Thursday, September 11, 2008

Another New Series!

I have TWO new series coming out over the next two years: Secondhand Spirits (the first in the Witchcraft Mystery series) and If Walls Could Talk (the first of the Sophie Tanner House-Flipping Mysteries). Both will be released under Penguin’s Obsidian label, and under the new pseudonym, Juliet Blackwell.

Secondhand Spirits
will be released next summer (July, 2009). This is the first in a new paranormal mystery about a misfit witch, Lily Ivory, who runs a vintage clothing store in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco:

It wasn’t easy growing up as a (super)natural witch in a small Texas town. The other children, the teachers, even my own mother was afraid of me. If it hadn’t been for my grandmother Graciela, herself a talented midwife and witch who taught me to harness my considerable powers, I wouldn’t have known a moment of tenderness. One of the many curses my status bestowed is a near-perfect memory, and I could recall every alienating episode, every isolating incident, of my thirty-one years.

I hoped to put an end to feeling like a perpetual outsider by settling down and opening my vintage clothing shop on Haight Street. After years spent traveling the world, I landed in San Francisco a month ago and discovered so many beloved local lunatics and cherished iconoclasts in this open-minded metropolis that I fit in quite nicely. Or at least I hoped to. Picking a fight with a child-stealing demon might make that more difficult.

My other new series features an anthropologist-turned-general contractor, Sophie Tanner, who “flips” historic houses in the San Francisco Bay Area. If Walls Could Talk, the first in the new series, will be released in 2010, and a second book in the series will come out in 2011. Sophie is a slightest older, wiser, and more jaded heroine:

Shortly after my thirty-fifth birthday I had come to the conclusion that, in general, people seemed kinder, more intelligent, and more interesting when you couldn’t actually comprehend what they were saying.

Here was my plan: I would move to Paris and crawl into an obscure, anonymous pied a terre to indulge myself in licking the still-tender wounds from my divorce. From time to time I would emerge to eat my fill of glace de cerises, stroll along the Champs de L’Eysees, loiter in the galleries of the Louvre, and maybe even take some handsome, monolingual French man as a lover. But otherwise I would return to my Left Bank refuge to continue my exquisitely solitary pity-party. With the money I received from my divorce, this kind of behavior could go on for years.

Here was the problem: my recently widowed father tricked me into staying “for a few months” to help him out with his construction business. That was four years ago. I was still trying to get to Paris, but I kept getting talked into “flipping” just one more historic home.

I love old houses with the kind of passion some women reserve for bad men: you know the effort’s probably not worth it, and yet there’s an irresistible belief that with enough sweat, tears, and devotion you’ll be able to fix them. Thing is, with buildings, you’ve got a shot. As far as men went…well, that’s another story altogether.

Since both new series will be published under the Juliet Blackwell moniker, I’ll be setting up a new website and blog. Please do check in, though, to see what’s new with Annie Kincaid and the gang, and to follow links from one site to the other.

Again, I love to get mail and I respond to every letter I receive. Write me at with questions, comments, or to be put on my mailing list (I’ll never add you to that list unless you give me permission!)

Friday, August 29, 2008

What's in a name?

Juliet Blackwell is the pen-name I'm using for my new Witchcraft series (Secondhand Spirits, the first book in the series, will be released July 2009).

So, what's in a name, and why do I keep changing mine?

I wrote the Art Lover's Mystery series together with my sister, Carolyn. We wanted the books to read with a single voice, and thus decided to put a single name on the cover. Hailey Lind is a pseudonym my sister and I came up with over a three-hour phone conversation (she lives in Virginia, I'm in California). I swear, it was more difficult to decide on a name than it was to write the *$%#@) book in the first place! Lind is my middle name, and an old family name on our father's side (ever hear of Jenny Lind?). Hailey comes from my mother's side of the family.

