When is a series over?

check out my blog post on this subject over at Murderati.

And for my UK friends, who wonder what a Maine snowstorm looks like, here was the view at my house yesterday:

We lost power (along with about 130,000 other Maine households) and sat in a dark, cold house for about 12 hours. The worst part? We’re on a well, and with no power, we can’t pump water into the house. I’m so happy to be able to turn on a faucet again!

photos, we’ve got photos!

I’ve been so busy this past week, I haven’t had a chance to post some shots of what I’ve been up to. First, I just have to share some of the shots from Wednesday night, when I had the privilege of attending the book launch party for Michael Palmer’s new medical thriller, THE SECOND OPINION. 200 revelers came together in Concord, MA to toast Michael’s success. His new book has a heroine with Asperger’s Syndrome, and the book party was also a fundraiser for the cause.

Michael was the perfect emcee. Adding to the fun was a live band and Greek desserts.

Among those attending were Eileen Hutton, of Brilliance Audio, and her husband Bob.

Also there were authors Mark Vonnegut, Gary Braver, and Joe Finder. Here I am with Bob Hutton and Joe Finder:

And from earlier in the week, while I was still in the UK, here’s a photo sent to me from reader Rob Williams, who came to my booksigning in Solihull bearing a gift — a lovely wood bowl that he had crafted himself.

What not to write about

A very savvy authority in the book publishing biz once told me that there were two subjects I should never, ever write about if I want my books to hit the bestseller lists. “They’ll kill your sales,” she said. “If either of these two words even appears on your flap copy, readers will close the book and run away, shuddering. So don’t write about them. Don’t even hint that they have anything to do with your plots. Avoid them at all costs.”

What were the two topics she warned me against? Cancer and HIV.

To which I would add a third one: Alzheimer’s Disease.

I find a certain amount of irony that I can write about gruesome murders and serial killers, twisted sex fiends and decomposing bodies — and readers will happily dive into those stories. But no one (including me) wants to read a novel about Alzheimer’s, cancer, or HIV. And the Publishing Authority told me why: Because those topics are too close to our own lives. They’re not fantasy — they’re reality. Everyone probably knows someone close to them who’s suffered from one or all of those three conditions. So the topics depress us on a very personal level. When we choose a novel to entertain us, we want to escape real life. We want fantasy; we don’t want to be smacked in the face with the crises we must deal with in our own families.

As an observer of the publishing biz, I see the wisdom of her advice played out in book sales. I can think of a number of well-written thrillers that died prompt deaths in the marketplace because they dealt with one of those Dreaded Three topics. Whenever an aspiring author tells me he’s got a great thriller premise having to do with cancer deaths, or conspiracies to hide the “real” genesis of HIV, I tell him to choose another topic. Some writers will accuse me of being close-minded. Or they’ll point to some literary novel that dealt very successfully with those topics.

But those are literary novels, and lord knows, literary novels seem almost designed to depress us.

There are other topics that can cause readers to shy away from buying the book. Pedophilia, for instance. Or dead kids. Or any diseases of aging. My medical thriller, Life Support, was about a secret treatment touted as the “fountain of youth” for old people — a treatment that ends up having horrific side-effects. And I distinctly remember the reaction of my film agent when he tried to sell the movie rights. “There are too many old people in this story,” he said. “That makes it a hard sell in Hollywood.” (And he turned out to be right.) Hollywood wants young and nubile, and the last thing they want is a story set in the world of the aging and infirm.

I suspect there are people reading this blog post who are getting pretty angry at me right about now. They’ll accuse me of being ageist or narrow-minded or too willing to adhere to fluffy Hollywood standards. I’m just telling you what I hear from people in the biz, people who look at book sales and hard numbers. And even an exquisitely crafted thriller about cancer has a hard road ahead of it.

In recovery after the UK

It was an exhausting and exhilarating week in the UK. While I was there, I blogged about it a bit using my Blackberry (I’m not a good two-finger typist, so that was a challenge) and you can read about it here, on the Transworld Publishers site: .

The trip certainly started off on a high note. While on the flight over, on British Airways, one of the male flight attendants came up to my seat and very hesitantly said, “I’m sorry to disturb you, but may I ask you a question?” And I thought: Uh oh. What did I do wrong now? Then he said, “We noticed your name on the passenger list. There’s a very famous writer by that name, and the crew was wondering if it’s you?”

This has never happened to me before. Ever. (Of course it meant that I had to be on my best behavior for the rest of the flight!)

The tour was a blast (as you’ll see in the Transworld blog). And last Tuesday afternoon, I had a wonderful bit of news: KEEPING THE DEAD will debut on the London Times hardcover bestseller list at #2 — right after John Grisham.

Writing books can make you fat

Those of us who write books for a living know what a struggle it is to keep off the pounds. Now it appears that the demands of our occupation — and not just the lack of exercise — may have a role in writers’ weight problems.

In the November issue of Scientific American, columnist Steve Mirsky describes recent research that may explain why writers in particular are more likely to be overweight. Published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, the study asked students to engage in three different activities. First they simply sat and relaxed. Then they completed a series of memory and attention tests. Finally, they were told to read and summarize a text. After forty five minutes performing each of these tasks, the students were offered an all-you-can eat buffet.

The actual caloric expenditure of performing any of these tasks was minimal. Intellectual work burns only three more calories an hour than merely sitting and relaxing. But when these students used their noggins (Activities 2 and 3) they later consumed 200 – 250 more calories than the students who had merely sat and relaxed.

Blood samples drawn before, during, and after the activities offer a possible explanation. Intellectual activities cause wide fluctuations in glucose and insulin levels, and may trigger hunger — resulting in the students eating far more than they actually expended in the activity. The researchers called it “caloric overcompensation” — in other words, after using their brains, they ate too much. They concluded that jobs involving intellectual tasks, combined with the sedentary nature of that work, could contribute to our society’s currently problem with obesity.

So that explains why writing makes me ravenous.

I’m off to the UK, so I won’t be blogging here this week. But next Tuesday, check out my blog entry over on Murderati.com: “You can’t be just a writer anymore.”

Too busy to blog

Sometimes, life gets overwhelming.

I haven’t had much time to blog lately for a couple of reasons:

1. I’m working on my next manuscript. And yes, it’s going really well… so far. It’s only February and I’ve already written about 100 pages, which is amazing for me, since it’s not due until December. I’m just waiting to get hit with writer’s block.

2. I’m doing what I can to keep my mom healthy, happy, and fiscally up to date since she’s moved to our town. At least one day a week is devoted to a medical or dental appointment of some kind. Yesterday we drove her to Portland for an eye doctor visit, and later we walked her through the Maine Mall to get a look at some of the shops. Because her vision is fading, she held my hand the whole time. And she made a bemused statement: “I guess I’m the little girl and you’re the mother now. I just follow wherever you go!” And it’s true. With age, my mom has gotten so tiny that I do feel like the parent.

3. I’m getting mentally geared up to leave for my UK book tour this weekend. I love the process of packing, laying out the clothes, figuring out which shoes to bring, how many pairs of socks, which galleys I might be able to read on the plane. On US tours, I can get away with jeans and oxford shirts for most stops. When I head overseas though, I think they expect a bit more formality so it’s slacks and sweaters and nice shoes. I am so looking forward to arriving in London again. It’s back to the British Museum for me!