Monthly Archives: May 2010

Are You There, Dog? It’s Me, Margaret

It’s eighty degrees and I’m writing this from the newly remodeled Washington Square Park, where the fountain – now symmetrically aligned, thanks to Mayor Bloomberg — enthusiastically welcomes in summer by spraying bare-chested SPF’d children and apparently un-SPF’d ripple-abbed men (not that I noticed).

Perhaps because I’m typing this as a crazy-ass homeless dude in a multi-colored wig and butterfly-patterned skirt harangues me about the carry-out lunch that awaits my attention on the bench next to me,* I’ve decided that dog watching is a safer park habit than people watching.** But it’s nearly as interesting.

No day in Washington Square would be complete without the dogs. The big ones. Little ones. Happy ones. Neurotic ones.

And my afternoon of dog watching got me thinking about my relationships with pets. As some of you know, I have a special relationship with my French Bulldog, The Duffer. My tremendous respect for him is reflected even in his name. I wanted to call him Stacy Keach. My reasons should be self-evident.

Stacy Keach and the Duffer (which is which?)

My  husband, however, was perplexed by the choice. “People will think a dog called Stacy is a girl.”

Um… so?  And, more importantly, we would not call him Stacy.  We would call him Stacy Keach. Every single time. Because that would be his name.  My husband put his foot down, but that didn’t mean I was going to cave for some stupid dog name. No Fidos or Fluffies here. But Duffer? Yeah, that might work. But only he had to be THE Duffer. All regal and stuff.

The Duffer’s my first dog, and I have to admit I’m still surprised by the love, affection, and empathy I have for my little friend — and which, yes, I believe he has for me. I truly believe he has moods and feelings and expressions that leap from that one-of-a-kind mug of his. I talk to him constantly and imagine what he would say back to me if only he could.

Does this make me insane? Maybe. Or more optimistically, maybe my internal (and sometimes external) running dialogue with the Duff is just a sign of my overactive imagination. Or it could be a recognition that animals, although lacking our ability for language, opposable thumbs, and fire making, have attributes that we chalk up to feelings and emotions in humans, but to our own imaginations in our pets.

I mean, is it not obvious that the dog in this photograph

was in a different mood, and yet the very same silly beast at his core, as in this video? (Warning: NSFW)

Dogs are not alone in their unique personalities. My agent and his wife recently welcomed two new kittens into their home. One is named Ellie Hatcher, and her brother is called Mickey Haller. In light of her namesake (my series protagonist NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher), I was rooting for Ellie to be one playful yet take-charge, bad-ass mo-fo of a cat. But guess what? It’s her twin brother Mickey (named for Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller) who’s the rapscallion. If he were a human being, he’d wear overalls, carrying a peanut butter sandwich in one pocket, a slingshot in the other. Mickey’s the feline equivalent of Dennis the Menace.

Ellie? She’s earnest. Tentative. Watchful. The kind of girl who’d tell on herself if she ever broke the rules. Sigh.

I’m not the only writer with pets on her mind these days. The wonderful Laura Lippman recently blogged about once helping out Reba, “a hang-dog dog, shy and mopy.”  (She’s following it up with a contest. Just post a memory about your favorite pet or pet name, and be entered for an advanced copy of her eagerly anticipated novel, I’d Know You Anywhere.)

Perhaps because we recognize that our pets have personalities, it’s no surprise that writers have looked to pets for fictional characters.  It’s fashionable these days to diss cozy mysteries where cats solve crimes, but some pretty damn good books occasionally make room for the non-human animals.  (Have you read Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain? The entire novel is narrated by a dog, and it’s actually good.  I kid you not.)

Sometimes the addition of a pet tells the reader something about its person.  Leave it to Stephanie Plum to find a best friend in Rex the hamster.  Readers also become attached to literary pets in their own right.  I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been asked whether James Lee Burke‘s daughter actually owned a three-legged racoon named Tripod.  (The answer, for the record, is no.)

