackers and cheese without my asking! This is happiness.

5:17—What’s happening on Twitter? Demi Moore is playing Gloria Steinem in Lovelace? Wha?

5:29—Maybe I should write about the hope we all bring to the new year, how it’s a fresh start and a chance for…zzzzzzzzzzzz

6:33—I’m starving. Feels like tumbleweeds blowing through the inside of my belly. Ugh, there’s nothing in the house. Have to put on pants and go outside after all. There’s a GIANT hole in the back of my jeans! My ass has been hanging out all this time in public?! Cheap Costco jeans.

7:18—It sure is hard to type with one hand while trying to grab beans with chopsticks in the other. Do NOT get hot sauce on the keyboard.

7:57—Quitting time! Man, what a long day.

How’s yours going?

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Mini Reviews: SHOCK WAVE, CALL ME PRINCESS, and THE LAST LETTER FROM YOUR LOVER

I took advantage of the long Columbus Day weekend to park myself on the couch and catch up on some reading, which was divine. Well, except for the part when I sat too long and my left arm felt numb and I feared I was having a stroke. Anyway, below are mini reviews.

Shock Wave by John Sandford

Someone in a Minnesota town doesn’t want a new PyeMart superstore built so he/she blows up a conference room at the store’s headquarters and then its construction site. Virgil Flowers, an agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, gets sent in to investigate two possible groups—local business owners who’d be ruined by the store, and fishermen who fear PyeMart would pollute the river. The heat intensifies when more bombs go off, including one that’s too close to Virgil.

This is my first time reading a Flowers book and I found him engaging. He’s a surfer dude who’s not only offbeat in his personal style, he uses unusual methods to solve the case. He does market research to find suspects, sending out a survey to a cross section of townies asking them who they think the bomber is. The dialogue is often funny, which is especially welcome since the crimes are brutal and cause multiple fatalities. The revelation of the bomber’s identity didn’t cause any shock waves, but the book is a quick, entertaining read. Nerd verdict: Catch the Wave.

Buy it now from Amazon| Buy from IndieBound

Call Me Princess by Sara Blaedel

Copenhagen detective Louise Rick is called in when a woman is savagely raped after a date with a man she met online. Louise soon discovers he’s a serial rapist, preying on lonely women on matchmaking websites while remaining maddeningly elusive. He leaves behind no physical evidence and the victims can’t provide a good description for the police to issue a public warning. The case becomes even more complicated when one of the rapist’s victims dies and Louise’s best friend Camilla starts dating a man she found online.

Louise seems capable enough for the most part—this also applies to Blaedel—and the procedural moves along at a decent clip until the anticlimactic denouement falls apart from too many holes. Louise doesn’t take certain actions that a good police officer, or any reasonable civilian, would. It seems that some things occur because they’re necessary to move the plot forward but aren’t supported by logic. Some of the best thrillers I’ve read this year are Scandinavian—I highly recommend Jussi Adler-Olsen’s The Keeper of Lost Causes and Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist—but this one, an international bestseller that’s second in the Louise Rick series and first to hit our shores, doesn’t hold up. Nerd verdict: Dropped Call.

Buy it now from Amazon| Buy from IndieBound

The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes

What? I know this isn’t crime fic, but I’m a multifaceted person with many interests, one of which is the art of writing letters. I’m old-school that way and enjoy sending handwritten notes whenever I can. I go into stationery stores to fondle Crane paper and drool over fountain pens. But enough about that.

This novel is divided in two parts. The first takes place in the 1960s, with Jennifer, a young married woman, waking up in a hospital with injuries and amnesia. When she goes home, she finds passionate love letters, signed simply “B,” hidden in her belongings. Though her husband seems like a nice man, she knows instinctively he didn’t write the letters and she sets out to find the person who did. She unearths some answers, but they’re not happy ones. Cut to 2003, when a young journalist named Ellie finds a file full of the same letters in the archives of the newspaper where she works. With her job and love life on uncertain ground, she decides she must solve the mystery of what happened to the lovers.

