Kay: It’s Time for the Bird!

This week we’ve been talking about what we’re grateful for, and one of the things I’m grateful for is that I can still laugh. As Elizabeth mentioned yesterday, humor can help us get through some dark times.

As a writer, the week’s theme had me think about POV. How would a turkey approach this fall festival feast? Of course, s/he’d be grateful if s/he had made it this far. But perhaps our bird would also be also proactive.

I had never thought of turkeys as being particularly bloodthirsty—that is, until news reports starting popping up about Gerald, the ferocious turkey that had taken over a park in the city where I live. I had a personal connection to this story because a good friend is a volunteer there, tending the roses, and one day she had to beat the bird off with a big stick when it attacked her. Other people did, too, because if you didn’t protect yourself, Gerald would draw blood. 

Sometimes though, maybe, if you’re a turkey, you have to.

In any event, this year I’m celebrating the holiday outdoors on a patio with three friends socially distanced. It won’t be terribly warm outside, but the day promises sunshine, and we’ve got a patio heater to keep us warm. The hostess is supplying her family tradition for the entree, which is crab cakes, and I ordered a more traditional meal (yes, sorry, turkeys) for myself on Friday. We’ll have a good time and, I hope, be reasonably safe.

I had so much fun looking up these cartoons that I’m adding two more that made me laugh out loud, even though they’re not related to the turkey theme. I love Maxine (so topical! Although I added an edit), and right now, I think we can all benefit from the wisdom of The Most Interesting Man in the World.

Wherever you live and however you’re marking the day—or not marking it at all—best wishes from the Eight Ladies!

Kay: Columbo—A Hero for Our Time

Peter Falk—wearing his own raincoat, a $15 thrift store find—as Columbo

Lately I’ve been mostly unable to read or watch new fiction. I’m not sure why this is happening now, although lots of people have mentioned that between the U.S. elections and the pandemic, all they can read is books they know the ending to and all they can watch is reruns of The Great British Baking Show.

One of the TV programs I’ve been catching up on is Columbo, starring Peter Falk. It’s showing up at my house on a rerun channel on antenna TV, although I’m sure it’s available from fine streaming platforms everywhere. Even though every episode is constructed exactly the same way (the murder is shown on screen at the beginning of the show, so it’s more of an affable “police procedural” than a “mystery”), so far, I haven’t tired of it. I never thought to wonder why until I read this wonderful cartoon in The New Yorker.

For those of you who don’t want to click the link, the cartoon’s author, Joe Dator, says he’s been thinking about why he’s watching Columbo reruns. His analysis is pretty good, I think. He points to how Columbo is a relaxing kind of hero: he’s not a fancy dresser—far from it!—and his partner is a rescue beagle. He doesn’t carry a gun, much less shoot one. There are no car chases or foot races. Columbo’s success is due to his work ethic, and he’s not cowed or awed by the wealthy and privileged suspects he interviews, who live in exclusive enclaves and consider themselves untouchable by law enforcement.

“Let’s just say,” Dator, the author, concludes, “that there’s a bit of comfort and wish fulfillment in seeing this humble public servant walk into sumptuous mansions and make arrogant jerks who think they’re above the law finally face the consequences of their crimes.”

The final frame is the back of a head sitting at a desk in the Oval Office of the White House. “Oh, if only,” Dator writes.

Isn’t that the truth? Where’s a Columbo when you really need him?

Well, right now he’s on COZI TV, and, yes, I’ll be tuning in.

Kay: A Writer’s Post-Election Blues

I watched some of the American election returns on Tuesday night, and since then I’ve been struggling to put words on the page. I’ve been upset and depressed and paralyzed. Writing is usually my stress reducer. What can I do?

Like many writers, I turned to Google. And I found a 1961 article by Philip Roth in Commentary Magazine. Philip Roth is not my favorite writer and 1961 seems like a long time ago, but political turmoil has always been with us, and his words resonated with me today.

