Saturday, July 11, 2009

HEART TO HAND--BACK AT YA!


A friend of mine made a lovely quilt for me to use for the prize in a drawing at my book launch of The Innkeeper in April. The quilt depicted symbols used to guide freedom seekers as they journeyed North on the Underground Railroad to secure their unalienable rights and find justice.
And the winner was…Julie Hyzy, award winning author of the White House Chef mysteries and a good friend. I presented the quilt to Julie in Centuries and Sleuths. Imagine my surprise when Julie “presented it back” to me!
She said she’d read my blog about how special the quilt had become to me as I learned from Sue about the intricacies of quilting and the joy she took in creating it for me.
Julie said that when she read that she hoped whoever won the quilt would re-gift it to me.
From hand to heart as Sue created it; from heart to hand as Julie presented it to me. The quilt travels with me to all my events--a symbol of friendship!
Luisa Buehler

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Public Enemies" Showcases Chicago

I usually wait until feature films are available on DVD before watching them, but with "Public Enemies," I made an exception and saw this new release in a theater last week. My eagerness stemmed from two interests: Chicago history in general and the life and times of John Dillinger in particular. This bank robber/desperado was dubbed "Public Enemy No. 1" by the FBI in the 1930s.

In two of my "Snap" Malek Chicago historical mystery novels, "Three Strikes You're Dead" and the recently released "A President in Peril," I made references to Dillinger. In one instance, I had Chicago Tribune police reporter Malek reminisce about covering the shooting of the legendary gangster outside a Chicago movie theater in the summer of 1934.

I found the film good--by no means great, but definitely compelling. The acting was solid, particularly the machine-gun toting Johnny Depp as America's most-wanted man. Also, I'm a pushover for movies shot in Chicago, and there was a healthy dose of the city here, including Elevated trains roaring through the night, an Art Deco office building lobby masquerading as a restaurant, and a decades-old steam locomotive chugging into the subterranean gloom of Union Station. And the film-makers were able to use the actual theater where Dillinger met his fate, the Biograph, in the drama's climactic scene.

Call it film noir, Chicago-style.

Robert Goldsborough

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Joy of Book Signing

Last Saturday, I signed copies of my new "Snap" Malek book from Echelon Press, A PRESIDENT IN PERIL, at my "home" bookstore, Barnes & Noble in Wheaton, Ill. And I enjoyed every minute.

But then, I've always relished signings. It's the one time you get to meet your readers, or in many cases, your prospective readers. For this event, I sent post cards and e-mails to friends and neighbors. Many came, but I was surprised by the number of people I'd never met who stopped to hear my spiel and (often) buy a book.

Admittedly, I was helped by it being the day before Father's Day. I approached one teenage girl and asked if she'd bought anything for her Dad yet. She shook her head and I made my pitch, esplaining why my historical mystery, set in the Chicago of 1948, would be a good gift. Ka-ching--a sale! Same with a woman looking for a gift for her husband from their daughter--another buyer.

A classic car aficionado bought the book because I mentioned that maverick Chicago automaker Preston Tucker appears in the story, along with his revolutionary but short-lived car, the Tucker Torpedo.

My approach is to engage readers "gently"--that is, introduce myself and tell them just a bit about my book. If they respond positively, I go into more detail, but if it's clear they aren't interested, I back off. The last thing I want is to drive people from the store.

I don't believe I drove anyone from Barnes & Noble Saturday. Was the day a success? Yes and no. My definition of success is to sell every book. In that respect, I didn't quite make it. I sold just over 75% of their stock, but several friends who were out of town Saturday say they'll be buying this week, so I still have hopes. And I have the satisfaction of knowing I've made some new friends--friends who might also become regular readers of mine.

Robert Goldsborough

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

FAREWELL OLD (RADIO) FRIEND

As one who spends a considerable amount of time behind the wheel, I have developeed close relationships with a few radio stations. One of them died last week.

Over the last several years, I've grown fond of the programming on a Chicago FM station, WNUA (95.5), which specialized in "smooth jazz," although some might say they broadened the definition. No matter. Over time, I got introduced--in some cases reintroduced--to such names as Etta James and Norah Jones, Luther Vandross and Kenny G, Paul Hardcastle and Dave Koz and Gladys Knight.

I particularly enjoyed the station's morning drive-time program, anchored by the great jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis, who has been a major factor in the jazz world for nearly a half century. Many will remember the PBS network "Legends of Jazz" series he hosted a few years ago.

I learned of WNUA's demise on its very last morning. A Chicago Tribune columnist wrote that the ownership was changing the station to Spanish-language format at 10 a.m., right after the ending of the program anchored by Lewis and co-host Karen Williams. I quickly switched on the radio and listened as the two played old favorites and gently reminisced--no rancor or bitterness here--about their years on the air.

One might well say to me, "What's the big deal? You can hear any kind of music any time in the car by popping in a CD, right?" Right, and I probably will. But that doesn't mean I won't miss WNUA, and particularly Ramsey Lewis, who ended that final show with these words:

"I'm just so glad I got the opportunity in my own home town to have a career making music---Sweet Home Chicago. I love this city. Thank you so much."

Pure class, as one would expect of Ramsey Lewis.

Robert Goldsborough

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A LOVE AFFAIR--WITH TRAINS

I have always loved trains, even--or so my parents told me--before I could walk or talk. They said when I was a one-year-old in an apartment on Chicago's South Side Kenwood neighborhood, I would bounce excitedly in my playpen each day when the Illinois Central Railroad's futuristic "Green Diamond" streamliner whizzed by beneath the window of our sun porch. I have to take their word for it.

They also said my early passion for the rails was one reason they bought their first house very close to the tracks of the Chicago & North Western Railway in West Suburban Elmhurst. Again, I'll take their word. Whatever the origins, I was a train-lover from the get-go. My first crayon drawings were of steam engines (I'm dating myself) pulling strings of freight cars. Then I graduated to pull-toy locomotives and finally honest-to-goodness electric trains from Lionel and American Flyer and Marx.

Many kids have an early interest in trains, but I never outgrew it. I rode the commuter trains into Chicago at every opportunity as a pre-teen and teen, and they were my daily mode of travel when I entered the working world. Also, when I took the occasional business trip, I tried to find ways to travel by rail rather than fly.

Even today, with U.S. passenger service a shadow of its former self, I look for excuses to ride trains. On each European trip my wife and I have taken, there has been at least one long-distance leg by rail. And when I write my Steve Malek mysteries, which are set in 1930s and '40s Chicago, I frequently get Malek onto trains--including that very same Green Diamond that I gurgled at from that sun porch in those long-ago Depression days.

Robert Goldsborough

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A DREAM COME TRUE GRIN

Remember when you hit the winning home run for the title? Remember when you made the Dean’s List and graduated?Remember when you dreamed a dream that became reality?

A reality you could hold in your hand—the trophy, the diploma, your first book in print!

My friend, Allan Ansorge is holding the first copy out of the box of “Crossing The Centerline” his first published novel.

Allan dreamed the dream but beyond that learned his craft, wrote thousands of pages, refined his craft and wrote thousands more pages.

He joined writers' groups, attended writers’ conferences, talked to book store owners, talked to librarians, gained information on the industry, queried agents and publishers and kept learning.

It’s fine to dream. I always say, “You may be insane to live in a dream, but it’s madness to live without one.”

A dream worth realizing demands hard, very hard work. And perseverance. When he speaks at libraries or conferences, J.A. Konrath quips, “What do you call a writer who doesn’t give up? Published!”

Congratulations to you, my friend. Dreams really do come true but not until you do the math—10% inspiration, 90% perspiration! Please join me in congratulating an wonderfully talented and genuinely nice guy!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

TOYS IN THE ATTIC



Today was the day. The day we drove to ISU to retrieve not our son but his stuff.
He has finals next week and we figured we’d drive down, go to church together, feed him, and haul back as much stuff as we could cram into our car.

