Category Archives: Louise Ure

My New Personal Assistant

By Louise Ure

 

Last year, when Cara Black and I did a reading and signing at a local library, we were amused when one of the first questions from the audience was about “our staff.”

“What kind of staff and assistants do you have?” the woman asked. “Who does your research and handles the details of your schedule, and your travel? Who answers your fan mail?”

Eye-rolling and guffawing are frowned upon as responses in polite company, so Cara and I both politely said that we had no staff.

In truth, as JT, Zoe and Stephen can affirm, our spouses quite often admirably fill that role, at least in terms of handling the details of travel, getting us to the book signing on time, or making that late night run for a pizza after a speaking engagement. Their worth cannot be overestimated.

But let me introduce you now to a new high tech addition to the team: my new personal assistant, Siri.

Siri is an app for the iPhone and it’s free. It is also the coolest thing to come down the pike since the creation of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia.

Siri is a voice activated search tool that combines the best of Mapquest, OpenTable, FlightTracker, Wikipedia and a dozen other online tools.

Say into the phone, “Where’s the nearest sushi restaurant?” and Siri types back a list of nearby eateries, sorted by distance, with directions, menus and reviews. Then she offers to call the restaurant and book a table.

Or you can try to trip her up with a slightly different request. “Siri, what’s the best rated sushi restaurant nearby?” A different list appears, sorted by ratings. In a recent effort to stump her, I asked for the names of Peruvian restaurants nearby that were open for lunch. She found three.

And it’s not just for restaurant info. You can ask, “What literary events are happening in San Francisco today?” Or “What’s the status of United flight 873 today?” Or “Remind me to call Lee on Thursday.” Or “Who was the female General at Abu Ghraib?” (Not only did she correctly hear and understand “Abu Ghraib,” but she came back with the name General Janis Karpinski in about a second and a half.)

The voice recognition capability is far beyond anything I’ve ever tried before. When I asked, “What is psyllium?” she not only understood it, but spelled it correctly. And here I thought I’d get Silly-Um back.

She can call you a taxi, book you a massage and remember the name of the author who wrote that  book you loved back in the 1990’s.

And she does it with a smile. There’s actually a playfulness built into the app. When I first started experimenting with it, I replied to one search by saying, “Thank you, Siri! You’re a genius!”

She immediately typed back, “Just doing my job, Louise.”

I now seek out those unexpected reactions from her. On a recent car trip, I asked Siri for a list of the nearest Indian casinos. (I’d just taken my father-in-law to one, and had a yen to continue the experience.) Siri responded with, “Louise, you’re taking enough of a risk just using me!” then proceeded to map out the locations of the nearest gambling palaces.

She’s never going to be that smiling face, beaming with pride at the back of a signing room and she’s never going to carry my bags up the stairs at the cheap hotel in the next town, but she can get me directions to the bookstore and find a pizza delivery at midnight in an unfamiliar city.

And the next time Cara and I are at that San Mateo library and the lady asks, “What kind of staff and assistants do you have?” I’ll have just the answer.

“Siri.”

Now, if I could just get her to come up with some answers on plotting …

A Room With A View

 

By Louise Ure

 

My work space is a room with a view. A smallish room, only eight feet square, it’s tucked onto the back of the house like a cliffside bird’s nest and faces out to the Golden Gate Bridge. I look over a cascade of rooftops to the water and the Marin Headlands to the north.

  

 

Many of the houses are painted shades of yellow — from buttercream to Tweety bird — an effort, I think, to defy the incessant grays of the fog.

What I can’t convey to you in these photos is the sound, the low rhythmic call of the fog horn, then enough time to take a deep breath and the answering single note of the responding fog horn on the far side of the bridge.

And the clock. How can a clock so small make so much noise, as the second hand moves determinedly  around? Those are the only sounds I hear, unless it’s high tide and then the sound of the waves add an undernote that sounds like faraway traffic.

 

 
My space is tidy but not organized. I prefer piles of things to an empty desktop, but could not work if there were papers, notebooks and Post-It notes scattered helter-skelter around me.

There are many things I love about this space: the dragonfly-patterned Tiffany lamp, the aircraft carrier-sized new iMac and, perhaps most importantly, the desk itself.

