Is this thing still on?

So it goes without saying that I haven't been here a lot lately (understatement of the century – this will only be my seventh post this year, which is just pitiful). While I do have valid reasons (blah blah blah), we all know that I've been completely neglecting my blog, and that's just sad.

And what's even worse is that when I have blogged, it's all been promotional stuff. It's been "Hey, look at my new cover!" (yesterday's post), and "Hey, we're having a contest!" (the post before that), and "Hey, look at this website I agreed to help promote!" (the post before that). (And notice how this paragraph is complete with all the appropriate links to said posts.)

I have become that writer. That writer who once blogged about interesting stuff, but now only blogs when she has something to promote and who only posts updates when there's something cool and book-related to share. And you know what? It's frigging boring and lame, and I know it, and I hate writers who do that. And now I do that. What the hell happened?

Well, I know exactly what happened, so I'll tell you.

The obvious reason is that I got sort of busy. Between traveling (seven trips this year), writing a new book (THE BUTCHER is written and currently at the copy edit stage), a divorce, a surgery, a death, and a beautiful new relationship, it's been kind of a crazy time. Something was bound to fall by the wayside, and that was the blog.

A picture of me taking a picture, on one of my many trips.

Another reason is that for a while – for like a whole year, actually – my personal life was a mess. And since I was so used to talking about personal things here, I opted not to blog, because did you really want to read about how my twenty-year relationship was ending in the most painful way possible? Did you want to know about how the entire vision I had for my life was totally shattered because the guy I married turned out to be someone I didn't recognize, and as a result I had to move and start my life totally over, completely alone? Well, then again, maybe you did – because stuff like that is gossipy and interesting – but I sure as shit didn't want to go into detail about it here.

But the biggest reason was that my voice here on the blog became totally diluted. Not right away, but little by little, over a period of time. Like a lot of writers who are aspiring to be published or who are newly published, I started to become very careful about what I said online. I filtered. I censored. Which is what we're told to do, because we don't want to risk offending anyone. We don't want to turn off potential agents or editors or readers. I stopped using the word "fuck" (which is practically my favorite word – it's just so versatile!) because a reader once told me she would have liked my book better if I hadn't used so much profanity (and yet she didn't mind the sex or violence one bit).

And the more I censored, the more blogging felt like a chore. Twitter doesn't feel like a chore. Facebook doesn't feel like a chore. I'm totally comfortable talking on both of those social media outlets. I'm fine with showing you little snippets of what I want you to see, as is everyone else who Facebooks or tweets. Doesn't your life look totally awesome on Facebook? I know mine does, and that's kind of what Facebook is for, and I'm cool with that, and you probably are, too. Because they're marketing tools. We're all selling something, whether it's books, or how happy/amazing/interesting we want you to think our lives are.

Me last Halloween, dressed as a gypsy (though I think I looked more like a flamenco dancer), about to leave for a party. See how happy/amazing/interesting my life is?

But the blog was supposed to be different. The blog was supposed to be the one place where I could get real, and be authentically me, where I could talk about my life and my journey. Somewhere along the way, that just evaporated. There were too many things I wasn't "allowed" to say, and eventually the blog was just one more social media thing I had to manage, and it felt like work. But there was a time when it didn't used to feel that way, before the filtering, before I was published, before I had a "reputation" to be concerned about.

And I miss that.

So I've decided to get back to being me here. The real me... or, at least, as much as the real me I can be without torpedoing my career (because I do love my job and it would be tragic if I did anything to fuck that up). I'd like to get back to doing what I love to do.

Which is write about stuff. And swear occasionally.


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THE BUTCHER is coming

Edward Shank is retired, widowed, and living a boring life in the old folks' home. The former Chief of Police is a Seattle legend, having gunned down the infamous Beacon Hill Butcher back in 1985, finally putting an end to the grisly serial murders that plagued the Pacific Northwest for over a decade. Now eighty years old with a bad hip, Edward spends his days playing bingo and watching TV, his glory days long behind him.

Matt, Edward's grandson, chose to carve out his own path to success by becoming Seattle's top chef. The owner of a popular restaurant and a half dozen food trucks, Matt is about to become the star of his own TV show. Everything is going his way, until he discovers a locked crate buried in the backyard of his grandfather's old house that contains a family secret so gruesome, his entire life – and everything he's worked for – will be destroyed if it ever gets out. Matt decides it's best to keep the secret... but his girlfriend Sam might make that impossible.

Sam Marquez has always believed that her mother was murdered by the Beacon Hill Butcher back in 1987, and she's spent most of her adult life trying to prove it. The only problem? The Butcher was shot and killed two years before her mother's death.

Or was he?

THE BUTCHER, a standalone thriller, is coming July 15, 2014 from Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books. Pre-order on Amazon here.

(Oh, and if you're wondering, THE BUTCHER is the new title for the book that used to be called MAGNOLIA.)

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Do you love thrillers? You could win 23 thrillers by 24 authors, including my book, FREAK!

Just click HERE to enter:

Contest ends on October 16.

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Discover Criminal Justice

I always thought that if this writing thing didn't work out, I might pursue a career in criminal justice. Back in 2011 when I was researching prisons for FREAK, I got addicted to MSNBC's Lockup, and even went on a tour of the Washington Corrections Center for Women (now that was an interesting day – read all about my adventures here). I write books about crime because I'm always interested to know what might motivate someone to break the law. I even had a pen pal at Folsom State Prison in California who gave me the inside scoop on life behind bars.

That being said, I came across a great website called Discover Criminal Justice and thought it was worth a shout-out if anybody was looking for a comprehensive resource for criminal justice programs throughout the U.S. They have some interesting articles and interviews with real folks who work in that career field.

Because you never know. I might end up as one of those corrections officers on Lockup one day...

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New York epic-ness and another ThrillerFest

I pretty much ate my way through NYC this past weekend, but do I regret it? Hell no. ThrillerFest is always a great reason to go to New York, which is my second favorite US city, and the food always enriches the experience for me. I also got to hang with my friends, talk shop, and see Anne Rice up close.

Day 1: Thursday

So this trip was a little different than the last three times I've gone to NYC. One of my best girlfriends, Dawn, came with me and so it was a mini girls' getaway as well. Here we are at Pearson International in Toronto, waiting for our flight.

It's no secret that I take a lot of selfies, but in my defense, our flight was delayed an hour and we were getting bored. Okay, I was getting bored.

I always register right after I check into my room at the Grand Hyatt, and then head straight to the Bookstore Room on Conference level to see if my books are there. (I really don't know why I check... they're always there. The awesome folks at ThrillerFest never drop the ball.)

Then, stomachs growling, Dawn and I went in search of food. Ended up at Two Boots Pizza in Grand Central Station, which is attached to the Grand Hyatt. While it may not be the greatest pizza I've ever had in NYC (more on that to come) , the pizza is still better than anything I've ever had in Toronto.

Because we're girls, we shopped after lunch. There's this store called Strawberry right next to the hotel, and I scored six shirts for $5 each. They'll probably fall apart after one washing, but hey, that's okay. They're "cheap and cheerful", as my other best friend Annie would put it.

At 6:30 p.m. we swung by the ThrillerFest opening reception cocktail party, where I met up with my editor Kathy from Simon & Schuster, and got to catch up with a friend I made at last year's conference, Kamran Khan. I also had the pleasure of meeting Mary Louise Kelly, another Gallery Books author (and we also share the same agent). Somehow I didn't remember to take any pics at the party. Boo.

Then for dinner, I finally got to hang out with my friend Hilary Davidson, whom I've known for a few years now. We tend to run into each other at conferences but are always pulled away before we can properly catch up. She took us to Rosa Mexicano, which might very well be the best Mexican restaurant I've ever been to. Like, ever. And that includes the nine times I've been to Mexico.

We had pomegranate margaritas and duck tacos. I may or may not have had a food orgasm while eating.

We also had guacamole made fresh to order right at our table. To die for. I was only sad there wasn't more of it.

We walked back to the hotel after dinner. After everything we ate, the fresh air was much needed.

Day 2: Friday

I had my panel first thing in the morning at 8 a.m. I may or may not have been feeling a little funky from those pomegranate margaritas from the night before, but I made it down on time. I was expecting the panel to be sparsely attended, because hello, 8 a.m. is damn early.

But the room was packed! The topic was "Is Your Hero's Flaw Non-Fatal? How a Protagonist's Weakness Can Be His Strength" and it was me, Albert Ashford, Francine Mathews, Jennifer McMahon, David Wood, and Reavis Wortham. The panel moderator was Jaime Levine, an editor from Grand Central Publishing. We talked a lot about the importance of flaws in our characters and how they help fuel the plot and add dimension to our stories. I wish I'd gotten a picture of the entire panel, but I forgot. Boo again.

I did, however, snap a pic of me and Jennifer McMahon. Jennifer and I were also on a panel together last fall at Bouchercon about serial killers, so it was super cool to hang with her at this panel talking about the good guys.

A little later in the morning was our scheduled book signing. I don't have a title out this summer like I did the last two summers, so I wasn't expecting a lot of visitors, but I did have a good handful of readers pop by. I also got to see good friends Alma Katsu (a fellow Gallery Books girl), and Dan Friedman (we have the same agent).