The empty storage bins we used to cart his stuff to university last August had been stored haphazardly in the space above the garage. Most often I do not climb the disappearing ladder to retrieve Christmas decorations, luggage or storage bins. That's why we have a teen-ager!

This morning I did. The bins were waaaaay at the other end of the plywood panels. I’m smaller and weigh less, waaaaay less, than my husband so up the ladder I scrambled. On the way to one storage bin I detoured down memory lane.

I found the box label TODDLER TOYS and undid the folded corners before I thought of the consequences. I gently pulled item after memory filled item from the box while my husband shouted up encouragement like, “More over to your left. I see the plastic bin next to the box with the reindeer.”

I handed down 3 plastic bins and 1 cardboard box which I carried into the house and up to the spare room while my husband loaded the bins into the car. He’d made a wooden platform with wheels and a pull rope to transport the load. He was so proud of his cart. All I could see was the little cart with shapes popping up and down when my son pulled it behind. I remembered the clatter the toy made especially when he ran with it across the kitchen tiles.

I had to wait until we returned and carried in the paraphernalia critical to an almost 20 year old. His guitar hero, his poker chip case, his White Sox mugs and shot glass, his PS2 and enumerable games. All this and clothes and shoes piled in an already cluttered room.

When the room was bursting with his stuff I closed the door and carried the small box to the spare room where I found a place for the Toys in the Attic to set out again if only for a bit. If he smiles and his eyes widen in surprise then crinkle in memory they will be REAL.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Disappearing Newspaper Book Section

The long, sad slide of the American daily newspaper has myriad implications, one of which impacts book coverage. Just as public schools throughout the land tighten their fiscal belts by dropping arts programs, the newspapers are jettisoning their arts coverage, including book reviews.

To be sure, The New York Times retains its redoubtable Book Review section on Sundays, which clearly runs at a loss. (A recent 28-page section contained four pages of paid advertising, plus a full-page ad for the newspaper itself, hardly a recipe for profit.) With this staunch and admirable committment to books, The Times stands virtually alone.

For example, the Chicago Tribune, one of the nation's largest papers, has steadily whittled down its book coverage. Its tabloid Sunday book section was successively (1) morphed into the Sunday Arts section, (2) inexplicably moved into the low-readership Saturday edition, and (3) consigned to the back of Saturday's main news section, where it jockeys for position in a jumbled neighborhood that includes the comics, obituaries, and movie ads, and it rarely occupies more than two or three broadsheet pages--a space that also includes book events advertising.

The Tribune is not alone. In February, The Washington Post dropped its stand-alone book section , leaving The Times and the San Francisco Chronicle ( a newspaper that is itself on life support) as the only U.S. dailies with discrete sections devoted to books, as compared to about a dozen a decade ago.

A large part of the reason for this trend, of course, is a lack of book advertising. With fewer newspaper readers all the time, publishers choose to spend what limited publicity dollars they have in other ways. Some publishers pay for premium placement of their books in the chain bookstores. Others opt to spend on promotional trips for only their top-tier authors.

Whatever the reasons, we authors--unless we write best-sellers--need to realize that newspaper reviews of our books probably is history. All of us need to find new avenues for reviews, and I for one would be interested in your thoughts on this brave (?) new world of publishing.

Robert Goldsborough

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Please Hold Paws



Weddings celebrate commitment, the beginning of a shared community between two souls. Not who you were expecting? Meet Winthorp and Annabelle joined forever in photo fame the day their best friends Michael and Mokwani were wed.

The humans in this story are my nephew and niece who decided once they had a home of their own they would get a dog. They met Winthorp and Annabelle at a shelter and couldn’t leave without both of them. The big guy is a Mastiff mix and the little lady, a Lab mix.

Winthrop had some social shortcomings—he chewed on people; not all people, just an occasional unsuspecting visitor. Annabelle was a darling from day one. Love and patience on the part of their human friends brought Winthrop and Annabelle to a better life.

When Michael and Mokwani decided to marry, a double wedding evolved. The pooches did not attend the ceremony but this photo was in small pewter frames at each place setting.

I keep the photo on the piano with the other family pictures. To tell the truth, it gets the most attention. Handsome couple indeed!

Luisa Buehler

Monday, April 20, 2009

How Does My Garden Grow?

Spring renews my spirit and no where more so than in my garden. I have gardened for 25 years. I never knew I wanted to garden. I resisted helping my mother in her perennial garden. As a kid, I’d pull weeds because I had to. There was no appreciation of the breathtaking beautiful flowers blooming effortlessly every spring in the gardens of my childhood home.

I chronicle the phases of my garden each year. I love the fresh look of the tender shoots, so brave to appear in April. The entrance to my tumble down garden invites me to walk the path.

I became a homeowner with a yard and a strange sense of ‘earth’ came over me. I began with a small plot (pulled up the grass by hand after spring rains) and planted bulbs and annuals. I remembered the Iris and Peony, flowering Almond, Roses and Lupine my mother tended and asked for donations.

The garden expanded each year until it ran the length of the yard on one side and across the width at the back of the house around the deck, down one side, around the pond…well, you get the idea.

When my son was a toddler (he’s 20 now) I brought him into the garden to enjoy the soft touch of Lamb’s Ear and the shelter of the Sun Flower and Morning Glory House I planted for his enjoyment. Too many critters ate portions of the tender shoots so the shelter was more imaginary than real. The keyhole lock is still nailed to the evergreen that led into a small copse at the back of the property that led to our version of “The Secret Garden.” The overgrown entrance is now the backdrop to my sitting area where I enjoy a coffee and contemplation most mornings above 40 degrees.

By reading garden magazines and books on gardening I learned that some of the plants in my garden were poisonous: Jimson Weed, Pokeberry, Foxglove, Autumn Monkshood, forms of Larkspur, Lilly of the Valley. These all grow in my garden and the hardiness of these plants gave me the idea of how to poison a character in The Lion Tamer: A Caged Death. Since then I’ve developed a program for library visits called “Plotting while Potting.” During the program I explain how to use garden variety plants to kill characters in books. The program is complete with slides and music.

My affection and appreciation for my perennial garden has grown in directed proportion to the hours of comfort and joy spent in the dirt. Cheaper than therapy, I lose my worries and angst among the flowers. I’ve even learned to appreciate some weeds…flowers not yet recognized as such.

The first Sunday in May signals the renewal of my Sunday morning routine—coffee and journal in hand I sit and contemplate and record my flowers, my thoughts, my joy.

Luisa Buehler

Friday, April 17, 2009

Spade & Archer

In an earlier post, I wrote that I was looking forward to reading the new noir mystery "Spade & Archer" by Joe Gores, a prequel to Dashiell Hammett's 1929 classic, "The Maltese Falcon."

Gores did not disappoint. The novel did an excellent job of recreating the Hammett-esque world of 1920s San Francisco, with its grifters and dubious cops and longshoremen. I felt his Samuel Spade and Miles Archer and Effie Perine and Lieutenant Dundy were dead-on, and the dialogue, if at times somewhat stilted, generally crackled.

In the Feb. 8 New York Times Book Review, David Gates took issue with some of Gores' phrasing, including his overly detailed descriptions of people, which was a Hammett hallmark. Fair enough. But Gates also conceded in critiquing the dialogue that "Anyone who undertakes to impersonate a beloved and highly mannered writer has...problems."

He then went on to write that "When Robert Goldsborough channels Rex Stout, his Nero Wolfe naturally has to say 'pfui' and 'satisfactory.' " (I appreciate the mention, as my name doesn't pop up in The New York Times every day. And were I ever to write another Wolfe book, those Nero-isms no doubt would reappear.)

With minor reservations, I recommend "Spade & Archer." It nicely echoes that shadowy, gritty, and essentially urban world created by Dashiell Hammett.

