Saturday, December 24, 2011

Errand in Hong Kong

The author in Hong Kong in the nineties

The narrator, Emma,  must pick up some tapes from a scary man in Hong Kong.  The year is 1989.

Hong Kong,

What a hassle! My flight arrived late and I barely had time to check into my hotel and change before my appointment.
I kept trying to remember Franz’s last minute instructions.  Keep the calling cards pristine.  Don’t use them as book marks or tooth picks.  Arrive on time.  Present the cards with both hands after the handshake.
My taxi stopped at a soaring skyscraper of steel and smoked glass on Connaught Road in Victoria. He’ll be expecting you between three and four, Franz had said.  I walked through the elegant rosewood lobby, and took the swift, silent elevator to Suite Eight on the Eightieth floor.  Eight is a lucky number in Chinese cultures.  My appointment was with Mr. Ocho Lee of South China Software. I had to keep wiping my damp hands on a handkerchief lest I soil the business cards, and I scrutinized my suit for spots or smudges. 
Suite Eight had thick red carpeting, white walls, and sleek lacquered black furniture. Feng Shui to the max. A petite receptionist in a red dress ushered me into a private office. 
A man in a black pinstriped suit, a white shirt, and a yellow paisley tie sat at a teak table, empty except for a jade chess set. He had the softest hand I ever shook. Just as Franz had coached, I presented three calling cards: Franz’s, Dr. Mittelstadt's and mine.  Mr. Lee placed them in a neat arrangement in front of him.
“Miss Emma Lee Davis representing Dr. Franz Nemecek, Dr. Mittelstadt’s delegate?”  The voice was so muted that I strained to hear.
 He gestured toward a chair.  I had to pull my eyes away from the hypnotic view over Hong Kong, north to the Kowloon hills, and beyond to the New Territories and China.  Below us, ferries, wooden junks and freighters from every port of call criss-crossed the busy harbor while jets took off and landed over the water in the east.
 At first I wondered if Mr. Lee was albino, but he was just pale: white skin, alabaster hair, chalky brows, and lashes.  Milky blue eyes smiled at me without geniality or mirth.  He wasn’t Asian, and his accent was an absence, neither English nor American. His unlined face could be thirty or forty or even fifty.
Abstract oils lined the walls, but their stiff twisted forms repelled me.  In the bloody reds and the angry daubs of orange, I imagined executions and disemboweling, torture and mutilation, even more appalling for being subliminal.
"Do you admire my art collection?"  The soft unaccented voice had asked, breaking the silence. 
"Interesting.  Very intense."  I tried to be noncommittal.
Ocho Lee’s pale eyes forged a smile.
Not bothering to conceal his interest, he cast an auctioneer's glance over my suit, my shoes, my handbag, even my wristwatch.  He looked absolutely sure of his knowledge, as if he could pronounce a value for each piece separately, or for the total package.
“May I please have the tape?” I asked, making an effort to sound polite.
“Won’t you join me for tea?”
Remembering how adamant Franz was about avoiding conflict and causing Mr. Lee to lose face, I said, “I’m so sorry, but I’m meeting my husband’s five o’clock flight.” 
Bleached blue eyes met mine, quietly, patiently, attempting to gauge character and personality. 
"Your husband is also associated with computers?"
"Oh, no.” 
"Will you be staying on as tourists?" he asked with polite disinterest?
I didn’t want to tell him any details about myself or Roger or our plans.  I just wanted to leave.  My diction began to borrow the formality of his speech.
"I do regret that I am pressed for time. May I have the tape, please?"
A suggestion of petulance played about his soft grayish lips.
 "Pity.  Americans hurry so.  Stress is dangerous for the body.  And the mind."  His silky hand gestured toward the chess set.  "You in the West should practice...avoidance," he said, and I heard the soft warning in his voice.
When he handed me the tape, I felt the velvety hand again, and suppressed a shudder.
  "The present difficulties can be remedied. ”He paused for emphasis, and I must have looked dim, for he continued, “South China Software is anxious to obtain more development projects in the West."  His voice both insinuating and ingratiating.  “We are aggressively… competitive.” 
I popped the tape into my handbag, muttered some polite inanities and made my escape.  Riding down in the elevator, I noticed my once crisp white linen suit was limp and wrinkled.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Weihnachten ins Göttingen

Christmas Eve, some years ago
The uncooked goose
My heroine, Emma, lived and worked in Göttingen in the summer, but she would have loved the Fussganger Zone in the holiday season with the great lights and a dusting of snow.  We spent one Christmas there, and a memorable one it was, too, with real candles on the tree, a Christmas goose and  even some snow.  Fireworks and church bells completed the ambiance.  It was wonderful. Above is my mother-in-law holding the goose.

I never visited Göttingen without at least one visit to Kron & Lanz, which was in a scene in The Shadow Warriors.  Indeed the whole town from the wild pigs (wildschwein) to the train station and everything in between in is the novel.  Another photo from that lovely Christmas below.

Göttingen at night - - Christmas

The Shadow Warriors is now available on devices other than the Kindle:  The novel can be found on the Nook, Diesel, Apple's reader--just about everything but Sony and that's coming soon.  It wasn't much fun to do the Smashwords formatting, but an techie like me can usually figure it out. 

Merry Christmas!  Frohe Weihnachten, Gutes Neues Jahr and forgive my bad German.  I need Frau Eisenach to advice me.  She is one of my favorite characters from the novel.  I mean, how many novels do YOU know that are set in Göttingen?  Probably not that many.  And available on 


Emma's creator

Friday, December 9, 2011

Formatting ebooks - no job for the techno-ignoramus

For several weeks now, I've been slaving over the old Shadow Warriors manuscript.  I wanted it to be not just on Amazon, where it sits now, but available for Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Diesel ebook store and other outlets.   Enter Smashwords.
I've been working on Word since Windows was a toddler, both in business and writing, so I thought myself pretty knowledgeable. 
I didn't know nuthin.'  But I did learn, and once I format a few more manuscripts I'll be the format guru.  Well, maybe.  I'm a detail oriented person (years of computer programming and writing), but formatting details tend to be, well, sort of boring.    Tedious, even.  But ya gotta do it.  Smashwords Style Guide
Last feedback was to get the return characters out of my copyright statement and remove the second chapter 20.  Gee, I wondered why the word count had increased.  Hoping to get into the "Premier Catalog" before the holidays.  Last year, The Shadow Warriors became available at Amazon on December 22nd.  Merry Christmas!  Hope it's earlier this  year.   Whoever thought those pesky warriors  (AKA software agents)  would hang around so long.
A reader found a hilarious typo in a recipe in the back of the book.  Yes, there are a few German recipes.  You get a lot to like with 'Warriors.'  I wrote "white whine" when I meant, well, you know what I meant.  I fixed it of course.  Darn!  It was so funny.  Sometimes fingers do the damndest things.        

