The Girl on the Train: the review

TgottGone Girl is one of those unrepeatable phenomenon that everyone wants to repeat. It was published in June 2012, and I’m pretty sure that it’s been in the top 20 ever since. (Only one other book has had greater of the social impact: Fifty Shades of Gray. And wow, do I have zero interest in discussing that book.) Everyone I know has read Gone Girl, and everyone I know has a really serious opinion on it. As opposed to most books, where people read them, and then forget about them.

The Girl On The Train is definitely being positioned as one of the heirs to Gone Girl. There is a reason it has the word Girl in the title.

Which is kind of unfortunate, because it’s a really good book on its own. It’s a thriller about a sadsack named Rachel, who rides the train into London every morning, and watches the people who live in one house at one of the train’s stops. She imagines this perfect, glamorous life for them, the kind she doesn’t have. As the book goes on, you realize that Rachel’s ex lives with his new wife in a house four houses down from the house of the “perfect couple” — a house he used to share with Rachel. One day Rachel sees something that troubles her about the status of the “perfect couple.” She sees a news story that the wife of the perfect couple has disappeared. And slowly you realize Rachel isn’t the most reliable narrator about what’s really going on.

The best thing about The Girl On The Train is that to tell you any more about it at this point is to completely spoil everything. The story weaves in elements from various narrators to give you a bigger picture of what was going on, and everyone definitely has a different idea of what’s going on.

Best of all, some of the things that bugged the hell out of me the most at the beginning turned out to be key elements that got explained later on.

I read the book in more or less one sitting (a cross-country flight) and it had absolutely no problem holding my interest. Definitely recommended.

The Fall: the review

Poster halfThe Atlantic posted an interesting, glowing article about “The Fall” (a BBC series airing on Netflix):

I can certainly sympathize with fatigue over the seemingly endless tally of dead women on television. It’s one reason I had to stop watching another popular BBC series, Luther, despite the excellent lead work of Idris Elba as the eponymous detective. You don’t have to be Gloria Steinem to find show after show in which women are objects—helpless victims, potential victims, sexual conquests, aggrieved spouses—stifling and a bit dull.

But the debate over The Fall’s first season obscured the show’s revolutionary treatment of women and the topic of sexual power. In fact, I haven’t seen another program that so directly challenges and rewrites the traditional conventions of crime dramas, starting with Anderson as DSI Stella Gibson, a highly-regarded London cop who gets called to Belfast because investigators there need her expertise on a murder case.

I recently binged through the entire show…after initially watching the first 5 minutes and saying, “No, no, not this again.” The show opens with a woman coming home and discovering that someone has clearly been in her house and is still watching her. I figured we were then going to be treated to the standard “terrorize her, attack her, then bring the cops in to begin a case” zig of so many serial killer shows.

Instead, the show zags: the killer is playing a longer game.

There is violence and I found the picture of Northern Ireland to be really interesting: the sectarian divide is really downplayed here. It’s mostly just standard middle-class people trying to live their lives.

And by the way…

SCREENWRITERS OF THE WORLD, FOR THE LOVE OF THE FSM, TAKE NOTE:

Gillian Anderson’s character IS as fantastic as the article suggests: she’s in control, she’s extremely good at what she does, and she isn’t a victim, either of the killer or of the men around her. I was afraid of the zig: we know she’s damaged because she has one night stands! Instead, we get another zag: she’s a professional on a long-term assignment away from home. That’s what happens. She doesn’t feel any more abused or sullied by this than your standard businessman would.

I wasn’t thrilled with the ending for Series 2: a little too American cop show for my tastes.

The major misstep for the show in my view was (spoiler): the serial killer really, really loves his little girl. The show talks about the spectrum of sociopathy, but this guy is damaged and views people as prey. That isn’t going to change just because one of them is his kid. I think the show was using it as a way to “humanize” the killer, and it really rang false to me.

If you’re looking for a crime show that veers away from the standard American cop show tropes (one reason I haven’t watched one in forever), definitely check out “The Fall.”

Living in the Bay Area

Often, when I’m chatting with a friend who lives somewhere else in the US (and by “chatting,” I mean, “using Messages to send IMs back and forth”), I’ll open Zillow or Trulia and check out what houses in their area are like. This is my version of multitasking.

(You know multitasking doesn’t really exist, right? When someone says they multitask, what I hear is, “I do several things at once, all of them badly and none of them with my full attention.” The single best thing our schools should be teaching kids these days is how to do one thing at a time.)

Anyhow, I plug in various combinations of numbers, to see how much $X would buy me in other areas of the country.

Damn.

Let me say again: dayum.

I don’t even understand the housing prices I see in Idaho or Texas or North Carolina. Are these for…complete houses? Are they all in war zones? Are housing prices in the San Francisco Bay Area really that out of whack?