Robert Goldsborough

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Underground Railroad Quilt

I asked a friend who quilts to make a 2’x2’ quilt depicting Underground Railroad symbols. I never expected something so grand. I suggested a few symbols assuming she’d choose one. I never expected a sampler of symbols. She used several books to find the symbols and chose these.

The quilt features some of the symbols used by freedom seekers to guide others to safety or to relay messages.

Most quilts would have one message/symbol stitched into the piece. This quilt shows four symbols. The four corners depict the Monkey Wrench (get ready to leave—gather tools you may need). Between the corners you’ll see Flying Geese (directional prompt—follow the spring migration). The left panel depicts Crossroads (advising a change in direction). The last panel is The Log Cabin (directing them to seek shelter or advising them of a safe haven).

Since slaves were not allowed to learn to read or write it was imperative that an oral and visual system of directions be created. It would be dangerous for any directions or safe house descriptions to be written in case the papers were found by slave catchers.

My book, The Innkeeper: An Unregistered Death, has elements of the Underground Railroad in Illinois. Sue made the quilt for me to raffle off at my book launch at Centuries & Sleuths. The owner, Augie Aleksy, thought so much of it he's putting it in the window as a display. Some lucky attendee will win this quilt.

Now that I’ve seen it and seen my words about the struggle for freedom come alive under her talented fingers I wish I hadn’t been so cavalier in giving it up so easily.

Luisa Buehler

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Doll House "Doctor"

"What do writers do when they're not writing?"
It's a question I--and many author colleagues--get asked frequently. I suspect we have widely varying answers, though these answers have one thing in common: A desire to plunge into something completely apart from writing as a way to stay fresh.

For me, the most recent non-writing project has been the rehabbing of a house. Well, not a REAL house exactly, but...well...a doll house. Here's the story: My middle daughter, mother of four-year-old twins and their two-year-old sister, asked whatever happened to her old doll house. That led my wife, Janet, to suggest it would be nice to fix up that old doll house as a surprise for the girls--and their mother.

Boy, did it need fixing! It had spent decades in the attic, enduring viscissitudes of extreme cold and extreme heat. Then during an attic clean-up, it got moved to the garage, if anything a worse environment.

Where to start? The tar paper on the roof was in shreds. The once-white sides of the two-story colonial now were a pallid and stained gray. The front door was off, hinges long gone. The wallpaper in every room, which my daughter had so painstakingly applied, had peeled and discolored. And on and on.

Fortunately, a miniaturist friend suggested I go to Hobby Lobby, a nearby chain store with a dandy selection of doll house materials and accessories. For the next few weeks, I was a regular there, frequently the only man in the sprawling emporium. First I bought cedar shakes, applying them to the roof a row at a time. Then hinges for the now-bright-red front door and new paint for the exterior. Then after removal of wallpaper, paint for the walls, a different color in each room. And flooring--white patterned tile for the kitchen, hardwood for the bedrooms, carpeting for the living room.

Janet resurrected doll house furniture and people that had been put away in boxes years ago, and we furnished the "fixer upper." Would the little girls like it? Janet cautioned me that they might well be blase and move on to the many toys we keep at our house for them.

But happily for this aging do-it-your-selfer, they loved the "new" dwelling, and the three stood shoulder-to-shoulder as they moved furniture and doll house people around in the newly rehabbed rooms as their mother looked on with approval.

Now about those things that need doing in our "real" house...

Robert Goldsborough

Sunday, April 5, 2009

"Let me show you my incision!"

Why do post op people feel the need to flash their incisions at friends, family and unsuspecting passersby? Is it basic competition—my scar’s bigger, better, thinner, longer, redder than yours?

It was twenty years ago and I’d offered to drive my mother to her lady friend, Margaret’s, home. Florence and Ingrid, octogenarian cronies, were to be there also.
The plan was to drop off my mom, go into the office to do some catch up work and collect her in three hours.

Margaret had had surgery and the ‘girls’ were stopping by with casseroles and chit-chat to cheer up their friend. I planned to stay long enough to be polite and to help set out the luncheon they’d prepared. They urged me to eat. They'd made enough food for twelve; I was a bit hungry and the spread looked delicious.

That is until Margaret rolled down her elastic waistband a few inches to show off her gallbladder or some other missing organ scar. I looked away, swallowed hard and tried to forget my hunger. Maybe I could make a plate and leave.

Too late! “Let me show you my incision,” chirped Ingrid.

“Mine is from here to here,” said Florence pointing from her breastbone to somewhere close to the critical mass area below her ample tummy.

I knew where my mother’s incision was and wasn’t going to wait for her offer.

Fast forward twenty years. My nineteen year old son had knee surgery at Good Samaritan Hospital on April 1st, yeah, no joke. He ripped the ACL in his right knee when he caught his ski edge and twisted in a manner that knees don't do well. They reconstructed his ACL using a third of the tendon that runs up the knee cap. To do this they had to cut into the front of his knee. I was an English major so that’s all I know about that and I'm sure I messed up the correct surgical terms.

On the second day of post op, we removed the ace bandages layered around his swollen knee. We were at his first session of rehab therapy. My son directed me to take a picture, using my cell phone, of the incision still covered by thin strips of surgical tape. It wasn’t infected which is all I cared about.

We returned home and he settled in with laptop, iPod, cell phone, DVD and TV remotes.
(After my emergency appendectomy at eight years old I remember recovering with a coloring book and crayons and a stuffed dog.)

Within minutes he called me over to the couch and invited me to see his new Facebook photo—yep, his incision! The text reads, “My awesome incision. It’s my knee!”

When you Facebook my son (I think it’s used as a verb—forgive me Strunk and White) you see a swollen, plastic looking blob with a patch of white covering a thin line of dark something which without the text would not be identifiable except perhaps by the surgeon.

Cyberspace equivalent of Margaret rolling down her waistband?

I’d like to think that he wouldn’t have ‘exposed’ to his Facebook friends a body part that wasn’t as mundane as a knee. I’d like to think that.

I am curious to see if anyone responds to him with a scar of their own; one that’s bigger, better, longer, thinner…I think I'll go color!

Luisa Buehler, author of TThe Rosary Bride: A Cloistered Death (A Grace Marsden Mystery Book One) (Grace Marsden Mysteries)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Art of April Fool

Dying art? Do people perpetrate April Fool pranks in the grand style of days gone by?
Are we too serious, too depressed, too downtrodden to lighten up for one day and prank someone? It takes thought, planning and verve to pull off a great April Fool.

My father, Mike Scala, always had a trick or two up his sleeve on April 1st. His best stunt became known as the ‘miracle of the tomatoes’. He planted tomato plants in pots every year so his plants would have a great start since Chicago springs could start and stop several times between April and May. My dad and uncle argued about the best way to grow and nurture the plants. Being Italian, tomatoes were key in our diet and the two brothers had a friendly competition.

The year of the ‘miracle’ began differently. He had a series of shelves built in under the stairs leading to the basement. He’d set up grow lights to shine on every inch of the shelves onto which he’d crammed peat pots filled with rich, dark potting soil and one lucky tomato seed. Did I mention there was a priest from the neighborhood church who blessed seeds? I think he got a cut of everyone’s harvest.

What was different this year was that he’d planted them earlier than usual and he’d staked each one with a piece of green florist wood. Newly sprouted tomato plants are spindly and tender. We all thought his departure from the usual was strange but he insisted it was a new method that would yield more and larger tomatoes and yield them sooner. He explained, at great length and usually at dinner when my brother and I would sooner eat fast and get back outside to play, that he was adding special soil nutrients and using only rain water to feed his plants.
This was the late 50’s and our city water was fluoridated, a chemical that my father said delayed blossom time. He ground up bits of egg shells, orange rind, nuts, and fish heads using his ‘miracle’ mixture to amend the soil of each tiny peat pot. He added his coffee grounds and Nonna Santa’s used Lipton tea bags. The sprouts grew to sturdy little plants standing tall with the aid of the florist sticks.

