One thing I like about being in a book club is that I get a chance to read books that I hadn’t heard of. And since I hadn’t heard of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s story, The Secret Lives of Cats, I’m glad that it came to my attention and I had a good excuse to read it.
Amazon describes it as: Winner of the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Choice Award for 2008, this Anthony-nominated story was one of the most talked about stories of the year.
I can believe it. I was drawn in by its first sentence. “Homer Ziff didn’t believe in old adages, but after his long and eventful spring, he couldn’t help but think that whoever put the words “curiosity,” “cat,” and “kill” in the same sentence had to be onto something.”
I like curiosity, cats, and of course crime fiction. So I’m there! You got me. (And look at this awesome cover. I love it.)
I like the premise. Ziff wonders where his cats go during the day so he attaches a small camera to each cat’s collar. The camera takes still photos, not video. (This was written when GoPro was still new and incredibly expensive.) Every day he downloads and saves many of the photos to see where they go. He notices that they go to a place where other cats congregate and sit there. Are they looking at something? What are they doing? He’s fascinated and after several days it becomes apparent that what they are looking at are bones, human bones.
He calls the police. “When the operator answered, he said, “I think there’s a dead body in my neighborhood.” And that brought the detectives to his door.”
He has to explain to them that the cats have found a dead body, but he doesn’t know exactly where it is. And he has to do this without sounding crazy or guilty. Fortunately for him, one of the detectives understands right away.
I’ll let you read the rest of the story to find out what happens. I thought it was a full-length book so I was a little disappointed that it was a short story, only 33 pages long. I wanted more! I liked everything about it, the characters, the descriptions, and the plot. I thought it moved right along.
I highly recommend this short read and I’ll definitely be reading more by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I was curious to see what else she has written and was thrilled to find that she also writes a lot of sci-fi. I’ll confess that I’m a bit of a Trekkie so I was tickled to see that she’s written a few ST books too! (Insert The Original Series music here. Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ahhhh.)
In her 2001 collection Rereadings, Anne Fadimanchallenged writers to revisit books they read before they were twenty-five, and still re-read. Contributor Arthur Krystal (his favorite re-read is a boxing book, Witwer’s The Leather Pushers), quotes George Orwell: “The books one read in childhood, and perhaps most all bad and good bad books, create in one’s mind a sort of false map of the world, a series of fabulous countries into which one can retreat at odd moments.”
On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey tore through the heart of Port Aransas, hitting with such force that several longstanding homes and businesses ceased to exist. Harvey scattered boats like leaves—in front a beloved coffee shop, in a nearby neighborhood, beached on a random patch of grass. The town has been left to rebuild without the benefit of ongoing media attention. This community takes care of its own, and people from other cities have rallied with physical and financial support in an effort to help this island town regain its rightful claim as one of the most beloved vacation spots in Texas. However, one important landmark that has yet to return to proper service is the Ellis Memorial Library. Despite the diligent work of assistant Library Director Toby De La Rosa, volunteers and Port Aransas local officials, the library is still closed to the public and unable to provide important services to its community.
Port Aransas needs its library back.
Austin Mystery Writers has committed to supporting the Ellis Memorial Library by choosing to donate proceeds from its latest anthology, Lone Star Lawless, to this important cause. In addition to featuring stories from award-winning Austin Mystery Writers Gale Albright (who passed away unexpectedly before the anthology’s release) VP Chandler, Kaye George, Laura Oles and Kathy Waller, it includes submissions from some of today’s top talent in crime fiction. Gripping tales from Alexandra Burt, Janice Hamrick, Scott Montgomery, Mark Pryor, Terry Shames, Larry D. Sweazy, George Wier and Manning Wolfe are sure to keep you turning the pages. You’ll find compelling tales about cons gone wrong, cowboys and criminals, grifters and girlfriends, morticians and motel clerks… And best of all, each copy purchased benefits the Ellis Memorial public library. It’s our small way of showing support for this important and much-beloved island institution.
Those of us who love our local libraries know how much they bring to our communities. We understand the powerful ways a good book touches us, stays with us, invites us to share it with others. Libraries serve this need in a way that no other entity can.
If you’d like to make a donation to the Port Aransas Library, you may do so by sending check to: Friends of the Ellis Memorial Library, PO Box 11, Port Aransas, Texas 78373. In addition to these efforts, I have been working with some wonderful neighbors who have been collecting quality books to donate to Ellis, and we will be delivering them once they are in a position to receive them. It’s a big delivery, and special recognition goes to Trisha Taylor, who spearheaded an incredible book donation drive.
