Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mentions in Dispatches

The first review is in for the second edition of What's That Pig Outdoors?, and a lovely one it is. I'm blushing.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


The perp is nabbed and Steve and Ginny have made up. In other words, the first draft of Hang Fire is complete.

Now to repair holes, fix errors and rewrite entire passages. That should take another two weeks or so.

Then to send out the second draft to a small handful of experts (among them a lawyer, a deputy sheriff and a forest ranger) for comment. Give that two weeks, too.

Two more weeks and I'll send the finished manuscript to my agent, who will then submit it to my acquisitions editor at Tor/Forge. Let's hope he goes for it, that the dreadful business climate in the publishing industry won't stop the project in its tracks.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Still alive and kicking

In response to several emails noting that I haven't posted since August 17 and asking if turning 70 was too much for me:

See that subheading (or, in newspaper jargon, a readout) up there? The one that says "When writer's block strikes a poor but honest mystery author"? That's the reason. Or, rather, its absence is the reason.

Somehow, ten days ago I became completely unblocked, as if I had taken a megadose of Ex-Lax for the brain. What followed was an enormus bolus of creativity (at least for me). Now the manuscript of Hang Fire has reached 256 pages and its penultimate chapter (the one with the usual climactic shootout in the woods), and it appears that the first draft of this project will be completed before Labor Day.

When I'm cookin,' I'm not bloggin.' That's all it is. Turning 70 had nothing to do with it. Or maybe it did. Maybe the event stirred deep down the realization that I had better get this fourth Steve Martinez mystery finished before I lost my teeth and all my marbles fell out and rolled under the bed.

See you later, sometime.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Big Seven-Oh

Ten years ago today, turning age 60 was an exercise in psychological trauma. My most recent book had won good reviews but was a dismal failure in the stores. My newspaper was already sliding into the toilet; going to work was no longer a joy but a chore. My knees and back had started to hurt, a legacy of osteoarthritis genes on both sides of the family.

I was so buffaloed that at dinner with good friends that night I refused to talk about what should have been a happy event and snapped at them whenever they brought up the subject.

Turning 70 is entirely different. I'm grateful just to be alive.

That's what a heart attack and a triple bypass at age 69 will do for one's perspective. Old aches and pains, both psychological and physical, suddenly seem small potatoes when the mirror of cardiac mortality is thrust into your face. It's nature's way of saying "Quit your bitching and enjoy the time you have left."

Over that decade between 60 and 70 things turned out to be pretty good. Two thriving sons, two marvelous daughters-in-law, four loving grandchildren. A quintet of successful surgeries. Three well-received mystery novels. A honorable retirement from a long career. Whole summers with the matchless Lady Friend at a place I love on the shore of Lake Superior.

And I'm still writing. Not as much as before, but maybe the prose is improving.

On to 80, and if I don't make it, so what?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

YES! Vote for Palin in '12!

MICHAEL Palin, that is. Gotcha.

(With thanks to Mollie Dierbeck.)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Another nail in the tree-book coffin?

The Wall Street Journal reports, in a story on romance publisher Dorchester Press dropping all printed books and publishing only e-books:

"Romance fans in particular have already embraced e-books, in part because customers can read them in public without having to display the covers. In addition, type size is easily adjusted on e-readers, making titles published in the mass paperback format easier to read for older customers."

Now that's interesting. Large print books have been a staple in public libraries for decades. With e-readers now costing $150 or less, and Baby Boomers growing ever more adept with electronic devices, there could be a mass movement to Kindles and Nooks and Sony Readers in that aging population cohort very soon.

Or not.

Large-print books are free from libraries. New and current e-books cost money to download from and

Older readers tend to be stingy.

Do the math.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lack of Velocity

The other day I found myself stuck behind an octogenarian in a wheezing old pickup doing 45 in a 55 zone on a country highway winding through the Trap Hills of upper Michigan. For miles and miles a double yellow line prevented my passing while a backup of traffic behind us built and built.

Not so long ago I'd have felt irritation with the old guy, delaying me on my rounds through life. Time's of the essence, grandpa, I'd have said to myself. Pick up the pace, willya?

I'm sure the drivers behind me gritted their teeth, too, and for the same reason: the compelling pace of youth.

But that day I wasn't so peeved and impatient. Very likely that old guy's eyes were dimming and his reflexes were gone, and he knew it, so proceeded at a speed that felt safe to him.

Almost for the first time that was OK with me, too. It's not going to be long before I'm backing up traffic myself; my 70th birthday is creeping close, and for some time I haven't felt quite as confident driving at the limit -- let alone above it -- as I used to. (Keeping a weather eye out for suicidal deer alone causes my speedometer needle to drop by a good 5 mph.)

Last night I reached a passage in David Mitchell's brilliant 2004 novel Cloud Atlas that summed up the incident perfectly:

"Oh, once you've been initiated into the Elderly, the world doesn't want you back." Veronica settled herself in a rattan chair and adjusted her hat just so. "We -- by whom I mean anyone over sixty -- commit two offenses just by existing. One is our Lack of Velocity. We drive too slowly walk too slowly talk too slowly. The world will do business with dictators, perverts, and drug barons of all stripes, but being slowed down it cannot abide. Our second offence is being Everyman's memento mori. The world can only get comfy in shiny-eyed denial if we are out of sight."

So it goes, as Vonnegut often said, in his inimitably stoic way. So it goes.

* * *

Here's a nice Mention in Dispatches.

Monday, August 2, 2010


One of the more colorful sights in my neck of the Upper Michigan woods this week has been the 2010 Midwest Primitive Rendezvous, a gathering of hundreds of "living history" re-enactors who relive the era of Lewis & Clark (approx. 1800-1840) on a bend of the Ontonagon River near Ontonagon, Michigan.

For several years I've had a keen interest in the group, although I'm not a member. When I first visited the rendezvous in 2006, also in the same place, it gave me the idea for Hang Fire, my novel in progress.

These folks really try to live as Americans did two centuries ago. Their white canvas tent cities are redolent of wood smoke and frying meat, even though one often spots digital cameras, cell phones and "Fruit of the Loom" labels under the reproductions of the buckskins, breechclouts and kilts the mountain men and women of old wore.

Most of all, they're photogenic. Here's a selection of shots taken yesterday, more than half of them (and the best ones) by the Lady Friend:

Fringed buckskins, belted tunics and sashes mark the well-dressed re-enactor.

The Rendezvous is a family affair, a week-long camporee.

This was your great-great-great-grandmother's kitchen on the frontier.

Cooking with wood smarts the eyes and soots the clothes.

The Rendezvous eateries, open to both participants and the public, feature artery-stopping menus.

Kitchen kindling must be chopped and split every day.

Trade goods of all kinds are available for swap and sale.

The big boys liked to make noise with their muzzle-loading toys, many of them hand-crafted flintlocks.

A well-turned-out Scottish immigrant frontiersman on the firing line.

Women participated on the rifle range, too.

Most re-enactors are open and friendly, but this lad clearly prefers his privacy.

Their morning chores were to haul water and exchange secrets.

And some were just bashful.