Wednesday, June 15, 2016
BOOKLOG 55: THE HIGHWAYMAN
A Longmire Mystery
by Craig Johnson
As always, Craig Johnson’s Longmire series, mixing up elements of mystery, paranormal, modern-day western, and even soap opera (here and there, not much, don’t worry), comes through once again with this book. In The Highwayman, local legends come into play, specifically ghost stories. Like all good ghost stories, there’s a grain of truth in the one that is the central story here. Once more, Johnson brings us into the Wyoming world of Walt Longmire, this time introducing us to the local state police who keep the roads safe, and tracking down those who choose to abuse them. Central to our story this time are even those who have died keeping them safe—who are rumored to still do so, even after their deaths. What’s going on? There’s also a rumor about gold coins that were stolen long ago, but they’re showing up near a site where a particular highway patrolman met his death. Was he involved? Did he know something about them? Walt Longmire has to find out.
I have long recommended these books by Craig Johnson, and this latest one just proves once again to me there’s good reason.
Coming up: The Book of Yokai!
Wednesday, June 01, 2016
Booklog 54: SAYONARA SLAM: A Mas Arai Mystery
by Naomi Hirahara
You may or may not remember my writing about Mas Arai, the elderly Hiroshima survivor/gardener/amateur detective, whose English is none too good (but then neither is his Japanese), but who nevertheless manages to solve many a puzzling crime. Anyway, just to refresh your memory, he’s an elderly Hir…okay, now you remember. Sort of. Seriously, Mas is a kibei, a Japanese-American, born in the US but educated in Japan, in his case caught in Japan during World War II. This is Hirahara’s sixth mystery with Mas, this one concerned with a suspicious death in Dodger Stadium during the World Baseball Classic, Japan versus Korea, during which Mas, who has a unique perspective since his son-in-law is the head of the gardening staff there, discovers that the death was murder…and the story begins.
As always, Hirahara has done her research to build memorable subplots, in this case using a little-remembered historical fact about an American POW ship that brought Japanese-Americans and Japanese-Peruvians (kidnapped from Peru, in fact) to a prearranged location during World War II to exchange for Allied POWs. The fact that the Japanese-Americans and Japanese-Peruvians weren’t spies and had nothing to do with the war didn’t matter. Then there was all the great detail about knuckleball pitchers (I’m a Seattleite, and remember Phil Niekro, knuckleballer extraordinaire, fondly), and the master/apprentice relationship in Japanese culture/baseball, and how Korea fits into Japan’s modern history, all explored. And Mas finally being forced to acknowledge that yes, he has a girlfriend.
My only complaint about this book, in fact, was the editing: where was it? Tenses jumped all the time, POV changed for two sentences out of the blue, and typoes that suggested that there was a step left out (when one reads that someone’s “interest was peaked,” you know that editing was uncertain). Fortunately, I could skip it because, after all, it’s Mas.
Coming up: Hm. I know!
Friday, May 27, 2016
Booklog 53: KOLEA
by Russell Cahill
Prehistory stories are interesting, because they’re part fantasy and part conjecture (thus fantasy again) and part history, because you can actually construct some idea of what life was like back then. In Russell Cahill’s Kolea, we have the story of a boy, destined for greatness, who’s taken from his biological parents and raised by others in an effort to protect him from those who would do him harm—classic adventure beginnings, right? Myth scholar Joseph Campbell would be nodding (and of course so would Christopher Vogler) at this beginning. That this story begins and ends in the islands we now know of as Hawai’i long, long ago, travels all the way to what we now know of as Alaska, and then the return trip back home makes it a true adventure. These travelers, led by the boy turned man, Kolea (whose destiny was predicted in the classic way, naturally), had to go to Alaska, to escape those who again was out to get him. But I’m not telling this story right.
Okay, it’s got the classic beginnings, as I said. I was immediately tickled by this, just because so many of the great stories of our known civilization have had similar starts (see Campbell, again, and the Earl of Cardigan’s breakdown of the similarities between those heroes. I was an anthro major; this was right up my alley!). Destined for greatness, hidden away from those who would harm him—do some research on this, and you’ll find that a lot of those heroes of yore have stuff like this in common. It makes for great story.
Anyway, the details of Kolea (the story, not the guy) interested me, too. The author, who is of Hawai’ian descent and was a park ranger for national parks in California and Alaska and (of course) Hawaii, had a lot of local lore and local research to draw from, put in fascinating bits about culture, and foods, and how to build stuff, including watercraft that could make their way to Alaska safely. We know it’s possible; think of all the logical conjecture about how the Polynesians made their way all around the Pacific in their amazing craft, with nary a yacht or engine in sight, not to mention compasses or sextants. And how we find amazing evidence how these folks must have been in places that we can’t imagine how (and no, not aliens).
Like adventure? You’ll like Kolea. Especially appropriate if you’re going to Hawai’i for vacation, or Alaska for vacation, or anywhere, actually. Read this and imagine how the human species has striven to explore.
