Category Archives: Louise Ure

Baring it All

By Louise Ure

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I’m just back from the Murder in the Grove writers’ weekend in Boise. It was a beautifully organized workshop and much credit goes to T. L. Cooper, Joanne Pence and their team for such a smooth running and intimate session. I spent a lot of my off time catching up with old friends Chris Grabenstein, David Morrell and D. P. Lyle, and learning more about new friends like Betty Webb, Ken Kuhlken, Michael Sherer and Charles Benoit.

But the most striking moment came during the Awards Ceremony, when Guest of Honor J.A. Jance took the microphone.

But first, let me tell you a little bit about my affair with J. A. Jance.



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Ours has been a long love affair, albeit one-sided. I started reading her J.P. Beaumont series in 1985 and came to think of Beau’s Belltown Terrace apartment and his lunch dates at the Doghouse as part of my day. I evaluated potential spouses based on whether or not they had the good sense to order Beau’s Makers Mark instead of a lesser brand of bourbon.

The more I learned about Beaumont’s creator, the more I fell in love with her. She was an Arizonan like me, and a graduate of the University of Arizona. Also like me, she’d been advised to have no lofty ambitions. In Ms. Jance’s case it was being denied admittance to the U of A’s Creative Writing Program “because men are writers, not women.” In my case it was the high school guidance counselor who pooh-poohed any of my suggestions and said she thought I’d “do quite well in retail.”

When I moved to Seattle in the late 80’s, I carried four J.P. Beaumont novels with me and reread them, replacing his footsteps with my own to learn about my new hometown. In subsequent years, I came to know Jance’s other series characters, Joanna Brady and Ali Reynolds, and added them to my family tree.

I sent Ms. Jance the electronic equivalent of mash letters. She – wisely — did not reply.

So, back to the Murder in the Grove weekend.

Jance had made herself available for all kinds of presentations – panel discussions, keynote speeches and bookstore signing events.  She’d already told us about growing up an ungainly female, six feet tall. About being denied the Creative Writing Program and the despair of her 18-year marriage to an alcoholic who she finally decided to divorce on the day he attended their child’s softball game and had to crawl from the bleachers back to the car in his drunkenness. About surviving as a single mother after his death from chronic alcoholism at the age of forty-two.

She was asked to speak again at the Awards Luncheon on Saturday.

And this time, she didn’t speak. She approached the microphone and then sang – a cappella – all the verses to Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen.”


I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
and high school girls with clear skinned smiles
who married young and then retired
The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth

And those of us with ravaged faces
lacking in the social graces
desperately remained at home
inventing lovers on the phone
who called to say – come dance with me
and murmured vague obscenities
It isn’t all it seems at seventeen

A brown-eyed girl in hand me downs
whose name I never could pronounce
said – Pity please the ones who serve
They only get what they deserve
The rich relationed hometown queen
marries into what she needs
with a guarantee of company
and haven for the elderly

Remember those who win the game
lose the love they sought to gain
in debentures of quality
and dubious integrity
Their small-town eyes will gape at you
in dull surprise when payment due
exceeds accounts received at seventeen

To those of us who knew the pain
of valentines that never came
and those whose names were never called
when choosing sides for basketball
It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
when dreams were all they gave for free
to ugly duckling girls like me

We all play the game, and when we dare
we cheat ourselves at solitaire
Inventing lovers on the phone
Repenting other lives unknown
that call and say – Come dance with me
and murmur vague obscenities
at ugly girls like me, at seventeen



Her voice was lovely and clear. She didn’t hurry the song, she sang it with all the pathos and heartache the writer had intended. The room was hushed.

When she was done she looked straight out at the audience and said “Thank you for making my dreams come true.” Then she sat down.

I joined in the standing ovation, but somewhere deep inside I quailed.

This woman, this writer I had come to admire so much, had laid herself bare in front of us. Telling us her most secret fears and disappointments. She showed us the door into not just her writing, but her soul.

Is that what you ask of us, dear readers?

Or is it enough to talk about where our ideas come from … to share the names of other writers we admire … to talk about our daily writing schedules?

