Entry 4

The mere mention of these Baltimore rooftops can make people homesick
The mere mention of these Baltimore rooftops can make people homesick

It has been a quiet week, e-mail wise. I usually receive several fan e-mails daily, and 99.9 percent of them are wonderful. My biggest group of correspondents comprises Baltimore expats, who have stumbled onto my books and found their memories roused by the local references, past and present—Haussner’s Restaurant, the Domino Sugars sign, the Owl Bar, the revolving bottle atop the Bromo-Seltzer Tower.

Lately, I’ve also been getting a lot of mail from readers who are madly in love with Tess Monaghan, the self-taught private investigator who appears in my first seven books. Unfortunately, Tess is taking the year off, having suffered all sorts of indignities at my hands. This fall’s book is what crime writers call a stand-alone. But Tess returns in 2004—hair shorter, mood darker. If anyone has a great title for a novel about an Orthodox Jewish furrier with a runaway wife, please write. Soon.

As for my disgruntled pen pals—this tiny minority almost always cites errors about firearms. These are far from my only mistakes; I’ve made plenty of whoppers. (Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, not Virginia; Groucho sang his ode to negativity in Horse Feathers not Duck Soup, etc. Boneheaded errors all, the result of hubris.)

My favorite missive began: “I don’t know how you sleep at night, given the errors you have made about firearms and telecommunications.” As it happens, I do suffer from insomnia, but firearms and telecommunications have not yet the made list of things keeping me awake. Try guilt, anxiety, more guilt, and “What the hell was that noise?”

It does interest me how passionately people care about which model of gun has a safety, even when the detail is not crucial to plot. Do these same readers worry as intensely about the placement of sexual organs on women? Do they write snippy letters to novelists whose female characters writhe in orgasmic frenzy when there is no evidence that their nether parts have been engaged by the hero? Or is there another group of furious fans, sending scolding notes into the Internet ether: Dear Mr. X, I hate to tell you this, but women do not have a “release switch” such as you described on Page 137 of My Gun Was Hot. My Lady Smith & Wesson never “goes off” in that position.

My e-mail answered, I’m usually ready to read by 1 p.m. My computer’s bookmarks reveal the two-faced Janus within, staring forward and backward. I go to Romenesko’s media blog first, then  MobyLives.com, a wonderful compendium of book news. I drop by the AOL Hardboiled board to see who’s hanging out, lurk on the “rec.arts.mysteries” board. I read the Washington Post Style section and—honestly—Slate. My favorite sites are two personal blogs, one by a journalist, the other by a journalist-turned-novelist.

The novelist, Jennifer Weiner, doesn’t update Snark Spot daily, but I always check. The former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter has a Cinderella life that’s actually better than the stories of triumph and reconciliation she spun in Good in Bed and In Her Shoes. Just in her 30s, she has a cool dog (Wendell), a funny husband (Adam), a new baby (Lucy Jane), and an option from HBO. I’d probably pay to enter this site; it’s pure porn for dogless, babyless, HBO-less me.

Nancy Nall has a beautiful daughter and a cute dog, too, not to mention a husband who can actually make a boat. But Nall’s prodigious energy is more amazing to me than her husband’s motor skills. She files almost every evening, Sunday through Thursday, while working full time at the News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne, Ind.

I stumbled on Nall’s site while doing a routine Google search. (“Cheese eaters,” “Baltimore Sun,” “Philadelphia editors.”) She had archived the transcript of the online Washington Post piece I wanted, along with some excellent insights into Bob Greene’s toupee. I sent her an unabashed fan e-mail—if I like getting it, I shouldn’t be ashamed to send it—and she responded. I wouldn’t go so far as to say we’re friends, but I think we would be if we were working cubicle by cubicle.

I e-mailed her this week and asked if she could ever imagine leaving journalism. There was a time when I literally could not; my mind balked at the idea. She wrote back Wednesday with characteristic style and common sense, able to see all sides of the question, a feat that sometimes escapes me. Nall is heading to the University of Michigan this year on a fellowship, but she promises to keep her site up and running.

In this wired world, I sometimes forget that the newspaper can still bring news. I opened the New York Times this morning and found a memoriam box for Sara Ann Freed, an editor at Warner Books’ Mysterious Press imprint. I had known she was gravely ill, but one still hopes. Sara Ann died Wednesday at the age of 57. I would need more than the entire space allotted here to do justice to this lovely woman and amazing editor, who changed and shaped and championed the mystery genre.