Yes. Yes, they really, really are.

The median house price in my town is seven figures and we’re not living in mansions. Very few people around here are. What you buy in the San Francisco Bay Area is a tiny plot of land and they throw a house in for free. We spent money on a remodel that we will never get back, because we know we’re in this house until we move somewhere else for good, and we might as well enjoy the house while we’re in it.

My son told me one of his teachers has to get up at five-thirty every morning to get to school by eight. That’s not atypical: most of the teachers I’ve talked to drive between twenty and forty miles each day, each way. None of them get paid enough to live anywhere near where they work.

A friend of mine, who grew up in San Francisco and who lives there with her husband and kids, said that a house around the corner from hers went on the market. The house is both smaller and in more need of renovation than hers, and the asking price was four million dollars. She said she finally asked herself why she was fighting so hard to stay in San Francisco when she could get that kind of cash-out money.

The kind of pricing between the haves and the have-nots is unsustainable.

And yet: it’s not ending any time soon. It’s only going to get worse.

There are huge upsides to living in the Bay Area. The tech industry is here (and my husband likes working in it very much, thanks), the weather is amazing, the scenery is breathtaking, and everyone you meet is intelligent and highly educated. Also, Hawaii is relatively close.

But the traffic is out of control — a friend of mine lives eight miles from his job at Google and it’s several times faster for him to bike to work than to drive — and the drought isn’t ending any time soon. And everyone is on the make. I really did hear a guy at the table next to mine tell an interviewee, “Our plan is to get acquired.” (Which makes you wonder what they’re telling customers…actually, no, no, it doesn’t.)

I’ve thought about trying to come up with a story depicting the growing divide in this area. I’m trying to decide whether I can cover anything beyond what The Great Gatsby already did.

Happy New Year!

(Okay, I’m a few days late with this.)

Certain holidays and milestones during the year leave me completely unmoved (my birthday, for instance — for one thing, I have kids, and their birthdays are the important ones, and also I’m kind of done with the number on mine continually going up). Others, though, really make me stop and take a moment to reflect, enjoy, or just be.

Like: Christmas. I love Christmas. I completely celebrate Atheist Commercial American Christmas. If we renamed the whole thing “Yule” or “Winter Solstice” or “Midwinter Festival,” I would be okay with that, because my enjoyment of the holiday and how I celebrate it would remain unchanged. For me, Christmas is about getting together with friends and family, enjoying good food, and giving people things that let them know you’re thinking about them.

There is nothing not to like about a holiday that involves spending time with people you love and giving them things. Also: mulled apple cider.

I also really enjoy New Year’s, but not for any of the regular reasons. Not only do I not drink so very much any more, but I’ve always regarded New Year’s and St. Patrick’s Day as amateur hour — the nights of the year when I don’t want to be carousing and partying with random strangers.

New Year’s for me is a time to think about that a year that’s just passed, and the year to come, and how I want to define my life.

This year I had a really great omen to start the year with.

Amazon  1
To say that I am overwhelmed with gratitude that so many people were interested in my book is a complete understatement. It actually freaked me out for a while. But it’s exciting because I’ve heard from so many new readers, who told me how much they really enjoyed the book (and other books in the series). And that’s why I write these: because I think they’re fun stories that other readers would enjoy.

So thanks for stopping by and leave a note to say hi and I hope to hear from you in the coming year!

The Value of Art

Revolva is a vaudeville hula hoop performer. This is a pretty cool routine of her doing an act to “Single Ladies.”

(There’s an unfortunate splice in the video. Keep watching anyhow.)

Apparently Oprah–you’ve heard of her, she’s all about “Your Best Life Now”–is doing a tour called “The Life You Want,” which is one of these inspirational/self-actualization things. She has Deepak Chopra and Elizabeth Gilbert with her. It will probably be a hell of show–I know people who’ve gotten inspired to change their lives at things like this. Not that their lives were changed at that point, but they were inspired to get moving and enact change. Which is great.

Oprah’s people contacted Revolva about appearing at their Oakland show.

For free.

Not even expenses covered or a basic per diem.

No. They asked her to perform in exchange for no money whatsoever.

Revolva wrote about her responses to this “invitation.”

In one day, your arena tour (capacity around 18,000, each ticket $99 to $999) is raking in more money than most people will make in a year. In ten years. In their entire lives. And yet, your side stage, featuring local acts, is paying in that old tap-dancing, phantom promise of “exposure.”

Ah, that word.

Exposure.

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It takes exactly no time at all in Hollywood to run across people asking for your work for free. Seriously, go to a screenwriting bulletin board and see how many postings there are asking for free work “for the exposure.” For the opportunity of getting your foot in the door. Give a free option. Do a free draft…or fourteen.

