An evening with Ian Rankin: Music and Murder

I first met Ian Rankin in 2006 on his Chicago tour stop. I’d been a fan of his John Rebus detective series a short while, as much for the familiar Edinburgh setting as the writing.

I fell all over myself talking to Rankin, stuttering and turning red. His accent and rugged good looks made my knees shake. Literally. It was embarrassing as hell. By that point I’d interviewed a U.S. Poet Laureate and string of high profile writers, but you’d never have known from my (total lack of) mad interpersonal skills. I managed to blurt out a request for him to inscribe, “You complete me” on the title page. He smiled and complied, possibly assuming English wasn’t my first language. Or that my handler was hanging back watching, waiting to change my drool bib and take me home.

Little did I realize dude gets that ALL the time. I should have known.  You mean I’m not the only woman easily swayed by a Scot? I dinnae ken!


Photo credit: The Irish Times


Discussing his fan base with him years later, he said he’s been asked to sign women’s necks, cleavage and hotel room keys. Also an arm, for a woman who planned to have it permanently inked. The only rule is no inappropriate touch. And no, I don’t know that from personal experience.


Although …

Ian Rankin values his fans; he won’t abide hearing them referred to as “stalkers”. No matter they follow him to his favorite pub in Edinburgh, using the address to

Pardon the low resolution.

send mail directed to him. He’s fine with that, and I don’t blame him. You want to send me gifts? It can be arranged.

But I’d love to be a fly on the wall when he opens them. I can only imagine.

Since our first meeting I’ve interviewed him briefly by email on behalf of the library I worked for, sent him a t-shirt he took a picture of himself wearing (though it was too small and he had to shoehorn himself into it), a goofy beer glass, and a Moleskine notebook and pen he promised he’d make use of for his next book. We’ve been in regular Twitter contact ever since.

He’s a genuinely good soul.


Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh. Ian Rankin event 16 October 2018.


This past Tuesday evening I had tickets for an event with Ian Rankin “and guests”:  a police pathologist and Rankin’s “Dad band,” Best Picture. Held at Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, it was well attended, if not packed. Frequent local events celebrating the release of his latest In a House of Lies have spread the wealth as far as the crowds go. And thank goodness for that. It was hotter than hell from the body heat. The crush of the signing line gave me anxious moments.

It was standard interview fare: the 31-year history of the Rebus series, recurring characters and how they’ve grown and progressed, a few continuity gaffes he’s committed, stories of his early days and how he came to be a crime writer. There’d be nothing new to anyone who’s heard him speak before. He was witty and charming, natch, poking fun at himself in his genuinely down to earth way.


Interior, Queen’s Hall.

Contributions from the police pathologist presented real crime in Edinburgh, unsurprisingly nowhere near Rankin’s fictional body count. Whereas Ian admitted he’s rubbish at figuring out crimes, the pathologist said he’s generally able to tell cause of death from newspaper articles and pictures. I suppose that’s the difference between the real and fictional worlds.

The real treat, though, was the performance of Rankin’s band. Of all the author events I’ve attended, this was the most singular. And though I took video of two songs, I don’t have the copyright to embed them. Instead, here’s his record label’s official video of their first single, “Isabelle”:

A truly great evening, crowd anxiety aside. One of these days I’ll catch him down at the Oxford Bar, where I can buy him a pint while I stutter and fall all over myself all over again.


Live, from Scotland!


Edinburgh Castle, as if you didn’t know

Coming to you live from Bonnie Scotland. I’ll be reviewing for UK publishers and venues through the next few months, up and running here at Bluestalking. You’ll find me at the Edinburgh International Literary Festival in August, attending events, standing very close to authors, reading and buying books, enjoying the roar of the grease paint, the smell of the crowds.

I’m getting settled in my new situation, setting up my digs.

Since I’ve been here I’ve attended the Boswell Book Festival, and am currently reading the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction Shortlist, in preparation for attending the Baillie Gifford Borders Book Festival, Melrose, for the presentation of the award.

Exciting stuff!

Meantime, I’ll be bringing you all the British – particularly Scottish – book info I can fit into my schedule.

