Category Archives: Alafair Burke

So About That Pre-Order Gift…

by Alafair Burke

You may recall that a few months ago, I solicited your advice about a pre-order campaign for my first standalone thriller, LONG GONE, which comes out … OMG, tomorrow!  After giving pre-orderers (that’s a word, right?) a keychain last year for my novel 212, I wanted to know what readers might appreciate this time around.  Another trinket I could send to every person?  Or a smaller chance at being one lucky winner of something big, like an iPad?

Well, in more than fifty comments, y’all made three preferences very clear: 1) It’s more about the gesture than the monetary value; 2) Better to give something to every reader than to just one lucky winner; and 3) The more personal to the reader-writer relationship, the better.

Thanks to your input, I made a decision I never could have reached on my own.  In fact, I got so excited that I disclosed the decision in parts.  Because we all love mysteries, I decided to make the LONG GONE pre-order gift a surprise.

Like all good mysteries, this one came with clues.

1.  It consists of thirteen parts that can be assembled in less than three seconds.

2.  You put its parts together with your fingers, but you will not want to hold it.

3.  What force and strength cannot get through, this, with little effort, can do.

4.  It is not a car or an iPad. It is something little old me can actually give everyone who buys a book.

Got it?

Did you figure it out?

Try one more time?

It’s a thirteen-letter password!  And in that case, it’s a password to a private book club.  It’s private in every sense of the word. It requires a password, available only to early supporters of Long Gone.

It is also private because it provides a behind the scenes look at the writing of Long Gone: thoughts about various scenes and characters, information about the real locations depicted in the book, and other content that I hope will enhance the reading experience. 

Y’all told me readers wanted something personal and connected to the books.  I couldn’t think of anything more personal and Long-Gone related than exclusive content from the gal who wrote the novel.  Although the password to this club was intended to be a pre-order “gift” to readers and a small token of my gratitude, it has turned out to be a gift to me as well. 

LongGone_HiRes FINAL SNAPSHOT 3-21-11

In the past, I constantly had to admonish readers on Facebook and the web not to post comments with SPOILERS!  The private book club is a place where we can all start on page 1 together (tomorrow!) and read together for 10 days.  Every post begins with a page number, so anyone who falls behind can skip that post and come back later.  Faster readers can wait for the rest of us to catch up, then jump into the conversation.  I am really looking forward to talking to readers about LONG GONE in real time as they read.  Then on July 5, at 9 PM EST, we’ll wrap up our club with a live webchat.

Since all of you here helped me come up with this experiment, I thought you might want the details.  And because some of you may even want to join the club, I’m extending membership applications through the week. 

How do you get the password to the club?  Just purchase a copy of LONG GONE by June 25 (earlier is better, though, because we start reading tomorrow!).  It can be an e-copy or a paper book.  Either forward your proof of purchase to offer@alafairburke.com, OR fill out this handy, dandy pre-order offer form, whichever is easier.  Then I’ll send you the club location and password.  How simple is that?

The book club might be a completely transformative way to read a book with a community, or it could be a total trainwreck.  Either way, I’m looking forward to the experiment, and appreciate the willingness of others to follow me on the journey.

Learn more about LONG GONE, read an excerpt, and watch the video trailer here.  You can find many of your favorite booksellers here and here.  For signed copies, contact stores listed here.

And since I’m totally pimping myself out today, I’ll go all in with the advance praise:

“I loved this book.” —Michael Connelly

“Long Gone is a tremendous novel, and Alafair Burke is one of the finest young crime writers working today.” —Dennis Lehane

“Alafair Burke’s first standalone is an absolutely riveting must read—and the ending is a shocker you’ll never see coming.” —Lisa Scottoline

“A red-hot firecracker of a thriller. If you already love Alafair Burke’s novels, buckle up for her best book ever.” —Lisa Unger

“Highly addictive. The ending will leave you breathless.” —Karin Slaughter

“Very smart. The dialogue crackles, the plot is intriguing, and the pacing is perfect.” —Nelson DeMille

Seriously, everyone: Thanks a lot for your input about this in March.  I’m very happy with the little “gift” we came up with, and hope some of you here will enjoy it as well.

Comment time: What was the last book (other than LONG GONE, natch) that you purchased? And was it hardback, paper, or e?

 P.S. I’ll be the featured guest blogger this week for Powells Books, posting everyday this week.  Stop by and say hi!

The Duffer Awards: Legendary Characters, Ridiculous Awards

by Alafair Burke

Remember high school Year Book Awards?  Most Likely to Succeed?  Best Dresser?  Most likely to raise the biggest pig?  (Hey, I went to high school in Kansas!)

Well, I think crime fiction characters need these kinds of very, very serious awards.  So for the entire month of June, my website will host the first annual Duffer Awards. Each day will feature two beloved crime fiction characters, matched head-to-head for very, very serious award categories like Most Likely to Win a Hot Dog Eating Contest and Odd Couples Most Likely to Win on Amazing Race.

And very serious awards need very serious award statues.  Duffer, as you probably know, is my very serious dog. 

dufflonggone 2

Here is a Duffer Award. (Notice that his body is NOT an Oscar Award because that would undoubtedly be some kind of trademark infringement, and Duffer is much too serious to get caught in that kind of scandal.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We started the Duffer Awards on June 1.  (See how I used “we”?  Like “we” are a major operation with accountants tallying votes and whatnot?  We are very serious.)

Here are the awards we’ve decided so far (winners in bold):

1. Most Likely to Marry His Ex-Wife
Mickey Haller (Michael Connelly) v. Jesse Stone (Robert B. Parker)
 
2.  Most Likely to Sacrifice an Arm a la 127 Hours
Serge Storms (Tim Dorsey) v. Gretchen Lowell (Chelsea Cain)
 
3.  Most Likely to Make a 15-mile Detour for Good Junk Food
Tess Monaghan (Laura Lippman) v. Kinsey Milhone (Sue Grafton)

4.  Best Manners
Maisie Dobbs (Jacqueline Winspear) v. Inspector Lynley (Elizabeth George)

5.  Most Badass Sidekick
Bubba Rogowski (Dennis Lehane) v. Clinton “Skink” Tyree (Carl Hiaasen)

Today at the website, you can vote on Best Hat: Raylan Givens (Elmore Leonard) v. Walt Longmire (Craig Allen Johnson).  Post a comment beneath your vote, and you’ll automatically be entered to win weekly prizes including signed copies of my books and $50 gift certificates to your favorite bookseller.  The more you comment, the more you’re entered to win. 

Coming later in the month are 24 additional very serious awards for very serious things like Best Shoes, Ability to Travel the Globe in Two Pages or Less, Most Likely to Crash a Server on Match.com, and Most Likely to Get Away With It.  Click here and start voting today. And I hope the Murderati will visit the Duffers every day in June to vote on a new award.  (And perhaps help spread the word.  This should be fun for anyone who reads crime fiction!)