Usually, if I get a whiff of a cheesy romance, I’m outta there, burning skidmarks in the parking lot. But if a story is skillfully told and a relationship depicted well, I’m all in. Moyes writes the love letters with just the right touch of ardor without going over the top into eye-rolling territory. B’s letters read like a man wrote them, with words conveying more emotion than any emoticon ever could. Moyes makes this clear when Ellie gets texts from her married lover and spends hours obsessing over what “Later x” really means.

The author somehow manages to make me not condemn the adulterous Jennifer—no small feat—without conveniently portraying her husband as a creep. Ellie’s a bit frustrating, though, with her neediness toward a married lover who is a jerk. But she redeems herself, and the ending carries enough emotional weight that all is forgiven. Nerd verdict: Emotional Letter.

Buy it now from Amazon| Buy from IndieBound

What are you reading?

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Nerdfest: Day Three

Welcome to day three of the nerdathon! (Click for days onetwo, and four.) Hope you have snacks and Gatorade to help keep up your energy. Wait a minute, aren’t we all nerds here? Keep eating those Cheetos and enjoy being hunched over your computer!

Today’s players:

* Sue Grafton—Does Sue need an introduction? She’s the creator of the popular alphabet series featuring Kinsey Millhone, and winner of multiple awards throughout her illustrious career, the most recent being the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Her next novel, V is for Vengeance, drops November 14. She’s been known to tell fans they can claim to be her cousin or pregnant at signings so they can get through the line to see her faster.

* T. Jefferson Parker—Jeff is the author of the Charlie Hood series, and has won the Edgar three times. The Southern California Independent Booksellers Association (SCIBA) even named an award after him that goes to the best mystery/thriller every year. He’s so modest, he doesn’t mention this on his website. He will admit that because he writes all his characters with respect, he’s beloved by henchmen for Mexican cartels.

* Laura Benedict—Laura writes dark, creepy thrillers and short stories, and edits the Surreal South anthologies, the third of which comes out next month. She’s the only female author featured in the Noir at the Bar anthology. She loves dark chocolate and sushi, and spends hours at Target feeling up Lego figurines.

* Eric Beetner—Eric’s the co-author of two novels with JB Kohl, and his short stories have been published in numerous anthologies, including D*cked and Pulp Ink. His novella Dig Two Graves will be released later this year. He’s sometimes confused about “blurbs” being euphemisms for sexual favors, and occasionally accosts other authors in the men’s room.

The stories:

A. When I was in fourth grade, I had a massive crush on John G., a fifth grader who was the monitor at our bus stop. Painfully shy, I had no idea what to say to him. Books were my best friends. So what better way to impress him than taking a mesh tote bag to school, filling it with every book, pencil, and crayon in my desk, and bringing it home on the bus!  Unfortunately, after I added my truly magnificent, large-format, illustrated collection of Sherlock Holmes stories to the bag the next morning, the bag fell apart, spilling books everywhere. At the bus stop.

B. A very good friend of mine is an illustrator named Marc Sasso. In addition to being friends, we used to be neighbors. He stayed up late painting and I stayed up late writing, so I used to wander from my apartment to his around one a.m. and chat. Quite often he would need someone to pose for him, and I was the closest warm body. That’s how I ended up as, among other things, an X-Man. Marc was painting a series of trading cards for Marvel at the time. I posed for X-Treme.

Who the hell is X-Treme, you say? I have no idea. This may have been his only outing. Is it my fault? Possibly. But there I was (Marvel’s description): “The mysterious alien youth known as Adam X knows little about his own origins; only that he’s inexplicably drawn to Earth, where his ability to make blood burn makes him a formidable opponent for X-Force!” I posed with my old Red Sox hat and a cardboard shipping tube as my sword. The biceps were 100% mine, baby!*

* All muscles were completely fabricated. Did I mention I’m a writer?

C. The nerdiest thing I ever did (that I can talk about without being arrested or blackmailed) happened on the first airplane flight I ever took. The meal served was chicken with a barbecue sauce on the side. I thought it was tomato soup so I spooned it right up. I noticed the nearby passengers were giving me “the look” but I had no idea what the problem was.