Slàinte, and all that.

author events 2016: preparing for Irvine Welsh

I’d anticipated a year heavy on literary events, what with BEA coming up in May, then my second annual trip to the Edinburgh International Literary Festival in August, but  it’s been late starting. That’s due mostly to my brutal work schedule – my day job, the one that actually pays the bills. Three days a week I work until 8 p.m., on Fridays ’til 7, and I also work the mornings and early afternoons on Saturdays. That leaves me with only Tuesdays and Sundays as full days off – not a lot of freedom in that schedule.

My first literary event of 2016 is next week’s Irvine Welsh reading, courtesy of the Chicago Humanities Fest. It’s scheduled on a Tuesday, for which I heartily thank the CHF. Bless you for taking my restricted schedule into account. It really does revolve around me.

Welsh’s latest novel, by my count, will be his 11th. I feel a little sheepish admitting I’ve never read a full novel by Irvine Welsh, having started then quickly abandoned Trainspotting. And no, I haven’t seen the film adaptation, though I do own it, which is the first step.

My best laid plans to contact Welsh’s agent to beg for a review copy and interview were blown to hell when my review schedule exploded. That isn’t a complaint, though. I have pretty sweet gigs. Still, it would have been great. Maybe next time. The consolation of seeing him next week will have to do.

Here’s a preview, to whet the appetite for his new book:


Now that’s puzzling, isn’t it. It explains why I haven’t managed to make it through one of the guy’s books. It’s not like me to give up easily, so I’m not letting this stop me. It’s the same language, right?

Kind of?

Welcome literary 2016. It’s about damn time.



travels with salman: an event to remember




2015 Chicago Tribune Literary Prize


Saturday, November 7, 2015

UIC Forum, Main Hall AB



It’s long been a dream of mine to meet Salman Rushdie but I’d begun to think it wasn’t meant to be. There’ve been several near misses, events I couldn’t make for one reason or another, so when I saw he was coming to Chicago to receive the 2015 Chicago Tribune Literary Prize, hell if I was going to miss that. Not this time.

Tickets were $ 20, general admission, so I had a romantic idea I’d get there early, squat in front and bask him in rays of my adoration. Didn’t quite work out that way. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t as good as I’d built it up in my mind. In my head he’d be right there above me, onstage. Looking down he’d see one glowing face, beaming love and adoration, the rest of the audience obscured. His heart would melt, observing the positive flow of light and love exchanged between us. At that moment he’d realize this is the most important moment of his life…

Yeah. No.

It’s about an hour from my place way out in the suburbs to the UIC area, in good traffic. Leaving home at 8:00 for a 10:00 event provided me with a safe window, no worries. Things were good, no delays I didn’t expect. So there was construction. So isn’t there always. Three-quarters of the way down, I started hearing this flapping noise, something slapping against the side of the van. The sound of something rapping, flapping, knocking at my van door.

Only this, and nothing more.

I felt paranoid, convinced a thing of great import had broken free from the nether regions of my van, and that the car had begun beating itself to death in a frenzy. My engine would die shortly, I just knew it, leaving me spinning out of control, only to die in a fiery crash never having met Salman Rushdie. Vile fate!

Turns out, it was the belt of my trench coat, flappy flapping merrily, as I sped down the expressways. The belt of my trench coat sticking out the driver’s side door. Not too embarrassing, now, is that. Knowing how I love making serious fun of idiots when this happens to them, Karma bitch-slapped me in return. I guess it’s only fair. And it could have been far, far worse.

Fortunately, I made it to UIC with time to spare, found a parking garage on Maxwell Street, reached the venue and took the best seat I could find, behind all the VIPS and press. Not bad. Plus, there were screens. Never mind my camera couldn’t handle the distance; I could see just fine.

If you haven’t heard Rushdie speak, he’s inspirational beyond what you may already imagine. He spoke on freedom of speech, on his writing and magical realism in general, on books and reading and how young people today are doing just fine on that front, thanks. They are reading and they’re reading a lot. Plus, the book is going nowhere; the internet has not, will not kill it.

He was inspirational, positive and painfully honest about how much religious fundamentalism and hatred have hurt him, how terrifying it was to be slapped with a fatwah, how much impact that had on his life. To this day, is he safe? The answer, as well as can be determined. So he lives his life, he makes appearances and fights for freedom of speech wherever and whenever he can.

It’s for this the Chicago Tribune awarded him its Literary Prize.

