Tuesday, November 5, 2013

R.I.P., Michael Palmer

I remember vividly the first time I met Michael Palmer.  It was in the swimming pool of the Arizona Biltmore in July 2006.  I walked right up to him and said that thing every writer wants to hear: "I've been reading you since I was a little girl!"  Yeah, that's good for the ego.  Sort of.  And Michael could not have been more gracious and approachable. 

It was true, of course.  Starting with the paperback of his 1982 debut novel, The Sisterhood, I'd been a fan.  I can't claim to have read all of his 19 novels, but I've read a majority of them.  I'm grateful for those hours of entertainment.

That first meeting in Phoenix was at the very first Thrillerfest conference.  I continued to see Michael at T-fest regularly in years to come.  I won't even pretend that I was friends with the man, but we were friendly and would chat when we saw each other.  We had occasions of correspondence over the years.  All of my interactions with Michael were exceedingly pleasant.  I'm deeply saddened to learn of his premature death last week at the age of 71.  His obituary in the Boston Globe may be read here.

My thoughts are with his son Daniel, and the entire Palmer family.  Michael and Daniel were often together at T-fest conferences, and together, they share one of my best memories.  For years, the annual Thriller Awards dinner at T-fest has featured authors performing musical numbers, to greater or lesser success.  That first year, Michael and Daniel brought down the house with a very funny blues number they wrote called the Thriller Blues poking fun at their peers.  Here are the lyrics:

Thriller Blues

In the heat of the summer
In search of a niche
Gale Lynds and some others
Got together to bitch

They were searching for ways
To toot our own horn
And in the wee hours,
ITW was born

Yeah we write thrillers
Designed to leap off bookstore shelves
Books so damn scary
Sometimes we even scare ourselves

Now we got members
From all over the place
We write rough and tumble
Or with style and grace

We meet as equals
Like sisters and brothers,
Even though we all know (as Orwell wrote)
Some are more equal here than others.


First there's the master
The man they call Clive
Puts Dirk in grave danger
Then keeps him alive.

But Clive's a showman,
From his nose to his tail
We hear he'll write his next book
In the belly of a whale

(Chorus or break)

Then there's Morrell
the man stands alone
made up ol' Rambo
became pals with Stallone

still he's hardly a snob
he's one of the masses
even though behind our backs
he thinks we're all jack s of all trades)

Michael & Daniel share the stage with Brad Parks

It's always "LesKWAH"
It's never Lescroat
Call him Lescroat
Get a fist down your thWAH . . .

But he's getting annoyed
So he has a plan
He's changing his name to
John Grisham

Let's leave out the chorus
It'll make this more terse
Then we can keep going
From bad to verse

Sandra Brown is so sweet
She could cure mankind's ills
And she sells more thrillers
Than Pfizer sells pills

She adds romance
Men and women at play.
Then with a cheerleader's smile,
She blows them all away.

(chorus or solo)
Oh yes, there's Steve Berry
Cashing in on the church
He's suddenly hot
Like he won star search

He's a raconteur
A man about town
Known far and wide
As the poor man's Dan Brown


We've got Preston and Child,
Tess, Dale, Brad, and Stine
With a billion books sold,
We're doing just fine

There's not enough time
To name those we left out
So stow that crushed ego
Get rid of that pout


So here's the big finish
That says thanks a ton
To Dianne and CJ
And Bob Levinson

We all are winners
For having been here
And with any luck
We'll be back next year

Cause we write thrillers
Designed to leap off bookstore shelves
Books so damn scary
Sometimes we even scare ourselves


And finally,  here's some footage from a joint bookstore event Michael and Daniel did a couple of years ago along the same lines...  Rest in peace, Michael.

Monday, November 4, 2013

VIDEO: Donna Tartt says, "All educated Southerners have three different voices..."

Ugh.  I find myself again on the roll of bad bloggers. 

In my defense, I've been out doing--rather than in writing about it.  San Francisco has had back-to-back festivals: Litquake for literature and the Bay Area Science Festival for, uh, science.  There was some overlap.  And as literature and science are two of my favorite things, I've been running around a lot!

These two interests overlapped up in Marin County about a week ago--though not technically a part of either festival.  Now, I don't like to schlep out to the suburbs too often.  There has to be good reason, if you get my drift.  Donna Tartt, who publishes a novel about once every decade--and who consequently tours about once a decade--was a darn good reason for a road trip.  Book Passage was hosting an unusual daytime event, but I guess you take Donna Tartt when you can get her, right?  Despite the weekday timing, the bookstore was packed.  (Oh, and while Donna Tartt was plenty inducement on her own, I couldn't believe my luck when I saw that geneticist/legend J. Craig Venter was speaking at the store that night!  Look for that footage tomorrow.)

So, Donna's latest novel, The Goldfinch, has been generating buzz for months.  I didn't grab an advance copy of this one.  Actually, I purchased (Yes, I still purchase books.) a copy of the audiobook read by the wonderful stage actor David Pittu on the day of it's publication.  In paper, it's a hefty 750 pages or so, and recorded it's about 32 hours, 25 minutes, and 11 seconds--give or take.  By the time I heard Donna speak, two days later, I was just a couple of hours from the end and finished it in the gap between the two lit events.  All I can say is that the buzz was justified.  I loved this rich and gripping tale from start to finish.  I think the description "Dickensian" comes up with Ms. Tartt from time to time.  I can understand that.  It's been close to 30 years since I read Great Expectations, but for some reason I found myself thinking of Pip as I read the harrowing journey of her young protagonist.  I wholeheartedly recommend the novel, and I further recommend the audiobook, if you are so inclined.  David Pittu is simply astounding.  He brings her words and characters vividly to life.

I so enjoyed this rare opportunity to hear Ms. Tartt speak, and hope that you do as well.  And I'd like to thank Book Passage for bringing her to the Bay Area.  One great way to thank them is to eschew that lousy audiobook and order a signed first edition from Book Passage.  I know they'd be delighted to ship one right out!