Thursday, July 30, 2009

They don't do this here

On July 22, Jon Burge had a status hearing in his perjury case. The trial date is set for January 11. Judge Lefkow wants this to be a firm date, so we may, finally, get some public attention paid to the torture that (allegedly) was systematic and epidemic in Area II interrogation rooms for almost 2 decades.
As retired sergeant Doris Byrd explained to the Chicago Reader--which has tirelessly followed this story since 1990--everyone could hear the screams in the building when Burge's so-called A-team were on duty--after midnight. Prisoners complained of being suffocated in plastic bags, of waterboarding, and of having electrodes attached to their genitals, while a field telephone was handcranked to run a current through their bodies--a form of torture Americans used in Vietnam, where Burge served before joining the police.
Someone who is being tortured will confess to pretty much anything, and the people in Burge's custody did. Many of them are still in prison, despite the fact that their coerced confessions made up the only evidence against them--and despite the fact that in a number of cases, other people have been convicted of committing the crime for which they're serving time. It was Dr. Robert Kirschner who did the first forensic work proving the existence of police torture in Chicago. He was the deputy chief medical examiner at Cook County when he was asked to look at the file of one of Burge’s alleged victims, Andrew Wilson.

"I said I would review it ...[but] that I was very skeptical because I have been around the medical examiner's office for ten years, lot of close contact with the police, and... I just never heard of anything like this in Chicago, and I said that it does seem very unlikely to me that this would be the case. But... I read [Wilson’s medical records and his deposition] . . . and I said, 'This guy has been tortured....there is a very high degree of medical certainty to say this man has not only been beaten and/or kicked, which, let's face it, occurs in custody, but that this man has received electric shock.'"

Mayor Daley was the State's Attorney back then, and he was informed of around fifty cases of torture taking place in Chicago police stations, but chose not to act. Nor did his successors, one of whom actually defended Burge the first time he stood trial on these charges. The city is still stonewalling the production of evidence and the production of witnesses in a myriad torture cases.

I live close to two of Chicago's most dangerous neighborhoods, half a mile from WEst Englewood, about a mile from South Shore. I know one of the cops who works West Englewood and it is a tough assignment, made harder by a willful code of omerta among the residents, who won't testify against murderers in their midst.

On the other hand, when the locals know that officers like Burge can do as they please with a suspect in custody, it can be a hard sell to persuade people to turn each other in. Even though Burge has been out of police work for 16 years, Chicago's elite tactical unit had to be disbanded two years ago after it became clear that they were preying on the people they'd been sent to protect. A west side precinct housed a police robbery ring that was finally exposed and shut down this past spring.

We ask the cops to do a difficult and dangerous job. But if we think it's okay for them to rob the community or brutalize suspects, then we're really saying we don't care about the rule of law.

Want to be a writer? Treat yourself like a toddler.

By Laura Caldwell

I have always been in awe of the hyper-productivity of certain authors. Alexandre Dumas comes to mind (277 books). So does Joyce Carol Oates (roughly 48 books and 34 short story collections), along with others like Sandra Brown (57 books), Heather Graham (more than 100) and Debbie Macomber (150). So I was a little stumped when I first agreed to finish 3 novels and write a non-fiction book in one year. I mean, it was nothing like accomplishing what those authors had. Still, would I be able to do it? How had they done it?

Marcus Sakey (who thought I was nuts) recommended reaching out to Allison Brenan, who had also done something similar, releasing her excellent books, The Prey, The Hunt and The Kill, in a very short amount of time (and therefore having to write them in a very short amount of time). After Marcus introduced us, I got an email from Allison, stating that it was technically possible to write all three books at once. But she advised me to stay focused and (paraphrasing here) to be careful about the stress level.

I actually didn't believe I would have that much stress. I had been a trial lawyer after all. Trying a case for weeks (after years and years of prep) and then waiting for a verdict are some of the toughest times in a lawyer’s life, requiring climbing over mountains of stress in order to get out of your own way. But this was just writing, I told myself. I didn’t have to put on a cute suit and convince twelve people that a surgeon had correctly diagnosed adenomyoepithelioma. I didn't think writing the books would be easy by any stretch, but I figured I could handle it well.

I was wrong. I was a mess. Mostly because writing is so very different from the legal world. The law involves lots of little deadlines. The judge tells you to answer interrogatories by this date, disclose your experts by that date, pick a jury on this date, etc. But with writing a book, there’s just one looming deadline out there.

And so I mixed it up. In short, I began treating myself like a toddler. I don't mean that I babied myself, doling out massages and therapy sessions and meditative retreats. On the contrary, I literally studied the way my sister and friends handle their toddlers these days. They watch their kids intently. They analyze them. And then they change the kids’ environments in order to make them happier, more well-behaved and better able to deal with life.

For example, I once went to visit my sister. Her youngest daughter asked for apple juice. As an obliging aunt, I went to the refrigerator and began to pour her a cup. "Whoa, whoa,” my sister said. “Only half juice. The other half has to be water.”

I went to the water faucet. "Why?"

"Because she was getting cranky in the afternoon,” my sister said. “We figure it’s the sugar in the juice, and so now we're giving her half and half.”

I saw other examples of the toddler analysis thing while I visited. Too much TV at night seemed to make my niece unable to sleep, so the TV was weeded down to a half an hour. A certain book got her hyped up, and so even though she wanted it read to her over and over, the book had to be limited to once a day.

After watching this, I decided to treat myself exactly the same way. Maybe it would help get the books done faster. I thought about how I was working every morning, all morning, but I noticed that I kept stopping to take phone calls from students, answer emails, and get on Twitter and read tweets from Rob Thomas about his latest video shoot. Meanwhile, I wasn't getting much done on the novels, and so I analyzed myself the way my sister did with her kid. She just can't handle all the stimulus, I pronounced in my mind. I came up with a new rule—no emails, no phone calls and no Rob Thomas in the mornings. Only writing.

The new rule worked well for a while. But then my publisher needed to plan for the marketing and the covers of the books. My attention was required, and rightfully so my publisher didn’t want to wait until the afternoons when I'd finished my pages. So I changed it up. I would take care of the business stuff in the morning, I decided. I would take a lunch break and then get back to writing.