I recorded lots of snippets from the roughly hour-long interview he had with Chicago Tribune editor Bruce Dold, snippets I’m still uploading to YouTube.  Because it’s time consuming, and because I want to get this post uploaded soon, I’m going to go ahead and finish those as I can, then post separately. I may even type up the transcripts. We’ll see how I feel.

One thing about the event I’m left to puzzle about is the almost complete lack of interest most attendees showed in having Rushdie sign their books. I zipped straight to the signing room, cutting ahead of most of the crowd by use of a door hardly anyone else seemed to notice, so I made it there very quickly. Most people  just walked right out the door, not bothering to attend the signing. Do they meet Booker Prize winning, humanitarian icons so often they can’t be bothered greeting them in person? Or maybe the prospect’s daunting, maybe people shy away. I don’t know. But I wasn’t about to miss that. I didn’t drive all the way down to the city, belt flapping in the breeze, to listen and run.

I was bound and determined to talk to this man, wringing every bit of experience from the event. I may never meet Salman Rushdie again. Who knows? Besides, I wanted that autograph and wanted it badly. I wanted it in Midnight’s Children, the Booker of Bookers.




And get it I did.

Just as I wasn’t about to squander my brief moment with Mr. Rushdie, I wasn’t about to miss taking an illegal picture or five. The security guards told me to knock it off but I didn’t care. It was my plan all along to play goober, taking photos until told otherwise. It’s easier to ask forgiveness after than permission before, an old adage that’s inarguable. What were they going to do, take my phone and stomp on it?


I had my moment in the sun with Rushdie. In the course of the interview, he mentioned the sorts of wordplay he’d enjoyed with Amis and Hitchens and all that group, told the story of how they played with the names of famous novels, making them “less than great,” things like The Good Gatsby, Toby Dick, etc. Wanting an in with him so badly, something I could say to have his attention for three seconds if no more, while he was leaning over to sign my book, I leaned over, too, and said:

“The Selfie of Dorian Gray…”

Friends, HE LAUGHED.


Does it get better than that? Because I don’t think it does.

What a day. What a stellar day. I heard Salman Rusdie speak about truth and literature and what matters in life,  saw him presented with an award and even talked to him, if ever so briefly. Flapping trench coat belt aside, to me it’s all pretty priceless.

Afterward, I may have gotten a bit lost navigating the city but my beautiful Chicago capped it off brilliantly, just as I figured it would. An event worth waiting for, in so many ways, and a bucket list wish fulfilled.

Thank you Chicago Tribune, UIC and The Unabridged Bookstore for a memory to last a lifetime.



And, lovely city of Chicago, thanks for blocking my GPS signal, so I’d get lost, yet still manage to find  this.

Lyric Opera, Chicago

Lyric Opera, Chicago


Sears Tower - No, NOT Willis

Sears Tower – No, NOT Willis

Right now, at this single moment, all’s right with the world.

’round edinburgh in nine days: preface

Edinburgh: City of Eternal Rain

Edinburgh: City of Eternal Rain

“Adventure should be part of everyone’s life. It is the whole difference between being fully alive and just existing.” ― Holly Morris


If my Grand, Impulsive Excursion to Bonnie Scotland were a book, it could best be described as pitch perfect, the work of a writer at the height of her powers and, that perennial favorite of mine, readable.

It was a solitary endeavor, a lone wolf journey abroad made by a newly-single woman with an abiding love of a good, cold stout served up at a dusty, dimly lit pub and a post-divorce chip on her shoulder the size of, well, a really big chip. And yes, it was a little scary going it alone, thanks for asking, though not so much as it could have been had I not just last year flown to Ireland on my own. My 2014 trip proved I can rely on myself, plan and execute a solo vacation and not at all blend in with the locals because who am I kidding, I scream American from five miles away even in English-speaking nations.

I’m a strong woman who can handle herself, a perfect candidate for solo travel. I also enjoy my own company more than that of most others. Disagreements with myself are few, seldom resulting in violence. At only one point in the trip did I become so aggravated I stopped speaking to me, a brief period which flared and subsided as quickly as it came. I bought myself a drink, we laughed, it was soon forgotten.

Ah, the memories!

