Publishing Insiders Dispute the Future of Bookstores

Publishing Insiders Dispute the Future of Bookstores

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


Can publishing insiders predict the future of bookstores? What will stores look like in 10 years as they face competition from ebooks and ecommerce?

Over the past 6 months I’ve asked more than 800 people this question, including fellow authors, as well as book bloggers, marketers, and store owners. I’ve also followed the online debate fostered by many who have a large stake in the issue, notably those in the traditional publishing industry. 

The result of my curiosity has been a series of articles. The first article, with 25 author comments, including those from thriller author Dale Brown and Guy Kawasaki, author of ENCHANTMENT, was a real eye-opener and my most widely shared blog post (I’ve stopped counting).  Book bloggers presented more enlightening views, while the series has also explored book retailing innovation and potential partnerships.

This article, with widely divergent views from publishing insiders, raises the most questions out of all of the articles in the series so far. Many bash, without acknowledging that traditional publishing may be a “declining value proposition,” as economist Adam Gomolin ably put it.  Others believe that the indie bookstore, with a couple of baristas and roots in the community, offers the best hope for continued bricks-and-mortar stores even while acknowledging that owners must become more savvy retailers. The age of owning a successful bookstore just because you love books is over.

Questions I thought would be hot topics for the publishing industry really weren’t in evidence: 1. How to change book distribution to improve cost structures for bookstores, and 2. How to get the growing number of independently published titles into physical bookstores?  

Maybe the lack of big discussion is answer enough.

Note: comments listed in alphabetical order by commentator last name

Carolyn Burns Bass

founder and moderator of LitChat, a website devoted to reading and writing and #litchat Twitter discussions, email to author, 3 December 2013 and

The writing is on the wall and the wall is electronic. As much as we love the smell of books, the turning of pages and beautifully designed typography, ebooks are the literary delivery devices of the future. Despite the convenience of ebooks, there remains, and will for a good many years, a devoted clientele for collector’s edition books and first editions. Publishers understand this and are even now responding with special designs such as wrap around covers for trade paperbacks, more deckle-edges and stunning interior designs. The bookstore of the future will feature these books, as well as kiosks such as the Expresso Book Machine for printing books on the spot. The bookstore of the future will have an agreement with publishers to get discount codes on ebooks their customers buy while logged into a bookstore’s wi-fi or from a local bookstore’s website. Successful bookstores of the future will cater to their patrons as a neighborhood deli serves its customers. They may not have every variety of salami, but they always have what their customers like best.

To survive against online book sales, bookstores can create alliances with other local businesses, such as a coffee/tea, juice or even a wine cart brought in during author visits. Bookstores of the future can be hubs of learning and culture, where people gather to buy books and talk about them. Of course, a bookstore is a logical place to host writing as well as reading groups, mini-TED-type talks, open mic readings by authors/poets, and other public discourse.

If this is not the bookstore of the future, then it’s my dream bookstore.

Carole Corm

publisher, Darya Press, 28 Jan 2014, email to author,

I don’t think I am the only person who misses their local bookshop. For the future, I am rather optimistic. I think bookshops could experience a renaissance.

Many people have remarked that the publishing industry is changing: beautiful, niche books continue to be published while the rest is delivered in the e-book format. In fact, there is already a market trend for well made books — whether cheap or high end. These volumes need a fitting space to be looked at – and bought.  In a way, the whole Internet adventure is going to help bookshop owners up their game, offering only the best books, in an improved setting and with the kind of service and perks the Internet cannot compete with.

Doris Heilmann

publisher and blogger, email to author 22 Jan 2014,,

How can bookstores innovate to stay competitive? Just a couple of ideas that pop in mind : )

1. e-Book Order Feature
Since years I was wondering why bookstores did not offer their customers devices where they could order the e-book version if they liked what they found in print in the store. Or at least “bundle” print books with an e-book version. Amazon now tries to partner with bookstores (which might meet some resistance…) to offer exactly what I had envisioned.

2. Carrying Author-Published Books
Trade-published books do not automatically mean quality. There are so many wonderful books from independent authors out there – and it would be a smart move to offer them as well. Readers don’t care who publishes a book, they just want a good read.

3. Order Directly from Author-Publishers
This way, bookstores could circum-navigate the wholesalers and increase their profit quite a bit! As these connections are mostly with local authors, the bookstores could play the “local” aspect into their promotions to the communities around. Most people like to “know” the author who’s books they buy.

4. Offer Book-Layout, Cover-Image and Editing
Why not band together with professionals and offer authors these services to make sure the books’ content and layout gets a great start and is prepared for the Espresso Book Machine. Many authors would be happy to get technical help in the book production and publishing process.

5. Set up an Espresso Book Machine
Many authors (professional and hobbyists) struggle to create very small numbers of print books, e.g. for book signings, Goodreads Giveaways or as gifts. Bookstores would be the ideal place to offer this inventive book printing device. Motto: “Get your book printed while having your Java”, which brings me to the next suggestion:

6. COFFEE! Most chain stores, such as B&N or Chapters have a Starbucks in a designated area, but very few bookstores offer this pleasure. Independent bookstores need to give customers more reasons to come in!

7. More Space and PR for Author Readings
Supporting events such as readings and book signings should be a priority of bookstores – and organizing these professionally, including PR, should be a no-brainer. After all it is a promotion for the store as well.

8. Providing Space for Author Meetings
Charging a small fee (as libraries do) and renting meeting space for authors or even organize a writers conference could be profitable and at the same time a good PR for bookstores if they have the space.

Hugh Howey

author and self-publishing advocate,“Is Amazon Saving Indie Bookstores?” 18 April 2014,

I posited this during my keynote speech at the inaugural PubSmart conference here in Charleston, SC. And nobody threw anything at me. A few people came up afterward and wondered if there might be some merit to the idea. My thinking is this: The true enemy of independent bookstores has been the large chains like Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Waldenbooks, not online shoppingThere was even a movie about this. Since the rise of Amazon, we’ve seen some of these chains shutter and many of the B&N stores close. Meanwhile, independent bookstores are experiencing near double-digit growth for three years running.

Is it possible that Amazon more directly competes with the large chains, and the independent stores are rising to reclaim their role in reading communities? I think so. Shoppers looking for discounts, or who know exactly what they need ahead of time, are using mouse clicks rather than driving to the big chain.

It’s also possible that the “shop local” movement, which is partly a response to the rise of discounters like Amazon, vastly benefits independent bookshops more than large chains. I know this works for me. I pay full retail for hardbacks at a mom-and-pop place but balk at 20% discounts from chains. Are there more shoppers like me?

Major publishers lambast Amazon, because they think the large chains are their main hope for the survival of brick and mortar bookshops. Independent bookstores (like the one I used to work in) go right along with the stone-throwing, assuming what’s bad for B&N and Borders must be bad for them as well. And yeah, I saw people scanning UPC codes and taking pics of books to buy online later. I also saw our sales numbers improve every year, partly because of our reorganization of the shop and our focus on customer service, but more because of the shuttering of WaldenBooks.

Amazon is knocking out the big predators. The indie bookshops are filling up some of that space.

Andrew Leonard

staff writer, “The independent bookstore lives! Why Amazon’s conquest will never be complete,” 4 Apr 2014, 

Stop carving that gravestone. Brick-and-mortar bookstores aren’t dead, yet. On the contrary, independently owned bookstores are growing in number. According to the American Booksellers Association, since hitting a nadir in 2009, the number of indie bookstores in the U.S. has grown 19.3 percent, from 1,651 to 1,971. The current total is less than half the 1990s peak of around 4,000.  But it still serves as a rebuke to the conventional wisdom that equates Amazon’s relentless rise with the inevitable death of the physical bookstore.

What explains this renaissance? The collapse of Borders in 2011 is one big piece of the puzzle. (Removing a dominant carnivore from the savannah gives all the other animals a little more breathing room.) The end of the recession also contributed to a more nurturing economic environment.

But there’s more to the story. There is increasing evidence that the same digital transformation that has so dramatically reshaped the publishing industry, and driven millions of consumers online, also paradoxically rewards locally rooted authenticity. Our digital tools are steering us toward brick-and-mortar stores that promise a more satisfactory consumer experience than either chain stores or online emporiums can provide.

In a world increasingly influenced by our social media interactions, it’s turning out there may well be enough room for the little guy to survive — and perhaps even thrive.

 Michael Kozlowski

founder,, “The Future of the Traditional Bookstore in a Digital World,” 9 Sept 2013,

. . . Book discovery is central to bookstores and they invest significant time and money into aesthetics. Barnes and Noble, Indigo and WH Smith all have it down to a science on the art of product display and maximizing space to visually draw the eye. Your average best seller shelf is filled with vibrant colors and display stands hype up other notable authors or themes.

How will the modern bookstore change when by 2015 the amount of digital books sold will reach 50%? We have seen the collapse of Borders in the US, Whitcoulls in New Zealand and RedGroup in Australia. Thousands of small bookstores all over the world have also closed due to readers shifting to digital. How will bookstores transition from exclusively selling physical books to actively promoting eBooks?

The one worry many bookstores face is being a showroom for 3rd party eBook companies. This is evident in the relationship with bookstores that belong to the American Booksellers Association and sell books from Kobo. The indie bookstore makes very little commissions on each eBook and relies on selling physical books to stay in business. Barnes and Noble is the only one in the world with quite a large ecosystem of content and makes hefty digital returns.