This worked for a while too until I noticed that I severely mentally challenged in the afternoons. I needed a change of pace, I decided, a change of scenery. I tracked down my friend, Theresa Schwegel, who was also on a tough deadline and in need of a jump start. I suggested we go to the Loyola library since we were both graduates of the school. We tried that for a couple of days and being in an academic setting seemed to make a difference. At least to me. I started getting productive again. But then Theresa couldn’t make it as often. She’s since told me that my productivity and my overly loud typing (she’s right about that—I’m a noisy typer) was making her crazy and unable to get anything done. Without my friend there, I started to lose interest in the library thing. And so I changed it up again. And again. And again.

I’m quite sure Alexandre Dumas (and Joyce, Heather, Sandra, Debbie and Allison) didn’t have to write their books that way. I’m certain they have a much higher intellectual ability. But inevitably, it worked for me. Somehow, sixty or so ever-changing toddler tactics later, the books were done.

I’m on vacation now, but I’ve decided to stick with the toddler theme for a while. I’m getting on a plane today to visit my sister, and for the flight I’m packing a bag full of snacks and treats and a juice (with half water).

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Shameless Self Promotion

by Marcus Sakey

Hey folks, I hope you’ll forgive me today’s post, but I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about, well, me. More precisely, about my new book, THE AMATEURS, which will be released a week from tomorrow. It’s the story of four friends in their early thirties who aren’t happy with where they’ve ended up in life, and who undertake a risky plan to try to take everything they think they deserve.

Things do not go smoothly.

In any case, besides begging you to buy an armload of copies, I also wanted to tell you about a couple of things I’m doing to promote the novel.

The first is a contest based on a game in the book called, “Ready, Go,” essentially a question game:
"If you died today, what would you most regret? Ready, go."
I’m hosting a couple weeks of "Ready, Go" for some pretty stellar prize packages, including one worth about $750 in hardcover books, many of them signed. (For a full list, click here.)

Here's how to play:
  • Every day I pose a new "Ready, Go" question on Twitter and Facebook
  • To enter via Twitter, ReTweet your answer, including the tags @marcussakey and #TheAmateurs
  • To enter on Facebook, visit my profile and respond
  • Enter as often as you like. Respond on both Twitter and Facebook for double points!
  • When the contest is over, I'll select three winners at random, so the more days you participate, the better your odds. Simple as that.
As a special bonus for Outfit readers, if you post an answer to the above question in the comments here, that will count as an entry too. Take that, non-Outfitters!

The second thing I wanted to tell you about is my release party in Chicago. It will be on August 6th, from 7 – 10pm, at Sheffield’s (3258 N. Sheffield), one of my favorite bars. Come by and have a drink with me, and bring your friends. The more the merrier.

Finally, my tour schedule is as finalized as it tends to get. Check out the dates here. Hope you’ll come out to see me!

Thanks again for the indulgence, and don’t forget, buying copies of THE AMATEURS has been proven to lower cholesterol, assure conviction of corrupt ex-governors, and protect baby seals.*

* These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. Or anyone else.



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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Compromising Positions

by David Ellis

I once told an audience that I would write stories for the rest of my life, even if I stopped being published. I have heard others make similar claims. It’s in our blood. It’s all we know. That kind of thing. But is it true? Would I really write an entire story even if I was absolutely sure that nobody else would read it? Would you?

Writing is in some ways an inherently isolated experience. You sit at a computer or with a note pad and you ply your craft. But we’re not writing solely for ourselves. We’re writing for our readers. So we make compromises at every turn. We don’t just write what we want to write. We write what we want to write but with this one gigantic qualifier—it has to be something other people want to read, too. You can’t be a good published author unless you’re a published author in the first place, no?

Someone with whom I used to work, who was accustomed to doing battles with me on the commercial viability of certain content in my novels, once told me, “Wait until you’re at Sanford’s level. Then you can write what you want.” I understood what she meant, of course, but it raised an important question. Was I writing just because it was a pretty cool and potentially lucrative way to make a living? Was I writing my earlier novels just to live for the day when I was so popular that I could “write what I want?” There's nothing wrong with either answer. But that doesn't mean it's not an interesting question.

Ultimately, I think what most of us are doing is choosing to write because we enjoy it more often than we don’t. More often than not, we get our way, and that’s good enough. More often than not, we are writing what we want to write, and then we make trade-offs, compromises, so that our books will be popular as well. We lighten up the darkness in our main character so he or she will be more “mainstream.” We take out the racial epithets because, even though it’s perfectly consistent with the character to utter them, those words are too bombastic, even in fiction. We make our characters politically correct. Every author has had those battles with agents and editors in this regard. Or we avoid that talk by self-editing as we write, which is the same thing. Either way, we’re avoiding that which will make readers object, maybe boycott future books. Maybe our publishers will drop us.

And maybe I have the premise wrong. Maybe we are writing for the reader in the first place. What’s the famous tip about writing? “Leave out the part that readers skip.” That advice suggests that we’re doing this for the reader all along. When an author pitches a main character to me—a smart, sexy private eye; a crusading attorney; a gun-for-hire with a heart of gold—it’s hard to imagine that the author hasn’t crafted that character in large part with an eye toward commercial popularity.

So maybe we’re just entertainers and nothing more. We enjoy the interactive nature of giving people a small piece of enjoyment. We provoke them, we scare them, we make them laugh, whatever. Hey, it’s icing on the cake if we also get some personal fulfillment out of this, but it’s all about the reader when all is said and done.

I think about this because I have a second career in the law, and I sometimes wonder about my priorities and why certain things are important to me. And I often wonder whether I should make a certain compromise on a character or subject matter in a book. Even for those of you who are full-time writers, life is full of choices, and I think this is an interesting exercise.

I’m interested in any thoughts.

Monday, July 27, 2009


By David Heinzmann

Last week a Cook County jury found a man named Devaris Perry not guilty of attempting to murder a Chicago police officer. Perry had been charged after police said he struggled for the cop’s gun, it went off, and wounded the officer in the arm.

Officer Bartell Keithley and his partner had been checking unused apartments in the Ida B. Wells housing project when they came across Perry and a woman with crack cocaine in a vacant unit. Keithley chased Perry up a stairwell, shots were fired and the officer was hit in the arm and Perry was seriously injured in the back.

But the case unraveled in court when the emergency room doctor who treated the officer stated twice—in his original medical report and in an affidavit signed just before the trial started—that the officer told him he’d accidentally shot himself in the arm. At the actual trial, the doctor backtracked a little on the stand and said he merely meant that Keithley had told him he’d been injured by his own weapon, and he wasn’t sure whether it was an accident.

