Mon Jour Noir
Why, I couldn't have been more surprised. Folks who know me will know that I am a mystery/detective fanatic, and will rush to a new mystery book in a blinding dash. I have always said I would write mysteries if I had that talent or the smarts. Well, the editors of the Noir series from Akashic Books suggested I write a story for their PHOENIX NOIR book. "I can't," I said. "You can," the editor said. "I don't know how," I said. "Try," he said. (This sounds supiciously like sessions with a personal trainer, when she devises some new horror having to do with being suspended by straps and maneuvering your own body weight into wicked and painful positions for 150 reps. "You can," she says, as blood shoots out of your ears.)

OK, so I wrote this story, "Amapola." They accepted it. I was freaked out to be in a book with Lee Child and Don Winslow and other dark kings and queens of crime. All I'd hoped to do was not embarrass myself too much.

I got up this morning to come to work, and Cinderella said, "Guess who got nominated for an Edgar Award today." Thinking it was yet another pal of mine I could feel jealous of--damn you, David Corbett!--I mumbled, "Who?" as I rummaged around for my hi-fiber lo-cal colon blaster bread for some omega-3 peanut buttered toast. My bride said, "You."


The Edgar! Only the coolest award ever. Best mystery story. Are you KIDDING? I honestly don't care if I win or not; being nominated for an Edgar makes me dizzy with joy.

That's what I get for thinking I can't do something.


Which led to the sadder news of the day: Robert B. Parker died.

I have to weigh this. After all, it was Mr. Parker who made me a crime/hard-boiled/detective/mystery fan in the first place. The general plan of life--that things whipsaw so wildly that you stay in a constant state of spiritual/mental whiplash--smacked me right in my kitchen this morning.

I had read John D. MacDonald. The cheapo used paperback store behind Von's market had all the Travis McGee books, and my mom had a crush on that beach bum, so I read her double-used MacDonalds. I had read Chandler. But when the miraculous day came when I had to move from San Diego to Boston, I didn't know anything about Boston. So I went to the library and asked the librarians if he could recommend anything I could read to prepare for this change of life. And he said, "Are you looking for Rachel Wallace?" I said something sharp, like, "Whut?"

He took me to the mysrtery shelves and pulled down Parker's LOOKING FOR RACHEL WALLACE (duh...I tried to look like I Knew That!) and EARLY AUTUMN. "Read these," he said, with real love. "It'll tell you what you need to know."

Spenser! The world's coolest detective! I went crazy for these books. I inhaled them, then rushed back and scarfed up all the others I could find. I was hooked.

Now, as fate would have it, I'd been hired to teach Expos at Harvard. Yeah. Can you believe it? I must have been a lot smarter then than I am now. I thought it would be piquant, yet apropos, to force these top-drawer Biffs and Buffys to read hard-boiled detective books! Well, I was so proud of myself that I wrote Parker a letter and said, "They expect to be reading Dickens!" He, to my undying shock, wrote back and said, "Dickens who?" Then he suggested he come over and speak to the students.

On the anointed day, I was out on the street in front of the building waiting for him to come. I was wearing white sneakers, blue jeans, and a Harris tweed jacket. Parker came ambling along wearing, yeah baby, white sneaks, blue jeans and a Harris tweed jacket. He stopped, looked me up and down, and said, "I love your fashion sense." I cracked wise in a Spenserian mood and said, "We maintain a dress code at harvard." Haw haw.

Mr. Parker spent hours with the students and their pals and other fans who had snuck in. It was very generous and hilarious good fun. Later, he signed my stack of hardcovers, and even books for my mom. When I told him, "I've read all your books," he corrected me. "Don't tell a writer that," he said. "What we wanna hear is, 'I've BOUGHT all your books.'" I said, "I've bought all your books." He smiled. "That's what I wanna hear!"

He also taught me that, when faced with a stack of books, and he was in the position by then to be faced with stack after stack of books at signings, he couldn't think of anything witty to say after about 100 books. So he scribbled something vaguely round and letter-like that looked like well-wishes. Then he signed his name. So I have a stack of Spenser books that look like they might say Enjoy! or Huzzah! or Tally Ho! in vaguely Sumerian script.

What a strange day. That one and this one. Thanks, Mr. Parker, for the joy of reading all those amazing hard boiled books. And thanks for putting a little seed in my mind that got me this amazing nomination.

I'm still working on Hummingbird's Daughter II, and believe it or not, there are detectives in one section.


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