Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Wonderful Year

You know the old saw: if you fall off a horse, get back on right away, or your fear will talk you out of it. As someone who grew up with horses, I can testify to the truth of this particular bit of hoary wisdom.

I've fallen off of Writing in the Dark of late. And--though it's partly due to my impacted schedule of writing deadlines (my third novel), book tours, conferences and promotion--not to mention a day job and ubiquitous chores--it's partly my fault, too. I'm a perfectionist--I like my blog to be a miniature sketch, complete with images, and if I'm too tired or too harried to make it that way, I tend to put it off.

Well, no longer. I'm also not one for resolutions (I detest the damn things), so call this a realization. The truth is that if I wait until I have the time, I'll never get it done. I'll be around more often and more consistently next year ... and in the meantime, here's what I've been doing:

October was Bouchercon. Crimespree's Jon and Ruth Jordan and Judy Bobalik did a superhuman and tremendous job--nirvana for a conference junkie like me. I participated in two panels (one as moderator) and a marvelous author's showcase with a group of buddies. Had a blast with a lot of friends. Attended my first Shamus dinner, paid respects to Mr. Poe. About the only thing I missed was hanging out with Sandra Ruttan and having coffee with Declan Burke--both of which are must-dos the next chance I get.

After B-con I was the guest of the lovely Sisters in Crime in Sacramento, participated in a library panel in Corcord, was the guest on an hour-long radio segment of Goddess Radio (American First Radio and KCAA San Bernadino) with Midnight Bookworm Vin Smith and Panney Wei, was the guest SinC speaker at the Gilroy library, read at the SinC Fall Soiree at San Francisco's Books Inc, celebrated the 100th birthday of John's Grill (home of The Maltese Falcon), and rang in holiday cheer at the annual MWA/SinC party at M is for Mystery.

I also finished my third book--a very dark, sweeping PI novel set in 1940 San Francisco. A big book. We're hoping to see it with a big publisher, so we're crossing everything that can be crossed, and a few things that probably shouldn't be.

The year has been capped with a homecoming. I grew up in northern Mendocino/southern Humboldt Counties (northern California)--spent junior high and high school there. My parents live in the northern part of the county now, near Eureka. I had a signing at Borders in Eureka after Christmas that was more like a party and reunion--old friends from high school, former teachers, friends I haven't seen in more than twenty years, colleagues who volunteer with my mom. David Dun, best-selling thriller author, Treasurer and one of the wonderful founders of ITW (International Thriller Writers) has a home in the area, and came to cheer me on--it was amazing and truly special! The Eureka Times Standard did me the honor of placing NOX on the front page, too--here's the link:

After the signing, I was the guest at the lovely home of a lovely woman who hosts a book club. In one of those "it's a small world" moments, I learned that Marsha Hunt--whose grace, radiance and star turn in Eddie Muller's The Grand Inquisitor I wrote about last January (it's almost time for the next Noir City!)--had also been a guest. I met a friend of Ms. Hunt's and an absolutely lovely group of ladies. What a fantastic way to close the year.

For me, 2008 will always be the year my first book was published. It's been quite a journey. It has been an honor to meet readers, booksellers and librarians--an honor to know people in places I've never been and may never see are reading NOX DORMIENDA. It leaves me with a breathless feeling, one of gratitude and humility.

I'm extraordinarily thankful to be a part of the writing community ... friends and colleagues so talented, generous and giving that I wind up feeling like George Bailey every day. As I look ahead to 2009--with a new grog to debut soon (more details next week!), more work with MWA and ITW and SinC, another novel to research, and the second Arcturus book to revise--and hope on the horizon for a contract with a bigger house--I'm thankful to be where I am, ensconced in what is--to me--a wonderful life.

Thanks, all of you, for making 2008 a year to remember! Happy New Year--here's to a great 2009! :)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

At Long Last ... Blog!

Bless me, bloggers, for I have sinned ... it has been mmmpfh (hand over mouth) days since my last blog.

Much has happened, and I'm going to spend a couple of days catching up. I finished my third novel, which is the main reason I haven't been hanging around Writing in the Dark. My third is a big dark book set in 1940 San Francisco, and I needed to complete it before Bouchercon. I managed to do so, but literally had no time left over for blogging, reading, email, eating a proper meal, and sleep. I left bread crumbs of my activities on Twitter, and plan to stick to my regularly scheduled blogging programming from now on, though life may somtimes pre-empt me.

I traveled to LA and San Diego and back on a book tour ... via US 101 ... a wonderful trip along El Camino Real, the old historic route of the King's Highway, mission to mission, bell to bell. Salinas lettuce fields (Salad Capital of the World!), the Santa Ynez mountains ... the drive makes you appreciate the the real gold of California, and it's not the yellow stuff in vaults.

Mysteries to Die For in Thousand Oaks and The Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles are fantastic places to shop and spend time and meet people. Alan and Bobby are absolutely wonderful ... and two reasons why I love to support independent bookstores as both a reader and a writer. I was privileged to appear at both stores, and very happy to be The Mystery Bookstore's Discovery Club pick of the month.

I met friends from Crimespace and Sisters in Crime, including my author friend Mari Sloan, who has written a terrific mystery (Beaufort Falls), and Mari's wonderful husband, and Travis Richardson, former NorCal MWA member who just moved south. Spent a delightful evening with producer/director/screenwriter pal Victoria Larimore in West Hollywood. Stopped along the way in Salinas, ate a fantastic breakfast at Sang's Cafe (where Steinbeck used to throw one back occasionally), and lunch in Solvang at the Little Mermaid.

We eventually managed to thread our way through Malibu Canyon, Malibu and Santa Monica before taking rest in our favorite SoCal home away from home, The Culver Hotel.

After a signing at the Gaslamp Borders in San Diego, we headed home the next morning, and breakfasted at Andersen's Pea Soup in Buellton (a few miles from Solvang) ... you haven't lived until you've tried pea soup for breakfast! You get eggs and Danish sausage and pancakes, too, but that soup ... mmm. :) Late lunch was again in Salinas, at a terrific newly-opened restaurant (family-owned) called Habanero. Literally the best beans and rice I've had since undergraduate years in Texas.

Oh, and Solvang? You haven't eaten Danish until you eat Danish there. Really. We're talking melt-in-your mouth, light-as-air crust, real fruit filling ... let's just say this was a memorable trip on every level, and I can't wait to get back. :)

So then I wrote. And wrote and wrote. And finished what I call "my Bouchercon baby," a novel begun after Alaska and finished before Baltimore.

And speaking of Baltimore, host city for this year's Bouchercon ... well, that deserves its own post. Be back tomorrow with more on Charm City and 1,400 reasons why the crime/mystery/thriller writer life is the one for me!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Lists, Picks and a Pre-Code Delight

I'm long overdue, but it's nice to be home.

One of my autumn resolutions (always a good time for resolutions--forget January) is to blog each and every week. Probably on a Sunday or Monday ... and I intend to keep said resolution, even if the road to Washington, D.C. is paved with them ...