There were other forensic details that defense lawyers said cast doubt on a struggle for the gun, however. And there was no question that after Keithley was injured by his own .357-magnum, he shot Perry in the buttocks. The jury said the evidence didn’t add up to attempted murder. Perry walked away with some fresh ammunition for a lawsuit against the city.

It’s hard to say what exactly happened in the housing project hallway, but the case’s unraveling reminded me of dozens of secret police investigation files I read a couple years ago when I and two other reporters at the Tribune took a year to investigate what happens when the Chicago police shoot people.

Nearly always, the person who got shot is charged with some degree of an attack on the officer. Usually, the evidence justifies such charges. In the neighborhoods where most of this city’s violence is concentrated, every day circumstances are wildly unpredictable and deadly. Guns are everywhere and the rules by which street gangs operate produce between 400 and 600 corpses a year. Cops have to make split-second decisions that sometimes involving pulling a trigger in the middle of the night, in some dark alley or stairwell. This is often overlooked, but the homicide rate in Chicago is much higher than it is in Los Angeles, which many assume to be the gold standard for street gang violence.

The problem that the Chicago Police Department and City Hall have run into, is that not all police shootings are equal. Many are justified. Some, not so much. But we found in our 2007 series that they’re all pretty much treated the same. It didn’t matter if the cop was chasing an armed murderer down an alley at two in the morning, or was off-duty and drinking in a bar at two in the morning. Once the officer’s gun was fired, the person who was shot was almost always deemed the aggressor and charged with a crime. Yes, we uncovered cases in which off-duty cops drinking in bars got in arguments over women, pulled their guns and shot people in the back… and then the shooting was ruled justified and the guy with the bullet in his ass was charged with aggravated battery.

I say it’s a problem that City Hall has gotten into, as well as the police department, because most experts believe that the standards the police use to investigate officer-involved shootings are at least in part driven by city lawyers trying to limit the damage from lawsuits. If you ruled that a shooting was unjustified, how are you going to defend against the lawsuit that follows? The problem is that, fairly often, the screw-ups come out in the wash: evidence doesn’t quite add up and is discovered by plaintiffs’ lawyers in lawsuits, or by defense lawyers in criminal cases.

Our reporting made a lot of cops very angry, and those stories are probably the main reason you'll sometimes see guys named "Anonymous" commenting on my blogs claiming I hate cops. I don't. Most of the cops I know are courageous, honest public servants who put up with mountains of bullshit, on the streets and from the bureaucracy they work for. And I know better than most non-cops that many of the parts Chicago--far from the Mag Mile and the architectural boat tours--are brutally dangerous places where people have a complete disregard for law and order. But like any large group, not everybody's a good guy. And it's too easy for the good cops to be marred by the behavior of the bad ones. And like it or not, we need to pay really close attention to the bad ones.

I'm certainly not saying Keithly is a bad one. Who knows. But in court last week the official story of what happened in that hallway broke down a bit. In the long run, trying to cover up the mistakes probably costs the city more money. I was talking to a lawyer the other day about another police shooting case that he believed was full of false statements and bogus evidence. If the department had admitted from the outset that mistakes were made, the lawyer said, the city probably could have settled the suit for about $1 million. If the case goes to trial, and all of the conflicting statements and improbable forensic evidence is aired in open court, a jury will probably award the dead man’s family many times that.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Maybe I Don’t Really Want to Know How Your Garden Grows

By Kevin Guilfoile

Allan Seager's first novel, Equinox, was a best-seller, a Literary Guild pick, and was almost immediately optioned for film. E.J. O'Brien, the original editor of the annual Best American Short Stories anthology, announced that the "apostolic succession of the American short story" ran from Sherwood Anderson to Ernest Hemingway to Allan Seager. The 1935 edition of BASS, in fact, was dedicated to Seager just as the 1923 volume was dedicated to Hemingway. James Michener, Robert Penn Warren, Carl Sandburg, James Dickey and even Anderson himself all testified to Seager's talents. He had over 80 short stories published in The New Yorker, Esquire, Vanity Fair, Cosmo, Story, The Atlantic, Sports Illustrated and other prominent magazines. He published five acclaimed novels, two collections of short stories, a biography, and a memoir.

And you've probably never heard of him.

For anyone who writes fiction with even the slightest unspoken dream that published success might lead to immortality on the page, Seager's story is a sobering one. Of all his work, only his memoir, A Frieze of Girls is still in print (thanks to a 2004 reprint from the University of Michigan, where Seager, who died in 1968, had been a professor of English).

But Seager has achieved a different kind of immortality, and probably not one he relished. See, you probably know one of Seager's stories. It was called "The Street" when it appeared in Vanity Fair in 1934.

It also included what would become one of the most ripped-off plots in literary history.

In one eight-month period, just ten years after its original publication, six different writers published their own plagiarized version of the tale under their own bylines in six different American magazines. In subsequent years it turned up several times as a plot in radio serials. More recently you've probably seen it in your email inbox, where you either passed it along to friends as an inspirational tale, or dismissed it into the trash folder as an annoying urban legend.

Here is a version collected on the Internet by the website

A friend of a friend worked in a hospice where two elderly bed-ridden men shared a room. One of them had a bed next to a window, and would sit and describe in loving detail to his friend the children playing in the sunshine, the dogs loping in the park and any really nasty street fights. Though he loved the descriptions, the other chap soon became sick with jealousy.

This went on for months, until one night the man by the window suddenly groaned and called to his pal, "Ooh, you've got to ring for help, I don't think I'll last the night." The other fellow reached for the alarm, but then thought, "If he goes, I'll get the bed by the window." So he lay back and ignored the moaning.

Sadly, in the morning staff found the poor old bloke stiff as a board, but they reassured his pal that they'd soon have some more company for him. "I must have the bed next to the window!" he snapped. The nurses explained it would be easier if he stayed put, but he angrily insisted. So they lifted him to the other bed. Expectantly, he levered himself up and peered through the window - to see a solid brick wall.

During the war years, the story was often told as occurring in an army or VA hospital. In these versions the soldier by the window usually did not die by some act or omission by his roommate (to ascribe such bad motives to our fighting boys would be unpatriotic), but on the Internet the sin has been reinserted and the story watered down to a cautionary tale of Christian morality.