I like to think I’ve created a true character in Vinnie, French bulldog pal to Samantha Kincaid.  I conjured Vinnie well before I was a dog owner myself. He’s a little lazy, likes his people, and makes loud, fast snorting noises like an old fat man when he eats. He’d sound like Buddy Hackett if he could talk.  And he finds endearing but frustrating ways of expressing his displeasure when Portland cop Chuck Forbes moves in.  (I’m not alone in my frenchie obsession.  The Kellerman family has a beautiful dog named Hugo, and Jonathon Kellerman‘s Alex Deleware has a frenchie as well.)

Who are your favorite literary non-human animals?  What do they add to their books, either vis-a-vis the human characters or in their own right?  Which pets do you wish could talk, and what would they sound like and say?

*A further aside about the aforementioned homeless guy.  He wanted to know what I was going to use to eat my lunch.  “A fork,” I said.  His response?  “Well go fork yourself!”  Jesus, I love this city.

** In addition to dog-watching, I also got in some simultaneous people-walking. Random things that have happened at the park while I’ve been typing: A three-year-old banged his drumsticks on the bench next to me; two hand-to-hand drug deals (that I noticed, at least, though I haven’t been going out of my way to look for them); an orange-haired Asian kid nearly knocked a mohawk dude over with his hoola-hoop; and the little girl on the Razor scooter proudly declared, “I’m super really stinky.”  I swear, I’m not making this stuff up.  Today’s officially a great day.

Watching: Modern Family

Listening To: Sade

Reading: Lee Child’s 61 Hours

Surfing: LOST re-enacted by cats (you’re welcome)

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Raffle: Kiss, Marry, Kick

I have a raffle going on at my page on Facebook.  If you’re a member of Facebook, all you have to do to enter is join my page and then respond the following question: Name three literary characters and state whom you would kiss, whom you would marry, and whom you’d like to kick in the shins.

A random winner from the comments will receive a signed copy of Lee Child’s new novel, 61 Hours.

You can join my page and enter the raffle here.

The Day I Accidentally Walked 20 Miles

This has been a joyous week for me, thanks to a visit from one of my BFF’s who recently left New York (boo!) for an academic position elsewhere.  It has also been an active week.  See, here’s the thing about people who know and love New York, but who are limited to occasional visits: They have a tendency to pack a month’s worth of their favorite routines into a single day.  And, thanks to my friend’s kamakaze fly-by, I had the pleasure of living one of those days.

We didn’t set out to walk twenty miles.  The morning began simply enough with a morning stroll with my french bullog, the Duffer.

We walked through the west village to the river up through the Meatpacking District, then back over through Chelsea to my place near Union Square.  We picked up Starbucks and Bagel Bobs along the way.  Stopped in Washington Square Park to snack.

But then we dropped off the Duffer and realized it was still only ten in the morning on what we’d sworn would be a true no-work day.  Soon enough, my friend’s friend happened to call.  He needed someone to help carry a new art acquisition from a Chelsea Gallery to his loft in the fashion district.  Off we went, back to Chelsea.

By the time we finished moving the canvas, it was time for lunch.  Back to the Meatpacking District.  Bloody mary and a dozen oysters outside = yummy.  Pitstop to the Apple Store for my handy, dandy, and completely unnecessary iPad.  Woot!

Next on the route was SoHo, requiring a stroll down from the Meatpacking District through the west village.  In SoHo, we hit six different furniture stores, researching the perfect pull-out sofa.  Turns out, there’s no such thing.

Suddenly it was five-thirty.  Back to the apartment for a quick shower before catching our Broadway play, Next Fall (marvelous, by the way).  Small post-theater snack and glass of wine at the lovely Aureole.  Subway back to Union Square.  Still hungry.  One a.m. stop at the late-night taco truck for corn tortillas and Horchata.  By the time I checked my Bodybugg, we had logged just over twenty miles!