Indigo, Chapters, WH Smith, Foyles and many other bookstores all sell tablets and e-readers in their stores. Over the course of the last few years, reading devices have been a boon to these stores and they are seeing modest returns. Indigo recently has been launching a series of Tech Zones, which significantly increases the size of their product display area. They now sell iPad, iPad Mini and an assorted array of new e-readers and tablets. When customers buy these devices, where do they go to buy books?

The bookstore of the future must develop their own eBook infrastructure in order to preserve their own identity and maximize profits. It is critically important that major chains develop their own digital bookstore and sell eBooks directly to their shoppers. It is simply not sustainable to encourage all of your patrons to buy the digital editions from Amazon or Apple There is always more money to be made by phasing out the middleman and reaching your audience directly . . .

In the end, bookstores need to develop their own bookstore and develop a series of apps for readers to use. These need to be loaded on any tablet or e-reader that their store carries. If the hardware vendor does not want to play ball, you ditch them. Bookstores sustain themselves from selling books, magazines and hardware. They need to unshackle themselves from a strict reliance on a 3rd party and bite the bullet and develop their own digital storefront.

Cat Lavoie

author and #ChickLitChat Twitter moderator, email to author, 22 Feb 2014,

Even though I’ve switched from reading paperbacks to (almost) exclusively reading ebooks, there’s nothing that compares to the joy of browsing in a bookstore. I think bookstores need to collaborate with indie authors and publishers in order to highlight local talent. Book signings and book club meetings could also be a good way to create buzz and introduce new authors to bookstore patrons. And readers who prefer their novels in digital form could download their copy directly from the store. In the end, I think that embracing the new technology and finding a way to bring authors and readers together is how bookstores will stay relevent for, hopefully, many years to come.

Judith Rosen

“The Check Is in the Mail: Patterson Sends Over $267,000 to Booksellers,”, 19 Feb 2014

Last September 2 in an interview in the Wall Street Journal followed by an appearance two weeks later onCBS This Morning, James Patterson announced his intention to give away $1 million to independent bookstores over the course of the next 12 months . . .

A little over five months later, Patterson has made good on his promise and mailed out the first installment of the funding this week, totaling more than $267,000, to 54 bookstores across the country plus the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association in support of California Bookstore Day . . .

In a phone conversation with PW earlier this week, Patterson stressed that this is only the first round . . . A doer by nature, Patterson describes himself as “the anti-Congress. We just do stuff.” For him, that “stuff” concerns not just the future of bookstores, libraries, and publishers, but of the next generation of readers. “The future of books in America is at risk,” he said. “Bookstore traffic is down. Kids aren’t reading as many books. I want to really shine a light and draw attention to the fact that this is a tricky time. The government will protect the automobile industry and the banking industry, but not books.”

Mike Shatzkin

founder of The Shatzkin Files, “The future of bookstores is the key to understanding the future of publishing,”, 23 Jan 2014

It has been an unspoken article of faith that bookstores would not go the way of stores selling recorded music or renting and selling video, both of which are segments that have just about entirely disappeared. The physical book has uses and virtues that a CD, a vinyl record, a DVD, or a videotape don’t, not the least of which is that a physical book is its own “player”. But it also provides a qualitatively different reading experience, whereas the other “physical” formats don’t change the consumption mode at all. Of course, that only helps bookstores if the sales stay offline. People ordering books online are overwhelmingly likely to order them from Amazon. In other words, it is dangerous to use the book’s ability to endure as a proxy for the bookstores’ ability to sustain themselves. The two are not inextricably connected.

But the fate of almost all trade publishers is inextricably connected to the fate of bookstores. There are only two exceptions. Penguin Random House is one, because they are large enough to create bookstores on their own with just their books. The other is publishers who are vertical with audiences that open up the possibility of retail outlets other than bookstores. Children’s books and crafts books are obvious possibilities for that; there aren’t a ton of others.

The feeling I had at Digital Book World is that most people in the trade have either dismissed or are wilfully ignoring the possibility that there could be such serious further erosion of the trade over the next few years that it would threaten the core practices of the industry. With more than half the sales of many kinds of books — fiction in the trade area, of course, but also lots of specialized and professional and academic topics — already online, many seem to feel whatever “adjustment” is necessary has already been made . . .

All that is possible, and I have no data to refute the notion that we’ve reached some sort new era of bookstore stability, just a stubborn feeling in my gut that over the next few years it will turn out not to be true.

Oren Teicher

CEO of the American Booksellers Association, “A Year-End Letter From ABA CEO Oren Teicher” 12 Dec 2013,

. . . Nationally, the network of independent bookstores has seen and is continuing to see real, sustained growth. This vitality is the result of your hard work, innovation, and a commitment to selecting and showcasing titles that we passionately believe in and that we know will find readers in our communities.

A few years ago, I characterized this revitalization in conversations with our colleagues in the publishing community and in talks as a renaissance in indie bookselling. Today, that renaissance has become resurgence. When Publishers Weekly recently announced that it had selected me and the ABA Board as its person of the year, it was a wonderful acknowledgement of the collective achievement of all independent bookstores. As PW put it, “independent bookstores are once again seen as critical to the success of the book industry.”

. . . Believe me, I know you can’t pay your bills with press clips and that there will be many, many hectic hours before you make that last sale on December 24, but I hope that you can take a moment to appreciate that the public narrative about our industry has changed in a very critical way, as more consumers recognize the importance, vitality, and health of indie bookstores.

Kate Tilton

blogger and author assistant, 12 Feb 2014, via author website form,

How can bookstores innovate to stay competitive?: Bookstores have to compete in prices. If it is cheaper to buy a book of equal quality but for a fraction of the cost elsewhere bookstores are going to lose. As much as I love a nice bookstore the convenience of online shopping and money saved makes it very tough for bookstores to stay open. Author events are one of the only things I make the trek out to a bookstore but author events can happen in other places too (libraries, coffee shops, churches). In order for bookstores to innovate they need to find a way to win over readers once again.

 Michael Weinstein

“Reports of the Bookstore’s Death Are Greatly Exaggerated,”, 13 May 2013

. . . Part of me wants to suggest that we take the emotional hot button of the “nobility” of the bookstore (particularly the local independent variety) out of the discussion and just talk cold/hard facts. But I don’t think we can. I think there are enough people out there that see (and feel) the value of the experience (as Sturdivant wrote), who want and NEED bookstores to exist, to contribute enough to keep them going.

But I also think that from a business sense, publishers see the value of bookstores. They may sell more books at Amazon, but publishers are smart enough (I hope) to recognize that independent stores can help “make” a book if they like it, that author readings and signings build loyalty . . .

Also, we need to continue to expand the definition of  “bookstore.” Obviously, most bookstores won’t be  “just” bookstores. In fact, books may not be the primary function of the store, but that won’t mean that they’re not bookstores. What each store offers other than books will depend on the owners — how smart are they? How in touch are they with what their local community needs? The physical store allows a community to be built around events and activities, and that is more potent than an online community. Sure, I’m in an online community of Wheaten Terrier owners, but talking online and sharing pictures with someone from Norway is just not the same as sitting in a room with your physical neighbors . . . .

Like everything else in our industry it will require ingenuity, flexibility and the ability to adapt on the go to succeed.

Tom Weldon

UK chief executive of Penguin Random House, as quoted by Jennifer Rankin in The Observer, 5 April 2014

Some commentators say the publishing industry is in enormous trouble today. They are completely wrong, and I don’t understand that view at all . . . Book publishers have managed the digital transition better than any other media or entertainment industry. I don’t understand the cultural cringe around books . . .

It is a sad fact of life that there are fewer physical bookshops than there were. [Traditional media is declining, including books pages. As the book world moves from] “a browse-and-display model to one of online search and recommendation, publishers must adapt to capture readers attention. The challenge isn’t digital: it is how do you tell people about the next great book.

From Book to Beach: Favorite Hotels in Mexico

From Book to Beach: Favorite Hotels in Mexico

Planning a trip to Mexico? Wondering where to stay?

Readers often ask if the Palacio Réal, the hotel in Acapulco that Kurt Rucker manages in the Emilia Cruz mystery novels, is real. The answer is well, sort of.sunglasses isolated on white

The luxurious Palacio Réal  is a composite of my three favorite hotels in Mexico.  Yes, I have stayed at all three and combined the best of each into the hotel in the books. This way, I get to re-enjoy my visits to each place with authentic descriptions each time the action in the books shifts to the hotel.

If you are planning a trip to Mexico, these hotels are worth checking out!

Related: 3 Essential Tips for Safe Travel in Mexico

Hacienda Los Laureles, Oaxaca

We stayed in this hotel several years ago when it was newly opened. It is an old Spanish hacienda two miles outside of Oaxaca proper, in a neighborhood called San Felipe del Aqua, that has been renovated with a sense of architectural history so none of the charm has been lost. The owners did everything they could to ensure we had a wonderful stay and fussed over our children with free desserts and appetizers. My daughter still recalls being called “la princesa” for a week.

After hard touristing at Monte Elban and other Oaxaca sites of wonder we’d spend late afternoons on the patio having bittersweet hot cocoa and soaking up the ambiance. We came loaded with restaurant recommendations for places in town but often ended up dining at the hotel. The food was amazing and the service warm and genuine.

Since that stay, the hotel has consolidated its reputation as the only 5-star AAA lodging in the Oaxaca area. It is a small gem off the beaten path.

Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotel and Towers, Mexico City

This hotel has so much to commend it. The first thing is a central location near the El Angel monument, the Colonia Cuauhtémoc business district, the US embassy, and the western edge of the Zona Rosa. The second is the shops on the ground floor including a good restaurant with reasonably priced food, a newsstand and souvenir shop, a clothing boutique, the first Starbucks in Mexico City, and a jewelry shop where I got a box covered in silver milagros charms. You can walk to a Sanborns department store for books and magazines. The hotel is a good base to explore the Zone Rosa district, including the Insurgentes market, across the wide Paseo de la Reforma (cross at the crosswalks only!!)

The third thing to commend this hotel is that the rooms are large, clean and everything you’d expect for an upscale hotel in a big city. The executive floors are worth the small extra amount, given that they come with butler service, a fantastic breakfast buffet in the executive lounge (you can watch the news in either English or Spanish depending where you sit) and an evening cocktail hour in the same place. You can get a reliable taxi out front. A much-vaunted St. Regis opened up a few blocks away but the Sheraton, in my view, is a much better location and value.

Related post: How to Find Love at Mexico City’s Markets

Camino Réal, Acapulco

If the fictional Palacio Réal reminds readers of any specific hotel, it is probably the Camino Réal. This luxe hotel is located on the eastern side of Acapulco bay, in an area called Puerto Marqués, not too far from the better-known Las Brisas resort. We stayed there twice, enjoying the secluded location, huge rooms, and terrific food. The hotel is a multi-level marvel built against the cliffside that its website describes as an architectural “cascade.” The way it is built allows for pools on multiple levels, excellent views, and a lot of quiet corners so it is easy to spend a lot of time there without running into many other guests.

Eating there is half the fun. Room service was wheeled in on a large round table draped with a floor-length tablecloth while the flagship restaurant cantilevered over the water made dinner a special occasion.

The out-of-the-way location keeps you out of the thick of the tourist activity in Acapulco, but the hotel has its own tour office and we were able to set up tours right there. Downtown Acapulco can feel similar to any busy beachfront town—albeit with better views—so staying at this hotel lets you have the experience that Acapulco was meant to be—a majestic sweep of ocean and the amenities to enjoy it.

Thinking of taking a break and heading someplace warm? My friend Dana at is extremely convincing with 8 Reasons Why Travelling is Good for You.  

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favorite hotels in Mexico


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


favorite hotels in Mexico

Celebrate Water Day 2014 with 5 Great Reads

Celebrate Water Day 2014 with 5 Great Reads

It’s the holiday you and I have probably never experienced. Tomorrow is Water Day.

Celebrating a Life Event

Brought to us by, Water Day celebrates the day someone gets access to safe water. It’s the day the well or water pump starts working close enough to home that no one risks life and limb to get to it. Getting access to safe water is an event people never forget. honors those life-changing events by celebrating Water Day 2014.

Writing for Water

In 2014, I’m donating a dollar from every Kindle book sold to, because in this day and age, no one should have to live without access to clean water and decent sanitation. This month, authors Sharon Lee Johnson, Norm Hamilton, and Jerold last have joined the Writing for Water team with pledges to With their help, and other authors throughout the year, I hope to be able to provide 25 people with clean water for life this year.

If you’d like to celebrate Water Day and help us out at the same time, please buy one of the books listed here. You’ll be helping an author, plus helping support at the same time.

As an added incentive, many of our books are discounted this month. HAT DANCE, the second Emilia Cruz mystery is on sale this weekend. It’s a dance with the devil and Acapulco Detective Emilia Cruz can’t afford the music . . .

Reading about Water

Water is something most of us take for granted. Turn on the faucet, there it is. Go to the store and find shelves of bottles of designer water. But some folks are doing serious thinking about water and the future. Here are 5 books to put on your reading list:

1. SILENT SPRING by Rachel Carson

Originally published as a 3 part series in the New Yorker in 1962, the book was the first call to action for the environmental movement. A classic.

2. FROM THINE OWN WELL by Norm Hamilton

In this novel of a futuristic Canada, the country’s water supply has been destroyed by fracking–and greed. Scarily plausible.

3. MEET THE FRACKERS: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Energy Revolution by Gregory Zuckerman

An award-winning Wall Street Journal reporter tells the story of the tycoons who have made a fortune through fracking–hydraulic drilling through extremely dense shale made controversial because of the link to contaminated water.

4. WINE TO WATER: How One Man Saved Himself While Trying to Save the World by Doc Hendley

The true story of how Hendley, a twentysomething bartender, found himself in Darfur, Sudan, countering the tribal warfare that used contaminated water as a weapon of mass destruction by drilling wells.

5. THE BIG THIRST: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water by Charles Fishman

Fishman explains that we have more than enough water to avoid a water crisis but we have to change our approach to how we use–or save–our water. Inconvenient truths, but solutions, too.

Thanks for reading and taking a minute to think about the importance of access to safe and clean water. Happy Water Day.

All the best, Carmen

P.S. Come along on this writing journey with me and get a free short story. THE BEAST, the first Emilia Cruz story is free when you sign up for monthly updates including exclusive excerpts, book release news, and progress toward giving 25 people access to clean water for life. Your email will never be shared.

Friday Fiesta: Blog Hop, Striking Gold, and Recommended Stories

Friday Fiesta: Blog Hop, Striking Gold, and Recommended Stories

I’m reviving my Friday Fiesta posts, in which I share the most interesting things that crossed my writing desk over the last week. This week it’s a blog hop invitation from author Jerry Last, striking gold with a great new marketing resource, and two new author friends with stories about Mexico.

Blog Hop

What am I working on?

The next full length Emilia Cruz novel, DIABLO NIGHTS, is slated for a late June 2014 release. This one draws inspiration from Mexico’s Cristero War of the late 1920’s during which the government tried to squeeze out the Catholic Church. It’s a mystery-within-a-mystery and Emilia has an unexpected link to the conflict.

I’m also collaborating with several other writers, including Jane Rosenthal, author of PALACE OF THE BLUE BUTTERFLY, and Christopher Irvin, author of FEDERALES, on a multi-author blog. We’re thinking of calling it the Mexico Mystery Writer Cartel. What do you think?

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

As far as I know, there is no one writing a series set in Mexico with a Mexican protagonist in the same international mystery and police procedural genre as Jo Nesbo, Ian Rankin, or Henning Mankell. Readers of those authors describe the Emilia Cruz series as a fresh take on the mystery protagonist. The mood of the Emilia Cruz books is the same but the setting and cultural elements are very different.

Why do I write what I do?

We lived in Mexico at a time when the drug wars were really beginning to heat up. One Christmas a junkie stumbled into midnight Mass. Father Richard was leading us in the Prayer of the Faithful when a man staggered up the center aisle, his limbs jerking as he alternately murmured and shouted incomprehensible words. We all shrank back as he made his way towards the altar, an unexpected and volatile presence.

As the congregation looked on in growing panic, the man accosted Father Richard. The priest didn’t move or stop the prayer, just dug through his robes for a pocket. He pulled out a few pesos and pressed them into the man’s hand.

By that time several of the male congregants had come onto the altar as well and they gently propelled the drug-addled man back down the altar steps and through the church to the rear door.

Christmas mass continued and the addict remained nameless to the shaken congregation. But he stayed with all of us, evidence that Mexico’s own drug problem was growing as more and more drugs transited the country en route to the insatiable United States.

He reminded me of the drug war raging just outside our happy expatriate bubble. We were an American family in Mexico City, embracing a new culture, exploring a vibrant city, and meeting people who were to impact our lives for years to come. But we always knew that the bubble was fragile and as if to prove it, Mexico’s news grew worse in the new year: shootouts in major cities, multiple drug seizures, rising numbers of dead and missing, the murders of mayors, governors and journalists.

I’m continually surprised and saddened by how little people know about what is happening in Mexico. Only big arrests become mainstream news. Especially as the numbers of people missing in Mexico continue to climb, I’m hoping a mystery series can raise awareness of what’s going on in Mexico, with plot elements straight out of the headlines, an authentic dive into one of the most beautiful settings on earth, and a little salsa fresca from my own years living in Mexico and Central America.

How does my writing process work?

book outlineI’m rigorous about having an outline before writing, and my technique depends heavily on sticky notes. Often, because each novel has several storylines, I’ll use different colors to keep them straight and the action sprinkled evenly. I’ll arrange the stickies on a big posterboard that gets taped over my desk. About a third of the way through the outline will be overtaken by events and redone. Once the draft is finished, I edit and edit, both to add layers of detail and to polish the prose. In the picture, the weeks refer to the story timeline, not my writing schedule.

More Hopping

Be sure to check out Jerry Last’s hop. He’s the author of the Roger and Suzanne Mysteries, which also have an international flavor!

Striking Author Marketing Gold

I was very pleased to be a beta tester for Tim Grahl’s new Instant Bestseller online course. Tim is a marketing consultant and the author of YOUR FIRST 1000 COPIES, a fantastic resource. The video-based course lays out a comprehensive strategy for successfully getting your books to the right audience and Tim gives the hard facts and figures to back up his approach. The Instant Bestseller name is a bit of a misnomer, however, as the course is all about building a system for sustained success. To find out more check out his company website.