So what have I been doing? What does that title mean? How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?

Just a little over a week ago, I headed north to the great state of Washington (I can say that with sincerity--I was born there, in Tacoma, the "City of Destiny." And yes, that is what Tacoma is known as, so there.) That's Mt. Ranier in the photo, by the way.

Had the great good fortune and wonderful time of signing books at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop, the premiere place for crime fiction in the state, and one of the top mystery stores in the U.S. J.B, Gretchen and Fran make three hours seem like three minutes -- awesomely fun people!! We laughed, talked about theme songs, and listened to J.B.'s terrific "Spy Mix" of movie and television themes. Where else can you rock out to Thunderball or Mission Impossible while you're signing books?

I saw an old friend from comic book store days (Adam Barnes, ultra-cool guy and publisher of Perilous Press) and met a new friend, Christina Arbini, a romance writer who is set to rock the world with her amazing books.

In other words, I had an incredible afternoon, and can't wait to get back. And then, this Friday, The Seattle Times posted the best-selling mystery lists from SMBS, and ... I was on it! Five Star is a small press, and not known for its ease in bookstore ordering (euphemistically speaking) ... so to be on the list (#5) was a complete surprise and a total highpoint! Topping off the good news, today the monthly list for August was released, and NOX DORMIENDA was #7 for the month, tied with James Lee Burke's (!) SWAN PEAK. Holy Moley! And my home state, too! Thanks, guys!! Seattle Mystery Bookshop is the best!!

So back to the tour ... I took Amtrak from Seattle ("The Emerald City") to Portland, to sign at the wonderful Murder by the Book. This is one of the nicest bookstores you'll ever step inside ... Jean, Carolyn, Barb, Nick and Ted are so helpful and so knowledgeable, I defy anyone to leave without buying something. I am so thankful to have done a signing, and like Seattle, can't wait to go back! To make selections easy, the store is organized by type of detective ... unique and creative! I had a delightful afternoon, talking to a high school classmate (Hi, Tiffany!), a friend of a friend, and hanging around with the reason why Portland should be your number one destination in the Northwest: Bill Cameron.

Bill's my special buddy, and took us on a LOST DOG tour of the city. So I finally got to see the places that creeped me out in his kick-butt book. And snag a bite in the cool Hawthorne District, where the store is located. And take a train out of the oldest continuously operated station in the country, beautifully restored. Sigh. Portland was wonderful! (As you can see in the photo, LOST DOG and NOX DORMIENDA are blessed with supernatural energy).

I didn't have too much time to miss the NW, though. Two days after returning, I had a library panel with fellow authors Dana Fredsti, David Fitzgerald, Peter Gessner and Rebecca Dixon. We had a grand old time -- pure fun! -- and so well-moderated by Dave that some sort of moderator award needs to be established in his honor. One of the best panels, ever.

And that brings me to my current schedule. I'm heading to LA and San Diego for signings this weekend, to Thousand Oaks and Mysteries to Die For, and The Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles. Then the downtown San Diego Borders on Sunday to wrap things up. So what about the picks I referred to in my blog title?

Well, M is for Mystery -- where I held my first reading on August 2nd -- has selected me as their "Mystorical" pick for August. I'm in august (OK, I like puns) company ... Denise Hamilton and Salman Rushdie are earlier choices. The Mystery Bookstore has also chosen NOX DORMIENDA as their "September Discovery Club Selection" -- another honor! And Mysteries to Die For describes my book this way: "Kelli Stanley has created an exciting new genre of mystery here, Roman noir. Fast-paced plotting, first person narrative, staccato and hard-boiled prose are utilized to full effect. This series debut is one that will be talked about all year."

I've been feeling much more cozy than noir lately, more like Gidget than Gloria. And I can't wait to get to LA and San Diego and thank these amazing, supportive and wonderful bookstores in person!

OK, so now we come to the Pre-Code Delight: Man's Castle, a 1933 Frank Borzage film with Spencer Tracy and a 20 year-old Loretta Young. I caught it on TCM the other night, and it was fantastic.

Spencer and Loretta live in a shanty town in Central Park, along with the other discarded people of the Great Depression. Spencer takes odd jobs and keeps them in stew; Loretta plays wife. Though, because this is pre-code, they're not married. In fact, the first night they meet, they go skinny-dipping, and they sleep in the same bed.

Yeah, people actually had sex before 1934 and the Hays Code tried to make it illegal.

Anyway, Spence is a man who doesn't want commitments. He doesn't want to be tied down. Loretta is in love with him, and persuades him to buy a stove for their Love Shack on the installment plan ($2 down, $1 a month!). He dallies with gap-toothed Glenda Farrell (filmland's Torchy Blaine). But he buys the stove.

And then ... she tells him she's pregnant. Yup, they had unmarried sex. Twenty years later they would die for it. But pre-code, no worries. They are "married" by an ex-preacher, also from Hooverville.

She even mentions something about getting rid of the baby if it would make him happy ... and doesn't use the word adopt. But Spence decides to run out on her, first throwing in with a real villain (a rapist type with designs on Loretta) to rob a toy shop safe, so she'll be provided for.

I won't tell you what happens, but I will tell you this: the characters have a happy ending (as happy as you could have, if you were impoverished in 1933).

You'll have fun counting the "sins" in this film, all of which would be punishable by death or imprisonment, film-wise, the following year. The direction is romantic and lush, as is typical with Borzage; Tracy's acting is breathtakingly natural, and Loretta Young is just breathtaking (and also turns in a great performance).

Films like this make you wonder ... how did the Code change American culture? How did it affect generations of film-goers? Can we blame the code for reality tv?

More next week, after my LA tour ... home sweet home will be the Culver Hotel, next to the old Ince/MGM/RKO studios. Ah, Hollywood! :)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Unsuspected Noir

So here it is, Monday night. My book just came out (if I repeat it enough it may sink in) ... I spent a wonderful Saturday afternoon at the Hayward Public Library on a Sisters in Crime panel with the lovely and talented Camille Minichino, Michelle Gagnon and Peggy Lucke ... great company, great audience, great library, and terrific hospitality. I'm getting ready for a signing trip to the Seattle Mystery Bookshop and Portland's Murder by the Book. And now, as I type this, I'm waiting for the repairman to tell me what is wrong with our nearly-new dryer.

Yup. It's appliance noir.

Noir strikes you unexpectedly, from the failure of computerized mechanisms we rely on, as well as the rain-streaked and shadowed streets of Los Angeles. Yeah, we've got a graphite colored (you expected white?) top-of-the-line eco-dryer, but appliance noir hits you between the eyes, baby, and kiss your evening (and laundry) goodbye.

At least I've got my blog.

Though situations like this beg for depressing poetry and a bottle of Scotch, I'll refrain. And instead, tell you about The Unsuspected (1947), a deliciously nasty little Warner noir TCM aired the other day.

Directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) and starring the most sympathetic and urbane villain to grace the screen -- Claude Rains -- along with noir stalwarts Audrey Totter (how do you define noir? Audrey Totter) and Jack (The Killers) Lambert, it's a highly charged and extremely suspenseful tale about a radio host of crime dramas who is implicated in some shenanigans of his own.

The opening scene--the first murder--is powerful and chilling film-making, even on a small screen. A bit later, Curtiz makes full use of the power of voice-over, shadows and light, in a tour-de-force sequence showing the effect of Rain's broadcast on a number of characters we've yet to be introduced to. The director does shamelessly purloin Hitchcock's famous teacup shot from Notorious toward the climax of the film, but since Claude Rains is in both movies, I guess he's entitled.

Joan Caulfield is the good girl here (Audrey, of course, plays the slut) and Constance Bennett takes on an Eve Arden-type role, and does it with panache. Ted North's stiffness as a mysterious young man who claims to have married heiress Caulfield is well-suited to the part ... is he Dudley-Do Right or Bar Sinister? Hurd Hatfield (Dorian Gray) ably rounds out the cast as Audrey's debauched and drunken husband.

The script, from a novel by Charlotte Amstrong, snaps and sparkles with lines like these:

Someone comments on the painting of Joan Caulfield above the mantle piece, asking whether it was a particular artist's Blue Period (not Picasso).

Audrey replies: "My husband. His drunk period. Began right after our marriage."

Or Ted North as Steven Howard: "I like matches. You never have to refill them. And when you're through with them, you simply throw them away... like people."

The Unsuspected is another gem thus far unavailable on DVD or video. Look for it on TCM, and don't forget to set your Tivo.

And my own unexpected unsuspected appliance noir? The part won't be in for ten days. Yup, you got it. *Bleeped* on page one.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Two Weeks?!

Ever notice how time is relative? I don't mean Einstein relativity, or Stephen Hawking's musings on the universe. I mean how it is subjective and personal and relative to you and what you're doing.

I took a look at the date of my last posting, and had one of those animated eyes-bulging, double-take moments. It's been two weeks ... TWO WEEKS!

On one hand, it seems longer than two weeks, because so much has happened. On the other hand, tempus fugit, and flew fast. See ... that's what I mean. Relative and subjective.

Now, before describing why and how I've been Time's fool (to quote Willie S.), I am hereby undertaking an official pledge to keep up with my own blog every week. Here's hoping the old man with the sickle won't be chasing after me, horror-movie style. :)

So what has caused my chronological conundrum? Well, on August 1st, we celebrated a launch party. And quite a fete it was ... Bourbon and Branch, the famed and fabulous speakeasy in San Francisco, provided the setting and the most delicious cocktails this side of Harry's Bar in Venice, circa 1932. And yes, even absinthe was served!

On the menu were two delicious drinks, invented for the event: the Roman Noir (an amarna/mint/honey confection, dark, slightly bitter and delicious), and the Nox Dormienda (dreamy, white, frothy, with citrus and elderflower and an orchid on top). The setting was the library, complete with secret door and amazing ambiance. And I'm proud to say that Bourbon and Branch just won the Best of the Bay award from the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Diane Kudisch of the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore was my indefatigable and wonderful bookseller ... another Best of the Bay award-winner! So we all had reason to celebrate, and celebrate we did.

But the most important ingredient of all -- that which makes a party a wonderful, memorable time -- the people. I really can't tell you how good it felt to be surrounded by so many friends and colleagues from all the strands of my life ... the writing community to comic store buddies to SF State. And I had the chance to meet new friends, because guests brought other guests!

Local writer-friends from MWA and SinC and ITW and out-of-town friends participating in the RWA conference ... my agent, friends from Red Room (the best space for writers!) ... I could fill up this blog with a list of my wonderful, generous and beautiful guests. Which included, by the way, a contingent of talented Romans dressed in costume, from the Legio X Fretensis.

My beautiful, funny, smart and unique mother was there, of course, and she brought her friends, one of whom drove 250 miles from Fortuna to come. The joint was jumping. I'm posting a few pictures here ... these and many more will soon be up on a new page of my website, a kind of photo scrap book of past events. Hey, with my small house, I need to electronically store my memories! :)

I really felt like George Bailey (at the end, not the beginning). :) I just wish I'd had more time to talk to everyone for longer. And I'm immeasurably grateful to everyone for coming to the party!
I'm writing an article about it ... it was such a special event for me -- a career launch as as well as a book launch -- that I need to give it some more thought and time. More details when done.

The next day was my first book store signing/reading at the terrific M is for Mystery, which was absolutely wonderful. People actually came! I've heard all the stories from the road, and I'm fully expecting to encounter an audience of none for some upcoming event, but I was elated to meet some interesting and terrific readers my first time around. And I picked up a Certificate of Honor from the City and County of San Francisco, signed by our mayor, in recognition of Roman Noir. So my new genre has been officially recognized by my beloved, shimmering jewel of a city. :)

Sunday, a week ago today, I spent the morning with dear friend Jordan Dane, who'd flown out for RWA (and had come to the party). Then I came home and collapsed, exhausted but happy.

The last week has been a return to normalcy, of a kind. Day job. Box dinners. Trying to catch up with all the myriad book stuff I'm behind in, now that Nox is officially and truly out in the world. I'm still behind, but am diligently trying. And writing my WIP.

Thursday night I also had the great fun of guesting on a library panel in Morgan Hill with Terri Thayer and Penny Warner, and getting to see Becky LeVine and Beth Proudfoot again (we'd met at my first-ever conference -- No Crime Unpublished -- last June).

Yesterday was a MWA NorCal meeting at John's Grill, where we were able to hear scintillating stories from legendary female private investigator Sandra Sutherland.

And that brings me to today. Still with too much to do and not enough time to do it in, but I'm adjusting to the new normal, and hoping that Time will be kind. And not in such a damn hurry!

Next week: A small and long overdue post on Nora Prentiss. I'll be in Seattle for a signing at the fabulous Seattle Mystery Bookshop on the August 22nd, too.

Party photos: Bourbon and Branch library, around the bar, Romans!, the uber-talented and wonderful Jordan Dane and sensational Simon Wood, two of the most talented and beautiful and nicest women in the biz, Michelle Gagnon and Heather Graham, and the Czar of Noir, Eddie Muller, looking like a million bucks in white (not black). :)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Countdown ...

I've got fond memories of Casey Kasem. (And no, your eyes don't deceive you--that's not a picture of Casey.)

is my favorite film noir, so for book-launch good luck I'm adding photos of Rita as Gilda. Gotta sneak a little film noir in, and it did get your attention ... ;) And thank you, Rita. You can still make an audience hold its breath.

Those Casey memories were not only with the Top 40 Countdown, of course, but as the voice of Shaggy Rogers (yes, Shaggy had a last name ... I'm not sure if "Doo" is Scooby's last name or not) and Robin in various incarnations, most notably the Super Friends.

