Category Archives: Culture

2014 favorites: Movies, books, TV

The year is winding down. How about a list of some of my favorites from 2014?

Favorite movies of 2014:

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
A Most Wanted Man

Books — these are my favorite books from outside my own genre:

Command and Control, Eric Schlosser
The Southern Reach Trilogy, Jeff VanderMeer
Revival, Stephen King


True Detective
The Colbert Report

How about everybody else?

Apropos of nothing: a photo of a giant donut

Big Donut

No context for you!

I took this photo a few days ago. I thought you might like to see it. Movie fans: can you name the film in which this sign wreaks havoc on the streets of Los Angeles?

Texas Book Festival, here I come


I’m happy to announce that I’ll be taking part in the 2014 Texas Book Festival. No, that’s inaccurate. I’m honored, jazzed, and stoked that the festival has invited me. Tens of thousands of book lovers will descend on the festival next month. 275 authors have been asked to take part. It’s really great that I’m one of them.

The festival takes place in Austin, on the State Capitol grounds. It runs the weekend of October 25-26.

And it’s free. So come on down, y’all. I’d love to see you.

Here, have a door


I’m deep, deep, deep into Editmania 2013. So to hold your interest until I can spare a portion of my brain for coherent blogging, here’s a photo of a door.

Okay, this is a door from the city of Lucca in Italy. I wish I could say I’m posting it here as a metaphor for my writing process, or as a prompt to start you writing flash fiction. (What lies behind it? Tell me in 250 words.)

But actually, I snapped this photo because I truly was intrigued by what might lie behind the door. The city walls are 500 years old. This door is who knows how ancient?

I also snapped it because damn, look at it. Those colors. That wood. The ironwork. It’s cool and beautiful, and I’ll never have a door like it anyplace I’m likely to live. It’s a work of art all on its own.

Now I must stop thinking about this door, or I’ll end up writing a 10-page outline for a novel that opens in the shadowed courtyard that is hidden behind it.

When life imitates one of my novels

Remnant Billboard

Sometimes it’s good that I’m not at the wheel. If I’d been driving when we passed this billboard in central Texas, I would have run off the road at high speed, pointing and shrieking.

I don’t even want to think about what Evan Delaney would have done.

(Yes, I am referring to China Lake, and the creepy sect in the novel that calls itself  the Remnant. No offense to the friendly looking folks on the billboard. I still would have driven off the road at high speed.)

Commercials: US vs. UK

Now, just for fun, here are a couple of funny commercials. Or, in Britspeak: adverts. If you’re in the UK you might not have seen the American ad, and vice versa. Feel free to compare and contrast.

First, for those Brits who claim Americans don’t understand irony:

Second, the ad that made my son clutch his stomach laughing. It’s about “Man Crisps” — potato chips self-consciously marketed to guys — but the title of the commercial is “Boys Looking for Directions.”

Take it to the trolls?


The saying online goes: Don’t feed the trolls. Ignore taunts. Don’t rise to the bait. When people join a conversation with outrageous or insulting comments, turn a blind eye. Don’t give them the attention they crave. Leave them alone and they’ll go away. Or maybe they won’t, but in any case you can’t win an argument on the Internet, so don’t try.

In general I’ve followed this advice. I almost never delete comments from this blog, because I don’t want to stifle discussion. However, I’ve made it clear that commenters need to be respectful. This is my playhouse, and you don’t get to come in and vomit on the floor. When commenters have attacked the character of people I know, I’ve told them to knock it off. When they’ve attacked entire nationalities, I’ve called them on it. When one threatened to have me arrested because she didn’t like me joking about her, I pointed out the absurdity of her threats and banned her. Nobody who threatens another’s safety here gets to continue commenting.

But in general I have been okay with pseudonymous comments and heavy sarcasm, here and elsewhere online. Freedom! Brave New World! On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog!

But “online” isn’t a separate special nature preserve anymore. It’s everywhere, ubiquitous, now thoroughly integrated into our lives for communication, entertainment, and commerce. It’s not a special realm that should be exempt from all laws and standards. It’s one more neighborhood where we live.

It’s a neighborhood without streetlights. And that lets ugly things crawl around in the dark. And, sometimes, attack.