D. When I was about ten years old, my brother and best friend and I collected thirty big, fat, black widow spiders from up under the eaves of the intermediate school down the street. We carried the spiders home in one of the big glass mayonnaise jars that we used to steal out of Dumpsters and clean out, punch holes in the lids of, and use to keep critters in. We got home and took the jar of spiders out to the back yard and sat down and looked through the glass at them. They were nice ones, all females, none of the multicolored, smaller males. And they were nervous and aggressive, as black widows always are.

We just couldn’t figure out what they might be good for, so we decided we may as well blow them up. I went to my room and got some firecrackers that were hidden under my bed, and a pack of matches from the kitchen. One of us unscrewed the lid and another one lit a firecracker and dropped it in. We crowded up nice and close to see the explosion, faces right up to the glass. But the firecracker fuse went out and nothing happened. We groaned and unscrewed the lid and lit another firecracker and dropped it in. Another dud! When the smoke cleared, we tried for a third time. This time we held the firecracker extra long, so it wouldn’t run out of oxygen once dropped. The spiders were seething by now, a crazy, 240-legged hydra very eager to get out and bite us. We screwed the lid on and got up close. Just then Dad came striding into the yard, sized up the situation and ran over, kicked the jar away and lifted my brother and me by our shirt collars. He ordered us inside so he could “tan our hides.” Just before the licking commenced, Dad looked at me and said, as he had often said before, “Son, sometimes I don’t think you have the brains you were born with.” I don’t miss being ten.

Think you can identify each author’s nerdy secret? Remember, you need to get only one right to be entered in the giveaway. Visit the authors’ sites for more info, then rest up for tomorrow’s final blowout before answers are revealed on Saturday!

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Third Blogoversary Celebration: A Nerdfest and Giveaway

This Saturday, October 1, is the third anniversary of the day I woke up and decided to start this blog, despite knowing nothing about blogging. I did have loads of experience in being a nerd, though, so PCN was born.

I never imagined it would lead to my life being enriched and my world being expanded so greatly. I shudder to think of all the wonderful people I never would have met and the experiences I would have missed out on if I had, oh, gone back to sleep on that day three years ago instead of spending hours researching WordPress and dashboards and HTML and such. To all those who have read, commented, supported, and hung out with me this long, I thank you deeply. I hope your therapy bill hasn’t increased much because of it.

To help me celebrate, I asked a group of kickass ninja crime authors to answer the question: What’s one of the nerdiest things you’ve ever done? For I believe no matter who we are, we’re all united in nerdiness.

The giveaway: I’ll run the authors’ responses all week, a few a day, and have you guess whose story is which. If you leave your guesses in the comments and get at least one right each day, you’ll be entered to win four ARCs of your choice from my stash (see list here). I’ll randomly choose two winners from all those eligible; first name picked gets first dibs on the selection. If you’re international, you’ll receive a $20 gift certificate from Book Depository, which offers free worldwide shipping. The giveaway ends this Friday, September 30, 9 p.m. PST because answers will be revealed Saturday.

You can enter once daily, but if you’ve been following and commenting before today (and not only when I had giveaways), each of your entries will count as three. Call it a bonus for putting up with me longer.

I’d like to thank all the generous authors who contributed nerdy anecdotes. Some even dug up photographic evidence that will be featured in a slide show on Saturday with the answers. Knowing they were all busy, I had no expectations when I sent my requests, but the enthusiasm with which some responded confirmed that crime fic writers are among the nicest in the business.

OK, let’s start the Nerdfest!

Today’s participants are:

* Karin Slaughter—Karin received the Silver Bullet Award at this year’s ThrillerFest. She writes the popular Atlanta and Grant County series (which were recently merged) about Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Will Trent, his partner Faith Mitchell, and his paramour Sara Linton. She’s an advocate for saving libraries, and isn’t overly fond of the Danish word for author—forfatter.