I know I’ve written of very personal things here at Murderati. The death of my father. My mother’s slide into Alzheimers. The last three days of my brother’s life. It is supremely egocentric of me to think that you would even be interested in those things. And yet … why would you care about my daily ritual of a crossword puzzle before I can begin the workday either? Or where the protagonist’s name in the most recent book came from?

I still have my Secret Shames. Things I haven’t blogged about yet and don’t know if I will. I’ll put them in my fiction instead, where I won’t have to lay claim to them. Where you won’t think less of me for it, because you won’t know it’s true.

But I doubt that I will ever have the courage of J.A. Jance to talk in public about my childhood disgraces or those people I felt had ruined my life.

How do you other writers feel about soul-baring in public? And how do you readers react to it? Does it help you come to know us, or is this closer than you’d like to be?

PS: Credit for the Smoking Skeleton Mystery Writer photo at the top of the column goes to Jude Greber, who brought me back this fine talisman (taliswoman?) from a recent trip to Mexico.

LU

A Soldier Not Yet Fallen

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By Louise Ure

He’s been on my mind a great deal this week, this man I didn’t know well.


He was one of the soldiers we’ve been remembering this weekend. One of those turned inside out by war.


He died in the same year Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, although when I think back now to 1968, it is Kennedy I think of more often.


I don’t have any pictures of him, but that’s not surprising. He wasn’t around much, and when a camera came out he was around less.


William Grant Ure was my father, and one of those soldiers who did not fall in war, but who nonetheless returned so damaged that he was unrecognizable to any who knew him before.


He was thirty-two years old and already a practicing physician when he married my mother in 1941. Sadly, the army wanted him that year, too. My parents boarded a train immediately after the wedding ceremony. He got off in Fresno to report for duty. My mother continued on to the honeymoon suite at the St. Francis hotel in San Francisco and spent the weekend by herself.


Of course the army needed doctors. But what did they do with this Ear, Nose and Throat specialist from the desert? This man who had single-handedly reversed the course of tuberculosis epidemics among American Indians in Arizona and New Mexico? They sent him to the Aleutian Islands to act as the only psychiatrist to 4000 desperate men on a barren, frigid rock for four long years.


He came home a changed man.


To his credit, he honored the marriage he’d entered into only hours before his departure. But that commitment came with conditions. He wanted nothing to do with life, with living, with family. He wanted to be left in peace. And he was.


They had five children in eight years and my mother raised us alone. He had his own set of rooms in the house, and only ate dinners with us three times a year – Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. I don’t remember him giving my mother a birthday present. We never took family vacations.


He was not unkind, just distant. Like a powerful, cold rain, you just had to learn to plan around him. When he walked into the backyard for a swim, you got out of the pool. If he came home from the office for lunch, you took your sandwich somewhere else. You didn’t go into his quarters without an invitation.


My mother tells me that he was a remarkable man in his youth. Tall, black-haired and confident, he played the ukulele and sang with a band on the radio. She said he had good friends and laughed easily.


By the time I knew him, he had settled for less.


Every night at ten o’clock he had a small steak he’d cooked to the consistency of shoe leather, a boiled potato, and a pitcher of gin flavored with only ice cubes.  He’d ricochet off the hallway walls as he returned to bed.


I thought all families operated this way, and was stunned the first time I had a sleep over at my friend Mary Ellen’s house. Her father sat at the table with us! And he even passed me the bread! I didn’t know how to react.


Like Robert Kennedy, my father died in 1968, and like Robert Kennedy he was assassinated. Not by a lone gunman, but by all the malevolent powers of war and loneliness and grief that had piled up in his heart in 1941 and 1942 and 1943 and 1944 on those cold, dark islands. He was not much older than I am now.


My mother was at a PTA meeting that night with the youngest of us. My three elder siblings were off on dates, or a science project, or just hanging with friends. I was home alone with him.


I heard him choking, and got up and knocked on his door to see if he was okay. No answer.


God help me, without permission I didn’t go in.


He got his wish. He was left in peace.

I won’t ask for equally sad memories, dear Rati friends. Just tell me how you spent your Memorial Day Weekend, or who you were remembering this year.


Memorialday


LU

Funeral Music

By Louise Ure

“That’s it,” I told my husband last night. “That’s what I want you to play at my funeral.”