Also, you can pick up a copy of Lone Star Lawless from your favorite independent bookstore (such as BookPeople in Austin) or online. You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2YTbhpD
For those who know and love Port Aransas, you know it is returning better and stronger than ever. Showing your support through donations, vacations and other methods of bringing people and commerce to its businesses and community are so very appreciated. And when packing for your next trip, remember to bring a book for the beach. It’s beautiful this time of year.
Hey! Hey! Holy Mackerel! The Cubs are on the field!
Baseball’s back, and I’m celebrating with a return to one of
my favorite subjects—The Chicago Cubs. Yes, I am a huge Cubbies fan, so much
so, I wrote a book about it, THREE DAYS AT WRIGLEY FIELD.
Why? Easy. Chicago Cub blood runs in my veins. And I come by it honestly. Blame my father, Ed Gabel.
Born on Chicago’s northside in 1920, Dad was a lifelong Cubs
fan. In his lifetime he never saw his
team win the World Series. Oh, they went
a few times, but no World Championship.
That never stopped him from rooting for the Cubs. I swear his DNA had Cubbie blue genes in it,
and I inherited those beautiful blue chromosomes. I was a Cub fan from conception.
Wrigley Field was only six years old when my dad was born,
so you could say the two grew up together.
I remember he talked about how, during the depression, Mr. Wrigley let
the neighborhood kids come in and sweep down the stands after games. Their payment was a free ticket to the next
day’s game. Dad did a lot of sweeping back then.
When he was seventeen (i.e. 1937) Wrigley Field underwent a
few renovations, enlarged for more seating, and put up the huge, iconic,
hand-operated centerfield scoreboard. (Which is still in use!) And Bill Veeck (who started out with the Cubs) planted the
bittersweet ivy along the outfield wall.
Yep, my dad loved the Cubs, and he passed that passion on to
me. Sometimes a curse, but mostly a
blessing. Hey, it’s taught me that
success has many faces, and that it’s a cardinal sin to be a fair-weather fan. (And
yes, that’s a direct dig at that team from St. Louis).
I wrote THREE DAYS AT WRIGLEY FIELD before the Cubs won the 2016
World Series. My favorite review from Publishers Weekly Booklife Prize called
it “a love letter to baseball and
powerful page turner.” A love letter to baseball. Yes, that’s exactly what
Then came 2016, and my Cubbies won the World Series. As I
watched play resume after that nineteen minute rain delay in the ninth inning,
I thought of my father. Although he was long gone, I felt I was watching the
unbelievable come true—but not just for me, for my dad as well.
To capture that soul-filling love in a book is humbling and exhilarating. I invite you to experience that love with me. Give THREE DAYS AT WRIGLEY FIELD a read.
Last week, Fran Paino described how family obligations can keep a writer from writing. My post describes an experience that happened several years ago. It’s similar to Fran’s–and at the same time, very different.
In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron introduces the Artist’s Date–a weekly solo “adventure to feed the soul and allow for continued creativity.” In other words, artists–including writers–need to play. At a writers’ retreat in Alpine, Texas, author Karleen Koen led students through a whole week of play. Returning home, I vowed to incorporate the Artist’s Date into my writing life.
But having just had a week-long Artist’s Date, I chose to start with a Writing Date instead.
Here’s how it went:
I woke at a reasonable hour and dressed to leave for my coffee shop/office.
Downstairs, doling out cat food, I realized I’d seen no cats. That was troubling. William usually slept late, but Ernest was an early riser. He often climbed onto my pillow and swatted my face, making me an early riser, too.
So I called, ran upstairs, searched, called some more. William, draped across his pagoda, opened his eyes and blinked but offered no help.
I ran downstairs, called, searched, dropped to my knees and peered under furniture. I ran back upstairs. Etc.
Finally dropping in the right place, I found Ernest under the bed, sitting in that compact way cats have, with all his feet nearly tucked in. His eyes were not warm and welcoming. When I tried to pull him out, he wriggled loose and ran into the hall and thence into the guest room and under that bed–a sure sign of a sick cat.
He reminded me of a get-well card I once sent to a great-aunt. On the front was a drawing of an orange tabby with a bored, Morris-like expression on his face, and the words, “Feeling poorly? Do as I do.” Inside it said, “Crawl under the porch.”
Ernest didn’t have a porch so he crawled under the next best thing.
