Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bake a Cake for Obama, Make a Pie for McCain

So here we are, one week out from Election Day, and all this politicking has left me, well ... kinda hungry.

For the record, I'm a Democrat and an Obama supporter. Over the past year or so, I've enjoyed numerous encounters with friends who do not share my political beliefs. For the most part, these have been well-reasoned, reasonably sober, even-toned discussions where we respected each others' opinions and behaved as adults. But there have also been a few knock-down, drag-out confrontations that stopped just short of blood-letting ... and this was with people I'm related to.

For the life of me, I can't understand why these decent human beings can't see things as I do and vote the same as me, but that's what makes this world so interesting, eh?

We have a friend, Bob, a diehard Republican, who has been after my wife for months to bake him his favorite cake. It's a Portuguese honey-almond cake that comes from a 30-year-old recipe out of Bon Appetit. Debbie makes it for special occasions and, for my money, it's the best damn cake in the world. If ever there was a cake that could make someone re-think their political beliefs then this is it.

The other day, Debbie baked this most wonderful cake and we presented it to Bob and his wife, Darby, and said: "We've enjoyed our political discussions over the past year and respect your point of view. Please accept this cake as a symbol of our belief in our system of government and the good things that can come from civil discourse. Yes, this is a bribe to change your mind so you'll vote for Barack Obama. But if it doesn't work, then so be it. Enjoy the cake."

So why not have a little fun in these last few days before the Nov. 4 election and, at the same time, get rid of the acrimony that politics can create? Why not offer a respite from rhetoric and the freaking economy and attend to creature comforts? Why not let people on both sides of the political fence support their candidates and honor their differences with... pastry?

To that end, I introduce: Bake a Cake for Obama/Make a Pie for McCain.

Here's how it would work: Pick someone with whom you have been at political odds over the past year. This could be a friend, like my friend Bob, who has held fast to opinions that differ widely from your own, so widely that at times you might have wanted to bash him over the head. Or, it could be a neighbor who has stuck up a political sign in her yard and you've considered it a direct affront to your beliefs.

If you are a Democrat and an Obama supporter, you will give that person a cake. And if you are a Republican and a McCain supporter, you will make that person a pie. You will offer a few kind words, try one last time to change their minds and, done with that, tell them to enjoy the pie/cake.

Will this change the outcome of the election? No way. Will it go a long way toward easing some of the ill-will that has been floating around during this seemingly endless political campaign? I hope so.

And come Nov. 5, the world will be a better place. It has to be ...

You're Gonna Love MAMA

This is a plug for the debut novel by my friend and former newspaper colleague, Deborah Sharp. MAMA DOES TIME came out earlier this month and it is all the things a good book should be -- smart and fast-paced with a big, big heart. As you can tell by the cover, above, it's the first in a series of Florida-based mysteries, set in the area around Lake Okeechobee. The next one, MAMA RIDES SHOTGUN will come out in 2009.

Here's what you need to know: Deborah will be at Urban Think! in downtown Orlando on Saturday, Nov. 1 at noon. Stop by, say hi ... and buy her book. And if you can't make it, look for MAMA at bookstores everywhere...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Happy Glutton in Charm City

Far be it from me to give the impression that all I did in Baltimore was eat and drink. I also slept and walked and, when time allowed, attended some of the excellent panels at Bouchercon. But far and away my favorite place was Lexington Market, a two-block long warren of vendors selling all manner of food and, well, they may have been selling other things but I was concentrating mainly on food.

The market has been around since 1782 -- it's the self-proclaimed "longest continuously operating market in the world" -- and when no less a food authority than Ralph Waldo Emerson visited back in the 19th century he called it the "culinary center of the universe." Actually, I have no idea whether the famed transcendental poet knew anything about food, but my eating experience at the market was, let's say, transcendental.