If you haven’t been keeping up with the latest tactics of online trolls, a favorite is to threaten women with rape and death.

Caroline Criado-Perez: “After the Jane Austen announcement I suffered rape threats for 48 hours, but I’m still confident the trolls won’t win.”

Criado-Perez led the successful campaign in Britain to have Jane Austen’s picture on the next generation of £10 bank notes. In response, she received thousands of rape and death threats on Twitter. Thousands.

“Wouldn’t mind tying this bitch to my stove. Hey sweetheart, give me a shout when you’re ready to be put in your place”

Men were sending her this message and similar shit every single second for twelve hours straight. Why? For fun. Because they hate women. Because they’re casual bullies who want to shut their victims up and break them. Because they get away with it.

So maybe it’s time to drag the trolls out into the light and call them on their crap. That’s what Mary Beard did this week.

The broadcaster and academic Mary Beard has silenced an internet troll after naming and shaming him on Twitter.

Beard, professor of classics at Cambridge University, retweeted the “highly offensive” post from Oliver Rawlings, who has 243 followers on the social networking site, on Monday.

In his tweet, Rawlings called Beard a “filthy old slut” and made a sexual comment.

Professor Beard offered to forward the tweet to the troll’s mother. At that point he backed up so fast he nearly tripped over his own feet.

There have been calls for technological controls to shut down trolls, but I tend to agree with Channel 4: it’s going to take a culture shift.

So let’s set out some principles.

  • Telling everybody to “Jump on the rape train” and attack a woman? Wrong. Wrong face to face; wrong online.
  • Telling a woman that if she’s still breathing after a rape, she needs to be raped again until the breathing stops? Wrong. Always, everywhere.
  • Laughing when a target complains, telling her that the torment is her own fault — that if she would just shut her mouth, they wouldn’t have to promise to rape her in the face with a sledgehammer until she dies — not gonna take that.

If we heard a stranger spouting this garbage at a woman in a restaurant, I hope we’d tell them to stop it. Online, it should be even easier to say: this isn’t funny. It isn’t cool. Cut it out.

Luckily I’ve never experienced such abuse, though this week I blocked my first troll on Twitter. Being called a hack-job, grotesque, and a 1-star author was no fun, even though I know that this troll latches on to writer after writer, flinging insults in a ceaseless campaign for attention and publicity. For now, I’ve simply shut off his ability to attack me… from that particular Twitter account. In the future, I may handle things differently.

Telling people to sit quietly and take it ain’t the way forward.

Everyday wonders


Writers: Keep a camera handy. You never know when you’re going to run across something surprising and delightful — something you will want to remember, because you might use it in a story one day. It might be something you see from your car window as you drive down the street. It might be something that provides local color. It might be an unusual setting you could use. It might give you ideas for an action scene.

Or, as in the photo above, it might depict a miracle.

Yes: in the year 2013, that’s a pay phone.

It’s next to that glorious mosaic depicting Our Lady of Guadalupe. On the wall outside the East 1st Grocery, Cesar Chavez Street, Austin, Texas.

Favorite TV Theme Songs?

Pop Culture Nerd has a great post listing her Favorite TV Theme Songs Ever. It includes Mission Impossible and M*A*S*H. Those are indeed great theme songs. Here are some of mine.

1. The Sopranos
2. Hawaii 5-0
3. Mission Impossible
4. Star Trek
5. True Blood (I’ve only rarely seen the show, but “Do Bad Things to You” is awesome.)
6. Game of Thrones
7. Jonny Quest
8. I Love Lucy
9. NCIS (Because whenever the show came on, the kids used to pick up the cat and make him bob his head like a dancer mesmerized by trance music. Then they’d leave the room and say, “I can’t believe you spend your Friday nights watching that show.”)
10. Wide World of Sports (Because I spent my childhood Saturdays listening to Jim McKay intone, “The agony of defeat.”)

How about everybody else?

What movies and books have you skipped?

It’s confession time. What famous movies have you never seen? What classic books have you never read?

I’ll go first.

I’ve never seen Citizen Kane. Or The Bodyguard.

I’ve never read Harry Potter. Or Catcher in the Rye.