We were watching The Great Escape for the 161st time, and I finally realized how important that soundtrack was to me. It’s a tune of no consequence, in fact a bit too martial and full of rosy-cheeked optimism, but it makes me happy whenever I hear it. It’s the tune I whistle when I’m alone.

When my mother turned 75 (almost a quarter century ago) I mixed a tape of all the songs I remember her singing around the house –the songs that were the soundtrack to her life. “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” for her courtship with my father. “Blue Bayou” for finding her True Love late in life. “Summertime” because she’d never left the heat of Arizona. “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” for some now inexplicable reason.

What other music would define my life?

I know I’d include the soundtrack to the Perry Mason TV series.


When I moved to France, my mother sent me a Care Package so that I wouldn’t feel so alone: a paperback mystery, a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and a loop audio tape of the Perry Mason theme song. It was my lullaby.

I’d have to include “Looking For Love In All the Wrong Places,” to commemorate my wild years.  And “Brown-Eyed Girl” for the relationship that song reminds me of.

And finally, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s haunting medley of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World.” An anthem to all things important and all things gone.

And now we have another important thing gone.

My Tuesday partner, Ken Bruen, has decided that he can’t be blogging on a regular basis anymore. In truth, I don’t know how he found the time to begin with, with all the writing and goings-on in his life.

I know I speak for all of us in saying how much we’ve looked forward to his posts. I treasure the time and love he’s given us, even though he often made us cry. We will miss him like a lost limb.

We have a wonderful new Tuesday regular in the wings (Pari will tell you more about that later), and a few guest bloggers in the meantime (like next Tuesday’s LJ Sellers, author of The Sex Club), but today we say goodbye to a warm and wonderful Murderati friend. Maybe … if we ask very sweetly … he’ll come back from time to time with another tale of angels, or serendipity, or grace.

So, my Rati’ friends, what would your funeral music be?

And if you were to pick a farewell song for Ken, what would that be? I’ll put the whole list together on a CD and send it to him.

LU

Home Away From Home

By Louise Ure

(Sorry if you’ve tuned in to hear from Ken Bruen this Tuesday. We’re doing some rescheduling, and I’ve jumped in again.)

There have been a lot of hotel rooms in my recent past. A lot of minibars and scratchy TV images and windows that don’t open. But I had a chance to enjoy an especially fine hotel while at the Edgars this weekend, and I don’t mean the Grand Hyatt where all the festivities were held.

The Hyatt was fine, don’t get me wrong. They did about as good a job as a giant, faceless hotel chain can do. But there’s something wrong with the image when there’s a line of automatic check-in kiosks at the front desk but not one living hotel employee behind them.

No, my fine hotel experience was the luncheon at the Carlyle Hotel on 76th Street with my agent, Philip Spitzer.

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It’s always a joy to spend time with Philip anyway, but this one was special. You see, his son is a waiter in the Carlyle’s famous dining room, and he kept bringing over courses of things he thought we’d particularly enjoy.

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The ice tea gave way to an especially warming Pinot Noir. Our simple pasta lunch was augmented by a “Mille Crepe” dessert. (You’ve heard of Mille Feuille? The dessert with a thousand, thin puff pastry layers? Try it with a thousand paper-thin layers of crepe and surrounded by an intensely reduced raspberry sauce.)

It took us a full three hours to get past the stories, the news, the health updates, and the jokes and onto business. It was grand, made all the better by the surroundings.

The Carlyle fits almost squarely into the kind of hotels I prefer: older than 75 years and fewer than 75 rooms. (I have to cheat a little bit with the Carlyle as it has 187 rooms, but with its reputation as John F. Kennedy’s love nest and having Woody Allen drop by every Monday night to play in the bar, I’m willing to cut it some slack.)

I don’t always have the luxury of sticking to that 75/75 rule, sometimes for financial reasons and sometimes for scheduling, but here are a few more of my favorites:

Tucson

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Lodge on the Desert, Tucson, Arizona

Begun as a private residence in 1936, The Lodge on the Desert has expanded to 60+ adobe bungalows set among eight acres of gorgeous desert landscaping in the heart of mid-town. I have written more of my best lines at dawn on my private patio there than any other place I’ve ever worked.