God, those toys were cool. That Super Friends' Hall of Justice ... the only thing I didn't like about the SFs were those annoying twins. Worse than Snapper Carr in the Silver Age Justice League. Jimmy Olsen clones just never cut it for me ... though I will now officially confess a fondness for the old red-headed photographer himself. Shhh ... don't spread it around, it ruins the noir cred.

Speaking of noir, I've got a long-delayed blog on a film noir coming up after August 1st, when things get back to the new normal. Right now, I'm all-consumed with the launch of my book, and just didn't want to write about a man who frames himself for his own murder. Call me superstitious.

Anyway, I'm thinking of Casey because I've been running through my own series of countdowns. Last Friday, the 18th, my book was officially released into the world, alive and kicking. More stock is coming into Amazon by August 31st, and I'm grateful to them for posting a notice to that effect. Barnes and Noble had it in stock for a couple of days last week, and have run out already.

This bodes well for demand, but I very much wish the supply chain was easier ... distribution can be a challenge for a small press. I am eternally grateful to those readers who have already ordered it from various sources, and those who are waiting patiently. In all sincerity, I can't thank you enough. It's a scary world out there when you're a debut author ... and my biggest goal is to simply be read (and hopefully liked, of course). :)

So back to the countdown ... this week, I'm counting down to my official launch date, August 1st. This is the date of my launch party, hosted by the phenomenal San Francisco speakeasy Bourbon and Branch. Think a gorgeous '20s bar, custom cocktails (the Nox Dormienda and the Roman Noir), Roman soldiers in costume, prizes and a lot of fun. The San Francisco Mystery Bookstore very kindly agreed to be my bookseller for the event. My goal is really to send Nox off to boarding school with the best karma possible, and I'm lucky to have so many friends in town for the RWA conference and attending the party. My other goal is to try to avoid incriminating photos.

And Saturday, August 2nd, the party continues at M is for Mystery in San Mateo, California ... at my first reading/signing/Q&A.

Fortunately, many of my friends have been through this already, so I learned a few tips:

Check your teeth for spinach.
Make sure your fly is zipped.
Bring kleenix.
Musical instruments help (I'm bringing my harmonica).

Yeah, I'm nervous ... what if no one shows up? I can talk to myself (hey, I'm a Gemini!) but I run out of questions pretty quickly. So if you're around at 2 PM, stop in and say hello!

August is going to be busy ... I've got a number of events and a signing tour jog up to my home state, Washington, at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop and in Portland at Murder by the Book. Plus, I'm finishing up a new novel.

But as soon as I can peel myself off the ceiling, where I've been floating, I'll be back on the noir track.

And in the meantime, watch Gilda. It's as good as you remember.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The New York Minute

Forgive the decidedly un-noirish tones of excitement and exultation, but ...

I'm back from New York and Thrillerfest!

Three days until NOX DORMIENDA is released into the wild!

And I'm taking a blog tour to celebrate ... first stop the fabulous Jungle Red Writers, where the gorgeous and wonderful Hank Phillippi Ryan is my hostess.

Tomorrow I'll be hanging out with my favorite Working Stiffs, and on Friday visiting the BookBitch, where you can win a bunch of terrific thrillers ... I'm thrilled to have my own book included in their company. :)

More blogs to come soon ...

So for now, I'll leave you with a little about Thrillerfest ... and it was so great, so glamorous, so amazing, that I still feel like Leslie Ann Warren in the TV version of Cinderella I grew up with. :)

Everything from January 17, 2007 (my publishing news date) until now seems like a blur ... particularly the last few days in The City, which clicked by like the proverbial NY minute.

Thrillerfest ... the generosity and support ITW has given its Debut Authors is, well, incredible. I mean it. Telling Liz Berry and Kathleen Antrim how I felt about it made me get choked up.

Talking about James M. Cain with the father of the modern thriller, David Morrell. Thanking the wonderful James Rollins and Gayle Lynds and Vicki Hinze for their generous blurbs about NOX. Spending some time with the amazing, warm and wonderful Hank Phillippi Ryan. Sharing a drink with one of my favorite Brits, David Hewson. Getting a chance to thank Lee Child for his mentorship of the program, and M.J Rose for her marketing advice to us, and Joe Moore for being the best web editor around. Sharing a panel with Lynn Sholes and David Liss and Laura Joh Rowland and Doug Abrams and William Martin and Christine Kling.

And hooking up with old friends and Facebook friends and Alaska Bouchercon buddies ... I could fill this entire blog with nothing but names of the wonderful people who are a part of this industry. The very BEST thing about being a writer. :) Meeting Meredith Anthony, charming and hilarious, and the dashing Craig Reed ... taking an overpriced town car (and loving it) to Borders, to see friends and writers Laura Benedict, Michelle Gagnon, Laura Caldwell, Alex Sokoloff, Tim Maleeny, JT Ellison, Shane Gericke, and Mario Acevedo and hear Lee Child's wit in introducing them all.

Hanging out with the wonderful Brent Ghelfi and his gorgeous and wonderful wife Lisa; chatting with the terrific and talented Allison Brennan; sitting at my signing post with the amazing R.L. Stine (and now I know what the R.L. stands for!)

You see what I mean?

Amongst all the specialness was the Debut Author bonding ... both with this year's "class" and next year's. These guys are my colleagues, my team, a close-knit group of classmates. And already I can't wait for the reunions. :)

Here's a Publisher's Weekly link with a photo after the Debut Author Breakfast on Saturday morning. And a shout out to my buds!!

Speaking of media, that was a little dreamlike, too. I did a video interview with Wilda Williams, fiction editor of Library Journal, after the Debut Author breakfast. Hung out with Maria Schneider, the fabu editor of Writer's Digest, in the bar after the banquet (here's a link to a WD newsletter with a picture of me and Raffi Yassayan, fellow debut writer and all-around adorable man). Hooked up with the amazing Jeff Ayres, LJ reviewer and media guru.

So before I start floating off of the floor again, I'd better close ... thanks for reading, and I hope you can join me on one or more locations for the blog tour!

Sunday, July 6, 2008


You remember that hourglass in the Wizard of Oz, with Margaret Hamilton in green, cackling behind it?

Well, I'm watching it trickle away madly, to two dates of major importance, at least to me: July 18th, my official debut date, and August 1st, the day of my launch party at Bourbon and Branch, the famed and fabulous San Francisco speakeasy. It'll be continued the next day--all good parties always run over--at M is for Mystery in San Mateo, CA.

And before these two events, I've got Thrillerfest in just a few days ... my first conference in the Big Apple! I'm on a panel on Saturday, July 12 (Real or Imagined: Historical Thrillers), and am one of the ITW Debut Authors this year -- things will be very busy, but it shouldn't be any other way in NYC.

All this is one way of saying that my life is now in overdrive, and I haven't been able to write a proper blog. So here are a couple of links to other places where I've been talking lately:

The Big Thrill Interview:
Gumshoe Review:
Writer's Digest Notable Debut:

There are more guest blogs on the way, but I do promise to come back as soon as I can and write about a juicy noir.