Brad Parks—Brad is the creator of the Carter Ross mysteries and was the first author to win the Nero and Shamus awards in the same year for his debut, Faces of the Gone. He believes that advertising his books on bikinis worn by small Asian women would be a wise marketing strategy.

Colin Cotterill—An international guest of honor at this year’s Bouchercon, Colin writes the Dagger-Award-winning Dr. Siri series, among many other books. He introduced a new series character this year, a young female journalist named Jimm Juree, in Killed at the Whim of a Hat. He’s also a cartoonist and questions the necessity of a 27-inch penis.

* Elizabeth Duncan—Elizabeth’s series, set in North Wales, features Penny Brannigan. Her first book, The Cold Light of Mourning, won both the William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant for unpublished writers and the St. Martin’s Press/Malice award for best first novel. Her third, A Killer’s Christmas in Wales, comes out October 25. Elizabeth loves ice cream and sandwiches and her lavender disco pants.

* Brett Battles—Brett is the Barry-winning author of the Jonathan Quinn thrillers, as well as the Logan Harper series, the Project Eden series, the YA novel Here Comes Mr. Trouble, The Pull of Gravity, and several short stories. It’s possible he also wrote whatever you read right before coming here, even if it was just graffiti on a park bench or the instruction manual for your ShamWow.

The stories:

A. In high school, not only did I participate in our school theater program, I was drama club president. As such, it was my job to direct the fall children’s theater production. In the past we’d done Hansel & Gretel, Rip Van Winkle (I was Rip), and Tom Sawyer. I, of course, wanted to do something on a grander scale. So what did I direct? The musical version of The Hobbit. That’s right—musical version. We went all out: the dwarfs marching in from the audience, a giant head and neck of Smaug the dragon operated by ropes and pulleys, and an ogre fight on our wicked 3-D set! I know you probably didn’t retain any of that last part, so let me reassure you: yes, a musical version of The Hobbit.

B. My amateur sleuth somehow got nominated to be part of an online competition to determine the world’s greatest sleuth. Because I teach writing in a college lab with about 40 computers, I thought I’d switch them all on and vote. For myself! After about two rows, the task seemed monumentally tedious so I packed it in. I figured, what’s the point? Jack Reacher’s in the competition.

C. I was, it has to be said, a jock, and a skinhead jock at that. We were the sworn enemies of nerds mainly because we could beat them up without fear of them pulling switchblades on us. But there was a dilemma in my soul for I was a closet Boy Scout. Not only did I don my little shorts and woggle my scarf once a week, I had arms full of badges. I was a walking billboard of proof that I could tie knots, rescue small animals, make an emergency bivouac out of discarded underwear…and cook. Then, one Sunday, as my troop marched gayly to a jambouree, we rounded a corner and came face to face with the boys from my football club…armed. It was ugly. A massacre. I was the last nerd standing.

D. I had an interview in Amsterdam during the Month of the Thriller a few years back. It was a pretty big deal—a packed house, lots of cameras. The lights were dimmed low, and as I was being introduced, I kept looking at the stairs going up to the stage and thinking, “Don’t trip and fall on your ass in front of all these people.” Which of course I did. I still think the risers were higher to better accommodate freakishly long Dutch femurs.

E. I’m a peculiar subset of nerd: a community theater nerd. At least once a year, I hop up on a local stage to sing, act, and dance my heart out. Yes, I’m basically Corky St. Clair from Waiting for Guffman, except I comb my hair to the side.

Think you know who said what? Hit the comments! Stumped? Visit their websites to maybe find helpful hints.

Come back all week for more nerdy stories and chances to win! (UPDATE: Stories from day twothree, and four are now up.)

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Bouchercon Adventures 2011

There’s been a thousand Bouchercon posts already everywhere but I figured no two experiences are exactly the same, right? So, if you’re not tired yet of reading about it, below are my highlights.

For those unfamiliar with B’con, it’s an annual world mystery convention for authors and fans. And by “world,” I do mean people come from all over, such as Thailand and Scotland in the case of international guests of honor, Colin Cotterill and Val McDermid, respectively.