"The Street" didn't have anything like that kind of sentiment:

At sundown his fever rose and as the room grew dim, his head ached and the daytime clarity of his mind vanished. When he looked at the pale oblong of the window, it seemed to him a gateway and beyond it were all the joys and brightness he had been forced to forsake. If he could only stand at the gate and look out, but no, there was Whitaker like a demon guarding the way. It was the gateway to life, and in the darkness Whitaker’s gaunt face began to assume the shape and hollows of a skull. He was Death, of course. The reverend sonorities of the church arose in his mind, confusing him. Phrases about Death and Life, solemn and distorted, he remembered from hymns and prayer books. If he could vanquish Death, he would be granted everlasting life.

Allan Seager's original was about the dehumanizing effects of illness. About how disease in others causes us to devalue their lives. About how disease in ourselves can lead to madness. There's no moral in Seager's version. Certainly no moralizing.

Seager's grand-nephew, the accomplished writer and editor (and also my good friend) John Warner writes* of Seager's own frustration at hearing the story so often bowdlerized:

Seager himself declared that he’d seen plagiarized versions twice in magazines and three times on television. While in a doctor’s waiting room in Brazil (he was there seeking treatment for [his wife's] MS), he saw the story in a magazine, done in Portuguese. He’d once even seen it attributed to Chekhov, which no doubt pleased him greatly. In class, when asked for an example of an oral tale that might make a good short story, one of his students told his own story back to him.

Warner credits the British journalist Quentin Crewe with tracing the runaway legend back to Seager's original. After a number of interviews and phone calls:

...Crewe found a “Professor Allan Seager of Michigan University in the United States” and called him on the phone. Seager confirmed that he was the story’s original author and remarked, “I would gladly sell the rights to it for a hundred dollars, as it makes me so mad every time someone pinches it.” Crewe asked him where the story came from.

“It happened to me,” he said. “I was in a TB hospital. I was the guy without the window. The only difference was that I always pressed the button.”

* My source for much of this post is an excellent but as-yet-unpublished magazine-length article by Warner, from which he generously allowed me to quote.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rules for Living

by Barbara D'Amato

When you buy Post-its, always get the Supersticky.

Yes, when you drive down the highway at the posted speed of seventy, and leave seven car lengths between you and the car ahead as you've been told to do, six cars will wedge themselves in between you. This behavior will continue whether you become outraged or not. Don't stress.

When you get toilet paper holders for your bathroom, get the ones that stick upright. Unless you enjoy crawling around the bathroom floor looking for a spring.

You'd need to eat four cups of cooked zucchini to get the energy-producing calories of two ounces of dark chocolate, and the chocolate is good for you.

Never buy cheap packaging tape. Your package will have ugly wrinkles, even if you don't tape yourself up.

When a pen doesn't work, throw it out. It will only sabotage you over and over otherwise.

As Joan Rivers said, always make chocolate cake. It doesn't show dirt.

Life's too short to drink cheap beer is true. You get what you pay for is not always true.

Well, these work for me. Can you add some?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Should I write a letter to My Congressman?…

by Michael Dymmoch

Each Congressman has got two ends,
a sitting and a thinking end,
But since his whole success depends upon his seat,
Why bother friend?

E.Y. Harburg

When I was little, my mom had me and my siblings write letters whenever we had a complaint about something. It was a clever way to end the whining and to get her kids to write. Occasionally it had other benefits.

One of my sisters wrote to complain about a cereal box toy when she cut her finger. The company sent her coupons for more cereal.

Another sister wrote to complain about about the difficult cork-like cap on a bottle of shoe polish. Polish spilled all over when the cap stuck, then let go suddenly. The company sent the family a box of their products.

My mom, herself, wrote to complain about the anti-sprouting chemical on potatoes. The company sent her a brochure about the product’s safety. And a bag of potatoes.

When I was fourteen, I wrote to offer $25 and a good home for a donkey advertised for sale for $100. I didn’t work too hard to make my letter seem professional—it looked like it was written by a ten-year-old. The company accepted the offer. Maybe they felt sorry for the “kid.” (Or they could just have been anxious to unload the jackass.)

As I grew older, I continued writing letters—to congressmen, company CEOs, experts—with mixed results. Mostly I just got position statements vaguely related to the topic of my letter, although I once convinced the Cook County States Attorney not to sue me for property damage caused by someone else.

I still write letters, with increasingly poorer results. CC:-ing CEOs doesn’t help much. People only seem to pay attention if the letter arrives by certified mail. It took a certified letter threatening unspecified legal and regulatory action to get one company to stop sending me junk mail—four or five pieces a week. When they got my letter, they called me. To apologize. And the junk mail stopped.

Writing to elected officials isn’t particularly useful unless a million other constituents do the same. The best way to influence politicians seems to be writing “X” on a ballot—for the other candidate.

I’ve recently written to the USPS Postmaster General—about the lack of postal service; to the U.S. Postal Service Office of Strategic Planning—about my plan for ending unwanted junk mail; and to a junk mailing company headquartered in Germany—trying to convince them to stop sending junk mail to a person who doesn't and never did live at my address. Wish me luck.

Should I write a letter…?

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I was a werewolf in London...

by Sean Chercover

I just flew back from London, and boy are my arms tired. (Almost as tired as that joke.)

Anyway. London was fantastic.

After arriving in London, the first thing I did was buy a long distance card. Then I phoned The Mouse and told him that I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand, walking through the streets of Soho in the rain.

He replied, "Ah-oooh! Werewolves go to London."

For those who are Zevon-impaired, this is what we're talking about:

Werewolves of London (or, as The Mouse calls it, Werewolves Go To London) is still in his top-5, although the Dance Like A Monkey has recently taken over the #1 spot. I posted that video last time, so I'll not do it...

Ah, screw it. Here's Dance Like A Monkey...

Where was I? Oh yeah, London. Right...

Didn't actually see a werewolf, but I did see many nice people. The CWA folks were very kind, the beer was great, and I even bought a Barbour wax cotton raincoat. Like this. Always wanted one. They're on sale at the Chelsea store right now for only 80 pounds, so rush right down.


I rode around the Underground a lot. London has an excellent subway system. And maybe it's my inner 10-year-old, but I giggled every time they announced "this is the train to Cockfosters."

