Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Solomon Released Today

Today is the official release date for The Solomon Effect. After all that has happened--or should I say, all that has not happened--I must admit to watching its debut with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. But the great folks in the Harper Collins publicity department have been scrambling to try to rescue its maiden voyage from a Titanic-like fate.

A friend flying up to New York tells me she saw the book sitting at the #18 slot at the airport bookstall, evidence that they have indeed come up with at least some last-minute coop. And if you go to bookpage.com you'll see that The Solomon Effect is their third featured book, right after Paterson and Albom.

The "featured book" highlight is only there for today, Tuesday, but it links to a piece we wrote that can be read here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Oh, What a Lovely Blog

I'm slow in posting this because I've been up at the lake scribbling my little fingers to the bone, but Charles from Razored Zen has presented me with a "One Lovely Blog" award. Thanks, Charles!

The rules are simple, so I'll be a good girl and follow them:

1) Accept the award, and don’t forget to post a link back to the awarding person.
2) Pass the award on.
3) Notify the award winners.

Listen up, Steve from Full Throttle and F**k It and Liz from Just Keep Writing and Other Thoughts: you're it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Live from the Battlefield

You don’t have to read very far into Peter Arnett’s autobiography, Live from the Battlefield: 35 Years in the World’s War Zones, before you come to an obvious conclusion: the guy is either one of the most determined, tenacious, competitive reporters ever born, or he’s certifiably nuts. But there’s no denying he’s lived an eye-popping life. And, he can write. The result is a fascinating, gripping tale of courage, dedication, and unflinching honesty that is in many ways a history of war and reportage in the second half of the twentieth century—as told from the trenches.

I’ll admit right off that Arnett in something of a hero to me. When the U.S. first attacked Iraq back in January of 1991, we were still unpacking after our recent move from the Middle East to Australia, having left friends and family scattered from Kuwait to Baghdad to Amman. There simply aren’t words to describe the sensation of watching your own country wreck hideous destruction on people you know and love. I sat, tears running down my face, and watched the bombs rain down on Baghdad. I listened, furious and incredulous, while the American president and his Pentagon puppets lied to the American public. Peter Arnett is probably the only thing that kept me from putting my foot through the TV screen.

But before he became famous—or infamous, depending on your point of view—as the lone face of CNN in Baghdad, Arnett was best known for his coverage of the Vietnam War as a reporter for the New York Times. President Johnson—like Bush I after him—hated Arnett with a vehement passion. But then, you don’t win a Pulitzer Prize for reporting the story the Powers that Be want told. Arnett was in Vietnam for the innocuous beginnings of the American buildup in 1962, and he was there until after the very end. That’s right: when that last helicopter pulled away from the roof of the American Embassy in 1975, Arnett stayed behind to cover what happened when the Viet Cong took over Saigon. Like I said, crazy.

Of course, Vietnam and Baghdad are only part of the story. There’s his early life in New Zealand. His stints as an AP reporter in Bangkok and Jakarta and Laos. After Vietnam came Cyprus. Lebanon. San Salvador. Moscow. Afghanistan. This is reporting like it isn’t done any more. When a coup in Laos closed all the borders, Arnett swam the Mekong River to file his dispatches from Thailand. When the North Vietnamese overran Saigon during the Tet Offense, Arnett bundled his wife and two children (the youngest a newborn baby) into the bathroom and told them to stay put while he went off to report on the fighting.

Me, I think I’d probably have divorced him. But if you like adventure and history, I can’t recommend his autobiography enough. It’s riveting stuff.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Things We Leave Behind

It isn’t often that cookies inspire deep thoughts, but bear with me.

I was wandering through World Market the other day and spotted this package of Arnott’s Mint Slices, which were my all-time-favorite, special-treat biscuits (cookies) during the years I spent in Australia. Since I’m supposed to be on a health kick I didn’t get them at the time. But they haunted me so much that I finally went back and bought them. And the entire experience started me thinking about the things we leave behind in life.

My life is littered with wonderful taste sensations that have entered my orbit and then departed, never to be experienced again. The world’s best chocolate-filled pastries from a hidden lane in Florence. Airy confections from the shop down the street from my apartment in Athens. Devonshire teas everywhere from Winchester to Wellington to Adelaide. Fish strewn with lemon and spices and cooked in foil by a Palestinian refugee with a stall in downtown Amman. (Notice this litany is heavy on deserts; I have a sweet tooth.)