But I'm writing the new series solo, and wanted to come up with a new moniker. It's taken me a while to get used to answering to Hailey (which I now do, so feel free to call me by any name when you see me!) and I thought it would be too much for my wee brain to introduce yet another first name. Juliet seemed slightly more formal than Julie, my real name...and I figured I'd be able to remember it even after a couple of drinks in the bar at the convention hotel.

The last name was harder. I ran through lots of options, but as I was researching the history of witchcraft, I came upon the story of Elizabeth Blackwell. Elizabeth was the first real-life, official, female doctor, graduating with an M.D. in 1849.
"Her application to Geneva Medical School (now Hobart & William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York) was referred to the student body. They accepted with great hilarity in the belief that it was a spoof perpetrated by a rival school." --National Women's Hall of Fame

The joke was on them, as their first woman student quickly outstripped all the young men in her class. Blackwell was by all accounts a remarkable woman, who went on to found her own infirmary (at one point working with Florence Nightingale) and then to establish a Medical College for Women.

And what, may you ask, made me think of female doctors while researching witchcraft? Historically, many women accused of witchcraft have been traditional healers with a vast inherited knowledge regarding herbs and botanicals, bone-setting, and what we now think of as psychological problems. It was precisely this kind of knowledge and ability that made them frightening to certain sectors of society...and during times of social change and upheaval, many of these women healers have been vilified, accused of being in league with the Devil, cast out of their homes, tortured, and killed.

As fun as it is to write about a witch, the history of the theme becomes very sobering, very fast.

Anyway, I chose the pseudonym of Blackwell as an homage to, it's just a great name. And so Juliet Blackwell was born!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Guest Blogger: Margaret Grace, author of the Dollhouse Miniature Series

(A word from Hailey: This is my first guest blogger! A wonderful author, gifted scientist, and good friend, Margaret Grace is the author of the Miniature Murder series from Berkley Prime Crime, including Murder in Miniature and the new Mayhem in Miniature, coming out August 5. Check out these ideas from a master miniaturist!)

Double Strangeness

Here's what a good friend sent me as a birthday present—a pile of junk. She knows me so well!

Crafters are strange people.

I've trained many of my friends and relatives to save their bottle tops, pill containers, small pieces of, well, anything.

In the lower left hand corner of the first photo is a piece of bubbly plastic that covered a layer in a box of chocolates. It will be transformed into a mat for the floor of a dollhouse shower.

The wooden container next to it is an old stamp holder; the plastic cup in back of the dime is the cap of a liquid cold medicine bottle; the white plastic "table" is a pizza order staple, keeping the cover off the cheese. You'll see how I used them in the second photo, for different scales of room boxes or dollhouses.

The small cylinder is one of those ubiquitous moisture absorbers that come with nearly every mail order package. I'll print out food labels from the 'net, shrink to size, and wrap dozens of these cylinders for use in a miniature kitchen or grocery store. The green sheet is actually sandpaper (it comes in all colors these days!) that will be used as a lawn in an outdoor scene.

In the second photo you can see the stamp holder being used as a small coffee table; the plastic cup is a wastebasket; and the pizza keeper is a bistro table, made by removing the plastic legs and gluing on a twisted wire base. I've also added a contact paper top to it. The chair is more wire, twisted to shape; its seat is a bottle cap.

Crafts are like that. They start from "junk," like pieces of yarn or tangled necklaces, and get worked into a coherent piece of art. Hopefully.

For me, writing is like that, too. A mystery novel starts with odd pieces that eventually get shaped into a story. It can be an unusual name that strikes my fancy, an interesting interaction in a coffee shop, a view from a hotel window, or a job that no one thinks much about, like bagging in a supermarket.

Oh, the arm? It's from a broken doll. Or did I pull it off myself while building a miniature crime scene?

Mystery writers can be strange, too.

For more miniature scenes by Margaret Grace, visit

Friday, July 11, 2008

Out with the old, in with the new: A New Series!

Should I change the name of my blog???