I found my way to a joint called Faidley's which, judging by the lines, is the place one must go to sample seafood in B-more. First I polished off a plate of fat, meaty Chesapeake oysters. I'm a big fan of our Appalachicola oysters here in Florida, but these cold-water bivalves might tempt me to switch allegiance. I meant to sample one and then take a photo of the rest, but as you can see, my stomach got the better of me. The oysters were followed by a plate of cherrystone clams, so briny and flavorful that to drizzle sauce upon them would have been sinful. Sadly, I was in such a swoon by the time that I finished the clams that I have no photographic proof they ever existed.

Then came the crab cake. The folks at Faidley's are such crab cake purists that they give you three different choices -- cakes made from lump meat, back meat or the claw. I chose lump ($12.95 for a crab cake the size of a softball.) Let me put it this way: I've always been pretty darn proud of the crab cakes I make at home. But this Faidley crab cake shamed me in such a way that I don't know I can ever make crab cakes again.

If my hotel room had come with a full kitchen, I might have considered buying a bunch of soft-shell crabs to saute for dinner. (As you can tell by the photo, the vendors at Lexington Market are very protective of their soft-shells.) But that would have been overkill. Before the trip was over, I ventured to Little Italy for dinner at Sabatino's (killer eggplant parm and homemade gnocchi), then touched down at Bertha's in Fell's Point for a meal that included oyster stew and tons o' steamed mussels dipped in a variety of sauces like anchovy-tomato and garlic-basil. Bertha's also served three selections of the local brews from Oliver -- Oliver Pale Ale, Oliver Manchester Cream Ale and Oliver Pagan Porter. It would have been rude of me not to try them all. But the most revelatory item from the menu at Bertha's, amid all that seafood, was a plateful of saged chicken livers. Served alongside the mussels and, yes, more crab cakes, they were a most savory delight.

And now, if you'll kindly excuse me, I have to step away for a bit. I'm still walking off the trip to Baltimore...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Bouchercon Bound

I'm packing my bags, getting ready to head for Baltimore and Bouchercon 2008. For those of you not familiar with Bouchercon, it's the annual gathering of mystery writers and mystery fans, named after Anthony Boucher, a science fiction/mystery writer-critic and one of the founders of the Mystery Writers of America. It's expected to draw a couple-three thousand attendees, all of whom have murder on the brain. A lovely group, indeed.

This is my first-ever Bouchercon and I'll be on a 10 a.m. Saturday panel entitled "Yesterday's Newspapers," with authors Rebecca Drake, Jack Getze, Marion Moore Hill and LJ Sellers, moderated by Bryan Gilmer. We'll be talking about reporters and newspapers in mystery novels. A lot to work with here, and it should prove to be a lively discussion. I'm just hoping I can hold up my end of the deal. I've been receiving emails from other panelists who are DOING ACTUAL REASEARCH ABOUT THE TOPIC. So maybe I'll just nod a lot...

Mostly I'll be doing what everyone else comes to Bouchercon to do -- hang out around the hotel bar (there better be several of them) and trade stories with other mystery writers and readers. I'm looking forward to crossing paths with dozens of folks I've had the pleasure to meet through the mystery writing biz, including Jim Born, J.D. Rhoades, Joe Konrath, Tasha Alexander, Don Bruns, Lee Child, Jonathon King, Harry Hunsicker, NM Kelby, Linwood Barclay, Tom Cavanagh, Sean Chercover, and aw hell, if I list everyone then I won't get a lick of real work done today. I'm also looking forward to the Friday cocktail party thrown by my publisher, St. Martin's Minotaur. My editor, Mighty Marc Resnick will be there, along with my publicist, Hector DeJean, and Andrew Martin, the Minotaur publisher. And never one to miss a good time or a free drink, my agent, Jumping Joe Veltre, has also decided to take the train down from New York City. (Private, personal note to my lovely wife, who can't make the trip: I promise not to drink as many beers as the last time I was around Resnick and Veltre. Promise...)

