Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Title deeds.

Partners & Crime, the Greenwich Village mystery bookstore, used to display a framed list of top cliches in modern mysteries. Among them, that if a mystery novel ever quotes Shakespeare, it's always from Macbeth.

My second novel, Murdering Ministers, does indeed take its title from Macbeth, but since it's about a lay minister who's murdered in a church and the full-time minister who may have done the murdering (or dun he?), I claim special dispensation from the cliche list for sheer bloody relevance. At least for the title, anyway.

But I confess, until I saw that list, it was my original intention to give all my books titles that were quotes from Macbeth, since Sue Grafton had already taken the alphabet and Janet Evanovich was advancing through the numbers. For a brief moment, my first novel was going to be called Mortal Consequences (that's from Act 5 Scene 3). I even went back and threw in some gratuitous references to the parlour game consequences -- an English form of Mad Libs, hence the spelling of "parlour" -- just to give it some extra relevance, before I realized (a) it wasn't a very memorable title and (b) at least two other authors had beaten me to it. So I took out the references, and book number one migrated to its seventh (actually, I lost count) and final title, An Embarrassment of Corpses. And it got there directly, without passing through the phrase "an embarrassment of riches" or, indeed, collecting $200.

The current book was first going to be called This Blessed Plot, but again, I was too late. Still, I'm sticking to Shakespeare, because he's an essential element of the story, which is partly set in Stratford-upon-Avon. Hence This Private Plot, lifted from one of Henry VI's parts. It works rather well -- "Private" can mean personal or isolated or secret, "Plot" can be a scheme, an area of land, or a grave-site, and they all fit the story, singly and in most combinations. So let's hope that when the book reaches a publisher, they don't have some other ideas about what to call it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A weekend in Virginia (continued).

Also on the trip, my dog, Leila. She meets my wife's aunt-by-marriage for the first time, a woman celebrated for her, er, individualistic take on life. Aunt F praises the beast, but gets her gender wrong. I thank her for her startling good taste, but point out politely that Leila isn't a "he," but a "she." Aunt F fixes me with a suspicious stare. "If you say so," she mutters.

Thinking my dog's sex is more than a matter of opinion, I reply that it's for Leila to say so, but the conversation goes nowhere.

Incidentally, Leila is the greatest dog on the planet, and I challenge anyone who disagrees with me to step outside and send me fifty dollars.

A weekend in Virginia.

Visiting my parents-in-law during the post-Christmas lull. I go to the local supermarket to pick up much needed wine for a family dinner. I select two bottles of red and then two bottles of white from the meager selection in the cooler, which in terms of shelf width is about one tenth the size of the large sign on the store wall boasting "chilled white wine."

At the cash register, the cashier looks at me in astonishment -- Am I about to be carded at age 53? Clearly not -- and asks "why didn't you buy six?" (Do I look as if I'm that desperate for a drink?) "If you buy six, you get a 10% discount," she explains.

"Yeah, but if I drink more than four bottles, I might get drunk," I quip.

Not a muscle moves on her face. "You can always save the other two for later," she suggests.

Am I out of practice as a humorist? Is it always that hard to get a laugh, even that close to the nation's capital?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Notes from a Toyota Sienna.

Driving down to northern Virginia to the in-laws on what the British call Boxing Day, an eight-hour slog, mostly spent in slow traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike. We play some seasonal tracks and then the new CDs we received as Christmas presents, but I notice that the only song that gets the whole minivan singing merrily together (age range six to fifty-three, dog excepted) is "I Gotta Feeling" by the Black-Eyed Peas.

I guess the days of "The Wheels on the Bus" are behind us.

Actually, there were a few hints of unison on Bruce's "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and the greatest yuletide track ever, Stefan Bednarczyk's "When Santa Kissed the Fairy on the Christmas Tree."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Kid stuff.

As a feature of Picasa, you can set your computer's screen saver to dredge through your "My Pictures" folder and make a display of random photographs.

A couple of weeks ago, my six-year-old, Tertius*, had paused in the doorway to my office and was watching the stream of unconnected images. "The computer's dreaming," he pronounced.

*I won't be using my kids' real names on the blog, not to protect the innocent, because they aren't, but to spare their embarrassment. I'm saving all that for their teenage years.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Why I've just started blog number one hundred and thirteen million.

Once, I was on my my way to being a moderately famous author. Then I took a break from writing fiction. (It's complicated, but it seemed like a good idea at the time, even though it wasn't.) Now, I'm planning to get back, mainly so I have something interesting to say at cocktail parties when I'm asked  "so, what do you do?"

Not that I like going to cocktail parties. Which is odd, because I like cocktails.

I was told that the modern author needs an online presence. So, I'm blogging.

Here's what you can expect:
Reflections on the black art of mystery writing, as I round the final curve with the first draft of my third novel, This Private Plot. (Fourth, actually, but I've finally given up on the publishability of my first, apprentice piece.)

Dispatches from the home front -- if there's any humor to be found in the life of a bemused English ne'er-do-well cruelly trapped in the body of a minivan-driving, middle-aged, work-at-home, New York-suburban soccer dad, I'll report on it.

Odd thoughts and the occasional joke.
Here's what you won't get:
Detailed political analysis, religious tracts, conspiracy theories, or arcane philosophies of life. I promise.

I did try this once before. When I was ten, I was given a Letts junior schoolboy diary for Christmas, and I resolved to start a journal of my life from that point on. This coincided with my first week back at Beavers County Primary School in Hounslow, Middlesex, after the winter break. (That's fifth grade, for those of the American persuasion.)

My first entry, on the Monday, was "Normal school day. Prefects elected." (Modesty seemed to have precluded my mentioning that I was one of those prefects.) My second entry, on Tuesday, was the equally engrossing "Normal school day." By Wednesday, this had become "N.S.D." I never made it to the second week, but I think there's something there to fascinate future generations of social historians. At least, if they can read between the lines.

Let's hope I do better this time.