I've got a new contract for a new series!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, books 4, 5, and 6 of the Annie Kincaid Art Lover's Mystery Series will not be coming out anytime soon. (This despite the fact that Feint of Art was nominated for an Agatha for Best First Novel, and is being translated into Japanese even as we speak... what can I say? Publishing is a cutthroat business these days.)

Believe me, I'm sad about it...Book 4, Arsenic and Old Paint involves a mystery at an exclusive men's club, tunnels under Chinatown, and a secret collection of paintings...not to mention lots of progress on the Annie/Michael/Frank romantic triangle. It's way too much fun not to publish!

In any case, the Art Lover's Mystery series is on haitus for the near future. We may find another publisher, or Signet may relent and continue the series at a later date. For now, the books are still available and in print, so if you're a fan please remember they make great presents for Mother's Day...and Father's Day and Groundhog Day and Christmas!

About the new series: Secondhand Spirits features a woman, Lily Ivory, who owns a vintage clothing store, Aunt Cora's Closet, in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco...and who just happens to be a witch. And no ordinary witch, at that. For one thing, her familiar is a shape-shifting gargoyle marquerading as a miniature Vietnamese Pot-Bellied pig. For another, Lily attracts demons and spirits like flies to honey, even though all she wants is to finally settle down, run her vintage clothing store, and develop normal human friendships...and maybe even find a man. Too bad the most interesting guys around are an arrogant male witch on the one hand, and a dedicated "mythbuster" on the other.

The new series is a bit of a departure from the world of art forgery. But I've had so much fun writing it, I hope even those of you who don't normally venture into the paranormal might give it a try! Beyond the fun San Francisco setting, the beguiling mystery, and the engaging characters, I get to delve into the history of witchcraft, the study of botanicals and herbs, the history of healing...and plenty of fascinating tales of contemporary folks who call themselves as witches. It's a truly captivating world of its own.

Secondhand Spirits will be coming out July 2009, under the pseudonym Juliet Blackwell. I'll be writing more about the pseudonym, and what's in a name, very soon. So please do check back!

My latest portrait

Keeping up with my blog isn't the only thing that takes a while...gee, I'm sensing a pattern here. Could it just be that I'm habitually late? I arrive on time to dinner...

In any case, last summer/fall we ran a portrait contest in conjunction with the release of Brush with Death, the third in the Annie Kincaid Art Lover's Mystery Series. Linda Adams, of Virginia, won and decided she wanted a painting of her grandmother in the style of Monet. In the above picture, peeking out to her left you can see the black and white copy of an old photo portrait of her grandmother, Della (known as Dick). Doesn't she seem like someone you'd like to know?

Don't Blink....

Most of the time I'm a true Oakland type, listening to a funky blend of classic 60s rock, reggae, newer pop folks like Macy Gray and Ozomatli, and even venture into a little hip-hop with M n' M, Kanye West and the Black-Eyed Peas.

But there's one time of the year that only country music will do: when I make my annual trek to the Siskiyou mountains in Northern California, up near the Oregon border. That's when I switch on the local country station and catch up on what's up in country music. One thing I love about country songs is that they tell stories; another thing is that the stations play them so repetitively that I am able to learn the entire current repertoire by the end of the first weekend, enabling me to croon along with them for the rest of the trip.

There's one song I kept hearing that seems particularly appropriate to this time in my life: Don't Blink. The song is about the advice of a 100-year-old man, who tells all that you blink and your childhood's over, then your children's childhood, then your own life...because "100 years goes faster than you think. Don't blink."

Lately I'm trying to keep my eyes wide open, because time does, indeed, seem to be slipping by with alarming speed.

Those of you out there who happen to stumble upon this blog (or wait breathlessly for the next instalment, never sure what will be said or when it will be said...) have probably noticed that --once again! -- I have let a good deal of time lapse between posts.

Why, one might wonder, does a writer have such a danged problem with...ahem...sitting down and writing?