On April 1st he rose earlier than usual and perpetrated the hoax. He carefully added the ‘miracle’ to each plant. My father had passed a needle and thread through cherry tomatoes he'd purchased from a market outside of our neighborhood and looped the thread around the stick allowing the tiny red orb to hang near a set of leaves giving the illusion of fruit on the vine. He added two or three tomatoes to each plant then waited for the miracle to be discovered by Nonna Santa who lived upstairs from us. We lived in a three flat and her custom was to come downstairs to have breakfast with our family. She always wore her house dress and mules and left her hair in one long braid. Her habit during the growing season was to visit the tomatoes in the basement. And this day April 1st was no different.

Her shouts of, “Miracolo. Un miracolo dalla St. Fiacre” bounced up the stairs and into the kitchen. We rushed down the stairs and stared at the sight of twenty baby plants drooping from the weight of bright, ripe tomatoes. My mother whispered, “Miracolo” and made the sign of the cross.
It was about this point that my grandmother reached for the tempting fruit and before my dad could stop her the prank was undone and he shouted, “April Fool”.

My brother and I laughed long and hard mainly at the look of incredulity then chagrin on our grandmother and our mother's faces—maybe a little at ourselves. Amid language that I couldn't’t translate my little grandmother chased her son around the basement brandishing one of her soft sided mules. Had this been later in the day she would have been wearing her daytime slippers and those hard heels were murder on your shoulders or backside.

Eventually we all went our separate ways except my grandmother. We found out that evening at dinner that she’d spent the day fooling her lady friends, Assunta, Florence and Philomena, inviting them to hurry and see the ‘miracle of the tomatoes’.
My dad never topped that prank but he did get us with other ones through the years. He enjoyed the planning and the inevitable shouted punch line, “April Fool.”

Luisa Buehler

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Romantic Hero

The romantic hero is as old as storytelling. The epic of Gilgamesh written in about 2700 BC is one such telling of a romantic hero. Now perhaps my idea of “romantic” hero is swayed differently from your idea, but let me explain. For the most part, we think of the necessity of women involved in the story, that “romantic” aspect, if you will. But I’m going for the original definition of “romance,” which, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is of “a tale in verse, embodying the adventures of some hero of chivalry, especially of those of the great cycles of mediƦval legend, and belonging both in matter and form to the ages of knighthood; also, in later use, a prose tale of a similar character.” So in the case of Gilgamesh—and many others we will talk about—it is about a quest for self-actualization with the help of a deep friendship between men. This is part of the “band of brothers” facet to the epic story and can most certainly be found in more familiar tales, like the Arthurian legends.

In the Bible you have many examples of romantic heroes in the Old Testament: Samson and Delilah—he embodies male strength and its weaknesses; David, the epic hero of the Jews, who shows not only great strength of character but also great weakness (are we seeing a pattern here?)

This kind of epic romantic hero has always been with us. As the Middle Ages rolled around we have many epic legends (sometimes called “histories” when they involved real people). One of the earlier popular epics that captured the imagination was The Song of Roland from the 9th century, and tells us of the brave doings of one of Charlemagne’s celebrated knights. His loyalty to his lord Charlemagne is his undoing but again we have a hero in the tradition of the “band of brothers” whose “romance” is his character and faith informing the story. Here, we have a tale of more action than deep introspection. His story is also a tragic one. Indeed, many romantic heroes end up at the wrong end of a sword, poisoned lance, phial of poison, or other nefarious end. Picture Romeo, and Tristan of Tristan and Isolde fame, Abelard and Heloise, Lancelot and Guinevere. All are young and a bit romantic and, let’s face it, a bit overdramatic, too. They invoke a hopeless situation and something achingly romantic (and in the case of Abelard, aching in another way. Ouch.)

These are the tragic heroes, for the most part. They might get the girl but usually it’s in a mutual suicide pact. In a “romance novel,” it’s a bit different. The hero may not always be heroic at first, but he usually survives the book…and in tact! After all, he’s got to woo the heroine.

Now when I sought to create the hero of my medieval mystery, I dug deep into my subconscious and was surprised at the eclectic mix gathering in that fertile repository. I discovered every kind of mythology that would make Joseph Campbell proud. There was the swash-buckling adventurer Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood, the intellectualism of Lord Peter in the Dorothy Sayers series; the tough, hard shell of Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, and quite a few romance novels, along with historical novels written by some of the greats, like Nora Lofts and Anja Seton. Throw this altogether and mix liberally with the legends of King Arthur, the Canterbury Tales, and a little bit of Homer, and you’ve got something with some meat to its bones (after all, steal from the best!)

I wanted not only a romantic hero, but a little of the suffering servant (what did I tell ya about stealing from the best?). I don’t think there is anything quite so attractive as a strong man who sacrifices himself for noble reasons. And thus Crispin Guest was born, ex-knight turned detective on the mean streets of 14th century London in my debut mystery VEIL OF LIES. Crispin is a tragic hero as well as a romantic one. Dark, brooding, sexy. He does survive each book, but barely. His loyalty is often his undoing and he is compelled not only by his unwavering chivalric code, but also that “band of brothers” aspect that brings about the loyalty of others. And women, of course. Women who may wish to use him for their own disreputable reasons or for other earthy motives.

It’s a fine tradition I’m glad to follow. Epic, tragic, romantic, with a twisty mystery thrown in for good measure. Old storytelling never goes out of style.

You can certainly follow Crispin’s musings on his own blog (yeah, everyone has one these days) by going to www.CrispinGuest.com, or read the first chapter of VEIL OF LIES on my website www.JeriWesterson.com.

By Jeri Westerson

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Obsessive Compulsive, Dear?

“What are you doing?”

“Shelving my books in our new bookcases.”

Simple question, yes. Simple answer…not by a long shot. My husband has grown accustomed to my ‘farce’. My obsessive compulsive behavior has followed me from childhood to middle age sometimes creating embarrassment, ridiculous situations and at times a circus of misunderstandings.

I decided early on to try and cherish my mild OCD, so much so that my protagonist Grace Marsden has become my alter ego struggling with her mild OCD. When my son comments, “Mom, that was strange, even for you.” I say, “Thank you.”

Lots of people obsess about things: did I lock the door, set the alarm, lower the garage door, turn off the lights, blow out the candle, etc.

Some of those people are compelled to check more than once or twice or even ten times before they can let it go. That's when it gets problematic.

My husband recognized my quirks when we were dating. He thought the way I separated my veggies from my meat on my plate was cute. He liked that I used only cloth napkins at home. (Green before Al Gore invented it). He was okay with lining up the shoes in the utility room. He thought it was cautious of me to blow out candles in a particular order.

Unpacking my books and settling them into bookcases in our new home twenty four years ago revealed my quintessential personality disorder.

I had wanted to pack my books but my work schedule prohibited me from doing so and my husband, the movers and sister-in-law removed them from all the nooks and crannies of my apartment packing them carefully but in no particular order in over twenty Bankers boxes.

My heart raced (I think I hyperventilated) when that night at our new home I realized the helter-skelter approach they’d taken with my books. I wanted to rant about order and precision. Instead I ate the pizza and swilled the beer we had on hand for the last of our steadfast friends who’d help move two households to one.

It was 2:30 in the morning when he tip-toed into the spare room designated office and library. Through bleary eyes he looked at his new wife seated cross leg amidst piles of books and stacks of boxes. In a sleep weary voice he asked, “What are you doing?”

“Shelving my books in our new bookcases,” I answered.

He innocently commented on the lateness and suggested we wait until Saturday, two days away, to do this. He offered to help.

My expression must have cued him to my state of mind. I whispered, “It’s okay, I’ll just be a few minutes. I have to finish.”

We had our first argument in our new home at 2:45 in the morning. He said it was illogical to do this all now.

I said I had to finish.

He said it made sense to wait until Saturday or at least that evening after work.

I said I had to finish.

