Archives for September 2010

Moving day

Well, looky here: Mary Russell has a new home.


Three weeks from today, BoucherCon starts.

BoucherCon is the annual conference of crime writers, readers, and professionals, a four day combination family reunion, frat party, business meeting, and master class in writing.  It’s a hell of a lot of fun, a year’s worth of mental stimulation, and a chance to see those friends you see, well, once a year at BoucherCon.

The panels have been posted: here.  (I’m on Friday 1:30 and Saturday 8:00.)

But the 2010 BCon is in San Francisco, and chances are that a fair number of you who are reading these words are not going to be there.  So for you, we’re doing a virtual BoucherCon, with a tour of the city and free gifts, although maybe not the champagne pouring out of your computer screen..

This is because I’m the US guest of honor, along with International GoH Denise Mina and Distinguished Contributor Lee Child.  And fun is on the line.

Today, you can take a Laurie King tour of San Francisco, tracing the events of half a dozen LRK novels as they move through the City by the Bay.  We’ll do “cable car” (ie, fancy bus) tours during BCon—you can sign up for those by emailing—or you can go here for the virtual version.

Next Wednesday, September 29, Mary Russell will unveil her new face, er, site.  About time the poor woman had her own home.

The following Wednesday, Oct 6th, we sound our trumpets for A Mary Russell Companion, with all things Russell & Holmes and a whole new way to explore their world—and share it with friends.

Then beginning BoucherCon Wednesday, from October 13 to 17, we’ll give you a free download of the original story, “Birth of a Green Man.”  This is an illustrated short-short story that I wrote especially for our Twenty Weeks of Buzz this spring, telling the background story of Robert Goodman from The God of the Hive.  Until now it’s only been available to a select few (ie, people who won it as a prize) but for those four days, it’s yours.

I hope you enjoy your Con, whether actual or virtual.


Movies used to have disclaimers to say that no animals were actually injured in the making of the film–they don’t bother saying that now because it’s simply assumed. Cigarettes are on their way out in films, with complaints lodged even when NOT having the character puffing away would be odd.
But what about crying children?
I was going to watch the much-hyped new HBO series “Boardwalk Empire” last night, even though I tend to get bored with complex crime stories. I was willing to overlook the odd casting of Steve Buscemi as ruthless gangster, and the difficult-to-swallow openness of this elected official’s criminal life. But then the working class character hit his pregnant wife in front of their kids, and I switched the television off.
Not because of the hit: I have no problem with on-screen violence.
It was the kid. Maybe eighteen months old, and the camera is focussed on her (his? too young to tell) reaction to the father hitting the mother.
A child that young cannot act. When a child that young looks frightened, that child IS frightened. When a child that young cries out in terror and starts to weep, that child needs to be taken in someone’s arms and comforted, not made to sit at a table and cry for a sound stage full of actors and a camera.
I understand that some countries have banned the filming of screaming children in commercial movies. Here in the States, we’re more concerned with animals and cigarettes.
I as an adult have no right to make a child suffer for the sake of my entertainment.


Sad news out of Houston, where Murder by the Book, Busted Flush press, and the world’s crime fiction family have all lost a close friend and eternally creative advocate.  David Thompson died yesterday at age 38.  We mourn with his wife McKenna, and with his family and friends.

Tall ships, taller tales

For sheer happiness, there’s nothing like being out on the water. One of my brightest memories is of a catamaran trip taken years ago in Maui where, when we turned for home, the crew put on a song popular at the time: Alanis Morrisette singing “What if God Was One of Us?” It’s a song with lyrics that are both downright silly and theologically improbable. But the very ridiculousness of the combination (grilling hamburgers/open sea/sailboat/cheerful people/tropical fish) stamped my brain with a moment of intense happiness.
Now, add pirates to the mix—

With a bunch of ships!—

And make it sunset!—

With cannon fire!—

And you have true bliss!—

This is the Dana Point tall ships festival, held every year.  See you in 2011?

Books that nag

A article by Emma Silvers (26, whose age enters into the point of the article) talks about her dislike of ebooks,a despite being of the gadget generation.  And she brings up an interesting point:

Out of every argument I’ve heard in favor of e-readers — no dead trees, portable research, “it’s the future,” etc. — my least favorite might be the central point of the thing: the fact that it allows you to choose from thousands of books at any given time. I simply don’t want that kind of potential for distraction. Would I have ever made it through any book by Herman Hesse if I’d had the choice, with a press of a button, to lighten the mood with a little Tom Robbins? Will anyone ever finish “Infinite Jest” on a device that constantly presents other options?