One more thing -- if any of you know Baltimore, please tell me your favorite places downtown for eating oysters, clams, crab cakes and all manner of seafood. I'm turning this into a culinary mission, too. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


One of my favorite Florida films -- A FLASH OF GREEN -- will be at the Enzian Theater on Oct. 20. But here's the even better news: Director Victor Nunez will also be on hand to talk about FLASH and his other films, including GAL YOUNG 'UN (based on a short story by Marjory Kinnan Rawlings), RUBY IN PARADISE (the film debut of Ashely Judd, set in Panama City), YULEE'S GOLD (about a Florida beekeeper played by Peter Fonda) and COASTLINES (a thriller with Josh Brolin set in a small Florida town.)

For those of you not familiar with A FLASH OF GREEN, it's based on the 1962 book by John D. MacDonald about a newspaper reporter involved with greed, corruption and environmental plunder -- the eternal Florida themes -- in a town much like Fort Myers. The film came out in 1984 with Ed Harris (above) as the reporter, Jimmy Wing, and Blair Brown (also above) as his lover and the head of a group trying to stop a big developer.

Nunez, a Florida native who teaches film at FSU, is a state treasure. I'm looking forward to seeing his film and hearing his words. Call the Enzian at 407.629.1088 to reserve your seat.

And I must add -- I am delighted that the Enzian now has Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA on tap.

Monday, October 06, 2008

As if writing a book were not enough...

...now comes word from The New York Times that some authors are designing video games that correspond to their books with hopes of pulling in new readers.

Guess it's unlikely we'll see a throwback trend -- authors chopping down trees and making paper to print their books upon. A quaint idea, though...

Actually, if I knew how to design video games then I would definitely create one to go with A DEADLY SILVER SEA. There's lots of shooting and plenty of bad guys and mazes of corridors and stuff blowing up... but, hey, I don't want to give away too much.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Top o' the morning to ya...

Ah yes, it's shaping up to be a fine day indeed. Mainly because I started it at Palmano's with my new favorite breakfast drink -- a shot of espresso in a glass of Guinness. (That's Rich Palmano's stomach in the background.) I read somewhere that this wonderful combination is called a "Bogtrotter," which is something of a slur against my Irish brethren. I don't care what it's called. All I know is that the world would be a better place if more people started their mornings in such a fashion. It's nutritious and delicious and you get a little buzz ... but not so much that you say screw it to getting any work done for the rest of the day.

Now, let's see, for lunch I think I'll have ...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The View from Chasteen's Palm Nursery

If there really were such a place as Chasteen's Palm Nursery, nestled on the shores of Redfish Lagoon, this is what I imagine it might look like. For the record, this photo was taken in The Garden of Palms in Fort Myers. Back in 2001-2002, when I was editor of Gulfshore Life magazine, I had an apartment in downtown Fort Myers and each morning I would go on a long walk that took me along the Caloosahatchee River waterfront and through the Garden of Palms. This was about the same time that I started dreaming up Zack Chasteen and writing the first chapters of BAHAMARAMA. How did I come up with the notion of making Zack a palm-tree grower? Well, this might explain it...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Thank you, Rick Riordan

Earlier this week, I was feeling way-down in the dumps. A friend had sent me yet another article, this one from New York Magazine, that prophesized the end of books. It was a long, sad, doom-and-gloom story of dwindling sales and bankrupt publishing houses and, well, it was the kind of story that makes an author think: Just why the hell am I trying to make a living doing this when the future of books looks so bleak?