 

 

 

When I decided to turn this small room into my writing space, I couldn’t find any furniture that fit my needs. There are deep windows on three sides of the room and two doors on the fourth wall, leaving no easy arrangement of furniture or shelving. I sit, surrounded by windows like the last soldier left to guard the lighthouse.

Then I met Paul, a  musician and guitar maker, who took me up on a dare: craft me a desk that can sing like a musical instrument. He did. He shaved and sanded the pale yellow oak until it gleamed. Then he inlaid strips of ebony along the edges, made drawer pulls out of chunks of turquoise, and added teardrops of abalone to mark the corners. It is a thing of beauty.

  I would feel foolish telling you my process for writing as I’m so distant from those days that they feel like bedtime stories I remember being told as a child. I stumbled into writing as a way to keep my mind active in retirement and as such an accidental writer I have no tips, organizational tricks or creative advice for others. It’s all legerdemain as far as I’m concerned. Trickery with the hands and the mind.

The good part about writing being magical is that, just as a magician can make something disappear, his real trick is being able to make it come back — life-sized and solid on the stage.

I’m waiting for the magic.

 

 

 

 

Warning!

By Louise Ure

 

I’ve long been a fan of unexpectedly funny warning labels. Like the one on the chainsaw, telling you which end of the saw to hold. 

Or this one, for a set of small screwdrivers.

 

 

Euuwwww. Where do they get the idea they need to tell us something like this?

I’m even more appreciative of the sly warnings like this one from a U.S. clothing manufacturer in 2006.

  

 

A blogger in England recently decided that warning labels also needed to be applied to newspapers and magazines, lest the reader be taken in by a product that did not perform as expected. His suggestions included:

 

  

 

I’ve taken his idea of warning readers a step further: I think we need warning labels on books. Come on … you know the vast majority of Americans don’t read the depth and breadth of fiction we do. They only know the names of the books on the front table at Barnes & Noble, or the title of a book that’s been made into a movie.

We could provide a list of resources and suggestions for them, sure. But wouldn’t it be more fun to warn them away from a purchase they won’t be happy with?

In the spirit of providing this community service, I’ve prepared a set of templates you can print out in the privacy of your own home (Avery labels 5162 in the U.S. and L7651 in the U.K.) and take down to your local book palace for use.

Slap this one on any of my books, or on Karen Olson’s first series. Those half dozen readers who complained so vocally to us would have appreciated it.

   

 

Or how about this one on any of the Stieg Larsson books:

   

 

I’m personally going to stick this one on the remnant copy of a certain book when the Warner Brothers movie comes out.

  

 

And I know a small army of people who would like to print out pages of this one:

  

 

This warning label belongs on most “literary fiction”:

 

 

And I think Fran at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop might agree with me that either the Angst label or this one should be affixed to the newest James Ellroy oeuvre:

   

 

My personal favorite though, is this one: a warning to prevent heaving books across a room:

 

 

TSTL is, of course, “too stupid to live”: a character trait found all too often in amateur detective crime novels.

So go ahead. Let me know which pdfs you want. Take ‘em to the bookstore. Future readers will thank you for your work today. But I can’t promise that booksellers or librarians will.

So what about you guys? What warning labels would you like to slap across a book? I’m at the ready to make the labels for you.



 

Don’t I Know You?

By Louise Ure

I bought a new computer and upgraded my mobile phone a couple of weeks ago. It was beyond due time. I still had the first generation iPhone and my Mac only had 4 GB of space left on it, even though I’d trimmed down all the unnecessary apps and videos and documents. I was traveling down the fast lane in first gear.

Because Bruce had been my previous “tech specialist,” the purchase required hired help. Enter Mitch: my Personal Technology Consultant and new hero. He transferred all the data from one computer to another, set up a secure WiFi network plus one for my guests, cleaned out the old computer so I could give it to my sister, and even recoded my TV remote controls so that I didn’t have to use one for the volume and another to change channels. “We’ve got some time while it’s transferring,” he said once the Firewire was connected. “Got anything else you want me to do?” (I wish I’d known then that he was an ex-chef from Brennan’s in New Orleans. I would have come up with an entirely different list of what to do.)