Two Stories to Check Out

My reading list this weekend comes from the clever minds of Susannah Rigg and Chris Irvin. Susannah, who runs the Mexico Retold website, hosted me a few weeks ago and in an exchange of notes told me about her short story. Well, it’s out now and if her engaging blog style is an indication, it should be a very enjoyable read:

Chris is the author of FEDERALES, which also has a Mexican cop protagonist. But the Mexican federal cops have about the worst reputation imaginable so I’m interested to see what he does with it:

A reminder about Writing for Water

glasses of waterNorm Hamilton, Sharon Lee Johnson and Jerry Last are all part of the Writing for Water team this month, helping me by donating a portion of their book sales to Please consider getting one of their featured books from this list to read this weekend. You will make clean water possible for someone for life.

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


Publishing Insiders Dispute the Future of Bookstores

12 Influential Bloggers Debate the Future of Bookstores

What will be the future of bookstores? Many brick-and-mortar bookstores, including the US-based Borders chain, have closed in recent years, unable to compete in the era of ebooks and ecommerce. Yet bookstores are talked about in terms of being an “oasis,” a magical place of discovery, the place where we all want to spend hours sipping coffee and browsing.

But not necessarily buying.

The big question

So how can bookstores innovate in order to stay relevant and solvent?

Over the past few months, I’ve asked this question of authors, book bloggers, store owners, and publishers. The result is a series of articles featuring responses from each group. The first article, with 25 author comments, including those from thriller author Dale Brown and Guy Kawasaki, author of ENCHANTMENT, was a real eye-opener and my most widely shared blog post (I’ve stopped counting). Read it here.

Book bloggers

Book bloggers occupy a unique position in the discussion, in that 20 years ago, there was no such thing as a book blogger. Theirs is a trade that has grown up with ebooks and ecommerce and is increasingly influential. Yet few would say that we no longer need bricks-and-mortar bookstores.

Many say, however, that we need different bookstores than the ones we have today. Read on to see how the debate shapes up. Note: comments organized in alphabetical order by blogger last name.

Rebecca Rego Barry,

In thinking about your questions, I kept returning to a set of ideas I put forth back in March on our blog. The post was called “Ten Reasons a Pessimist Can be Optimistic About the Future of the Book.” It was based on a talk I gave at a university library earlier in the year. Several of these points remain relevant. For example, craftsmanship — in general and in book publishing specifically — has made a comeback. To me, that bodes well for the future of new books. Yes, some books can and should go straight to digital, but for the ones that don’t, publishers will have to put more thought into art, design, and packaging; making the book an experience separate from a text to be read. Publishers like Siglio and McSweeneys are doing this. So I would predict that the new bookstore of the future will be smaller, but the books will be better — well-designed, even hand-made, illustrated, and/or innovative.

I almost exclusively cover used, rare, and antiquarian books, and there I see two things. One is the need for solid relationships between buyers and sellers. The Internet very nearly killed off the smaller antiquarian shops (some of whom then became Internet-only dealers), and so book fairs and catalogue sales largely fill in that gap. In some cases, booksellers have closed (appointment-only)  shops. All of this makes it more time-consuming for collectors to find the best material–and yet, even with those obstacles, the trade is strong and the base is committed. Quirky shops like the Monkey’s Paw in Toronto, stocking odd & unusual books and ephemera of various prices is a neat concept, and I’d love to see more of that in the future. And Two, the big, get-lost-in-the-stacks shops like the Strand and Powell’s will still be with us in 25 years for the simple reasons that the books are usually cheap and the thrill of discovery provides something akin to a contact high for many readers. (email to author, 8 December 2013)

Richard Bilkey,

. . . The reality is that booksellers cannot wait for anyone else to come to their rescue. Publishers will put their marketing resources where they believe it will have the biggest impact and the long term trend is unmistakably towards online. You can see the attraction for publishers to the efficiencies of online retail, with enhanced metadata feeds that ensure entire lists of books are displayed on virtual shelves around the world without the costs of sales reps and merchandisers or having to ship physical copies into thousands of stores with a 25% return rate.

Bookshops are not only fighting a battle for relevance with customers, they are fighting for relevance with publishers too. Publishers would love to see bookshops remain profitable and regain the ground they’ve lost in recent years to store closure and digital migration but the initiative and ideas are going to have to come from booksellers themselves. And what better place to start looking for ideas than from the online competition themselves?

1: Use Bundled eBooks to fulfill an order immediately even when the physical book is not in stock . . .

2: Bookshop Subscription Services . . .

3: Reward customer reviews and use them everywhere . . .

4: Don’t just give self-published authors a break – create an “Independent Author Platform” . . .

5: Be aggressive about sourcing new customers . . .

Many booksellers I have known are too passive or simply overwhelmed when it comes to marketing and promoting their business, especially beyond their immediate community. The days of letting customers find their own way into your door are long gone however and the traditional seasonal catalogue, ads in local newspapers and an irregular email newsletter simply won’t cut it. To survive bookshops need to be a highly visible, talked about and valued destination. Booksellers need to therefore get out of their own stores and be seen, start the conversations and tell everyone what’s so special about their shop. There are any number of ways you can do this—engage in local communities, start a writer’s festival, run competitions, drive social media campaigns—as long as you are loud and persistent. (Blog post, “Is the post-bookstore world inevitable? 5 ways bookshops can fight back,” 24 January 2013)

Nigel Burwood,,

I feel certain that a bookstore, if it can survive now, has a good future. In fact the mantra now is ‘to survive is to succeed.’

There has been a brutal culling of bookstores since the advent of the web, even the decade before. Whole parts of cities and large towns which had areas of bookstores, ‘Book Alleys,’ Book Co-Operatives etc., are down to one or two shops or none at all.

What is happening now is that bookshops are becoming desirable again — oases in a desert of bland, celebrity-based culture, and philistinism. In a rant from the 1940s John Cowper Powys stated (or overstated!): A bookshop–especially a second-hand bookshop–is an arsenal of explosives, an armoury of revolutions, an opium den of reactions. And just because books are the repository of all the redemptions and damnations, all the sanities and insanities, of the divine anarchy of the soul, they are still, as they have always been, an object of suspicion to every kind of ruling authority.

In a second-hand bookshop are the horns of the altar where all the outlawed thoughts of humanity can take refuge! Here, like desperate bandits, hide all the reckless progeny of our wild, dark, self-lacerating hearts. A bookshop is a powder-magazine, a dynamite-shed, a drug store of poisons, a bar of intoxicants, a den of opiates, an island of sirens.

I see bookstores co-existing with the web and ebooks etc. Our shop stays afloat by walk-in customers but also by listing collectable books on web collectives + we publicise ourself through an SEO savvy website and social media. We have no problem with the web — it is also a haven of scholarship, research and knowledge. Excellent stock is highly available in most towns now and you have to learn what to stock and what to avoid. If you have the right books at the right price people will buy them.

A shop can do things the web can’t — physical browsing, human company, human assistance, no postage, instant gratification! We are in the very early days of the internet — it is like the railways in the mid 19th century — people saw them as ushering in a tasteless, unlettered world but in terms of books, for example, it allowed for their fast and easy dissemination. People get tired of screens and isolation. The real problem is a seismic cultural shift away from books, scholarship and reading. In 50 years time these things will probably undergo a renaissance but it will be a rocky ride and good bookstores will have to be endlessly resourceful — but they always were! (email to author, 2 December 2013)

C. Hope Clark,

Bookstores are going to have to get novel and creative in their brand. The world harps on authors to develop a brand and a platform to be different amongst the fray. Bookstores could do the same. Nothing wrong with them specializing and getting crazy with it. Mysteries, cozies, romance, YA, suspense, scifi, fantasy, horror, literary, etc. Instead of a bookstore trying to be a jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-none, why not specialize? The biggest B&N cannot hold a respectable cross-section of the books out there, thus driving people online. Unless the book is from a top five NY publisher, a reader can’t be assured it’ll be in a bookstore. These stores would hold events – not signings, but events. Something worth taking a date to. Music, appearances, shows.

Specializing would also be conducive to partnerships. Just like you can see scaled down versions of Pizza Hut, Subway, Dairy Queen, and Taco Bell in the same venue as other stores, sharing the same space and the same customers, bookstores need to partner with other entities. The obvious ones are theatres, museums, motels, coffee shops, restaurants, even libraries.

For instance, if the local theatre has a small bookstore, it would sell the books that the movies originated from as well as similar stories in the genre. If it’s a big theatre, then it would have a healthy supply of books. Why not capitalize on that spontaneous need to take that movie experience home in the form of the book?

Guess I’m saying that the stand-alone bookstore is a dinosaur. B&N’s days are numbered. But if I can go see a Jack Reacher movie, get excited about the story, then walk out of the theatre and use my ticket stub to get 25% off the price of a Jack Reacher novel, I’m going to do it. That concept can happen in so many other partner venues out there. And of course kiosks should be available to download ebooks, or order books that aren’t on hand. You have to learn how to tap that energy that’s been used for years by speakers selling books at the back of the room. Music’s done it for years as well. Heck, t-shirt vendors do it like crazy. Why not books?

I could go on and on. It’s just that a bookstore can no longer supply all of a reader’s needs. So it has to create a novel effect or develop a strong enough partnership with another vendor, to create an attraction. There has to be more to it than just buying a book, in other words. Because we can do that from any computer at home.