If you have a Kindle, buy the book just for the recipes.  All tested for YEARS!    Cheap to make.  Tasty.  Nothing fancy.  End of ad.

In a subsequent post I hope to announce the book is available on all these devices.  If you have a Kindle, you may want to take a gander at this web site:  Kindlemojo

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Welcome Italia and Espana

The Shadow Warriors is now available on Amazon in Italy and in Spain.  I'm so excited about Spain after just having traveled there.  We were so impressed with the history, the art, culture, the superb hams and the wonderful paradores.  So much to take in. My feet have just about recovered from the cobblestones.  I've always adored Italy, too.  So cool to walk into a tiny trattoria and when the waiter appears without menu, just say "Lasagne Verde,"  and you will be served lasagne verde.  Hello and welcome to Italy and Spain.  If you read English, you may like The Shadow Warriors.

A few weeks ago, I cleaned out my huge "research" file that I used to write The Shadow Warriors and a couple of other as yet unsold computer crime novels.   Computer research done in the nineties is history, old history,  as old today as when the Moors were in Spain.  I tossed it all, with much ruing and many regretful pangs.  Gone.  Done. Out.

Parador in Carmona
The Burning Man novel,  (unsold) is still technologically current, because I imagined technology that might be around the corner, bleeding edge technology.  The novel I will try to sell now, a woman in jeopardy book,  has a stolen laptop loaded with "LoJack for Laptops."   Nothing else very high tech.  The novel I am currently writing is set in Southern California in 1928.  No technology to speak of.  Talkies coming in, trams everywhere, Prohibition, the Black Bottom, cool old cars.  It's hard to put your head into another place and time, but once you get it, it won't change on you.

Computer crime will read its ugly head as long as there are computers.  How do you like them apples?                      

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Shadow Warriors and Reading Devices

After a certain amount of pain, having to do with cleaning up and formatting the now ancient (2001) manuscript of The Shadow Warriors, that was still in individual chapters.  I came through the process.  Much of it was ugly, like making sausage.  Smashwords has lots of formatting rules, and my original manuscript broke most of them. 

Nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished without work, have you noticed?  Even the roast pork fried rice I'm making from the leftover pork tenderloin  is work:  cook the egg, cook the bacon, cook the rice, cut up the meat, the onion, the ginger, slice the mushrooms, yada yada.   Of course the effort will be delicious, and full of good veggies and flavorings, lean and "nutritionally correct," more or less.  Not that I pay a lot of attention.  So:  work.

I have been slaving over The Shadow Warriors off and on for many years.  Writing and rewriting.  You know what they say.  Writing is rewriting.  So the baby is out there in print, on the Kindle, and now on a wealth of other devices.  Hopefully I will get it into the "premier" catalog.  I downloaded Adobe Digital Editions.  My NCX looks great.  The text version had weird fonts, but here was as way to adjust that was pretty cool.  It's a whole new world out there.  A world where one has to be technical (or rich to hire someone to do the technology ).  I have a love/hate relationship with technology.  Mostly love,  until Smashwords smashes me.  We're friends again.  I guess. 

Buy the book and let me know if you like it.  I think you will. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving in Gøttingen

Many years ago, a relative visited us in Chicago on Thanksgiving.  The turkey was very impressive, and he said whole turkeys were  expensive in Germany.  The day after (this was before black Friday), we bought a  large frozen turkey at half price.  We scoured suburban Chicago for a stryrofoam cooler, and finally found one at the local hardware store, high on a shelf waiting for spring.

Said relative packed the turkey into the cooler and took it as hand luggage aboard the flight to Frankfurt.  Going thru customs, he was asked for his Meat Importer's License, because obviously so much turkey must be to carve up and sell.  After a long explanation, the customs agent, in very unGerman fashion, threw up his arms and waved him and the turkey through the line.

When we flew over (via London) at Christmastime, we brought  sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cranberries, stuffing mix and the rest of the fixins.  Saw a turkey for $100 at Harrods fool hall.  Yikes.

 It was hard to find ground veal and shallots in Germany in those days (the veal was minced, not ground) but we perservered, and I cooked up a big holiday feast for the whole familyin my mother-in-laws post-war kitchen.  The stove was primitive, but she did have a new fridge that held more than a watermelon and a six-pack.  It was a wonderful time.

Cross-cultural exchanges, even among families can be illuminating, and we should all  try to understand different cultures.  I have been reading Washington Irving's "Tales from the Alhambra" and it is very illuminating apropos the Moors in Spain.  Did you know that in the early Middle Ages, the Jew, Moors and Catholics were able to co-exist in Southern Spain?  How is it that they can't now?  Makes you wonder.  

Happy Thanksgiving to all.  In The Shadow Warriors, Emma, the narrator, makes a Caesar Salad to take to a party with many international students. Someone dances the Lambada.  I always think of that when Lambada comes up on the tape in my aerobics class.  What a crazy world.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The FBI and Cybercrime

The FBI Investigates Cyber Crime 

Here is another link to some testimony:  Cyber Crime On Social Networking Sites

My Facebook Account was hacked and a "message" sent out to my friends trying to lure them to a website with the promise of a photo of them.  I had to email everyone and warn them not to visit.  This was embarrassing and I was even "defriended" by a few.  It also took up a lot of my time, and I had to change not only my Facebook password but all my email passwords.  Major pain in the ass, quite frankly.  These hacks seem to have died out a bit lately.  Maybe Facebook has beefed up their security.