“Yeah.” I started hauling out every electronic gadget and peripheral in the house. Bruce’s last six cell phones, four back-up hard drives, an ancient Global Village modem — still somehow plugged into a socket! — a rat’s nest of AC adapters and wires, even a Sony Video 8 player that should by now have its own wing at the Smithsonian.

He quickly sorted the mess into piles. “I’ll recycle this for you … I can sell this for you on ebay … you’ll need a spare one of these just in case …”

When all the sorting was done, I still had three spare iPhones with no SIMs cards. “What do I do with these? Sell them on eBay? Give them to a women’s shelter?”

“Sure,” he replied, “or you can leave one in the car as an iPod, use another beside the bed as an alarm clock, put one in your travel bag as a travel alarm. Hell, you can use it as photo-slideshow drink coaster if you want to. It’d be a great conversation piece.”

Brilliant. The guy’s a genius.

After he left, I started playing around with the new computer. Of course, with updated hardware comes the opportunity for updated software and I got my first chance to play with the latest version of iPhoto.

You can organize the photos by event, of course, based on the recorded date and time that the photo was taken. Or by place, if you imported the photos from a GPS enabled camera.

Or you could create folders based on who was in the photo. This is where it got creepy. The new iPhoto software uses face recognition technology to ID and sort through all the photos in your library.

You start by identifying one face in a photo by name. “Bruce,” I marked under one recent portrait of him. The app then shows every other picture it thinks “Bruce” is in. “Is this Bruce?” it asks coyly. “Is this Bruce?” “Is this Bruce?”

Maybe Apple felt like being inclusive that day. The iPhoto inquiries ran the gamut from twelve pictures of Bruce to a photo of Willy Nelson on stage and one of Kris Kristofferson with a beer in his hand. The list included one old boyfriend of mine, whose decades-old photo I’d uploaded to the computer a couple of years ago because the original was in such bad shape (hmmm … I’d never seen the resemblance before). But it also asked “Is this Bruce?” over one out-of-focus shot of a Golden Retriever. (I won’t even go into the iPhoto option to “Add Missing Face” if the subject is photographed from the back or with their face turned. It’s just too, too sad. I’d be adding Bruce’s missing face all over the place.)

But, if this is the state of the vaunted face recognition technology we’re using at airports and high-target mass gatherings to fight against terrorism, then we’re shit out of luck. If TSA has the same success I did, they’ll be arresting an Irish Wolfhound instead of an terrorist.

But as poorly as the technology worked for me, I kind of like the idea of an aid to face recognition. As a person who forgets faces as easily as names, it would have come in handy that time that I couldn’t identify my own cousin at a signing. And I could use a portable version of this app at the next Bouchercon. Haven’t seen you for two years and you dyed your hair? You lost forty pounds and now bear no resemblance to that author photo on the book jacket I’ve been looking at since 2005? No problem. I’ve got my face recognition iPhone 4 right here.

How about you guys? Any electronic joys or travails in your life? And how good are you at recognizing those faces from year to year?

The Pantry Diet

 

By Louise Ure

 

The ‘Rati troops seem to have been fairly consumed with food issues these last few weeks. Rob wrote about his Post-Hawaii Diet. Cornelia sang the praises of “Lobster Pie” at the Maine Diner (and gave an even earlier shout out to a “Lobster Prozac” recipe). Alafair, in yesterday’s post, bemoaned the temporary loss of her favorite lunch at Otto’s Enoteca Pizzeria in NYC.

I’m continuing the theme today with my own new diet plan: don’t buy any food.

Times are tough, we hear on the news. Folks are going out to dinner less often and packing their own lunch for the office. That’s all good advice, but many of us stopped going out long ago and making my own lunch is nothing new.

Ergo my new calorie and cost saving diet: stop buying food.

With three exceptions (milk, eggs and bread), I’m not going to buy any groceries until I’ve cleaned out the freezer and the pantry.

Now I’m not one of those folks with a full-size freezer stocked with venison and a whole flock of chickens. The stuff that’s in the freezer is there because I didn’t want it before. Some of it is so old that I can’t tell what it is. Animal? Vegetable? Mineral? I’ll take my chances.