Tried to find a Cockfosters t-shirt, but had to settle for MIND THE GAP. Next time, I'm not leaving without a Cockfosters t-shirt.

The lovely Catherine Burke (senior editor at Mira UK) and I had "a spot of afternoon tea" at this place. The scones were outta sight.

I stopped for a drink at the Rivoli Bar in the Ritz hotel. Took a seat in the back corner and ordered a Salty Dog. The waiter didn't know what that was. I said, "A Greyhound with a salted rim." He said, "Greyhound?" I said, "Vodka, grapefruit juice, ice. Salted rim." He looked askance, said, "Salt on the rim of the glass?"

Then he told me to put my jacket back on.

Ugly American.

Werewolf in London.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sneak Preview

by Libby Hellmann

Hi, all. My new thriller, DOUBLEBACK won’t be out until October, but so many of you helped me with the cover a couple of months ago I wanted to show you the final version Bleak House came up with. Btw, I have to give a shout-out to Alan Orloff who suggested we flip a “b” or two. We did, and we love it.

And here’s a peek at the 45 second video trailer for DOUBLEBACK. Many thanks to Renaissance man Brian Gilomen for his editing expertise. Ellie would approve.

What do you think?

Nancy Drew's Granddaughters

Sara Paretsky, Laura Lippman and others on the influence of Nancy Drew in today's New York Times.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


One of my favorite books of all time is an anthology called Mortification: Writer's Stories of Their Public Shame. In it, authors like Margaret Atwood, Carl Hiaasen, Chuck Palahniuk and Michal Ondaatje tell stories about their most humiliating public speaking engagements. In one, Rick Moody looks around at those gathered for his book reading and realizes there was only one attendee who "hadn't expelled me from her uterus." In another, John Banville was approached by a potential customer in Miami who said, "I'm not going to buy a book, but you looked so lonely there, I thought I'd come and talk to you."

One of my own most humiliating moments was during the promotion for my first novel, Burning The Map. My publisher called, asking if I would make a "big appearance" at the opening of a super store in South Bend, Indiana. The store was on the campus of Notre Dame, which, they said, would tap right into my college age demographic for the book. There would be "massive PR" around the opening, I was told. I agreed and on the appropriate Saturday drove off to South Bend, where I found not a super store, but rather simply a grocery store. My big appearance took place at a card table in the frozen produce section. I sat there, shivering, near a large stack of my untouched books. Thankfully, I was approached by a woman writing sci-fi romance. Her book was forty pages long, she said, and she was ready to publish it. I counseled her for about an hour on the publishing business and then she left without buying a thing. The manager took pity and bought ten books for me to hand out, but no one wanted them, they just wanted directions to the chicken nuggets. Finally, still trying to make me feel better, the manager showed me the "massive PR" which consisted of a tiny photo of me in the coupon newsletter, right below an ad for .25 cent green beans.

Last night, I told this story to new author Henry Perez ( when we signed together here in Chicago. I assumed Henry wouldn't have any such stories yet to contribute, but I was wrong. Henry stopped in a book store and proudly told the clerks he was there to sign his books. But they didn't believe he was the author, no matter what he told them. Finally, he was forced to show them his author photo, which still didn't convince them. In the photo, he's leaning on a railing over a river and looking over his shoulder. Determined to prove his authorship, Henry turned around, leaned forward and looked over his shoulder at them (a stern expression on his face), acting out the authorial pose until they grudgingly allowed him to sign a few of his own books.

One author in Mortification, Deborah Moggach, posits that writers actually feed off mortification. "We can use it in our work," she says, "just as we use everything else. And we know, deep down, that we deserve it. Every writer I know is waiting for the tap on the shoulder and the voice that says: "So you really thought you could get away with it?""

Amen, sister.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

And Yet Another Honor for Sean!

Just heard that Sean won the CWA Short Story Dagger!!! Unbelievable. Come back from across the pond, Sean, so we can congratulate you in person!!

For those who don't know, the story was "One Serving of Bad Luck" from Killer Year (Mira.

Unauthorized Advice from Arthur Phillips

by Marcus Sakey

Six or seven years ago, my wife bought me a book called PRAGUE on a whim—she liked the cover and the flap copy, and knew that I harbored expatriate daydreams. The book turned out to be amazing, and I’ve been a big Arthur Phillips fan ever since.

Three books later, he hasn’t disappointed. The man is wicked smart, and writes emotionally sophisticated showpiece prose that’s also a pure joy to read. His latest, THE SONG IS YOU, came out this year, and I snatched it in hardcover but pleasure-delayed until the other day.

It’s wonderful. Each of his novels tread distinctly new ground; this one focuses on music, and the longing it can evoke, and how that longing effects the lives of those who love it, and which came first, the music or the longing or the love. I’m about halfway through, and spellbound.

The reason I bring it up is that there’s a section where the middle-aged protagonist is watching a woman sing, this rock-star-to-be who is just on the cusp of exploding, and he’s writing notes for her based on his experience as a commercial director. I thought the advice applied to writers as well:

(Arthur, if you’re out there and object, email me and I’ll take ‘em down, and, separately, offer to buy you a beer next time you’re in Chicago.)
  1. Indulge in no one’s taste but your own
  2. Never fear being loathed and broke
  3. Repeat only what is essential; discard mercilessly
  4. Sing only what you can feel, or less
  5. Hate us without trepidation
  6. All advice is wrong, even this; a little makeup would not go astray
  7. Never admit to your influences, not dear Mum or Da, nor the Virgin Mary (competition)
  8. Laugh when others think you should cry—we will gladly connect the dots
  9. Even now, cooing, swooning ghouls of goodwill scheme to destroy you
  10. Oh! Bleaker and obliquer.
Good stuff, huh? Of course, they’re aimed at a developing pop diva, at a woman trying to morph herself into a myth, so some apply more than others. But honestly, I got something from all of them.

“Repeat only what is essential; discard mercilessly” is a variation on some of the best writing advice you’ll ever get; Elmore Leonard puts it, “Don’t write the parts people skip,” Strunk & White say, “Omit unnecessary words,” but it comes to the same.

“Hate us without trepidation” sounds like it applies more to a punk rock girl, and does, but what if you apply it to free yourself to write what you want? Or to keep yourself from falling into a comfortable, safe place, where you’re begging for love instead of trying to tell honest stories?