So much happened and some of it is a blur, but among the things that stood out:

Meeting authors I’ve gotten to know a little online and finding they’re just as charming and funny in person. It was a pleasure having tea with Laura Benedict, though I didn’t actually drink tea and just ate a cookie half standing up. Seeing her, as a panel moderator, handle an audience member who talked endlessly without actually asking a question was also quite satisfying.

Squeezing into a photo booth with Ben LeRoy (of Tyrus Books and F+W Crime) and my friends Christine and Lauren to take goofy pictures. Ben’s passion for life and efforts to make the world a better place neutralize the damage done by at least twenty a**holes.

Being packed into the Meshuggah Cafe for Noir at the Bar with some of the best crime writers working. They have sick, twisted minds, just the way I like ’em.

Eating Vietnamese food and sharing cab rides with Brett Battles, Meg Gardiner, and Lauren that threatened to turn into Noir on the Streets. Our driver Jill started talking up the local asylum to us and I couldn’t blame her.

Having breakfast—and coffee, and brownies, and nuts—while talking with Mike Cooper, who raised my IQ.

Hearing Matthew McBride, who writes brutal fiction, fret about his bowling skills, afraid he wouldn’t be good enough for the tournament. (He did just fine.)

Witnessing Hilary Davidson win her Crimespree and Anthony Awards for Best First Novel. I’m hoping she’ll wear the plaques as earrings at next year’s B’con.

Sitting next to Taylor Stevens at the Anthony Awards brunch and seeing S.J. Rozan and Laurie R. King come up to her to introduce themselves; gush over her book, The Informationist; and offer to blurb her future novels.

Chatting with Katrina Niidas Holm and observing her husband Chris‘s petrification when an idol of his, Daniel Woodrell, sat with us in a booth in the hotel bar.

Waving at Clare from Criminal Element at the auction and almost losing $300 because auctioneer Mark Billingham thought I was bidding on something.

Encountering Jonathan Hayes in the elevator and having him say, “I didn’t know you were Asian!” I also got “I didn’t know you were a woman” from some but let’s not go there.

Running into Robert Crais in the hotel lobby within minutes of my arrival. ‘Nuff said.

From L.: Naomi, Paulette, Michael, Christine, me. Not pictured--Jen and Carolyn.

Finally meeting super Craisie Naomi and her friend Carolyn, as well as hanging with the rest of the gang—Michael, Jen, Paulette, Lauren, and Christine—culminating in dinner at Mosaic. I shall think of you whenever I lick spicy ice cream. (For more on the Craisies, go here.)

Briefly spending some time with my friend Rae, one of the classiest people I know. (She chaired last year’s B’con.)

Meeting the extremely thoughtful Sabrina, who’s about to make someone’s day, if not month.

Rooming with the divine Christine, who is just beyond words as a human being.

The risk of doing one of these posts is that I omit someone, so I apologize if I got to meet you and failed to mention you. Please know I had an over-the-moon experience and you contributed to it.

Many thanks to Jon and Ruth Jordan, Judy Bobalik, Jen Forbus and all the other organizers for putting on such a fantastic show. I heard that some people thought they were paid; they were not. They did it purely out of love and isn’t that the best reason to do anything?

I’ll leave you now with a set of videos regarding the Joe Pike vs. Jack Reacher debate. At last year’s Bouchercon, Lee Child was asked who would win in a Reacher-Pike fight. I captured his answer in the first video. This year, Gregg Hurwitz asked Crais for a rebuttal, which you can see in the second clip. The video quality isn’t great because I recorded it on my photo camera, but I think his answer is loud and clear.

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Guest Post & Giveaway: HELP! FOR WRITERS

I am a fan of Roy Peter Clark‘s The Glamour of Grammar because he makes grammar fun. He has a new book out next week called Help! For Writers: 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces (one says you should reward yourself after your first hour of writing so I’m all over that). I was very happy when he agreed to do a guest post about:

Three fun things to jumpstart your writing that won’t get you arrested.

