Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Nothing makes an author grit his teeth more than having his factual mistakes pointed out.

Yesterday, in an otherwise favorable newspaper review of my Hang Fire, two bloopers came to light: The Battle of the Little Bighorn went down in 1876, not 1873, and Porcupine County is in the Eastern time zone, not the Central.

I knew that. And had gotten both right in previous novels.

I'll correct them in the upcoming e-book, if there is one.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day dawn at the Writer's Lair

Just before the sun peeked over the horizon at the Writer's Lair near Ontonagon, Michigan, I padded outdoors in bathrobe and slippers to capture this portrait of Lake Superior.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Going . . . going . . . gone!

Generally there are two measures of authorial success: How well one does with the critics, and how well one does in the bookstores. When good reviews combine with good sales, a writer is doubly happy.

Unfortunately each of most of my books has been what the French call, with sweet irony, un succes d'estime. That means reviewers hailed it but book buyers turned their backs. So it goes with most midlist authors. We're happy with the scraps we can find.

But last night a third kind of success emerged: the live auction.

The Lady Friend contributed an autographed copy of Hang Fire, my fourth mystery novel, to the annual fund-raising dinner of the Ontonagon County Animal Protection shelter. (Ontonagon County in upper Michigan is the prototype of Porcupine County, the bailiwick of my sheriff hero Steve Martinez.)

The highlight of the evening is a spirited auction of donated items that range from carved birds to antique humidors, handmade guitars to cast-iron fire pits. They run the gamut of white-elephant kitsch to exquisite folk art, and the proceeds all go to keep the struggling animal shelter alive.

I attended the dinner expecting to be embarrassed. The Lady Friend set the floor for Hang Fire to $15, and I hoped it would sell for close to its jacket price of $26, enabling me to exit the restaurant with honor. Much less than that and I'd have to put on a brittle fixed smile, pretending to be a good sport.

The book was the last item to go under the gavel. As it was raised high and the auctioneer began his spiel, I wanted to crawl under the table. Most everything else had brought $100 to $125 each for the charity, and how could an obscure little mystery novel compete with that?

To my astonishment four bidders plunged in, and the price rapidly escalated, from $15 to $25 to $30 and $50. Within two minutes, as the price crept past $100, the county's biggest log home builder was competing fiercely against the county's probate judge.

When the dust settled, the winner was Judge Janis M. Burgess, with a bid of $155. One hundred fifty-five bucks!

I guess I'll just have to make her a character in the fifth Steve Martinez novel. Actually, that won't be difficult. Her Honor, or Janis as she wants everyone to call her, is sui generis in Ontonagon County. There isn't a local charity, or social organization, that she doesn't participate in with both treasure and sweat. She's visible everywhere and is probably the most liked public figure in all of the Upper Peninsula.

A classy lady, as we Chicagoans say. She even makes summer people like me feel good.

Friday, May 17, 2013

At the Writer's Lair North

We arrived the other day after a speedy 7 1/2 hour drive north.

The deciduous trees along the shore of Lake Superior are just beginning to bud, two weeks or more after their counterparts in the more temperate Chicago area. This means a repeat of allergy season for me and it'll last at least ten days. Snuffle snuffle.

The place was deserted when we pulled in, but last evening two early hummingbirds divebombed us on the deck, so we quickly put out the red feeders. The first inquisitive chipmunk arrived at the cup of birdseed I put out on the riprap. We spotted a small flotilla of mergansers, both male and female, at Union Bay up the road. Can the deer, bear, wolves and cougars be far behind?

The inshore waters of the lake are still light brown with silty snowmelt runoff from the rivers, thanks to the late departure of winter.

By day it's sunny and in the 60s, by night upper 30s or low 40s. The fireplace gets a good workout starting just before cocktails time.

Obama's troubles seem so very far away.

Later in the day: Before breakfast a trio of buffleheads paddled by just offshore. At lunchtime several goldfinches discovered the feeders. So did a lone pine siskin, if it was that—they are tiny and hard to identify unless you can get close enough to see the yellow wing coverts.

Saturday morning: The eagle from the next property east on the beach just now soared along the shoreline, a fish in its talons.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Walking on Air

As regular readers of this blog know, I pitch my books at bookstores and libraries by means of a computer, a digital projector, a portable screen and Keynote, the Apple version of PowerPoint.

Over the years I've used a variety of computers for this task, each more lightweight than the one before. The first was a 2002 Macbook, the second a 2008 Macbook, and the third a 2011 iPad 2. For the last two years the iPad served very well, and I could even use it with an external keyboard to write while on the road. It seemed the perfect road-warrior computer for a traveling writer.

But then I ran into a problem. The Keynote presentation I created to pitch Hang Fire used a third-party font, Caslon Antique, that needs to be loaded into the computer's font library. This worked fine with the Mac mini I created the presentation on. But one cannot load fonts onto an iPad 2. iPads will work only with their built-in fonts.

Bummer. I didn't want to lose Caslon Antique, because this colonial-era font is perfect to illustrate the period re-enactment that opens Hang Fire. So I got out the old 2008 Macbook and loaded the presentation on that. It worked fine, but . . .

I could not find my mini-DVI-to-VGA adapter that allows that particular Macbook to drive a digital projector, even after hours of searching.

So I went to the local Apple Store and asked for a new one. Long outdated and not in stock, the genius said haughtily. We can have one for you in a week, or you could try eBay.

Not enough time. My first presentation was three days hence, followed by two more in rapid succession.

So on the spot I bought an 11-inch Macbook Air and a suitable mini-Displayport-to-VGA adapter. That set me back well over $1,100. But the 2008 Macbook was five years old and ancient technology. It works fine, but oh so slowly compared with the new machines. It was time, I told myself, time for an upgrade.

The Air performed beautifully during the three presentations I did last week, projecting Caslon Antique clearly and sharply.

It weighs only 2.38 pounds, compared to the 2008 Macbook's 5.5 pounds, and just a pound more than the iPad 2. Other than the keyboard the Air has no sensitive moving parts like a hard disk; rather, it uses a 128 gigabyte solid state drive. It loads programs fast and runs them speedily, even the memory-hogging Lightroom 4 I use for photography.

As for the iPad, I'm still using it, mainly for email and surfing and the odd Netflix movie, but it stays by my recliner in the family room.

But the Air travels with me today. It's worth every penny.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Yesterday's signing

Courtesy of Augie Aleksy, proprietor of Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Forest Park, Ill., here are some shots of yesterday's signing at that shop:

That's the opening slide of the Keynote digital-projector presentation I use to pitch my books.

The fellow to my left is crime novelist Mike Black, author of 18 books, and Augie himself is behind the counter.

Debby, a k a the Lady Friend, is at the left. She reads passages from my books during presentations. To my right are two readers born in the Upper Peninsula, where my novels are set.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Signings this weekend

Besides the two signings in Evanston, Ill., above, I'm also doing one at 2 p.m. Sunday (May 5) at the famed Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Forest Park, Ill. If you're in the area, come on over and learn something about life in the still frozen North.