He said I could sort them later, just get them on the shelves for now.
I said I had to finish.

His voice remained calm albeit filled with frustration.
My voice rose in pitch and panic.

He squatted next to me and gently pulled a book out of my hands. He held both my hands until my breathing slowed. I remember thinking how I wished he’d go to bed so I could finish. Then he did the most remarkable thing. He stood and lifted me with him, brushed my forehead with a kiss and took a deep breath.

“Okay, it’s apparent you have to finish. This must be covered under some part of our wedding vows so what do I do and where do we start.”

We finished at 6:30. My library was once again cataloged by genre/sub-genre and alphabetized by author.

April 29th is our 25th wedding anniversary. He is such a keeper!

Luisa Buehler
BUY The Rosary Bride Now!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sam Spade Redux

I am anxious to read the newly released novel SPADE & ARCHER by acclaimed mystery writer and onetime private eye Joe Gores. This is a "prequel" to Dashiell Hammett's classic 1929 story THE MALTESE FALCON, from which three feature films were made.

The last of these, released in 1941 and directed by John Huston, itself became a classic, starring Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Mary Astor. This movie, more than any other factor, whetted my interest in writing mystery stories, particularly in the noir genre. I came to like the book as much as the film, but interestingly, because I saw the story on the screen first, I had a clear vision of the main characters. When I read the book, Bogart of course was Samuel Spade, Greenstreet was the "Fat Man," Lorre was Joel Cairo, and Mary Astor was the duplicitous Bridget O'Shaughnessy.

Like many people, I usually tackle a book before seeing (often with trepidation) the film version, so the characters' appearances become formed in my mind's eye--only to later be overturned by the cinema casting. This leads to the question: Will "Spade & Archer" be made into a movie? If so, it will be a daunting challenge for the filmmakers to find a Sam Spade who can make viewers erase the image of Humphrey Bogart. For that matter, Jerome Cowan also was damned good as Miles Archer, albeit in a smaller role.

One reason the Huston-directed movie was so enjoyable was its remarkable fidelity to the book. Much of the dialogue came word-for-word from the novel, delivered by first-rate performers. If ever there was a film truer to the story from which it was taken, I'm unaware of it. But I'm open to nominations. Do you have any?

Robert Goldsborough


BUY Three Strikes You're Dead (A Snap Malek Mystery Book One) NOW!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hello Dolly!

Not the musical. Not the country western singer.

I sometimes do signings with Bob Goldsborough, one half of The Deadly Duo. I sometimes do library talks with Mary Welk and Sandy Tooley, two thirds of the Mystery Mavens.

I always travel with The Rosary Bride. She travels well and needs minimal space for her belongings.

The Rosary Bride
‘lives’ in a wooden coffin lined with red felt. She brings a few roses with her but only carries a rosary in her hand. She is actually a dime store soft plastic skeleton outfitted in a Barbie™ wedding dress and veil. My friend Kelle Z. Riley, fellow Echelon author, made up the ‘prop’ for me when I spoke at my first event at Borders in Naperville when my first book, The Rosary Bride, came out. Kelle shredded the dress a bit and added a tiny pearl bracelet with a cross to match the cover of the book. That night when she was introduced to the circle of women who had come to my debut I promised her, the Bride, not Kelle, that I would bring her, the Bride, not Kelle, with me whenever I did any kind of book event.

I bring the Bride with me wherever I go, whether I’m speaking at a library, signing at a bookstore, presenting on a panel at a mystery conference, speaking to a club, everywhere! Ask Janet Draheim what she thought when she rode the elevator with me and spotted the doll size coffin in my arms at Love is Murder a few years ago. It’s an excellent ice breaker if you like that sort of thing. The other two women attending the horticulture program, “Azaleas and You,” inched away and may have gotten off a few floors early.

Should a grown woman be playing with dolls?

Deb Baker writes about dolls—(A Dolls to Die For Mystery) great series. Dolls are integral to her stories. That’s business.

David Arquette has a doll collection and barely saved his Mr. T doll from his wife’s, Courtney Cox-Arquette, cleaning rampage.

The Bride has become my mascot, my ice breaker. Nothing draws people to your table like a dead doll in a coffin! When I’m speaking to a large group, I introduce myself and then I open the coffin and introduce her. She usually gets bigger applause. I’m okay with that—she doesn’t get a cut of the take.

I’m more than okay with her. Anyone who reads my series knows that my character, Grace Marsden, is obsessive compulsive. Anyone who knows me knows I’m just a teeny bit obsessive compulsive, in a mild not too annoying (I hope) way.

I don’t leave home for book events without her. She’s packed in my rolling lavender suitcase with my handout materials, book stands, business cards, tablecloth, and signing paraphernalia. Sometimes, there isn’t room on a signing table especially if I’m sharing the space. In those few instances, I prop her up on the top of my case (as pictured) so she can ‘get out’ for a bit.

I’ve had a ‘prop’ for each book, a lion in a cage (also made by Kelle), my son’s Thomas Tank Engine™ station platform, even a foot high lighthouse for the last book. I’ll probably have a quilt to display for the next one, The Innkeeper.

The only ‘prop’ that has endured beyond the book launch party and a few signings is the Bride. Maybe because she was first? I hope it’s nothing more complicated.

Luisa Buehler

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Two Treasured Booksellers

I'm embarking on a new round of book signings, as my fourth "Snap" Malek mystery novel from Echelon Press, "A President in Peril," is about to be published. While it is extremely enjoyable for me to meet and talk to my readers, it is also a delight to spend time with certain booksellers--particularly those who delight in their work.

The two who rank highest with me oversee far different operations. Augie Aleksy is owner of the marvelous and highly specialized Centuries & Sleuths bookstore in Forest Park IL., a Chicago suburb. As its name suggests, C&S deals in books in the fields of history and mystery. Augie relishes both of these areas, to the extend that he welcomes groups with such specialties as G. K. Chesterton, Sherlock Holmes, and the Civil War to hold their meetings and roundtables in his store. The local chapters of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime also meet at Centuries & Sleuths.

Marilyn Fisher is manager of the Waldenbooks store in the sprawling Fox Valley shopping mall in Aurora, IL, a community that some might term a Chicago suburb although it's the second-largest city in the state. Like Augie, Marilyn loves books--and to my delight, authors. She is enthusiastic about setting up signings, a trait not found in all chain store management. On the numerous occasions I've done signings in her store, Marilyn has eagerly encouraged walk-in customers to meet me and learn about my books.

I'll be doing a signing and Centuries & Sleuths on Saturday, April 4 from 1 to 4 p.m. and at Waldenbooks Fox Valley on Saturday, May 2, from 1 p.m. until dinnertime. My good friend and Fellow Echelon author Luisa Buehler will be joining me at Waldenbooks to sign copies of her sixth Grace Marsden mystery, "The Innkeeper." We always have fun at these dual signings.

(I realize I haven't given any details about "A President in Peril." Shame on me. It's set in Chicago in November 1948 against the backdrop of the closing days of the Harry Truman-Thomas E. Dewey presidential campaign and, as in my previous Snap Malek books, it mixes fictional characters with historical figures and events. End of commercial!)

Robert Goldsborough


Three Strikes You're Dead (A Snap Malek Mystery Book One) (Book One)
Shadow of the Bomb (A Snap Malek Mystery Book Two) (Book Two)
A Death in Pilsen (A Snap Malek Mystery Book Three) (Book Three)


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Art Imitating Life or Exposing Death?

No one writes stories in a vacuum. You need some point of reference, some spark of an idea to create the story. When you write mysteries you need the spark, the stamina, and the twist to keep the reader engaged in your version of reality.

I find my ideas in my life, in the news, in chance comments by friends or strangers, in something I’ve always wondered about and finally researched.

The Rosary Bride: A Cloistered Death (A Grace Marsden Mystery Book One) (Grace Marsden Mysteries) (set at Dominican University)I attended Domenican University when it was called Rosary College.