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Pavillon de la Reine, Paris, France

Opened in the 17th century, this place surely meets my “more than 75 years old” guideline. It also has the sweetest, most buttery croissants from room service — better than any other place in Paris. You’ll fall in love all over again.

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The Sorrento, Seattle, Washington

At the top of the Madison hill, the 100-year old Sorrento offers gorgeous views of downtown Seattle. If you can tear your eyes away from the tea room or the Hunt Club on the first floor, that is. And they take dogs. Nuff said.

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Ventana Inn, Big Sur, California

Okay, I’m cheating. Ventana Inn is only thirty-four years old. But it has only sixty guest rooms, so maybe it sort of averages out. Set on 243 acres on the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean, Ventana Inn is the place to make you forget your real life no matter how crazy it is. And you even get your own personal hammock on your porch.

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Amandari, Bali, Indonesia

Okay, more cheating. This Ubud sanctuary was only built in the 1980’s, but when it’s this perfect, it still makes the list. Private bungalows with sliding walls that open to create instant ramadas. Private gravity-edge pools. Private outdoor sunken tubs where two Balinese beauties strew your bath with rose petals, wash you, dry you, and then massage you. This is your brain in Paradise.

Okay, ‘Rati. I need more suggestions. Do you know of any 75/75 hotels? I’m in a traveling mood.

PS: Here’s my favorite photo from the Edgar weekend, with thanks to Elaine Flinn for sharing it. I can attest that Ken’s arms are as warm as his words.

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LU

Dear Abby, Dear God


By Louise Ure

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DEAR ABBY: How can I make my husband understand that eating out every Sunday after church is not only a waste of money, but also makes going out for special occasions not as important as they could be? I try to explain that we could do something besides eat out, but he only wants to do that.

We spend anywhere from $80 to $100 each week on dinner out. My husband puts it on a credit card. Now, I’ll admit that I’m not that "up" on how credit cards work, but I know we’ll have to pay them off eventually. We don’t have the kind of money to splurge every week. How should I deal with this?

    — TIRED OF EATING OUT, HAMPTON, VA.

I probably should be posting about what a fine time I had at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. It was truly grand to catch up with old friends and reconnect with such fine booksellers as the folks at the Los Angeles Mystery Bookstore, Book ‘Em Mysteries, and Mysterious Galaxy. I’m still reveling in the weekend and I’m sure the heat rash I developed will be gone by the time I get to the Edgars® celebration on Wednesday.

I could also be writing about how much I’m looking forward to attending my first Edgar® Awards banquet. I’m especially proud of our Northern California nominees, David Corbett (for Best Paperback Original) and Michael Chabon (for Best Novel). Add to that a long lazy lunch with my favorite agent in the whole world, and the trip sounds like heaven.

Or I could be talking about that curious peace I’ve found this week since I’ve sent in the final revision to Liars Anonymous and am hovering over the opening page of the next book.

But I’m not thinking about those things. Instead, my attention did a double flip dismount and stuck the landing last Thursday when I read the above letter to Dear Abby.


“I’ll admit that I’m not that ‘up’ on how credit cards work, but I know we’ll have to pay them off eventually.”



WTF????

I know the banner at the top of this blog says “Mysteries, Murder and Marketing” and this post has nothing to do with any of that, but I can’t keep quiet about this.

Who is this idiot? Clearly she’s an adult – a woman old enough to be married, anyway. The letter doesn’t say anything about her educational background or whether she has kids or a job outside the house. But is there truly anyone in America who doesn’t know how credit cards work?

I have the same reaction every time I see the flight attendants demonstrating how to put on a seat belt, for all those folks who have never seen one before.

Okay, Eating Out in Hanover, VA. Here’s how it works. You show the card. You eat. You get a bill for that amount, plus some extra for having used their money instead of your own. Now you owe more for that dinner you couldn’t afford than you would have if you’d paid for it in cash.

Good Kind Christ. No wonder the economy is in the toilet.