I went to bed exhausted.  And really, really full.  And incredibly inspired.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my need to walk away from the keyboard and free my brain when I really need big-picture creative inspiration.  Based on my near-marathon city walk, I now believe those walks away from the desk should always be through the city I now love and write about.

Among the various quotidian details, all inspired by my long walk, that you’ll likely find scattered through my next novel:

The New York foodie’s never-ending search for the best food trucks:

The chess-game culture of Washington Square Park:

The way a texting New York pedestrian will slam into another human being and then scream at that person for being in the way:

The Highline, an elevated park with a uniquely Manhattan blend of industrial chic and actual nature:

The Standard Hotel, whose floor-to-ceiling windows above the Highline have proven irrestible to exhibitionists:

And, not sure this will make the book, but I did learn that there is a chair called the “Do Hit Chair.” Price: $8,000, or $15,000 if beaten by the actual artist.  I’m not making that up.

Best of all, I somehow came home with a major plot point magically worked through.  A day of friendship, a plot development, new energy about the urban landscape of my books, and three thousand calories burned to-boot.  I’d say my hooky day turned out to be productive after all.

Replacing Jack Reacher’s Button

Okay, so it wasn’t really Jack Reacher’s button, but a button from the shirt of his creator, Lee Child, whom I’m fortunate to call a friend.  A few years ago, I was at Lee’s apartment, about to throw something in his kitchen garbage, when I spotted one of his familiar button-down shirts in the bag.

“Do you know there’s a shirt in your garbage?”

“Who do you think put it there?”  (Yes, he has a way of talking like Reacher.)

Ever curious, I plucked it out expecting to find a coffee stain or cigarette burn, since Lee pretty much lives on coffee and cigarettes.  Its only flaw was a missing button.

Not surprisingly, the man who created Jack Reacher – moving town to town with nothing but a toothbrush – doesn’t own a sewing kit.  I, however, own an entire sewing basket filled with an array of threads and notions.  A shirt was saved, and a friendship sealed.

I know many of you enjoy Lee Child’s books, so I thought you might enjoy an article the Wall Street Journal recently published about his fuss-free, no-clutter apartment life here in New York.  The button story works its way in, as do a couple of quotes from me and Lee’s brother, Andrew Grant.

You can read the full story here.  More importantly, you can buy Lee Child’s new Reacher novel, 61 Hours, now in the UK and on May 18 in the US.

New Reviews for 212

“Burke’s new outing featuring this young female detective quickly proves to be better than anything Burke has put out before.  Actually, her realistic dialogue, her detailed descriptions of New York City’s vivacious vibe and pulse, and her ability to provide unending suspense makes this one of the year’s best across the board.  This is simply how a police procedural should be done … Full of dirty secrets and the repercussions that result when trying to hide them, this comes highly recommended as a nonstop tale of suspense that races without pause to its satisfying ending.” – New Mystery Reader

“There is more than one murder in ‘212’ and Burke heightens the suspense- and poignance- by making the victims as three dimensional as the other characters.” – Connecticut Post

“Alafair Burke has been writing thrillers for many years, but she has outdone herself with the heart-pounding 212…Set aside a few hours, and prepare for your neck hairs to stand on end.” – Bookreporter

“Do yourself a favor and read 212. You will not be disappointed.” – Mysteries Galore

Photos from 2010 Edgar Awards

I had a lovely time Thursday night at the Edgar Awards, the crime fiction community’s version of the Academy Awards.  Coming on the heels of a very busy tour for 212, the ceremony was an opportunity to celebrate the talent and dedication of not only authors, but also booksellers and other supporters of the genre.  Added bonus: Because I did not have a book out in 2009, I wasn’t even tempted to feel slighted!

Co-hosts Laura Lippman and Lee Child whipped the ceremony into shape, keeping the program moving at the same brisk pace as their novels.  Maybe crime writers should host all chicken-dinner banquets!

Congratulations to all the winners!

Thanks to my husband, I have a few photos I thought you might enjoy.