Edinburgh isn’t just awesome and beautiful, full of history and bagpipes and beer and whisky and beer but also a mecca for all things arts and literary. A  safe city for a woman alone, during my nine days there not a single murder was committed: not in Edinburgh, in Scotland or the entire UK. Meanwhile, back here in the USA not only were there violent killings in the Chicago suburbs but my very own street was staked out by a SWAT team, shite you not. So, for those considering a trip abroad but concerned with personal safety, shut up and go, for fuck’s sake. Quite whining. You’re more likely to be harmed here than there.

God bless the NRA!

In fact, the closest approximation to a traumatic situation I encountered was a man urinating proudly and profusely through a wrought-iron fence near the Sir Walter Scott monument. Despite his vigorously healthy stream, at no point did I feel endangered. In fact I envied the man, as I do all of his gender, his possession of equipment enabling urination while standing up, in a set direction no less, a feat nary a female could accomplish without impaling herself and making a huge mess. And if that’s the worst that happened to me I count myself lucky.

Ostensibly, my official “reason” for flying over was to attend the Edinburgh International Literary Festival, that most deservedly lauded celebration of books and authors and books and authors, coupled with a deep love for Scotland I’ve enjoyed more than half my life. Abroad on a student ambassador program at the tender age of 18, I proclaimed to no one in particular, “This is where I will spend the rest of my life!” Then promptly didn’t, because hey that’s how 18-year olds are, dramatic and pretty well powerless.

Not that I didn’t give it a noodle. I entered college with every intention of studying abroad a semester at Edinburgh University and would have, too, had my then boyfriend (now ex-husband, IRONY) not popped a diamond on my finger as a sort of insurance policy I would not dump him and hook up with a man in a kilt. And how’d that work out for me. Believe me, not a year goes by I don’t regret that.

Worse, to this day I still do not know for certain what Scottish men wear underneath their kilts. Suspicions, yes. Verifiable proof, no, despite having visited during a particularly windy week. Hopes dashed, I default to a firm belief it gets pretty windy under there.

Och, lad, tell me true!

Och, lad, tell me true!

Sadly, many literary festival events were sold out before I arrived. Things had been going on full-swing a couple of weeks before I showed up and though I bought tickets online before I left pickings were quickly growing slim. Let this be a lesson for anyone planning to act on impulse. Always pre-plan your unexpected adventures.


Ian Rankin interviews Stuart David

Ian Rankin interviews Stuart David

I wound up attending only two events: a Michael Frayn talk about his new compilation of tiny plays, Matchbox Theatre, and an Ian Rankin discussion with singer-songwriter Stuart David – of Belle and Sebastian – upon publication of his new biography, In the All-Night Café: A Memoir of Belle and Sebastian’s Formative Years. Though I had tickets to see Denise Mina, I’d exhausted myself walking around that day and couldn’t bear the thought of dragging arse back to Charlotte Square. Instead, I stayed in my hotel room watching really bad British TV and eating takeaway fish and chips, followed in short order by horrendous indigestion and a bad case of insomnia by saturated fat.

All in all the trip was, technically speaking, amazeballs.  Ireland and Wales last year, Scotland this… Which was the better trip? The trip would have to go to 2014, since my daughter was with me and if she reads this she’ll be really pissed off if I don’t say that. However, which city is better? God  I‘m sorry Dublin but it’s Edinburgh. Purely Edinburgh. Just remember I love you, too.

So I have loads of pictures to share, as well as a strong possibility of anecdotal bloviating. I’ve prefaced my adventure here and will continue telling my story in subsequent posts. Hope you’ll tune in.

Sebastian Barry Event: May 12, 2014

Following is part of Mr. Barry’s reading during his event at Highland Park, IL. I had to cut it short because YouTube won’t upload such a large video (about seven minutes)  from an iPhone. If I can figure it out I’ll post Part II, otherwise, here’s Part I, up ’til the point someone’s cell phone started ringing and he paused, then took up again as if nothing had happened once the idiot shut up the damn phone.

That’s professionalism, the ability to stay in character and ignore such a rude interruption.

Hope you’ll enjoy.


[Update: Looks like the entire video DID upload to YouTube, after all. Alright. I’ll take it.]

Sebastian Barry event – Highland Park Public Library



If I’m too busy to report on a Sebastian Barry event I am very busy, indeed. I have seven minutes’ worth of his reading but was too transfixed to take even one photo. You heard me correctly and I’m equally boggled. Fortunately, I had with me a friend since my college years and she had a camera. Starstruck as she was, her mind didn’t short circuit as did my own. I believe she has photos for me, thank the gods above.