Coming up: Dunno!
Wednesday, May 04, 2016
by Julia Park Tracey
When I first read these two mysteries, what to call them in the way of category stumped me for a while. Not just a mystery, not romantic suspense, not just an adventure, what? What would be the mot juste? Then it finally came to me: it’s chicklit mystery!
First of all, it’s the story of Veronika Layne, a young reporter, as California liberal as you can get, with tattoos, piercings, and recycled oil powering her little car, working for small community newspapers in the San Francisco area. That may seem like it’s pretty quiet stuff, but not so, as Veronika finds out. There are mysteries and odd happenings afoot in the suburbs, the one that she knows best in particular, with much of the hippie community if not intact, then certainly echoing many years after. In #1, Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop, our intrepid reporter—because all reporters are intrepid—pokes her nose into the rumors that a real estate developer is destroying native burial grounds. But she finds out there’s more to the story than just that, and it doesn’t help that her editor doesn’t seem that interested in the story. In #2, Veronika Layne Has a Nose for News, our reporter is on the trail of the murder of a TV house-flipper star, and why a classic home he bought ostensibly to refurbish was instead torn apart. There’s also a treasure hunt involved, because treasure hunts are cool these days, and nostalgia, and really, sweetness, because Vee really misses her boyfriend, who’s out East for a while.
The author, who’s the current poet laureate of Alameda, Calif. (who knew such a thing existed?), is working on the third installment of Veronika’s stories, but when it’s going to see print (digital or paper) is a question that has yet to be answered, because the publisher for which she wrote them has closed up shop. But I think it’s pretty clear Veronika’s stories will continue, one way or another.
Anyway. Looking for a mystery? Try ‘em! They’re both wonderful reads!
COMING UP: So hard to choose!
Monday, April 11, 2016
A while back, I was invited by the Idaho Writers Guild (IWG) to teach a workshop for them, requiring me to travel to Boise. Sure, I said. This would be a new experience, since I teach workshops all the time, some in person, some online, but none of them involve my leaving the immediate vicinity of Seattle. (I should note here that I barely leave my neighborhood these days, since as a freelance editor/writer, and with an Internet connection that’s fairly consistent, there’s no need to. Also, my car is dead and rusting in the backyard, but that’s another story.)
Anyway, I decided to make the trip a one-day affair, flying in before and flying out after the presentation, after I found out that weather in Idaho is an unpredictable thing in April. We had nightmares of a sudden snowstorm trapping us in various stops along the way if Mike and I had decided to drive. At least if I had to stay in Idaho overnight due to snow or tornado or, say, an onslaught of locusts (it could happen!), I could catch a later flight and Mike wouldn’t miss a day or more of work. And this way, I figured, I could get home in time to work in the garden.
Yes, I could hear you snickering ALL THE WAY HERE. Stop that.
The workshop was scheduled to start at 10 a.m., and the SeaTac flight to Boise was at 6:30 a.m., so I found myself getting up 3:15 a.m. and being driven to the airport by the ever-patient and in this case going-back-to-sleep-soon Mike, getting there shortly after 4 a.m. to get in line for the TSA. For a 6:30 flight.
And you know what? It wasn’t too soon to get into line. All those people who warn you that it takes a while to get through the TSA check aren’t kidding. At least at SeaTac. After I got a boarding pass, I followed the signs pointing to the gates and found myself standing at the end of a line of people. Many, many people. Hundreds and hundreds of people. At 4:20 on a Saturday morning. Geez Louise. It was not unlike checking in at San Diego Comic-con, but nobody here was dressed as Captain America or Wonder Woman. (Wouldn’t be comfortable for travel, I would guess.)
At least the line moved relatively briskly, but then I assume most of the people in it weren’t awake enough to NOT shuffle along when prodded. When I finally stepped up to the TSA person, it was about an hour later, and by then I was wide awake. But then I was taken aside for a pat-down, so after that (I had a hard time keeping a straight face; me a suspicious sort? Snort), I really WAS awake.
Since I had plenty of time after that before my flight and I was awake enough, I walked around a bit, since it had been a while since I’d traveled by air and I’d been to the airport. I was pleased to discover that among other restaurants, there was a takeout joint for Asian cuisine called Waji’s, which I assume is an offering of the Asian grocer Uwajimaya (I haven’t had a chance to check) not far from the gate for my flight. There were Starbucks every few feet, of course, and a Wolfgang Puck place down the corridor. And unlike the last time I was traveling somewhere, everything was open (at that point, SeaTac restaurants didn’t bother to open in the middle of the day, we discovered. Yes, at a major international airport. Poor form). This morning, however, at 5 a.m. on a Saturday, everything was open and busy.