I put batteries in the flashlight and girded my loins. Negotiating the guest room is not for the faint of heart. The bed is built low to the ground, and there’s stuffin there.
Again on my hands and knees, and practically standing on my head, I located Ernest lying in a corner near the wall. I stretched out on the carpet, reached as far as possible, and scratched his ears. He didn’t protest, but the look in his big green eyes said I’d better not make any sudden moves.
Ernest is mostly muscle. Talons tip his twenty toes. He has a mouthful of teeth.
Like Barry Goldwater, he believes extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.
I believe in keeping my all blood on the inside of my skin.
But I also believe extremism in the pursuit of getting sick children to the doctor is a necessary evil.
And I had a pretty good idea of what had occurred.
Ernest suffers from what might be termed a sluggish constitution, aggravated by his habit of swallowing objects that aren’t food, like bits of string, thread, ribbon. We don’t leave it lying around, but he finds it anyway. The vet says cats are drawn to elongated things. Something about mouse tails, I guess.
The first time he hid under the bed, two years before, I had to authorize X-rays, ultrasound, and a simple procedure he really, really didn’t like. We refer to it as the $400 enema. Swallowing string can cause serious problems for a cat. So I had to get him some help before a minor problem became major.
I found his jingly collar, the one he refused to wear, lay down again, and jingled at him. He gnawed on the collar and purred. Then he flopped over onto his back so I could rub his belly.
After a couple of minutes the dust bunnies keeping Ernest company attacked. I began sneeze. Ernest doesn’t care for sneezing–it scares him–so I went back downstairs and sneezed till my throat was raw. Then I coughed. And coughed. And coughed. I couldn’t find cough drops or unexpired cough medicine, so I poured out the dregs of some extremely aged Jim Beam (my mother had bought it to baptize her Christmas applesauce cakes thirty years before), and added the only sweetener we had, David’s hummingbird sugar.
While I was resting, sipping medicine from a spoon, Ernest waltzed down the stairs. He sashayed past me and headed to the kitchen. I heard crunching. Then he sashayed back.
Sneak that I am, I lured him into my lap, applied a full nelson, stuffed him into the waiting crate, lugged him to the car, and hauled him to the vet. He protested. When two big dogs in the waiting room charged up to his crate to pant hello, he shut up.
First stop was the scale: seventeen pounds. No surprise. My back muscles were already crying for the massage therapist.
Then the vet poked and prodded and determined Ernest had indeed ingested something he shouldn’t have, probably something the shape of a mouse tail.
I had three choices: take him home, give him meds, and watch him for twenty-four hours; leave him there for meds and the procedure he really, really didn’t like and pick him up at five p.m.; or be referred elsewhere for X-rays, because our vet’s office was in process of being moved down the street and his X-ray machine was in pieces.
He said choice #1 would have been fine for his cat, but I chose #2. If I left Ernest there, I knew he would come home unclogged. If I took him home, he would run under the bed and I’d never see him again. I hated to leave him, but it was, after all, his fault.
Anyway, at five p.m., David and I retrieved Ernest and a tube of Laxatone for maintenance. Ernest recovered and, after a time, forgave me. Everything returned to normal, till the next time he ate thread.
And that is the story of what I did the day I didn’t write.
I’m still trying to decide if it qualifies as an Artist’s Date.
Note–and this is how I understood the veterinarian’s explanation, not to be taken as medical advice: Some foreign objects will biodegrade in a cat’s GI tract. String, thread, ribbon, and things of that type, even if they’re biodegradable, sometimes catch in the back of a cat’s mouth when he swallows. As food travels through the GI tract, the thread straightens out and becomes taut and can cut the cat’s intestines, necessitating surgery (if the problem is diagnosed in time). Laxatives can worsen the condition. A visit to a veterinarian is desirable.
I’m a morning writer, and it’s morning. Filled with energy, and inspiration, I grab the notes I’d scribbled on the post-it when ideas woke me during the night. Sharpen those pencils and dust off the keyboard. Coffee’s brewing, toast pops up. Ready, set, go.