Oh, and it would be nice to see bookstores respect authors. In my travels, the author is too often overlooked by bookstore owners. Authors can make a difference to a bookstore – a fact very often overlooked by bookstores. (via website response form, 22 January 2014)

Diana Dilworth, Editor of

Community based book stores will thrive even in a world where Amazon is threatening same day book delivery via drone, but it will take a lot of work. Indie book stores that can cultivate community through well-curated reading lists are able to offer readers much more than any algorithm can. Hosting events such as author readings, book clubs and even art shows and live music will give people another reason to come into the store. They’ll have to sell coffee, food & cocktails to diversify their revenue stream.

While a good physical presence is key, being Internet savvy is also important. Indie book stores have got to get the word out and social media can be very helpful to do this. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, among other channels, can help these bookstores thrive.

I also think that indie bookstores that offer eBooks for sale are smart. People like buying books from their local bookstore, but they also like the convenience of being able to download a new book and read it on their device. Companies like Zola Books offer consumers the option to buy eBooks from their favorite local book seller. I think that book stores that take advantage of these kinds of technologies will be positioned to serve all readers. (email to author, 6 December 2013)

Susan Helene Gottfried,

How can bookstores innovate to stay competitive?: Bookstores need to become integral parts of our community. They need to host events — not merely author events — that give people — not merely readers — a reason to come through the door and linger. Repeatedly. They need to bring like-minded people together, and they need to simultaneously expand our horizons and let us connect with new faces and businesses. And they need to do it without charging for the services. Let a book club use your back room for free . . . but then offer a discount if everyone buys the book from you. Host storytime weekly, and find local businesses to sponsor the craft that goes with the story. Be the hub of community action and see what happens. (via website response form, 21 January 2014)

Donna Huber,

How can bookstores innovate to stay competitive?: We are getting more contact with authors than ever before thanks to the digital age and social media. Because of this feeling of getting to know our favorite authors virtually, readers are even more excited to meet them in person. Bookstores can play a huge role in satisfying this need. My local indie bookstore, Avid Bookshop, hosts a ton of authors and I really think that is part of their success. Also being active in the community is big. Again, my local bookstore has been a part of a number of community events. They hosted a pre-World Book Night party for givers, offer a number of reading clubs for readers of all ages, and support the local library with events. To be competitive, bookstores need to offer an experience that goes beyond buying the book. (via website response form, 22 January 2014)

C.M. Mayo,

It’s a question I’m delighted to contemplate because, from the time I was a small child, bookstores have been a Mecca for me, and, as an author, when it comes to selling my books, an oasis of delightfulness– though sometimes, alas, a fata morgana, now that on-line booksellers such as have swallowed up so much of their business. Indeed, as a book buyer, for convenience, selection, and price, I long ago went over to and other online booksellers. And as an author I am now seeing more from Kindle sales than from my print books. (In fact, for my latest book, a niche topic, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, I bypassed traditional publishers and bookstores altogether. I had thought it might be nice to place it with a university press. Then I did the math. Ha.)

That said, I am saddened by the way so many brick-and-mortar bookstores have turned themselves into glorified coffee and tchotchkes-made-in-China shops poorly staffed and oftentimes (not always, I hasten to add) by people who seem they might be more knowledgable about, say, pumping gas. As for the sort of hackwork most stock by their cash registers, Joe Queenan described them best: “by Punch for the edification of Judy.” In short, the typical bookstore bums me out– and the coffee isn’t that great, either. I have yet to sit down at a clean table in a Barnes & Noble café. Don’t get me started about the restrooms.

Well, I don’t think brick-and-mortar bookstores are going the way of the dodo, but if they are to survive, they will evolve, and dramatically, to offer a broader array of book-related goods and services. For example, a brick-and-mortar bookstore might offer:

Library services, such as those offered by New York City’s Society Library–not just books for loan, but a research desk, large well-lit tables, and small but comfortable and quiet private offices for writers / independent scholars (especially valuable where public library services are problematic);

  • More curated selections by more knowledgeable staff;
  • Artist books;
  • More–way more–books by local authors;
  • Rare books;
  • Collectible ephemera;
  • A place to bring in rare books and have them appraised (why not every third Thursday of the month?);
  • A place to order up a letterpress book of one’s own (why not bring in the local letterpress guy every second Wednesday of the month?);
  • A place to learn about book design and book cover design;
  • A place to take a marbled paper workshop or how to make pop-up books;
  • A place to take a weekend seminar on Tolstoy/learn French/history of Rome/Mesoamerica (books included);
  • Meeting room for writers groups / book clubs / movies / yoga;
  • A machine to print out one’s book (a few do have the machinery for this already, such as Politics & Prose with the Espresso Book Machine; and so on and so forth.

They will also dramatically improve their on-line shops to compete with the likes of— not so much in terms of selection, but ease of use and prompt customer service. A few already have. Recently, I have been impressed by the rare books dealers using

Entrepreneurs are entrepreneurial. And I’ll bet bucks to cabbages that there will be people writing and reading ’til Kingdom Come. So whatever “bookstores” morph into, it’s going to be interesting.

Time capsule: Here’s my 2009 blog about bookstores for Red Room. (email to author, 25 January 2014)

Vinny O’Hare,

How can bookstores innovate to stay competitive?: My first reaction was to say that bookstores needed to add a cafe or something, but the last bookstore I was in was a Borders at Madison Square that had a cafe and it was the worst coffee ever. I remember thinking at the time that wasn’t what was going to keep a bookstore open.

I think if we had the answer there would be less bookstores closing every day. If I was to open a bookstore tomorrow I would make sure it had a good community feel and make myself known as giving back. The bookstore would also have to have something else to draw people in. Maybe free tutoring for kids. Maybe an area for live readings or music? It would also sell gift cards to Amazon and iTunes. (via website response form, 22 January 2014)

Joey Pinkney,

People used to buy from entities that they were comfortable with. As an extension of that, people used to buy from people. Nowadays, it’s standard practice for a “customer” to walk into a bookstore, find a book he/she wants to purchase and pull out their smartphone to purchase it online.

Bookstores stay in business by selling books, not displaying books. And they sell books by servicing the community. One surefire way to serve the community is by providing a venue for readers to physically meet authors for book signings and being a place for book clubs to have book discussions. Social media may enhance this, but it will never take the place of real social gatherings.

In order to connect the readers and the authors, bookstores will need a strong presence both online and off. And easy-to-navigate website will be a must (and would seem common sense), as well as accounts with popular social media outlets. “Frequent reader discounts” issued by way of printable coupons, QR codes or text-codes will help maintain the bookstore’s status with the reader. Online mailing lists and text alerts will also be an important aspect of being able to spread the word about upcoming events and book releases quickly and efficiently. Bookstores that are not able to take advantage of these online tools will not survive.

Going forward, bookstore staff will have to be extremely attentive to customers. The amount of knowledge and service that a bookstore can give will have to justify the cost of the books it sells since the Internet has made it very easy to find, purchase and download books. Amazon’s algorithms are pretty neat but can never compare to a person you can relate to who can tell you why they like or dislike certain books.

The bookstore of the future will need a way to satisfy the customer’s need for instant gratification. The Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, MA, is a perfect example. It has an “Espresso Book Machine” that can readily print 5,000 different titles and also has the capacity to print self-published titles. This printing press is a dual blessing. It lowers the amount of non-revenue generating inventory for the bookstore, and it gives the customer what he/she wants in a matter of minutes. Why wait on a book to be shipped to you in a few days when you can get it within hours, if not minutes, of purchase?

Bookstores will continue to be a “watering hole” for the literati of the area the bookstore serves. Book-browsers don’t get the staff or the rent paid.  In order to stay afloat, bookstores will have to be savvy in the ways of how technology and the Internet can even the playing field with the online places books can be purchased and/or downloaded. (email to author, 7 December 2013)

Prospero blog on arts and culture,

 . . . Bricks-and-mortar bookstores appear to be on borrowed time. So, what is the future of the bookstore?

This was the burning questions on everyone’s lips at a recent event at Foyles’s flagship bookshop on Charing Cross Road in London, where some of Britain’s leading literary agents, authors, marketing managers and booksellers gathered to discuss its fate ahead of the bookseller’s move from its current rambling premises to the former home of Central Saint Martin’s art school just up the road.

For a bookstore to remain successful, it must improve “the experience of buying books,” says Alex Lifschutz, an architect whose London-based practice is designing the new Foyles. He suggests an array of approaches: “small, quiet spaces cocooned with books; larger spaces where one can dwell and read; other larger but still intimate spaces where one can hear talks from authors about books, literature, science, travel and cookery.” The atmosphere is vital, he adds. Exteriors must buzz with activity, entrances must be full of eye-catching presentations and a bar and café is essential.

The trend for not only incorporating cafés in bookstores but also placing them on the top floor makes good sense. The new Foyles will have one, Mr Lifschutz explains, because this draws shoppers upwards floor-by-floor, which is bound to encourage people to linger longer and spend more. (Top-floor restaurants in department stores abide by similar principles.)

There are plenty of ways to delight the bookstore customer, but few are easily monetised. The consensus is that bookstores need to become cultural destinations where people are prepared to pay good money to hear a concert, see a film or attend a talk. The programming will have to be intelligent and the space comfortable . . .

To survive and thrive, bookstores should celebrate the book in all its forms: rare, second-hand, digital, self-printed and so on. Digital and hybrid readers should have the option of buying e-books in-store, and budding authors should have access to self-printing book machines. The latter have been slower to take off in Britain, but in America bookstores are finding them to be an important source of revenue. “The quality is now almost identical to that of a book printed by a major publishing house,” says Bradley Graham, owner of a leading independent bookstore in Washington, DC, called Politics & Prose. His shop leases an Espresso Book Machine and makes it available to customers.