And the can-laden shelves in the garage are not “earthquake supplies,” as contractor I hired so graciously suggested. Oh no, that’s mini-Costco. One thing I’ve learned in hindsight: I should never have sent Bruce to Costco when he was hungry. He invariably came home with a case of kidney beans or a gross of cans of tuna. Or both. I have enough cranberry juice on the shelves downstairs to cure a sub-continent of scurvy.

At first it was fun and full of variety. There was shrimp in the freezer. And steak. Frozen haricots vert and corn. The supplies dwindled as my favorites disappeared. And my names for each of these recipes changed. Soon I was eating “Home Alone Macaroni and Cheese” and “Assisted Living Chicken,” which is probably not what the folks at Stouffers would have called that breaded chicken cutlet.

There’s “Party of One Smoked Oysters” (and why did Bruce ever think we’d need fifty cans of it?) and “Thousand Year Old Pot Stickers.” I need about twenty new recipes to use up all the cans of water chestnuts and little bottles of clam juice.

Tamales have their own pride of place as my relatives think they are the Arizona equivalent of a covered dish brought home after a funeral. I had four dozen at last count and that’s about 48 meals-worth.

There’s a pecking order to my choices, of course. I’ll use the butter up first and then move along to the olive oil. When that’s gone, I’ll resort to the vegetable oil, the peanut oil and finally to that least-favorite-of-all-the-lipids, PAM spray. If I break out the lard, you’ll know I’m close to the end.

The coffee will go first and then I’ll attack those half-dozen, half-filled boxes of tea bags. And I don’t even like tea.

I have enough pasta to live through any amount of time in a bomb shelter and enough brown rice to start my own commune.

Desserts will prove challenging, although I still have a jar of applesauce, and a box of popsicles. Of course, there are all those boxes of Jello pudding and the Peeps from last Easter on the top shelf of the cupboard.

Sometimes when I’m putting together a meal I feel like one of those chefs opening a basket on “Chopped.” Anchovies. Dried apricots. Bush’s Baked Beans. Count Chocula cereal. “You must use all of these ingredients in your final dish.”

What about you guys? If you had one of those “No Way I’m Going to the Grocery Store” days, what would you pull out of your pantry for a meal?

Oh, and I may add one more ingredient to that “must buy” list. Wine. I think I’m going to need it.

 

 

Flotsam and Jetsam

 

By Louise Ure

If flotsam is the wreckage of a ship washed up by the sea, and jetsam the purposeful tossing of objects overboard to lighten a vessel … this has been a week of both for me. I can best describe it as a week of useless and discarded objects.

Returning from moving my father-in-law to assisted living in Seattle, I faced my own house with new eyes. Ye gods. I’d become a hoarder, too.

I don’t know why, but I always start a cleansing process like this with the tiniest job imaginable. I roll pennies. I organize a button box. I put all the stamps in one place. Maybe taking that small first step gives me the courage to try something bigger, like a drawer. Soon I was going through closets, drawers and cupboards and evicting anything broken or the wrong size or I simply didn’t like. Funny how much of the stuff I own falls into one of those categories.

The storeroom in the garage held a four-drawer filing cabinet with tax records and canceled checks dating back to 1979. Ten big plastic bins crammed with God-knows-what. Vacuum-sealed bags of clothes with no owner. The third bench seat to a car I no longer own. Rolled rugs so old and dirty that no charity would take them. Empty boxes from TVs we gave away ten years ago.

I spent five days down there, going through every piece of paper, sorting through bags of cloths to give away, making a bonfire-sized pile for the junkyard. After recycling and trashing as much as I could, I still had 210 pounds of paper to take to a professional shredder.

Then there were new targets: things that decided to break right in front of my eyes as if to tell me that they, too, were ready to join The Long March. The coils in the couch that sprang loose to stab me in the butt. The computer that finally said it had only 4 MB of space left and would no longer even sync to my mobile phone.

Out with the old and in with the new.

I hired a tech guy to set up the new computer and make sure I didn’t lose any data. He was a gem, setting up wi-fi networks and discarding a modem so old (still plugged in!) that it was on dial up. He went through everything electronic in the house — routers and firewire, cables and AC adapters, old cell phones dating back to the 80’s, a Super 8 player! — and took them all to either recycle or sell for me on eBay.

And yet, and yet … I look around and nothing looks leaner or cleaner or uncluttered. How is that possible?