1.  Steal magazines from the doctor’s office or barber shop.

Don’t feel guilty. Chances are you have been waiting for more than an hour for a grumpy nurse to call your name. All you get for your inconvenience is a stack of crispy or soggy magazines, some that are months and months old. Get some payback and a good story idea at the same time. Flip through some of the mags, especially ones in a category that you may not often read. Look for something that grabs your interest, a surprising trend that can be localized. If you feel bad about snatching the magazine, quietly rip out the relevant pages.

2.  Read an alternative weekly newspaper, from the back to the front.

The back has the best stuff: ads for adult businesses dominate (so to speak), but they mix gloriously with ads for astrological readings, pain management, outpatient drug detox, cheap rooms to rent. Pay special attention to items you don’t understand at first glance: What is Bhakti Massage or Watsu? Bingo: “Lingerie models needed for Comedy/Horror videos. No nudity required. No thongs or g-strings. Ladies with large visible tattoos need not apply. $200 cash for 5 hours.” Hmm. With Halloween approaching…

3.  Go to an event and watch the audience instead.

Take any event, from a campaign speech, to a high school football game, to a recital for young musicians, to a church service. We are so used to seeing events from predictable vantage points that we miss the opportunity to check the rear view mirror. It bugs my wife when I turn around in church and watch the congregation behind me. I’m sure it puzzles others in the pews. But what a revelation to see churchgoers in all their variety: teenagers whispering and flirting; farting oldsters lost in their rosaries; the guy wearing the golf pants checking his watch.

Roy’s tips are fun and creative, and if you think you could use a copy, you’re in luck. Hachette has allowed me to give away three copies. Enter by leaving a comment about something you often struggle with in your writing. I’ll take entries until next Friday, September 23, 5 p.m. PST. US & Canada only.

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Where’s ALICE BLISS?

After I reviewed Laura Harrington’s gorgeous debut novel, Alice Bliss, she invited me to participate in the Where’s Alice Bliss? campaign, in conjunction with BookCrossing.com, to release copies of the book into the wild and see how far it travels. It’s like a message in a bottle, except there are a lot more pages and the book probably wouldn’t fit in a bottle. Then again, they can fit those ship models inside bottles so I don’t know.

Anyway, today I released my extra copy, which Laura generously provided, at a bus stop outside NBC Studios in Burbank (you can see the peacock logo in the background). I couldn’t pull away, though, because it looked so lonely. So I waited in my car to see who would pick it up. Within a few minutes, a tired-looking woman came along and sat on a bench right outside the bus stop shelter. She can’t see there’s a gift waiting for her just inside!

I figured I’d help things along a little so I jumped out, grabbed the book, and walked up to her.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Do you like to read?”

She took her time looking me up and down and then at the book before responding. “Sometimes.”

“Great! How would you like a free book?”

Another long pause, then, “Okaaayy.”

She was still giving me squinty, suspicion-filled eyes, clutching her pocketbook more tightly to her chest, but I ignored it and launched into my speech about how much I loved the book and wanted to pass it on, blahdy blahdy blow. When she became certain that I wasn’t selling Amway or trying to mug her, she suddenly smiled. “My boyfriend and I are writers. We’ll read it.” Then she tucked it into her bag like a treasure and promised she’d keep it going.

If you’d like to participate in this campaign, find out more at Laura’s website and see where other copies have been by going here. I sure am envious of all the places it’s visited so far.

Have you ever used Book Crossing to release a book into the world? Or found one somewhere that was sent out by another?

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My Criminal Elements

If you’re killing time at work or just waiting for the Rapture, check out my two posts over at the Criminal Element. This one is about how I sometimes use crime novels to inspire my travels, and this is a recap/commentary on this past season of Bones and the finale last night. What did you think of the bomb Brennan dropped on Booth?

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The Edit Ninja

I’ve been prowling the streets at night as my other secret identity but Brett Battles busted me recently and unmasks me over at Murderati today. Hope you’ll join me there as I obsess over grammar and general nerdiness!

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