I also got meet Dolores Marconi! Way back when, long before CREEP was published, Dolores and I were an online writing workshop together through Gotham Writers. We've been Facebook friends ever since, and so it was great to finally meet her and give her a hug. She's always been so supportive.

Don Helin and I were seated next to each other again at the signing, since they arrange the authors alphabetically. We sat next to each other last summer too, and it was nice to see him again.

On my other side was Peter James. Peter is so popular! One fan approached him with an eight by ten photo she'd taken with him last year, asking him to sign it. Now that's cool.

After the signing, Dawn and I ran through Grand Central Station to the Met Life building, where I was scheduled to meet my editor and agent for lunch. But we stopped to take one quick photo... isn't Grand Central a blur? (Ha, get it?)

Lunch was at Cafe Centro, a French restaurant. I had the most delicious beef filet, and yes, there was a little wine too. Mais bien sur! I always love catching up with Kathy (my editor at S&S/Gallery) and Victoria (my agent from Levine Greenberg) and getting the inside scoop on what's happening with my sales and with the publishing industry in general. We also spent some time tossing around potential titles for the upcoming book.

After lunch, we made it back to the Grand Hyatt ballroom in time for me to catch Anne Rice. She was interviewed by her son, Christopher Rice, who definitely was able to get away with asking her more funny and interesting questions than anyone else possibly could have! Here's a pic before the interview started. The ballroom was packed.

Dawn's cousin Kim lives in Long Island, and since she was in the city earlier that morning, she'd stopped by the hotel with her kids and brought us treats from Carlo's Bakery (yes, the one from the TV show CAKE BOSS!). They were in Hoboken, NJ at 7 a.m. that morning and were still the seventh in line! There were delicious lobster tails inside this box (pastry with creme filling), and Dawn and I indulged as our afternoon snack. Because clearly we hadn't consumed nearly enough calories at lunch, and it's not like we had dinner plans or anything.

For dinner, we met up with my good friend David Batista. David and I met through our blogs a couple of years ago, and got to see each other in person for the first time last summer. When he asked what I wanted to do for dinner, I requested "anything outside of Midtown", and he took us on the subway to Chinatown.

Dawn got a little distracted with all the stores on Canal Street... here she is shopping for "genuine imitation designer sunglasses".

Now I've had some great Chinese food in Toronto, some barely passable Chinese food in Seattle (sorry Seattle, but you have a long way to go), but NYC Chinatown Chinese food? EPIC. We ended up at Shanghai Heping, and I was in heaven. David ordered all our food speaking perfect Mandarin (too bad our waitress only spoke Cantonese, haha.) Soup dumplings, pork dumplings, double fried sauteed pork, pan fried noodles, shallot pancakes, General Tso chicken... we thought we ordered too much food, but somehow it all disappeared...

On our way out of Chinatown, we stopped to take a quick pic outside Little Italy. It was pouring! Thank goodness for those $6 umbrellas we snagged at Strawberry earlier that day.

So of course you know that the only way to properly digest piles of Chinese food in one's belly is to drink. A lot. Which is what we then did at Boss Tweed's Saloon on the Lower East Side.

I may or may not have downed a few shots. Or, okay, maybe a little more than a few. And here's something this naive Canadian didn't realize: American bartenders don't measure their pours! Things may or may not have gotten a little blurry after the sixth or seventh (double) shot...

David suggested we head to Culture Club after the bar, because they play 80s and 90s music. Perfect! Except when we got there, we were informed by the bouncer that they were playing hip hop, R&B, and reggae, AND it was also gay and lesbian night. Dude, NO PROBLEM! We went in anyway, and had a blast grooving to dancehall. Plus I finally got to see in person what twerking actually is.

I don't exactly remember how we got back to the hotel, but somehow we did.

Day 3: Saturday

So thanks to the previous night's adventures, I overslept and missed one of my favorite parts of ThrillerFest, which is the Debut Author's Breakfast. It's something I normally attend every year, because I love love love hearing all the debut authors talk about their books and their publishing journeys. It was only two years ago when that was me!

We did, however, manage to make it over to St. John the Divine, where for very personal reasons I said a prayer and lit a candle. St. John the Divine is absolutely breathtaking. I can't describe how I feel when I'm inside, but I've never felt anything like it, and this was my second visit.

We then headed to Tribeca to meet Charlie Rice for lunch at Girello. I've known Charlie for a couple of years now, but only from our blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, and this was the first time we'd seen each other in person. Born in Brooklyn and living in Staten Island, he entertained us with lots of New York stories, made all the funnier with his very strong New Yawk accent. And the pizza was probably the best we've ever had (just ask Dawn, who didn't speak for the entire twenty minutes she was eating hers).