The bookstore of the future will have to work hard. Service will be knowledgeable and personalised, the inventory expertly selected, spaces well-designed and the cultural events enticing. Whether book stores, especially small independents are up to the challenge, is not clear. The fate of these stores is a cliff-hanger. (Blog post, “A Real Cliffhanger,” 27 February 2013)

Mike Shatzkin, The Shatzkin Files at

Their business [of Barnes & Noble], on which they must make money, is selling books. They are trying to diversify their merchandise selection a bit in their stores, but that’s a strategy that is both difficult to execute and has nowhere near the upside that Amazon, Google, and Apple have with their other businesses. This is an unfair fight where B&N is dependent on margins from their ebook (and book) sales while their competitors, if perhaps not totally content to break even on that business, aren’t materially affected if they do, or even if they lose a bit of money on that aspect of their business . . .

In other words, publishing — like book retailing — is likely to become a subsidiary function pursued in strategic support of larger goals. Unlike in retailing, this will not be consolidated among a few players, but as widely scattered as the subjects about which books are produced. But the core challenge for the legacy publishing establishment, that they will increasingly face competition that doesn’t need the profits from that activity as much as they do, will be the same. Book publishing as a stand-alone industry with most of its significant players earning all their profits within it is in the process of morphing into something quite different, starting with the retailers. (Blog post, “Book publishing may not remain a stand-alone industry and book retailing will demonstrate that first,” 29 January 2014)

Read the entire Bookstores of the Future series in the #noticed category

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


book bloggers

How Deep Are Your Reading Roots?

How Deep Are Your Reading Roots?

I blame my oldest sister, really. She was studious and serious and had a lot of books. She organized them tidily on bookcases in the basement where they joined books my uncle had left when he joined the Navy and headed for Vietnam. The shelves also had room for an ever-growing collection of hardbacked Readers Digest Condensed Editions and assorted odds and ends from friends and church jumble sales.

Those basement books became my reading roots; books that formed my reading tastes, taught me the power of words, and inspired me to take on a literary career. There’s usually fewer than seven degrees of separation between those roots and whatever I’m reading now.

reading rootsHEAVEN HELP US! by Herbert Tarr

A dog-eared paperback came to live in the basement donated by a friend. It was an unlikely book for a young Catholic girl to pick up, with a cover showing a man in a yarmulke. But the 1968 story of young Rabbi Gideon Levi and his Long Island temple congregation was and still is one of the most cleverly written books ever.  Tarr, a rabbi and former Air Force chaplain who wrote several other books, made the Jewish religious experience universal. He had an engaging, lighthearted style that I’ve never quite seen replicated. Sophie Kinsella comes closest albeit from a female perspective.


reading roots

EXODUS by Leon Uris

Rabbi Levi’s congregation exclaimed so much over it I wondered if it was a real book and lo and behold it was. EXODUS was published in 1958 to major acclaim and turned into a movie starring Paul Newman and Sal Mineo (neither of whom looked anything like the character they played). It is the sweeping, engrossing story of Israel’s birth, moving from the early Zionist movement to Polish Jews escaping the Nazis, Ethiopian Jews emigrating after the war and the start of hostilities with neighboring Arab states. Although a novel, it was my first primer on Middle Eastern politics and shaped my political views for years.

All of Uris’s epic historical novels (MILA 18, QB VII, TRINITY) have the same breadth, strength, and excellent writing but EXODUS stands apart. It made me wonder if I could ever write anything so big. Still wondering.

reading rootsTHE LITTLE WORLD OF DON CAMILLO by Giovanni Guareschi

Don Camillo is a strapping fictional parish priest in Italy’s Po Valley, ministering to a small village congregation. His arch frenemy is Peppone, the Communist mayor of the town, who–as is to be expected of a Communist–says he does not believe in God. It is sometime after WWII and the two men fought together as partisans in the hills against the Nazis. The book is a series of softly humorous and philosophical stories in which Don Camillo and Peppone argue over conflicting beliefs (Peppone wants to baptize his son Lenin–oh the irony!), the welfare of the little village (both try to rig a soccer tournament between the church team and the People’s palace team), and the true meaning of friendship. Oh, and Christ on the cross in Don Camillo’s church talks to him/is his conscience.

I routinely re-read this book when feeling unsettled and always find both humor and solace.  Guareschi, a journalist from Milan who also illustrated the book, wrote other Don Camillo stories and several unrelated novels and stories which can often be found on amazon or abebooks. I was recently thrilled to find an excellent blog on the Don Camillo series. Enjoy!

reading rootsTHE CODE OF THE WOOSTERS by P.G.Wodehouse

My sister had a copy of THE MOUSE THAT ROARED by Leonard Wibberly. It was clever and inventive and I hoped there were others about the silly Duchy of Grand Fenwick. So I’m a high school freshman at the public library searching the Ws in Fiction and where WIB should be there was WOD. Wodehouse to be precise, which was almost as silly a name as Wibberly, and I was hooked.

Wodehouse’s books are all suspended in 1920’s England, where people pass time at big country houses getting wires crossed and trying to extricate themselves from nonsense. His language is a swift patter of hysterical dialogue, British slang, and light comedy. THE CODE OF THE WOOSTERS is my favorite, with a cast of characters who appear in many Wodehouse books. It is one of the Jeeves books narrated by Bertie Wooster, whose valet (“my man, don’t you know”) Jeeves is constantly extricating Bertie and friends from impossible romances and other ill-judged escapades. I have multiple copies of this book, including the one in the 20-lb set of all the Jeeves and Bertie books I bought at the oracle of British bookstores, Hatcherd’s in Piccadilly, and hauled home back in the days before there was a 50-lb weight limit on suitcases.


reading rootsTHE KITCHEN MADONNA by Rumer Godden

This book is firmly rooted. It was in at least two of the Reader’s Digest Condensed Editions. Wikipedia lists it as a children’s story but it is a universal story of a dysfunctional family in London that changes for the better when the young son decides to make a homemade icon for their Ukrainian housekeeper, Marta. His effort takes him across London on a quest to do something for someone else for the first time in his life. Rumer Godden, who was raised in British India and wrote numerous books for adults and children, nine of which became movies, created one of her most uplifting stories. The book is sweet and thought-provoking and makes a unique gift.


reading rootsGONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell

I can still see this book in my mind’s eye: the hardback cover is deep blue and the bottoms of the pages are wrinkled from having been inadvertently dunked in the water while I was reading and taking a bath at the same time. It topped my 5th grade reading list, back in the days when I knew what a “beau” was but had never heard the word pronounced.

The book got progressively more dog-eared through middle school as I read and re-read it. It wasn’t the Civil War theme or the love triangle between Ashley, Scarlett and Melanie. No, it was the way that Mitchell put me right into Scarlet’s head.

Do you remember the scene when Rhett deserts Scarlett as they flee Atlanta before Sherman’s army? There was a line something like this: “Her mind jumped around, trying to remember what Gerald had called balky mules and Mr. Lincoln.” But nothing came and Scarlett ends up just calling Rhett a cad. My quote may be imperfect, but it was the first novel I read that showed how to bring the reader deep inside a character’s point of view.

Gone With the Wind on

The novel was better than the movie, too.

Fiddle dee dee, Carmen, how you do run on.

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


reading roots

35 Ways to be the Worst Traveller in the World

35 Ways to be the Worst Traveller in the World

I travel internationally about every 4 months or so. This means I get to watch fellow travelers, many of whom unsuspectingly offer colorful characteristics and situations ripe for my next mystery novel.

Yes, I admit it. I travel with a notebook and all too frequently jot down crazy things I see other passengers do. Especially when entering a new country–and culture–few of us seem to anticipate what they will find upon arrival.

So if you want to travel internationally, here’s how to do it badly.

1.  Wear a strapless dress while trying to lift a heavy carry-on into the overhead bin. Laugh nervously while doing so.

2.  Don’t change your home currency into the local currency. Doesn’t everyone use dollars/pounds/euros?

3.  Walk into the restroom, ignoring the attendant and the sign that says the cost to use the facilities is 2 pesos/kroner/zlotys (toilet paper included.)

4.  Travel without tissues (see #3 above.)

5.  Don’t carry a pen on international flights. Instead, pester strangers for a writing implement so you can fill out your immigration form. Do so while they are filling out theirs.

6.  Wear flip-flops to walk through A. the butcher section of a mercado  B. a hiking trail  C. European cobblestone streets or  D. any formal restaurant.

7.  Speak loudly in a language the listener does not understand no matter what your volume.

8.  Tourist loudly through a house of worship while a religious service is in progress.

9.  Walk around with your purse open or unzipped or stuff hanging out of your pocket.

10.  Wear short-shorts in conservative countries where the locals don’t wear anything shorter than capri pants.

11.  Jump into a taxi without knowing the local norms—are there meters, are fares negotiated beforehand, which are the unlicensed taxis and are they safe? Also–you took a taxi there. How are you getting back?

12.  Don’t have any idea how to read a map. Be unable to figure out where you are in any given city.

13.  Talk back to the guard at the museum who reminds you that flash photography is not permitted.

14.  When at a tourist attraction, talk loudly to your companions when all are wearing headphones. Double negative points if headphones are attached to museums gizmos that describe the exhibits.