“The American writer in the middle of the 20th century has his hands full in trying to understand, and then describe, and then make credible much of the American reality,” he writes. “It stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates, and finally it is even a kind of embarrassment to one’s own meager imagination.”

Some of his examples of a sickening and stupefying American reality seem quaint today. [following italics are mine]

“Who, for example, could have invented Charles Van Doren?” Roth asks rhetorically. [Van Doren participated in the television quiz show scandals in the 1950s and testified before Congress.] “…Sherman Adams [President Dwight Eisenhower’s White House chief of staff, who lost his job in a scandal when he accepted an expensive vicuña coat] and Bernard Goldfine [guy who gave Sherman Adams the vicuña coat]? Dwight David Eisenhower [boss of the guy who took the vicuña coat]?”

Those crimes seem awfully minor these days, don’t they? Or maybe they seem like small potatoes only if what our current president has done in the White House upsets and sickens you. Roth wrote: Continue reading

Kay: Read Any Banned Books Lately?

Well, I missed it: the week of Sept. 27–Oct. 3 is Banned Books Week. I guess I missed that headline because I was too busy reading.

Banned Books Week was the brainchild of the American Library Association and other organizations in 1982, when the Supreme Court ruled in Island Trees School District v. Pico that school officials can’t ban books in libraries simply because of their content. Now more than 14 organizations sponsor the week and reach an estimated 2.8 billion readers and 90,000 industry professionals.

The banned book lists are based on information gathered from media stories and voluntary reports sent to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom from communities across the United States. However, surveys indicate that 82–97 percent of book challenges—documented requests to remove materials from schools or libraries—go unreported.

I read about the list back in the 1980s and was shocked to discover that Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, a book that had profoundly moved me, was on it. It turns out that The Bluest Eye is one of the most frequently banned books of the last decade. Other classics that have hit the list in the last 10 years are Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee seems to have made the list every year since it was written. (For more frequently challenged books, go here.)

Continue reading

Jilly: How Big is Your TBR Pile?

Or if you mostly read e-books, how many still-to-be-read titles are sitting on your e-reader?

Elizabeth wrote earlier this week that she’s trying to make inroads into the pile of books (physical and electronic) waiting for her attention. It sounds as though she has her work cut out 🙂 .

Back in the day, when I had to buy my reading matter from bricks-and-mortar bookshops, I always had a huge TBR pile. London has fabulous bookshops, but in those days they didn’t carry many of the US romance authors I liked to read, so if I found a promising selection I just bought them all. We had a tiny one-bed apartment, with books everywhere. Kindle revolutionized my life, in a very good way.

Now I have a humungous e-bookstore at my fingertips, I don’t bother with a TBR pile any more. I pre-order titles from a few select auto-buy authors and almost always read them as soon as they’re delivered. The rest of the time I browse for whatever I’m in the mood to read, download it, and read it. Rinse and repeat.

I have friends who’ll download free books or offers that catch their interest, but then lose sight of them because their e-reader is chock full of other freebies, samples and novelties. I know people whose e-readers contain hundreds, sometimes thousands, of unread books.

I have two kindles. The current, easily searchable model has the library of every e-book I ever bought. The other, older device is like the e-reader version of a keeper shelf. It has a far smaller selection—books I love and re-read over and over again, plus whatever title I’m reading right now.

Today I’ll be curled up on the sofa with Skirting Danger, the first book in 8Lady Kay’s Chasing the CIA romantic caper trilogy. I’ve been waiting ages for the final, published version of the adventures of Phoebe (bicycle-rider, talented linguist, disaster magnet) and Chase (smart, practical, retired quarterback turned electric vehicle entrepreneur). Squee! And isn’t that a gorgeous cover?

How about you? Do you buy as you read, or do you have a monster TBR list? If so, how do you organize it? How do you decide what to read next? And what’s currently top of the pile?