There is a physicality to a book that both contributes to the reading experience (studies are indicating that sensory stimulation–sound, touch–make the brain remember better, even in non-ADD readers: there’s a reason why teenagers listen to music while they do their homework) and  that demands attention.  An actual, physical to-be-read pile is present in a way ebooks are not.  If you don’t want to think about all those ebooks you paid $10 for and haven’t read, you just don’t look at your list.  To do that with real books would require a room with a perennially closed door, and even then, it would nag every time the homeowner cracked the door to toss in another purchase.

I don’t know about you, but I rarely give away books that I haven’t read at least a little of.  They sit on the shelf and glower at me from under their dust until I am finally driven by guilt, a year or two (or six) after I’d bought the thing (having read a review or met the author or loved the cover or…), and I snap ” Oh all right, then!” and take it down and open it.  More often than not, to discover that I was right to buy it in the first place.

Books on my bedside table get read, sooner or later.  Books in my e- reader?  Probably not.

Really, the Pope and Jewish mothers everywhere ought to come out against e- readers.  Guilt can be a powerful force for good.

In love with Michael

I’m in love with Michael Dirda, damn him.

Michael is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of a number of dauntingly erudite yet gorgeously readable books about books.  He writes equally stunning essays for the New York Times, the Barnes & Noble Review, and, well, pretty much any venue where the printed word is discussed.  I’ve met him a few times, he being a regular at the annual Baker Street Irregulars dinner.   And when I’m writing, he is rarely far from my mind, since I often dip into the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus to spark my interest in, and attention to, the words I’m using—and there stands MD, delivering pithy remarks about words from boring (“Just as sexy (q.v.) is the ultimate compliment, so boring is the most dreaded pejorative.”) to very (“among the few words that gains in effectiveness when repeated”) with stops at crapulous (“Writers ought to use these tricky words sometimes, not only to keep such useful terms current but also to lend a little panache to their prose.”) postmodern (“neatly suggests that its user is learned, widely read, up to date on the latest in literary theory, and, in general, really cool, not to say—ahem—edgy.”) and sexy (“be careful when using this revealing adjective: It allows others a peek into your unclothed psyche.”)

But this Dirda affaire is getting out of hand.  The most recent upsurge in our relationship (about which, I hasten to say, he is unaware—or…was.)  began with a reprinted article of his in, a site to which I subscribe, for the pleasure of no ads.  I’m behind on my reading—both online and on the page—so when I spot something I like, I tend to scroll down a bit and discover things I missed when they first appeared.

Such as a review, of all things, of Pliny the Younger’s description of Pompeii, a review sparked by the eruption of our considerably less dramatic and more tedious Icelandic volcano that brought air traffic to a standstill.

The review was simply riveting: Pliny’s uncle (Pliny the Elder) died under Vesuvius, and the nephew describes the death, and his own experiences at Misenum, where—but no, I’m not going to repeat what the reviewer says so brilliantly, go and read it for yourself, and then come back:  Here’s the link.

I read the review, as I hope you just did, and having overlooked the name of the reviewer (a sin of which I am as guilty as anyone else, alas) looked back at the top and saw the name Dirda.  I should have known.  And so I followed the Barnes & Noble link over to that page, and found there a more recent Dirda review, of James Lees-Milne, The Life by Michael Bloch.   Which essay I greedily read, and then went hunting for others.  That took me sideways into a New York Review of Books piece on the Patricia Highsmith novels,

and into books about bar-crawling Roman emperors

and then a reminder of a delightfully eccentric memoir I’d read when writing The Game called Hindoo Holiday:

Ackerley’s holiday journal deserves an honored place in that literary subgenre of witty, opinionated travel books by sandy-haired young Englishmen. It belongs on the same shelf with such delicious armchair escapes as Alexander Kinglake’s Eothen, Robert Byron’s The Road to Oxiana, Peter Fleming’s Brazilian Adventure, Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts, Eric Newby’s A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, and Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia.

But I had to stop when I came across an essay entitled “2009: A Year in the (Reading) Life”

because I knew that if I entered that particular essay, I would never come out again.

Thank you, Michael, for adding to my 23 linear feet of already purchased to-be-read by bringing to my attention, or nudging me to re-read:

Pliny the Younger: Complete Letters, P. G. Walsh

James Lees-Milne, The Life, Michael Bloch

Another Self, James Lees-Milne

The Road to Oxiana, Robert Byron

A Time of Gifts, Patrick Lee Fermor

Highsmith, a Romance of the 1950s, Marijane Meaker

The five Ripley novels, Patricia Highsmith

Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, Patricia Highsmith

And lest I forget, if you haven’t read it, take a look at Michael’s memoir:

An Open Book, Michael Dirda.

Damn him.

(And his speaking manner is equally erudite and charming–which you can see at


Start at the 3:30 point.)