Sunday, December 7, 2014

Fall into Winter

Following our Europe by Train travels, the jet lag really hit. 

I was fuzzy for quite a while, but finally found my way back to my computer. By the first days of winter came the Bouchercon Mystery conference, a kind of place where writers gulp down companionship after all the solitary hours writing. It was a lively, informative weekend where I got to hang out with friends and make some wonderful new ones. 

One of my writer-friends, the very talented Deborah Crombie invited me to do a Jungle Reds guest blog. Having not posted for awhile, I poached it for myself:

Id been so buried in work that my desk was piling up. After returning home and sending a book to my editor, I finally cleaned it. Then behind my office door, I noticed the cross-body bag I’d worn on the trip. I reached inside. My heart began pounding when I withdrew this map of Rome, our last stop. After a lifelong relationship with France, I fell hard for Italy.

The Bloomsbury Trail map sent me back to our first days in London, where Britain’s Literacy Trust had commissioned a series of author book benches.

One sunny day in the park, we found the Agatha Christie book bench, Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly.

The bench that spoke most personally to me was Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, which I discovered quite by accident in the basement of Stanfords, a treasure trove of books and maps since 1863. (Love those Victorian travelers!)

While my Fellow Traveler husband researched “The Caf├ęs of Europe,” my daughter and I pounded the cobblestones, exploring vintage shops, bookstores, and old libraries, including the immense Klementinum in Prague and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

I was also unfaithful to Paris in Amsterdam, which I found seriously captivating and arty. We went to pay homage at the Van Gogh Museum.

Vincent gave us some good advice, which we followed throughout Europe. 

In Florence, we ended our visit to the Pitti Palace and Gardens with an opulent costume exhibit, where we ran into Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld.

Our last museum was Rome’s Villa Borghese Gallery, and I still can’t get over the Bernini sculptures.

In a zippered section of my bag, I found these pound and euro notes, some coins—oh wait, one of them is an Indian rupee (but that’s another story).

Great sense memories arise from the restaurant cards and matchbox (setting from an earlier book)—spicy Asian noodles at Londons Siam Eatery, sublime roasted porcinis in Florence, yummy vegetarian at Prague’s Maly Buddha (its owner a North Vietnamese architect). Gorgeous, plump house-made noodles at Fattoincasa, the site of our last dinner in Rome, right off the Piazza Navona.

The Navona is truly of Roman scale, breathtaking, and a lively place to hang out and enjoy a gelato after dinner. Or before. Or any time.

To finish things off, a mint—Swiss or Hungarian?

It’s funny how these odds and ends can evoke such real feelings. In French, souvenir means both memory and to remember. However much I admire minimalist design, my house is overflowing with books and travel treasures. I prefer to call it cozy rather than cluttered.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Meet My Character — A Blog Tour

When my friend Heidi Noroozy invited me join her Meet My Character blog tour, I had returned from our Europe By Train travels and was ready for another adventure. I debated between three characters very close to my heart, two of them complex women with amazing stories whom I’d like to introduce later. For now, though, please meet a guy I’ve featured in three novelsthe very romantic spy in Stinger.

1.) What is the name of your character? 
Nick Daley. On occasion he has used his middle name as an alias, i.e. Nicholas Ross. I’ve known him over twenty years, since he first entered my screenplay, Stinger. Fed up with Hollywood production and financing problems, he demanded his own novel.

2.) Is he/she fictional or a historic person? 
Nick is fictional, although his story is based on a covert operation in Afghanistan that is little known but changed the course of history.

3.) When and where is the story set? 
Stinger takes place in the early-1980s during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Across the Khyber Pass, the ancient Silk Road town of Peshawar, Pakistan becomes the Cold War Casablanca, a crossroads of spies. The title refers to the shoulder-fired Stinger missiles that eventually helped the mujahedeen guerrillas defeat the Red Army—and thus bring down the Soviet Union.

4.) What should we know about him/her? 
A Texan by way of Kansas, Nick is a CIA operative and old Asia hand who can’t really go home again. He is now based in Peshawar under diplomatic cover. When the story opens, he is tracking a shipment of Stinger missiles that goes missing before his eyes. The mystery deepens with a graveyard murder that may or may not be drug-related.

5.) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?
A lone wolf, Nick is thrown for a loop when San Francisco journalist Robin Reeves shows up in Peshawar, determined to track down an elusive Afghan leader—her former Berkeley lover, Jamal. Nick becomes involved in a mysterious triangle in which no one is what he or she appears.

6.) What is the personal goal of the character?
Nick is fiercely independent, a cynic, yet romantic at heart. With zero tolerance for BS, he is ever in conflict with his superiors, especially in this case when he may have his own secret agenda.

7.) What is the title of this novel?

8.) When was it published?
My first Nick Daley novel, Stinger was published in 2006 and the ebook in 2012. The audiobook was released by Audible in mid-2014. The sequel, The Company She Keeps, is also available in trade paperback and ebook with the audio now in production.

Susan C. Shea is next up on the tour. She will be writing about a character from her books on October 29, so be sure to stop by her blog next week!

Susan C. Shea spent more than two decades accumulating story material before creating her best-selling mystery series featuring a professional fundraiser for a fictional museum in San Francisco: Murder in the Abstract, The King's Jar, and Mixed Up in Murder (spring 2015). Currently the president of the northern California chapter of Sisters in Crime and on SinC’s national board, she’s a member of Mystery Writers of America, and blogs on CriminalMinds.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Revisiting Europe By Train

We say we'll never forget, but we do. When I look back at my 2012-13 Letters from Asia (written for Sisters in Crime, I'm grateful for the memories. So I wrote Europe By Train, a dozen posts in all, one per city.

Please hop aboard for the entire journey or join me for a leg or two. "What's your favorite place?" I'm always asked. Paris is my old love, but London and Amsterdam made me wish for two more lives. Then we reached the Eastern Europe capitals, Prague, Budapest, and Vienna, and it was magic, like slipping back through the cracks of time. Italy is timeless and yet so intimate. I was seduced.

First stop, London where Mystery Playground sent me to search out the mysterious "book benches."

More London: On "meeting" one of the book bench artists, Mandii Pope (with her Agatha Christie/Poirot piece).

Amsterdam: On Anne Frank and Vincent Van Gogh. And bicycles.

Night train to Prague (via Munich): On a long night's day.

Arrivederci, Rome!