I've also got an article in the current issue of Mystery Scene. And it's an absolute honor to be there and in the above magazines and e-zines, so I hope you check them out.

And remember:

"Never Surrender, Dorothy!" ;)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Year of the Rat; or, The Best Laid Plans O' Mice and Men ...

Last week I mentioned that a book debut was a little like temporary insanity ... what I didn't know is that I was actually making a prophecy.

In short, dear readers, insanity in the form of the most improbable series of coincidences since the plot of Murder on the Orient Express struck my household on Sunday.

Now, I don't normally like to write about my life blah-blah-blah stuff. Writing in the Dark is, at its heart, supposed to be about noir with a dash of history and esoterica thrown in for good measure. However, the events of Sunday afternoon were so bizarre as to warrant their own blog post. After all, if not to chronicle life's strangeness -- and truth is, indeed, far weirder than fiction -- what else is a blog for?

Noir will return next week, when I resume my top ten countdown (with the truly strange and wonderful Nora Prentiss! Stay tuned!). For now, I'll share a little noirishness of my own ...

Sunday afternoon I was type-type-typing away, trying to finish a chapter of my work in progress ... when I hear some noises that alarmed me, opened the door of our very small, 1941-built San Francisco home, and found my loved one in a state of consternation. Make that great consternation.

First, a little architectural background. San Francisco houses of the district in which we live were usually built with the living space on an upper floor and a garage below. A substantial (for this city) backyard appends the rear. Our house is virtually unchanged from 1941 -- the garage is still a garage and storage area, not an extra living space. One day, when I'm not trying to launch a new career, we'll add an extra bedroom or library downstairs. For now, however, our living space is very small, very crowded (especially with a 70 pound Springer Spaniel) and (at this point in time) messy.

It's called "debut book syndrome," and it happens to the best of homes.

Anyway, we like things old-fashioned, and I am, after all, currently writing about 1940, so hey--our house is like built-in research.

Anyway, back to Sunday. The consternation was because:

A. Said Springer Spaniel evidently had a medical emergency ... in the nature of a urinary tract demonstration. This was brought to our attention by the fact that the living room futon was beyond salvation.

B. At exactly the same time as the dog was tracking pee in the hallway, the cat was hissing and howling outside the door that leads from the hallway downstairs to the garage. And said cat chased a large mouse or small rat under the door, into our house and into the bedroom.

Well, let's just say I didn't get that chapter finished on Sunday. We spent four or five hours trying to clear out the bedroom so that we could find the rat. In the meantime, we also had to make sure the dog was all right, take him out every fifteen minutes, and haul a very, very wet and heavy futon mattress downstairs.

We combed the bedroom looking for the rat, finding it at one point, but then poof! he seemed to disappear under the bed. Fearing the worst, we examined the box springs ... not there, thank God. But that meant ... no, it couldn't be ... one of the eight foot tall bookcases. Maybe he was behind it.

So we stripped that bookcase, dear readers, removing all the precious books until we ran out of room, boxes and bags. We carefully moved the bookcase, and ... no rat.

By then it was time to take a break, and we were faced with:

A. Having to stay in a motel for at least one night
B. Obviously missing work the next day
C. Dismantling 2 (two) more bookcases ... same size

We were in the Slough of Despond, the Pit of Despair, feeling like noir protagonists (you-know-what on page one).

And that, my friends, is when the clouds cleared, if only for a moment, when the magical sound of the Ice Cream man rolled down our street, signaling "Don't worry!"

There's something magical about the Ice Cream man, and no more so than when your dog has ruined your futon and there's a rat in your bedroom.

After a delicious Fudgsicle and Blue Bunny Chocolate Sundae Bar, we resumed our daunting and gargantuan task. We started to clear the room of everything, examining each bag and box to make sure there wasn't a rat in it before we moved it to another spot in the house.

And, lo! I peered into a bag of books, lifting it off the floor ... and I immediately dropped it again, because Mr. Rat was tucked next to a hardback of What Charles Dickens Ate and Jane Austen Wore or something similar.

I stood over that bag like my cat. Loved One cleared the path between the rat and freedom, flinging open the guilty door which led to the basement and the back yard.

Faster than you can say "Fudgsicle" I rolled up the top of that bag (thankfully, it was double-bagged), tucked it under my arm, and performed a 50 yard Rat Dash to the backyard, where Mr. Rat was able to scamper and hop through the grass and up and over the neighbor's fence, from which (we surmise) he had emerged earlier. The cat chased him again, but couldn't be bothered to go over the fence herself. There are limits to Sunday work for cats, or they contact the union.

The literary Rat thus lived to read someone else's library. I immediately fixed the doorway so that, should the universe ever attempt to repeat this insanity, the rat would be forced to make a U-turn.

We were able to stay home that night, though the next day was spent in trying to achieve equilibrium: finding clothes, locating books, rearranging furniture, buying another couch, and of course, getting antibiotics for the dog.

The moral, dear readers, is that something good actually came out of this rather tortuous adventure. We are now in the middle of a late Spring cleaning, foisted upon us by an uninvited guest, and have a great head start in a home improvement project ... despite the impending book launch.

And think about how amazingly lucky we were ... first, to have seen the rat getting chased, and thus be able to do something about it, and secondly, to have found it in a bag.

So here is my Year of the Rat challenge to you: what seemingly horrible event has resulted in something positive for you? When have your best laid plans gone awry, and yet you later discover that that was a good thing? And what has been your equivalent of "The Ice Cream Man" -- that one, shining moment that seems (in retrospect) to have turned everything around?

Share your stories ... it's the Year of the Rat!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Everything's Coming Up Roz!

So here it is ... tomorrow will be a month before my book comes out. Book Debut, by the way, is a euphemism for insanity.

I plan to work my madness out publicly in various forums, so if you're the scientific observer type, just stay tuned. ;)

Before I launch into the actual theme of this week's post, let me interrupt for station identification and tell you about some floor wax (remember that stuff?) ... seriously, good news last week for me: Nox Dormienda is in this month's issue of Writer's Digest as a Notable Debut (pg. 23, so my mother tells me). Last week was also my birthday, and this was a wonderful present.

Also, I'll be announcing soon some guest-blogging spots I'll be doing leading up to the July 18th release. Come by and leave me messages so I don't feel like I'm talking to myself. Writers have too many voices in their heads as it is.

So today, let's talk about Rosalind Russell.


You heard right. Once in a while, I like to deviate from my normal noirishness to discuss different genres and performers from the classic Hollywood era. I dabble in Westerns, flirt with Dramas, dance with Comedy, and duet with Musicals. And Sunday, if you missed it, Patti Lupone won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Mama Rose in Gypsy.

Now, Gypsy happens to be my favorite American musical. Sure, I love Sweeney Todd, a noir if there ever was one, but Gypsy is on the noir end of things, too, and much easier on the viscera. Besides, Gypsy Rose Lee wrote The G-String Murders (some say it was ghost-written), which in turn was made into a film called Lady of Burlesque starring noir queen Barbara Stanwyck. So there you go -- not even six degrees of Double Indemnity.