A manuscript that I'm currently trying to sell has facial recognition software playing a big part. I made "my" software ahead of the curve in that it can recognize many faces at one time.  The software agents I devised for The Shadow Warriors have probably come to pass.  What do you think?  Are software agents alive and well and cruising through  networks and running amoke? 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Coming Cyber Wars

Today's Boston Globe has an interest op-ed page about cyber warfare and what the U.S. government admits and does not admit.   All the gurus on this topic agree that the cyber war will be a "when" not an "if" scenario, and of course industry is lagging behind any meaningful readiness.    As a result, the government may have to intervene to keep electric grids and the whole infrastructure safe(r).

Most people are unaware of this whole concept.  Scary, really.  If you want to read about the kind of war I'm talking about in an earlier time, a "what might have been" scenario, it's just as frightening today as it was for the fictional participants then.  And just as puzzling.  Who knew?  And today?  Who is ready?  Maybe the U.S. government, perhaps other governments, and perhaps no one is really ready.  Read about it here…

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Infowar Monitor

There are quite a few information web sites that cover Info war.  Here is another one.  Infowar Monitor

I began writing about Information Warfare almost sixteen years ago, after a trip to Singapore. The International Computer Security Conference used to be held there at Raffles Center.  The book rose like a genii from the trip.  Who knew? 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Advanced, Persistant Threats - Cybercrime Now

The Next Generation of Cybercrime: How it’s evolved, where it’s going.  I downloaded this from Computer World's White Pages today.  Very interesting.  APT are a form of Info Warfare.

Want to read some fictional cybercrime?  Have a Kindle?  The Shadow Warriors are lurking in the wings.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Another cool information warfare site!

Infowar Monitor
 The revolutions in the Middle East are also being fought on the net, Facebook and even Twitter.  In fact a Tweeter observed the raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound, wondering WTF?

The Syrians, as one might expect, have tried to usurp cyberspace for the own devious aims.  See the above link. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Information Warfare Web site

Any readers or potential readers of The Shadow Warriors might want to learn more about Information Warfare.  This is a great site that has all the latest hacks and attempted hacks.  
Information Warfare Web Site 

The info warriors have to stay on the cutting edge, no, make that the bleeding edge of technology. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Göttingen Schützenfest

Here is the loaf- where are the fishes?
The Best of the Wurst
1962 Schützenfest in Göttingen
Göttingen, Germany is  wonderful small city, a university town with brio, culture, and bustle.  I found these old photos taken out of the 3rd floor window of the Commerzbank back in 1962 on the occasion of the Schützenfest parade down Prinzenstrasse.  My in-laws lived in Göttingen since after World War II, and it was always such fun to visit.  In fact, we  visited so often that when I was writing The Shadow Warriors and needed a university for Professor Mittelstadt,  Göttingen's came to mind immediately.   I felt relieved that there was no "Institute for Advanced Computing," and I could make it up.  I made up a lot, but most of it was based on fact, including the "Stern Marsch"  and  the resulting riot.  A visit to the library's michrofiche department provided photos of police, helmets down, dogs straining at the leash.  
An  author always looks for the most dramatic setting possible, and naturally  a university always has the town/gown controversies and professors, their wives, grad students, all the things I put into The Shadow Warriors.  One day, knowing I needed certain characters for my novel, I sat in the Marktplatz and jotted down descriptions of interesting people who walked by.  I found Jakob, Marlies, Claudia, Marcus and others.  Petra was a long time coming, and I finally saw her at Roche Brothers supermarket in Wellesley, MA, but her scuffed velvet jacket came from a relative.  

Did you know the Brothers Grimm were professors at the University and were even protesters way back when?    Another interesting fact that went into The Shadow Warriors.  My nephew took me bar-hopping one night, and  again, the pubs went right into the book, but under different names.  One of them is picturered in this blog in an earlier post.  Another sidewalk cafe became Cafe Amalfi of Boston fame, now defunct.  It's a cool name, don't you think?  

If any of this sounds interesting, and you are a German who reads English, you might like The Shadow Warriors.  Other scenes are set in Berlin, Frankfurt, Baden-Baden and Singapore.  Also Hong Kong and Cambridge MA where I worked at the time.  "Warriors" is available on the German Kindle and also as a trade paperback.  Of course the Kindle version is 'way cheaper. 


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Seven (7) Suspenseful Sentence Sunday

Visit all the 7 Suspenseful Sentence Sunday authors at:  7 Suspenseful Sentence Sunday   

Emma, the narrator, is astonished with  one of the book's bad guys, Georgi Balakov, sits down at her table in the outdoor cafe in Göttingen, and starts his rambling soliloquoy. 

The tranquil garden, with orange nasturtiums cascading along the fence, and subdued classical music soothing the diners, emphasized the unreality of this encounter. . . .
            Balakov, sitting as impenetrable and in-your-face as the Wall dividing Germany, continued to talk. "When I first traveled to the West, my earliest business took me to Berlin. It was February, so cold and dismal, and yet, I wondered if I had arrived in a time machine with everyone, men and women walked about wrapped in leather or fur. What a wonderful Stone Age tribe—so elegant, so brisk. I was eager and raw then, an underdog hungering for the opulent capitalist bone, so meaty and full of fat. There would, I hoped, be no more gristle to chew.

Looking for a cool Kindle read?   The Shadow Warriors, a novel of international intrigue with technology run amok.  Here is the link: The Shadow Warriors on Amazon, Kindle and Trade Paperback 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

My Research for The World of Mirrors

I have always hoped that my research would inform and enrich this novel.  Here is what I read.  I'm hoping the publisher will take the novel. 

For an author, nothing beats firsthand visits and interviews, but steeping myself in the background and history of the period were also of prime importance and will, I hope, inform the writing in World of Mirrors.
Childers, Erskine, The Riddle of the Sands, New York, Dover Publications, 1976

Dodds, Dina and Allen-Thompson, Pam, editors.  The Wall in My Backyard, East German Women in Transition, Amherst, University of Massachusetts Press, 1994

Ellis, William S., GermanyThe Morning After, National Geographic, Vol. 180. No. 3, September 1991, 2 – 41.

