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You can make your dreams come true

July 21st, 2010 (06:30 pm)

current mood: reminiscent

'Nathan just tweeted the following:

NathanBurgoine Life goal update: have signing at @murderbooks

'Nathan, I believe this will happen. And I can tell you from experience that Murder By the Book is a great place to have a book signing because the store, the staff, and its readers are the best.

Meanwhile, I have a photo that may remind you of Houston's best little mystery bookstore:

The Lost Girls

May 30th, 2010 (01:37 pm)

current mood: impressed

Over my almost six years of posting here, I've scattered a few details of a family who I think helped create the person I am today, including a much loved uncle, Gerald, and his wife and children. Gerald was my mother's brother, and much of their writing took place in letters they sent each other. I have many of Gerald's letters to my mother, and his son Bruce has some of her letters to his father. We've both said that we should match them up, but it's a task I've yet to undertake because I know it'll feel a little like I'm intruding on a conversation not meant for me. One day...

As well as being avid readers, everyone in my immediate family writes (both of my late parents, both of my siblings), so writing was obviously respected and encouraged. In my case in particular, Uncle Gerald urged me to develop as a writer. So is writing an activity that's nurtured? I certainly know writers who were never encouraged by anyone to take up the pen--and some whose families don't even know they write. So then is writing an innate compulsion, maybe the result of a recessive gene that suddenly surfaces and dooms its carrier to rejection letters and meager compensation?

What causes any compulsion to create? That question is probably as old as the first time a kid "defaced" a cave wall and his father looked at his mother and grunted, his facial expression conveying, Can't you control him? and her expression replying, He gets it from YOUR side of the family.

Uncle Gerald has a granddaughter he never got to meet, and though I know and love her parents, I've also never met her. But either because she was encouraged to write, or because she has the writing gene, I'm about to enjoy the experience of getting to know her. She and two friends have written The Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World., a book about their decision to leave their jobs and their boyfriends and take a year to travel the globe. From Publishers Weekly:

[T]he three take turns chronicling a journey from Peru to Kenya to Vietnam to Australia, and everywhere in between. Though they don't always get along, the three learn to rely on each other, keep their minds open and throw themselves enthusiastically after every adventure that comes their way. The three authors, all gifted writers (each has worked as a journalist), provide passionate, vivid descriptions of their far-flung travels, bolstered by thoughtful insights and genuine intentions, making this an intensely enjoyable read for fans of travel writing; their semi-improvisatory experience provides a broader look at travel than either a luxury tour or a backpacking trip would, proving especially resonant. This memoir should also be immediately relatable for any twenty-something unsure of his or her future (i.e., most of them).

Authors Amanda Pressner, Holly C. Corbett, and Jennifer Baggett, with Jennifer's parents Bruce and April, at the book launch party in New York.

When April sent the photos from the party, she expressed her delight that the reviews call Jennifer a journalist, because her blog and the book are actually her first writing ventures. I like to think she's blended her sense of adventure and her drive with a writing talent she inherited from her grandfather.

For more information about these young writers and their book, there's a great article in USA Today. You might also have seen them interviewed on TV--I'm very excited for them!

Here's a promotional video about the book:

I'm sure The Lost Girls, published by Harper Collins, is available from your local booksellers--I hope to be picking up mine today--and of course you can order it from amazon.com.

Button Sunday

November 22nd, 2009 (03:11 am)

current mood: sleepy

You know it.

A handsome, blue-eyed man

August 1st, 2009 (03:05 pm)

current mood: thoughtful

The James in Timothy James Beck...

While Jim was here, it couldn't be all play and no work. That would confuse my Virgo friend. So we set him to the task of signing hardcover copies of Timothy James Beck's When You Don't See Me. I feel that I should make one of these books, signed by its writers, a prize for something.

Maybe for the person who gives me...

A topic suitable for my 1000th Twitter tweet?

A character name that I can't resist for my next novel?


Something to think about.

New Orleans Notes, No. 10

July 27th, 2009 (02:02 am)

current mood: indescribable

Back when I was a wee young teen reading books from my parents' library at a voracious rate, I loved any fiction or biographies that were about writers or artists or performers or crazy kids struggling to make it in the big city.

