Category Archives: Life

Happy Holidays

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As we head into the heart of the holiday season, I want to send you the warmest wishes. May the season be filled with books, writing, laughter, cookies, books, singing, magic, books, discussions about books, debates about books, more writing, editing, insights about the great stories of humanity, suspense, thrills, stacks of books, sleepless nights caused by fantastic books, pie, starry nights, sunny days, and, of course, books.

I snapped the photo in London, and am sending love from Austin, Texas.

Joy to the World, y’all.

My Facebook Live video for International Women’s Day

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Yesterday, in honor of International Women’s Day, Facebook held a 24-hour live event. Public figures and leaders from around the world went Live on Facebook using the hashtag #SheMeansBusiness to bring attention to inspiring women and women-operated businesses. I joined other authors from Penguin Random House and women around the world to speak about the women in my life who inspire me. The video is now up on my Facebook author page. You can click over to watch it, and click the #SheMeansBusiness hashtag to watch other videos.

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.

Yippee-kai-yay!

My life: texting with writers

What happens when a thriller writer texts with a close friend about exercise and home repairs? If the thriller writer is me, and the friend is another writer whose home has a concrete basement with a drain in the center of the floor, this.

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Always.

I love having buddies who speak my language.

And I presume that the relevant national security and law enforcement agencies are crawling through my friend’s neighborhood, searching for a basement window where Heisenberg is bouncing in and out of sight.

Today in my life: the robocall

(Phone rings)

ME: Hello?

CHIRPY VOICE: Hi! This is Ashley with consumer promotions!

ME: (Thinking… Ashley sounds suspiciously like a recording.)

ASHLEY: How are you today?

ME: I’m hanging upside down on a hook in a meat packing plant.

ASHLEY: Great! You’re eligible to win a Caribbean vacation!

ME: They’re coming for you next, Ashley.

ASHLEY: It’s exciting! Let’s get started!

And I went back to my coffee. Now people in Starbucks are giving me the side eye.

When book research becomes something bigger: The Sixth Floor Museum

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On Elm Street in Dallas, where afternoon traffic speeds toward a triple underpass, the asphalt is painted with an X. No one’s sure who put it there after the street was resurfaced. It’s probably several millimeters off the actual location it marks. It’s unadorned, and so deeply portentous that my head spun when I saw it. Because it marks the spot outside the Texas School Book Depository where American history turned. At 12:30 p.m. on November 22, 1963.

I went to Dallas to do book research. I went to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza to visit a site, and revisit a tragedy, that tore through the country and the heart of the Sixties. I was curious, and wanted to pay my respects to the legacy of John F. Kennedy. I found myself unexpectedly overcome by the weight and presence of the assassination. Approaching the sixth floor corner where Oswald set up his sniper’s nest is a visceral experience. The corner is now sealed off with Plexiglas. The museum points out that this preserves a crime scene. That’s putting it mildly.

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As an American, the story has always transfixed me. As a writer, I expected to be fascinated by the details, and perhaps to squirrel some away for use in my next book. I wasn’t prepared to get punched in the gut emotionally. And in this hyper-heated election season, I became acutely conscious that political passions can erupt with devastating consequences. Democracy depends on every citizen working to promote the legal, peaceful transfer of power. We can’t forget that. If we do, we’re doomed.

But that’s the thing about research: the unexpected happens. If you open yourself up to where you are, you learn so much more than you ever imagined possible.

Rest in peace, Mr. President.

You know what to do

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It’s spring, and in the Texas Hill Country, the bluebonnets are in bloom.

It’s a good day to remember to stop and smell the flowers.

Question Time: Ask Me Anything

It’s that time of year. Ask me questions. I’ll answer.

Ask about the writing process, or whether it’s true I snort coffee straight from the bag before I sit down at the keyboard. Ask about my novels, or my characters. About plot and structure and dialogue and research. Or how I feel about talent, inspiration, and luck. About the secret tunnels under the Vatican, and about that thing that has built a nest in the attic. What the hell is it?

I’ll be here all week.

Thank you, David Bowie

One day in my twenties, I picked my dad up at the airport. As I drove him home, we chatted about his trip.

It was good, he said. He paused. “At LAX, I ran into David Bowie.”

“You… did?” I managed not to say, You know who David Bowie is?

My dad said that he was changing terminals and when he stepped outside, Bowie was standing at the curb, waiting for his ride.

“Did you speak to him?” I said, though I already knew the answer to that. My dad never shied from anything.

“I told him I admired his music. We talked about his influences, from twentieth century classical composers to the avant-garde.”

They chatted for a minute, then my dad hustled to his terminal and Bowie climbed into his limo.

I should not have been surprised by any of this. My dad, who looked every inch the English professor he was, also was a classical pianist and professional organist. What delights me is how my dad just ambled up, chill as all get-out, and started talking to Bowie about his music. Bowie engaged with a complete stranger, warmly and genuinely.

Thank you, David Bowie, for being so cool, and for helping me understand that my dad was cool too.

We can be heroes, just for one day
We can be us, just for one day.

A summer’s worth of photos

Plus a volcano.

If you want to know where I get my ideas, here’s a sampling. These photos have been taken over the past few months. Some are of found items or street scenes I’ve come across. They provide a snapshot into my life — especially what I find glorious and goofy.

And no: no more context for you. You’ll have to figure out what’s going on in all the photos. Though I will tell you the volcano is Mt. Hood.

Cigarette + alcohol = you just blew up that car

One of this blog’s most popular posts ever is Cigarettes + gasoline = explosion?

[F]orensic fire experts at the ATF’s research laboratory have found that it’s almost impossible to set something, or somebody, ablaze with a lit cigarette, even when they’ve been doused in gasoline. Richard Tontarski investigated one of Hollywood’s favorite cliches and – surprise – found it wanting.

“[H]e and colleagues experimented. They dropped burning cigarettes into trays of petrol. They sprayed a fine mist of petrol at a lighted cigarette. They even used a vacuum device to produce the higher temperature (900-950C) of a cigarette being sucked. In more than 2,000 attempts the petrol did not ignite.”

This is the stuff we thriller writers need to know. It not only puts me at ease about playing with gasoline, but helps me get things right when planning my next fireball.

It seems that thousands and thousands of people are interested in this. I hope it’s because they want movies to be scientifically accurate and juries to know when a defendant is lying. In any case, here’s an update — and a warning: cigarettes and enclosed spaces drenched in rubbing alcohol do not mix.

Man Tries to Kill Bed Bugs, Blows Up Car Instead

[S]omeone had told Kemery that saturating bed bugs in alcohol would prove fatal to them.

It is just unfortunate that no one told him alcohol was flammable.

So Kemery soaked the bugs in alcohol.

Then he lit a cigarette.

Then the car exploded.

Video above.

Happy Holidays

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To all who are celebrating: Happy Passover! Or Happy Easter!

Have a beautiful weekend.

Always

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Happy New Year!

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You never know what’s around the corner.

Back when this photo was taken, I was only dreaming that one day I would be a published author. I was dreaming, and hoping, and working my butt off writing a novel that would eventually be called China Lake. But mostly I was celebrating the Millennium. The picture was shot on New Year’s Eve 1999, with my family, in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The Husband was responsible for making sure his company’s Internet infrastructure in southern Africa had no problems with Y2K. The kids and I were enjoying the vacation of a lifetime. At midnight, we watched the fireworks lighting the sky across the Zambezi river in Zambia.

As we welcome 2015, I hope the year brings you marvelous surprises. I wish you peace, love, happiness, adventure, song, dance, fireworks, starlight, kisses, clear skies, and wondrous books.

Happy New Year!