Tuesday, April 30, 2013


A few weeks ago, a remarkable thing happened: I received a nice check from Kensington for a foreign sale of my novel, ONCE MORE WITH FEELING which they had published back in 1998. The buyer was a Japanese publisher who wanted to turn it onto a “Manga” romance novel, which, according to Google (yes, I looked it up), is a cartoon or comic strip book. These books can be about romance, mystery, horror, science fiction, or sports, and are popular in Japan, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and even France.

The story in ONCE MORE WITH FEELING, which is currently with a different publisher and available as an e-book on Amazon, is about a young woman stock broker who falls in love with a customer who might be involved in illegal insider trading in the U.S. I didn’t see why Japanese readers would be interested until I remembered that the book is set in San Francisco, which is where I lived when I wrote the novel so many years ago. I worked at that time as a P.R. person for a large shopping mall and frequently was asked to escort a group of Japanese tourists through the facility. I even took them through the underground delivery tunnel where vendors unloaded merchandise for the hundred-plus stores in the mall.

I learned then that Japanese have been coming to San Francisco to live and work since 1850, and a Japantown survived the 1906 earthquake. After World War II, immigration dropped off, but soon resumed again. The Japanese people loved the city and still do.

By coincidence, this unexpected sale of foreign rights came just as I was finishing work on a novella set in the city. Writing A STUDY IN AMBER reminded me of the things I, too, enjoyed during the twenty-five years I lived there. The magnificent Golden Gate Bridge, the cable cars, sailing in San Francisco Bay, bicycling in Golden Gate Park, the smells, sights and sounds of the city.

The Japanese, being especially polite, often rewarded me for my work as their tour guide with a gift, and I still have a special one that I’ve saved for all these years. It’s a pair of jade earrings from Gump’s. As I was then, I’m grateful to those kind people and hope, even though I’ll never read the “Manga” version of my novel, that a story set in our lovely City by the Bay will bring them as much pleasure as writing ONCE MORE WITH FEELING did for me.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


I’ve been writing seriously for thirty years, and although I’m no Nora Roberts or support myself on my earnings, they do pay expenses and I’m in the black. The only other thing I do is sing in musicals produced by the local Performing Arts Club.

That began seven years ago when my husband accused me of spending all day at the computer. I realized I needed to get out and meet people, so I went to an audition, hoping to get a part in the chorus of the show, or, if lucky, part of a duet or trio. Instead I was given two solos and, although there was no pay, I enjoyed the thrill of audience applause and compliments in the lobby after a performance.

When I was a child, my sister took piano lessons, and I took singing lessons until high school occupied all my time. But I continued to love singing, bought Broadway show albums and sang all the songs for myself. Also for my husband, who, when we took long trips in the car, would ask me to sing.

Nevertheless I was surprised to find that strangers liked my voice. Not only that, the PAC had many talented, formerly professional singers among its members, so I felt honored to join. One lady was the fifth Laurie in OKLAHOMA on Broadway and Richard Rodgers played piano at her audition.

My latest (7th) appearance occurred earlier this month when I sang in a group number, and then a solo of “It’s the Little Things” from Stephen Sondheim’s COMPANY. This is a long song, and difficult, because it consists of a series of 27 “little things” that bear no relationship to one another, and must be memorized (and sung at a fast tempo). Here’s a sample of one verse:

“It’s the little things you do together that make perfect relationships.
The hobbies you pursue together,
Savings you accrue together
Looks you misconstrue together
That make marriage a joy.”

Or, my favorite:
“The concerts you enjoy together,
Neighbors you annoy together
Children you destroy together
That keep marriage intact.”

Now I need to write some more, finish the novella I started and revise my long mystery novel. I guess I’ll go back to singing to my husband in the car.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


I landed the assignment to go to Rome, not because I was the best writer on the staff of L. A. Life Magazine, nor because I could speak Italian, because I couldn't. My incredibly important skill was availability. Time was short, Jason was on his honeymoon, Pamela was very pregnant, and no less than three staff members were out with the flu, or so they said. In May, go figure. Or perhaps because no one else was willing to fly 3000 miles on two-days’ notice. Shows what a stunningly bad social life can do for you.

Even so, my boss, Mr. Hardcastle, the first part of whose name should give you an idea of his personality, hesitated before giving his assent long enough to grow mold on my sweaty palms. “You aren't going to mess up again, are you?”

Like I planned to. Like climbing into the window of a strange person’s hotel room on my previous assignment for the magazine had been a well-thought-out decision. In truth, it was nothing but a fluke, the unavoidable result of making a serious miscalculation. Which, I fervently vowed, would never happen again.

“No, of course not.” I straightened up to my full five feet, six inches and shook my head. Which unfortunately set my ponytail swinging, not a good thing.

Hardcastle frowned. “So go already. My secretary will give you the tickets and itinerary. And, Sydney, don't forget, this is your last chance.”