Steven Pressfield (who is marvelous and wise) wrote about this phenomenon so eloquently in “Opportunities Are Bullshit”:

One way to look at it is through the prism of money. If someone wants you to do something and the remuneration is “exposure” or “opportunity” … you have answered your own question.

I know, I know. Sometimes you gotta get a seat at the table. I can tell you this: in the movie biz, I’ve given more free options than I can remember. How many have paid off?

I won’t answer except to say that the word has four letters, starts with a “z” and ends with an “o.”

Recently Taylor Swift pulled all of her music from Spotify, citing the low pay rates. Spotify threw some numbers back, including the oft-quoted “$6 million.” You know what that number is? How much Spotify estimates Swift would have made on their service this year. Not a guarantee. More of a number pulled out of their butt. And of course many people said, “How dare Taylor Swift take her music away so I can’t listen to it whenever I want? She should be happy she can find anyone to listen!”

Yeah. How dare Taylor Swift value her art, her creations.

Given that she’s just released what may be the last platinum album ever (platinum in the US: one million copies sold in one week), I suspect Swift may have good confidence in what she’s doing.

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The idea that some people actually have confidence that they are providing value is scary.

When you stand up and are seen, it’s very easy for people to throw potshots at you. (For example: any damn YouTube comment section. On second thought, don’t go look.) I’ve heard the phrase “tall poppy syndrome” (described eloquently on Wikipedia as “a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers”).

Much easier to hunch down, stay invisible, stay safe. Wait for someone to bestow upon to you some value, rather than see that value within yourself.

I can’t recommend the books The War Of Art and Turning Pro (both by the aforementioned Steven Pressfield) highly enough. The short answer is: when you’re ready to take the leap into being “pro,” you know, because it requires a mindset. It requires you to say, “What I am offering has value.” It requires you to be the expert.

When you’re an amateur, you constantly need feedback: is this good? Is this? Can you help me? Maybe if I take one more class…if I join one more group…

Becoming professional requires a gigantic mindset shift. When you’re professional–whether or not you are ever paid–you stand up and say, “This is what I’m doing, and it has value.” You’re not looking for validation: you have given yourself validation. You’re offering your stuff to the public and saying, “Here, you may like this.” When you’re working, you still need outside help, whether it’s a coach to reinforce your drive or an editor or a sound engineer or whatever. You’re just not looking to any of those people to solve your problems for you, you’re looking for them to add value to what you’re doing. You trust their judgement…and then you go on your merry way, incorporating what’s useful and disregarding the rest.

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Here’s another word for you: investment. When someone asks for something for free, they are investing exactly nothing in it. If I have a script I’ve optioned for $10,000 and one I’ve optioned for $0, which one am I going to put the effort into making sure gets sold?

Of course Oprah has found plenty of acts to work for her for free on her stage tour (the daily income of which, remember, is somewhere between $1.8m and $18m). There’s no investment by her tour operator in those acts, and I’m going to bet you dollars to doughnuts that attitude is going to come through to the audience. Why should they pay attention to the acts on the stage when clearly the people in charge think they’re not very important?

The only reason this keeps happening is that, as a society, we don’t value art, we don’t value artists, and we think they’re pretty damn arrogant to demand remuneration. Entertain me for free…or I’ll get other entertainment for free! Or I’ll take your stuff for free!

If there is quality entertainment or art or whatever that you like, invest with your dollars. Use your Netflix hours to watch the stuff–trust me, Netflix is taking extensive notes on what’s being watched, how often, where do you stop, etc. If there are authors you like on Amazon/iTunes/Kobo/wherever, buy their books. Trust me, Amazon is taking extensive notes on what’s being watched, how often, where do you stop, etc.

Even HBO is getting a little tired of the “sell to this many people, be watched by many, many more.” Because no one is going to invest in projects like Game of Thrones if they can’t make their money back. You aren’t owed Game of Thrones.

You get what you invest in. In your life, and in the art you enjoy.

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In case I haven’t been clear, Oprah asking artists to perform for free is shameful. That’s not what people living their best life do. They invest in having the best performance for the value for their audience.

Writers Police Academy

Wpa

I’m back from the completely amazing 2014 edition of the Writers Police Academy, held in Greensboro, North Carolina. It’s a conference started by former cop (and writer) Lee Lofland to put crime writers and law enforcement personnel to discuss real-life policing topics. I first heard about it a year or two ago and checked the page much too late this January to sign up, but then there was an unexpected cancellation three weeks ago and I pounced on it.

The Writers Police Academy three and a half days of non-stop (literally: on the days when we went to the police college for classes, we got on buses at 7:30am and finished for the day at 9, 10, or later). There’s a ton of info and things to do.

The kind of demonstrations they do? Showing us what “blowing open a door using explosives” actually looks (and sounds and smells) like.

Door

Among the workshops that I didn’t get to do were: the Emergency Vehicle ride-along, the building search (complete with Bad Guys ready to shoot you), the shootout simulator (apparently everyone killed the hostage, their partner, or bystanders doing this), and underwater evidence recovery.

We heard from police chiefs (like Scott Silverii, from Thibodaux, Louisiana) and a former Secret Service agent and a former ATF agent from (of all places) Harlan county, Kentucky. Lisa Gardner did a talk, as did Alafair Burke, who gave us a very quick overview of the Fourth Amendment*. Sessions on firearms, why cops go bad, how autopsies are performed. There was a ton of discussion about Ferguson and where policing needs to go in this country. I don’t think any topics were off the table.

The Special Guest was Michael Connelly, which was very cool. When I spoke to him while getting my book autographed, I told him I’d attended the interview series he’d been part of in Los Angeles, where he interviewed David Guterson. He got this blank look on his face (since I was clearly dragging up ancient history) and said, “Wow. The Writers Bloc series? Without a K?”

Connelly

The absolute best part of the conference was of course meeting other authors, who are at all stages of their careers. Really successful authors, people just starting, people somewhere in between.

The rumor is that WPA is moving to a larger location next year, because it is clearly bursting at the seams. There are several repeat attendees, and every single person I talked to wants to go again.

I am definitely going again. This was one of the best writing-related experiences I’ve ever had.

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*I asked Burke a question at the cocktail party later: “If the police get a warrant for my cell phone and I refuse to give them the password, am I covered by my Fifth Amendment rights?” She said, Nope, the suspect can be compelled to give up their cell phone password.

I have really got to find out more about this, because this sounds crazy as hell. Hello, Fifth Amendment. Anybody have any references?

The Sound Of Footsteps

The Sound Of Footsteps

I’ve added a prequel novella to Drusilla’s series — and it’s free, FREE, FREE everywhere e-books are sold (provided those places are Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble).

What were Drusilla and Stevie doing before they ever made it to Las Vegas, let alone Los Angeles? Well, for a while, they were in Texas. Then they got the hell out of Texas. And this book tells why.

Amazon | iTunes | Kobo | Barnes and Noble | Google Play

Everybody Takes The Money

Woot, woot! It’s here, my new book: Everybody Takes The Money.

Everybody Takes The Money 300w

Drusilla Thorne and her sister Stevie return, and Drusilla is having just as much difficulty staying out of trouble as she did last time:

When Drusilla Thorne goes along with her friend to an interview of reality TV star Courtney Cleary, she’s expecting an easy afternoon. Instead, Courtney’s shady boyfriend Roger attacks Drusilla, landing her in the hospital. And he claims she assaulted him.

Then Courtney disappears. Since she’s the one person who can corroborate the truth about the assault, Drusilla tracks her down. But as soon as Drusilla finds her, the TV star is murdered right in front of her. And even though she didn’t see the killer, the killer clearly saw her.

Now Drusilla has to track the murderer down, clear her name, and stay alive in the meantime.

She can’t wait to find out the rest of the week has in store for her.

For the first week the e-book has a promo price of 99 cents!

Amazon | iTunes | Kobo | Barnes and Noble

From today’s writing

Stevie had never been to Anne’s house in the Beachwood Canyon area before. For one thing, we lived near the Pacific Ocean, and Anne lived near 101. In terms of Los Angeles geography, this was not unlike us living in separate states. Also, Stevie had little need to visit Anne. She was my friend, not Stevie’s.

I drove up Beachwood Canyon, as I had many times after getting together with Anne, and autopilot took over, the way it does when you’re doing something for the forty-first hundred time. It took me a while to notice that my sister had launched forward in her seat and was staring rapturously out the windshield.

“What’s wrong?” I said.

She pointed before turning to me, the sweetest smile on her face. “The Hollywood sign,” she said.

I’d already gotten jaded about seeing it. “Yeah, Anne lives right under it.”

She giggled nervously. “There it is.” Her voice was breathy.

At that moment I was slammed with the realization that we’d been living in Los Angeles for two months and I hadn’t yet taken her to see the Hollywood sign. My sister loves television and movies to an unholy degree. Over the past decade watching TV and movies has been her main way of dealing with humanity. And yet here we were, in the center of the galaxy for TV and movies and I’d never taken her to see the archetypal symbol for the entire industry.

I also hadn’t taken her on any studio tours, to any of the theme parks, or to an actual film set.

I had, however, gotten us free room and board with an Oscar-winning film star. That had to score me some points in Stevie’s book.

Well, I could live in hope, I suppose.