Category Archives: Culture

Ten Great Crime Stories Set During the Holidays

For The Strand Magazine, I wrote about Ten Great Crime Stories Set During the Holidays. Have a read, and see why It’s a Wonderful Life is noir to the core and How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a classic heist story.

Yes, Die Hard is on the list. OF COURSE.

Blast from the past: playing Royal Wedding Correspondent

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With the nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle planned for tomorrow, here’s a throwback to when I was Penguin USA’s Royal Wedding Correspondent for the marriage of William and Kate.

I wandered the streets of London, kept up with the tabloids, and did play-by-play commentary on the ceremony from the depths of my living room sofa. And I recorded it all for posterity, with reams of photos, in a series of blog posts.


Click the link and scroll to the bottom to read them in chronological order: Royal Wedding.

My essay on the Golden State Killer, in Signature


I’ve written an essay for Signature — Penguin Random House’s online magazine — about the Golden State Killer, and what it was like to find out he stalked my hometown and my childhood neighborhood.

I am relieved and grateful that a suspect has finally been arrested for these heinous crimes.

Growing Up in Santa Barbara While the Golden State Killer Was at Large.

Crime writers: a “fatal lack of talent”?


Last week, William O’Rourke, emeritus professor of English at Notre Dame, wrote an essay for the Irish Times about the Irish writer Michael Collins, his former student. Things kicked off from there. O’Rourke wrote:

Michael, unfortunately, had, has, too much talent to succeed as a crime writer. He doesn’t possess the fatal lack of talent required. He asks too much of a reader.

And from crime writers came laughter, and spit-takes, and the rolling of eyes. Until the Books Editor of the Irish Times, Martin Doyle, invited us to respond. Thirteen of us did: ‘Untalented’ crime writers respond to their No 1 critic.

My contribution:

I had a drop of talent once. I got rid of it. Sold it out of the boot of my car so I could write a crime novel.

My main point is this:

There’s a damaging belief that talent is binary. You either have it – gifted by genetics, the Almighty, a lotto scratch card – or not. You’ve got it? Off you go to Hogwarts. You don’t? Muggle. Give up. Don’t waste our time.

But as a writer, a teacher, and above all as a parent, I’ve come to regard talent as a false god.

Read on for the rest of my response, and for replies from Sarah Hilary, John Banville, Declan Hughes, and a host of other fine crime writers.

Friday January 27: Creative Mornings Austin


This Friday I’ll be the speaker for CreativeMornings/Austin.

CreativeMornings is a breakfast lecture series for the creative community. It features free monthly short talks (and breakfast!) in 160 cities around the world. The theme for this month’s talks is Mystery:

We are comforted by certainty and seek it frantically like a child that lost sight of their parents. But as the astrophysicist Marcelo Gleiser said in The Island of Knowledge, “We strive toward knowledge, always more knowledge, but must understand that we are, and will remain, surrounded by mystery.”

Indeed, gaze at the stars, at old traditions, or ponder the modern behaviors encouraged by technology, and you might have trouble understanding or explaining it. By engaging with mystery the way we flip through a new book, we allow our lives to expand.

“This month in 160+ cities around the world, we’ll learn how creatives from various backgrounds dance with mystery and infuse it into their lives.”

I tend to scrap and rassle with mystery more than dance with it, but if you want to hear about how I do that, here are details. Though the event is free, if you want to attend, you’ll need to register at the link below.

CreativeMornings ATX
January 27, 8:00am – 9:30am CST
Hosted at Thirteen23
506 Congress Avenue, Suite 200
Austin, Texas 78701

Right now, there’s a waiting list to attend. But folks on the waiting list mysteriously tend to get a seat, so if you’re interested, please do register.

Hope to see some of y’all there!

Die Hard for the holidays

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During this festive season, whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, the Summer Solstice, Boxing Day, Hogmanay, Saturnalia, all of the above, or merely waking up in the morning, please be sure to enjoy that great holiday tradition: Die Hard. 

Yes, it’s the best action movie ever made. Yes, it’s a Christmas movie. Yes, because of this movie, my son once went to an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party wearing a gray sweatshirt on which he’d scrawled, “NOW I HAVE A MACHINE GUN HO-HO-HO,” which prompted someone to tell me I was a disgusting mother.

If you’re a thriller writer, watch Die Hard to see how it’s done. If you’re not, watch it to enjoy the story, the dialogue, the gutsy snark of Bruce Willis, and the gleaming, urbane menace of Alan Rickman.


Scenes: Keep looking, and new things appear


When I write, I generally start by sketching the outlines of a scene. What’s happening? What are the goals of the characters? What goes wrong, or erupts, or turns the scene on its head? When I rewrite, I try to go deeper: to ramp up conflict, explore the characters’ emotions, heighten the tension, add surprises and twists.

Then I take a step back to see what I’ve got. Often, I need to let somebody else read my work to find out what I’ve missed, and what depths are hidden in the story.

That’s how I felt when I saw this painting.

I was walking down a city sidewalk when I passed an art gallery with this work in the window. I was struck by the painting — it captured the southwest I remember from childhood summer road trips. Route 66 gets me every time.

I wondered who the artist was. Then I looked beyond the frame of the painting, at the artist’s photo on the wall of the gallery to the right. And at his name on the back wall, partially visible behind the painting. And I re-calibrated everything I’d been seeing, and thinking, about the exhibit, and the painting, and the artist.

Bob Dylan.

The guy is busy. No wonder he had to skip the Nobel Prize ceremony.

My point? Whether walking down the street, or listening to your kids, or doing research, or writing fiction… or songs…

You’ve got to take a second look, and a third. Reevaluate. Look deeper. Pay attention. See the whole scene, and look at it with fresh eyes. Because you never know the true scope of what’s there until you step back and really see.

In the photo, my image is faintly visible in the glass. Every creative work reflects the artist.