He meant that threat, so I smiled and hurried from his office before he could change his mind about Rome.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


There will be no new post this week as I am going out of town to attend the funeral of a good friend.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


For anyone who doesn’t already know, author Dave Farland, who was kind enough to write a post for this blog a few weeks ago, is in dire need, due to having no insurance and a teen-aged son in the hospital with multiple injuries. A group of friends has decided to hold a book bomb on Wednesday, April 10, to raise funds for the boy’s care. To participate, simply buy copies of Dave’s latest two books, MILLION DOLLAR OUTLINES and NIGHTINGALE. Or, you may send a donation in any amount. I hope my readers will respond and also pass on the information via their own blogs, websites or Facebook. Thanks.


Alas, there is more sad news this week. The judge in the case of the three romance authors suing Harlequin for enriching itself by denying proper royalties to writers has decided for Harlequin. As one commenter on THE PASSIVE VOICE said, “A federal judge just said, ‘Yup, they screwed you. But they screwed you fair and square, because they told you they were going to screw you.’”

In other words, hidden in the small print of the contract signed by those authors was language that allowed just what Harlequin did. Sign the contract, suffer the consequences.

It can’t be said often enough, don’t sign anything you don’t understand. Not that I blame the authors. Or even an agent, if there was one, who allowed the contract to be signed, because this was apparently a particularly sneaky trick, and perhaps even an IP (intellectual property) attorney might not have realized the implications of it.

Makes me glad I never had a book published by Harlequin, although I certainly tried some years ago. Then I read about the multi-published Harlequin author who was paid so little she couldn’t afford to have her son’s teeth straightened. Next I learned what Amazon pays authors. If they haven’t already, I’m sure those authors have already dumped Harlequin for other venues or indie publishing. And newbies should take a close look before signing with them.

Granted, it has been a “given” that Harlequin was the premier romance publisher; and many authors felt that small royalties paid on sales of thousands of books was at least as good as higher royalties on only a few hundred. But, personally, I don’t want to work for a company that deliberately sets out to hurt the very people on whom they’re dependent.

Without romance writers, Harlequin would be out of business. If the 10,000 members of Romance Writers of America write, blog, and otherwise get the word out, writers may desert Harlequin in droves. I hope they do.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Last month’s Atlantic Magazine carried a cover story titled “The Robot Will See You Now” and pictured a mechanical arm holding a syringe. It would appear that the future of medicine will feature robots instead of men and women doctors. In fact, some surgical procedures are already being performed using computer-based technology that is more accurate than human hands would be.

Remember Watson, the IBM computer that beat Ken Jennings at playing Jeopardy? Well, Watson is being crammed with medical knowledge and is useful at diagnosing conditions which even a team of expert physicians might miss. From there to prescribing the perfect drug for certain problems isn’t such a huge leap and may be a step toward better health care.

So what has this to do with fiction? Well, another article I read somewhere predicted computers could write novels that some people would find as good, or better, than what is currently offered in the book market. No, they didn’t mean self-published books that some critics hate, even though a self-published book was on the New York Times best-seller list recently.

Although I’m a fiction writer, that prediction doesn’t especially worry me. I write novels that rely on my own unique sense of humor and peculiar take on events. I don’t think a computer can write my books. Yet.

What does bother me is someone like James Patterson, who churns out novels as fast as any computer by hiring others to write them for him. Apparently, he gives the “drones” the plots to work from and he sits back and rakes in the money from the publishers. To be fair, he often puts his collaborators’ names on the cover with his own, and says those people could quit but don’t.

Probably what bothers me most is that I ran across a really bad Patterson novel. I was visiting a friend in San Francisco a year ago and, while she had to talk to a repairman at some length about a household problem, I picked up a book to read while I waited. The first thing I noticed was that within the first three chapters, seven characters were introduced, each of whom had a name beginning with the letter “C”.

A chapter or so later, every new character had a name beginning with the letter “M”. I think there were six of those. Still I read on, thinking this was by Patterson and ought to be good, despite his carelessness about names. But then the next chapter was written in first person instead of third like the rest. For no reason that I could see. That’s when I stopped reading. I felt cheated and resented the waste of my time.

Authors have had collaborators before. In fact a friend and I wrote three books together some years ago, two of which are now published (SOUTHERN STAR) or soon to be (EYEWITNESS). I was told that James Mitchener hired people to do research of some of the places he put in his novels (Hawaii, Chesapeake, etc.) so he could concentrate on writing instead of looking up facts. I don’t fault him for that, especially since he started writing before Google and Wikipedia. Even though I had read many books about Titanic and my grandfather often spoke of it when I was a child, I relied on internet research while writing COLD APRIL to be certain I had the correct ship details.

But having someone else do the writing just so one can flood the bookstores with dozens of books every month? Call me a purist, but I think that’s cheating. I’m also sure Patterson doesn’t care; he just laughs all the way to the bank.

* * *

A copy of THE ITALIAN JOB was won by Patricia in S.F., who commented on my blog two weeks ago. Paper or e-book Patricia? Contact me please.

And congratulations to Lisa Hobman whose debut novel BRIDGE OVER THE ATLANTIC, launches today. If you think your too-curvy body inhibits romance, you’ll want to check this one out.