And then, last night, I had the pleasure of introducing Rick Riordan to an audience of 300 or so happy fans at the Winter Park Civic Center. I'd estimate the average age to be about 12, middle-schoolers mostly, an equal mix of girls and boys, all of them clutching copies of books from the Percy Jackson and the Olympian series and hanging on Riordan's every word. For those of you who don't know Rick Riordan (it's pronounced Rye-er-dan), a quick bio: A native Texan, he spent 15 or so years teaching school in California and Texas before turning his hand to mystery novels. Books from his acclaimed Tres Navarre series, set in Texas, have won the Edgar, Anthony and Shamus awards, which is kinda like the Triple Crown of mysteries. And then, at the urging of his sons, he wrote a book called "The Lightning Thief." It came out in 2005 and it tells the story of Percy Jackson, a twelve-year-old boy with dyslexia and attention deficit disorder who discovers he's the son of the Greek god Poseidon. And, oh yeah, Percy just happens to hold the fate of the world in his hands. It's a wondrous and enthralling tale where gods and monsters walk the earth among us, where your best friend might just turn out to be a satyr or your favorite teacher a centaur. The fifth and final volume in the series, "The Last Olympian," comes out in 2009.

Far be it from me to make comparisons with JK Rowling and Harry Potter, but they are inevitable. I'll say this: I'm a big fan of Harry Potter and, while I've only read "The Lightning Thief," I'm prepared to be an equally big fan of Percy Jackson. I suspect Riordan will be finding a much larger adult readership in the months ahead. "The Lightning Thief" is being turned into a film. The director is Chris Columbus, who also made the Harry Potter movies.

But back to all those happy readers at the Winter Park Civic Center last night. I met two boys, Sam and Eli, who told me they each read at least a book a week -- and that's outside of the required reading at their school. They play video games, they watch a lot of television, they spend an inordinate amount of time online. But they still find time for books.

Said Sam: "You can't get smart, really smart, unless you read books."

Thank you, Sam. I needed to hear that. And thank you, Rick Riordan, for getting a new generation of readers excited about books. The future is looking better....

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


A major departure from the previous covers, huh? None of the bright colors and tropical flare. This one is dark, dark, dark...

And, oh yeah, the title. Another major departure. No puns.

Yes, this one started off as SHIP HAPPENS. But I never really thought that would float. So to speak. I batted around titles for months with my editor, Marc Resnick, and agent, Joe Veltre. My head explodes just thinking about it.

So go ahead and say it: Bob, that sounds like the title of a Travis McGee book.

Yeah, it does, doesn't it? A LONELY SILVER RAIN comes immediately to mind. Consider it an homage. After all, my wife and I named our younger son, Dashiell MacDonald Morris, after John D and Mr. Hammett. So I might as well offer a little nod in a title, too. Besides, if my pal Paul Levine can get away with THE DEEP BLUE ALIBI (echoic of MacDonald's THE DEEP BLUE GOODBYE) then I can trot out A DEADLY SILVER SEA.

What's important, of course, is that the story be worthy of the comparison. In my not-so humble opinion, it is. The best one yet. And I'll soon be posting the first few chapters so you can decide for yourself.

Beyond that, mark your calendars: Publication date is December 9.

Far be it from me to mention that A DEADLY SILVER SEA would make a wonderful Christmas gift.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

It's All Over in a Flash

I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the image above. It purports to be a shot of the "flash of green," taken somewhere along the Atlantic.

Some people don't believe in the flash of green. I'm not one of them. I've seen it three times -- once in Grenada and twice in Boca Grande, FL, looking out over the Gulf of Mexico. Here's a little piece I wrote about it for Gulfshore Life Magazine...

My friend Sullivan likes to mix a cocktail late each afternoon and walk to the beach where he sits in a chair along the dune line and watches the sun go down over the Gulf. It is not unusual for Sullivan to stroll back to his house and replenish his glass at least once before the sun has completed its descent. It passes for exercise.

I often join him for the ritual. The company is good, the gin is top-drawer and the bugs don’t bite if there’s a breeze. Sometimes Sullivan’s wife, a fine and lovely woman but a woman who finds no particular enchantment in sunsets, will ask if we are going down to the beach to sit and drink. It is an oft-played scene and this is Sullivan’s cue for puffing up in mock indignation and saying: “Absolutely not! We are conducting research. We are looking for the flash of green.” Sullivan’s wife will snort a fine and lovely snort, and Sullivan and I will stalk off to do what we have to do.