When I was a kid I would start a new journal every New Year, positive that this year was the year when I would begin my deep emotional journey--a journey which I would duly note in scrawled volumes which were destined to be published one day, after I had become the world's greatest surgeon/actress/ veterinarian. Of course, I never actually studied medicine/acting/veterinary science, so the road was decidedly less sure for me than for many others. But I suppose it's just as well, since, after all, I never made it past February in those diaries. Years ago my mother presented me with an entire cardboard box full of old diaries with only the first ten pages written upon. Given the content of those pages, however, it was a blessing for all concerned that I never continued. My early life with a loving family in a ranch-style tract house in the Cupertino suburbs was safe and wonderful for a young child, but not a circumstance that would encourage a rich emotional inner life that needs to be set down for posterity on the pages of a journal.

I do have a rich emotional inner (and outer) life, now, however, which has become the stumbling block. I'm just so danged busy all the time, if not physically, then emotionally. I admire people who seem able to do it all, and get their car washed.

But I keep forgetting not to blink.

I looked at my calender to find some reasons I haven't written:

My 16-year-old son (do you remember being 16? I do. I empathize. Still, I find myself yelling a lot, and under any kind of normal circumstances I'm not a yeller.)

Personal paperwork.

Business paperwork.

Open Studios (big local art event in which we artists throw open our studios so people can wander through and, we hope, buy stuff. It requires a lot of cleaning.)

My dog. (No, I'm not still in deep mourning for my dog. But she was a truly great dog, and a member of the family, and I still hear the "click click click" of her nails on the hard wood floor at five in the morning, expecting in my sleepy state to see her coming into my study to curl up on the rug as I write.)

My 16-year-old son.

Paying bills.

Painting for money (this is connected to the last one--that pesky rent).

Painting for fun (very occasionally)

Being president of NorCal Sisters in Crime (because I didn't have enough to do)

Sick and elderly parents who live two states away.

Checking in with/visiting those parents.

My 16-year-old son (did I mention that he's 16?)

Oh yeah...and landing a new contract for a book series from Signet! (More on this in the next post)

So once again, for those of you who check in from time to time, I apologize! I am pond scum. I'm the scum that feeds off of pond scum. I'm a lazy blogger.

And I keep forgetting not to blink.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Ode to a Good Dog


Thirteen years ago, when my son was three years old and I was a single mother who had recently moved across the country and was trying to get my art business off the ground, I decided I needed to further complicate my life.

My housemate, son, and I went to the Berkeley Humane Society, “just to see.”

Since my son was still a pup himself, I wanted him to grow up with a littermate. There were two puppies at the Human Society that day: a darling silky black collie-mix with a white chest and a jaunty air; and a curly brown dog with long lanky legs, curled up shivering in a corner. The black pup already had two admirers, but the brown dog, I was told, was the last (read: “runt”) of a litter of five puppies that were left at night on the steps of the Human Society. She was labeled as “some sort of lab mix” (I was later told that at the pound, every dog is either a “lab mix”, “collie mix,” or “shepherd mix”); and they gave her an approximate age of six weeks.

She was trembling and wild-eyed like a junkie on the second day of rehab. We fell in love.

We named her Sam after my son’s favorite book at the time, Sam-I-Am. Throughout her life people would assume her full name was Samantha, but she was really plain old Sam.

She didn’t stop trembling for two days…but she started to eat. And eat. And to grow at an astonishing, worrying rate. We had been told that Sam would be about thirty-five pounds at full maturity; at this rate, she’d turn out to be more on the scale of a Great Dane. Our bungalow was 900 square feet, with a postage-stamp-sized yard. We lived in fear.

Most days we took her to the nearby park, where a number of neighborhood dog owners gathered in the evenings to let their dogs run. Like most dogs, Sammy loved to run. She ran with wild abandon, silky wavy brown ears flopping over her velvety head, long pink tongue lolling to the side. Soon a pack of adult dogs started running behind her, chasing her around the field not in anger, but joy. And lust. Sammy was in heat.