I haven’t always understood the finer points of finance. Back in the late70’s, when I was spending more money on recreational drugs than I was on rent, I ran up a credit card debt that was bigger than my entire annual salary at Foote Cone & Belding. A co-worker named Jill took me across the street to The Rusty Scupper, bought me a double shot of tequila, and melted my credit cards in the ashtray. It was the nicest thing anybody has ever done for me.

I started saving my drug money and bought a house. I spent wisely. I invested well.

And I got smarter about finance.

I learned about the pitfalls of debt and interest and commodity futures. I taught myself to read balance sheets and annual reports. To understand that supply and demand are only  part of the equation. Fear, crowd mentality, and “irrational exuberance” are equally significant factors.

So last July, when I took a look around at the craziness going on in this country – in our divided politics, in our spending and lending practices, in the stock market, in car purchases and gas prices – I could no longer validate the key underpinnings of the market that allowed me to believe that we were on solid footing.

I cashed in everything.

This year has brought about other changes. I paid off the credit card balances, then transferred any remaining debt to lower interest cards. I entertained at home more often then I went out. When the vacuum cleaner died, I still replaced it with a Dyson, but I bought it off Craig’s List.

Most of us are feeling the pinch. Maybe we’re using the library more. Walking to the corner store instead of driving. Going to one convention instead of three. But that’s only the beginning of the changes.

Things are going to get worse before they get better, and I don’t just mean the stock market. I mean the foreclosures, the ballooning credit card debt, our kids’ inability to get student loans, a quadrupling in the price of gas, and shortage of rice around the world.

And we still have people like “Eating Out” who say that they “aren’t ‘up’ on how credit cards work?” Honey, you’re part of the problem.

Feel free to vent, my Murderati pals. Do you know anybody like “Eating Out?” And how have you been economizing this year?

LU

 

The Man At The End Of The Bed

By Louise Ure

I don’t have a long history of being read to in bed, but I think that’s all going to change now.

Growing up, there were too many of us tucking in for my mother to have read us to sleep, and my father would have been too drunk to do it, even if he’d wished to. I was twenty-one before I even heard of “Good Night Moon.”

Instead, my sister would tell me stories about the bear in the ceiling – there was proof of his existence, you could see the crack angling from the doorway to halfway across the room – who would become restless and crash down on us if I kept talking and he heard me.

And I have no children of my own, so I’ve missed that part of the “reading to sleep” phenomenon as well, although I was once asked by friends in Sydney to read their little three-year to sleep. She never even closed her eyes, both awed and confused by the American accent intoning “One Woolly Wombat.”

And then there was the experience of those friends of mine in Alaska. Lovebirds, these two. They’d walk around holding hands, gazing into each other’s eyes. They even put love notes inside the vegan sandwiches they packed for each other’s lunch.

And they set aside time to read to each other every night just before bed. Not a bedtime story, to be sure. And not a different book each night. But whatever they were reading, they did it together, and took turns reading aloud before they went to sleep. Poetry, classics, maybe a biography or two.

Perhaps you think the idea is charming and thoughtful. At the time I thought it was just plain silly, because I knew the only publication that would meet with my husband’s approval would be a car repair manual and that would have put me to sleep even before I started.

So that means the only reading-to-fall-asleep I’ve ever known is the reading that I do myself, eyeglasses pushed low on the nose to accommodate the angle of the pillow and the book. Two pages worth usually, unless I’ve had coffee to keep me awake.

But then I heard about Damian Barr.



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Starting this week, Damian will be the Reader-in-Residence at the new Andaz hotel in London, and will be available to read you to sleep in your room.

In real life, Damian is a freelance playwright, author and journalist in London, but said he was interested in this Reader-In-Residence program as a way to avoid writing. (Yes, Mr. Barr, I know just what you mean. I call it blogging.)

Instead of doing his own creative work, Damian will be on call at the hotel throughout the day and night, to share the joy of books with others.


“In the mornings, guests will be able to consult Barr for a dose of bibliotherapy in which he’ll diagnose their literary needs and prescribe appropriate texts—whether it’s ‘a sumptuous Georgette Heyer, a classy giggle with Nancy Mitford or some glamorous gangsters with Jake Arnott,’ Barr explains. Hotel guests will also be able to book him for a private literary lunch or dinner in one of the hotel’s five restaurants and bars, as well as requesting Barr’s in-room read-aloud services from a specially devised Book Menu.”


