Thursday, May 2, 2013

Profound Thought, and a Free Book Offer

I don't have profound thoughts often, so this might not be up to the standards of those who think profoundly for a living. But it occurred to me that, since language is a development of intelligence,  making a typo--missing a comma, misspelling a word, using a homonym by accident, forgetting the "ed" at the end of a past tense verb, whatever--will always make the person doing the writing look stupid.

Professional writers are not those people who construct language perfectly, but those who've learned to live with the embarrassment of looking stupid on a regular basis.

I thought of this after my brother scanned galleys for the first of my Twins Mystery novels, TWO-FACED, an ebook which will be out in print soon. He found a HUGE Freudian slip of a typo. Not only that, but I made the error 3 times. The editor and 3 proofreaders missed them. I haven't been contacted about it by anyone who read the novel on Kindle or Nook, though it's been on sale for 2 years.

So now I'm admitting my stupidity and doing penance by offering a free copy of any book I have in print to the first 3 people who can describe the typo to me by May 15th.. If you've read the book, go skim through it to see if you can find the mistake. If you want to read the book before the deadline, it's available on Kindle or Nook.

Send your answer to missmaggietests@gmail.com .

Piece...I mean, peace,
Elena

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Horse Sense of Literature

I heard that the U.S. might soon authorize a horsemeat packing plant in New Mexico, despite recent news stories about alarm bells being raised because horsemeat was found in IKEA's Swedish meatballs and sausage. Americans, it seems, are less adverse to pink slime in their fast food than equine protein.

An NPR interviewee was asked why Americans are so against the thought of eating horsemeat. He gave kind of a lame response, saying, more or less, that we think of horses as pets.

Avid readers know it's more than that. Horses have always been an essential part of our most heroic and romantic stories. In our fantasies, princes come riding in on horses, not on cows or pigs.  The Charge of the Light Brigade would have been pretty silly on chickens.

There's a good reason no one ever wrote novels with these titles:


The Black Sirloin
My Friend Filet
The Red Pork
War Heifer
Sea Bovine
Porgy of Chincoteague
Black Beefy
The Holstein Whisperer
National Vealchop

So, New Mexico, why not consider packing some other kind of meat? You have rattlesnakes, don't you? I'd eat that.

Peace,
Elena

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Remembering Robin

My best friend in the mystery writing world, author Robin Hathaway, died last Saturday. I'm going to skip her professional resume here--you can find it on her website or Amazon author page if you're interested.

Robin and I met twenty years ago at a Mid-Atlantic Mystery Convention, at the founding meeting of the Delaware Valley Chapter of Sisters in Crime. We spent the majority of our friendship, I think, in a car or train. At first we traveled to New York City for MWA dinners and Edgar week activities, then we carpooled together to Malice Domestic in the Washington, DC area each year.

When her first novel won the St. Martin's Best Traditional Mystery award in 1997, she phoned, shouting, "I won! I won!" It took a few minutes to get her to calm down enough to tell exactly what she'd won. When she nabbed an Agatha for the book the next year, the first thing she said to me was "You're next." (I did get an Agatha nod the year after, so she was half right, but I had to wait until 2009 before I brought home a teapot myself.) But my point is, amidst her Agatha exhilaration, she thought of me first. She was that kind of person.

Once we both had publications to hawk, our joint book tours began. My favorite was our madcap drive down the Jersey coast, starting with a talk at the Ocean City Library and stopping at every bookstore between there and Cape May in two days, with a short break to collect shells and dip our feet into the Atlantic in Strathmere. And when my second novel came out, we walked all over New York City, fifty blocks to the Upper West Side, twenty-five down to Greenwich Village.

The Caroline half of the Charles Todd team joined us for our next long tour (the southeastern quarter of Pennsylvania) and our trio became known as The Three Witches. We did signings, library talks and conventions, including an epic 15-hour trek to and from Indianpolis for Bouchercon, with Robin lustily singing "Mairzy Doats" to keep me awake while I was driving.


The three of us also got together for week-long writing retreats in the backwoods of South Jersey. We'd write in separate rooms all day, getting our own breakfasts and lunches, then cook a common dinner together at night (gourmet meals they were, too -- Moroccan chicken one night, pork chops with an apple glaze another -- and always moose tracks ice cream for dessert). Afterward, we'd sit out on the screened porch, listening to MP3s of old radio plays. Then more writing before bed.