So what does Rosalind Russell have to do with this? Well, for me, Roz was the ultimate Mama Rose. If you don't know the plot of Gypsy, it's simple: stage mother Rose Hovik mercilessly pushes child sensation Baby June toward stardom, sacrificing everything and everyone to success on a failing vaudeville circuit. Said Baby June (the real life June Havoc, best role Gentleman's Agreement) up and left Mama, and Mama coaxes her plainer sister Louise into taking it off at a strip club. Voila! Gypsy Rose Lee is born.

Of course, it's the music (Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim), dancing (Jerome Robbins) and book (Arthur Laurents) that make the musical. Plus, the acting chops of a good actress portraying a truly complex and challenging character. And it so happens that everyone who has played Mama Rose on Broadway has, indeed, won a Tony.

Ethel Merman (the orginator)? Check. Angela Lansbury? Check. Tyne Daly? Check. Bette Midler won an Emmy for her terrific interpretation (made for TV). Bernadette Peters? Check. And now, Patti.

Not to take anything away from Diva Lupone, but from what I've seen of her performance (and most of the other stage productions), I still prefer the woman who couldn't sing but was a hell of an actress: Rosalind Russell (in the film Gypsy, 1961).

(A digression: I saw Patti in a Sondheim produced production of Sweeney Todd in San Francisco (she played Mrs. Lovett), from the second row. The woman has amazing lung power. And George Hearn is not only brilliant, but a humble and wonderful man. Back to the blog.)

My problem with Patti is that she is charismatic but cold. And Rosalind Russell, in the first few seconds of "Everything's Coming Up Roses" can make me get teary-eyed.

So here's to Rosalind, born June 2, 1907, consummate actress and under appreciated talent. She won five Golden Globes (one for Gypsy) was nominated for an Oscar four times (and should have won) and is best-remembered today for embodying Auntie Mame, both in the film and on Broadway. But make no mistake: this lady played everything.

Hildy Johhson, His Girl Friday (1940), going toe-to-toe with Cary Grant in probably the best comedy ever made. The unglamorous nag Sylvia Fowler in the classic The Women (1939). Mourning Becomes Electra. Night Must Fall. Sister Kenny. Picnic. The Trouble with Angels. And, in one of her last roles, the sleuth Mrs. Pollifax. And countless other films, big and little, all of which were enlivened by her intelligence, her talent and her presence.

So if you get a chance, check out what a great actress can do without a great voice. You'll be left applauding Rose--and Ros--at the end of the film.

As Auntie Mame proclaimed, "Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!" Rosalind Russell, in her charity work, her humanity, her legacy and her talent ... fed us all.

Happy Birthday, Ros.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Beauty of the BEAst, Part II

So after the events of Friday -- and those terrific Cosmos (in honor of the Sex and the City premiere) at the Edison -- I slept like a baby, and woke up on Saturday ready for more BEA and my signing.

And despite Culver Studios across the street, I didn't murmur "Rosebud."

We drove down Venice Boulevard -- I resolutely refuse to travel on gargantuan freeways if I can help it ... past the incredible Helms Bakery building, a landmark of LA Deco from 1931, complete with an amazingly beautiful roof-top neon sign ... past the Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery, with its time-worn, individual monuments. Among the notables interred here: Dooley Wilson, Anna May Wong, Hattie McDaniel, Jessie Benton Fremont, horror director Todd Browning, and Everett Sloane, who portrayed Mr. Bernstein in Citizen Kane.

"Rosebud," indeed. Yet another reason to slow down and actually experience the history of a city, especially one as richly fabled as Los Angeles.

We arrived at BEA, and I put a little time in behind the MWA booth, giving away copies of our short story anthology edited by Michael Connelly, The Blue Religion. Again, the booth was buzzing, due to Margery's brilliant set-up of the booth environment and a constant stream of great authors like Harry Hunsicker and Patricia Smiley. I happily reunited with friend and LCC panel mate Ken Kuhlken (The Vagabond Virgins), and before I knew it, it was time to go see James Rollins (The Judas Strain), who was signing at the autograph area.

James bestowed me with a fantastic blurb for Nox Dormienda-- in fact, he was my first blurb, ever, and let me tell you -- it's a frightening thing to ask authors whom you revere to read your book, just on the possibility that they may like it. It's a process that can be painful and terrifying.

For the record, I never met nor previously corresponded with any of the generous and wonderful authors who blurbed Nox Dormienda, so this was my first chance to thank Jim in person.

By the time I reached the autograph area, they'd already shut off the line, because Jim was to sign for half an hour only. Fortunately, the crowd moved fast enough to add a few more people. I was able to thank him and give him a hug (though not my mother's apple pie, unfortunately -- when she read the blurb, she wanted to bake him one). And I got a signed copy of The Last Oracle, which I can't wait to read! (Jim also wrote the novelization of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull!)

Next, we trekked over to the other hall, wandered around collecting more books and book bags, and visited good friend and author Laura Caldwell (The Good Liar), who was signing in the plush and comfortable Harlequin/Mira booth.

After chatting, I found myself surrounded by two half-naked -- make that more like 85% naked -- angels, characters from a video game/movie/book promo. This sort of thing is what happens at BEA, so I just went with it. After seizing the photo op, I handed the angels my requested business cards ... one went into a bejeweled bra, the other into a jockstrap. These, I believe, are the most exotic places any of my business cards have been ... so far!

Back to the MWA booth, passing a sign for Kirk Cameron (in one booth) and Alan Thicke (in another) and a long, long line at St. Martin's, where Alec Baldwin was sitting, signing marketing materials. Seriously -- no book, but he seemed to be taking time to really talk to people. Even from a distance, he was intense.

Then I had the good fortune to run into friend and Noir Czar Eddie Muller, which is always a special treat, because he's one of the busiest people I know.

When I got back "home" to the West Hall, Margery's husband Steve and Harry were discussing the prospect of getting Hugh Hefner's book. Steve managed to get a picture with the Hefmeister, despite the size and rabid temperament of Mr. Playboy's bodyguards. Pal Bill Cameron (Chasing Smoke) came by to check in with me, and soon it was time for my signing.

I was thrilled ... people actually wanted my book! The brilliant and delightful Penny Warner was sitting next to me, giving away copies of The Nancy Drew Handbook (an indispensable tome if ever there was one!), and we were both busy until we ran out. I only had thirty ARCS with me, so I distributed them very quickly, and was utterly delighted to meet some readers, bookstore owners and librarians.

In the meantime, I had realized that a tall, dark man had taken Ken's seat to my right. His back was to me, but then I realized that Andrew Peterson -- who the day before had signed and distributed over a hundred copies of his first thriller, First to Kill at the Dorchester booth -- was mouthing the words, "Lee Child." And so I turned, and realized that the tall, dark man was also handsome, urbane and witty, and of course was, indeed, best-selling author Lee Child (Nothing to Lose).