Sullivan claims to have read, in its original French, “Le Rayon-Vert” by Jules Verne. The title of the 1882 novel by the prolific French author refers to that beguiling phenomenon we sit and drink and wait for. According to legend, originating among the Celts and spread by Verne, those who see the emerald spark that occasionally tap dances on the horizon as the sun disappears are rendered instantly incapable of being “deceived in matters of sentiment.”

Wrote Verne: “He who has been fortunate enough once to behold it is enabled to see closely into his own heart and to read the thoughts of others.”

Science offers far duller insight. Once, before joining Sullivan for an hour or so of arduous research, I went online, tapped “flash of green” into the search engine and was rewarded with an infinite amount of what passes for digital wisdom. There were lengthy and learned postings by astronomers and academicians who sought to explain the flash of green by tossing about terms like “refractive photopic conditions” and “frequency of disspersive spectrums” as if the planet was populated entirely by honor graduates of M.I.T. There were Web sites that showcased photographs taken of green flashes at outposts around the world. There were even photographs of blue flashes. Red ones, too. I printed out several pages and delivered them to Sullivan, thinking he might find it interesting.

He flipped through the pages, offered a few grunts, and then he said: “Does this purport to be the truth?”

“It’s science,” I said.

“I’m too old for truth or science. I prefer Jules Verne,” said Sullivan, throwing the pages into a wastebasket. “Let’s go sit on the beach.”

And the whole way down there he grumbled: Since there surely is a flash of green, why would anyone see the need to prove it? Isn’t it enough to know that it exists? And why, for god’s sake, would some fool go to all the trouble necessary to take a picture of it? Just let it be, let it be ...

I have seen the flash of green three times, none of which occurred when I was sitting and drinking and watching for it with Sullivan. Indeed, each time I saw it I wasn’t really looking for it. I just happened to glance at the fading sunset and there it was. A gift, a freebie. I didn’t have to work for it. I feel almost guilty that it came so easily.

Sullivan, whose pursuit is diligent, perhaps even heroic, claims more than a hundred sightings, all from his chair in the dunes.

For the record, and despite the legend of “Le Rayon-Vert” and the alleged knack for reading the thoughts of others, both Sullivan and I remain sentimental dupes, forever capable of being deceived in matters of the heart.

“That woman,” said Sullivan, speaking of his wife, “she has deceived me from the moment I met her nearly fifty years ago.”

“Love her do you?” I ask.

“Endlessly,” said Sullivan. “You ready for another drink?”

I gave him my glass and told him he should hurry. Sunset was almost upon us and he might miss the flash of green.

“Ah,” said Sullivan. “Take a picture, why doncha?”

There was a breeze and the bugs did not bite.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Island Hours: Part Two

Sooner or later, everyone who goes to the Abacos makes it to Great Guana Cay. The big draw is Nippers, the rightly famous watering hole overlooking one of the Bahamas' most glorious strands, almost six miles of uninterrupted sand and gorgeous water.

If arriving by boat -- which is the best way, uh, the only way -- you tie off and walk through the Settlement, the only "town" on the island. You pass the Post Office. It probably won't be open. And it probably won't concern you in the least...

Saturday, July 19, 2008


I was on Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas a couple of weeks back and saw this sign in the window of the local bank. It's illustrative of the way this blog has operated for the past year or so. I've been keeping island banking hours. Meaning, Surrounded on Three Sides has been closed most of the time.

Several reasons for this, the main one being that I was way behind on the next book and I felt guilty writing blog posts when I should have been writing the book. But I am proud to announce that A DEADLY SILVER SEA is finally done. I turned it in to Marc Resnick at St. Martin's last month and it will be out in early December. I'll soon be posting the cover which, like the title, is quite a departure from the previous books in the series. And I'll soon be sharing the opening chapter or two.

But all of this is just to say -- Surrounded on Three Sides is open once again. Thanks for visiting. And I hope to be keeping more regular hours. At least for the near future.