Garton Ash, Timothy, The Magic Lantern, New York, Vintage Books, 1990

Garton Ash, Timothy, The File, A Personal History, New York, Random House, 1997

Kramer, Jane, The Politics of Memory, Looking for Germany in the New Germany, New York, Randon House,

Köhlers Flotten-Kalendar 1994, Das deutsche Jahrbuch der Seefahrt, Herford, Koehlers Verlaggesellschaft, 1994

Markovits, Inge, Impefect Justic, An East-West German Diary, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1995

Müller, Christine & Bodo, Über Die Ostsee In Die Feiheit,  Bielefeld, Delius Klasing Verlag, 1996

Philipsen, Dirk, We Were the People, Voices From East German’s Revolutionary Autumn of 1989, Durham, Duke University Press, 1993

Schneider.Peter, The German Comedy, Scenes of Life After the Wall, New York, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1991

Vesilind, Priit J., The Baltic: Area of Power, National Geographic, Vol. 175, No. 5, May, 1989, 602- 635.

Von Der Porten, Edward, The Hanseatic League, Europe’s First Common Market, National Geographic, Vol. 186, No. 4, October, 1994, 56 –79. 

Winkler, Hermann, Zeesboote, Rostok, Hinstorff, 1990

Wolf, Christa, The Author’s Dimension, Selected Essays, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1993

Wolf, Christa, What Remains & Other Stories, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1993

Wolf, Marcus Man Without A Face, The Autobiography of Communism’s Greatest Spymaster, New York, Random House, 1997

Marcus Wolf's autobiography provided the title, World of Mirrors.  Peter Schneider provided information about the North Vietnamese and the Wall dogs.  Timothy Garten Ash had a lot of interesting things to say about the Stasi and the Stasi files.  I learned so much researching this novel.  If you think this book sounds interesting,  you will also like The Shadow Warriors which is actually available.  World of Mirrors, soon, I hope.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Shadow Warriors, Auf Deutsch

“The Shadow Warriors” beschreibt Information Warfare. Hacker aus allen Winkeln der Welt, wollen entweder bösartiges Software (die Schattenkrieger des Titels) erfinden oder stehlen. Sie können Kraftwerke und den Luftverkehr stillegen, sogar die Verteidigung eines Landes in die Knie bringen. Die Handlung spielt hauptsächlich in Göttingen, aber auch in Asien und Europa, einschliesslich Berlin bevor die Mauer fiel. Dennoch sind die Gefahren heute genau so akut wie damals, wenn nicht noch grösser. Emma Lee Davis, die Heldin des Romans, beschreibt die Hackerkultur in ihrer respektlosen Stimme. Sie riskiert ihr Leben und Ehe und muss sich fragen, “wenn wir Computerverbrechen verhindern sollen, wieso helfen wir denn dabei?

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Shadow Warriors Now Available on Amazon Germany

The best news yesterday.  The Shadow Warriors, set in Germany, is now available on the Amazon Kindle in Germany.  See link to the right of this post.  I am nearly beside myself, because logic would dictate that a book set in Germany (Goettingen) should be available there.  And a book set at a university might tempt university students and faculty who read English. 

Other good news this week:  The literary journal Kansas City Lights is publishing  memoir piece about my grandmother.  My grandma was proudly from Kansas.  So is my heroine, Emma.  She always stops to notice flowers and gardens.  

Sometimes the stars do seem aligned.  The lilac has flower buds.  Last year, not one, and the year before only one.  This year, it looks loaded.  A pair of cardinals in the yard, and the cute little swamp (?) sparrow has a mate.  Ducks in the slough.  My cup runneth over.  Spring in New England.  Glorious.  The cats sleep upstairs in the sunlight streaming through the bedroom window.   They sniff spring at the open window.

Now I'm thinking of putting my Ruegen book onto the Kindle, too.  Set mostly on the island of Ruegen in the Baltic in midsummer,  with different characters, and also a computer crime novel (loosely), the story  hasn't found a home in the U.S.  By now it is an historical novel of technology.  Remember CD-ROMS?  That generation.  Before skysat phones. Before lots of technology.  

Here's a scrap of a Shadow Warrior's scene from a somewhat drunken university party on the occasion of Verna's graduation.

Raucous-voiced onlookers toasted Verena as she frugged wildly next to a man with bleached blond parted-in-the-middle-hair and a dark, bored face. Earlier, they had swept across the floor in an inhibition-shedding Lambada. Interesting that Verena celebrated her intellectual achievement with such a blow out. Vivacious and happy, she looked good tonight, with clear skin and legs slimmed by dark stockings. 

Every novel has a crazy party, some skinny dipping and a little weed.  Popular culture reigns.  
Street Sceme in Göttingen in the Weenderstrasse, the Fussgängerzone

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cafe Amalfi

Cafe Amalfi

The original "Cafe Amalfi" was around the corner from Symphony Hall in Boston and served uninteresting food, if I may damn with faint praise.  I did like the name.  I set several scenes in Goettingen at the above cafe.  The scene below is the last time Emma the narrator sees Lumomir Titov, "Luby," the Bulgarian spy and Hacker who has bedeviled her throughout the book, mocking her as "Mrs. Robinson," a reference from the movie The Graduate.  The name "Luby" came from a very nice man at my old tennis club in suburban Chicago, nothing like the real character.  A writer  is a shameless thief and books are all the better for it.  When Luby mentions the Berlin film festival, I had recently been there and he is mouthing my impressions, to a degree, but of course from a East Bloc country's point of view.   Here is the scene.   

The tranquil garden, with orange nasturtiums cascading along the fence, and subdued classical music soothing the diners, emphasized the unreality of this encounter. Later the memory of this lunch would be like a fantasy that rose genie-like out of my wineglass.
            Balakov, sitting as impenetrable and in-your-face as the Wall dividing Germany, continued to talk. "When I first traveled to the West, my earliest business took me to Berlin. February. So cold and dismal, and yet, I wondered if I had arrived in a time machine. Everyone, men and women walked about wrapped in leather or fur. What a wonderful Stone Age tribe! So elegant, so brisk. I was eager and raw then, an underdog hungering for the opulent capitalist bone, so meaty and full of fat. There would, I hoped, be no more gristle to chew.
            "The film festival occupied every theater. I joined the audience, and gazed at the images on the screens until late into the night. In a cafe on the Kurfürstendamm, I ate a bowl of strawberries from California, large red berries with tasteless white centers, completely void of the essence of strawberry. Consider. The illusion of strawberries in winter. A miracle to a man used to cabbage, carrots and potatoes!"            
            "Why are you telling me this?" I asked.
            He didn't answer.
            The waiter cleared the table, and looked mournful when he noticed my barely picked at plate. I ordered a double espresso.
            Balakov lifted his glass again, and with a faint smile said, "And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson..."
            He cut off my protest. "I will always think of you as Mrs. Robinson."
            "That night at the disco…” I began.
            "With your young friends. You danced with that cyber-punk from the Institute. Your little group was very drunk. I envied your camaraderie, your carelessness. The young man was quite enchanted, and I thought, what a dangerous woman, my Mrs. Robinson." 
            Balakov slid two twenty mark notes under the olive oil cruet and stood up.
            "Auf Wiedersehen, Emma Lee Davis-Robinson. Give Mr. Weber my regards. Do not ignore my counsel. Good fortune is a variable, not a constant."
            "I don't understand,” I said, almost pleading.
            His bitter smile conveyed nothing. Later I tried to think if heeding his or Marlies' warning would have changed the progression of events. Nothing would have changed. The clocks ticked on. The daemons waited. Momentum and inertia are forces with their own immutability.
            I never saw Georgi Balakov again.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Poster Art In Göttingen

Poster Art in Göttingen
Something not seen in the U.S. are kiosks full of colorful posters advertising concerts, theater events, etc.  That is one of the things we always photograph in Europe.  Here is a sample.

Another lovely feature of European cities are the flower vendors and the custom of bringing flowers for one's hostess.  I hope this custom is still alive and well.  Here is a flower vendor.   Emma, the protagonist of The Shadow Warriors, always had a vase of flowers in her room.  She missed her garden. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath Duke It Out

 In a massive 13,000 word post, Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler discuss e-publishing, publishing, writing, self-publishing and the times and how they are a changin'.  

Why is this of interest?  The Shadow Warriors was originally an e-book, and then a print book, and has come full circle and is again available as an e-book.   The novel has been "in print" for 10 years and I have great hopes for it as an e-book.  German readers would love it if a) they're pretty proficient at English and b) they have access to Amazon UK and can download.   I am reading that German publishing is not liking e-books so much, in fact they like it not so.  

If you have the time, prepare to be entertained, and there is much food for thought, too.  Read the Eisler/Konrath discussion.  It is an eye-opener.  Gives me hope for this novel. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Marktplatz and the Gänseliesl

The Goose Girl before the Rathaus in the town square
A produce vendor and her wares

Flowers in the Markt

 Emma is intrigued by the bustle of the University town of Göttingen.   When I was looking for characters for The Shadow Warriors, I  sat in the Marktplazt for an hour and watched the people walking by.  Three characters showed up.  How about them apples? Göttingen  was just a great setting for a book.  I stole great hunks of landscape and sometimes I even made up stuff, but most of the scenes were created from real places. 

Here is a glimpse of the street fair and some unpleasantness from The Shadow Warriors.

The square was jammed with students, professors, couples pushing baby carriages, old age pensioners, farmers with round peasant faces, and the Turks and Greeks who had come years ago as “guest workers” and stayed on to open restaurants and small businesses.
            We milled around, picking up the carnival mood. Wayne and Christof circled the sausage stands, while Christof earnestly tried to explain the difference between bratwurst and currywurst. Marcus and I followed a tempting odor to a booth where cauliflower and mushrooms were batter-dipped and deep-fried. A vendor wearing a leather apron over his red tabard handed us paper plates heaped with the crisp goodies in exchange for a few marks. Marlies, Petra and Gaby ordered the famed white asparagus.  Crowded together on a bench, we ate pommes frites , to cushion the alcohol to come, and drank Göttinger Pilsen, which I hoped might flush our arteries in a kind of yin-yang Germanic balancing effect. The familiar American smells of pretzels and popcorn mingled with the exotic aroma of shashlik turning on a spit.
Punk rockers, hair moussed into a rainbow of spikes, arrived, and festooned themselves on the base of the Goose Girl fountain. A guitarist with a melancholy American voice sang Where Have All the Flowers Gone? A few beggars sat stoically on the pavement, holding up hand-printed placards telling their individual tragedies.
            We passed a booth selling shots of vodka, each with a fig immersed in it. Wayne pantomimed gagging gestures, but I counted out four marks in change. As I handed the money to the vendor, I caught a glimpse of a face with dark eyes, eyes that were staring at me, but the man with the eyes slipped away into the crowd. It couldn't be. There was no way that the man from the Singapore bus and the Hong Kong Market could be at the Göttingen street fair. I downed the vodka in one hasty gulp, but the alcohol couldn’t burn away that face and those eyes.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Institute for Advanced Computing

University Buildings in Goettingen, Germany

Was I ever relieved when a check of the Göttingen phone directory didn't turn up any computer institutes connected with the university, freeing me up to invent one. I modeled mine on the gray building in the foreground, typical of many of the older university buildings.  Bet you didn't know that the Brothers Grimm of fairy tale fame were protesters at the university way back when.  Below is the description when Emma sees her "home away from home" for the first time.

            Wayne and I had heard about this Institute for so long that it had the mythic aura of a technical Valhalla where cyber gods programmed the universe. Our taxi hit all the green lights along the Bürgerstrasse, then turned into a long driveway and stopped. A light drizzle was falling on Göttingen, and everything looked gray, especially the old tree-shrouded, limestone buildings of the university.  The university wasn't confined to a campus, but scattered all over town. Signs pointed visitors to the nearby Mathematics and Physical Institutes. Franz paid the driver, and the three of us approached the Institute along a sidewalk of gray paving bricks. Our new home away from home had three stories, with a newer white stucco addition on the side. Franz translated the inscription on the brass plaque by the entrance: “Institute for Advanced Computing.”
            In the foyer, unfurled umbrellas stood drying. A few marble steps led down to a cellar and others up to the ground floor. Wayne and I followed Franz up the stairs. The building emitted an odor recognizable anywhere. Academe. Chalk, dust, floor wax and fusty classrooms. Franz opened a heavy wooden door; we crossed a wide hall and entered a large room cluttered with desks, chairs, CRT's, shelves crammed with binders, all old-fashioned and low tech. Along the windows on the back wall furiously blooming red geraniums trailed over the big wide sills.

Many scenes in The Shadow Warriors are set in the town and the Institute.  I wish that "Warriors" was for sale on, but it's not.  Sigh.  Guess the English speaking world (US and UK) will be the only readers for the time being.  

Monday, March 7, 2011

The University town of Göttingen and The Shadow Warriors

Frau Eisenach, a character in The Shadow Warriors, lives on Geiststrasse, or Ghost Street. She is an old lady in a house dress who wears carpet slippers because of a painful bunion, but she is good to my main character who stops by to visit (and to eat) every now and then. Frau Eisenach cooks up a skillet of "hoppel-poppel", bacon, egg, onion,  boiled potatoes and tomatoes fried together.  An easy, delicious supper, by the way.  The University town of Goettingen is the setting for most of the scenes of The Shadow Warriors.  I made up the "Institute for Advanced Computing," but it was based on a real building.  Over the years, what is real and what I made up have sort of merged together.   Totally weird.

My inlaws lived in the town for years and I visited often, until it was easy to write about.  When I wrote the protest march scene and others I went to the library and found the microfilm of some of the events.  My nephew took me pub-hopping and several scenes resulted from that evening.   It was really fun to put my characters into the scenes and see what they would do. 

In the next post, I'll confess how I found many of my local characters.  

Add caption
Here is where the good Frau Eisenach lived. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Shadow Warriors and Berlin

Not a pretty courtyard, but an awful place to be trapped at night
The novel is "set up" in Asia, moves to Cambridge, MA for a few scenes and then shoots off to Germany where the bulk of the story is set.  Emma drives to Berlin (the book is set in 1989 before the wall comes down) with Peter Weber, an intriguing man who has been off-handed courting her.  She is waiting for Peter late at night  in a seedy pub in Kruezberg.  Yikes!  Glad it was her and not me. 

I walked past the kitchen down a dark little hallway. 
            Damen. The amenities lacking. Naturally no toilet paper, but instead a wet floor littered with coarse brown paper towels and a toilet that shrieked for the tidy bowl man. The room smelled as badly as it looked. I rinsed my hands in cold water, wiped them on the back of my jeans, and lunged out the door.
            While I paused in the dark hallway to let my eyes get used to the dim light, I saw that the hacker now had a companion. Famine and pestilence together again. Georgi Balakov, AKA the Disco Whisperer, was taking a careful look around the room, examining every face. Balakov, the last man in the world I wanted to encounter tonight! His guarded thoughtful eyes rested on the Eurasian girl. Was he smiling?  Now I remembered her. Luby's pretty friend from Singapore.
            What had Peter gotten me into?
            I made a hard right turn through the swinging doors and into the brightly lit kitchen. The cook, in an apron that looked like he used it to swab the bathroom floor, sat on the chopping block, cleaning his toenails with a paring knife.
"Excuse me," I blurted in English, and charged through the kitchen and out the open back door where I ran smack into a box of garbage.
            I shrank back from the slimy smell of rottenness. Somewhere in the darkness, belly dance music whined from a radio. Barely able to see, I stumbled again. Standing still, I tried to get my bearings, but the bile rose in my throat, and engulfed in a surging wave of nausea, with my hands pressed against a stone wall, I vomited the sweet beer and the dinner.
            I dried my eyes with a corner of my shirt, and wiped my mouth. The music wailed, sinuous and throbbing. Peering around, I realized that I wasn't in an alley, but a courtyard. What if I was locked in? Groping along the stone wall in the darkness, I almost fell over a bike rack. A tenement stood facing the courtyard, but only a few windows on the upper floors were lighted. A banner with a skull and crossbones hung over a window. I picked my way across the rubble and ducked around a dumpster. The screech and scream of alley cats, fighting or mating, caused a dog to respond with a deep savage bark. Not the kind of neighborhood where strangers would open their doors at night. When I hit my shin against a crate, I sobbed in frustration. How was I going to get out of here? Finally I sat on the crate and tried to gather my wits. Nearby I could hear people walking, and the noise of cars in the street. Like the sounds were coming right through a wall! My eyes were finally adjusting to the darkness. I stood up and walked around more crates until I faced a black passage. The voices were close by. I could hear footsteps, even laughter. And I could see a neon glow at the end of the tunnel. Threading my way through the clutter, I plunged into the passage and stumbled my way toward the light.
            I came out onto the sidewalk, crossed the street with a party of punk rockers, and moments later, ducked into the door of our lodgings. They had some bizarre money-saving arrangement with the light switch where you had to turn on the hall light and then run like hell up the stairs before it switched off and left you stranded in the dark.
I ran like hell. 

Part of this story was inspired by a tale of my father's, said to be true.  He was somewhere long ago in Texas and had stopped into a cafe and ordered a steak.  When he came out of the men's room, he glanced into the kitchen.  There, indeed sat the cook paring his toenails with a kitchen knife.  A cat jumped on the counter and the cook picked up a steak (my dad's steak?) and slapped the cat with it.  My father said he walked through the hallway, out the door and just kept walking.  A good story has "legs."   Writers love good stories.  Kreuzberg used to be a kind of East Village place in the old days but I hear it has become rather upscale.  It sure as hell wasn't when Emma was there. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Incident at Stanley Market: The Shadow Warriors

Stanley Market Hong Kong

Our driver promised to pick us up in thirty minutes. I bought a frozen coconut bar from a vendor's cart, and looked around while I slurped it down. The market was a bazaar, just a warren of alleyways filled with booths all jammed with cheap-looking junk: sneakers, T-shirts, kimonos, lime green warm up-suits and gewgaws of international bad taste.  
             I lost Roger and Franz when they wandered into a shop selling tennis clothes, and I went on to paw through some hideous lingerie. Waste of time. When I beat it back to the tennis store, they were gone. It was definitely time for a fur fix, and I made friends with a calico cat lying between two big wicker baskets in a food stall.   
            Wandering through the market,  I killed time by taking photographs and watching people. Otherwise, I wouldn't have even noticed the two men in the shoe stall. My god, they were the same pair Peter and I had seen on the Singapore bus and then at Sentosa beach! The older, dark-eyed one was talking to his sidekick, who was examining the sneakers with so much concentration I expected him to whip out tags saying, “inspected by number 12,” and stick them onto the shoes. Dark Eyes spoke a mile a minute in a language I didn’t recognize. Then he stopped talking, and cast a quick glance all around the booth. Those hard eyes and that face with a permanent five o'clock shadow gave me the creeps, so much so that I ducked out of sight. I peered around the corner at them again. One inspecting, one gabbing, just like before. 
I aimed my little Olympus at them, pushed the zoom button, and snapped their picture, which was really stupid in retrospect, because I hadn’t calculated that the dim light in the recess of  stall would activate the camera's flash. A few people looked up, and then returned to their shopping. No such luck with this pair. For an instant they both froze, and then Dark Eyes glared at me. His mouth was all twisted, and before I could react, he charged around the corner of the display table toward me. His buddy hadn’t moved.
            The strap around my neck saved the camera from crashing to the ground, as he grabbed my arm.
            "What are you doing? What is the idea of taking my photograph?” He had a rough foreign voice, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the little polo player on his blue shirt.
             I said something really snappy, like,  "Not you. I'm...I’m taking pictures of everything. "   
            "I will have your film,” he said under his breath.
            I said, "Leave me alone." My heart pounded and I just wanted to get out of there.
            A Chinese man came up and asked, "Is there problem?"
            Dark Eyes dropped my arm and backed off. 
            "I was just taking some photographs of the market. Is that all right?"
I didn’t know if he understood me or not. He said, "If problem, I call police."
Dark Eyes said "No problem.” His companion stood and stared at us along with the other customers. The Chinese man strode behind the counter. He must have been the proprietor, and he obviously wanted us to leave.
            Like in a movie, I took off doing a panicky dodge through the maze of shops. I found the hideous lingerie shop again, grabbed a nightgown and charged into a dressing room about the size of a toilet stall. I cowered in there for what seemed like a long time. When I peered through the curtain, I didn’t see them. Again, just like in a chase scene, I heard some indignant shouts in Chinese as I hustled through the storeroom and out the back door.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Shady Doings in Singapore

While  we were in Singapore, my husband attended a business meeting, and I was free to see the sights.  My itinerary became my protag's (main character). We were both tourists and that made the writing easier, because I didn't have to know the area like a native.  A lot of my photographs inspired scenes in the book.

My husband's group went on a harbor tour in a boat just like the one in the photo.  They served a pretty ordinary "western" buffet and I was terribly disappointed not to get some chili crab or even Hainan chicken rice, some of the local specialties.  I put the cruise into the book, of course, without editorializing on the food.
Young string musicians played while we ate - very charming. 

A few paragraphs from the novel.

Monday, May 8
Delegates  Dinner Cruise of  Keppel Harbor aboard  a traditional Chinese Junk
Keppel Harbor world’s busiest.   Singaporean buffet and music
A  commercial armada  of ships of every nation at anchor.  So much tonnage in one place impressed all of us, for Information technology people always need to quantify.

  Even now, I recalled a perfectly flawless evening. I wore my thin pink linen shirt and dark pink silk shorts. Tied my hair back with a floppy white bow, and wore those cute sandals with thin gold and white straps. Franz said I looked nice. Wayne had said just wait until those breakfast buffets catch up with her, and made disgusting oinking noises. But I had the last laugh, because his dumb jet lag diet left him too sleep deprived to join us, and he had to settle for a coffee shop dinner.
            Franz told the cabbie  to let us off at Clifford Pier. The skyline was  fantastically modern, a mega-contrast to the men lounging on the sidewalk in their trishaws, one up in travel evolution from the rickshaw. Smoking while they waited for customers. The kind of scene I loved: an old man tried to get his trishaw going with a hefty woman and her paunchy husband in tow. His skinny bowed legs hung  out of baggy yellow shorts, and his head is covered by a conical fisherman's hat. No matter how he pushed and strained, the trishaw wasn’t  moving. He dismounted, hunched his bony shoulders and indicated he could only transport one of them.
            Then I noticed Peter Weber way down the pier, lounging against a post, looking lost in some private joke. We all boarded an elaborately carved red, green and gilt-trimmed junk, reserved just for us. 
When I walked up to him, Peter said, "Pretty in pink.” Flirting as usual. I took his arm and chided him for not taking me to lunch at the hawker center, and suggested it was time for a Singapore Sling, since we’d been here one whole day without a sip. He promised to take me to Raffles Hotel after dinner, where the drink had originated. He turned to Franz and said loud enough for me to hear, “when she got tight, everything was all right so we kept her provided with gin.”
 I rolled my eyes.
The sunset that night was the kind you remember forever--a big swollen ball on fire in the tropical twilight. I stayed on deck while  Peter and Franz disappeared to get drinks. When the musicians came on board, I recognized the girl who lunched with “No English.” When I looked back at the pier, I saw “No English” himself, standing just where Peter met us, scowling and staring at his feet. I yelled “Hallo Luby,” and did I ever get a reaction! Luby dropped his jaw and gaped at the junk, but I was incognito in sunglasses. He crushed his cigarette and stalked down the pier with his rolling, muscle-bound walk.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Shadow Warriors in Asia

Durians in a Hong Kong Market
All the Asia scenes in The Shadow Warriors were framed by a trip I took to Singapore and Hong Kong.  When I traveled there, the furthest thing on my mind was to write about it, but wouldn't you know, on the flight home (and it is a VERY long flight,)  a blurb in the Singapore Airlines magazine caught my eye.  The  International Computer Security Conference would take place in Singapore at Raffles Place in May.  I had such fun with the writing.  No plot and just my little trio of characters, Emma, Franz and Wayne. 

