Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Cool Change


What’s your favorite time of year?

My mother always used to say her favorite time of year was autumn. She thought perhaps it was because her birthday was in September. But I never understand how anyone could possibly love the fall, even though my birthday is in September, too.

For me, autumn meant going back to school (I hated school as a kid). It meant waking up to frigid wet mornings and dark grey skies and the looming gloom of endless winter to come. But summer… Ah, summer meant long carefree days of blue skies and golden warmth; it meant running through sun-kissed fields with my horse or curling up on a shady porch with a book. Even later, after I moved away from the frigid northwest, I still loved summer. Summer meant my girls home from school, days spent searching for seashells beside a roaring surf or exploring castles on a sunblasted Spanish hillside or hiking through the Australian bush.

Then I moved to New Orleans, where summer brings a wet suffocating heat that never relents, not even at night, along with a wary realization that a hurricane might be forming just over the horizon. It is my practice every morning when I wake up to throw open my doors and windows. The cats love it and it airs out the houses, but in the dog days of summer that humid blast of heat is a real penance I can tolerate for only so long. Well, this morning I opened the front door and literally squealed with delight as a soft cool breeze buffeted my face and actually raised goosebumps on my arms. Ah, I thought, fall at last!

And then I remembered my mother and how fall was always her favorite time of year, and for the first time I understood why that little girl growing up in New Orleans had loved autumn so much.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Still Alive


Writing and life (including plumbing problems you don't want to hear about) have consumed my days too much lately to leave time for blogging, but I hope to do better next week.

I'll be going to Bouchercon in San Francisco in October and will be on a panel on Saturday, for those of you who'll be in the area. More on that later.

Oh, and if you're wondering about the engraving, it's of Covent Garden Theatre.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Eid Mubarak and Happy New Year


'Eid al-Fitr is one of two major holidays in Islam, the festival of the breaking of the month-long fast of Ramadan. For Muslims, it's a time for eating and drinking, visiting friends, giving presents, wearing new clothes, and visiting the graves of the dead. Think Christmas and Easter and All Saints Day, rolled into one. "Eid" is of course the holiday itself, while "mubarak" means "blessed." So, to all my Muslim friends, Eid Mubarak.

Coincidentally, this weekend is also Rosh Hashanah. So to all my Jewish friends, Happy New Year!


Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Dropping the Veil on Jumping the Shark


Remember when you were a kid and you heard words but didn't quite interpret them correctly? How you could happily sing, “My country, Tisovee”? Or think people get “Oldtimer’s Disease” when they start getting forgetful? Well, I have a confession to make: I did something similar with the expression “jumping the shark.” And I only just realized it.

After a bit of research, I’ve learned that the expression dates not to the time when the infamous Happy Days episode first ran in 1977, but to a decade later when (to quote Fred Fox, the poor guy who actually wrote the episode in question) “Jon Hein and his roommates at the University of Michigan were drinking beer and had Nick at Nite playing in the background. They started talking about classic TV shows when someone asked, ‘What was the precise moment you knew it was downhill for your favorite show?’ One said it was when Vicki came on board ‘The Love Boat.’ Another thought it was when the Great Gazoo appeared on ‘The Flintstones.’ Sean Connolly offered, ‘That's easy: It was when Fonzie jumped the shark.’ As Hein later recounted, there was silence in the room: ‘No explanation necessary, the phrase said it all.’ ”

Well, it just so happens that in 1987, I was living in the Middle East. In those pre-ubiquitous-Internet days, that meant I was effectively cut off from popular American culture. I then moved to Australia. I first ran across the expression sometime in the late 90s in a book on writing I’d checked out of my local Adelaide library. I’d never seen the original Happy Days episode (I was in Germany at the time that aired!), so the association didn’t click. But I did know a movie about sharks, so somehow I got the idea fixed in my head that “don’t jump the shark” was based on the suspense-building technique used in the movie Jaws and basically referred to the principle of increasing viewer tension by revealing the extent and nature of a threat gradually rather than letting readers see it clearly in its entirety from the get-go.

I didn’t realize my mistake until just a few weeks ago, when I read a blog post by John Connolly in which he wonders if he’s jumped the sharp with his latest book (verdict from Steve, who just finished it: no). And then, in that way these things have of happening, I ran across Fox’s article "First Person: In defense of 'Happy Days' ' 'Jump the Shark' episode" in the in the LA Times.

So now, in addition to chuckling over another instance of my oft-exposed ignorance of American culture from decades past, I am also left with a writing truism in need of a colorful descriptive expression. I guess I just need some college kids and a lot of beer.

For those of you who know Steve Malley and are wondering how he fared in the recent earthquake, he left this message on the previous post: "Hi Candy, just wanted to let you know that I'm all right. Conditions aren't too bad here-- having to boil our water is about the worst of it."