15.  Don’t check local weather before arriving. Who needs a coat in Helsinki in March?

16.  Don’t travel with Pepto Bismol.

17.  Ignore instructions to put airline seat in the upright position during takeoff or landing. This way, you can get to know the people ahead or in back of you when thrust forcefully against them during takeoff/landing. Oh hi!

18.  Get drunk during a flight and offer your drink to the possibly underage person next to you.

19.  Pack porn for a trip to the Middle East.

20.  Try to dance through the metal detector at the airport.

21.  The sausages in Austria were supposed to be great but there is just wurst on the menu. Seriously, wouldn’t you think they’d serve their best?

22.  Don’t set your watch and/or travel clock to the local time zone.

23.  Call room service and ask the hotel to provide American TV channels.

24.  Although you don’t understand the difference between football/fútbol/soccer/rugby/Aussie rules, talk a lot as if you do.

25.  While in China, ask people if they realize that ping-pong is not a sport.

26.  Eat partially cooked eggs. Add points by combining with #16, above.

27.  Drink tap water when everyone else is drinking bottled water. Again, see #16, above.

28.  Use a shopping bag or other open bag as a carry-on so you can share everything in it with the rest of the plane passengers during landing.

29.  Don’t use sunscreen. More negative points if you then get on an airplane where the air is really really dry . . .

30.  Damn. “Wet season” actually means rain.

31.  Spoiler alert:  Turkish coffee, Turkish delight, and Turkish toilets are not all equally nice.

32. Call the hotel concierge, TSA agent, or tour guide “dude.”

33.  Let your screaming children be the center of everyone’s attention in the hotel restaurant/breakfast buffet/line at Disneyworld attraction/butterbeer stand at Hogsmeade.

34.  What, they don’t speak Latin in Latin America?

35.  Try to score drugs in a foreign country. Dude, seriously.

But be a great traveler with ideas from these travel websites!  the online portal for AFAR, the unique travel magazine a safe travel guide as well as a place to find deals and advice

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


worst traveller

Why Writing is Hardly a Solitary Occupation

Why Writing is Hardly a Solitary Occupation

Alot of famous quotes moan about why writing is such a solitary occupation. About writers bleeding at the typewriter, with only a bottle of gin as company.

Thanks to social media, however, this is hardly the picture of the modern writer.

Most writers use Twitter, Facebook, and even Goodreads to connect with other writers as well as readers.  I’ve “met” an amazing variety of folks this way and although they may be far away, their energy and enthusiasm has been contagious.

You Meet The Nicest People Online

Here are three virtual friends I’d like to introduce you to:

Khaled Talib is a Singapore-based writer who just published SMOKESCREEN, an espionage thriller. Here’s his Amazon author page. His previous book A LITTLE BOOK OF MUSES is a great morale-boosting little volume of writing encouragement and his PR approach to SMOKESCREEN’s launch has given me many ideas for launching the next Emilia Cruz novel, DIABLO NIGHTS.

Sharon Lee Johnson is an amazingly prolific US writer with several series, including the Zombie Zoo and Me vs Zombies series. She also has written several inspirational books. Here’s her Amazon author page. Sharon is partnering with me on the 2014 fundraiser for She’s got an amazing work ethic and will really make a difference.

Norm Hamilton is a Canadian writer whose new book FROM THINE OWN WELL, is a real environmental call to action. Norm has an amazing eye for detail. He found elusive typos in my books, which helped to improve the experience for my readers.  Here is his Amazon author page.

Give and Ye Shall Receive

In 2014 I will give back for the growing success I’ve had as an author. Having lived in places where we could not take clean water for granted, I wanted to make water a priority.

In 2014 I’ll be donating a dollar  to for each of my books sold for the Kindle on Amazon. Other authors, such as Sharon, have pledged to a portion of their sales as well and I’ll be introducing them when their fundraising efforts take place. Watch this space throughout the year to see how much we can raise.

For every $25 that we raise, can give someone access to safe water for life. Co-founded by Matt Damon and Gary White, has been helping people develop sustainable solutions for more than 20 years. Together, we can change lives with safe water.

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


why writing

Best of the Book Savor Series: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Best of the Book Savor Series: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner


The Book Savor series grew out of my passion for good friends, great books and interesting conversations about what we are reading. And what better way to wind it up than with a “best of” the who-is-coming-to-dinner question.


Read on to see what interesting people are serving for dinner and to whom.

Q: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

Novelist Anne R. Allen: Dorothy Parker, and the conversation could be about anything she wanted: I’d just sit back and take notes. For the best stories, I’d probably better serve martinis.

Social Media Marketing Expert Frances Caballo: I’m serving paella, Manchego cheese with quince, salad and flan for dessert. I would invite Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of No Ordinary Time, and ask her about how she conducts the extensive researched needed for her books.

Canadian Author Sandra Nikolai: I’d invite forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, bestselling author of the Dr. Temperance Brennan series on which the program Bones is based. I’d serve lasagna with a tossed green salad and a bottle of Chianti. Nothing with bones! We’d chat about her books and Montreal—a city we both know well. I’d wait until we’d had coffee and tiramisu before asking her about the grisly details of her work in the lab.

Comic Artist TJ Robinson: Hemingway, and we will be serving whiskey and peanuts.  The subject will be about anything besides writing.

Fabretto CFO Monica Drazba: Well, aside from Carmen Amato and a variety of Mexican dishes, it would probably be David McCullough or maybe Robert Caro. I’d serve up something simple (grilled tenderloin, roasted vegetables, pilaf), so I could spend my time outside of the kitchen listening to their anecdotes and insights on modern history. Founder Monica Olivera: Rudolfo Anaya, I think. I would serve warm pork tamales (if I knew how to make them), fresh limonada, and maybe flan for dessert. Or tres leches. We would talk about the desperate need for our children to hear and read these stories that reflect our childhood experiences and how by writing we in some way immortalize said childhood and the loved ones who may have since passed on.

Mystery Author Jerold Last: I think it would be Robert B. Parker, author of the Spenser series.  We’ll serve braised pheasant, shot by me, and found, pointed, and retrieved by Jolie, one of our dogs, from the freezer.  Side dishes include mashed potatoes with garlic, since there’s a lot of gravy, and salad (it’s California so there’s always fresh veggies).  Conversation would be about mystery writing, and whether Spenser’s and Susan’s German Shorthaired Pointer, Pearl The Wonder Dog, would have fit into our pack of three GSPs.  Jolie, the model for Juliet in “The Deadly Dog Show”, seems to have a similar temperament to Pearl’s, but is much better trained. Finally, I’d like his opinion of whether Roger makes a good, albeit much more educated, Spenser-type hero, and what he thinks of Bruce as an assistant hero in the mold of Hawk.

Marketing Expert Bobby McDaniel: Douglas Adams. I’m a geek and I love to laugh, so I imagine hanging out with Douglas Adams would be an amazing experience. I would serve Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters, Gin & Tonics, and steak . . . preferably from a talking cow, but I guess any cow would do. Editor Lorraine C. Ladish: Stephen King, because he says it like it is. We´d have Spanish tapas and beer or wine. I´d ad lib. I´d love to hear how he cranks out the word.

Writer Elizabeth A. Martina: I adore the couple writing team, Bodie and Brock Thoene. I would serve them barbequed spare ribs, mustard potato salad and moscal wine. Ribs, because they are country folk and would probably enjoy that. The wine, because it is sweet and my favorite. Conversation would inevitably turn to history of the 20th century, which is predominantly their book themes, and to Christianity which is always their secondary theme.

Crime Fiction Author Jason Beech: Charles Dickens. I’d serve him my mother’s Sunday dinner of roast lamb, new potatoes, green beans, stuffing, spring (I think) cabbage, Yorkshire puddings, and mint sauce, smothered in gravy (onion). Then I’d ask him if he could have cut a few hundred pages from most of his novels, and ask if Britain has moved on much from Victorian times in social terms.

Thriller Author Khaled Talib: Mary Shelley. I’ll be serving saffron-based beryani rice with mango chutney, salad, stuffed chicken and various accompaniments. This would be followed by custard cake for dessert with chocolate sauce and Turkish coffee. I’d like to probe her mind about the soul of man, and on the light side, we’ll talk about her travels and adventure. The conversation will be electrifying!’s Jason Sullivan: Without a doubt, my choice would be Edgar Allan Poe. For dinner, we would have the Mid-Atlantic specialties of Silver Queen corn and extra-large Chesapeake Bay crab cakes. We would discuss Virginia and Maryland, an area we both know well. I would have secured a bottle of the finest cognac for after dinner. Once the first glasses of cognac were finished, we would sit by a roaring fire and begin to talk about everything imaginable. We would discuss Romanticism and poetry, delve into his seminal influence in Science Fiction and Mystery, and as the shadows begin to make ghastly figures upon the wall, he might share a word or two about the genre for which he is most famous – Horror. I would also want to hear his views on some of the major events that occurred after his death, such as the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, the two world wars, technology and globalism. I would bring up a few things of particular interest to me. For instance, what are his views on the nature of time and affection, and what were the circumstances surrounding the writing of “A Dream Within A Dream”? He might mention what transpired during those last few days in Baltimore, but I would not ask about this. Finally, in the early hours of the morning, as the fire drew down, we would dare to speak of the eternal secrets … before falling asleep in our chairs to the glow of the last few dying embers.

Who’s coming to dinner at your house? Are we invited?

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


coming to dinner

The Lovely Glow of Too Many Irons in the Fire

The Lovely Glow of Too Many Irons in the Fire

I’ve got too many irons in the fire.