“Never admit to your influences” is antithetical to my instincts—I tend to shout the names of the people whose work formed mine, as you all know—but is probably great advice. If your goal is to craft a public image, there’s some merit to the idea that it’s best to present yourself as a finished whole, the influencer instead of the influenced.

Anyway, while I wouldn’t take every word as gospel, I think there’s some damn good advice there. But what do you think? What about the later ones, which are a little more challenging, a little less comfortable—do think they apply? Do you like them?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Rants, Vents, and Raves

by David Ellis

I figured if I ever wrote a blog, I would sometimes just go off on various topics. Since I joined up with the talented bunch of writers here, I have limited my comments to a single subject on writing. Not today. We’ll see if people are okay with this. A few rants, raves, and observations.

1. Don’t you hate it when you’ve thoroughly researched a subject and you proudly vomit all the information onto the pages of your novel—only to discover, either on your own or through your agent or editor, that you went on way too long and you have to cut it down? That has happened to me a lot. Whenever I get outside my comfort zones of law and politics, I seek outside assistance, compile a bunch of information, and then end up over-detailing the subject. For those of you aspiring novelists out there, I think the lesson is this: The novel is not about you. You learned a whole lot about an obscure subject? Congratulations. Use it at cocktail parties. But the people buying your novels don’t give a shit. Just tell them what is necessary to make the book interesting.

2. Speaking of the cutting-room floor, some of my favorite passages from my novels are the ones that didn’t make it. Usually I am the one removing it, and the typical reason is that the passage no longer fits. The plot, or the character, has changed. And then I do what, I suspect, all of us writers do—I store that nugget away for another time. And you know what? I have never once taken one of those nuggets and inserted it into another novel. The lesson here is—actually, I don’t know what the lesson is.

3. I think I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: If you are bored with a particular passage in your novel, count on this universal truth—the reader will be, too.

4. Is there a “far left” political movement in this country? I hear, in major newspapers and TV news channels, about the “far right” all the time. I hear them called “extreme,” too. Ever heard of the “extreme” left? The “far” left? Just asking. Hey, I’m no Rush Limbaugh, but I’m a fan of evenhandedness.

5. My take on writing about sex: Leave it to the imagination. A novelist I respect who shall remain nameless (she writes on this blog) once told me (she has red hair) that she (her initials are LC) thought the sexiest scene I ever wrote was in my first novel. But that scene didn’t have a single graphic image. It was all about the lead-up, the flirtation. I have never—and I mean never—read a sex scene in a novel that I found captivating.

6. A really cool thing happened to me the other day that illustrates the organic nature of a novel. I was writing a scene between my protagonist and a woman who, so my plan went, was only serving a minor role. I was rolling along through a brief encounter between the two when suddenly, the thing turned a little sexy on me, and the next thing I knew, something was developing between the two of them. It wasn’t what I had planned. It doesn’t really fit in my novel. But hey, romance often doesn’t fit with your life. Damned if I’m not going to keep it in the book. That’s what I love about writing.

7. When someone says your new book is the best novel you’ve ever written, does that make you momentarily feel insecure about the ones that came before? My favorite fan is the one who says that all of my books are equally compelling. I hope to have one of those fans someday.

8. I absolutely, positively, cannot fathom how anyone could have written a novel on those old typewriters, or long-hand. I jump around my novel like a frog on speed. (Mental note: cool simile, store it away and use it in next book!)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Plan to not fail

By David Heinzmann

Every once in a while I think of a tidbit about David Mamet I once read. On the wall next to his writing desk he had tacked a card that read something like: To fail to plan is to plan to fail.

Some writers need to plan more than others, perhaps, but everybody needs a layer or two of discipline. Often when we talk about this we mean either carving out the same writing time and a word count every day, or addressing the question of outlining or not.

For a handful of reasons (but mostly because of two shorties under the age of 5) I struggle with carving out the regular writing time. And I can’t say that the outlines I’ve made have been worth all the time I put into them, though I’d surely have been worse off without them.

Lately, when I've thought of the Mamet maxim, I’ve also been thinking about the first kind of planning I learned as a writer. When I was in college I had a wonderful creative writing teacher named A.E. Claeyssens who taught a novel writing class. We all had a novel we were planning to write, but first Claey had us spend most of the semester writing what he called preliminaries, volumes of character profiles, pages and pages of their external and internal lives, biographical details we’d never put on the page in the novel, but the stuff that makes you understand who they are so that the actions and thoughts that do make it onto the page ring true. Exploring characters before you write is one way to tell as story, but some writers feel they need to discover their characters as they go. When they’re in the zone and become lost in the story, the characters reveal themselves, etc.

I got a lot of out preliminaries, but somewhere along the way I stopped doing them, partly because in the years since college I’ve learned to write with a gun to my head—on deadline, nearly every day.

By necessity, I do a good bit of my fiction writing on the L-train ride to and from work. It’s not the best method, mainly because it comes in half-hour chunks. But I take my time alone where I can get it.

I write in a notebook atop a leather brief case sitting on my lap. The eventual typing up of my chicken scratch becomes an act of revision, with most of those revelatory writing moments coming in the late-night transcription sessions at the keyboard. I actually find the process to be fairly productive, if not ideal.

Lately, as I’ve been rewriting the ending for the novel I’m trying to finish, I’ve felt particularly unplanned and at least frustrated, if not failing. When my agent read the manuscript a few months ago, he said the ending felt a little easy. So I pulled back from the big moment of revelation in the book, and started going sideways a bit. I wrote several new scenes with my man Flood continuing to stumble in the dark.

But I was having trouble finding the final confrontation that will get me back to the end. Trying to major surgery on the plot, I suddenly had no real plan.

This is what brings me to the lessons of Mamet and Claeyssens. Without thinking about it the other day, I started retroactively writing out preliminaries on the train. I’m once again finding my way through with the preliminaries.

Looking forward, I’m pretty sure I’m going to need preliminaries for the next book, too. I have a premise and protagonist, a couple of scenes, but the big picture remains a fog. I’m going to need serious plan.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Agent Secrets, Man

By Kevin Guilfoile

A friend of mine called recently. He had just met with an agent about representing his first novel. That's the stage when an aspiring writer probably feels most excited and most vulnerable. The hope that one of your dreams might come true is accompanied by the realization that the mechanisms of publishing are a complicated mystery and you need a Virgil to guide you through its circles. You seek a lot of advice during this period, and you get a lot of it too. Some of it good, some of it irrelevant.