The Best Two Bucks You Can Spend

400000000000000381699_s4In other June-only news, ANGEL’S TIP is available in the US as a $1.99 e-book.  This special edition also includes an essay from me about the real-life stories that inspired ANGEL’S TIP, as well as the first three chapters of my new book, LONG GONE. 

If the idea behind this low price is to hook new readers, I feel a bit like a drug dealer handing out free samples on the playground.  But if you have been at all entertained by my posts here, this is a way to check out the novels for less than a cup of coffee. 

Here are the links to buy for Kindle, Nook, and the Sony Reader.  Okay, I feel a little dirty now.  And not in a good way.

Now for Comments: Help me get an early start on next summer’s Duffer Awards.  What are some very, very serious awards for crime fiction characters, and which two characters would make a good head-to-head match for the award?

Welcome Michael Koryta

by Alafair Burke

I first met Michael Koryta after the Edgar Awards in 2004.  I was having a post-ceremony party.  A long-time friend asked if she could bring agent David Hale Smith and one of his clients.  The client’s name was Michael Koryta.  His novel, Tonight I Said Goodbye, had been published by St. Martin’s Press after winning the PWA/SMP Prize for Best First PI Novel.  Now it had been nominated for an Edgar for Best First Novel.

When the three of them showed up at my apartment door, I played hostess by immediately offering cocktails to my new guests.  I paused as I poured Michael’s Makers Mark.  

“Should I be carding you?” I asked.

“No.”  He assured me I would not be breaking New York law by serving him.  “A few months ago, yes, this would’ve been a problem.  But I’m officially legal now.”

Wow. Twenty-one years old and already nominated for an Edgar.  I told him I hated him, and we’ve been buddies ever since.

Because we’re friends, I hope Michael will forgive me for even mentioning age more than seven years later.  In that time, he has become a full-time writer.  He has published an additional seven novels.  He teaches creative writing at the side of none other than Dennis Lehane.  He has found fans in writers as diverse as Ridley Pearson, James Patterson, Michael Connelly, and Dean Koontz.

As the Wall Street Journal pronounced in a profile last year, “Michael Koryta does not fool around.”

He’s also one of my favorite writer friends.  He writes, in my view, for the right reason (because he has to) and with the right objective (to create a better book every single time).  It’s my pleasure to host him here at Murderati before the launch of his latest book, THE RIDGE.

AB: Congratulations on the launch of your new book, THE RIDGE.  Tell us a little bit about the book.
 
MK: Thanks! It’s a kind of hybrid detective novel and ghost story, which is the blend I’ve been playing around with in these last three (SO COLD THE RIVER, THE CYPRESS HOUSE, and THE RIDGE). The book opens with a rural Kentucky sheriff’s deputy being called out to investigate the apparent suicide of a local eccentric who built — and lived in — a lighthouse in the woods. I wanted to write something that called upon a lot of the flavor of Appalachian folklore and legend.

AB: Let’s talk about the genre shift.  As you mentioned, after five well-received crime novels, you switched gears in 2010 with SO COLD THE RIVER, which had enough of a horror/supernatural feel that reviewers were comparing you to Steven King. Since then, with both THE CYPRESS HOUSE and THE RIDGE, your work has continued in the direction of the supernatural.  So what happened to move your work away from nuts-and-bolts investigating into the realm of the unexplained?  Did you start seeing ghosts or something?


 

MK: I keep hoping to spot one, but so far no luck. I really hadn’t anticipated making this change. SO COLD just seemed to cry out for a ghost story — I was writing about a place that had a really bizarre history, bridged a full century, and was built on the legendary reputation of healing mineral springs. To go purely procedural with that seemed wrong. Once I’d introduced myself to writing mysteries that had a component of the unexplained, I fell in love with it. The change in form was really refreshing, and challenging. I found the supernatural stories a great deal harder to plot. That was part of the fun, though, figuring out how to sell this new wrinkle, first to myself and then — hopefully — to the reader.

AB: PD recently blogged here about genre shifting — and our readers’ reactions to it.  How have your early readers reacted to the most recent books?  And was their response a consideration when you envisioned your most recent books?
 
MK: Well, most of the feedback I heard was positive. Surprised, maybe, but positive. A lot of “I don’t usually read this sort of thing, but I decided I’d give it a chance because of your previous books, and I really enjoyed it.” That’s very rewarding, when readers are willing to follow you in some different directions. Now, I’m sure some people did not like the new direction, and that’s fine. You can’t worry about that. I really think you’re putting yourself in a very dangerous place when you consider reader response before writing a book. At that point you’re beginning to let the market dictate the material, and you can lose your creative soul awfully fast doing that. Was I worried people wouldn’t like the books? Sure. But I’m always worried that people won’t like a book, so that was hardly a new experience.

AB: Four of your first five novels featured investigator Lincoln Perry,  who also earned you an Edgar nomination for your debut book, TONIGHT I SAID GOODBYE.  Will readers be seeing anymore of Lincoln Perry any time soon?  What’s next for you?

MK: I’d be very surprised if I never returned to Lincoln, which is interesting, because when I wrote the last lines of THE SILENT HOUR I had a pretty firm sense that, whether I liked it or not, I’d just written the coda for him. I just didn’t see that character calling me back, felt as if I’d run the well dry. Now, three books removed, I’m beginning to think about him again. I miss writing about Cleveland. Lincoln was my window into Cleveland. So we will see. The next book is a traditional crime novel, nary a ghost in sight, and it’s about two brothers who lost a sister to violent crime when they were in their teens. It’s an idea I’ve been kicking around for several years, and it just kept circling back.

AB: You have now published three novels in twelve months.  Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with both the writing pace and the publishing pace?
 
MK: There’s an element of smoke and mirrors to it. It would appear that I stepped up my writing speed dramatically. That’s not really the case, though. In fact, THE RIDGE took me 16 or 17 months, which is the longest I’ve spent on a book. What has been stepped up is the production pace. When I came to Little, Brown, Michael Pietsch, my editor, suggested that we break the traditional approach of having the hardcover out, then 11 months later the paperback, then the next hardcover. He wanted to increase visibility by shortening the time between books. We had long lead time with SO COLD, so it didn’t seem too intimidating to me. My writing pace didn’t have to change, but all elements of production were crunched like crazy, and kudos to the Little, Brown team for somehow pulling it off. We are going from copy edits to finished books on THE RIDGE in 10 weeks, I believe. That’s pretty quick! It is also operating with the idea that you don’t need to have a galley floating around for a whole year before release, and I think that makes a lot of sense.

AB: I know you’ll be traveling a bit for The Ridge.  In fact, I’ll see you in Phoenix on June 25, thanks to Barbara Peters and The Poisoned Pen.  Thanks to JT, we were talking here recently about the value of touring.  Your thoughts?
 