Everything seems romantic and exciting when your life experience is limited. Writers living in near poverty in Paris, gathering for drinks and conversation in a favorite little bar or bookstore. Artists bumping against each other in New York, competing for gallery space and reviews, little dreaming that together they were reshaping the entire concept of art. Actresses stunning the world in roles of a lifetime, then going mad for the love of great actors. Musical prodigies dying of disease and starvation at the hands of rivals who could never measure up to them. All of these brilliant, talented people with their connected lives, inspired and destroyed by one another--it was dazzling and enticing and larger than life to Wee Me.

Now that I'm older, I realize that most of those people--the real ones--probably had no idea what big lives they had. They probably got just as worn down by daily reality as anyone--the frustration of a colicky baby, the need to find enough fuel to get them through a harsh winter, the dozens of rejections that made them feel their work would never come to anything, physical limitations, familial obligations.

But sometimes the magic is so strong it breaks through our perspective of life as ordinary, mundane.

There's a crowded little bookstore in the Faubourg Marigny where creative voices are always welcomed and nurtured by the owner. A reading is scheduled for a sultry May night. The usual smells permeate the streets of New Orleans--the river, the bars, the sweat and urine and sick of tourists, the droppings of mules. Dough frying and crawfish simmering. I'm a little tired and overheated after a long day, so I persuade my friend and writing partner Timothy to take a cab with me to the bookstore. Earlier, we saw our friends walking. They decide to stop for drinks along the way, so we get there just before them.

The store is hot, even hotter because we all stand close among the stacks, or get brushed by people on their way to the back of the shop, where a few bottles of wine have been opened. A couple of red plastic plates hold crackers and pretzels. Most of those will be eaten by two or three men who probably missed lunch and are overdue for dinner.

The reading is kicked off by the dynamic Theresa Davis. She mesmerizes me. Others I can't hear because late arrivals whisper and rustle and cause people around me to shift, blocking the opening that allowed me to see and listen to the readers. A couple of writers reinforce my conviction that I should never read my work aloud--some of us just don't have the voice or the skill to do right by our stories. As the event ends, the air is so thick with humidity and performance anxiety that I have to get out of there. I can't breathe.

I stumble outside, inhaling, craving air conditioning, and hear someone call my name. Catty-cornered from the bookstore is a restaurant with benches on the sidewalk around it. Without my glasses and in the dim street light, only my familiarity with their voices enables me to recognize Rhonda and Lindsey. I cross to them. A waiter has come from the restaurant and persuaded them to accept a hookah. It's my first experience with this, though I decide it's really not that different from the water pipes of my distant youth. I don't smoke cigarettes, but I enjoy the scent and taste of the hookah's sour apple tobacco.

The mouthpiece is passed among us. Not all of us smoke. We're passing time, waiting for Trebor and Timothy. We decide we'll all meet at a Middle Eastern restaurant around the corner. I go with the first group, and once inside, I sit with Rob, Melissa, 'Nathan, and Dan. The restaurant is busy, but not too noisy, and it's easy to hear their banter. I'm laughing a lot, as anyone would be with this group.

Lindsey and Rhonda come in with Mike and Jeffrey. They put two tables together--close to us, but not close enough for our conversations to intersect. There are bursts of laughter from their table, and I feel utterly content to know that all these people I enjoy and admire are getting to know one another and form new friendships.

Trebor and Tim finally enter the restaurant. This is a dinner we've tried to have for two years, and I join the two of them at our table. I'm enchanted all over again by Trebor. We jump from subject to subject, and he always has something intelligent, provocative, or entertaining to share. Occasionally I throw in a comment, but really, I'm happy to sit back, savor my grilled vegetables and basmati rice topped with feta cheese, and listen to two people who make me think and laugh and feel wonderful life from the ends of my hair to the tips of my toes.

It's only later, much later, that I step outside the memory of those moments and realize that they are, in fact, made of that big magic that some biographer or storyteller of the future might put in a book. I have no idea which artist or writer or photographer or musician among us will be the principal and who makes up the supporting cast. But I dream that some young reader invited into this night will have lit within her the vision of a life made of creative work that she loves and gifted friends to illuminate the path to her dreams.

Performance artist and poet
Theresa Davis.

Poet and fiction writer Trebor Healey.

Poet, artist, and photographer
Lindsey Smolensky.

Writer Jeffrey Ricker.

Writers Mel Spenser and Timothy J. Lambert. Writer and photographer 'Nathan Burgoine with his husband, photographer Dan Smith.

Writer and photographer Michael Wallerstein. Writer Rob Byrnes. Photographer Rhonda Rubin.

