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


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