The Lion Tamer: A Caged Death (A Grace Marsden Mystery Book Two) (set at Brookfield Zoo)-----I’ve been a docent there for 22 years.

The Station Master: A Scheduled Death (A Grace Marsden Mystery) (set at Lisle Depot Days)---I live in Lisle and always wondered about that old, original depot.

The Scout Master: A Prepared Death (A Grace Marsden Mystery Book Four) (Grace Marsden Mysteries) (set in Robinson Woods Forest Preserve) Met someone at the 19th Century Club with a bizarre story about scouting. I’m a trained scout leader for Troop 562 Three Fires Council.

The Lighthouse Keeper: A Beckoning Death (A Grace Marsden Mystery Book Five) (Grace Marsden Mysteries) (set in a friend’s cottage on Christian Island where I have visited).

See the pattern? When I started number six, The Innkeeper, I had no actual frame of reference. My idea came about when my ‘what if’ mind asked, “What if when my characters are remodeling the old house they bought they find hidden spaces under a false floor? And what if they find a human skeleton concealed in one of those spaces? And what if they begin to believe that the house might have been a stop on the Underground Railroad?

I don’t know anyone remodeling a 150 year old home, or do I? A friend of mine who knows the story I’ve written emailed me this link.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/02/17/ap/strange/main4807984.shtml

A homeowner purchases an 100+ year old home and begins to remodel when he discovers a small secret room in his basement.

Sound familiar? I know from my research on the Underground Railroad that Terre Haute, Indiana, where this news story takes place, had two churches that were in the forefront on anti-slavery activities. They were the Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church and the First Congregational Church. Terre Haute was one of the closest lines from Indiana across the Illinois border.

What if this secret room hid freedom seekers until they could be moved safely? The article doesn’t talk about skeletons—not yet!

Art imitating life? Well, a mystery writer has to add their style and twist but it makes you wonder. Maybe a road trip to Terre Haute is in my future.

Luisa Buehler

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Bobby G. and Me

My blog partner, Bob Goldsborough (whom I have never referred to as ‘Bobby’-it just made for a catchy title) and I have been sharing our thoughts with you for almost six months.

Did you ever wonder why we teamed up? Any curiosity about our vintage look? And I don’t mean that we’re over 50!

If the style of my frock, his snappy fedora, my chic cloche hat ever brought a question to mind this post will tell all.

Bob writes an historical mystery series set in Chicago in the late 30’s and early 40’s. I write a series set in the early 90’s solving mysteries around ‘cold cases’ from the 30’s and 40’s.

Bob’s newspaper man, ‘Snap’ Malek and my amateur sleuth, Grace Marsden, have never met. Maybe they should someday but even if we split the difference in ages and set the story in the 1960’s, Grace would toddling and ‘Snap’ would be doddering – equally unstable.

Bob and I met at Centuries & Sleuths and have known each other for years; we are much closer in age.

Our publisher, the dynamic Karen Syed of Echelon Press, suggested we team up after she observed our successful team work at engaging passers-by at Printers’ Row Book Fair. She thought we could do signings together. She even named us!

Not to let a good idea fade from lack of attention Bob and I made an appointment with a photographer to get “shot” to further the “duo” theme. If the photographer had used an old Press camera with flashing powder it would have been authentic for ‘Snap’ and I’d have a better explanation for the look of surprise on my face. We took several shots to the head because I kept blinking. The camera loved Bob’s mysterious smirk; not too keen on my deer in the headlights look.

Bob brought a great fedora as a prop. I wore a vintage dress I found in a resale shop in Westmont, My Favorite Things and a 40’s style black velvet cloche trimmed with sequins from another resale gem, Elm Classic in Elmhurst.

The photographer produced the authentic manual typewriter. Bob’s rolled up sleeves and rakishly tilted fedora is a perfect pose. He’d say, “Who’s posing? If Raymond Chandler wrote this way it’s good enough for me.”

I chose the red boa from the prop room (another blog to describe what was in there) to complete my noir ensemble. For the look I was attempting check out the cover of Bob’s third Snap Malek mystery, “A Death in Pilsen.” The cover model had the advantage of age, air brushing, and glossy immortality.

Bob and I enjoy doing book signings together, chatting up new readers and keeping light hearted in this business. And yes, we occasionally dodder arm in arm.

Luisa Buehler


BUY The Rosary Bride: A Cloistered Death (A Grace Marsden Mystery Book One) NOW!

BUY Three Strikes You're Dead (A Snap Malek Mystery Book One) NOW!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Too Many "Last Lions"?

First off, I know--or at least I've heard so many times it's become an article of faith--that you cannot copyright a book title. Not that this ever mattered to me; I'm not aware any of my dozen books duplicated the title of an earlier work.
The bottom line: You can slap any title on a book you darn well please. Call your work "War and Peace" if you choose. Or "An American Tragedy" or "A Tale of Two Cities." That seems to be the attitude of Simon & Schuster, which just came out with "Last Lion," subtitled "The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy." This volume, by a team of Boston Globe reporters, is a "definitive biography" of Senator Kennedy, according to a full-page ad that ran in the Feb. 22 New York Times Book Review.
Well and good. For decades, the now-ailing Ted Kennedy has been a commanding presence in the U.S. Senate, justly honored and respected on both sides of the aisle. He merits many books. But couldn't the folks at Simon & Schuster have been more original in naming the new release? "The Last Lion" is the title of an unfinished trilogy spanning the career of Winston Churchill. The first two volumes were written by William Manchester and published in 1983 and 1988. Manchester died in 2004 after having completed portions of the third volume. Another author has been working to finish the book, using Manchester's notes and research.
What's the big deal about the Kennedy title, you say. Maybe nothing. Perhaps this is simply the whining of a codger who enjoyed the Manchester books. It does seem, though, that there's a lack of creativity hereabouts. The Kennedy volume may well be excellent--I haven't read it yet. But are there so few titles available that we have to recycle them--in this case admittedly minus the definite article--after only two decades have elapsed?

Robert Goldsborough

Sunday, February 22, 2009

MISSING

When my publisher, Karen Syed, proposed the idea to create an anthology comprised of stories about missing people I immediately thought of my series. My character, Grace Marsden, remembers how her mother anguished over the disappearance of an older sister, never knowing her fate. In the first book, The Rosary Bride, the fact that Harry Marsden, Grace’s husband had been kidnapped in a foreign country and was missing for many months and eventually presumed dead plays into the dynamics of the story.

I wrote the back story as a prequel to the series. It wasn’t until I’d turned in the story that I began to think about the pain of someone gone missing in real life. The story, Harry’s Fall from Grace, was fun to write but it was fiction and therefore involved no real heartache.

I’m first generation Italian. My mom came here as a war bride in 1947. My dad met her as a G.I. in WWII. Neither one of them talked much about their experiences during the war.
My dad was a long way from Taylor Street in Chicago when he deployed to Italy.
My mother and her aunt had been separated from other family members. There was uncertainty and fear. Yet amidst the fear there were pockets of humor that they would share with my brother and me.

My mother explained how my dad drank all of her father’s homemade wine then returned the empty bottles to the shelves. After the Allies liberated the town and her family was reunited my mom told her father that the Tedesco (Germans) must have done it. Her aunt wasn’t there to contradict her story because she had hurried to a neighboring town to check on other relatives. My mother never saw her again.

My dad told funny stories about tricks he and his army buddies played on each other when the “war was slow.” The pranks reminded me of the TV show, MASH, and we’d beg for more stories. Inevitably the war kicked in and my dad and his buddies shipped out to Anzio. He’d get quiet then sad telling us he never saw some of those men again.

As a young girl I heard my aunts' hushed whispers about a favorite older cousin, Chickie. She moved to Las Vegas, a bold move for an Italian girl in the 50’s. I never saw her again. I was ten years old and soon stopped asking and forgot about her.