Not So Fast—
phone rings. “Mom. Emergency. The sitter is sick. Can you take the baby for a
few hours?” I, the devoted grandmother,
agree to help. When the baby naps, I’ll write.
phone rings again. The nonagenarian is desperate to get to the supermarket.
to life in the sandwich generation.
am a piece of Swiss cheese firmly pressed between two slices of hearty Italian
bread. On one side is my nonagenarian mother, a feisty old lady, who doesn’t
look or act her age. She is in great
physical shape other than the fact that she can’t hear very well, can’t smell
very well, and claims not to be able to walk very well. As for the walking,
just give her a shopping cart in the supermarket and try to keep up with her. I’ve
lost several pounds chasing her up and down the aisles.
other side are my grandchildren, normal little people going through the
different stages of emotional, physical and intellectual growth. They provide
the expected tests for the adult nervous system: conflict, espionage, and
subterfuge. Put any one of them together with the nonagenarian who wishes to be
a revered elder and a naughty child at the same time, and it’s like herding
so, I pick up the 24-month-old and then the 95-year-old, and off to the
supermarket we go!
young one sits in the basket in front of me, and the old one is behind me
zipping around with her cart and getting into as much mischief as possible,
picking up candies and treats she knows
the 24 month-old is not allowed to eat.
child’s radar, of course, locks onto the junk food. She tries to elongate her
little arm to reach over me and receive the treat from her great-grandmother.
powers of observation in both the toddler and the nonagenarian are impeccable;
their timing the envy of any dance team. If I turned to a shelf on my left, the
nonagenarian reaches over my right shoulder to give the toddler some forbidden
sweet. Once that sweet is in the 24-month-old’s chubby little fist, I must
employ all my powers of persuasion to get it away. After I succeed, I turn to
scold the nonagenarian but she’s disappeared. I find myself talking to thin
continues up and down each aisle as the elder rises to the challenges of
flexible movement and rapid deployment, accumulating as many different snacks
as possible and passing them to her beloved great-grandchild before I can stop
woman who cannot walk so well is able to dodge, feint and sidestep with
incredible speed. She appears and disappears at key times while I actually try
to gather items on the list.
last, I make it to the check-out line where the naughty old child hands a candy
bar to the determined young child. “Here, sweetie, take this,” but my antennae
are up and my intercept quick.
snatch the bar away before the little one captures it in her vice-like grip.
Both the old and the young cry out in dismay. Finally, I have no choice but to
appropriately discipline both, which nearly creates a riot at the register. It
is my good fortune that no do-gooders are there to insist that I be reprimanded
for reprimanding those in my charge.
packed, groceries paid for, I swiftly maneuver the nonagenarian and the toddler
to the car and get them safely strapped into their seats, after which I load
the nonagenarian at home with her purchases. And now there is one. This is
soon as I reach the safety of my home, I promptly put the toddler down for a
nap. Ahh. Blessed relief. It’s quiet at last, and time to write. I smile and
close my eyes for a moment of peace to gather my thoughts.
The next time I open them, a little voice is
The original version of this, Supermarket Nightmare,
appeared in the March 2015 edition of Funny
Writing for me is both a compulsion and an exploration. I know, I know, they say “write what you know”, but I’d add another clause on that. Write what you know and/or what you’d like to research.
The best book prompt that I know of is “What if?”
For example, what if my heroine wants to become a professional baseball player?
(By the way, that is a cheap plug for
my first novel, Three Days at Wrigley Field.) Even though I am an avid baseball
fan, there’s no way I had enough baseball knowledge in my head to complete a
novel on the subject. More important
than knowing that Nolan Ryan pitched seven no-hitters in his career (a record
known by thousands of fans), I needed to know how he pitched those no-hitters. To that end, I purchased Nolan
Ryan’s video on how he pitched. That information is integral to making the book
work. (Side note: I’m nuts about Nolan Ryan. When I lived in Houston, I’d drive
an hour to his hometown of Alvin just to get my hair cut. I kept hoping on the
off-chance I would see this super-human walking down the street.)
Research for me is one of the most fun parts of creating a
fictional piece. For example, in my
Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery Series, I do indeed write what I know. I grew up a
PK–preacher’s kid (I prefer the term TO for ‘theological offspring’, but alas,
that never caught on). I know a whole lot about what a preacher does, about how
congregations work (or don’t work), about the ever present pitfalls for even
the most devoted. But I didn’t know anything about the Federal Witness
Protection Program or how to own and run a sports bar. (I hope that’s a
tease–what is my series all about??)
In the coming blogs, I’m going to talk about how and/or
where I do my research. A writer may
write in a bubble, but IMO they certainly can’t research in a bubble. She has
to join groups, go to conferences, hit the bars J,
and talk to experts in the field. (Hence why I had to hit the bar.) She has to
get the facts right, or she risks losing the trust of the reader. Why is this
important? A “This is bogus!” reaction from the reader means they’re slamming
the book shut never to pick it up again, and, worst of all, telling others not to read it.