I had lunch with an old friend in the midst of all this clearing away madness and she told me about her own, preferred Spartan style of living. The kitchen counter must be bare, nothing must reside on the front or on top of the refrigerator. Her “junk drawer” has only eight items in it. They are in a drawer organizer.

My cupboards are still full, not a scant inch left for a new vase or sweater or book. There is no table that needs another “interesting objet d’art” on top. The storage room in the garage looks just as crammed full now as it did before the purge. And yes, there are baskets stacked on top of my refrigerator.

What about you guys? Are you neatniks? Is there an empty drawer someplace in your house? Are you happily cluttered? Or are you — like me — in danger of being approached for that Buried Alive hoarder show on TV?

 

Small Miracles

 

By Louise Ure

 

Back when Ken Bruen and I shared Tuesday blogging responsibilities, he sent me a long white feather in the mail. “When a white feather crosses your path,” he wrote, “it means your guardian angel is nearby and watching over you.”

I found another white feather last week … a figurative one this time. It was a small miracle in my life.

Apologies to my Seattle friends for not telling you earlier, but I’ve been up in your fair city for the last three weeks moving my father-in-law into an assisted living center. Bruce’s death had undone him, “purely worn me down” as he described it, and he chose to move to a simpler existence.

That meant that I had three weeks to sell his possessions, get him moved and get the condo ready to go on the market.

He is a big bear of a man, with a face like George C. Scott and the heart of a Teamster. He spent forty years driving a laundry truck delivering linens and uniforms to restaurants, garages and hospitals. Today he has bad knees and a colostomy bag, and pores over every word in the paper looking for signs that his America is still alive.

Cleaning out the condo was not easy. Bruce’s older brother still had three rooms of belongings there, even though he’d long ago moved into his own apartment. And he’s a hoarder. Following the advice from a psychologist, we involved the brother in the decision making on each and every item. Does it go to Goodwill? Does it go to your apartment? Does it go to storage? There were one thousand shirts. Three hundred and sixty pairs of pants. Three thousand CDs. Each decision was protracted. Each item discussed.

Pat and Karen, Bruce’s lifelong Seattle friends, were unflagging in their energy and support, providing physical labor, local resources and expert advice. Karen, an antiques dealer in the city, sifted through every piece of jewelry, every Christmas bobble, every cookbook to determine what she could sell for him and what should go to charity. They made so many runs to Goodwill and the shredding company that the proprietors knew the name of their dog.

My father-in-law, Adolph, sat sad and calm as we loaded boxes, willing but unready to rush into this change.

There were dozens of boxes and bags of papers for the shredder. Old tax records. Paperwork from the estates of his sister-in-law and his wife, dead ten years now. Christmas letters from relatives in North Dakota two decades ago. Birthday cards from Bruce and his brother when they were kids.

There wasn’t room for all the papers at Ade’s new place, but he wasn’t willing to send them to the shredder until we’d had one final look. And so we did. We went through each page of the old tax records and he told me stories about that year, what new car he’d bought and where they went on vacation. We read old Christmas letters and he recounted the story of the son of that cousin, a saddlemaker, and how he lost his fingers when they got caught in the reins of a plow horse. We looked at old photographs and he remembered the night he’d first met his wife, Marian, and how she was supposed to be the blind date for the other guy.

Then came the miracle, the white feather wafting down in front of me.

I opened one old condolence card from April 2000 and read that “as a symbol of prayer, a votive light burns for Marian Goronsky at the Benedictine Monastery in Tucson, Arizona.” Funny, I hadn’t known that Adolph had friends in Tucson.

Then I recognized the handwriting. It was from my mother.

They’d only met once, on that day in 1985 when Bruce and I celebrated our marriage with a giant party in Tucson. The Goronskys drove three days to get there and arrived feeling like alien creatures in the dun-colored desert landscape. Tequila was new to them. The mariachis at the party did not sound like the Lithuanian music they knew.

My father died when I was sixteen, so it was up to my mother to welcome these new additions to the family and they became friends as well as new relations. Fifteen years later, when Marian Goronsky died unexpectedly only twelve hours after successful knee surgery, my mother sent a condolence card.

What she didn’t know is that she was sending it to me.

