Archive for July, 2013

I want to move to Europe and become a famous jewel thief. Wanna know why?


And if on the off chance you do get caught and sent to prison, no worries because… YOU CAN ESCAPE AND GO STEAL MORE JEWERLY!

I am not making this up.

What I have made up in the past, while contemplating potential novels, are complicated stories of stolen antiquities, thieves (or Layla) delicately slipping past alarms in the dark of night, shady colleagues providing heist tools and know-how and protection.

I mean, those are common story lines in thrillers and mysteries, right? And countless movies have shown us elaborate heist plots.  But you know what? They’re all hokum.

You might remember how I’ve ranted before about this topic.  But the reason I’m ranting again is because not only has another super-easy super theft just been committed in Europe, it was a massive jewel heist in the same hotel where Alfred Hitchcock set his classic To Catch a Thief movie.  The one with debonair Cary Grant as the suspected cat thief, and how he romances a bejeweled Grace Kelly and is in a death-defying chase across rooftops.

Here’s the real-life plot:

On the morning of July 28, a man with a handgun entered the exclusive Carlton InterContinental Hotel along the French Riviera, went to its exhibition of jewelry that was being watched by some security guards, and ran out with several bags of jewels and watches estimated to be worth $50 million dollars.

End of story.

By the way, the police are speculating that the thief is a member of the notorious “Pink Panther” gang (notice the movie connection).  Why?  Not only because the gang has stolen an estimated $436 million dollars worth of jewelry on a few continents since 1999, but three members have escaped from three Swiss prisons in the last three months.  Easy peasy escapes.  In the latest one, accomplices rammed the prison gates with two vehicles, overpowered guards with bursts from their AK-47s, then fled with the escapees in one of the vehicles.

Sigh.  Why do we writers bother making up complicated stories when reality can be so plain and simple?  Seriously, this is one more reason for me to give up writing.  There’s just too much of a disconnect with reality.

And now for something almost all of us writers fantasize about: a big time interview with the best possible questions.  The answers I’ve provided are the kind I wouldn’t mind giving.


QUESTION:  A review in The New York Times hailed your latest book as a Great American Novel.  What was your reaction?

WRITER:  I was deeply humbled and honored.  I also emailed copies of the review to anyone who has ever been mean to me, especially those hacks at Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

QUESTION:  I understand it takes you a few years to write each of your novels.  Is that why they’re so brilliant?

WRITER:  You’re too kind.  Unfortunately, it did indeed take me a while to write my books because I worked full-time at an unrelated job.  However, now that my income has increased exponentially thanks to royalties, I am able to work full-time on my writing.

QUESTION:  And in your spare time?

WRITER:  Oh, the usual stuff – travel, adventure, performing great archeological feats, making love with Sven at our beach house on the island.

QUESTION:  I’ve heard you also bought a magnificent landed estate in Ireland.

WRITER:  What a silly rumor.  It’s just a little-biddy nineteenth-century castle with stables, servant quarters, and a few Pre-Raphaelite paintings hanging in the study, which doubles for the one you see on Downton Abbey.

QUESTION:  Were you surprised when the people behind the Dos Equis commercials – the ones featuring the most interesting man in the world – wanted to feature your novels as the most interesting books in the world?

WRITER:  No comment because we are in negotiation.

QUESTION:  Finally, is it true that top publishers are in a knock-down, drag-out bidding war over your next book, which hasn’t even been written, but they’re still willing to advance you five million dollars?

WRITER:  (Sigh)  Publishers can be so desperate, the poor things.


AND SERIOUSLY, FOLKS: Here’s my own favorite real life question and answer…  When Beth Henley won the Pulitzer Prize for her play Crimes of the Heart, an interviewer asked her what it meant for her to win the Pulitzer.  Henley replied, “It means no longer having to work in the dog food factory.”

I’d love to hear your own fantasy questions and answers.  I know you have some wild ones.

I’m going to launch an experiment this week. It’s a really tough one for me to pull off. Almost impossible, in all honesty.

I’m going to be a *!@#(&! ray of positive sunshine. For one whole blasted week.