Research is necessary, but fun! I hope you’ll enjoy my
escapades into research that I’ll share with you in coming blogs.
If you’re ever in East Texas I encourage you to check out The Bosslight bookstore. It’s located in historic down town Nacogdoches so it has a perfect vibe of old and new. Old architecture and new books and art! (Check out the brick paved street. I love it.)
Owner Tim Bryant is an author himself, author of the Dutch Curridge series and the Wilkie John Liquorish Westerns. So you know he has a soft spot for books and wants to help authors and readers connect. (I’m currently reading book one of the Liquorish series and it’s great. Good voice and very suspenseful.)
Not only does he have lots of books, but he works hard to connect and support people in the community. He has art from local artisans and hosts book clubs, author events, and even music events too. Did I mention he’s also a musician? Yes! He’s full of talent. So head on over to The Bosslight book store and support a great community! And tell them I said “howdy”!
Austin Mystery Writers Lone Star Lawless event! Kathy Waller, VP Chandler, Laura Oles, George Wier, Alexandra Burt, Scott Montgomery
As writers, we often contend with voices inside our heads. It’s not just me, is it? As much as I love these characters who demand to be heard, there are moments when I need a break. I need someone else’s voice inside my head. Someone to inspire me or to teach me something interesting that could also prove useful in a future scene or novel.
That’s where podcasts come in. I’ve long been a fan of podcasts, and the quality of what’s currently available is a true treasure trove for those tuning in. There’s something for every interest, and almost any topic can be found by doing a simple search in your podcast app.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Reply All: This podcast explores how technology and culture collide, often in interesting or unexpected ways. Want to learn how someone can steal your Instagram account? And why would they want it? Or maybe a profile about how a software designer turned his skills to building an illegal empire online? The quality of the reporting and narration are top notch, and this is the one podcast I anxiously wait for each time a new episode drops.
Murder Book with Michael Connelly: This passion project created by powerhouse author Michael Connelly is a new release and one that quickly captured my attention. Connelly explores an unsolved thirty-year-old homicide case that “tests the limits of the American criminal justice system.”
Hidden Brain: “Shankar Vedantam uses science and storytelling to reveal the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, shape our choices and direct our relationships.” Vedantam is a skilled narrator and the topics are fascinating, ranging from how to move past a life-altering injury to the psychology of surprise endings (an excellent episode for writers).
This American Life: Produced by NPR, this podcast never disappoints (me). Each week involves a certain theme, and the reporting ties several stories to that theme. The storytelling focuses on compelling people, difficult dynamics and big questions that don’t always have an answer. Thought-provoking and beautifully produced, this one is worth a listen.
Here’s The Thing with Alec Baldwin: Alex Baldwin’s personal antics can be up for debate, but you can’t argue with the man’s interviewing skills. This one surprised me in all the best ways. He’s interviewed everyone from Billy Joel and Carly Simon to Cameron Crowe and Kyle MacLachlan. Alec’s questions dig down deep into the topic of the creation of art of all kinds and how those pursuits impact personal relationships. The episode with Jerry Seinfeld is one of my favorites because he shares how to make time to write–and how he did it during the Seinfeld years. His answers may surprise you. For those curious about the inside-baseball elements of writing, acting, and other creative endeavors, this public radio podcast pulls strong.
Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me: Sometimes, after a long writing session, I need a good laugh. A quiz program with a rotating panel including comedic talents Mo Rocca, Paula Poundstone, Alonzo Bodden and several others, this show blends current events with fake news stories in an effort to discern what’s true and what’s not. Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction on this show.
When compiling this list, I realized that most of my recommendations came from podcasts created by public radio. Just one more reason to support your local public radio station!
Do you listen to podcasts? If so, which ones are your favorites?
I recently had the incredible honor of attending Lady Gaga’s Las Vegas Jazz Show. I say honor, because this woman is so talented. Not just at singing, or dancing or playing the piano.
This lady can write.
I write fiction. I like to say I kill people for a living. This incredible woman writes the language of the soul.
I was struck by one song in particular. I am in the final stages of putting out my next book, MURDER ON THE THIRD TRY. The questions I ask myself are overwhelming, and all have a common theme: Is this book any good? I know this something most writers struggle with. Actually, Robert De Niro said it best. “The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy. And…