Lest I allow the event to pass unrecorded, here’s at least a brief recap.

Reader, he is an amazing man. A gentleman and a scholar. With one hell of an Irish brogue. Two library employees said the same thing to me, “OH GOD, HIS VOICE!”

Tell me about it.

The gentleman librarian’s eyes sparkled more than the woman who worked with the bookstore to facilitate the event. I thought his head would explode. I had to laugh. Sounded like he had just won the lottery or snagged a supermodel. Before he met Mr. Barry he was sort of ho hum, another program. Must do sound check. After, I thought he’d changed his sexual preference. Easy, man!  He doesn’t go that way and he’s pretty well taken care of, from what I can tell. He was going to call his wife, to have her come to the event. I’m thinking, okay, if you want her to never look at you the same way again, go for it.  If you are secure enough in your masculinity, who am I to judge?

Silly man.

Sebastian Barry read the first chapter of his latest book, The Temporary Gentleman, which I couldn’t properly review after I read it, being too partial a fan. I could barely form cogent thoughts (shut up, you) and what I produced reads more like a drunken ramble.  More a drunk dial: “I love you, man!”! “You’re my best friend!” Sad, really.

Actually, pathetic.

The thing is, aside from the brogue his delivery can take your breath away. May as well pack up your writing tools, m’dear, and take down your shingle. You are far, far too late and lacking. Though, I have to hand it to him, he is rather generous as far as those who struggle and toil at the trade, thinking what’s the use, it’s been done before. And it has. That’s the thing. But he stated something to the effect that the individuality of voice renders that point moot. If it weren’t so, literature would have stopped a very long time ago. How many plots are there? Some small number I don’t feel like looking up.

Last Monday’s reading was different than the first time I saw him, in Oak Brook. Different in a good way. The delivery was, again, heavenly but I don’t recall him being quite so funny. Something definitely boosted his mood, judging from the content and his thought process. Really, it was wonderful to see him looking so well and happy. Warms the heart.

Unfortunately, I have to go. I know, I know. Breaks your heart. But this weekend my middle child – at 18, he’s legally an adult – is graduating from high school and in under two weeks I’ll be flying to Dublin. If I decide to bring my laptop (surely I or my daughter will) I’ll do my best to post a play by play of the disaster we wreak. Poor Ireland has no idea what’s coming. Wales, either. If I wind up in the American consulate don’t be surprised. I haven’t been out of the country in a long, long time and have lots to make up for.

In advance, I am so so sorry.



fancyline7Sebastian Barry writerfancyline7


Everything You Wanted to Know About Colm Toibin but Were Afraid to Ask




I’m perilously close to having my Irish genes revoked. Not only did I have the wrong pronunciation of the man’s name streaming in my head, I’ve also been accenting the wrong vowels in his name in writing:


‘Atsa way you spell it! Accents are on the “o” and second “i,” not both “i”s. I am ashamed, abashed, chastened and humbled, all at once. It’s a wonder I’m able to walk upright.

If anyone should be highly sensitive to how a last name is spelled, it should be me. I am the only person in the world with my exact name, one of not many at all with my married surname. It’s one hell of a puzzler to most people, more challenging than my maiden Collins. Suggest a possible mispronunciation of Guidarini and I’ve heard it, despite the fact it is perfectly phonetical. To be fair, I should have allowed Mr. Tóibín to give its pronunciation a shot, considering how I butchered his own.

What’s the correct pronunciation of his name? Well, the one I heard last night was (making this crystal clear, using American English phonetics):

Column Toe-BEAN

Not Colm Toy-bin. Colm Toy-been but:

Column Toe- BEAN

To be fair, I don’t speak Irish. I know how to say “Cheers” and “Kiss my Ass,” which is enough vocabulary to get me welcomed into, then thrown out of, a pub. When I arrive in Dublin next month it’s probably best I shut my gob, though I would be fine talking about COLM TóIBíN. So that’s one thing. If his name crops up in conversation, Colm’s my uncle.