MK: Can’t wait to see you. Pack your golf clubs. And Duffer. This will be the shortest tour I’ve done. That’s another side to the three books in 12 months routine: lots of travel. I’ve got to shut that down for a while if I intend to publish again anytime soon. Book tours are kind of mysterious to me. Financially, I think publishers have to be looking at it as a long-term payoff, because the only writers who are going to sell enough copies by touring to offset the travel costs are the writers who don’t need to tour, anyhow.

Events are pretty critical to indie stores, and indie stores are absolutely imperative to authors, particularly new or lesser known writers. I don’t believe there’s enough value to justify an author investing large amounts of his or her own money into touring. There are dozens upon dozens of extremely successful writers who almost never make appearances. Dean Koontz has sold more than 400 million copies and has never toured. When was the last time anybody spotted Grisham on the road?

Now let’s look beyond the #1 bestsellers, to those of us who are trying to hang in there and improve sales enough to get another deal and live to fight another day. I think you’re far more likely to gain ground doing that in the hours spent at the keyboard than in the airport. So I suppose my long-winded answer here is: moderate value at best. We’ve all seen writers who come out and beat the trail for 500 events and it doesn’t catapult them beyond a writer who did 10 events. Good publicity and good word of mouth are far more critical, and those come from writing good books, unless you have some odd hook like, you know, being Snooki.

Touring can be addictive for the writer because A) you feel productive, running out of airports and into cabs, and B) most booksellers are flat-out awesome people and you want to be around them. But I remain convinced that you’re going to benefit yourself most in the hours spent at the desk.

AB: We also talk a lot here about the increased pressures on authors to be their own publicity machines, especially on the internet.  You have maintained a fairly close zone of privacy.  What boundaries, if any, do you have about your presence as an author online?  We’re happy to have you here on Murderati as a guest, but what are your thoughts about blogging regularly, friending readers on Facebook, and Tweeting?


MK: Kind of funny — I’m the infamously young writer of our current pack, and I’m the least social network savvy. After about five years I finally advanced to having a news blog! The publisher runs a books page on Facebook that is really good, but I’m not too active with my own page beyond putting up fun profile photos from Seinfeld. I have yet to tweet, though I’ve promised Little, Brown that I will give it a try.

You’re right that there really is no way to reach me directly on the internet. Part of my reluctance is a privacy issue, I suppose, yes, but more of it is based in time loss. You can lose HOURS on Facebook so easily! It’s amazing. But there are other things I’d prefer to be doing with those hours. I can see enormous value in being able to interact with your readers, but ultimately the interaction I’m most concerned with is the one they have with the story. Lots of readers felt and continue to feel personally touched by Dickens, but as far as I know he has yet to send a tweet or poke anyone on Facebook.  


AB: You worked for a private investigator before you were writing full-time.  What’s your best story from your PI days?

MK: You’re an attorney, and a law professor, and yet you immediately ask me to violate the confidentiality agreement I signed? Nice. I’ve got lots of favorites. Kind of high up there was a woman who had made a full disability claim. I spent a week outside her house watching while absolutely nothing happened, then went into a bar to hear my friend’s band play, sat down, and saw this lady making a giddy drunken fool out of herself on the dance floor. Reason I always kept a video camera in the car!

I also kept a hardhat and a roll of old blueprints that I got from dad, who is an engineer, because nobody questions a guy who’s pulled off the side of the road if he’s wearing a hardhat and has construction diagrams spread out on the hood.

There were some funny stories — a theft case that involved more than 200 pairs of panties stolen from one girl (who has 200 pairs of panties?!) and some tragic ones — a wrongful death case in which a child had been killed; putting together the narrative of that poor kid’s life was the most haunting and disturbing thing I’ve been involved with — but the job was always grist for the mill.

AB: I know we’ve both been blessed to have some of the most generous mentors in the crime fiction world.  Who have some of your mentors been, and what lessons have you learned from them?
 
MK: Wow, yes, blessed is the word. I find over and over again that this is a wildly generous community. There’s no better example than Michael Connelly. He’s just the guy you want to be like, from the way he approaches the craft to how he carries himself and treats other people. Dennis Lehane, of course. He was still teaching when I started publishing, which I think is a remarkable thing, and I certainly benefited enormously from that and from just from being around Dennis. The great Laura Lippman! George Pelecanos, Stewart O’Nan. Steve Hamilton, who probably pays more attention to rookie writers than anybody else out there. I get nervous working on the list because I can go very long with it and still leave people out. I think the generation of writers who came right before ours really set a standard that’s been recognized and hopefully will be emulated in our little crime fiction world. There are an awful lot of us who will not forget the way a Michael or a Laura or a Steve treated us when we showed up at our first Bouchercon with a debut book and a dazed expression.

AB: Who is cuter: Duffer or XXX?  (Why the hell can’t I remember your dog’s name?)

Because the name doesn’t matter, Duffer is going to win this competition, and everybody knows it. Especially Duffer.

AB: Aw, the sign of a true Mensch.  Koryta doesn’t want Duffer subjected to competition.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little more about Michael Koryta today.  Today’s a travel day as he heads into New York for BEA, but we’ll both be checking in periodically to chat.  One lucky commenter will win a copy of Michael’s new book, THE RIDGE.  In a starred review, Publishers Weekly says, “Koryta delivers another supernatural thriller with punch….Part ghost story, part murder mystery, all thriller, this fast-paced and engaging read will have readers leaving the night-light on long after they have finished the book.”  James Patterson says, “A man in love with the woman who shot him. Who could possibly resist that story? Not me. Read on, and discover one of the scariest and most touching horror tales in years.”

THE RIDGE hits stores on June 8.  You can order THE RIDGE here.

P.S. Speaking of time wasted online, for the entire month of June, my website will host the first annual Duffer Awards. Each day we will post a new poll featuring two beloved characters nominated for very, very serious award categories like Most Likely to Win a Hot Dog Eating Contest and Best Shoes.  Post a comment to enter to win weekly prizes including signed copies of my books and $50 gift certificates to your favorite bookseller!  I hope the Murderati crowd will check out the Duffer Awards starting June 1 and every day in June. 

Ending the Phrases “I Don’t Read” and “I Don’t Read Women,” One T-Shirt At A Time

by Alafair Burke

Admit it. At some point in your life, you’ve said it, or at least heard someone say it. “I don’t read books by women,” or more harshly, “I don’t like women authors.”

Typically when I hear the sentiment, there’s a slight (and I suppose flattering?) modification: “I don’t usually like women authors, but I love your books.”

Huh??

Appreciative yet perplexed, I started asking readers why they thought they didn’t like women authors. Usually they said it was because the books weren’t hard-boiled enough. Or they said there was too much romance and not enough action.T hey believed that women writers were writing for women and not men.

On the conference circuit, I’ve talked a little bit about the stereotyping of authors, and we’ve had great discussions about male/female differences (or the lack thereof) here on Murderati.  I do believe that publishers and editors are more likely to steer female crime writers toward romantic suspense.  They might also encourage them to write more about female experiences and characters. 

But to say “I don’t read women” is very different than preferring certain types of books over other types of books.  Some of the most inventive, brilliant, and, yes, bad-ass crime fiction being written today comes from women.  Using gender as a proxy for subgenre is a darn lazy way to choose books when your local independent bookseller will happily hand-select books tailored to your individual preferences, and when Amazon tells you if you like Michael Connelly, you might also like Tess Gerritsen, and if you like Harlan Coben, you might also like Lisa Gardner, and when thousands of high-quality reader-reviews are a computer away via GoodReads

I was talking about the “I don’t read women” phenomenon over on my Facebook wall a few months ago, and I quipped, “I want a t-shirt that says Real Men Read Women.”  Before I knew it, a bunch of my friends said they wanted to buy that t-shirt.  Well, when it comes to my readers, I say, “Ask and you shall receive.” 

But if I was going to get into the tee-shirt vending business, the money needed to go to a good cause.  And as the daughter of a writer and a librarian, I see no worthier cause than youth literacy.  As much as I hate to hear someone say, “I don’t read women,” it’s far worse to hear, “I don’t read.”  And it’s even sadder to hear those words from a child.

Did you know that the majority of low-income families do not have a single book for their children at home?  Teachers have students bringing in phone books when asked to bring a book from home, because it was the only book they had. 

I’m proud to report that bestselling (and super cool) authors Lisa Gardner, Tess Gerritsen, Laura Lippman, Karin Slaughter, and Lisa Unger have lent their names to an odd little effort to end the phrases “I don’t read” and “I don’t read women,” one t-shirt at a time.  Thanks to them, “Real Men Read Women” gear is now available online

We’ve also got “I Like Boys Who Read Books by Girls” gear.

And though we thought that the use of our names would help bring the crime fiction community to the effort, we also have gear that does not list any individual authors, so you can collect the gear even if you prefer Harper Lee and Dorothy Parker.

All profits will go to First Book, a non-profit organization that provides new books to low-income children.  Order your stuff here.  And if you’re not into t-shirts, mousepads, and water bottles (who ISN’T into that stuff?), please consider donating directly to First Book here.

Thanks in advance for your support and for help spreading the word!

I’ll be raffling off a t-shirt to one lucky commenter.  Just post a comment that relates either to your favorite female authors or your experiences reading as a child.

P.S./B.S.P.  Early reviews for my new book, LONG GONE, are rolling in.  Library Journal, in a starred review, says “Burke’s first stand-alone novel is a fast-paced, plot-driven nail-biter.”  And from Booklist: “Burke delivers a tightly plotted, suspenseful account  . . . It’s very much in the Lisa Gardner vein—strong female protagonist, shadowy villains, intricate and suspenseful story.” (And they didn’t even know Lisa and I are on t-shirts together!)  Still waiting for PW and Kirkus.

You can watch the LONG GONE book trailer here:

Research and the Internet

by Alafair Burke

When I was a kid, I remember my father (a writer) calling the number for the public library’s reference desk from memory.  I’d hear him say, “Phyllis, it’s Jim calling again.”  He knew their voices.  Their names.  They knew his.  For years, he always thanked the reference librarians who’d helped nail down factual tidbits he needed for his fiction.

Fast forward thirty years, and now I’m also a writer.  Like him, I also stop a few times a day to wonder whether my memory serves me correctly as I’m writing.  What year did that song come out?  How long would it take someone to drive from lower Manhattan to Buffalo? 

But unlike my dad, I don’t call the reference desk at the library for answers.  I take to the internet.  Thanks to tools like Google and Wikipedia, we have a seemingly limitless ability to pull up the most arcane information in seconds.  Google Maps allows us to take a virtual walk around a midwestern town we’ve never been to.  Online menus let us see what a character might order at a southern diner whose grease-soaked air we’ve never smelled.  I even use my Facebook friends as a modern-day version of Phyllis the reference librarian, asking my “online kitchen cabinet” for suggestions about fictional town names and the imagined decor for a successful man’s home office in the early 1980s. 

Yep, thanks to the Internet, an author’s job as researcher has never been easier. We don’t want emails from people telling us that a song playing at a character’s prom wasn’t written until her sophomore year in college, do we?  That’s why I love the archives of the Billboard Music charts. Did you know that the number one song the week of my birth was “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies?  I did.  I looked it up.

We also don’t want a bunch of thirty year old characters with names like Barbara (too old — sorry Barbaras of the world) or Brianna (too young — sorry, really really sorry).  Did you know that the third most popular name for girls in 1981 was Amanda?  I did.  I looked it up.

A Name You Will Not Find in a Baby Name Directory

One downside to online research, however, is the potential for distraction.  Finding out what song was playing at Ellie Hatcher’s prom is worth a few-minute detour from the manuscript.  But, oddly enough, I never seem to stop there.  Instead, I decide I have time to look up the top song during the week of my birth.  Then I have to watch the song video on You Tube.  Then I have to stop by my own YouTube account to rewatch, for the fiftieth time, the video of my dog Duffer walking to daycare.

Then it’s a brief sojourn at Facebook, where friends Laura Lippman and Chevy Stevens have each independently sent me a link to this awesomely happy video of a hip hop french bulldog and his mad dance movez. 

Then I have to send that link to my 13-year-old nephew, who doesn’t realize it’s a video gone viral, and really believes that the hip hop dog is my Duffer and that the boy in his undies on the couch is my husband.  And then I have to laugh about that — alot — with my sister. 

Then I have to check out the links that friends have shared on my page in response to Laura and Chevy’s posts.  One of the links is to a website featuring funny pictures of upside down dogs

Nothing funnier than that, right?  Well, except maybe this site, courtesy of Karin Slaughter, featuring super creepy Easter Bunny pictures.

Before you know it, that answer to the song at homecoming has cost me an hour or so.  Even at her most loquacious, Phyllis the reference librarian never sucked up an hour.

This year, I’ve been trying very hard to separate writing at the computer from researching (and, more often, playing) on the internet.  Thanks to a tip from Lisa Unger (wow, lots of name-dropping today.  My friend Bobby DeNiro told me never to name-drop)  — anyway, thanks to a tip, I downloaded an internet-blocking program called Freedom, which allows me to lock myself offline for however long I decide.  If a research question comes up, I can jot it down for later.  I haven’t been as diligent as I had planned, but do find that Freedom helps me get words on the page when I actually crack down and use it.

And when I don’t use it, man, do I love the internet!

So tell me ‘Rati, what are your favorite online sites these days, for either legit research or total brain candy?

P.S.  If you’re like me and goof off online, feel free to share some madness on Facebook or Twitter.

Welcome Jonathan Hayes!

by Alafair Burke

I met author Jonathan Hayes in 2008 at a Thrillerfest cocktail party for Harper authors at Mysterious Bookshop in New York.  His first novel, Precious Blood, had just come out to rave reviews.  It turned out we had a lot in common.  He also still had a crime-related day job, serving as the city’s Senior Medical Examiner.  He liked good food and bad movies.  And, importantly, given the realities of new friendships in New York City, he lived  three blocks away from me.

