Sunday, July 28, 2013

Epic Road Trip

I have what seems today to be a great idea. A month from now it may not, but today? I'm all excited about it.


Okay, buckle up. Because what I'm thinking is Epic Road Trip.

Mark's book is coming out in February. (I thought it was May, but no! February!) As you may already know the title is Road Rash. (Whoa. I think I'll ask him for the artwork. It may not be the final artwork, but it's close. And very cool! And I'm so glad his dad got to see it before he passed away. "Huntley" is a proud family name on his dad's side of the family. Covered wagon people. Hearty (and hardy) pioneers. You get the idea.)

Anyway! Road Rash is the story of a 17 year old drummer (Zach) who joins a band (Bad Habit) and goes on a "tour" of the western United States in an old motor home (the Bad-Mobile). A band on the road is a recipe for trouble (although they are not Troublemakers, so don't get your books confused!), and the book is a wonderful ride (breakups, breakdowns, and all).

So what I'm thinking is (as a tie in to the whole Road Rash theme), Mark and I should get our hands on an old motor home and go across the whole country (up, over, down, other-over [or through], up) visiting all the bookstores we can. Aside from talking about our books, I think we as a couple would make for unique bookstore presenters about the writing process, and how we contribute to each other's work.

And (since it's an old motor home) instead of leaving it alone in its old-motor-home appearance, I'm all excited about getting it painted (or shrink wrapped?) with graphics of Road Rash and Sammy Keyes books. Just picture a funky motor home rolling along with book cover images all over it! And words, of course. And all that social media info. We could tweet updates from the road, maybe post short daily videos so people can feel like they're on the adventure with us, and do giveaways to people who tweet us back.

February is too soon to pull this idea together, so it needs to be later -- maybe to coincide with the release of the last Sammy Keyes book. So it would be like the, So Long, Sammy, Hello, Zach epic road tour.

And why I'm telling you all this way at the beginning of the planning stage (rather than when it makes sense to tell you) is because (well, I'm excited and you're you and) the route is presently wide open. So I want YOU to tell me...

What city and what bookstore in that city do you want us to visit?

(If you're not comfortable putting that info in the comments, send it to )

And if you have other ideas, don't be shy. This is going to be epic fun and I want you to be part of it! Talk to me!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Our Hudson

Last week I talked about the origins of Officer Borsch.

This week I want to talk about Hudson.

From the moment I wrote about Officer Borsch I knew exactly who had inspired the character. But Hudson? I didn't really know anybody like him. He was more the cool old guy that I wish I knew.

What's funny is, it turns out I did know him. Or someone very much like him. I just didn't make the connection until this week.

Hudson first appeared on the page in 1994. Eighteen books and nearly twenty years later, Hudson has aged only one year. So maybe I didn't recognize the Hudson in my life because he wasn't an old guy yet. Maybe it took him passing Hudson in age for me to see what a cool guy he really was.

I'm talking about my father-in-law. A man who loved books and knew how to apply knowledge. A man with an enviable combination of high intelligence and artistic ingenuity.

I use the past tense because this week we lost our Hudson, the remarkable Ed Parsons. I feel a little like I imagine Sammy would if Hudson Graham were to pass away. Like our polestar is gone.

I learned so much from Ed, not about textbook things, but about life and how to treat other people. He was inspiring in so many ways, but there was never any fanfare to it. He worked hard, never complained, and was generous in ways you don't truly understand until it dawns on you that time is everything.

He was also a little secretive (or, as Hudson would say, private), and had a great sense of humor.

And he loved cool old cars.

What took me so long to see this?

I've often said that when I grow up I want to be Hudson. (Or, you know, the female equivalent of Hudson.) I have a ways to go, yet, but it sure helps to have had an example of how it's done.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Genesis of Officer Borsch

Officer Borsch acts like his squad car's a Porsche and thinks that all kids are delinquent juveniles, but he'll change his mind when he's in a bind and Sammy wrestles down a nasty crocodile...

So where did the Borschman come from?

Pre-kids, Mark and I were living in a duplex in a not-so-great part of town. Well, it was actually half of a little house on a full city lot in a bad part of town. It looked like a cute little cottage-like house from the street, but it was weirdly divided down the middle and the "central heating" was the water heater, located in the corner of the kitchen. This was the place where the refrigerator half-blocked the doorway to the bedroom.


One night we came home and discovered the front room was turned upside down. The couch pillows were all flung around, stuff was strewn about--just chaos. The bedroom was the same, and the back window was pried wide open.

We called the police and the reporting officer is the person who became the character Officer Borsch.

"Do you usually keep house like this?" he asked me after he'd taken in the front room while sucking on a tooth.

"No!" I cried and couldn't believe he was serious.

"Just askin'" he said (dead serious).

And after he'd taken a half-hearted tour of the kitchen and bedroom and had noted the things we'd already determined were missing, he seemed to be preparing to leave. So I asked, "Aren't you going to take any fingerprints?"

He scoffed. "Couldn't lift anything off of these surfaces."

And that was it.

I was mad and violated and frustrated and disillusioned all at once.

And we never got our stuff back.

Writers pull from their own experiences, so years later when I was creating Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief, I thought back to my encounter with the SMPD, created Officer Borsch, and had my (very satisfying) little revenge.

What's funny is that at one of my book signings at the "Santa Martina" mall, there was a long line and I could hear bits and pieces of conversations as the people in line move closer to the signing table. The books are very popular in the inspiration city, and one of these approaching conversations was about "Officer Borsch." "I think I know who it is!" one woman said, and after a volley of whispers ensued she approached the table and asked me, "Is Officer Borsch [So-and-So]?"

"I will neither confirm or deny," I told her, but I must have been grinning (at least a little) or glinting (maybe a lot) because she cried, "I knew it! I knew it!" I hurried to point out that I had neither confirmed or denied, but it was hopeless.