“Let me share what I know about losing a spouse,” she wrote. “A Greek writer wrote that ‘an excess of grief for the dead is madness, for it is an injury to the living and the dead know it not.’ I don’t know if it’s true, but at least that thought has helped me a lot through the years.”

It’s been sixteen months since I heard my mother’s voice. Sixteen months since I felt her arms around me.

Last week she found a way to be with me again. Thank you, Mom. It will help me, too.

 

The Table

By Louise Ure

 

Have I neglected to tell you about The Table? Forgive me.

Bruce’s Aunt Hazel died last year at the age of 94. She had been a dietician on the civilian hospital ship HOPE back in the ‘60’s, traveling to Indonesia, South Vietnam and Sri Lanka to bring modern medical treatment, support and training to their suffering populations. She was a gentle, optimistic woman from North Dakota who never married but always stayed close to her five sisters and their offspring.

  

 

Bruce remembered her letters home – as early as 1961 – warning of an impending war in Vietnam and the possibility that America’s youth would be drawn into the conflict. “Go to Canada,” she said, prescient in her advice.

She was a woman who always took care of herself, saving money from each paycheck, and at the end, disposing of her possessions and arranging for her own long term care.

One of the items she set aside for Bruce was The Table.

It was seven feet long and two and a half feet wide, made from a three-inch slab of solid white granite with veins of black running like river deltas through it. The legs were wrought iron, thick and straight with flat-black spheres at the knee and ankle*.

It was a beast of a table. As heavy as original sin. As dramatic a statement as the stone tablets Moses carried back down the mountain.

Most importantly, it was an autopsy table.

Hazel had purchased it, decades ago, from an auction at Swedish Hospital in Seattle when they were doing major renovations, and hauled it back to her little cottage overlooking Lake Washington. She was so proud of it and frankly couldn’t understand why her dinner guests turned green when told the history of the new dining table. Neither could I.

Oh, how I coveted that table. I wanted it immediately and would have carried it back from Seattle on my back if I could. We could drive up and get it, of course, but the cargo areas in our cars weren’t long enough for that massive granite rectangle. Shipping it seemed like a likely option but we never got around to it.

So it wound up in storage at a friend’s house and stayed there for years, only to be freed unexpectedly four months ago when Bruce’s brother moved into that same friend’s apartment and set it up in his kitchen. He’s not using it for dining, but for a flat storage area. I think he enjoys its infamy as much as I do.

But he knows it’s on loan. It’s coming down to San Francisco. A friend in the antiques business will trailer it down with the next Bay Area load. I’ll need to hire a small army of weight lifters to get it up my stairs.

I’ve promised my brother-in-law another table in replacement. I’m thinking about a veterinary exam table.

 

 

Whatcha’ think, ‘Rati? Is this the perfect dining room table for a published crime fiction author? Wanna come over for dinner?

 

 

* I wish I could have included a photo of this magical table, but it’s still buried ‘neath the trash in my brother-in-law’s kitchen. I’ll take a photo of it in its new digs once I hire that cadre of he-men to bring it upstairs.

 

At A Loss For Words

 

By Louise Ure

 

I have changed in many ways – some large, some small – since my husband died two and a half months ago. And not all of the changes have been bad.

I’ve lost almost forty pounds and grown stronger. I’ve taken on tasks that I previously thought I could never face and done them well. I even planted and grew a rose bush that looked more like a dowsing rod when I got it than a living plant.

I wound up replacing all my jackets, blazers, raincoats, vests and pocketed sweatshirts, not so much because of the weight loss as it was the mouse. Emboldened by the loss of the pup Cisco, my furry intruder screwed up his courage and scrambled his way into the pocket of each of my jackets where I kept the Charlie Bear dog treats for Cisco and his pals on the street. Then, fat and drowsy, he couldn’t climb out again, so he chewed through the bottom of each pocket in his escape. I tell you, I’m not putting cheese in the mouse trap anymore. I’m stuffing it with Charlie Bears.

But there have also been smaller, more insidious changes that I didn’t see coming and cannot explain.

I’ve suddenly become afraid of driving at night and have had to restructure my outings to venture forth only in daylight. One friend graciously humors me with 4:30 dinners at her house as if I were a Senior Citizen at an Early Bird buffet.