The flight itself was smooth and uneventful, with about 40 passengers for a propjet designed for 80, less than an hour and a half travel time. The weather in Boise (of course) was bright and warm and sunny, about 80 degrees, so (in case you hadn’t concluded on your own) no snow. Or tornadoes or locusts. I was met by Elaine Ambrose, a member of the Idaho Writers Guild and an accomplished published humorist, and she was kind enough to show me some of the sights on our way, including Boise State University! A college that close to the airport would have advantages. (I wonder if the school has a low-residency graduate program? That would be really convenient!) And Boise is still small enough that I could see the mountains beyond (pretty close), the sky above, and the land itself, something, I realized, I hadn’t been able to do for years in Seattle. So THIS was what that phrase about “wide-open spaces” meant. I’d forgotten! Not really having seen it, not since our trip across the country in 1989.
I was worried about how far it was from the airport to the Riverside Hotel, where the workshop was being held, but it turned out to be something like ten or fifteen minutes, most of that through the city itself and a few on the freeway (apparently the only freeway around, making travel directions VERY simple). So let’s sum up: sun, no traffic, pleasant company…yep, easy-peasy.
You’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, aren’t you? Of course you are. So was I. The room reserved for the workshop was set up and ready for the attendees, and some people were already there waiting. I met my contact with the IWG, Greg Likins, who it turned out left lovely West Seattle the same year Mike and I arrived in it, so we spent a few minutes talking about the ol’ hood. Small world indeed. Greg had made sure to print out additional handouts when we discovered there were going to be more attendees than we expected, so as the minute hand ticked closer to ten o’clock and the place remained sparsely occupied and we had all these extra printouts, I wondered if I was going to be speaking to a pretty empty room.
Turned out not. At ten almost on the dot, there was a flood of people into the room, and within a couple of minutes, the place was filled, and we could begin.
The workshop—“Stirring the Plot: Taking your basic plot across the genres, and making your story work, no matter the genre”—went well, as far as I could tell. At least that’s what they told me. I just knew I enjoyed presenting it, and I tried to help those who asked questions. The attendees ranged from newbies to veterans, spanning genres, fiction and nonfiction, both sexes, and the young woman who won my Wear Black giveaway was writing a graphic novel. When all was said and done, many of the attendees came up to tell me that what they had learned was going to help them enormously, so it was worth the trip.
I was invited to lunch with some of the attendees afterward, members of the Coeur du Bois chapter of Romance Writers of America, so we spent a lovely hour talking shop and I was also introduced to a substance called “fry sauce.” I’d never heard of it until the waitress asked us if we wanted some. For those not familiar with it, it’s a combination of ketchup and mayonnaise, and it turns out to have been around since the late 1940s, mostly in the western United States, with variations around the world. The recipe changes from place to place, but the main ingredients in this area remain the same. The ladies were excellent company, as was Elaine, who joined us as well. And the sweet potato fries were great with the fry sauce.
Much too soon I had to get to the airport, especially since I was expecting the same lunatic TSA lines there—but I was assured that wasn’t likely. Amberly Smith was my ride there, and that was appropriate, since it was Amberly’s email to me that started me on my journey to Boise in the first place, when she dropped me a line asking if I would be interested in teaching a workshop. We talked about our writing, our lives, and even our pets. And she laughed when I expressed concern about the Boise TSA line, but she delivered me right on time nonetheless.
If any of you out there want a pleasant airport experience, avoid SeaTac and go to the Boise airport instead. Admittedly, one is an international airport and the other is not, and Saturday can be a busy day of the week (or not), but after I got my boarding pass and went to the TSA line, I…okay, there couldn’t have been more than eight or nine people in line. The only excitement was when a woman fainted for whatever reason. And once again, I was taken aside for a pat-down. I guess I do look threatening.
This flight was actually almost full, but it still left on time and efficiently. It landed a few minutes early, and Mike (now awake and everything!) picked me up, about twelve hours after he dropped me off.
Did I work in the garden after we got home? Do you KNOW me? Of course not! Nor did I take a nap, as you would assume that I would. I went to sleep at 10 p.m., about normal time, woke up about 3 a.m., thought to myself I could go back to sleep…so I did.
Thanks, Idaho Writers Guild and Coeur du Bois! You made my day jaunt to another state a wonderful trip!
Thursday, March 17, 2016
A while back, someone asked me if I had set aside my writing in favor of my editing business. No, I said. Then, in the same week, when someone else asked me the same question, I realized I had, in addition to building my editing business, written a short story, finished a novel, and taken back the rights for five books, and that's all in the past year. My problem? I hadn't published any of them!
So I figured I should do something about that. Last month, I re-introduced my superheroine Sonika, appending two short stories about her to the original work and retitled THE SONIKA STORIES (available on Amazon, mainly because Barnes & Noble seems to be sitting on their version). DREAMING BEAUTY, which is a never before published work, is the second novel in Sonika's world, and in particular her town. But that's about the only thing they have in common. Because there are no super-heroes, only a guy who communicates with a comatose woman through his dreams. Or are they hers?
Check it out at http://www.amazon.com/Dreaming-Beauty-World-Sonika-Book-ebook/dp/B01D27RP7I/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1458233929&sr=8-2&keywords=eilis+flynn!