A friendship was born. 

I am delighted to report that Jonathan’s much-anticipated second novel, A HARD DEATH, is in stores this week.  I hope you enjoy getting to know him in today’s Q&A as much as I have.  He’s a hell of a writer, so check out his work if he’s new to you.

Many writers have a “hook” in their backgrounds that pulled them into writing.  Michael Connelly was a crime beat reporter.  Our own Tess was a medical doctor.  I was a prosecutor.  Your most apparent lead-in to crime fiction is as a medical examiner, but that’s not actually how you began writing, is it?

It was pretty much an accident. I’d always loved to write, but it wasn’t something I’d imagined myself doing professionally. When I moved to New York, I became active in an online NYC community, where I was being (typically) free with my opinions about restaurants and movies and life in the city. An editor from Paper magazine (“the coolest magazine on Earth”, according to the LA Times) saw my writing and asked if I’d be interested in writing for them.

I dashed off a round up of my favorite NYC Vietnamese restaurants and sent it to her. Then they said, “We’d like you to write about anything you’d like.” I told them I wanted to write about the electronic music and culture of the current rave and nightclub culture. For two years, I was a professional raver (a really schizoid life – I found myself doing autopsies in the morning, testifying in a murder trial in the afternoon, reviewing a restaurant in the evening, then home for a disco nap, up at midnight and out all night at a warehouse rave).

 Hayes’ Motto Back Then (Literally?)

I wrote more and more about food; eventually I was spotted by someone at Food & Wine. They sent me to Vegas for the magazine, and things built from there. Martha Stewart next, then the New York Times, and eventually, GQ, Gourmet, etc. I ended up a contributing food editor at Martha Stewart Living.

I loved – no, loved – writing for Martha – each story was so pretty and perfect, and these jewel-like little pieces balanced out the carnage and destruction of my daily life, particularly during the hard times after 9/11. But eventually, there’s only so many times you can write about edible flowers before feeling somewhat dishonest: I am a naturally profane person, and the delicacy and politesse of writing for (most) magazines began to be a strain. I sketched the outline for a novel that would let me talk about my forensic life, and began to poke at it.

Then, another odd opportunity presented itself: my friend Bill Yosses, a prominent pastry chef, approached me about writing his dessert cookbook. When I met with his agent, she was fascinated by my day job, and asked if I’d ever written any fiction. She insisted that I send her the outline and pages of the novel I’d been working on; she signed me immediately on reading it. Harper Collins bought Precious Blood the next week in a preemptive bid. And suddenly, I was a novelist.

I think that my background in forensic pathology has been a double-edged sword. I probably know more about murder and violence than just about anyone else out there writing crime fiction today, but I worry that I might be seen as a novelty signing, like Ice T. Or, worse, Mrs. Ice T. The fact is, I’d been writing professionally at a high level for a decade before I started writing fiction.

By the way, don’t worry about Bill, he of the dessert cookbook: he’s now the White House pastry chef.

 Booklist accurately describes your new novel, A HARD DEATH, as “a CinemaScope novel, in Technicolor and surround sound.”  I once introduced you at a Mystery Writers of America event for the New York chapter by saying that you write about violence as well as any other writer working today.  Why are you so bloody good at writing about bloody stuff?

I’m not a particularly cerebral person: I am a sensualist. This is one of my strengths as a food journalist – I have a good palate, and a good nose, and can write convincingly and passionately about food at the sensual level, while bringing to the table a strong understanding of the history and culture of food.

It’s the same way with forensic stuff – I understand violence at a fairly profound level, but my approach isn’t a simple description of punching or shooting so much as a focused awareness of the look, feel and smell of violence and its aftermath. I want the reader to understand what it feels like to do my work – what it feels like to kneel down over the body of a murdered man in a blood-spattered room, or to pull the body of a stabbing victim out of a swamp.

 A HARD DEATH is the second novel featuring Dr. Edward Jenner.  Tell us a little about Jenner and the set-up for A HARD DEATH.

Jenner (who, by the way, is mortified by his overdetermined first name, and always goes simply by “Jenner”) was introduced in Precious Blood. A forensic pathologist who’s just passed 40, Jenner has retired, burned out after his 9/11 experiences. He’s hauled back into the world of violent death when the niece of a good friend becomes the target of a serial killer. Jenner survives, but is forced to take several ethically iffy steps during his hunt for the killer; politically out-maneuvered, he ends up with his New York medical license suspended. Broke and desperate to regain his reputation, Jenner jumps when an old mentor offers him several months of work in the ME office of a quiet, rural Florida county on the edge of the Everglades. It’s the perfect opportunity – Jenner can rest and recharge, away from the glare of the New York media spotlight. But then…

 

Your first Jenner novel, PRECIOUS BLOOD, was set in New York, where you are a senior forensic pathologist and live in the East Village.  I could feel the presence of New York City on every page of that book.  For A HARD DEATH, you take Jenner down to the Florida Everglades.  Why did you decide to move your character in only the second book in the series?  And why Florida?

I wrote about New York in a very real way – I love this city passionately, worship it. Seriously, there isn’t a day when I don’t step out onto the street and think, “Thank God I live here!” But I found I couldn’t write Precious Blood honestly unless I talked about what happened here after 9/11. This was a very hard thing for me to do – like many New Yorkers; I took a pretty bad hit back then. The topic is emotionally and politically charged for many of us, and carries very particular weight for those of us who were involved in the recovery and identification process; some of the names in the book are those of cops I worked with back then.

It was difficult to write freely about the NYPD in that book; I realized I needed to get Jenner somewhere where the cops could be really flawed without risking resentment from people I work with on a daily basis.

While I was training in forensics in Miami, I moonlighted on Florida’s West Coast, in Naples, a charming, quiet town, affluent and clean. It was a fascinating experience, particularly after the maelstrom of spectacular death that was Miami. Mostly, my days were incredibly quiet, spent documenting the natural passing of elderly Snowbirds, the occasional drowning. But then the calm would be punctured by really extraordinary things – for example, I had to go by airboat through the Everglades to a remote mangrove swamp to investigate a small plane crash. I was particularly struck by the scene of a stabbing in a migrant worker town 50 miles to the North, by the squalor in which the workers lived in comparison to the luxury of Old Naples.

 

That sort of contrast is great for a writer. Having learned my lessons from Precious Blood, I created the fictional county of Douglas to stand in for Collier County, and Port Fontaine to stand in for Naples (yes, I have friends in the Collier County ME Office, and in the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, and wish to step on no toes!).

Obviously, it’s not a documentary recreation of Naples and the surrounding area. I used details I’d picked up around the country – something a death investigator had told me about Iowa pig farms a few years back when I was lecturing on rave drugs in Des Moines; a lurid article about the particularly scandalous behavior of an affluent Floridian; some other stuff. And I was a bit prescient about the violent nature of Mexican drug cartels, which have, in recent months, managed to catch up with me.

 

We both love to eat, as do many of the other ‘Rati.  What has been a particularly memorable meal?

Last month I was in Chicago for the annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. I speak passable French, and have an apartment in Paris, so the community of French forensic pathologists has embraced me. At every meeting in the US, it’s my responsibility to find bons tables ­ good places to eat. Usually, that means digging up something typiquement americain; when the meeting was in San Antonio, for example, I rolled up to the rural town of Luling with a Cadillac convertible filled with French coroners in cowboy hats, eager to eat authentic barbecued brisket served on sheets of butcher’s paper and tubs of smoky baked beans, washed down by pitchers of Big Red.

But my friend Laurent Martrille is a true gourmand, and in Chicago we ate at Alinea, perhaps the best restaurant in the country. I’d raved about it in the NY Times a few years back, then wrote a piece with its visionary chef, Grant Achatz, about solid sauces for the Times Sunday magazine; we were greeted like old friends. The meal was 29 courses, some as tiny as half a teaspoon, consumed over four and a half delirious hours. And it was exhilarating.

You can see almost every course – and Laurent – in my Facebook album of the experience.   Make sure you don’t miss the duck press! They brought out a beautifully roasted duck, carved the meat off tableside, then, in front of us, stuck the defleshed carcass, heart, liver, etc, into a giant cylindrical steel press, slowly crushing the innards until a thick red slurry of organ, blood and marrow spattered out from a little spout at the bottom. This was whisked off to the kitchen and added to the jus for the duck. And it was absolutely freakin’ amazing.

Also, for the final dessert, a sheet of woven silicon was draped across the table, and two chefs poured out a variety of chocolate sauces and other elements onto this surface. They quickly bruléed a liquid cream, then brought out a chocolate mousse that had been inflated, then frozen in liquid nitrogen, and shattered it on the table, causing a fog of nitrogen mist to flow across the surface. We ate everything right off the tabletop – seriously, have a look. It was quite extraordinary, and extremely fun.

[Aside from Alafair: I could never be a food writer because my description of said meal would be, “Incredibly tasty.”] 

Sharing a meal at shared neighborhood favorite, Gotham Bar & Grill

You are a fierce Facebooker.  Unlike many writers, you rarely even mention your books or your life as an author.  Instead, you really show your actual life through photos, music, and video.  What rings your bell about Facebook?

Yes, I am the bane of my publicist’s existence – I’m frequently invited to comment on high profile killings on national TV, but always decline. I think it’s inappropriate to hold forth on something so serious about which you only have third- or fourth-hand knowledge. All of us hate to be second-guessed; it’s horrible to watch the jackals come out of the woodwork when a celebrity dies.

I’ve had a strong online presence for more than 20 years – I’ve had the same email address for all that time, and probably as many people call me “Jaze” as call me “Jonathan”.

I find just about everything fascinating – seriously, I could get engrossed in an article about the history of cereal box typography design. As a result, I have the attention span of a magpie, regularly developing odd obsessions that are gushingly watered by the fountain of esoterica that is the Internet. And when I’m passionate about something, I want to share it, hear what other people think.  So I post it on Facebook, or on my Tumblr blog.

Right now, for example, I’m obsessed by a mostly West Coast niche subculture: girls and young women who’ve developed a style fusing psychobilly rock style (fringes, retro clothes, Sailor Jerry-style retro tattoos) with facial and body piercings, breasts plumped up by clothing or surgery, Hello Kitty-style kitschy accessories and My Little Pony hair colors borrowed from Harajuku in Tokyo. It’s an odd look, a deliberate, almost angrily in-your-face miscegenation of Kiddie Cute and Hypersexualized Adult. I think it’s less rock’n’roll than a new incarnation of rave style; that scene was characterized by a conscious infantilization that had kids drowning in brightly colored, deliberately oversized clothes, carrying animal-shaped backpacks and handing out candy while they chewed pacifiers. (Admittedly, those last two were to help deal with the jaw-grinding and clenching that are a side effect of the drug Ecstasy, but, still.)

Uh, here’s my Facebook album for that – careful; depending on where you work, it might not be 100% safe for you.

I don’t talk about my work work on Facebook because it’s not appropriate; people died to make their way to me, and that should be private. This is one of the reasons I write fiction: to talk about the things I see, and the reactions they evoke, without betraying any confidence.

Anyway, I do talk about books and writing on Facebook, but not as much as I probably should if I want to be a better marketer.

My impression is that you have very eclectic friends.  Can you give us an idea of the wide array of company you keep?

Ha! I do, thank God. My first New York City friend was the naughty photographer Eric Kroll, who specializes in what’s charmingly called “glamour photography” – models in 50’s lingerie. I met Eric because he was selling a photograph of the pin-up star Betty Page shot by Weegee, the famous New York crime scene photographer. We quickly became friends, and I hung out a lot with him in his studio, and helped carry his lighting when he was shooting in various odd locales around town. Through Eric, I met a lot of people in New York’s demimonde – strippers, dominatrixes, etcetera. I, of course, found this whole new world fascinating. And in return, I was the only medical examiner they had ever met (I do think that the novelty of having a forensic pathologist as a friend has really worked in my favor – and, I must admit, I’d thought that it would when I decided to move to New York).

After the sex people, an early NYC girlfriend introduced me to friends in the visual art world – a world as cliquey, paranoid and pretentious as the fashion world. Just like the fashion world, when you get to know people individually, they can be great, but as a group, there’s an unusually high quotient of ghastliness (although my reaction might reflect my insecurity about my art world status). Then I started writing, and my next batches of friends came first from the music world, and then from the food world. And finally, the ink-stained wretches – the motley crew of authors I’ve met in the last few years.

I love my friends, though they can be a handful. Occasionally my social circles collide with terrible results, most recently last week when I had a networking disaster: my friend, fetish-y porn girl Adrianna Nicole, has a new film coming out this week, and during the run-up to its release, I’ve been following her presence on the internet. My Google alert flagged a naughty photo of her accompanied by a delirious rant about how amazing she was; this was one of the filthiest web sites I’ve seen – I mean epically obscene. Amused, I tweeted it to her.

Only instead of sending it just to Adrianna, I managed to send the URL to my entire Twitter list. When I realized it, the damage had already been done. I sent out a follow-up tweet, explaining the situation, and sincerely apologizing to anyone who’d clicked through and seen things that they’ll never be able to unsee.

And then I sent a second tweet telling anyone who’d clicked through and been delighted that they were welcome. I mean, what’re you going to do?

Really, though, much of my weird social life comes from living in NYC, and doing a cool job (forensics and/or writing). And being English and non-judgmental probably helps.

 

What’s next for Jonathan Hayes?

What indeed! I’m getting ready for my book tour; I’ll be banging out a bunch of dates in New York/the North East, but I’m focusing on the West Coast this time around (dates are up here). The final stop of the official tour will be, of course, in Naples, Florida, where my Collier County cop and M.E. friends will finally discover the horrific liberties I’ve taken with their beloved town.

I’m working on Jenner3 (set in the mountains in Colorado). After that, I want to do a spin-off featuring the female crime scene detective who readers will meet in this book. Down the road, I think I’d like to try a horror book, but I’m not sure.

And for me personally? I’d like to spend some more time in Paris – I’m an absurd three years into the renovation of my tiny (as in 250 square feet tiny, but perfect) studio in the Marais, and I’d really like to enjoy it for a couple of weeks. And I want to spend a month in Thailand, taking it easy, and reading the rest of Tim Hallinan’s fantastic Poke Rafferty series.

Jonathan (aka Jaze) has kindly agreed to mail a signed copy of A HARD DEATH to one randomly selected commenter.  Feel free to post any questions or comments for him, but we’d both like to know: What is your favorite New York City-centric mystery or thriller?

You can also follow Jonathan on Facebook and Twitter. Order his spectacular new novel, A HARD DEATH, here.  And check out his website here.

The Sickness Within

by Alafair Burke

I’m dark.  My guess is we’re all a little dark at Murderati.  I teach, study, and write about crime.  All crime, all the time.  So, yeah, I’m a little dark.

But every once in a while, I read words that I placed on a page and think to myself, “Damn, that’s sort of sick.”

I remember sitting in my office a few years ago, knowing that I needed to finish the chapter I was working on before I could join my husband and his Army friend for Friday night festivities.  I don’t know whether it was the momentum of the scene or the promise of a cocktail, but I hammered out the words as quickly as I could type them.  Suddenly the bad guy was doing something I had no idea he was going to do.  And I was describing it.  (No spoilers here, but I’m referring to the big, explosive confrontation near the end of my fifth novel, Angel’s Tip.)

I walked into the living room and threw my hands in the air.  “Finished!  Let Friday night begin!”  As the husband shook my martini, his friend asked, “What were you writing?”

I summed up the scene in a single, bluntly worded sentence. 

My husband’s friend — did I mention they knew each other from the Army? — looked at my husband, then looked at me, and then said, “That’s the sickest thing I’ve ever heard.”  That’s right, y’all, I managed to freak out a West Point graduate who has spent the last twenty-one years in the military.  Hollah!

 I have no idea why this puppy doesn’t know the difference between “your” and “you’re,” but his obliviousness makes him all the more awesome.

Our friend asked where the idea had come from.  I truly had no clue.

That kind of “Wow, I’m sort of sick” moment has happened to me only once in writing seven and a half novels.  Interestingly, though, I’m two for two on short stories.

In 2008, I wrote a short story called Winning (available here), about a husband’s reaction to the rape of his police officer wife.  My own editor said, “I had no idea you were so dark.”

[An aside: The title “Winning” alludes to gendered responses to violence, where men think “winning” means beating down an opponent, and women think “winning” is survival.  Please note that I wrote and titled the aforementioned story prior to this man’s conversion of the word to mean its exact opposite:

End of aside.]

Earlier this month, I turned in a short story for an upcoming Mystery Writers of America anthology edited by Lee Child.  The book is called “Dark Justice” and features tales of vigilantism.  The story took me only a few days to write, but I find myself still thinking about it, wondering how in the world I came up with some of the story’s images. 

I wonder not only where the sickness comes from, but also why I seem more able to explore it in short fiction.  Maybe living a full year with those kinds of thoughts would simply be too much to handle.  Or maybe at a subconscious level I worry about my audience, realizing that very few readers want an entire novel filled with that kind of darkness.  A short story is a low-risk, short-term way to purge some of the crazier voices that are pulling at the corners of my mind.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.  What’s the sickest thing you’ve ever read?  How sick is too sick?  Are you ever surprised, as either a reader or a writer, by the darkness of the books that you enjoy or write? And what is it about a short story that seems to draw out the sickness within?

P.S. A little bit of BSP this morning.  One of my favorite writers, Michael Connelly, was kind enough to write a substantive review of my upcoming book, LONG GONE, for Amazon.  Because he’s cool, the review’s cool, with Frank Sinatra references and comparisons to watchmaking.  You can read the review (and learn more about LONG GONE) here.

 

Because Free is a Very Good Price!

by Alafair Burke

I’m not a salesperson.  I don’t even like to think about business or money.  If I did, I would have stayed at a law firm and pulled in a lot of dough.

I love to read.  I love to write.  I love to talk to readers about the books I’ve written.   But I also appreciate the absolutely true fact that it is only because there is a “business” side to the business that I am in the enviable position to do what I love.

These days writers are unavoidably pulled into the sales and marketing of their books.  Some writers enjoy it.  I once heard a writer talk about his drive to “move units.”

Mer.

I also know writers on the other end of the spectrum who resolutely refuse to think about anything other than the writing of the books.  I confess that I find this view tempting.  Unfortunately, that “strategy” often leads to this:

So what’s a writer like me — neither diva nor salesperson — to do?

I thank my readers — a lot — because they are the ones who give me a career.

I truly believe that word of mouth is the most effective advertising.  I still believe that readership can grow incrementally.  In a business that increasingly searches for the one-time out-of-the-gate phenom, I want a career like Michael Connelly’s, Harlan Coben’s, Lee Child’s, or Laura Lippman’s — each book getting better and better over the course of years and decades. 

That kind of career is built on support from readers.  No, not just support.  Love.  Like, serious wind-beneath-my-wings love. Like, this cat and this dog kind of love:

Last year, to thank my most loyal, loving readers for early support, I promised a “mystery gift” to readers who pre-ordered my novel, 212.  The gift was a 212 keychain and a signed bookplate — not much, but a small token of gratitude.  My awesome readers not only sent the book into the top 100 on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but also earned us a little shout-out in a Wall Street Journal article about author giveaways.

The article was headlined, “How Authors Move Their Own Merchandise” and featured authors who were “becoming more and more involved in the nitty-gritty of moving the merch.”  One writer (not me, thank God) was described as “approximately as shy as a Kardashian,” and said, “I have four children to feed. I wish I had the luxury of not being tacky.” Another (again, not me) had a book reading at a sex toy shop.

Hey, wait a second!  My cute little keychains were a personalized and organic way to say thank you.  Tacky?  Nitty gritty of moving the merch?

Suddenly I felt like Tom Peterson, an electronics salesman who used to run TV ads in Portland, boasting “Free is a very good price!”

Well, it’s about three months before the launch of my new novel, LONG GONE.* 

Once again, I’m trying to find a way to thank my awesome readers, but my publisher and I are really struggling with the best way to do it.

Are pre-order incentives “tacky?”  Are they so common now that the book gets lost in the noise?  Or do readers enjoy being invested in the early momentum?  Are they just for loyal readers, or do new readers jump in too?

And what’s better, a little giveaway or a raffle?  Would you rather have something small like a signed book plate, or a chance to win something big?  And what should the something big be?  Something generic but expensive, like an iPad?  Or something personal, like dinner together at Boucheron?