My mother’s aunt, my dad’s buddies, my cousin all went missing.
Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced during WWII. My mother arrived at Ellis Island in 1947. Her aunt eventually resurfaced having been evacuated from a town in the path of the German push. The train she escaped on took her north to Switzerland and years passed before she could get word to her family.

My dad stayed close to a few army buddies until they scattered to all parts of the country to pursue new civilian lives and the ties lessened. He never did find out the fate of one buddy in particular after they fought on the beach in Anzio.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I was deemed old enough to know the story on my cousin. She’d been missing in my life but flourishing in her new life started as a runaway two decades earlier.

To loosely paraphrase Forest Gump, “missing is as missing does.” So many definitions, so many explanations.

I have been blessed in the fact that I have never experienced the anger, the anguish and eventually the quiet gnawing of never knowing the fate of someone I loved.

The anthology Missing is dedicated to those who suffer the daily pain of not knowing. Proceeds from the sales will be donated to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the hopes that more funding can lead to more answers

I am honored to have been part of this endeavor.

Luisa Buehler

Monday, February 16, 2009

On Tackling a New Genre

In all the years--more than 20--of my turning out mystery novels, I remained adamant that I couldn't write short stories. It was simply too tough to tell a tale in a few thousand words, or so I persuaded myself. Then along came my publisher, Echelon Press's redoubtable Karen Syed, who suggested I contribute a short story to an anthology she was planning. "But, I can't do short stories!" I protested. "Oh, is that so?" she responded calmly, dropping the subject.

She had got me thinking, though. To humor her--and myself--I tried a shortie, and I found that I really could weave a story in 5,000 words or so. The upshot was that I contributed a short story, "A Blaze in the Night," featuring my series character Steve "Snap" Malek, to a pro bono anthology of stories on fire. Titled "The Heat of the Moment" (Echelon, 2008), the anthology sends all its proceeds to the Fire Safe Council of San Diego County to help with the rescue work that organization did to aid victims of the San Diego area wildfires of 2007. None of the writers were paid.

Then Karen had another idea. Another pro bono anthology of stories about missing persons, with the proceeds going to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Once again I contributed a Malek-centered story, "A Phone Call from Rockford," to the 2009 Echelon book, titled "Missing." A dozen of us who wrote stories had the pleasure of signing copies of "Missing" at the recent "Love Is Murder" mystery conference in Wheeling, Ill., near Chicago. I leave it to others to decide the quality of my short stories, but I must say that I had a lot of fun doing them. Just don't tell Karen Syed, or she may ask me to write pro bono novels!

Robert Goldsborough



Friday, February 13, 2009

They Didn’t Shoot the Messengers

Love is Murder! Ain’t that the truth? Beyond truth, it is the clever name of Mystery conference always held in the Chicago area on the first weekend in February.

Love is Murder 2009 took place at the Westin North Shore hotel in Wheeling, Illinois. We shared the hotel with the Re-enactors Fest resulting in a fascinating combination of mystery, mayhem and delightful costuming.

Love is Murder is in its eleventh year and has grown from less than ninety attendees to almost three hundred this year. The conference is put together and pulled along by a board of eight volunteers who not only wear many hats but don extra outfits too.

Love is Murder relies on the wonderful people who converge on the conference the night before it begins to help stuff folders and bags for the attendees. On Day 1 we have more volunteers to handle registration—a slippery slope for most conferences/conventions.

Love is Murder unabashedly uses family members to sell LIM merchandise, present last minute fill in workshops, coordinate with hotel staff and present entertainment.

Love is Murder is taking the next year, 2010, off…and we had to tell everyone at dinner Saturday night. One of our guests of honor, Jeffrey Deaver, called the con "a gem" when he accepted his Lovey Award for best series with his Lincoln Rhyme Series. I almost got cold feet at that point but one glance at a board member gave me the confidence I needed to make the announcement almost on the heels of his praise.

We consider ourselves lucky. At a murder mystery conference they could have done more than shot the messengers. They could have stabbed, suffocated, drowned, bludgeoned, poisoned, or hanged the messengers. Instead, they gave the board a standing “O” and promised they’d be back in 2011.

Mystery fans are the best people on the planet!

Luisa Buehler
Grateful president of LIM board

Monday, February 2, 2009

Guts but no Guts

It’s not a contradiction in terms. It’s the name of a panel I’m on at the Love is Murder Mystery conference in Chicago this weekend.

Several of us, Deb Baker, J.D. Webb, Gail Lukasik, write traditional mystery stories. Some people call them ‘cozies’ a term that has erroneously come to mean ‘fluff’ to some in the industry.

A cozy, to me, evokes the idea of a grand who-dunnit. A plot with twists and turns and a charming amateur sleuth who uses logic, wits and possibly some pizazz to solve the mystery. Cozies do not have blood and guts splatter on the page, gruesome descriptions of torture or sex abounding between the covers.

That doesn’t mean a cozy won’t have suspense and darker elements of the crime. For this panel, the moderator, Amy Alessio, asked each of us to come up with a gutsy moment in our own lives to add to the mix of how we do push the envelope a bit and include more graphic elements than considered ‘cozy’.

My character, Grace Marsden, is a gutsy heroine; I write her that way. In The Lighthouse Keeper she tracks a killer through tunnels leading from the lighthouse point to the interior of the island and the Ancients cemetery.

I don’t lead a gutsy life—I work in an office and live in a quiet suburb. I garden (I terminate grubs) and I golf (I whack sand).

Five years ago, I participated in my Ordeal for Order of the Arrow, a service organization through Boy Scouts. I can’t tell you everything that happened that weekend at Camp Big Timber—it’s a secret initiation into the Lodge.

I can tell you that everyone who is slated for Ordeal camps 'al fresco' or face to the stars for their first night. I had my sleeping bag, my moisture barrier pad and one big blue tarp. The idea is to wrap yourself in this tarp, taco style to keep the ground moisture and the dew from getting on you. However, you needed to keep a bit of tarp open so your breath didn’t condense on the inside and soak you. I used a stick I’d brought with me to prop open the flap. Voila!

What’s so gutsy? It was seventeen degrees that November night. In order to stay warm in my bag, I stripped down inside my bag and changed into a fresh shirt and underwear. But the gutsiest thing I did that night? Got up, got dressed and walked to the latrine—damn that last cup of coffee!

Oh, yeah, did I mention I was 54 when I did this? My son and the other scouts in the troop, two of which did their Ordeal that night, were impressed. The next step was Brotherhood. I stopped my advancement at that point and chose Sisterhood instead!

I’ll let you know how the panel goes and what other cozy authors do that they consider Gutsy.

Luisa Buehler

Sunday, February 1, 2009

John Updike--A Reflection

Ever since John Updike's death last week at 76, the print and electronic media have been filled with appreciations of the author's work, of his versatility and his prodigious output as a novelist, essayist, poet, and literary critic. These paeans have focused, rightly, on his Rabbit novels, his National Book Award, his two Pulitzer Prizes in fiction (a rarity), and his uncanny ability to capture the nuances of everyday life in suburban and small-town Twentieth Century America.
Well and good. The praise is indeed merited. But there is another aspect of this "man of letters" that impresses me. Updike always remained accessible. He took the time to answer fan letters--mailbags of them. Although he would rather have been home in Massachusetts writing, he realized the importance of the author's role in helping the publisher to promote his works. He not only attended countless book signings, but he did so with grace and humor, warmly engaging readers in conversation.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Updike, but my wife, Janet, did. It was at the Printers Row Book Fair in Chicago in 2006, and after the author had been interviewed on the stage of an auditorium, purchasers of his new book queued up for autographs. Janet had ticket No. 216 or something like that, and after more than 90 minutes of inching forward, she handed her book to Updike, asking him to inscribe it to our son. "This is a test, isn't it?" he asked, grinning broadly as he noted that our surname is 12 letters long. He smiled and signed the book exactly as requested and then warmly greeted the next person.
His approach is a lesson to all writers. Having the opportunity to interact with our readers is a privilege, not a burden. Every writer, whether novelist, biographer, poet, historian, or essayist, needs to realize that. Through all his years of fame, John Updike never forgot those who counted the most--his readers.