Happy Sunday, one and all!

Kay: Me and Nora

Nora Roberts

I’ve been having a tough time with the WIP. I’m doing revisions after an edit letter, and friends, it’s not going well. The book sucks. Why didn’t the editor just say so? I hate it when they’re so polite, like they think you can make it better. No, I cannot make it better, because maybe you didn’t hear me: The whole thing sucks. If I could have made it better, I would have done so long ago.

I should probably just delete the whole thing now and save everyone a ton of misery.

So I went looking for something to cheer me up, and what I found was 10 well-known quotes from Nora Roberts. She’s so bracing. I swear to you, that woman has never thrown herself a pity party in her life. Hearing her speak or reading her advice is like dashing ice water on your face. It makes you blink, but it brings you to your senses. And more good news: her birthday is Saturday, so you have time to get her a card. Continue reading

Kay: The Train Wreck of Traditional Publishing

Did you ever wish you had a traditional publishing contract? Count your lucky stars. Since our pandemic began, traditional publishing has gone off the rails.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch breaks it down for us on her blog. It all began when she tried to order a book in June and was informed that the book would ship in September. Surprised that it wouldn’t arrive sooner, she looked into why that should be.

And guess what? It turns out that traditional publishing isn’t all that nimble when it comes to crises. Here’s the story.

What the heck happened?

When the pandemic hit and bookstores closed, some publishing companies moved their biggest spring and summer releases to the fall, hoping that the situation would have recovered by then. But as the pandemic dragged on, the schedule fell apart, because the fall schedule was already mostly full. Continue reading

Kay: What Next?

The view from my living room window, 10am, Sept. 9, 2020.

A friend gave me a $50 gift card to Amazon for my birthday a few weeks ago, and today, while we in California’s Bay Area are living with skies that look like the apocalypse, I spent it on ebooks.

I was frightened when I woke up this morning to dark red skies—fires are all around us but haven’t been of immediate danger. However, when I first moved to California, a big fire erupted just a mile or two behind my house and burned through more than 3,000 homes and killed 27 people. Most of my street evacuated voluntarily at that time, but I had faith in the fire department and the hydrant at the end of my block. My faith was rewarded, too: the fire came no closer than about three-quarters of a mile. Continue reading

Kay: Agatha Christie’s Villains

We’ve been talking about plots this week—Jilly about what she likes; Jeanne, what she doesn’t; and Elizabeth, how many plot elements in a story are too many. In keeping with the theme (especially Elizabeth’s theme of murder mysteries), I found a great article by Dorothy Gambrell in Bloomberg Businessweek, of all places, that charted plot and character elements in Agatha Christie novels. It’s pretty cool.

I’ve read quite a few of Christie’s novels, and while I’m not a huge fan of her work any more, there’s no denying that she had a huge influence on the development of the mystery genre. So it was interesting and fun to look at these charts and see what characteristics Christie gave her killers, broken down by age, gender, occupation, method, motivation, and relationship to the victim—and how these elements changed over Christie’s working life. (I tried to post some of the charts, but alas—Bloomberg didn’t use a format that I could reproduce.) Continue reading

Kay: That’s Entertainment!

In these days of pandemic and stay-at-home orders, lots of people seem to be reading more. Think you have to break the bank to get more books? Not so! Curbside Larry is here to tell you different. You may have seen him before; he’s getting a lot of coverage these days. But in the event you fear that a furloughed used-car salesman is running amok in the public library system, be assured that Curbside Larry is really library staffer John Schaffer.

For people who would rather watch TV than read, deciding which platforms to subscribe to—or even figuring out what platforms are out there—can be almost a fulltime job. But now there’s help for the curious, the desperate, and the Netflix-challenged.

Finally, here’s a 2016 episode of Black Jeopardy with Tom Hanks that is still remarkably relevant. Not to mention, funny.

That’s all for now, folks! Stay safe out there!