Lee is the ITW sponsor of the Debut Author Program, and will be introducing all of this year's debs (myself included) at the Debut Author Breakfast at Thrillerfest next month. So we chatted, and I had the opportunity of thanking him for his incredible support. As I told Lee, joining the program was the single most valuable thing I did as a first-time author ... it's been an amazing education, a wonderful network, and a treasure-trove of friendships.

Then Elizabeth Evans and Amy Burkhardt, two of the stellar agents with my stellar agency, Reece Halsey North, came by. Kimberley Cameron, my wonderful, wonderful agent, was at the Paris branch, so Elizabeth and Amy were down at BEA. I am so thankful to be represented by Reece Halsey North ... it really is "writer's heaven." :)

Eddie came by, and so did Denise Hamilton and Cara Black, whom I only had a chance to hug goodbye, because it was time for Saturday's main event: William Shatner.

We discovered he was scheduled the day before ... and fortunately, my significant other waited in line -- actually started the line -- at the St. Martin's booth, while I was signing. BEA Tip #274: bring family members with you.

Why was meeting Shatner so important to me? Am I a closet Trekkie? Do I own more than one Star Trek toy? OK, I'm a semi-trekkie, but only for the original show. And that wasn't the reason why William Shatner was on my must see list. I had to skip Leonard Nimoy because of the timing, and as much as I adore Nimoy, Shatner would always be my first choice. Why?

Public figures can become icons for a variety of reasons. But only a few become true symbols. I realized this after Princess Diana was killed. Her death felt like losing a family member, and I struggled to make sense of this to myself. I came to the conclusion that, to me and millions of women my age, just a bit younger than Diana, she was a symbol, a sort of ideal self, the ultimate woman of my generation.

We were mourning ourselves, as much as Diana.

With Shatner, I was facing the ultimate paternal figure. The strong, always positive, uber-leader James Tiberius Kirk. I greatly admire Shatner's work with animals, as well as his personal tenacity and humor and strength in adversity. In fact, those characteristics are what enables him to so easily reach that symbolic status. He's been kicked, he's been ridiculed, he's been adored and worshiped. Still, he perseveres, under his own terms. To paraphrase one of the quotes on his new autobiography, Up Till Now:"It's Bill Shatner's world. He just lets us live in it."

So when I say it was like meeting God, maybe you'll get what I mean.

The St. Martin's people passed out the books early, and gave away free audio books, too. Publishing professionals came by, murmuring about how they've always wanted to meet Shatner, can I get in, can so-and-so introduce me. And we stood and waited, while the line grew.

At least I had a chance to chat with Ivory Madison, CEO and Founder of the amazing writer's site Red Room, while we were waiting. Ivory has authored the definitive relaunch of DC's The Huntress, is supremely multi-talented and an absolutely wonderful person. Red Room is a joy to be a part of, a true community. And of course, she immediately understood why I was standing in line!

My feet were killing me, but before I quite realized it, there he was. A literal hush fell over the crowd, and all you could hear were the clicks and whirs of cell phones taking snapshots of Captain Kirk. Steve was standing in front of me, and shook Shatner's hand. We backed up, with me in front.

I'd decided that I had to give him something. I feel like he's given me a great deal. Courage. Tenacity. Entertainment. Positivism. Determination. Strength. So the only thing that seemed appropriate was to give him a copy of my book ... after all, that's why I was at BEA.

Shatner set the rules for the signing, since the St. Martin's people weren't exactly on top of things. One of the booth handlers brought over someone from the booth across the way, a rock musician I hadn't heard of, to have Shatner sign a book for him. You could feel the frenzy of the crowd behind us, eerily still and quiet.

The man himself exudes charisma and an ultimate alpha quality. Truly. It's quite intimidating, and almost frightening. Almost Old Testament, if you know what I mean.

Shatner asked me how long we'd been waiting. He was jovial and chatty, but wanted to have the signing proceed like a well-oiled machine ... like the Enterprise.

So then it was me. I could feel the weight of the 250+ crowd behind me, the swarm of people around us, not waiting in line, but trying to get pictures. When he saw I had two books in my hand, a St. Martin's marketing rep tried to tell me that Shatner was only signing copies of the autobiography, which I knew. I replied that what I was holding was my first book, a gift for Mr. Shatner. In all honesty, I don't remember what else I said. It was hard to get words out, rather like the first time I was in Europe and staring at St. Peter's Square.

Shatner said "Put it there," interrupting any objections from the booth man. So I put my book where he said to put it -- next to him, on his left -- and I thanked him, and he said, quite kindly, "You're welcome," and I tried to say something about how I felt and hoped I didn't sound like an idiot. I couldn't say much. I remember he asked my name, and at the end, when I left, he turned toward me and gave me that particular Shatner wink -- you've seen it a million times, he crinkles one side of his face.

I waited for my group, and none of us were exactly sure what had just happened. Our feet were killing us, we were hungry -- it was after 3:30, and we hadn't eaten lunch. So we walked back to the West Hall, managed to find a table in one of the dining areas, and ate and talked until we felt something resembling normalcy.

Back to the MWA table, to collect my books, say so long. By this time, I was wobbly. Really, really tired, not used to the heat in LA, not used to signing books, not used to meeting symbols. So I had to unfortunately miss out on a helicopter tour of LA I was going to take with Julie Compton (Tell No Lies), another friend from the ITW debut authors, courtesy of pilot and writer Andrew Peterson. But alas -- the spirit was willing, the post Shatner-signing flesh was weak.

After a small dinner at the excellent Italian bistro Novecento in Culver City, I watched a Val Lewton documentary on TCM ... and of course the films it discussed had mostly been made in the studio across the street.

The next day, we thought about going back. But you really can't, not after a Saturday like that. So we didn't rush, enjoyed a Sunday morning in Culver City and flew home to San Francisco later in the afternoon.

Did I really give a copy of Nox Dormienda to William Shatner? Yeah. I guess I did!

My first BEA ... and one to remember.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Beauty of the BEAst, Part I

I'm back from BEA (BookExpo America), and -- while not yet fully recovered -- am at least ready to post about it.

I'm not sure that it's something from which one can recover. An event that large (even though the numbers were low this year), that chaotic, that carnival-like in its showmanship and chutzpah -- yet demonstrating a strange serendipity -- is actually quite an individualized experience. My BEA will be different from all other BEAs, if only because of the sheer number of choices available. Nimoy or Shatner was probably the toughest, but that was day two ... tomorrow's post.

So where to begin? Culver City, I suppose. I stayed at the Culver Hotel, once owned by John Wayne, who, legend has it, won it in a poker game from Charlie Chaplin. This pairing strikes me as highly unlikely ... rather like Michael Moore playing poker with Bill O'Reilly, but you know what they say -- that's Hollywood, or rather Culver City, the "Heart of Studio Land."

Three studios once populated the landscape, and Sony is still located in Culver. More significantly for me, the Hotel is immediately across the street from the old Ince/Selznick/RKO/Desilu studios, where films like Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Rebecca, and Citizen Kane were filmed. They are now the Culver Studios, and are still busy.