After lunch, we went to Century 21 to do some shopping. No offense to anyone who loves that store, but NO! NEVER AGAIN! The place was huge! There was too much stuff! Five floors and a separate shoe department and just TOO MUCH STUFF! My tiny brain could not handle it. After three hours there, all I could manage was to buy one shirt for $15. And I was exhausted.

Dinner that night was the perfect remedy for a frustrating shopping experience. Here we are at Bare Burger Organic in Chelsea with my good friend Alex Ong (another writer I met online) and his best friends Dan and Dean. I hung out with these three handsome dudes a couple of weeks ago when they visited Toronto for Pride weekend, and it turns out they're even more fun in NYC (which I seriously didn't think was possible). I had my first bison burger, washed down with a very nice glass of Malbec. Yummy! And a strawberry milkshake for dessert.

After dinner, we headed to Gym Bar for drinks and people watching, and then it was back to the hotel to sleep.

All in all, a fantastic weekend in NYC! I think I've gained five pounds, but it was totally worth it, and I can't wait to do it again next year.

Because there's always a next year. I love New York!

* * *

The ultimate bounce

It's been almost three months since my last blog post, and I could sit here and tell you a million reasons why I haven't been around, but I'm pretty sure you don't want to hear them, and I'm not sure they're all that fascinating anyway. What I will say is that life has been interesting and I've just been going with the flow, and learning, and growing, and taking each day as it comes.

I had a rough 2012. Those who know me personally will smile when they read that, because they know it's an understatement. But the great thing about having a rough year is that the following year seems pretty damn good. And I'm happy to say that's the place I'm in right now. I've moved, I've settled in completely to a new neighborhood and new apartment, and I'm surrounded by an amazing number of people who've lifted me up, made me laugh, and reminded me that life doesn't always suck.

In short, I've bounced back.

I heard a lot of cliches over the past year and a half, well-meaning stuff like "This too shall pass" and "Time heals all wounds", and while there were moments when I heard those things and wanted to stab the person saying them, they're true. They really are true. You can have the worst thing in the world (in your mind, anyway) happen to you, and bounce back. You can be hurt and betrayed and shattered, and bounce back. You can love someone who completely and utterly breaks your heart, skews your vision of the future you thought you had, making you question everything you used to believe about life and love and commitment and loyalty... and still bounce back.

So that's all I wanted to say. I'm still here, I'm still writing the third book, and I'm a work in progress like everyone else.

I'm bouncing. How about you?

Las Vegas, March 2013, girls' weekend. Definitely a fun part of the bounce-back experience!

P.S. Almost forgot to mention that FREAK is now out in paperback! Woo hoo!

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Toronto Book Lover's Ball

I had the most amazing, magical time at the Book Lover's Ball last night, which is an event to support the Toronto Public Library (which just happens to be the the busiest urban library in the world). I was invited to to attend the ball as a "celebrity author" (don't giggle!) and I had the most beautiful time. Last night reminded me how much I love being a writer, how much I love meeting other writers, and how great it is to talk to people who love books. Though I've lived in the Toronto area most of my life, it was my first time at the Fairmont Royal York. What a lovely, grand hotel.

All dressed up and ready to go!

The ballroom was huge!

Lots of beautiful people all dressed up.

Table 10, my table!

The team at Simon & Schuster Canada (my publisher here) made sure I had a great time. This is Max Arambulo, publicity guru at S&S.

And this is Felicia Quon, Director of Marketing at Simon & Schuster Canada.

There was all kinds of entertainment (yes, I found the man on the screen very entertaining)...

And a fashion show of sorts...

And I got to spend some time with my lovely friend Laurie Grassi, the books editor at Chatelaine magazine.

Hanging out with author Brad Smith (we didn't realize we have the same agent in New York, Victoria Skurnick!), Max, Laurie, and Felicia.

Having a great time with one of my beautiful table mates, Mary.

And another gorgeous table mate, whose name has fallen out of my head now! Must have had too much wine, but she was lovely.

And unwinding in the bar at the end of the night with the S&S team and their authors, including the very dashing Andrew Pyper, author of THE DEMONOLOGIST (out in March).

All in all, it was a fabulous event, and I hope I get to go again! The dinner was absolutely delicious (steak!) and they even catered to my food allergies. We writers don't get many opportunities to feel glamorous, and every girl needs a night out like this once in awhile. I was so flattered and happy to be part of something this worthwhile, and the Toronto Library raised a lot of money through everyone's donations and the silent auction. Fun for a good cause!

Hope your year is off to a great start!

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