Apparently, Sam and her siblings had been starved over a long period of time. She wasn’t six weeks old, she was six months. Her remarkable growth rate was more a catch-up than an indication of things to come. Though she grew to about fifty pounds, at least she wasn’t the horse we’d feared she’d become in those first months.

However, she never lost her love, her adoration, her deep personal longing and desire for food. Any kind of food, with the possible exception of certain vegetables and unbuttered popcorn. She loved her people, sure, but food…she had something of a doggy eating disorder.

She adored children, especially my son and his friends, because she soon learned that little boys drop crumbs with alacrity. Any possible nutritional source that hit the floor was gone. Anything left on the coffee table was gone. And once or twice, particularly tempting items –like an entire barbecued chicken—left on the table or kitchen counter…gone. Food.

Sam’s coat was a deep chocolaty brown everywhere but her white chest, and a white bullseye right under her tail. One of her nicknames was “brown dog”; she was, indeed, very brown. As she aged, she stayed curly on top but grew out long feathers on her tail and haunches, like an Irish Setter. On walks people constantly stopped and asked, “what kind of dog is that?” Some guessed Chesapeake Bay Spaniel mix; some guessed Chocolate Lab mix. As time went on, I cast my vote with “some sore of Irish Setter mix”, not only because of her longish snout and flamboyant feathers, but because she was dumb. I mean really dumb. Not a whole lot going on upstairs.

I’ve loved mutts my whole life, and they’ve always been so smart that I assumed the mixing of the breeds naturally resulted in intelligent animals. But Sam proved that theory false. She was an elegant-looking, sweet tempered, dim bulb. She would lie down, long legs pointed out regally in front of her, head held proudly aloft, and look as though she should be featured in an oil painting hung with pride of place above the mantel of an English manor. Then you would call her name and her head would loll toward you, her soft brown eyes looking up with adoration and…nothing much else. Food?

At one point a very clever dog from across the street, Max, showed Sam how to break out of our fenced yard. The two would trot happily about the neighborhood, until Max-the-escape-artist would break back into his house for dinner. Sam, though, couldn’t find her way back into the yard. We’d find her sitting on the front porch, waiting to be let in, and watching squirrels.

She may have been missing a few intelligence genes, but she got more than her fair share of personality. To be kind, she was quirky; weird might be closer to the truth. She wasn’t particularly dog-like. She hated riding in cars. She couldn’t see the point of running after balls. Frisbees were dull. She’d pull on a toy with you if you insisted, but once you dropped it, she dropped it. By and large she disdained other dogs, and though she was friendly enough the truth was that she didn’t care that much for people, either.

However, she was devastatingly, fanatically attracted to squirrels. We moved into a house with a huge yard and she was in canine heaven. She was capable of sitting at the base of a tree for hours, talking to a squirrel, tracking its movements with her eyes, occasionally trying to climb the tree herself. Squirrel! Her whimpers and whines broke out into ear-piercing shrills from time to time when she could no longer keep the excitement to herself.

She would bark fanatically when her people arrived home, for to her barking was a form of discussion. She’d hop around, still barking, and then run the other way, ostensibly to show you she was on the job, patrolling the perimeter of her territory. If you danced, or sang, or had a loud discussion, or ran, or wrestled in a playful way, she would bounce around you stiff-legged, and bark. She barked at friends and neighbors as well as the postal carrier and the UPS guy and the prowler. Few could tell her friendly bark from her fierce bark – all of which were surprisingly shrill and high-pitched for a dog of her girth.

She had one special bark particularly beloved by the neighbors: the “rooster crow”. She let out a bark that sounded exactly like a rooster crowing, usually signaling that someone was at the gate or – even worse—the front door. God forbid anyone ring the doorbell. Later she used “single bark” whenever she wanted to be let in from outside. Short and sweet, rather polite, she would let out one, single, distinct bark. Hello? If you didn’t open the door, she’d wait exactly four minutes. Another bark. Hi? Four minutes later, another bark in exactly the same tone. Let me in! She was relentless.