If you've ever seen a Selznick movie, you'll remember the opening shot of a colonial mansion, sometimes confused with Tara, that prefaced all of his productions. I woke up to that mansion every day, looking down and to the west from my sixth floor room. That's a magic kind of film history, and the Culver Hotel is a gorgeous, beautiful, wonderful and wondrous place to stay, with an exceptional staff of welcoming and helpful people.

Plus, I really loved the old elevator ... an original from 1924, when the hotel opened.

Across the street is a newly-built Pacific Theater complex, designed to look Art Deco, and done so well that it fooled me from a distance. So at least somewhere there are architects and developers with souls, who remember what beautiful building design looks like.

Friday dawned early and orange in LA, and fellow debut author Andrew Peterson and I entered the huge complex together, first paying our respects outside to the enormous sign for James Patterson. Mr. Patterson was helping bring in the crowds, and I'm looking forward to seeing him in a slightly more cozy environment at Thrillerfest next month.

The Expo feels like a world's fair, an amusement park, a circus, a conference and a business meeting. And depending on what you were there for, it could be all of the above.

People in elephant costumes, people in pirate costumes, people in practically no costume or clothes at all. People with signs, people with free cookies, people with free lip gloss, all wanting your attention, all wanting to call your attention to something, usually a book.

And then there were the free books. Books in every subject, hardbacks, paperbacks, magazines. People passing them out, people piling them on garbage cans because they couldn't stuff them into one of the gazillion free book bags that were handed out along with the -- yes, I said it -- FREE BOOKS.

It was insanity. A woman walked around in zealot robes, carrying a sign that read "The Rapture is Coming ... and it's only 12.99." The flip side said, "It is Written ... but you can also get the audio rights."

That's BEA, Los Angeles-style.

I checked in at the MWA (Mystery Writers of America) booth, where I was volunteering and where I'd be signing on Saturday. The MWA relies on an organizational goddess based in New York named Margery Flax ... Margery had planned everything to the proverbial t and the booth was hopping with excitement. Brad Meltzer (a wonderful writer and guy) was dishing out books like hotcakes, and the joint was jumping!

I hung around for a bit, greeting colleagues, and then wandered off to meet Dionne Warwick, who was signing free copies of her new children's book Say a Little Prayer (complete with bonus CD). I grew up with Dionne, and have always appreciated the fact that she made San Jose a glamorous place when I lived there in elementary school.

Next was Diahann Carroll. OK, by now I was in pure fan mode ... I grew up with Julia, and absolutely adore this woman. She is as sweet, generous and open as she is gorgeous, and signed ARCS of her forthcoming autobiography, The Legs are the Last to Go. We even got a chance to chat about new author syndrome, and she wished me a heartfelt good luck on my book. Wow!

I checked back with MWA to remind myself that I was still an industry professional, and ran into the wonderful David Morrell (founder of ITW (International Thriller Writers), author of First Blood and countless other best-sellers) and his talented, terrific daughter Sarie. As an ITW member (and participant in the ITW Debut Authors Program), I had to thank David for the amazing friendships, opportunities, and education I've received. Soon, a group of us were talking in the giant lobby, and I had a chance to meet uber-talented writer Denise Hamilton (Los Angeles Noir) and walk back to MWA with her.

By this time I was getting kind of woozy, and it was still morning. I headed back to the autograph area [and I need to interrupt myself to explain that authors signed one of two ways: in a specific autograph area, where lines were roped off, and in exhibitor booths, where people could could a little closer].

Now, it so happens that my mother is from Harvey, Illinois. And she grew up in a working-class neighborhood with a little boy named Tommy Dreesen, who grew up to become the wonderful, talented and very funny comedian (and great golfer!) Tom Dreesen. Tom is one of the last links to the Rat Pack, having worked as Sinatra's opening act for the last fourteen years of The Voice's life. Before that, Tom worked for Sammy Davis, Jr. And before that, he and Tim Reid (Venus Fly Trap on WKRP in Cincinnati and acclaimed director) had toured as Americans first (and only) biracial comedy team.

Tom, Tim and Ron Rapoport (the Chicago Sports columnist) have co-authored a book about this experience, called Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White. The book debuts from the University of Chicago press in September, and is as much a thoughtful, poignant look at racism in America as it is autobiographical reminiscence.

Naturally, when my mom found out Tom was going to be at BEA, she asked me to go see him (they've stayed in touch periodically). So when I said, "I'm Patsy Geniusz' daughter!" Tom actually knew who I was, told Tim and Ron that he used to borrow Mom's papers occasionally, and was just an absolute sweetheart -- he's such a kind, generous man. I gave him a copy of my book, and he signed mine, "For Kelli, who is as beautiful as her mom." Something I'll treasure forever!!

By now, my head was spinning, so we tried to scare up some food, but the food court lines were gigantic. Fortunately, we met up with pal and amazing thriller writer Robert Gregory Browne (Kiss Her Goodbye), who helped us fight for chairs (chairs were in shorter supply than tables, and harder to come by than parking at a Toys R Us during Christmas). We managed to score some low-fat muffins and frappucino for our efforts, and were joined by another BFF, Bill Cameron (Lost Dog and the forthcoming Chasing Smoke). These are two of my favorite guys on the planet, and their company was much more refreshing than the Starbucks food.

We all wandered into the main exhibit area, where we split up, Rob and Bill to another publisher area, I to wait in line for Billie Jean King. Yeah, the lady I watched demolish Bobby Riggs in straight sets, who gave courage to every little girl I knew, was there signing copies of her ARC, Pressure is a Privilege. I got a chance to thank her and tell her she's a real Wonder Woman. Plus, she's got a great laugh!

After this, we squeezed into the end of the line for Barbara Walters who was a late addition, and signing free copies of her best-seller Audition. Got a chance to thank Barbara for her inspiration, too. She's quite beautiful in person, with amazing skin and bone structure, and a very gracious benevolence. Can't believe she's 78!

Once outside, I thought I heard a voice call my name, figured it was the angels, and it turned out I was right ... it was Cara Black, the supremely talented author of the Aime Leduc series, good friend, wonderful, wonderful person and fellow San Francisco resident. We caught up on some of the BEA craziness.

After this, I headed back to the hotel and collapsed, finally locating real food at the Culver, and then headed back to downtown LA and into the trendy and fun bar, The Edison. The place looks like a Buffy set ... I half-expected Angel to walk down the stairs. This was an MWA hosted bar, and I had a blast drinking Cosmos and chatting with Margery and husband Steve, friend and Lambda nominee Neil Plakcy (Mahu Surfer) and another great friend, Laura Caldwell (The Good Liar).

Back to the hotel, through the strange, apocalyptic streets of downtown Los Angeles. Back to the Culver, to the Selznick mansion, to the kindly and generous ghosts of the Culver Hotel.

Thus endeth Day I. Childhood icons, my mom's childhood chum. What a day! More tomorrow.