“Colm Tóibín and The Irish Renaissance.” That’s the presentation I had the honor of attending last evening at Elmhurst College and, I have to tell you, enlightening and entertaining it was. I’ve not properly studied Irish literature, aside from book group discussions of works like The Picture of Dorian Gray, which centered not on Wilde’s Irishness but the themes of beauty and vanity and morality and all that’s associated with that particular novel. Likewise, I’ve “attended” some of Frank Delaney’s Ulysses podcasts, which, if I’d have seen that through, would likely have taught me much more about the history and culture of Ireland. I’ve read other Irish-associated books, novels mostly and bits of nonfiction here and there, but I am in no way formally schooled in Irish anything. Except, of course, “Cheers” and “Kiss my ass:” the drinking of Guinness a side specialty.

But it’s the 1890s/early 1900s era that’s at the heart of the Irish Literary Renaissance: the resurgence in Irish language and culture brought about largely by Lady Augusta Gregory, who, along with W.B. Yeats, scoured old country Ireland gathering – and translating into modern day Irish dialect English – all the lovely stories handed down for generations via oral tradition. Long story short (pun unintended), they were instrumental in bringing the tales to the stage, creating a new/old Irish literary heritage. In the process, they managed to establish the first state-funded theatre, The Abbey, still operating in Dublin.





While you’d think all that sounds inarguably laudable, nothing in life is ever that simple. James Joyce was Professor Tóibín’s example of the modern Irish writer who’d rather not identify with the old Ireland that was. Rather, I don’t think it will shock anyone to say the man was of a mind to do his own thing. Joyce was forward-thinking, anxious to distance himself from the earthy, unsophisticated, bog dwelling, stereotypical Irish of generations past. Which is why he chose to flee his native country for Europe. And, while many who’ve knocked their heads against Ulysses may say “good riddance,” his wasn’t the only dissenting voice, nor the only to take this resurgence in a way different from its intention. For there was the little matter of a growing storm brewing between the Irish and the English, a complicated mixture of new-found Irish pride and whatever you would describe the British factor to be, because I don’t really want to wander far into political territory. It would soon get very, very ugly, forcing a lot of Irish – including my own ancestors – to leave Ireland for the States and other destinations, out of concern they’d be executed for having been on the wrong side at the wrong time.

SEE: The Troubles

Poor Lady Gregory could have had no idea the impact her good intentions would have on the course of Irish history. Inevitably, there would have been another cathartic event precipitating Irish/British conflict but there’s no doubt she and her cohorts brought it about much earlier. All because she wanted to save a culture: a perfect example of real life irony if ever there was one.

With that, I’ve nutshelled it for you, if you will, and you are welcome. I hope you’ll consider reading up on it, if you have an interest in Irish culture and literary history. There is so much more to it than this; I barely scratched the surface.

I intend to learn more about M’lady Gregory, certainly. She was also a writer, by the way, a writer who unfortunately slipped and fell under Joyce’s skilled critical knife, the worst fate any lesser-known, contemporary writer could have had. Much as I may dislike what he did, I do understand the impulse. Taking the high road hurts sometimes; Joyce just chose to avoid that hurt. Goliath pulverized David with his mighty fist. Well, I hope he was proud of himself.


Joyce’s review started with the idea of childish wonder becoming middle-aged speculation and finally the wisdom of old age. However, he claimed to find only senility place of wisdom in the old age of Gregory’s book, and he dismissed the herbal folk remedies, and the rambling, repetitive stories of the locals. Joyce claimed that while Yeats had presented similar folk material in The Celtic Twilight, Yeats at least had presented it with a certain amount of scepticism. Lady Gregory, however, presented this particular class of mind “in the fullness of its senility.”



Fortunately, Lady Gregory was not silenced and we all know Joyce went on to achieve a certain amount of fame.

All in all, another lovely encounter with a lovely writer. Ah, I am spoiled. I could have listened to him talk for hours: such a brilliant, occasionally devilish and twinkly-eyed Irishman. I’d have brought him home, only law frowns upon it. In lieu of that, there is YouTube.

“YouTube: Your alternative to kidnapping adorable people”

Has a ring to it.

For more about the thrice Booker-nominated, literary superstar-of-many-genres Colm Tóibín, visit his website. And if you should ever have the honor of meeting him, remember:

Column Toe-BEAN

 Blessings on his beautiful soul.





An aside: while researching reviews of The Testament of Mary I came across an article in a hardline evangelical “Christian” newspaper, addressing Meryl Streep’s reading of the Audio CD. It tore Mr. Tóibín to shreds: “He’s a disgusting homosexual!”; “He’s a blasphemer who is going to hell!” Even “Meryl Streep is going to hell!” “She’s old and ugly and has an ugly voice!” Frothy-mouthed with venom, they were.