Another dear love was cats. I know a lot of dogs chase cats, but Sam loved cats. She loved chasing them, but she also loved just sitting and watching them. Her lifelong desire was to be able to lick a cat without it squirming away. She had an unrequited love affair with Midgie, a black and white cat from next door. She yearned for Midgie; if she would have been able, she would have written poems to Midgie. She would sit and look through the metal gate at Midgie for hours, leaving only to ride herd on squirrels. Cat.

Our next-door neighbors, Midgie’s humans, were board members of our local SPCA. I’m sure that’s why Sammy lived as long as she did. Their house was like Sam’s Funhouse. They often left their front door open, and if Sam was out of the gate she’d trot right inside, eat the cat food that was just lying there, unguarded, obviously they didn’t want it, and it was sooooooo good. Then she would chase the cats –for Midgie was one of several—up the stairs and down the stairs, through bedrooms and living rooms. One must understand that when fifty pounds of brownness is barreling through one’s home, things get broken. Food. Cat.

As she aged, her brownness mellowed, and even ceded to white in spots. Eventually her whole muzzle and her expressive, elastic eyebrows were snowy-white. She stopped chasing squirrels, and toward the end, even stopped barking. But she never lost her love for food. Laying on her side, not enough energy even to rouse herself, she was still happy to eat the expensive steak we fed her. To the bitter end, the old gal was fond of a good meal. Or three. She never stopped eating. Food.

Who says no one reads anymore? Check out the LA Times Festival of Books!

I recently came back from my third L.A. Times Festival of Books, held on the beautiful UCLA campus.

It's a hard scene to describe. Tens of thousands --some say hundreds of thousands--of people from all over the country descend upon the main UCLA campus, where hundreds of tents are set up featuring all things book related: publishers (both large and small presses), authors of all stripes, reading paraphernalia, and books: children's books, travel books, art books, coffee-table books, romance books, literary books, research books...and, of course, mysteries!

It was very, very hot...but the readers and fans came, undaunted.

Here I am, looking about as hot and sweaty as I felt (and I don't mean that in a "she's soooo hot" kind of way...!) Many thanks to Mark Coggins for the photo...why do I NEVER remember to bring a camera?
I signed all three of my books, Feint of Art, Shooting Gallery, and Brush with Death, at several booths: Mysterious Galaxy, Book 'Em, and LA Sisters in Crime. I also sat the Mystery Writers' of America table at the LA Mystery Bookstore, where I was quite literally shoulder-to-shoulder with the charming Catherine Coulter.

All in all, it was an inspiring, though sweaty, weekend. Wonderful to be around all those lovers of the written word in its myriad forms. And we even got out of Westwood for an evening, traveling to Koreatown to eat many kinds of meat cooked at our table. It was great fun...especially the
Soju (otherwise known as Korean saki).

The festival takes place every spring around this time. If you're around next year, I'll see you there!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Sloth resting in Phoenix

Karen Thompson, of Archetile, her husband Tom, and I went down to Phoenix to install Sloth, at long last, in her garden. Below are a few shots of her temporary resting spot...she may well have to move when the other sins are complete.


Medusa is a fascinating figure. In Greek mythology, she was a beautiful woman who was ravished by Poseidon, which enraged Athena. The goddess transformed her into a monstrous woman and replaced her fine locks with snakes. It was said that she was beheaded by Perseus, who then used her head as a weapon, for anyone who gazed upon her would turn to stone.

Medusa, by Caravaggio

Typically depicted as a horrific vistage crowned with snakes, recently some have re-interpreted Medusa as a strong, fierce woman. I was commissioned to paint a portait of her to be used as a logo for the Memoir Journal.

That's her up in the left-hand corner. In this version, she seems quite serene despite all those snakes where her hair should be.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Spring begins...and brings the Popular Culture Association to San Francisco!