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Ah yes, those in room services. Damian Barr will come to your room, pajama-clad, sit at the end of your bed, and read to you until you fall asleep. You have his word that the minute you fall asleep, he will immediately show himself out.

Now we’re talking.

It may take Bruce a little time to get used to the idea of a pajama-wearing Brit at the end of the bed, but I want one. Now. I’ve got a lot of read-me-to-sleep nights to make up for. And you know I’m not going to last more than two pages anyway.

So, my ‘Rati friends, tell me your bedtime stories. What did you love reading or having read to you? Do you, like me, want a Reader-in-Residence of your own? And what would you ask him to read you?

LU

El Perro

By Louise Ure

There’s a new man in my life. Unfortunately, he has fleas and pees all over the house.

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You might remember my earlier elegy to Angry Angus, my hundred and twenty pound Golden Retriever with an attitude problem. Angus died last October and I made my husband promise me a dog-less break for a few months. First, because I missed that nasty dog so much, second because I knew we had a lot of travel coming up with the book tour, and that’s tough to do with a new dog until they settle in.

He agreed, although I later learned that he was still carrying around dog biscuits in his pockets, and he’d been logging on to the Golden Retriever Rescue web site on a daily basis to check out new arrivals like he was some kind of doggie-porn aficionado.

It’s April now, and he’s finally worn me down. And Nameless dog has arrived.

We got a call from the area coordinator for Golden Retriever Rescue, asking if we’d be willing to foster an eight-year old dog that had just come in. He’d been left at a vet’s office in the Mission, a heavily Latino part of town, by an old man who said he was dying of cancer and couldn’t take care of the dog anymore.

This veterinarian (all of them, really, at Animal Farm in San Francisco) had a heart of gold. He told the old man that he would take care of the dog, but within hours was afraid he wouldn’t be able to live up to that promise, as he had discovered a softball-sized tumor in the dog’s chest. Rather than simply put the animal to sleep, he performed the necessary surgery himself and sent a sample off to the lab to be tested. It was benign. He breathed a sigh of relief and set about finding the pup a home.

And so he arrived here this week, with 120 stitches and an incision that spans three quarters of his torso.

Stitches

They say his name is Rusty, but I have my doubts.

You see, the dog speaks no English – not even the name Rusty elicits a response from him – but he’s hell on wheels when you speak to him in Spanish.

No worries, you would think. Louise speaks Spanish. And so I do. But what I didn’t realize is that dog Spanish is as different to spoken Spanish as baby talk is to adult conversation. I’ve never spoken to a Spanish dog before, and I have no idea if I am giving him commands the same way his first owner did.

Here’s what I’m trying (and please forgive the lack of appropriate accent marks):


Sit                    Sientate or Sentado

Stay                 Quedate

Down               Abajo

Stay down       Quedate abajo

Lie Down         Echete or Acuestate

Roll over         Da vueltas

Go to bed       Vete a tu cucha

Shake              Dame la patita

Speak              Ladra

Quiet              Quieto or Calmate

Come              Ven aca

Kisses              Besame

Get in the car        Subete or Arriba

Get out of the car    Bajete or Abajo

Stop/Halt       Alto

Let’s go          Andale

Go inside        Pasa

I’ve had some success, although I think the situation, along with hand signals and tone of voice, probably have as much to do with the pup’s obedience as the words themselves. (If we’ve just gone down to the garage and I’ve opened the back door of the car, “subjete” is the most likely thing I’m asking him to do.)

He’s making a pretty good adjustment, all told. Yeah, he’s still peeing in the house, but less frequently. And he goes for any food in sight, even on a dining room table or a countertop, which has to stop.

On the other hand, he wakes up happy and seems eager to please. He can walk farther and faster everyday, and is happy to introduce himself to anyone on the street. And I know I’m using the right word when I say “besame.”

        Smiling_2

And we might be working our way into English commands, soon. It’s easier to teach the dog English than my husband Spanish.

We think we’ll call him Cisco.

Do we have any Spanish speakers among our ‘Rati friends? Are there other words I should be using or trying for these commands?

Got any dog stories you want to tell?