But it isn’t just great foods that I’ve had to leave behind. It’s also pleasures and pastimes and the patterns of my days. Catching snowflakes on my tongue. Casting a lure just so in a clear mountain stream. Waking up in the morning to throw open my bedroom window and gaze out over a Spanish plaza once known by Romans and Moors and medieval knights. Trekking across a sun blasted, stony Arabian desert to come upon the ruins of a city abandoned two thousand years ago. Cutting back a bougainvillea rioting over my garden in the Adelaide hills and pausing to listen to the haunting, ever-exotic cry of a kookaburra.

And then there are the things I’ve lost without even realizing I was leaving them behind. As a teenager I played the guitar and had a horse. In my twenties I was absolutely fluent in French. At one point I went through a ballroom dance phase and swam a mile every day. Then I was seriously working toward a black belt in Tae Kwan Do. But life got in the way, my focus shifted, and before I knew it, those things, too, became a part of my past.

And don’t get me started on the friends and lovers I’ve left behind.

This constant letting go and loss is probably hardest on those who move around a lot. But I suspect everyone’s life is this way to some extent. A few nights ago, I was sitting at the sidewalk table of a local Lebanese restaurant with my husband of (almost) six years and my gorgeous, dark-eyed, twenty-something daughter. The air was heavy with the scent of night blooming jasmine and Mediterranean spices. An Egyptian singer was wailing over the sound system as the St. Charles streetcar went clanging past. It was a magical blending of old and new, lost and recently discovered.

Life, bittersweet, but good.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

On Birthdays, Pregnant Publicists, and Websites

My very first published novel, Night in Eden, came out twelve years ago this month, on my birthday. You see, publishers tend to release books on the last Tuesday of the month before their official publication date. So since Eden was an “October release” and my late-September birthday just happened to fall on a Tuesday that year, the planets aligned to give me one of the nicest birthday presents I have ever received.

Well, the planets have aligned again this year: my second thriller, The Solomon Effect, is due to be released on my birthday. But I’m not so sure this is a good omen. You see, my publicist went on maternity leave just when she should have been sending out review copies and press releases and such, and Solomon basically fell through the cracks. Fortunately my agent and I eventually realized what was happening and the folks at HarperCollins have worked really hard to salvage some things. But there will be no Publishers Weekly review, and the Romantic Times review won’t appear until their December issue. The Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews are also iffy. If this sounds like the kiss of death for a book, believe me, it is.

That said, I’ve updated the C.S. Graham website and added a new feature, A Pictorial Tour of the World of The Solomon Effect. You can see it here.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Crazy for God

I ordered Frank Schaeffer’s Crazy for God (subtitled “How I grew up as one of the elect, helped found the religious right, and lived to take all—or almost all—of it back”) as part of my research for The Babylonian Codex. I thought I’d just skim it, focusing on the parts where he talks about his and his famous father’s contributions to the rise of the radical Christian right and the formation of the Moral Majority, and then toss the book in the library donation box.

Boy was I wrong.

This is a story told with brutal honesty and a rare and penetrating wit. It begins, “You can be the world’s biggest hypocrite and still feel good about yourself. You can believe and wish you didn’t. You can lose your faith and still pretend, because there are bills to be paid, because you are booked up for a year, because this is what you do…”.

From there, Crazy for God takes the reader on a journey that is part autobiography, part magical mystery tour. Whether he is writing of his bizarre childhood growing up wild at his parents’ utopian evangelical mission in Switzerland (where guests included the likes of Timothy Leary and Led Zeppelin) or his equally fascinating stint as a boarder in the world of England’s elite public schools in the sixties and seventies, Schaeffer introduces us to an unforgettable cast of colorful and deftly drawn personalities. Ironically, the book actually focuses very little on the part of his life’s story that prompted me to buy it in the first place. I didn’t care. A gifted storyteller and brilliant analyst of character, Schaeffer made me laugh out loud, wince, and think long and hard about everything from family life and parental love to the ways in which the people we meet affect the course of our lives.

I’m not normally a fan of autobiography, but I sat up late into the night reading this one, unable to put it down. The truth is, it’s been a long time since I enjoyed a novel as much.

The library sale isn’t getting this one.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Hot Buttons

Do you have a situation/conflict/kind of character you just can’t read about?

I ran across one last night. I’ve been meandering my way through Snow Falling on Cedars and rather enjoying it until the story suddenly grated across my worst, I-don’t-want-to-read-about-it, don’t-want-to-think-about-it issue. So what’s my hot button?

A character getting cheated out of or foolishly losing his money.

I know, I know; this says volumes about me and none of it is nice. But it's one of my worst nightmares and I don't want to go there.

I know people who can’t read about the murder of children (I have a hard time with that one, but it won’t stop me cold). Other friends say they can’t read about a character who commits adultery.

So what’s your “hot button”?