Robert Goldsborough

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Research Begets Hobby

The fun of research for me is learning new facts, finding new layers to use in my stories and discovering new interests. My research about the Underground Railroad for my April release, The Innkeeper: An Unregistered Death, included field trips to Graue Mill and John Hossack’s home and the courthouse in Ottawa, Illinois.

The research also uncovered escape routes, disguises and ‘stations’ or hiding places, along the journey to freedom. One method used to signal to freedom seekers hiding in the woods or field if it was safe to approach the house, was a quilt thrown over the railing. The pattern on the quilt might indicate safety or give directions to the next station.

I became curious about so many of the patterns and meanings spending hours pouring over books and patterns. Next, I became obsessed with creating an Underground Railroad quilt to raffle off at my book launch in April. But I wanted to keep one to display at signings and libraries and well, just to have.

You see where this is going. I have convinced my friend that we need to make small quilts. I found http://quiltingguide.blogspot.com on a digest I read. We begin this afternoon. My friend has lots of fabric squares; I’m bringing the wine.

Has anyone else succumbed to the lure of research? Be careful what you research. It could become your next hobby or money pit!

Luisa Buehler

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What (Historical Fiction) Are You Reading?

I have always loved history, to the point that it became my college major. Given this bent, I suppose it's not surprising that I chose to write historical fiction, albeit in the murder mystery genre.

My Steve "Snap" Malek books from Echelon Press are set in the Chicago of the 1930s and '40s--hardly ancient history, but history nonetheless. My own fiction reading has included the historical novels of several authors, including E.L. Doctorow (Ragtime," "Billy Bathgate," "World's Fair") and Max Allan Collins ("True Detective," "Stolen Away" and "Black Hats" among others). I like the way these writers intertwine historical and fictional characters and events in their work, and I have aimed to do the same in my Malek books, infusing the stories with major historical events and real people who were part of Chicago's rich past.

What historical novels, mystery or otherwise, do you recommend? I would like to hear your choices, and for the individual who writes the most compelling short review (75 words or less), I'll send you a copy of my first Snap Malek novel, "Three Strikes You're Dead," set in Chicago in 1938. Let me hear from you!

Robert Goldsborough

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Red Wigglers

“The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle in your snout!”

You know how when you ask your husband, “Honey, what do you want for Christmas?” He is supposed to answer, “Nothing, sweetheart. I have everything I want with you.”

Okay, maybe it’s not that exact dialog.

This year I said, “Honey, what do you want for Christmas?” He said, “Red Wigglers.”

My expression must have been priceless. He quickly added, “Worms, they’re red worms.”

Oh, I felt so much better.

You know how they tell you don’t ask a question you don’t know the answer to. I’m beginning to understand. Well he asked for worms—that’s all the guy wanted. Well, not exactly. The worms need a house, a worm pagoda. And they need bedding; coir is the best.

I know all this because he’s been on line researching worms. My son and I thought he was researching sites for rescue dogs. We wanted a Border Collie mix for Christmas.

I mean how do you pet 2,000 baby worms?

The pagoda came (unassembled). At least we didn’t need to wait until he went to bed Christmas Eve to assemble it. In fact, it arrived when he was home so he assembled it and prepared it with coir and shredded newspaper.

The big day came last Tuesday when the little darlings arrived via the FedEx stork. My husband carefully handled the little ones from their paper sack to their new home. Did I mention the pagoda is on a table in the spare bedroom which Gerry uses as an office? He wanted them close by so he could chat with them while he worked on paperwork, or so he could shout out (worms don’t hear well) bits of news from the internet.

My son thinks his dad is going around the bend and needs a dog. “Disrespectful, ingrate,” my husband said. “If government funding decreases for college loans, these beauties might put you through college.

Who knew about the huge market for worm castings and worm pee?

Gardeners clamor for the stuff—worms can’t poop and pee fast enough!

Write to me if your spouse surprised you this Christmas with a new hobby. I’d love to know who else won’t be asking, “Honey, what do you want for your birthday?”

Luisa Buehler

Thursday, January 8, 2009

When a Story's Too Good to Be True...

We fiction writers have enough trouble as it is trying to elbow into an already crowded marketplace. It's not enough that seemingly dozens of new novels of all genres come out every week, and each of us tries to find ways of standing out from the crowd. Now we also have to compete with writers of memoirs, those supposedly factual accounts of interesting and dramatic lives. These days, it seems that memoir writers aren't about to let facts stand in the way of a good story.

The most recent case of memoir-as-fiction is that of Herman Rosenblat, a 78-year-old holocaust survivor whose "Angel at the Fence" was scheduled for February publication. It tells how Rosenblat, a teenager in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, developed a friendship with a girl living near the camp who smuggled him food over the fence. Years later in New York, he had a blind date with a woman who was, yes... that same girl...and they married.

Great story, except not true. Skeptics started punching holes in it, including the fact that the girl never lived near that particular camp. After the house of cards fell in on Rosenblat, the publisher canceled the memoir. This is not an isolated case.

James Frey's 2005 memoir, "A Million Little Pieces," turned out to be less-than-factual. And last year's "Love and Consequences," by Margaret B. Jones, the memoir of a mixed-race girl growing up in South Central Los Angeles as a foster child running drugs and hanging out with gang-bangers, was total fiction. The author: real name, Margaret Seltzer, is white, grew up in the upscale Sherman Oaks neighborhood of L.A., and attended a private day school. She has since confessed the book was a fabrication.

Cut it out now, memoir writers! You're giving fiction a bad name. Leave it to us to come up with bizarre characters, convoluted plots, and improbable denouements. It's what we do.

Robert Goldsborough

Sunday, January 4, 2009

New Year's Day Tradition

Most people commit to resolutions written down or wished for in the New Year. Most people have a plan, a program on how to follow through.

Not disciplined enough to exercise—hire a personal trainer.

No time, lots of guilt over housekeeping—hire a cleaning lady.

Yearning for a higher level of spirituality—join a Bible study group.

There are as many ways to insure a successful resolution as there are resolutions.

My personal approach is steeped in maternal tradition and Italian superstition.

My mother would ring in the New Year with a tradition that I have carried forward into my adult life. I don’t know if her mother passed if on to her. I never asked just followed her lead. My husband and son know the drill all too well.

On New Year’s Day, I insist that we do a little bit of everything we’re hoping for in the New Year. A sort of passing it forward blessing on our lives. Upon waking my day is filled with a bit of this and a bit of that until I make myself a bit nutty.

One of the things I insist on for my family is that they wear something new, never wore before, on that day; this signifies they’ll have new clothes in the New Year. The article of clothing has been anything from new handkerchiefs to a belt to new socks. It doesn’t have to be a big ticket item it only has to be new.

How does this shake out during the day?

organize a drawer to lessen of clutter in my life;
or those with less;

clean a room to insure a modicum of good housekeeping all year;

read a little to insure there’s always time to enjoy a good book;

work on my WIP because I can’t not write every day;

write a check to a favorite charity because we can;

attend Mass—who can’t use more God time;

cook a big meal as a harbinger of plenty;

go for a walk as a metaphor for healthy activity;

visit with a friend to promote strong friendships;

talk with my family to keep us in touch;

glance over some business stuff to encourage prosperity;

finally get a good night’s sleep to promote good health.

What does this mean throughout the year? Usually means I don’t join a health club, don’t hire a cleaning lady, don’t join a Bible study group.

Does it work? The process helps me achieve a positive transition into the New Year.

Why do it? As the fiddler on the roof would say, Tradition!

And if you like this tradition wait till LaBefana arrives!

Anyone else have a quirky way to welcome the New Year? I'd love to hear it.

Luisa Buehler