I’d like to say that this is a rare event. But juggling multiple projects can be fun, which must be why I tend to overbook my creative energies.

Here’s what is going on:

Bookstore of the Future project

Yesterday I reached out to 55 book bloggers for the second Bookstore of the Future project, asking them the key questions: What will the bookstore of the future look like? How can bookstores innovate in order to stay relevant and solvent in the era of ebooks and ecommerce?

I had an immediate response from author and blogger extraordinaire C. M. Mayo who posted a link to my blog on her Madam Mayo blog. See it here.

Author responses keep trickling in but the crown goes to thriller author Dale Brown (Whaaaat? You haven’t read FLIGHT OF THE OLD DOG? Read it. Immediately.) who was the first to respond, in part, with this comment: “Carmen: Interesting project! I haven’t been in a bookstore to buy a book since I discovered Amazon Books in 1996.” Look for his full response when “What is the Future of the Bookstore? 25 Influential Authors Weigh In” is published in early January.

Finally, I had an interesting exchange with author Jeff Faria who is teaming with Symposia Bookstore in Hoboken, New Jersey on a “bookstore/playspace.” Look for more on this in the third article featuring bookstore owner views.


I didn’t complete a 50k word manuscript in November, thanks to the flu. What I did end up with, however, is the guts of the next Emilia Cruz mystery novel. Familiar elements are there: dirty cops, drug cartels, Emilia’s uncertainty about her relationship with a gringo and grudging partnership with Silvio. But DIABLO NIGHTS also digs into Mexico’s religious history as well as Acapulco’s tourism industry. There’s also the anything-for-a-peso mindset I encountered from time to time in Mexico. This could be the most provocative Emilia Cruz novel yet.

I exchanged ideas for the book’s religious research with author and university professor Andrew Chesnut, whose articles on The Huffington Post are always absorbing. I recommend subscribing to his Huffpost feed.

“The Angler”

This Emilia Cruz short story will draw elements from the real events surrounding the murder of Fr. Richard Junius, who was my pastor at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Mexico City, which I wrote about last year.

To my knowledge, Fr. Richard’s  murderer has never been found. Expect a different ending in “The Prayer;” justice via fiction.

In 2014 I plan to partner with to raise funds for basic sanitation. I will donate a dollar for every Kindle book I sell on Amazon in 2014. To maximize the effort, I’m considering asking fellow authors to donate a portion of their earnings for a selected month. For their month, I’ll promote them on my blog and on the fundraiser page. They’d get added exposure as well as make a meaningful contribution for a great cause. What do you think?

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


irons in the fire

A Book Savor Chat with Mystery Author Jerold Last

The Book Savor series grew out of my passion for great books, great friends, and conversations about books we love. Join in!

This week mystery author Jerold Last talks about the books he savors.

1.Carmen Amato: What was the first book you read that marked the transition from reading kids’ books to grown-up fare?

Sherlock Holmes novelJerold Last:  I don’t remember which of two it was, either Sherlock Holmes and “The Hound of the Baskervilles” or “The Guns of Shiloh” by Joseph A. Altsheler.  We were learning about the Civil War in 5th or 6th grade, which brought me to the Public Library and Altsheler’s highly readable series of young adult novels about the War Between the States.  One of my uncles gave me a copy of Doyle’s classic for a birthday gift at about the same time.  Of course I’d read all of the Nancy Drew novels and Hardy Boys books before this.  Given my lifelong love of mysteries, I’d like to believe my first adult novel was Sherlock Holmes.

2. CA: You are shipwrecked with a crate labeled “Books.” What 3 books do you hope are in it?

JL:  That’s a tough choice to make.  Maybe a waterproof iPad and a WiFi connection is an allowable selection?  If I have to choose, then:  1. “The Novels of Dashiell Hammett”; 2. “Raymond Chandler’s Stories and Early Novels”; 3.  Ross MacDonald’s “Archer at Large”.  That’s several weeks worth of reading for me.  Hopefully, rescue is possible about then.

3. CA: What book would you give as a housewarming gift and why?

 JL:  That would depend on whose house was being warmed.  If it were a mystery fan, I’d be inclined to give them copies of all seven of my published books (less than $14 at Amazon’s current retail prices).  If they preferred non-fiction, I’d probably select an interesting ethnic cookbook.  We have one on Mexican regional cooking that we’ve enjoyed for many years.

4. CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

 JL:  I think it would be Robert B. Parker, author of the Spenser series.  We’ll serve braised pheasant, shot by me, and found, pointed, and retrieved by Jolie, one of our dogs, from the freezer.  Side dishes include mashed potatoes with garlic, since there’s a lot of gravy, and salad (it’s California so there’s always fresh veggies).  Conversation would be about mystery writing, and whether Spenser’s and Susan’s German Shorthaired Pointer, Pearl The Wonder Dog, would have fit into our pack of three GSPs.  Jolie, the model for Juliet in “The Deadly Dog Show”, seems to have a similar temperament to Pearl’s, but is much better trained. Finally, I’d like his opinion of whether Roger makes a good, albeit much more educated, Spenser-type hero, and what he thinks of Bruce as an assistant hero in the mold of Hawk.

5. CA: Can you leave us with a quote, a place, or a concept from a book that inspired you?

JL:  From Raymond Chandler’s essay “The Simple Art of Murder”, he describes the character of the private detective as follows:  “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.  The detective in this kind of story must be such a man.  He is the hero; he is everything.  He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man.  He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor . . .  He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world . . . If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in.”

Tell us about yourself in 3 sentences or less.

JL:  I’m a scientist, a Professor of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at The University of California Medical School in Davis.  There are times I feel schizophrenic as I try to juggle my life as a scientist with my life as a mystery writer, like this morning’s interview with a local TV news reporter sharing my allegedly expert opinion of the health effects of inhaling the particles produced by the major wildfires currently burning here in California and throughout the western states.  I live with my wife of almost 40 years, Elaine, three generations of German Shorthaired Pointers, and currently the fourth generation of this canine family represented by eight grand-puppies born to Schone two nights ago.

More about this week’s guest: Jerold is the author of the Roger and Suzanne mysteries which I first discovered because several are set in Montevideo, Uruguay. The latest is The Deadly Dog Show (find it on amazon here), the fifth novel in a series, which also includes two shorter novellas, and the second series entry (after The Body in the Parking Structure) to take place in California rather than South America.  The settings and locales for the preceding South American mystery novels, The Empanada Affair, The Ambivalent Corpse, The Surreal Killer, and The Matador Murders are authentic; Jerry and Elaine lived previously in Salta, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay for several months each, and selected the most interesting locations for Roger and Suzanne mystery settings.  Jerry’s blog describing the background and birth of Jerry’s books; Jerry, Elaine, and the dogs’ lives; and all things mysterious can be found at

A Lesson from The Great Gatsby

A Lesson from The Great Gatsby

I never gave much thought to how families talk. How different conversations might be from house to house until we had this little episode in ours.

The argument grew heated. I wanted no part of it.

Theories were picked apart. Voices were raised. Sneers were more than implied.

The Aha Topic

The participants in this discussion were my husband and my daughter. The topic of debate was whether or not THE GREAT GATSBY should be considered one of the iconic books of the 20th century.

I carried the dirty dinner dishes into the kitchen and listened to them talk. I was glad my high school daughter could hold her own in the discussion. My husband, a fairly brilliant man, made no allowances for her age.

They called it a draw, agreeing to disagree, although my husband was less than chivalrous when my daughter and I came home after seeing the new Gatsby movie.

“Aha! You see my point,” he said, or words to that effect. This was a reference to his view that the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-moons-after-her-for-five-years-and gets-shot-for-his-trouble plot was nothing new. My daughter’s defense of the book was undimmed but our opinion of the movie was that there was too much CGI, too much stylized imagery. It was like too much sickly sweet icing on a good cake.

In short, we agreed with Philip French’s review that appeared in the UK Observer online newspaper.

Back Talk

The Gatsby episode made me think about the way we talk to each other.

Growing up, my extended Italian family talked about people, many of whom were related. It was a mostly closed loop of family gossip and interdependence. We talked about each other, we helped each other, and we talked about helping each other. To this day if my mother has a computer problem she  waits for the family member who works in the IT field to come help and then gives me the details over the phone. No Geek Squad for her.

My husband’s family, on the other hand, talks about neutral externals. Presidential campaigns, the local school district, property prices.

Talking Our Own Talk

Somehow my husband and I have come up with our own family norm: in our household we talk Analysis.  Even when my kids were small, there was an emphasis on seeing things from different angles, thinking about a breadth of issues, and being able to support opinions.  For example, we’d get them to see how a news story is presented differently on CNN, on Fox News, or on BBC World.

It’s a constant steam of critique and debate on any topic. We all have a wide range of interests. More than once I’ve lamented that I live with a house full of lawyers and fact-checkers.

Related post: The Power of Daddy

Will my kids be more prepared than I was for the real world? Undoubtedly. My undergraduate college was full of people with similar backgrounds and college talk was mostly about each other. It wasn’t until I hit graduate school that I realized how exciting it was to be able to sift through information, create my own truly informed ideas and be able to support them.  That analytic bent has allowed me to become a mystery author; I can put myself in the shoes of a detective faced with a seemingly unrelated set of clues and do something with them.

If only Gatsby had figured that out. He might have lived to enjoy more cake and less icing.

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


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