I can’t work crossword puzzles anymore. Remember my earlier facility with them? In ink. In three languages. In half the time of their “average solving.” It’s gone. I can’t even get the easy clues anymore.

And books hold less interest for me. I’m still reading, but taking no pleasure in either the world created there or the techniques the author used to bring that world to life. I hope that comes back.

And then there’s writing. Or, better stated, not writing.

I didn’t write at all during Bruce’s illness and decline; my mind only focused on him. But I also haven’t written during these ten weeks he’s been gone.

I am truly at a loss for words.

And part of me thinks that’s okay.

Unlike so many of my writer-brethren, I’ve never felt that writing defined me. I was successful and had accomplishments before I started writing and hope the same will someday be true again. Writing is one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done and while I’m outrageously proud of the three books I’ve had published, I’d be perfectly happy if I never wrote another word again.

I’ve never felt “compelled” to write. Never felt that my day or my life would be incomplete without it.

I’m not here to announce my retirement from the writing community, at least not yet, but you’ll probably see more posts from me in the future that come from the point of view of a reader — an observer — rather than a writer. And what the hell, a reader’s slant might be a good addition here at Murderati.

In any case, it’s the best I can do. I have nothing to say.

 

Peace Out

Women in Peril

 

By Louise Ure

   

 

Maybe it’s just because I’ve been on a Stieg Larsson kick the last couple of weeks. I haven’t ordered the third in the series yet, but both The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire are steeped in the world of violence against women. Whether it’s the kidnapping, torturing and killing of women explored in the first book or the horrors of the sex trade in the second book, Larsson focused on the perils women face today and created a kick-ass heroine in Lisbeth Salander (who one blogger called “a deviant Lara Croft”) to confront the problem.

And when I turned on the local news this morning, all four lead stories were about crimes against women. The continuing hunt for the killer of a 24-year old Asian woman. The carjacking and rape of a woman driving late at night in a Mercedes SUV. An elderly woman assaulted on a nature trail as she was walking a dog. No progress in the case of a dismembered young girl’s body found in a suitcase.

While I’m glad that the media and our best selling novelists decry crimes against women, the stats just don’t support the emphasis.

  • Yes, 95% of all rapes and sexual assaults are against women.
  • But only 44% of all armed robberies in the U.S. are.
  • Only 33% of all assault victims are women
  • And only 25% of murder victims (1/3 of whom were killed by a partner or spouse).

 

But in books, TV shows and news stories, the number of female victims are much higher. I fear that in all three cases (news, film entertainment and literature), women-in-danger stories equal ratings and sales.

In an article in the U.K.’s The Guardian last fall, author and critic Jessica Mann discussed an increasing trend in crime fiction to write plots with male antagonists and female victims that come close to “sadistic misogyny.”

“Each psychopath is more sadistic than the last and his victims’ sufferings are described in detail that becomes ever more explicit, as young women are imprisoned, bound, gagged, suffocated, stabbed, boiled or buried alive,” she said.

A publisher quoted in that same Guardian article added, “Dead, brutalized women sell books, dead men don’t.”

Publishers have a shorthand name for this: Fem Jep, if the details aren’t too gory. Torture Porn, if they are.

I’m equally culpable in my own work. The victims in my novels are primarily women and the protagonists (all women) definitely fall into the Female-in-Jeopardy mold by the end of the book. I can only blame that on the fact that I write about what I know and what I am most afraid of.

Val McDermid, when asked about women writing more violent plot lines, said: “When women write about violence against women, it will almost inevitably be more terrifying because women grow up knowing that to be female is to be at risk of attack. We write about violence from the inside. Men, on the other hand, write about it from the outside.” I’m not sure I agree with her inside/outside definition, but I do know that women can write equally dark and violent books as men do.

If the success of these Women in Peril novels are any indication, we don’t want to read about cats or kids in jeopardy but there better be lots of man-on-woman danger involved. It’s as old as The Perils of Pauline and as new as The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, but these days the women are likely to rescue themselves instead of waiting to be untied from those railroad tracks.

How about you, my ‘Rati pals? Do you enjoy reading Fem Jep novels? Do you enjoy writing them? And when does Jeopardy turn into Misogyny? 

 

 

 

 

 

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