And Happy April Fool’s Day! Feeling foolish anyone?

LU

Keeping Mum

By Louise Ure

Two weeks ago, at a signing at Denver’s Murder By the Book, I was blabbing about this new idea for my fourth novel. Verbal diarrhea, you know. The kind of totally obsessive rant that can only be brought on by a new book idea or a new love.

I felt that way about Kevin back in high school. No one else could have been as perfect. I thought about him all the time and saw signs and omens about “us” everywhere, from the name of his dog to the song playing on the radio. I drove by his house twenty times a day. I wondered what he’d had for dinner. He must have thought I was a stalker.

That’s the state I’m in now with this new idea, ready to shove away all other distractions and wallow — doe-eyed – in this new attraction. Snuggle up against its legs and practice writing our names together in a heart.

“We’re a greedy lot, here,” my signing partner Peter May said that night. “I’d keep that idea to myself unless you want it pinched.”

I shut up.

Ideas, like infatuations, don’t come to me easily.

I don’t have a shoebox full of index cards with pithy short story ideas on them. No file folder of convoluted plot twists guaranteed to get an editor’s pulse racing.

For me, ideas are a once-a-year phenomenon. But when I fall for one, I fall hard.

It was all I could do this morning to remember the protagonist’s name in my current work in progress, Liars Anonymous. Good Lord, I’ve got to turn in the book in two weeks; you’d think I’d know her name by now. (Dancing. Jessie Dancing.) I like her, I really do. But just like that perfectly good wool coat you’ve worn all winter, I can’t wait to shuck her off and stick my arms through the sleeves of that tough looking black leather jacket over there.

Is this part of the old adage about the grass being greener somewhere I’m not standing? Or is it, like love, the flush of first infatuation? That idyllic moment before you realize he has love handles and a two-digit credit rating.

I went to a debut author’s signing once, and at the end asked her about what she was working on now. “I don’t want to jinx it,” she said, then took another question. I might have been a little more gracious in my reply – saying something about the next one being a stand alone, or “I have an idea but it’s not fleshed out yet” – but I sure understand her rationale.

My mother has always said “It’s not real unless you say it out loud.” But if I listen to Peter May, if I keep talking it’s likely to become real for somebody else and not me. I may have to keep quiet for the better part of a year.

I’ll give you this: the title is Doing Hadley Time.

And now that I have a title, I’m anchored. I can open that New Blank Document and have at least three words ready to type. Doing Hadley Time. So it begins.

Lagniappe of the day: The Vernal Equinox is this Thursday, March 20, at 5:48 a.m. Among other festivities, it has been named World Storytelling Day, celebrated every year on the spring equinox all over the northern hemisphere. (The southern hemisphere celebrates it during the autumnal equinox.) Here’s to great storytelling, not just on Thursday, but all year long.

And Happy Easter to you all! Are there any special vernal equinox or Easter rituals you’ll be doing this year?

Louise

Music First, Words Second


By Louise Ure

I had a chance to visit my husband’s family on a recent trip to Seattle. Always a dicey proposition. “Psst,” someone hissed as I passed the front bedroom. A hand snaked out the scant two inches of open doorway. “I thought you’d get a kick out of this.”

I took the offering with a thumb and forefinger. Bruce’s brother does all his shopping at flea markets and garage sales, and you never know what he’ll come home with. This time it was a gem.

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A CD called Miss Calypso, performed by a woman I knew for other talents: Maya Angelou.

Who  knew? It started me thinking about other writers – both mystery and general fiction — who started off in life as musicians. First came the tune. Later they added words.


It seems natural that songwriters would later turn to novels.

 

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Leonard Cohen. Jimmy Buffett. Kinky Friedman. I guess three verses and a chorus were no longer enough for them.

But there were lots of other musicians as well. Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man) was a trumpet player and pianist, with a love of jazz.

Mystery writer and presidential daughter Margaret Truman had a singing career before a writing one. The critics were kinder to her books than they were to her vocal talent.

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Ed McBain was a pianist, too, but I’m sure glad he later turned his attention to fiction. The world would not have been as fine without his 87th precinct stories.

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How about thriller writer Greg Iles? Guitarist, vocalist and founder of the band Frankly Scarlet, Greg only turned to writing when he  realized that the life of a traveling musician wasn’t right for a family man.

James McBride (The Color of Water)
is musical theater composer, songwriter and sax player. He’s still making music today, although I’m delighted to see that he describes himself first as an author and second as a musician in his publicity material.

 

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Bill Moody’s still doing gigs in San Francisco’s North Beach.

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Ridley Pearson is an orchestral composer and folk song writer.

Hal Glatzer uses his vocal and guitar skills on the page as well as out loud.

John Lescroart  has got a new CD out (Whiskey and Roses) as well as a new book (Betrayal).

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It’s an international phenomenon, too. The 2006 Australian Idol winner, Damien Leith published his first novel, One More Time, last October. And Norwegian writer, Jo Nesbo, who created a detective with the unfortunate name of Harry Hole, is both an economist and a musician.

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Best-selling Japanese author, Haruki Murakami (After Dark) owned  jazz clubs in Tokyo and performed for years.
A recent New York Times interview with him provides perhaps the best reason there’s such a dramatic link between musicians and writers.

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“Practically everything I know about writing … I learned from music. It may sound paradoxical to say so, but if I had not been so obsessed with music, I might not have become a novelist. Even now, almost 30 years later, I continue to learn a great deal about writing from good music. My style is as deeply influenced by Charlie Parker’s repeated freewheeling riffs, say, as by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s elegantly flowing prose.

Once, when someone asked Thelonious Monk how he managed to get a certain special sound out of the piano, Monk pointed to the keyboard and said: ‘It can’t be any new note. When you look at the keyboard, all the notes are there already. But if you mean a note enough, it will sound different. You got to pick the notes you really mean.’

I often recall these words when I am writing, and I think to myself, ‘It’s true. There aren’t any new words. Our job is to give new meanings and special overtones to absolutely ordinary words.’”


In a recent blog post over at Hey, There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room , Sharon Wheeler talked about hearing a soundtrack for books she reads. So that’s my musical question for you today: Do you hear a song or a singer when you read certain works? Is there such a thing as a soundtrack to a book?

And is there any logical link between musicianship and writing?

LU

The Best of Times?

By Louise Ure

There are enough bleak times to span the seasons. But then, every now and again, a couple of THESE weeks come along, when all your favorite things happen at once.

Weeks when lots of old friends show up at book signings in Seattle and Los Angeles and San Leandro.

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And they buy books. Lots of books.

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Weeks when your desk is covered with anthuriums and orchids because your spouse knows the value of a continuing Valentine’s Day celebration.

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Weeks when you get to have lunch with one of your favorite people in the whole world. (Mrs. Claus was there, too, although suffering with a mean bronchitis.)

Santa

Weeks when your sister arrives for a weekend’s worth of birthday partying (hers, not mine). She gets to request any meal and almost always picks osso buco.

Ossobuco

Then we pamper ourselves with pedicures and good red wine.

Pedicure_red

Weeks when you’re reading a new friend’s manuscript and realizing what a fine, fine writer she is. (Are you listening, Susan?)

Manuscript

Weeks when you treat yourself to a new toy and find it to be even more fun than you ever thought possible.

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Weeks when some neighborhood wag leaves this on your door and makes you smile.

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Ha!

So what’s the problem? Anhedonia, I’m guessing, or its little sister "too much input, not enough time for reflection."

Anhedonia, of course, is an inability to appreciate normally pleasurable activities. For me, this week, it’s literary anhedonia. An inability to enjoy a good read (with a couple of exceptions) or write anything worth a damn myself.

And that’s scary. When your go-to source of pleasure dries up and no matter how many other good things in life are happening, all you can think  about  are the things that aren’t.

The tour is almost done. I have the gorgeous Authors on the Move event in Sacramento to look forward to, then a visit from our own Pari, then Denver for LCC.

Someplace along the way, I hope I can dash this feeling of ennui and dissatisfaction that’s taken root. I need to fall in love with reading and writing again.

Tell me, my ‘Rati brethren, what makes a great week for you? And any suggestions for this too-long string of days when the pleasure of reading and writing has abandoned me?

LU

 

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