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.
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…
Friday evening David said, “Should I wake you at nine tomorrow?” and I said, “Why?” because I never know what day it is, and he said, “You’re going to Saturday writing practice at the Yarborough library,” and I said, “At the Yarborough,” and he said, “Yes, the Yarborough,” and I said, “The Yarborough, the Yarborough.
So the next morning I sat in the parking lot of the Twin Oaks library for nine minutes, until I knew it was open, because I didn’t want to wait outside and freeze, and at one minute after ten, I went inside and found the meeting rooms dimly lit and empty, and I said to myself, “The Yarborough.” . . .
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The first week after the book is finished. Horrible. Finishing a book feels a bit like having a broken spring. A cartoon clock where the springs go SPROING out the back, twisting like Little Orphan Annie’s ringlets.
Post-book dementia has been ignored by the scientific community. Yet it’s a known syndrome, leaving the writer desperate.
Symptoms? Apathy. Refusal to read headlines. Compulsive retreat into mysteries from the sixties—John MacDonald. Helen MacInnes. Waking at three a.m. and staring into darkness, lost without a plot tangle to unravel. Executive function area of brain on unauthorized vacation.
Cures? None known. One wise practitioner advises Tincture of Time. Thyme? What did he say?
Hard runs, uphill both ways. Try to beat your own best thyme. Time?
Locate small child. Ask child about book plot for witch and wizard story, using “Yes And!” for action sequence.