New Orleans Notes, No. 5

May 28th, 2009 (10:55 pm)

current mood: impressed
currently hearing: Joni Mitchell--Big Yellow Taxi

I'm not sure the right order to tell this story, so I'll just plunge in and trust you to keep up with me. A few days after our return from Saints and Sinners, I began reading a novel I picked up there. It's not a new novel: Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim. In fact, it's been around long enough that a movie has already been made from it. I hadn't read the novel or seen the movie. After I began reading it, I couldn't put it down until I had to because my eyes were crossing. I went to sleep, then picked it up from the bedside table as soon as my eyes opened the next morning. People, when your bladder has turned thirty-five a few times, trust me, THIS IS AMAZING. I didn't get out of bed until I read the last page of the book. It was haunting, well-written, and--obviously!--compelling.

Before Saints and Sinners, the only thing I really knew about Scott Heim was that he and I had a mutual online friend on Facebook: amanda_mary, who I originally came to know through Mark G. Harris. You know how sometimes you start reading someone online and you just instantly like that person? And the more you read, the more reasons you have to like her (or him)? That's the way Amanda is for me. She's a lot younger than I am, way cooler, and has a pretty different life from mine. I like the way she thinks and the way she expresses herself. If she moved next door to me, I'd immediately think the hipness quotient of my street went up a notch (as long as she didn't park her car in front of The Compound where I like to park mine when it's outside the gates).

I decided as a little surprise for her, I'd make a point of meeting Scott Heim at Saints and Sinners and get my photo taken with him. David Puterbaugh made that easier at the opening party at the W Hotel when he pointed out Scott to me. David said he wanted to meet him, too, so we sashayed our butts over to where Scott was talking to someone.

Flashback: My very first year at Saints and Sinners (2006), I was in a conversation with another writer when two people came up and edged me away from him. It was annoying at the time, and I felt like a big geek standing there looking at the air around me. Then my gaze fell on the sweet, smiling visage of a stranger who turned out to be one Mark G. Harris; I asked him if he knew where a restroom was; he got that information and accompanied me to one; and out of that little incident came all kinds of wonderful things.

I did NOT MEAN to do the same thing, taking Scott away from his conversational partner, and I'm sure David didn't either. But since it happened, I hope it freed this Unknown Man to meet someone as terrific as Mark G. Harris who will likewise enhance his life in myriad ways. Just in case, however, a big I'M SORRY to Unknown Man.

Scott Heim is a delight. When I mentioned Amanda, he said they'd been talking online for years. He recognized David from the S&S program, and before you know it, we had a merry little group surrounding him. I managed to get a few more photos, including these:

Authors Timothy J. Lambert, 'Nathan Burgoine, Scott Heim

Authors Jeffrey Ricker, David Puterbaugh, Scott Heim

Tonight, Famous Author Rob Byrnes has been live-blogging on Facebook from the Lambda Literary Awards. So we could all learn AS IT HAPPENED that Scott Heim won for We Disappear in the Best Gay Fiction category. Congratulations, Scott! Fortunately, I picked up this book when I got Mysterious Skin. I know what just moved to the top of my To Be Read pile.

Book Love

April 23rd, 2009 (07:35 pm)

current mood: chipper

Besides today being Shakespeare's designated birthday (Happy birthday, William!) and the date on which my parents celebrated their anniversary until I pointed out the correct date on their marriage certificate (April 24), Lawrence says it's World Book Day. I LOVE World Book Day! Here at The Compound, we always have a huge party and dance around a stack of books with flower garlands in our hair while grasping streaming ribbons in our joyful hands and singing, "Hey nonny nonny"---

Okay, not really. But hey, buy a book for yourself or someone you love. Not that I have suggestions or anything...

Stranger than fiction

April 6th, 2009 (12:03 pm)

current mood: contemplative

I declared Sunday "Becky Day." Having already prepared dinner so it could be eaten whenever it was wanted, I left The Compound for the gym just after ten a.m. I didn't realize that the pool doesn't open until noon on Sunday. My plan had been to swim, shower, and go to Murder By the Book for a signing. Instead, after a few minutes in the whirlpool, I showered and drove to Starbucks to read the paper and drink coffee until it was time to go to the bookstore.

I went to see one of my favorite mystery writers—I think I've posted about signings for her first three books, and now her fourth, A Date You Can't Refuse, is out. I'm speaking of Harley Jane Kozak.