Normally I’d bypass commenting on an evangelical site from sheer disdain but this time I didn’t. I stood up to the bullies, reminding them their God loves Meryl Streep and Colm Tóibín every bit as much as he does them (more, if he has a bias against in-bred ignorants)(as do I, mea culpa). Their Christ, likewise, most clearly admonished his people: “Love One Another.” I haven’t read the Bible but I’m fairly certain Christ did not say “Love one another, except people you hate.”

I didn’t stick around to read the rebuttals, if you’re wondering. Arguing with ignorants is fruitless, a complete waste of time. If they’d wanted me they could certainly have found me easily enough. Benefit them, on the rarity of my name, and I don’t use a pseudonym save my blog’s name. Again, easily found. If they are correct, and God is a twat, I’d much rather spend eternity in the same hell as Meryl Streep and Colm Tóibín anyway thanks. Save your breath, my dears. You’ll need it for your next blast of hot air.

Oh, and:



Event: Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) & Maira Kalman

What larks, Pip!

Starting off 2012 with a bang. It's only January and I've chalked up one author reading. Daniel Handler and his illustrator Maira Kalman spoke at the Barnes & Noble in Skokie, IL this past Wednesday evening, the two of them playing off each other like a comedy act. Reader, I have seen nothing like it and the two of them had me laughing so hard I was in tears.




The two of them together were like watching a Monty Python skit, American style, complete with a PowerPoint presentation featuring a woman on a fainting couch, a picture of a lost umbrella, a napkin with four grease stains – from onion rings, of course – and more.

They've collaborated for a number of works and obviously have a wonderful working relationship. He lives in San Francisco and she in New York but they met in Bologna, Italy at a children's literature festival. The two hit it off immediately and thank goodness for that. They've created so much together but you'll have to look that up yourselves, sorry.




This was the first author reading my daughter's attended, because it's the first author she actually recognized and whose books she's read. I don't think she read all the Lemony Snicket Series of Unfortunate Events books but she read quite a lot (as did I) and saw the film with a few friends, as one of her birthday parties. One at which I came close to having a nervous breakdown – quite literally. I was already emotionally stressed from the recent devastating loss of a close friend and then had these girls running around like idiots, nearly reducing me to tears. It's a wonder I wanted to see Daniel Handler after that but years pass and yadda yadda.

She was incredibly intimidated approaching an author for the actual signing, hiding behind me as long as she could before I made her put her own book on the table. She was afraid he'd talk to her, you see, and expect her to answer. I tried convincing her authors are, for the most part, normal human beings who eat food, smell badly if they don't shower and have to breathe now and then to stay alive but she'd have none of that.


And your point is?

As it turned out all he said was, "Is this your book?" signed it, and she thanked him. He was already on to the next in line before she'd even stepped away.





Daniel and Maira were promoting their latest collaboration, Why We Broke Up. It's ostensibly a YA novel, though the two said they don't distinguish YA from adult. The audience was made up mostly of adults, so I kind of see their point. But then there were a few teens clasping copies of Lemony Snicket, as well as some with other books Kalman has illustrated.

What I found utterly fascinating was how they produced the book when they live on opposite coasts. Yes, I'm aware there's this thing called the internet, but their description of the process enthralled me. Sometimes she'd send him a picture she'd drawn and he'd write around that. Other times it would be the reverse, he'd write something and ask for a specific drawing.





Part of the reading involved taking a "How Romantic Are You?" quiz, another first in my author event experiences. The higher the number (1 – 25) the more romantic you are.




And I scored 18! Me, 18! I would protest but this was obviously a scientific test.

Meanwhile, my daughter scored something in the range of 8 or 9. I've lived long enough to become jaded and sour and she's just 18. For some things I have no explanation.





Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman you are lovely. Thank you for the most silly author event I've yet attended, the red plastic combs we received as a bonus gift and for getting my daughter past her fear of actual writers. Thanks also for educating me as to my true romantic nature, of which I've been ignorant. And please remind me to advise my daughter's husband (when she's 35 and I allow her to marry) of her distinct lack of same.

Finally, here's a priceless bit of Daniel Handler humor for your viewing pleasure: