Monthly Archives: July 2011

News from Les . . .


I wanted everyone in Greater Cleveland to know I’ll be speaking at the Cuyahoga County Library in Parma Heights (6296 Peark Road) at 7 pm, this coming weekend (July 27).  I’ll be signing books, too—so please come by and say hello.

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I’m Innocent!!!

As a young man living in New York City, I gradually became aware that there were other people in the world whose names were also Les Roberts.  One of them, a well-known jazz-folk guitarist, used to gig at a club about three doors from where I lived.  I also became aware of a professional wrestler named Les Roberts.  Later I found that a Les Roberts ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in upstate New York.  And another Les Roberts has written several non-fiction books as a political/scientific expert.  Good for all of them—and also to the Les Roberts who came to one of my book signings years ago and introduced himself. But in 2007 I started getting angry letters and emails from my readers, complaining about a mystery written by Les Roberts called “The Poisoned Plum,” which was all about lyme disease.  None of my readers liked it very much—a few said they wouldn’t buy my books anymore as they were so dismayed by this one. Guess what—I’m INNOCENT.  I did not write “The Poisoned Plum.”  I did a little research and discovered that THE OTHER LES ROBERTS lived in Atlanta and was in some sort of public relations position. … Continue reading

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Natal Day

There were so many wonderful Facebook messages wishing me a happy birthday (it’s today, 7/18) that I’d be at the computer for three days, thanking each one personally.  I’ll do it here instead; the birthday greetings all made me smile broadly—and it’s still only just past 9 a.m.!!!!  Bless you all—and YOU have a great day, too.

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First, you get their attention!

I’m a great believer in writing terrific opening lines.  Open a book and if the first sentence grabs you, you’re hooked. Much was made about the first sentence in my debut novel, “An Infinite Number of Monkeys.”  Several mystery critics have listed it as one of the best, and that flatters me—although the book is not at all about house plants, and at the time I didn’t think it was THAT good.  It read, simply, “My ficus benjamina was dying.” That novel, which won the Best First Private Eye Novel” award for 1997, jump-started my entire career—and I was pretty pleased about that first sentence, too, until I opened the following year’s award-winning book—”Fear of the Dark”— and was jarred out of my socks by THAT beginning line: “The white boy with the funny left eye walked into the Acey Deuce on a Monday Night Football night.” Wow.  I knew right from the start that Gar Anthony Haywood was a great writer.  Think about all he put into that one sentence.  “The white boy” indicated that “The Acey Deuce” was an African-American type bar, and “the funny left eye” will make you remember that intruding character for the rest of your life.  We know right… Continue reading

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Saturday July 16

I just wanted everyody on the west side—and that includes Seattle, Denver, San Francisco, or anywhere else “out west”—that this coming Saturday I’ll be signing “The Cleveland Creep” from 1 pm until 2 pm (I’ll stay longer if anyone wants me to) at Borders Books in Strongsville, Ohio.  It’s only a few blocks west of I-71 and right across the street from the great big mall—so I hope I’ll see all of you there.  You’ll like Strongsville, I guarantee it.

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I blogged a few weeks back about “little treasures,” i.e. finding those rare and exquisite moments in novels that simply won’t be forgotten.  I could list hundreds of them—and I suppose that if I sat down and re-read my twenty-six books (#26 is coming in October, “The Strange Death of Father Candy”) I suppose I could find a few of my own.  I hope so, anyway. But the one I remember best is an entire chapter—Chapter Three—of “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck.  I’ve often said Steinbeck is my all-time favorite author, which is true.  I return to his work whenever I can and it always impresses and amazes me.  But that Chapter Three is absolutely stunning. I guess I could re-type the whole chapter here—it’s only about three pages long—but I don’t want to rob anyone of the pleasure of discovering it where it belongs.  “The Grapes of Wrath,” as most people know, is about a dirt-poor family, the Joads, forced by the drought to leave their dustbowl farm in Oklahoma and travel across the country hoping to find some sort of day-work in lush, green California that will keep them alive.  It’s a story of the courage and persistence and… Continue reading

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Under a Bridge

Making between ten and twenty speeches every year at libraries and clubs and to school groups, I’m always asked questions about my writing, and one comes up fairly often: “Where do you get your ideas?” Someone always wants to know. Sometimes when I’m feeling particularly flippant I’ll swear that whenever I need some, I contact an old guy in New Jersey who sends me ten ideas for twenty-five bucks. Once, when I was teaching an adult writing class at a college just outside Los Angeles, a woman from the group called me one afternoon. “I have six different ideas for books,” she told me on the phone. “But I can’t think of which one to pick.” Since she didn’t explain any of those ideas further, everything in me wanted to simply say, “Pick number four” and hang up. Instead, I said, “All of us have dozens of different ideas every day. As a writer, pick the one you’re thinking about the most.” She thanked me profusely—and we never spoke about it again. But I’ve always felt that way—that certain ideas go in one ear and out the other while others, the really important ones, stay inside the head and cook… Continue reading

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Never Forget a Face

When I’m invited to speak at a library or an organization, the first thing I do is scan the crowd for a face, or faces, that seem somehow interesting to me. It doesn’t have to be a beautiful one, but it must be an attention-grabbing face, one with a secret wisdom, a look that will trigger in me an emotional chord that makes me imagine it in various situations that I’ll one day use in a novel. After the event, I always jot down a brief description in my notebook or make an entry onto my tape recorder that I might use two, five, or even ten years down the line, long after the subject in question has forgotten they ever met me. It makes sense, after all. If I didn’t make notes on people I see, my next novel would be about my drapes, because that’s what I look at all day. Every one of the characters in my books is based on someone I’ve met or might have noticed on the street or in a restaurant who has what I consider a distinctive look. So if you see me coming, watch out! You may become the inadvertent “star”… Continue reading

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The Lake Effect

My ex-wife, Gail, whose marriage to me ended in 1978 but with whom I remained good friends until her untimely death early in 2005, was living in her hometown of Denver in the early nineties, and her oldest friend from high school was running for a seat on the Denver City Council. Gail called to tell me about the campaign and said, “You really have to come out here and see it for yourself—you’ll just never believe it. I think there’s a book in this campaign for sure.” So I spent a week in Denver, going to political rallies and planning sessions, and was amused and startled by the ineptness of Gail’s childhood friend’s campaign, especially against a popular and well-entrenched incumbent. The tumblers in my mind began clicking away at the very first rally; I knew where I was going with this idea—or rather where Milan would. I came back to Cleveland, transferred the rather peculiar politics I’d witnessed in Colorado to a mayoral race in a nonexistent northeastern suburb (I called it Lake Erie Shores, so I wouldn’t upset the real-life politicians in Lake County who, I’m certain, would have taken offense and believed I was talking about… Continue reading

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Are the holidays over yet?

July 4th has come and gone, finally.  We attended not one but TWO huge holiday parties and pigged out at both of them, which is what everyone should do on the 4th of July.  However, beginning on July 1, “neighbors” were setting off fireworks right outside our windows until late at night.  The first time, startled by all the explosions and flashing lights (the rockets’ red glare) I feared we were being attacked—but then there aren’t too many terrorists targeting Stow, Ohio. I don’t think any more days off will come around until Labor Day—nearly two months from now.  That means I’ll have more time to WRITE.  I’m currently working on Milan Jacovich mystery #16—tentatively titled “Whiskey Island.”  I’m sure all Greater Clevelanders have heard of Whiskey Island—although it is NOT an island but more like a peninsula jutting out into Lake Erie not too far west of downtown.  It has a very intersting history, which I’ll write more about in the book, from Irish shanties in the 19th century to distilleries in the early twentieth century (thus its name) to a vast and all-but-deserted junkyard to, currently, a pleasure boat marina and festive park.  Watching the downtown fireworks this year from Wendy Park was quite… Continue reading

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