Really, what I remember most of those twenty years was the conversation. Robin and I never ran out of things to talk about--writing and books, of course, but also history, food, politics, great ghost stories, arts, science, nature, you name it. It wasn't so much common interests that sustained these conversations as it was mutual curiosity.

That's what I'll miss most, that sharing of what we'd learned about the world with each other. But I'm very grateful for having enjoyed two decades in Robin's company.

Elena

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Gunshot Wounds: What The NRA Won't Show You

At the beginning of this month, I heard that doctors had been asked to weigh in on the gun control debate. That's the last I heard about it. Some representative of the NRA or  other gun advocate is on the news at least once a day, but nothing more from the medical world. We hear all about guns--how different ones work, etc.--and, in an abstract way, about gun victims, yet nothing about gunshot wounds.

As a mystery writer, I'd be pretty poor at my job if I only researched various types of guns for my novels, without also researching what the bullets from those guns do when they enter a human body.

In a way, I agree that part of our nation's gun problem is the way Hollywood and video games depict gun violence, though my thinking is that the depictions aren't violent enough. No fictional video shooting depicts what really happens when a person is shot. If they did, a lot of Americans wouldn't rush to defend gun laws. They'd be too grossed out. I can't even post crime scene and autopsy photos here because, frankly, I can't stand to look at them for more than a moment myself. I won't make my readers look at them without warning. I'll include links at the end of this blog so those of you brave enough can go click on them. I'm guessing it won't be the gun proponents who look.

Suffice it to say that a bullet will put a hole in you slightly bigger than the diameter of the ammo. Once the skin is pierced, though, the wound fans out. The exit wound is bigger than the entrance wound. Depending on the power of the gun and size of the ammo, the exit wound can be huge. In the case of President Kennedy, for example, the entrance wound was very small (photo here).  The bullet then blew off much of his skull, taking most of his brain out with it. Film footage shows the First Lady freaking out, not simply because her husband had been shot, but because she witnessed the insides of his head getting splattered all over the backseat of convertible.

Short of being close to a bomb going off, a gunshot is probably the worst violation the human body can suffer. Lots of people who buy guns to defend their homes and families only imagine what they've seen on TV, or those neat round holes in firing range targets. Unless they've been to war or served as a law enforcement professionals, they don't understand what will happen if they point their guns at people and pull the trigger. No policeman I know is against sensible gun control. Not one.


This subject's close to my heart because since late October, my town has had two gun murders, several injuries, and reports of gunfire in the streets at least once a week.  Between living in what feels like a war zone and the 7 mass shootings last year alone, I'm tired of hearing that nothing can be done.

If you took a high school driver ed. course, you no doubt were shown gory movies about what happens to the human body in a fatal car accident. Maybe we should start by requiring would-be gun owners to view photos of real gunshot victims. Maybe we should put photos of gunshot wounds on the packaging of firearms designed strictly for the shooting of human beings, like we do on cigarette packs.


As disgusted as I hope you are,
Elena

Links:

Forensic article on gunshot wounds. Click on blue highlighted words to see photos.
Patterns of Tissue Injury. Collection of gunshot wound photos.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Beth Ann's Blog for Eco-Geeks

You might have noticed that I haven't posted here since August. I think I've exhausted the subject of writing, so I've been rethinking what to do with this space. Meantime, Beth Ann (teen science whiz and costar of my Possessed Mystery Series), asked if she could use my blog to save the earth. Could I say no? Here's her first entry.

Wind Energy Turned On Its Side
by Beth Ann Lee

Last summer, London's Olympic Park included 7 vertical axis wind turbines. Here's a photo.

They look pretty classy, don't they? Less offensive than a lot of cables strung all over a city.

A vertical axis turbine can catch wind from any direction. They're more efficient than a standard wind turbine because they don't require a minimum wind speed or power to start. They're also quieter. These could easily be used on roadways to offset or fulfill the power needs of streetlamps and  traffic lights, and on bridges for a de-icing grid. One turbine can provide up to 7500 kWh per year, making them a viable power source for home rooftops.

You can read more about London's turbines here.
Turbines in Olympic Park
Another type of vertical axis turbine






Friday, August 24, 2012

Confessions of a Teenage Republican

Deep, dark secret that only one or two folks know about me: I was a Teenage Republican.

Not that I had much choice. Our high school didn't have a Teenage Democrat Club. Back then in our town, Democrats were encouraged to leave. Or stay behind closed doors, preferably on election days. You couldn't get a job at the courthouse if you weren't registered with the GOP.

So my choice was to join or not to join the Teenage Republicans. The mom of one of my best friends was a councilwoman, making said friend interested in politics. She didn't want to go to the meetings alone, and my social life being what it was (ie, no different than now), I joined the acned version of the Grand Ol' Party.

To tell the truth, I don't remember a thing about the club. I don't recall actually doing anything. Yet I think it did me some good in that I started following the issues, and have voted in every election from the moment I reached voting age. And if you pay attention to politics, you can't help noticing that politicians have traits that lend themselves nicely to certain characters in mystery novels.

I was always a lousy liar, I think because I grew up around science geeks. Yes, truth has gray areas, but certain facts can't be denied. The sun rises over different points on the horizon, but always in the eastern sky. So I'm fascinated by people who can bend the truth like they're pulling taffy. A skillful politician, if it suits his agenda, might tell you this month that the sun rises in the north. It's before the fall equinox, so he'd be right. Northeast sky. Doesn't matter if, in a month's time, the sun will rise in the southeast. He's scored his point, having convinced you today. When he draws you further from the facts next time, you're more likely to trust him.

Take a villain in a mystery, or any characters with secrets to hide (and really, every suspect worth his alibi will have a secret). Give those characters some ability to spin the truth and you'll fool the reader every time.

I like to think I learned from the best, since Richard Nixon was president when I was a Teenage Republican.

I must say, though, that the current batch of GOP politicians is disappointing. They just lie. No finessing the truth at all. They don't start from fact and pull you into their scam from there. Too lazy. They merely pick their own alternate reality and stick to it, repeating untruths ad nauseum in interviews, until they sound like scratched CDs and look ridiculous. I mean, seriously, you can admire a great con man. He's a pro. But do we really want to elect people so inept that they can't even lie convincingly?

If you're thinking of running for public office, do the fiction writers of this world a favor and master the basics of verbal manipulation. We're depending on you for inspiration.

For everyone else, make sure you're registered to vote. If you're in one of states (like I am) that insist on trying to suppress your vote, make sure you have the proper ID. And don't be, as Mr. Lincoln said, one of those people who can be fooled all or even some of the time.

Elena

Monday, August 13, 2012

Pat Montella Is Laughing At Me


Pat's the protagonist in my Possessed Mystery Series. When I was developing her character, she needed a hobby. Cooking, I decided--the kind of necessary but creative past time someone doing drudge work for corporate America could delve into at the end of a frustrating workday.

This wasn't a matter of write-what-you-know. When I penned the first book, By Blood Possessed, my repertoire in the kitchen consisted of brewing tea, nuking frozen dinners, and frying up the occasional French toast.

My mom had been the quintessential Italian cook. So was her mother before her. My brother Tom not only took after them, but figured out the art of great homemade bread. They weren't gourmets, mind you, but I grew up well fed. I never needed to learn to cook. For Pat's gastronomic creations, I had my family recipes to draw on.

In 2008, I was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance. All of a sudden, my diet had to be cleared of wheat, barley and rye products, and of anything else processed with those grains. I lost my major food groups: pizza, pasta and Italian rolls. My brother's bread was taboo. No more cake, donuts or other baked goods. No more of my usual breakfast cereals. Nothing breaded. No beef or turkey gravy. No Philly cheesesteaks or hoagies.

After a frantic couple of months wondering what I could safely put down my gullet, I made my mind up to learn how to cook and, especially, bake without gluten. At first it seemed like alchemy--like I was trying to make gold from inferior metals. Slowly, though, I learned about flours made from other grains: rice, tapioca, etc. I learned to mix them to make a better baking flour than wheat. I learned to change the mix or add specialty flours like buckwheat (not a wheat grain) for really great new tastes. I even learned to use xanthan gum, which Pat had actually made fun of in the first book.

I found out that I love cooking and baking. Oh, I still have a lot to learn. I haven't mastered yeast bread yet, for instance. But I can happily spend an hour throwing together quick breads or cookies or biscuits, and my gluten tolerant friends tell me they're better than most wheat baked goods. Last month, I made my first cake from scratch, something my mom was a whiz at and I thought I'd never do. I've even posted a bunch of my gluten-free recipes at Sparkrecipes.

The main reason Pat's laughing at me is that this month I'll be teaching cooking classes. Me, who five years ago couldn't do much more than boil water. If you're interested and are in my area, classes will be August 20th and 27th. For more info, go to the Really Cooking With Robin website

And look for Pat to be learning gluten-free cooking herself soon. I can't let her have the last laugh.

Buon appetito!
Elena

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