I know. It’s shameful. In fact, a couple of years ago my children were so horrified to learn of the modern classics I’d never read that they bought me a bunch of them for my birthday. One of those was Salinger’s iconic book. And today it’s on my office bookshelf, 5,000 miles away, waiting. Kids, don’t kill me.

Anybody else?

About strong female characters


A few weeks ago Publishers Weekly reviewed my upcoming novel The Shadow Tracer, saying: “Gardiner’s second stand-alone (after Ransom River) boasts another of the strong female characters she’s known for and enough pulse-pounding action to satisfy the most avid thriller fan.” This made me run outside and dance in a manner that would severely embarrass my children.

For a friend, however, the line about “strong female characters” grated. Ann Aubrey Hanson pointed out: “They never say that Lee Child writes strong male characters.”

True. Almost universally, thriller heroes in novels written by men are expected to be strong. Whereas some heroines might be strong and others, even when they’re main characters, might be fragile femmes.

Ann added: “I think it’s about the reviewer trying to indicate that you aren’t writing a ‘girl’s book’ and that you do the genre justice… but aren’t we past that by now?”

Maybe, maybe not.

It’s true that I try to inject strength into my characters — by the end of a novel, they’d better have picked up a banner and rushed into the teeth of battle, metaphorically at least. Besides, how many readers like to spend time reading about wilting flowers who cringe and require rescue? I don’t. To paraphrase my fellow crime author NJ Cooper: Who wants to spend 300 pages with wimps?

In any case, I am happy to have the women in my novels recognized for their strength. Because in my books, “strong” means that the heroine is:

  • Resourceful
  • Decisive
  • Smart
  • Creative
  • Loving — to the point that she’ll risk herself for friends and family

It does not mean:

  • She’s coldhearted
  • She packs a gun
  • She can kill a man fifty different ways with her bare hands
  • She hates the world for what it has done to her

I try to write about women who are realistic, flesh-and-blood, full-hearted human beings. And because I write thrillers, these women are going to be thrown in front of spinning propeller blades. (Again, metaphorically. Probably.) Last autumn at Bouchercon, somebody suggested that my heroines are all tough women. I said that in my mind, they aren’t; they’re ordinary women facing tough situations. They’re people who must rise to the challenge.

Digging deep. That’s what my heroines have to do. Just like folks in real life. If that makes them strong, I’ll take it.

Set phasers on stun, Luke

Today a friend asked: Which are the movies that feature Han Sulu?

I think I am permanently, maybe fatally, stunned.

However, I also think this is an excellent opportunity for some TV/movie mashups. Which movies would feature Han Sulu? I’m thinking: Bones. Other friends have suggested “The ones starring Captain Luke Skywalkirk” and “The Empire of the Sun Strikes Back.” And “The Wrath of Obi-Wan Khanobi.”

My son has also suggested a liquor mashup: Qui-Gon Gin.

Any other ideas?

Farewell, Van Cliburn

As it reads on the YouTube Classical Channel: “Рахманинов, Концерт № 2 для фортепиано – Ван Клиберн.”

Rachmaninoff, Concerto No. 2 for Piano — Van Cliburn.

This one’s for my parents. For my late dad, who knew Cliburn back in Texas in the Fifties, before Cliburn won the Tchaikovsky Competition. And for my mom… if you ever find that record of you playing the Rachmaninoff 1st, I need to hear it.

This is my favorite piano concerto. It surpasses even the Brahms Second. I sometimes listen to music while I write, but I can’t listen to this, because it sweeps me away. After watching Cliburn bring it to life, my heart’s pounding and I want to cry tears of joy.

Back in the summer of 1991, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, my mom and I watched CNN as Boris Yeltsin climbed on a tank and faced down a coup attempt in Moscow. One of the CNN commentators said that the coup was bound to succeed because the Russian people were passive and apathetic, trained to be subservient and dull. My mother became irate at his ignorance. “Hasn’t this man ever heard Russian music? Listen to the power and passion in it, and tell me these people aren’t going to fight.”

I think this is what she was talking about.

The Action Film Alphabet

Here’s something cool for you: The Action Film Alphabet. It’s part of a series called the Friday Project, by British web designer Stephen Wildish.

How many movies can you identify?

Action Film Alphabet