(At left: Phoenix in two guises. A gorgeous natural setting...and what we've done to it. Hmm.)
I just returned from Phoenix, where I installed Sloth (see earlier posting about the first of the seven deadly sins) for a wealthy client. She looks lovely lounging by a fountain...I'll post pictures soon. Phoenix was warm and breezy, and our hotel had FOUR pools, plus what they claim to be the biggest jacuzzi in Arizona. I don't care much for golfing or driving around in air conditioned cars, but I do love swimming!

But now I'm off to speak at the Popular Culture Association along with Simon Wood and Mark Coggins. This time the conference is at the San Francisco Marriott on Fourth Street.

Above: the Art Deco-inspired facade of the San Francisco Marriott
Simon, Mark and I will be chatting about mysteries...after all, what could be more popular? If you happen to be in the area Friday, March 21, at 8:30, look for us on stage...or in the bar!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Off to Left Coast Crime!

I'm off to Left Coast Crime, a great mystery convention, held this year in Denver.

I've only been in Denver once, and that was passing through as I went to an anthropology conference in Boulder, years and years ago (another lifetime....)
This time I look forward to the Tequila bus tour of famous Denver murders, led by the invincible Mario Acevedo. I've got my salt shaker ready, Mario...

(Mario writes vampire novels...can you tell?)

On Saturday morning, early (8:30, which will be 7:30 to us West Coasters--someone bring Peet's coffee!!!) I'll be on a panel entitled "Kick Ass Women on a Mission," along with Nancy Pickard, Carolyn Hart, and Roberta Isleib. I always wanted to be thought of as a "Kick-Ass Woman"! (Apparently this is in reference to our heading up local and national chapters of Sisters in Crime, but I like to think I give off that vibe anyway.)

So if you happen to be near Denver...stop on by!!!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Sisters in Crime

Did I mention that I was elected President (that's Madame, if you please...or Goddess, if you prefer...) of Sisters in Crime Northern California Chapter?

Since no one actually ran against me, there wasn’t a whole lot of tension surrounding the election results--nothing quite so dramatic as the Clinton vs. Obama match. Nonetheless, it was exhilarating to receive an actual vote or two.

Sisters in Crime, for the unitiated, is a national organization whose stated mission is:

"To combat discrimination against women in the mystery field, educate publishers and the general public as to inequities in the treatment of female authors, raise the level of awareness of their contributions to the field, and promote the professional advancement of women who write mysteries."

My first book, Feint of Art, was published just two years ago last month (though it seems much, much longer ago). Since then, I’ve learned a great deal about the publishing business and the craft of writing; attended professional conferences from Arlington to Boise to Anchorage; spoken at libraries and schools and bookstores and mausoleums; and launched two more books in my series (Shooting Gallery; Brush with Death). All of this was done with the generous advice, friendship and support of my fellow mystery writers.

Few writing genres can boast such open camaraderie as the mystery field. I hope to build on that openness in the coming year. NorCal Sisters in Crime has a wonderful, newly energized Board of Directors busily working on the 2008 schedule, which includes meetings the first Saturday of each month. Upcoming events include a talk –and possible face-to-face pitch sessions—with a San Francisco-based literary agent; a luncheon-discussion with a publicist-turned literary agent; and presentations by a retired homicide detective, a 911 director, and private investigators. We’re also talking about possible trips to Alcatraz and the Winchester Mystery House, and workshops on how to write a great query letter and develop an agent packet.

Sisters in Crime is open to everyone from the most established published author to the newest mystery fan. That diversity of membership offers certain challenges, but also great strength and interest. While continuing to offer published authors professional opportunities through our Speakers Bureau, in 2008 NorCal SinC looks forward to offering more constructive events for not-yet-published writers, as well as mixers and presentations of interest to readers and fans of the genre.

If you find yourself in the San Francisco Bay Area on the first Saturday of the month -- Join us!!!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Big Art Heists: What do they do with the art that they steal?

A couple of weeks ago there was a big art heist in a private museum in Zurich, Switzerland. Three gunmen in ski masks and dark clothes burst into a museum just before closing time, yanked a few paintings off he walls, and sped off with works by Monet, Cezanne, Degas and van Gogh valued at $163.2 million.

Check out the full story here:
But people keep saying that such big art heists don’t make any sense: after all, the robberies are reported so widely and the artworks are so well known that they can’t be sold, even on the black market, right?

(Above: Stolen Monet)
Why do people bother to steal highly recognizable artworks? Are they just stupid amateurs?

Sometimes they are. Unfortunately, most art collections aren’t exactly rolling in the dough, and few can afford the kind of high-tech security systems featured in movies like “The Thomas Crown Affair” (I liked the one with Steve McQueen best, myself…) In fact, lax security probably explains a whole lot of theft, which is often perpetrated on the spur of the moment. Ultimately, most of these artworks are found by the police, left in bus stations to be “discovered”, or destroyed by the thieves when they realize they have no idea how to sell them.

But they’re not all amateurs…

Here are a few reasons to steal big-name art:

Paintings are “ransomed” back to the insurance company for less than the total insurance payment. Thus you might steal $163 million dollars worth of virtually un-saleable paintings and get a few million from the insurance company to give them back. This type of story is kept under wraps. Typically one reads that the police received an anonymous tip to the location of the paintings; the insurance pay-offs are kept mum.

Paintings are occasionally stolen by order. This seems to be a motivation more common in Hollywood than in real life, but the truth is that museum security is sometimes shockingly lax, and a big-name underworld figure might increase his/her status by owning a notoriously stolen work of art. Or maybe they’re huge Cezanne fans…one never knows.

Perhaps the most typical reason, recently, is to be used as “chips” in drugs/arms smuggling deals. Art crime is now the third most common international crime, and is often linked with organized crime (called “criminal enterprise”). Once an item is stolen, headlines proclaim its worth. Thus criminals have a number to start with: they can use the painting as a “chip” to hold while awaiting payment on drugs, arms, or other smuggled merchandise.

(Above: Stolen Cezanne)

For lots more info on theft and forgery in the art field -- or to offer them a lead if you have any about lost or stolen art-- check out the great website of The FBI Art Squad --

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Portraits are my favorite thing to paint. To be able to capture a sense of personality and mood on canvas is miraculous...and I've never quite succeeded to my satisfaction. But isn't that part of the definition of art -- always striving for better? I adore the work of masters like Caravaggio and Bronzino...but I'll never come near them in terms of skill or beauty. Ah, well...

Ok, I'm not dead yet!

Hello to any and all my blog readers out there! One really distressing thing about these blog posts is that they are automatically dated, so everyone can see exactly how long it has been since I last posted anything on my blog. Doh! Mental slap on this writer's wrist. Somehow life managed to intervene...first the holidays, then a few family health issues, then a busy painting season.

But now I'm back, pledging to at least check in with some frequency.

First things first: The fourth instalment of the Art Lover's Mystery Series (featuring our intrepid heroine, Annie Kincaid) has been put on hold...temporarily. Arsenic and Old Paint, as it is tentatively titled, is nearly complete, but you'll have to wait to see exactly who Annie will wind up with, and how. Not to mention all those goodies about art forgery, art theft, and the wild and wacky art world in general.

In the meantime, I'm busily writing a new series about a failed anthropologist running her father's exclusive home remodel business in San Francisco. Sophie Tanner, is a little older and --probably--a bit wiser than Annie, but still a whole lot of fun. It's a blast getting to create a whole new cast of characters: a 16-year-old ex-stepson who won't go away, an ex-husband on his third wife, a curmedgeonly but loving dad, two unrepentant strippers, and several anthropologists and historians who get in on the act. I'll keep you posted about If Walls Could Talk, maybe even post a teaser now and then...

I'll post again soon...and this time, it's a promise!