So that's where the character came from, but the original Officer Borsch in no longer the guy I write about. Sammy's Officer Borsch has become much more than some gruff guy who "presses his shirt from the inside out." He's become someone I understand and empathize with. Someone I like.

Maybe the real-life responding officer was simply misunderstood (or overworked, or also disillusioned, or just burned out), but I sometimes wonder what the evolution of the inspiration officer has been. Has he "grown" like Officer Borsch? Did he make it to Sergeant? Is there a compassionate guy under all the gruff?

I'm sure I'll never know, and that's probably for the best. Better to imagine that there's more to him than I met that night, than find out that there isn't. you have a favorite Officer Borsch moment? (I'll just fess-up with mine right here: It's the "oinkers in love" scene from Sammy Keyes and the Curse of Moustache Mary. Laughed 'til I cried.)

As always, thanks for checking in. See you in the comments!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Backup Plan

A few weeks ago, Mark posted for me because I was a crazy woman. (Hm. Technically, he should post every week, huh?) Anyway, now that I'm no longer "underground," I'm realizing that--although Mark shared my having reached the end-of-the-series news with you--I haven't said anything about it.

So let me back up and say, I was a obsessed with getting the rough draft of Sammy Keyes and the Kiss Goodbye done before we took our trip to England. I just wanted to get that last sentence down on paper (and in context, where it meant all it should). I've had that last sentence in my head for years and I just wanted it to be. And beyond the micro of getting that last sentence out, there was the macro of wanting everyone who's followed Sammy's story to know how things ended. If our Boeing 777 went down, I didn't want Sammy's story to be cut short, too.

It was silly, I know. I mean, I fly all around the country all year doing school visits, why was this any different?

But it felt like it was, so I transferred the Kiss Goodbye file to a thumb drive and wrote an ominous note telling my in-laws that they should send the file to my editor's (Nancy's) e-mail address "in case of emergency". Then I told Nancy that it was sitting on my desk in case our plane went down. She asked me why I didn't just e-mail it to her and tell her not to read it. So I told her, "Because it's not done and I don't trust you not to read it." "Oh," she said. "Good point."

Well, as you know I made it home safely. And when I saw my thumb drive sitting on my desk I sort of laughed at my obsessiveness. Of course we got home safely. Air travel has great statistics!

And then that Boeing 777 crash landed in San Francisco yesterday.

"Wow," my son said when he saw it on the news. "That could have been us."

I guess it could always "have been us" -- in the car or on the bike or (especially in London) in the intersection--but it still made me think it was a good thing I'd left a backup.

Anyway, maybe next week I'll talk about the actual book a little. Officer Borsch (h-hm, make that Sergeant Borsch), is in it a lot. His metamorphosis has been so interesting, and I think maybe I'll share where he came from, if that sounds good to you.

'Til then, buckle up. And wear your helmet. And look all directions before crossing the street!

As always, thanks for checking in. See you in the comments!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Hundred Years From Now

I'm late! Jet-lagged from the trip. And, I'm afraid, here to talk about monuments.

But first, from last week, the "assignment" was a vacation (because I really, really, really needed a vacation after the events of the past 2 years), the location was London (which ya'll figured out!) and the picture posted of the Sherlock Holmes tiles was underground at the Baker Street subway stop. The "mind the gap" was what we heard each time we got on or off the subway train--a reminder that there's a gap between the car and the platform and to watch your step!

So. Monuments. There are a lot of them in London. There are statues and plaques and buildings and, well, designations everywhere. Compared to anywhere in the USA, London is old. London has centuries of history, and the landmarks to prove it. But what struck me is that monuments and designations are just delays in the inevitable.

People move on.

People no longer care.

The old eventually gets swallowed up by the new.

Everyone still knows the iconic Sherlock...but Hollywood has kept younger people caring with movies. But this figure? I was excited to see it, but how many people under 25 know who this monument is for?

What drove this home was an old church we happened by as we walked through Soho. We could see it through a section of old iron fencing, but it wasn't visible otherwise because the new buildings erected all around it were so much taller and were positioned so close to it. Tall, modern buildings dwarfed and obscured what was once (I'm sure) the jewel of the neighborhood. And in the narrow strip of land between the fence and the church was a stone-carved plaque to some deacon who had served at the church for nearly 50 years, like, 100 years ago. He must've been some revered and respected leader, but at this point, does anyone know who he is? Does anyone really care?

No one likes to think of themselves as being gone when they die. When I was a kid, people would talk about novelists' books living on for them. I didn't aspire to being a novelist, so that seemed like a futile route to me. And, as it turns out, it is. Most of us have never even heard of the best-selling books from a hundred years ago, let alone read any of them.

The movie industry definitely promotes the delusion of life-ever-after, summed up by Fame: "I'm gonna live forever, I'm gonna learn how to fly, I feel it comin' together, people will see me and cry. I'm gonna make it to heaven, light up the sky like a flame, I'm gonna live forever, baby remember my name."

Well, no. You're not. You're going to be out with the next season's wave of stars and probably wind up turning to drugs and alcohol and die before you would have if you hadn't been obsessed with fame and living on forever.

People ask me what I want my legacy to be. I have a really good body of work that I'm proud of, but I don't need or want a statue or a landmark or a movie about my life, and I don't expect to be remembered a hundred years from now. This isn't meant to be depressing. On the contrary, I think this is healthy (and realistic). I think recognizing the value of your presence is very much life-affirming. Knowing that today is what matters and that the interactions we have now are what's important helps keep the focus on life, instead of legacy. It also levels the playing field. The way I see it, the only legacy that really matters for any of us--famous or not--is how we treated people day to day while we were alive. I plan to keep focusing on that.