And because this blog post is on the topic of raffles and give-aways, your thoughts on the lofty questions above will enter you into a raffle for a signed copy of 212.  Act now, and I’ll throw in a 212 keychain!  “Free is a very good price!”

*Tom Peterson would be ashamed if I mentioned his name in this blog post without also including the following information:  You can pre-order your copy of LONG GONE here.

With a Shiver in My Bones Just Thinking About the Weather

by Alafair Burke

Today I woke up with “Like the Weather” by 10,000 Maniacs in my head.

Why?  Well, I always have some song in my head, and better the sweet crooning of Natalie Merchant that yesterday’s brain virus, which was this:

(Oh, that was kind of mean, wasn’t it?  You’re going to be humming that all day, aren’t you?  Bieber Fever…crazy contagious, yo.)

Sorry.  Okay, back to “Like the Weather.”  I haven’t thought about that song for at least fifteen years, but, because I have the peculiar (and so far completely unmarketable) ability to identify an 80’s song to fit any situation, I found myself thinking about those lyrics this morning.

The color of the sky as far as I can see is coal grey.
Lift my head from the pillow and then fall again.
With a shiver in my bones just thinking about the weather.
A quiver in my lips as if I might cry.

Well by the force of will my lungs are filled and so I breathe.
Lately it seems this big bed is where I never leave.
Shiver in my bones just thinking about the weather.
Quiver in my voice as I cry,
“What a cold and rainy day. Where on earth is the sun hidaway.”

Seriously: Where on earth IS the sun hidaway?

I try my best not to whine. I realize I’m one lucky chick with one privileged life.  But damn if Mother Nature ain’t on my sh*t list these days.

Not since growing up in Kansas, where folks would gather on the porch with transistor radios until the tornado warnings sent them scurrying to the basement, have I spent so much time as this winter thinking about the weather.  Cold.  Grey.  Snow.  Slush.  Rain. Repeat.  Pretty soon it will be frogs, then hail mixed with fire, and eventually zombies will be involved. 

I hate this winter’s weather so much I’m trying to figure out how to kill it in my next book.

Because here’s the thing: Like that cute little barefoot Natalie Merchant, I am affected by the weather.  I shouldn’t be.  My job is indoors.  Most of my favorite city activities are indoors.  In theory, I don’t even need to go outside.

But somehow my body knows that it’s trecherous out there.  And when it’s trecherous, I get lazy.  I made myself go to the gym today, but my legs were moving halftime on the treadmill as if to say, “What do you expect, woman?  It’s raining out there.”

I can’t even write.  My brain’s a little foggy.  My eyelids are sort of droopy.  Somehow the sound of rubber tires on those wet Manhattan streets is so loud I can’t concentrate.  It’s so dark outside I can’t get enough light.  At least that’s how it feels.

But give me a dry, sunny day, and I’m the Energizer Bunny on crystal meth.  I’ll jump from bed, do a double work-out, and jam on my laptop for a couple or few thousand words.  I’ll tidy the apartment, run my errands, open my mail, and pay my bills.  I’ll take a shower and brush my hair.  I’ll even smile at strangers without scaring them.

These days… well, let’s just say it’s a good thing you can’t see me or my apartment right now.  Pretty sights, neither.

I gather I’m not alone in my primal connection to the weather.  Just ask Natalie Merchant. 

But despite old song lyrics and that urban legend about suicide rates in Seattle, I know some people who hate the sun and love the rain.  People who are energized by snow.  People who love clouds.  Maybe it’s just how we are wired. 

What’s your story?  Are you affected by the climate, or are you able to tune it out?  If you are affected, which weather reports float your boat, and which send you back into bed?

If you liked this post, please follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and/or my newsletter.  In the meantime, I’ll be trying to cheer myself up without Mother Nature’s help.  I was like, baby, baby, baby no… baby, baby, baby…

Love and Music

by Alafair Burke

Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all.  Even though this is a pretty stupid holiday — originally linked to romance through a tale of birds hooking up, now propogated to sell greeting cards — I still sort of like it.  Remember those little paper cards we used to exchange in grade school?

Those adorable but culinarily-suspect heartshaped Necco candies?

Those overpriced dinners at overbooked restaurants?  Oh, wait, that’s another entry on the con side of the ledger.

Anyway, I have enough fondness for Valentine’s Day that I wanted my blog to have some connection to the concept of overwhelming swooniness that we’re all supposed to feel this day.  The only problem is that talking about love sort of makes me want to hurl.  Don’t get me wrong.  I feel love.  I still get that little hiccup in my chest when I look at my husband when he doesn’t know I’m watching him.  But somehow I suspect most of you don’t want to read an entire blog post filled with sentences like that last one.  Ick, that’s sweeter than those Necco wafers.

A writer’s cynicism of the words we typically use to explain love might strike some as odd, but I think it stems from too many greeting cards, bad romance scenes, and sappy lyrics.  Love pulls you up weightless into the fluffy white clouds, turns you inside out, and then throws you on your ass, but in a good way.  Love is also so subjective that the previous sentence might not mean anything to anyone besides me.

I was trying to identify any other experience that feels like being in love.  The closest I came was that feeling you (or at least, I) get when in the presence of a truly magical musical moment.  I don’t simply mean ones reaction to a sappy love song (though this one happens to be a fave).

Every once in a while, I am so pulled in by musical talent, I can’t move.  I don’t want to breath, just in case the air moving into my lungs interferes with the magesty of that moment.  I want to stop time to linger in the perfection.  I want to be able to experience it again and again.

Have you ever had that feeling? I hope for your sake the answer is yes.

I suppose it would be impressive to say these moments came during O Patria Mia from the Verdi’s Aida.  But that’s not how I roll.  (In fact, I don’t know what O Patria Mia is.  I just found it on Google.)

My most recent love and music moment came last week when I saw Prince in concert at Madison Square Garden.  His incredible talent, the memories of listening to that music in high school, and my happiness about seeing him in New York with a good friend all culminated in one of those all-out weepy, goose-bumpy moments.  (Even though bootleg video won’t do the performance justice, I went hunting for a clip, which will probably be pulled by his copyright lawyers by the time you read this.)

 

Another performance that had me swooning was Fantasia’s tribute to Patti LaBelle.  I know.  It sounds as bad as a puppy on a unicorn, but, damn, that woman can sing.  And somehow through all those notes, she manages to convey the utter respect and love she has for Miss Patti.  Check them out and then try to tell me you don’t feel it.  (Make sure to hold out for the mutual lovefest starting at 2:04 and Patti’s awesome move at 3:39.)

And don’t forget Mary J Blige’s emotional performance of No More Drama at the 2002 Grammy Awards, which brought both the singer and members of the audience to tears. 

Maybe I’m totally out there, but the feeling I get watching a singer put every part of himself or herself into a single experience makes me feel … love(ish). 

So, here are my questions for the day:

1) Your verdict on Valentine’s Day: yay or nay?

2) Any musical performances that induce tears, chills, or paralysis?

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