I told him that the agent-writer relationship is basically about trust more than anything, and so asking another person whether this agent would be a good fit is sort of like asking a friend if you should get married to a person that friend doesn't know. Sometimes you just know when it's right. Other times there's only one person who wants to marry you.

On request I once shared my getting-an-agent story (including query letter), but I suspect other writer's stories are more informative or interesting or funny. Surely there are some things you should look for in a good agent, and some warning signs of a bad one. We've touched a bit on this before at The Outfit, but what are some of your agent tales, good and bad? And what are some of your getting-an-agent questions?

Unrelated except in a lazy, kitchen-sink Friday way: Over at the Infinite Summer blog I go deep into the history of an urban legend that gets recycled in the book Infinite Jest (be sure to follow the endnotes for some entertaining links). It might be of interest even to those who haven't read the novel. More significantly, the excellent discussion that follows in the comments about the appropriateness of such appropriation is relevant to anyone who writes fiction for a living I think.

Follow Kevin on Twitter.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Not Up to One's Former Standard

by Barbara D'Amato

My husband, Tony D’Amato, read my post [June 25] about critics, fair and unfair, but thought I’d left something out, something critics sometimes do.

Tony says:

I always read The Outfit to find out what my wife Barbara D’Amato is thinking about. Her most recent blog was about critics. What she didn’t mention was her own dispatch of a pompous reviewer in her short story “Of Course You Know that Chocolate is a Vegetable.”

The critic takes asthma medicine, theophylline, that is chemically very similar to the caffeine and theobromine in coffee and chocolate—dangerous in large quantities. At this point, at the urging of the victim of his critiques, he has eaten several chocolate desserts and drunk several espressos.

An excerpt:

We were seated at a round table covered with a crisp white cloth at Just Desserts, a scrumptious eatery in central Manhattan that specializes in chocolate desserts.
“I must say, Ms. Grenfield, it’s very handsome of you to invite me after my review of your last book, “ Ivor Sutcliffe said.
Ivor’s review had begun:

In Snuffed, the victim, Rufus Crown, is dispatched with a gaseous fire extinguisher designed for use on fires in rooms with computer equipment and other such unpleasant hardware, though neither the reader nor the fictional detective knows this at the start when his dead but mysteriously unblemished body is found. The reader is treated to long efforts—quite incompatible with character development—on the part of the lab and medical examiner to establish what killed him.

Sutcliffe’s review had gone on:

I deplore the substitution of technical detail for real plotting. One could amplify the question “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?” by asking “Who cares how Roger Ackroyd was killed?” No one cares what crime labs and pathologists really do.
Since he was eating at my expense, he found the need to be borderline pleasant. “You know, I did say in the review that I liked much of your past work.”
Actually no, you clot. His review of my first book, graven on my heart, said, “This novel is obviously the work of a beginner.” And his review of my second book, also etched somewhere in my guts, said “Ms. Grenfield has not yet got her sea legs for the mystery genre.” The third and most recent review had, in fact, damned with faint praise: This effort, Snuffed, is not up to her former standard.”
As he finished off the tray of chocolate candies, he said “These are good. I’m rather surprised.”
He said, “I’d always thought of you as lacking in appreciation of the finer things.”
“Oh, surely not.”
“All those bloody and explicit murders, or poisons with their effects lovingly detailed. Hardly the work of a subtle mind.”
“Au contraire, Ivor, I am very subtle.”
“Well, I suppose it does require a certain amount of delicacy to keep the knowledge of whodunit from a reader until the end.” He fidgeted as if nervous. He started to sweat.
“Yes. Until the end.”

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Kudos for the Pros

by Michael Dymmoch

I grew up reading the Chicago Daily News because my parents subscribed. Sidney J Harris taught me philosophy—before I knew what the word meant—and that the purpose of a liberal education is to make one’s head a decent place in which to spend one’s leisure. The Daily News also introduced me to Erma Bombeck and Mike Royko

Years later, I followed Royko to The Chicago Sun-Times, then to the Trib. After he died, I drifted back to the Sun-Times because an acquaintance started giving me her copy when she’d finished with it. I still mostly read the Sun-Times because I’m currently addicted to Mark Brown and Richard Roeper, Roger Ebert, Cathleen Falsani, Neil Steinberg and Carol Marin (and because the Trib jettisoned its book section and moved the TV guide to Saturday).

What impresses me almost as much about the pros as their talents is the fact that they wrote/write so much—some of them four or five columns a week, forty-five or fifty weeks a year, many of them for decades. To anyone who’s ever tried to blog regularly (even just once every two weeks) that’s amazing! And most of their stuff is really good, though that may not be obvious because they make it look easy .

Blogging seems to have taken over as the medium for getting ideas across, and those of us with a life or occupation now have too many talented writers to keep up with. But all of them, wherever their work appears, continue to remind us that we belong to a community of people who value ideas and appreciate those ideas skillfully presented.

With so many terrific writers to choose from, how do you decide with whom to spend your time?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


by Sean Chercover

If you haven't heard the publishing news that broke last weekend...

Ben LeRoy and Alison Janssen announced today that they will leave their positions at Bleak House Books (a division of Big Earth Publishing) and begin a new venture, Tyrus Books.

To read the news release and learn more, visit: Tyrus Books.

For those who don't know, Ben LeRoy and Alison Janssen are the brains and talent (they are both, both) behind the success of Bleak House Books. Ben started the company in 2001, and Alison came on in 2003. Together, they have published some of the best crime fiction in recent years (in 2008 three of their titles were Edgar Award-nominated - an unprecedented achievement by a small, independent publishing house).

So you'd be right in thinking that Ben and Alison are two of the smartest folks in publishing, and that they are possessed of great taste.

One of the Edgar-nominated titles was the Chicago Blues anthology, edited by our own Libby Hellmann, and containing stories by most "Outfitters". I spoke with Ben last night, and he had this message:

Building Bleak House Books was a years long process and one of the projects we are most proud of is Chicago Blues. A special thank you is due to most of the members of the Outfit. And Laura Caldwell has become a great friend of the company. I appreciate all of you so much and look forward to working with you all in some capacity moving forward.

I'd also like to thank all of the support that readers, reviewers,and retailers have provided us. As we move forward on this exciting new venture, we want to assure everybody that we will continue to deliver the best books we know how. Love to everybody.
As Ben and Alison start their new adventure, they also leave Bleak House stocked with some excellent titles, including Libby's upcoming novel DOUBLEBACK, and Jen Jordan's short story anthology, UNCAGE ME.

If this post reads like an unbridled love letter to Ben and Alison ... well, it is. In addition to being two of the smartest people I've met in publishing, they are also two of the finest human beings I've had the pleasure of knowing.

I am very happy for them, and excited to see what they will do at Tyrus Books.

Congratulations, Ben and Alison!

Let's all Dance Like A Monkey to their continued success:

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Ready to Commit Murder

by Libby Hellmann

Ah, the joys of summer: bright sunshine, soft breezes, flowers, steaks on the grill...

And skunks.

Some of you already know about my ongoing trials with these creatures. Well, at this point, they’re winning. And I’ve had it. It’s war.

I live on the North Shore of Chicago not far from the forest preserve. I’ve gotten used to the deer eating my day lilies (and pooping on the lawn), the raccoons tipping over the garbage cans, even the occasional fox strolling across the yard. Live and let live, right?

No more.

It started about three years ago when our wonderful Beagle, Shiloh, was still with us. Unfortunately, Shiloh thought everyone was his friend, and that included rodents and varmints. The upshot was that he got skunked in our back yard, not once but three times. The first time I rushed him to the vet, but they wouldn’t take him. Instead, they told me about the peroxide-baking soda-dishwashing liquid mix (tomato juice definitely does NOT work), and I raced to the drug store to take care of the poor guy. Shiloh hates baths, but he had a good one that night. Of course, the stench stayed in my car for days – even a once-over with the mixture and at least two bottles of Febreze didn’t do much.

About a month later, it happened again. This time I was ready. I locked Shiloh in the garage, had the solution ready in a jiffy, and we went through the process again. It happened a third time before the end of that summer (I never said Beagles were smart). I remember being thankful when cold weather came.

Fast forward to the following spring. It’s about five in the morning, and I’m having a nightmare about a disgusting odor that just won’t go away. I wake up to discover it’s no dream. The odor is in my house, and it’s skunk spray. I jump out of bed, tear through the house, and find out that skunks are mating under my deck, and one of them just had to spray into the window-well where the stink penetrated into the basement.

This time it took two weeks and several trips to the store get a special enzyme-y thing that was supposed to break up the skunk-spray molecules but didn’t really work. Not to mention the traps that Animal Control set. Naturally, they didn’t catch the skunk -- Turns out they’re pretty smart, at least smart enough not to crawl into a cage for bait. But I did catch two lovely raccoons.

The last straw came a couple of nights ago. A skunk came to my front door, sprayed, and then pranced off into the night. The stench penetrated inside in a minute. I swear it was a deliberate provocation. That skunk was singling me out. I know it.

I’m convinced that there’s a skunk population explosion on the North Shore and the authorities are covering it up, because they know the citizenry would rise up in arms if they knew how many of these creatures are actually roaming around. It’s clearly a conspiracy. And what the authorities aren’t covering up, the skunks themselves are perpetrating. Because they can. They’re trying to take over the world, one forest preserve at a time.

But I won’t let them. I’m done playing defense. It’s war. I have my Illinois FOID card and I’m going to the gun range for target practice. Before I do, though, I’ll open it up for one last round of suggestions.

How do you stop a skunk dead in its tracks?

Friday, July 03, 2009

July 4

When I was growing up, July 4 was our best family holiday. The others tended to get bogged down in my parents culture wars (think George and Martha in the Albee play.) My mother came partly from WASPy stock, family who came here in the 1730's; my father's parents had fled pogroms. Both parents felt a fierce connection to the promise of freedom implicit in our history and every year, until their culture wars made life together impossible, they'd recount the history of the country.

My father would recount the history of the revolutionary war up through the Stamp Act. My mother could recite most of the Declaration of Independence from memory, and then we would suffer through the harsh winter of 1777-78, the doubts, the triumphs, the faltering of the new country, and end with the Constitutional Convention. The Constitution somehow always coincided with the triumphant production of chocolate ice cream, hand-cranked in the old churn my mother had brought from her small-town home--perhaps there's an association of chocolate with freedom.
We would set off fire crackers, and then my parents would play their old 78's of Paul Robeson singing Ballad for Americans. These were issued by Victor Records in 1940 and my parents had bought them when they first started dating, right before Pearl Harbor and my father's disappearance into the Pacific Theater for almost four years.

We're living in one of America's most challenging times right now, with strong echoes going back to the 1930's. Remembering how my parents celebrated the 4th with us helps remind me that for all our problems as a society, for all the times we fall short of our heroic ideals, we still manage to come together as a nation to solve our most pernicious problems.
What are your own favorite memories of Independence Day?

Sara Paretsky

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Digital Distractions

by Marcus Sakey

Morning folks!

So in preparation for the release of THE AMATEURS, I’m doing the stuff we do: planning my tour schedule, doing interviews, thinking about contests, and, the topic of the day, revamping my web site.

I’ve had a site to promote my books for about four years now, and it has changed significantly as time has passed. Initially it was really a sales piece aimed at the industry, a reference point I built for agents and publishers. Once I was signed, I started to change the focus, hopefully making it more useful and interesting to readers.

Which brings me to the topic at hand. What does interest you about an author’s website?

Certain things are obvious. My tour schedule is up there, as are excerpts of all my books, and review copy, that sort of thing. And I suspect that those elements form the core value for most people.

But over the years I’ve been trying to expand beyond that. I built and maintain my site myself—in a past life, I ran a web design shop—so I have a lot of flexibility. Everything is in my voice because, well, I’m typing it, and I hope that helps.

I also have sections where I write about good books I’ve read recently, give hands-dirty advice for aspiring writers, answer common questions, and share interviews and photographs. And of course I’m promoting my mailing list, and the fact that I’m on Facebook and Twitter. (I’ll post more on that another time, but I have to say, thus far I’ve been impressed by Twitter, and used judiciously I do see the value in it.)

Anyway, the revamped version of the site is live now, at

My feeling is that if you take the time to visit, I’d like to make sure that time is rewarding for you. Seems the least I can do. And so I’m wondering, am I missing anything?

What else would you like to see on an author’s website, mine or anyone else’s?