If I thought I was going to get a lot of writing done while I was recovering from surgery, boy, I was really wrong. I just don’t have the mental energy. But what I have been doing a lot of is reading. I’m on post-op day 7 and have read three books since the surgery (I generally average a book a week if I’m lucky). All of them were on the iPad, which surprises even me.

Lately a few people have asked me how I liked reading a book on the iPad and I didn’t have much of an answer for them since I’ve only really read paper books since I got it. But the surgery forced me to limit the amount of junk I carried from the bedroom to the couch every day and I’ve found that the iPad is the gadget I’ve used the most during this time. It functions as my laptop, my iPhone (not for calls, of course, but for various apps), my iPod, and my Kindle. Though the only one it really takes the place of entirely is the Kindle, there is no other device I own that is as versatile, and therefore, ideal for this recovery period.

Not to gush, but what can I say? It’s been great.

But what about reading? Originally, I hesitated to start any books on it because of its weight. It is heavier than the Kindle and therefore not as comfy to read. Now that I’ve actually read a few books on it, I can honestly say the weight is not an issue at all.

The other concern I had was the back lit screen. Seemed like it would be uncomfortable to focus on for so long. Apparently, however, my eyes have become used to reading on a computer screen because this hasn’t been a problem. And the user interface on the iPad is just so much better than my first generation Kindle.

I still love reading paper books more than any of them, but for ease of use and portability of lots of books, the iPad is hard to beat as far as I’m concerned. I never thought I’d say that! I’ve loved my Kindle and I really thought the iPad couldn’t replace it. Alas, I think it has.

Incidentally, the books this week are Think Twice by Lisa Scottoline, and Perish Twice, and Shrink Rap, both by Robert B. Parker. Both are in the Sunny Randall series, and I’ve just started another, Melancholy Baby. All of these have been the perfect “I’m recovering from surgery” books to read–nothing to heavy, fast-paced and entertaining.

I am on a never-ending quest for the perfect opening line.

As part of my search, today I went through a bunch of my books, looking at the opening lines while I hoped for inspiration to strike. It hasn't–yet–but I thought I'd post some of my favorites here.

Let's start with my favorite book of the year so far. City of Dragons, by Kelli Stanley:

"Miranda didn't hear the sound he made when his face hit the sidewalk."

What follow is even better, but this sentence alone gives one a sense of the type of book this is going to be. Love it.

Here's the rest of 'em:

"Whuppin' ass wasn't so hard, Stella Hardesty thought as she took aim with the little Raven .25 she took off a cheating son-of-a-bitch in Kansas city last month." – A Bad Day for Sorry by Sophie Littlefield

"Coming back from the dead isn't as easy as they make it seem in the movies." Money Shot by Christa Faust

"As Clifford Rose came to, the first thing he recognized was the stink, like a drainpipe running out of hell." The Loud Adios by Ken Kuhlken

"In the beginning, I believed in second chances." Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

"It was hot as an Alabama outhouse when I got off the plane from Barcelona." The Jook by Gary Phillips

"Our hero was not one of those Dominican cats everybody's always going on about–he wasn't no home-run hitter or a fly bachatero, not a playboy with a million hots on his jock." The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

"In my youth I suffered from too close a proximity to gaming tables of all descriptions, and I watched in horror as Lady Fortune delivered money, sometimes not precisely my own, into another's hands." The Devil's Company by David Liss

"The cops nabbed Santa Claus at the corner of Hollywood and Gower." Try Fear by James Scott Bell

Just for kicks, I'm going to add my own current opening line:

"My mother wept the first time she saw my fiery red curls, for ginger-colored hair marked a sorceress." Diary of Bedlam by Holly West

Does it hold up?

What are some of your favorite opening lines?

For all you writers/aspiring authors/readers out there, I wanted to bring your attention to this link from Online College:

50 Famous Author Interviews That Shouldn't Be Missed

I find there's always something to be learned from reading interviews of authors. And some of my favorites, like Sue Grafton, John Grisham, and Judy Blume are included in this list.

Credit where credit is due: I found this link through @thewritermama on Twitter, via Ask Wendy, the Query Queen.

In the past month or so, I've had the pleasure of reading three great books: City of Dragons, by Kelli Stanley, A Trace of Smoke by Rebecca Cantrell, and A Bad Day for Sorry by Sophie Littlefield. I loved them all and recommend them all, so if you like a good crime story, pick 'em up (I've included the Amazon links here, but if you live in the Los Angeles area why don't you head on over to The Mystery Bookstore in Westwood and purchase them there)?