Back then, as a "new" writer, I took chances I wouldn't dream of now, introducing and writing about a character before I had any idea of who he was.  This type of writer is called a "Pantser" because she writes by the seat of her pants.  The other kind of writer is a "plotter," and she figures out some of the plot, at least, before she plants her butt in the chair.  

I have to confess that Lotto Lopaz, the Colombian Drug Lord in my WIP (work in process) came to life more or less in the "pantser" way.  It took a while to get to know Lotto,  and then after a while I did, and he was totally against the stereotype and pretty soon my writing group started to feel sorry for him, and then I knew I was doing an O.K. job. 

Believe me, it is a stretch for a suburban housewife to began channeling a drug lord, but eventually, I think, it worked. 

The Shadow Warriors expanded to 140,000 words (again, a beginner's mistake) and I spent months paring words.  Unfortunately, the durians, delectable and smelly as they were, did not advance the plot and had to go.  

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Shadow Warriors: Sentosa Beach, Singapore

Sentosa Beach in Singapore- not a body to be found when we visited.

In the "story within the story," the action in the Shadow Warriors gets going when a body washes ashore on Sentosa Beach.   Emma, the narrator, has gone to the beach with bad boy Peter Weber.  Does he recognize whose body it is?  Why is he so paranoid? 

"If you ever change your mind...the world is full of lovely resorts."  He smiled at me, and the invitation was still on the table. 
            "Peter, I'll bet you've been to Phuket under different names and invariably with a new woman on your arm."
            He glanced up at the sky again, and laughed.  I looked toward the water. That’s when I knew something was wrong.  I saw a swimmer, but not swimming, moving, yet motionless.
Grabbing his arm, I gasped, “Jesus, Peter, there’s something--it looks like a body out there.  In the surf.  Look!”
            “Rings on her fingers, bells on her toes, the lady sees bodies wherever she goes.  It’s a porpoise or a log from Indonesia.”
He didn’t even bother to glance in the direction I was pointing.
            I saw a white leg, then a round torso turning over slowly, rolling in the gentle waves.  At last Peter stared at the water. 
unconscious?  Come on.  I'm a decent swimmer."
            I took Peter's hand and tried to plunge into the surf, but he didn’t budge.  While I stood and tugged on his arm, he continued to stare into the water. Finally he said,
              "The body out there is quite dead.  Take my word; you don't want to see it up close and personal. Corpses in tropical waters get ugly almost immediately.  Now, let's go for a walk instead of raiding the snack bar."
"We have to report this. What if some little kid found it?  At least let's tell the lifeguard." 
            Peter looked out beyond the placid waves again.  The body rolled drunkenly, unobserved by the little groups of sunbathers scattered along the long strand. 
"Red tape in this country tends to be very sticky.  Let's just be somewhere else," 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A pub in Göttingen

My nephew took me pub crawling when I did research for The Shadow Warriors.  Of all the bars we visited, the one described below was the most interesting.  I changed it's name and I'm sure the interior has changed in the passing years.  I made up the music, the crowd and even the "disco whisperer."

We retreated back along wet sidewalks toward the center of town, for Marcus and Christof had decided we should top the evening off with a visit to a disco. Marcus turned into a wide but dilapidated entryway, which led into a dim, blue-lit cave. Behind a counter, an aging longhair collected a few marks cover charge, and stamped Euclid across the backs of our hands in neat purple letters.

We advanced further into the cave, which had a seedy, disreputable look, with sloppily painted walls and cigarette butts ground into the concrete floor. Now we heard voices over a pulsing beat, and met a phalanx of bodies, noise and smoke. We pushed our way into a large dark room. Above the heads of the mob of drinkers, the skylines of Paris, Moscow, New York and London were painted starkly on the walls. 

Again, with nowhere to sit, we stood together in the crunch of bodies and guzzled beer. Time was a rubber band, stretched taut at one moment, slack the next, and in its elastic intervals, I didn't know if we'd been drinking there for a few minutes or a few hours.

From the dance floor, the music called with demon logic. Marcus had disappeared to order more beer, and Christof asked in his best English, "You dance, Ms. Davis, pardon, you dance, Emma?"
"Thought you'd never ask," I cooed.

Christof steered me through the swarm and up a few stairs to a packed dance floor. The number was over, and a few couples left, so we did a crowd swim and squeezed in. The Village People's “Macho Man” started pulsing, and the dancer's began moving. In my dopey universe, I felt a pleasant intimacy in the boozy closeness of strangers. Bodies twisting, elbows pumping, Christof and I were really getting into the spirit. I heard the low voice, but it wasn't until a hand touched my shoulder that I registered that the voice speaking to me.
            "Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson, Mrs. E. Robinson, why do you follow me?"
            Crazies on the dance floor. I didn't turn to look, but a tiny alarm sounded. A moment later, the voice spoke to me again.           
            "You are making life difficult, Mrs. Robinson. Difficult for me. Dangerous for you. Go home and sit on your sofa."
            Goofy English with an odd, non-German accent, succinct and scary. I tried to twist around to look at this joker, but the dancers surged, blocking me. When at last I turned around, I didn't recognize anyone.
            With his knees bent, and his arms flung out, Christof hurled himself about like a crazed St. Vitas.
            "Mrs. Robinson, do you still have the photographs?"
            Soft with menace, the disembodied voice approached my ear again. I tried to bring up some intelligence, but my brain was too deep into the twin narcosis of booze and pot, and I was simply afraid.
            "Get out of Göttingen,  Mrs. Robinson. Go back to Hong Kong. Or Singapore."
            Jesus! I whirled and danced with the stranger behind me. He grinned and gyrated, too friendly to be the Whisperer. The throb and thump of the music stopped, then ABBA started it up again. Trying to find a face to attach to the voice, I stared over the room at hundreds of faces, but they were all intent on pulling the most pleasure out of a rainy Friday night.
            Then I saw him, slipping into the cave that led to the entrance, the man from Stanley Market, the angry man I knew in my mind as “Dark Eyes.” His glance flickered back to the dance floor, and our eyes met. He smiled with his lips and teeth, raised his arm, pointed his index finger right at me, and slowly squeezed an imaginary trigger. Then he disappeared into the blue cave.