Now by positive I mean in the extreme.  We’re talking happy thoughts at all times. Generating only upbeat, loving, goody-goody emotions.  Sending joyful intentions out into the universe.  Meditating my damn ass off every night and if I get up early enough meditating in the morning too before work.

To stay positive I will have to avoid thinking about some of my relatives.  It will mean not reading a lot of news stores and sticking my fingers in my ears and loudly saying “La la la la la” at the very mention of Fox News.  I also won’t talk much with many people because a) a couple of them will only make me feel like crap, and b) if I’m unrelentingly cheerful in conversations with co-workers they’ll wonder what drug I’m on.

And why will I be a ray of sunshine, you ask?

Like I said, this is an experiment.  I want to see if, because of this intense shift within me, something on the outside shifts too.  As in, will small positive events or incidents come my way?  Will I get some good payback from the universe/ collective unconscious/ whatever?

Yeah, I know.  This sounds like flaky New Age hokum.  And a lot of you will have intelligent arguments against it.  But I’ve lived long enough to know that during times in my life when I was really down and depressed, even more bad luck tumbled my way.  On the other hand, when I was up and happy, things got better.  Maybe this was an illusion, but then that means my experiment with an illusion won’t hurt me.

There’s also the physical aspect.  All told, I’ve had about eight surgeries over the years, and while a few of them were necessary because of issues I was born with, I absolutely know that three were the direct result of a relationship I was in.  My body was trying to tell me, “Will you leave this jerk?”  When I finally did leave him, my body got healthy again.  Maybe one week of fantastic felicitousness will be good for my body.

So that’s my plan.  I’ll let you know next week how it went.  By then I should be back to my old rotten self and whining away.

Do any of you guys have stories of weird happy/crappy emotional karma connections?  I’d love to know.

I had no idea some scenes from Game of Thrones are filmed in Northern Ireland.  So when I saw a photo much like this one in the New York Times, I thought it was a special effects fake picture.

But this place is real. Isn’t it gorgeous?

According to the Times, the Dark Hedges is an isolated country lane flanked by beech trees planted in the 1700’s.  It’s rumored to be haunted by a ghost called the Grey Lady (doesn’t it look like it would be?), and until recently it was an isolated, lonely place no one ever went to.  Now Game fans are flocking to it.

It’s easy for me to see how a setting like this can inspire a writer to weave a dramatic scene in a story.  It also reminds me of the reason I sent Layla in The Compass Master, in flashback scenes of her high school years, to Kylemore Abbey in northwestern Ireland.  Sure, my sister went there for a year, so I had some great inside info on the nun-run place.  But there was also the fact that the Abbey is a centuries-old castle far out in the country and reigns like a queen over a lake.  Take a look…

Can’t you just imagine the nuns in a place like this plotting to battle a conspiracy of foes?

One of the most dramatic-looking places I’ve ever been in was Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  I went years ago (when I still had money to travel) and just after the country was opening up to a few travelers after the terror of the Khmer Rouge.  Seeing those still largely deserted ancient temple ruins, which had been overgrown in places by the jungle, was an extraordinary experience, and I wouldn’t mind setting a story there but I can’t ’cause Lara Croft Tomb Raider has already used it.  For me, what added to the drama was how the grounds were still being cleared of landmines, so not only did I have to stick to the designated paths, small warning signs with a skull and crossbones marked out the dangerous spots.  But just like in the movie, little local urchins were running in and around the temple as if it were their playground.  They weren’t afraid of the landmines or of the small poisonous snakes that infested the jungle floor.

One place I’ve been to quite a few times (I’ve got family there) is the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.  I’ve never thought of setting a novel in the area, but Stephenie Meyer did so with great success in her Twilight Series.  It seems she chose Forks as a setting because it gets the highest rate of rainfall in the country, and I can testify that if you ever want to feel so soggy you’ve got moss growing between your toes, that’s the place to go to.   So yes, a fictional version of Forks can seem like just the right place for vampires and werewolves.  But the reality isn’t quite so inspiring.  As the writer Timothy Egan wrote about that plain, dumpy town, “Forks is to the Olympic Peninsula what a butt rash is to Venus.”

I’d love to hear if parts of your novels or short stories have been inspired by places you’ve been to.  Beautiful or ugly, inviting or frightening–they really can make a difference in a story, can’t they?