I got lucky and ran into Dean James at the signing, as well. Sometime back, I accidentally missed Dean's signing for the release of his final Trailer Park Mystery, Leftover Dead, (written under the pseudonym Jimmie Ruth Evans). So I hadn't read it and didn't have a signed copy; I got to rectify that on Sunday.

Two authors, two books. A good afternoon.

One of the things Harley Jane Kozak talked about was how the reviews for her mystery series often mention the crazy situations she creates for her heroine, greeting card artist Wollie Shelley. Kozak does a great deal of background research, and while she admits that some of Wollie's adventures may be implausible, she always makes sure they are possible. This led to a discussion between Kozak and her readers at the signing about how real life is often far more bizarre than anything fiction writers can contrive.

I've talked about this before on my LJ—how people sometimes criticize the TJB books for some of the coincidences found within, but those things are far less frequent in what we write than in how our lives unfold.

All of that was in the back of my mind as I ran more errands and continued "Becky Day." I ended up at another Starbucks and opened my laptop to start working on an e-mail I'd promised to send Dean. But I'd been trying to find some older photos of Lynne's grandbaby Lila that weren't on my PC, so first I checked to make sure they were on my laptop. They were. In looking for them, I noticed the folder containing myriad photos I'd used for a slideshow I created and played after my mother's memorial service.

I haven't watched it since August, and I wasn't sure if a public place would be a good time to revisit it. Curiosity got the best of me, however, so I muted the sound, thinking that maybe the photos without the music wouldn't have the same emotional impact.

Of course, I ended up sitting in Starbucks with tears streaming down my face, but fortunately the only other customers were not in my line of vision. The last photo in the slideshow is one of my parents walking together down the beach as the sun sets. I could hear the music in my head that would be playing if the sound was on—the last few notes of a piano instrumental, fairly obscure now, that was popular in the 1960s. My parents used to slow dance to it in our living room—"Last Date," by Floyd Cramer.

When I reached for my mouse to close the slideshow as it ended, the song changed on Starbucks' sound system—to someone's** rendition of "Last Date."

As Harley Jane Kozak had said only a few hours before, "You can't make this stuff up."

**ETA: "Someone" turned out to be R.E.M. Who knew?

Button Sunday

February 8th, 2009 (02:11 pm)

current mood: grateful

Today's button is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

I can't tell you how much it means to me to know there are so many masterpieces making Tim's world a more beautiful place. I'm delivering all the good thoughts and get well wishes being sent his way from friends who're calling, e-mailing, Tweeting, and Facebooking (that's a verb, right?). Tim may be the perfect example of a broke writer and artist, but he's wealthy in the love and support from new and lifelong friends.

Then there are the ones of you who don't really know him but know how much he means to me and send your best. I draw so much strength from all of you--and it gives Tom a chance not to have to be my rock of fortitude 24/7.

What could be better than having a King Cake delivered all the way from New Orleans? It may be Greg's bad luck that he pulled up to The Compound on the same day Tim's lung collapsed, but it was our good luck that he was here. Between him, Rhonda, Lindsey, Rex's attorney Laura, and Lynne, The Compound people and dogs have been taken care of, amused, diverted, and surrounded by love and endless acts of kindness and attention.

Greg's signing at Murder By the Book was a lot of fun on Saturday. And in one of those spontaneous acts of friendship and generosity, he pulled A Coventry Wedding from his shopping bag and held it up to show everyone. I didn't even know they were carrying the book there, and the great folks who staff this jewel of a bookstore were right on it, bringing stock to the front counter so I could sign it and offering to host a booksigning for me, though there's not a murder to be found in Coventry.

Now I need to get one of Lindsey's delicious cookie brownies to the hospital for Tim before they take him off solid foods again in preparation for his surgery tomorrow. I'll keep you posted on his status. He's in good spirits--thanks to his many friends.

Reading just got hotter

January 22nd, 2009 (03:05 pm)

current mood: cheerful

Kipper in Oklahoma says that reading is hot.

Behind the cut, he has more photographic proof.

click here for photosCollapse )

After all that work, Kipper gets a well-deserved nap to dream of mystery, romance, and more books.

Thanks to Ron, 'Nathan, FARB, Rhonsey, and Tim for doing photos.

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If you own any of the books in the opposite side bar and would like them signed, mail them to:
P.O. Box 131845
Houston, TX 77219
Please include three dollars for return postage. Thank you.

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