All three novels feature strong female protagonists with fierce independent streaks.  Reading them, I couldn't help but think of my own main character, Isabel Wilde, and how, like these women, she's "bucked the system." From the beginning I wanted to portray Isabel as a woman who, though she's been victimized, is no victim. She uses her experience to find a way to succeed, even if it means stepping on a few toes (and some very important toes, at that).

I think I've said this before–Isabel Wilde is, first and foremost, a
woman of her time. She is constrained by many of the attitudes and
superstitions of the age she lives in (17th century London) even as she
struggles to break free of them. It's as though she's chipping away at
the structure of her society, inch by inch, but is sometimes confused
by the messages she'd grown up with that tell her this is the way it is, the way it's always been, so live with it.
She moves forward, but that doesn't mean she doesn't slide backwards
from time to time, because she likes feeling safe and protected. She isn't 100%
comfortable with being an independent woman, even if she knows she has
no choice.

But what really stood out to me was that my plot shares key elements with all three of these books, and I got to thinking about this: is the female condition such that we're forced to consider only a few options for our protagonists and thus we've come up with the same ones? Is it possible I haven't worked hard enough to find plot elements for my main character that are true to the time she lives in and to her sex but also not so obvious? Mind you–this is in no way a criticism of the choices made by the three authors mentioned above–their plots work perfectly and I wouldn't change a word. 

In the end, I've decided not to make any big changes to my plot on the basis of these thoughts. The choices I've made work, and they're true to Isabel and the moment in time I am writing about. If she's lucky, Isabel will learn from the experiences I've portrayed in my novel and will build upon them in future stories. Here's hoping!


Tomorrow begins Left Coast Crime, my first conference of 2010. It's also the first time I've attended Left Coast Crime, but with an author list like this (and the fact it's in LA this year) how could I miss it?

I am looking forward to exploring the world of LA crime fiction. It's such a rich sub-genre; writers like Raymond Chandler, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, and James Ellroy have succeeded in exploring the underbelly of this city, giving it an almost mythic quality.

The program looks fantastic. A highlight for me will be a walking tour of noir LA led by James Scott Bell, author of the Ty Buchanan series. As much as I love this city–and I do–I am unfamiliar with some of its most intriguing (and sinister) locations. This tour promises to be an interesting glimpse into some of these places.

Other panels I plan to attend are: Pulp Fiction (which includes Kelli Stanley, author of one of my recent favorite, City of Dragons), Robert Crais's LA, Wanna Be a Writer?, etc. Seriously, there are so many great panels for this conference there are several conflicts for me. I'll have to choose wisely!

This conference will be another first for me: I plan to bring my little dog Stella. Traveling with a pooch is challenging, but taking her means a little less work for Mick and this is also an opportunity to see how she takes to staying in a hotel. Since the conference hotel is just in Downtown LA, if I have an emergency (such as excessive barking) I can just drive her back home. Plus she'll be great company. I always miss my dogs so much when I travel.

Hope you all have a great weekend and I'll see you back here on Monday!

Over the weekend, Mick and I traveled to Sacramento to attend Authors on the Move, an event which benefited the Sacramento Public Library Foundation. My talented brother, John O'Neill, chaired the event, and it was a huge success.


Although the evening was wonderful for many reasons, the biggest thrill for me was hearing keynote speakers Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones and her husband, Glen David Gold, author of Carter Beats the Devil. Remember when I talked about how inspirational it is to meet your favorite authors and hear them speak? Well these two authors were no exception. The Lovely Bones is perhaps the most moving book I have ever read, certainly as an adult, and one that moves me to tears each time I read it. I felt strangely emotional just hearing Alice Sebold speak about it.


In this video, Alice and Glen talk about fear of success and failure:

Of course, as great as it was to hear them speak, the heart of the event is the many other authors who participated. The premise is that while you eat dinner, a participating author sits and speaks with you. They tell you about their book(s), about the writing process, answer your questions, etc. Our table was lucky enough to have Keith Raffel, author of a thriller series based in the Silcon Valley, followed by Marilyn Reynolds, author of several young adult books, and Judith Hortsman, author of A Day in the Life of your Brain. All three were charming, entertaining, and open about their writing. It was a pleasure meeting all of them.

The real winner in all of this was the Sacramento Library Foundation. It was a great event, and I hope they raised lots and lots of money.


On Saturday afternoon I went to a book launch at the Mystery Bookstore for Sue Ann Jaffarian's latest book in the Odelia Grey series, Corpse on the Cob. Before I left, I recorded my thoughts about book signings and why I love to go to them:

During the signing Sue Ann mentioned that one of her readers sent her cats a Christmas gift. This is my new goal: have enough faithful readers so that one of them sends Stella and Stuart gifts.

The week before, I went to a book signing for Kelli Stanley's book City of Dragons. I'd been introduced to Kelli's work at Bouchercon 2009 when she did a panel with David Liss on historical mysteries. Since then, I've been looking forward to reading it and now, halfway through, I find it was worth the wait.

Here's a video of Kelli reading from City of Dragons at her signing at the Mystery Bookstore:

One thing I forgot to mention on my video is that I feel it's important to support female crime writers as much as I can. It's a male-dominated genre but there are females out there writing stuff as dark and hard-boiled as any male, and more importantly, just as great. I hope to join 'em someday!

One of the best things about being a writer is reading. I actually have "read" on my to-do list every day, and I try to do it for at least an hour (this doesn't count bedtime reading). What had previously been a leisure activity for me has now become essential.


I've read interviews with many writers who said they either don't read at all when they're writing or if they do, they don't read the genre they're writing. I can't imagine not reading while in the midst of a project, especially since I'm almost always writing. I can, however, understand how a writer would choose not to read their genre, and while I still read almost exclusively crime fiction, I've only read one historical mystery since I started writing Diary of Bedlam. I don't want another writer's voice in my head while I'm working so hard on finding my own. 

What about you? What are you reading right now? As a writer, what are your reading habits?

I've collected a lot of great reference books in my research of Diary of Bedlam, but by far my favorite is A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Captain Francis Grose. First published in 1785, it is a collection of slang words from all corners of society.

Here are a few of the entertaining words and expressions found in this volume:

Bum fodder – toilet paper

To cast up one's accounts – to vomit

Beard splitter – A man given to "wenching"

Dog's soup – rain water

Fart catcher – a valet or footman, from his walking behind his master or mistress

Lazybones – an instrument like a pair of tongs, for old or very fat people, to take something from the ground without stooping

Mantrap – a woman's private parts

Queen Street – a man governed by his wife is said to live in Queen Street

Soul doctor – a parson

Thingumbobs – testicles

Wool gathering - Saying to an absent man, or one in reverie, as in "Your wits are gone a wool gathering."

One thing that's also interesting about the dictionary is to see how many of the words we still use whose meanings are more or less the same as they were over 200 years ago. Expressions like elbow greasegift of gab, hodge podge, quack, ragamuffin, white lie, and ship shape all hail from this time.

Last week, I attended the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in Indianapolis. Besides meeting authors, the best thing about it was the introduction to new books and authors that had previously not been on my radar. I lugged home a backpack (or to be completely honest, Mick lugged it) full of books I can't wait to read.

Here are the ones I'm most looking forward to reading:

A Quiet Belief in Angels by R.J. Ellory: At the first panel I attended on Thursday morning, this book was recommended by all the reviewers. Someone is killing young girls in a small rural community but is never caught. Ten years later the apparent murderer hangs himself, articles from the dead girls strewn about him and the killings stop–until the murderer re-emerges in New York City, seemingly alive and well.

The Styx by Jonathan King: This is a stand alone, historical mystery. Described by the author in a panel, I was immediately taken; it takes place in 1890s Florida and the existence of a community of blacks who have come to Palm Beach to work in the blossoming service industry. When the community, called the Styx, is burned to the ground one night, the only casualty is a wealthy white man. So begins the mystery, but the novel promises to go much deeper than that. King also writes the Max Freeman series, which I intend to read as soon as I get a chance.

Books I read on the way home:

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris: This, of course, is the first book in the Sookie Stackhouse series. I had been putting off reading it because frankly, vampires aren't my thing. But after seeing Charlaine on a panel I went directly to the book room and bought this book. I finished it on the plane home and was taken with it. Certainly, it's not a traditional mystery, but the characters are engaging enough and the suspense is intense enough for me to call this book a page-turner. I have to admit, I was a little sorry to say goodbye to Sookie by the end, so I'm glad there are many more books in the series.

Jack Wakes Up by Seth Harwood: This book and the author have been on my radar for awhile, but seeing Seth in a panel at Bouchercon convinced me I needed to move it up on my "To Be Read" list. I'm about a third of the way through it and so far I'm liking Jack Palms and the situation he's gotten himself into. Jack is a different type of character than I typically read; he seems like a cool enough guy but I have a feeling if I met him in real life I might think he was a bit of a jerk (the jury is still out on this). That's precisely why he's fun to read, however. He's arrogant enough to be interesting without being a complete asshole, and that bravado might be the one thing that saves him in the end.

Other Authors I Can't Wait to Read (visit their websites for info on their books):

Jamie Freveletti
Kelli Stanley
Jeri Westerson
Carolyn Wall