Find out what's happening with Lisa.
Prohibited by law from teaching at conventional educational institutions, Lisa has long found other ways to share her wisdom with the world, from the old Ask Lutz advice column to her more recent etiquette guide.
Because even her vast knowledge has its limits, her newest educational venture will draw upon the expertise of a series of specialists. In the first installment of Lutz U, she asks a scientist for his take on a vexing run-in with cluster flies.
Start your education today, visit Lutz U »
Being loosely categorized as a crime novelist, I am inevitably asked on many occasions to cite my literary inspirations or list my five or ten favorite novelists or novels. I cannot deny that there are writers and novels that I adore, but I don’t feel confident tagging them as influences. I think of the Spellman series (The Last Word: Document #6 in stores July 9th) as comedic novels first and when I’m writing them I am a slave to the joke, because unlike plot, character, or pacing, a joke is utterly intangible.
When I was child I was always drawn to comedy and comedians, and I continue to obsess over whatever impossible formula it is that ends with a laugh. So here’s a list of my primary literary influences—comedians. I was watching most of them long before I ever wrote my first joke—which I think involved putting someone’s cremated ashes in a pepper shaker. . . .
Today is book launch day for How to Negotiate Everything!
If you're in the Seattle area come to Secret Garden Books in Ballard tonight (May 21st, 7pm) to meet illustrator Jaime Temairik in person. It's sure to be a fun event. (Sorry, Lisa won't be attending this event.) You can also read Jaime's behind-the-scenes inspiration for her illustrations on her blog.
While you're waiting for your book to arrive, be sure to check out the books very fun website at http://howtonegotiateeverything.com.
Also, pre-order links are up now for the e-book Isabel Spellman's Guide to Etiquette!
The new site for How to Negotiate Everything is out! Take a look—it's full of amazing illustrations by the very talented Jaime Temairik, and you may learn a thing or two about negotiating along the way. Don't forget to place your pre-order when you get to the end of the site.
(Many thanks to the folks at Juxtaprose for the awesome site!)
I have been predicting the end of winter for the last month. This year both the groundhog and I were dead wrong. But unless there's some freaky April snowstorm that we can all (except for Donald Trump) blame on global warming, I think it's in the rear-view mirror. As I watched the last clumps of snow melt, I wasn't thinking about the changing seasons or new beginnings or shit like that. All I saw were those leaves I didn't rake last fall. So spring is simply a reminder of my own sloth. Rather than write about my inherent laziness, I'll revisit winter and tell you the dead deer story of that season.
If you live off the grid, your household water is not supplied by the city but by the land. You have a well of some kind. Remember Dorothy fetching water from a dry well in the Wizard of Oz, before she's whisked away by a bad-dream tornado? It's nothing like that. It comes right into your house. The well can run dry, but you simply have to wait for rain again. Anyway, that didn't happen. What happened was the UV decontamination system broke down. A beeping noise that sounded like a truck backing up alerted me to this fact. I could hear the beeping more clearly in some rooms than other rooms, and I do recall thinking What the hell is that beeping noise? But I didn't investigate further, which I suppose is a bad sign for someone writing detective novels.
Then I got sick. Like Mexican-vacation sick. Maybe not that bad, but close. After about a week, I started to think about that beeping noise again. When I opened the door to the basement, the sound got louder, so I walked downstairs and saw the error code on my UV light system.
Quickly: For those unfamiliar with UV lights, they can kill bacteria on just about anything. Water goes through a fragile quartz tube around a UV light bulb and is pumped into the house, now purified and clean of at least bacteria. I drank the water, cooked with the water, and bathed in the water without any problem until the system went kaput.
I had replacement bulbs in my basement, but when I moved into the house six months earlier, my realtor repeatedly cautioned me against replacing those bulbs on my own. His exact words were, "Under no circumstances are you to change the UV bulb by yourself. Find a handyman to do it."
Unfortunately in the nine months that I had lived in this house, I hadn't yet established a solid relationship with a local handyman. Good help is indeed hard to find, and I resorted to handling simple jobs (drilling stuff, furniture assembly, installing window units in summer, changing out storm windows, drilling stuff) on my own or with the help of innocent visitors. This time, however, I heeded the warning and called a handyman my neighbor uses.
"Bob.1 I have a UV light system that decontaminates my water. I need to have the light changed. Do you know how to do that?"
"I'm gonna have to look at it first," Bob said.
I could hear it clear as day in Bob's voice: he had NO idea what I was talking about. Before I could tell him to forget it, he said he would drop by at two o'clock.
Meanwhile, I decided if Bob was unfamiliar with this contraption, then it might not be so easy to find a light-bulb changing expert in my hood. I returned to the basement, wrote down the make and model of my water purification system, went online and watched a YouTube video about how to change and clean the bulb. I decided this wasn't rocket science and I could handle this job on my own. I stopped the video midstream, returned to the basement, and began the proceedings.
It was a tricky and delicate operation that ended up being somewhat time-consuming, but totally possible. The only concern was breaking the bulb or the outside quartz tubing. Both things were incredibly fragile and would shatter into a million pieces (or so I was told). Bob showed up in the middle of my project, as I was delicately trying to extract the bulb. I decided that now that he knew what I was up to, I might as well enlist his help.
"Have you seen this before?" I asked.
"Nope," Bob said.
As I predicted.
"You don't need to stay," I said. "I watched a video."
"Well, I'll stay and see what you're up to," Bob said.
I didn't want Bob to stay, but I didn't really see how I could ask him to leave.
I changed the bulb and it would seem that I got the light working. But then the video said something about uncapping the top of the metal tube and cleaning some washer type thing (honestly, I don't remember). When I (un?)screwed it, water just started rushing out of the tube.
And Bob started narrating.
"You got a lot of water coming out of there."
"I can see that," I said.
It had occurred to me that this might happen. The problem was that the water shutoff valve was located along the pipes after the water pump and the purification system. I told Bob this. Then he started following the water pipes and telling me what I'd just told him.
"I know that, Bob," I said.
"You need a shutoff valve before the UV light."
"That would make this easier."
"A lot of water is coming out now," Bob said.
"I'm going to take care of this on my own," I said, marching up the basement stairs.
Bob took the hint and followed me. I opened the front door and he left.
I had the number of another handyman in my Rolodex, provided by my electrician. I decided to give him a call.
He took one look at the system, phoned his plumber friend and made arrangements for the plumber friend to drop by that evening.
Let's call the plumber Joe. Joe the plumber was not familiar with this particular brand of UV filtration systems, but was impressed that I had managed to change the bulb on my own.
"I watched a video," I said, lifting the lit bulb out of the metal casing to show him that it was powered up.
"Don't look directly at the light," Joe said.
"You're not supposed to look at the light?" I asked.
"Didn't the video tell you that?"
"I didn't watch the whole video."
To Joe's credit, he figured out that the metal box that talks to the UV bulb was faulty. Normally it counts down the days you have left of working decontamination. In this case, there was an error message and the UV light was blinking when it should have been holding steady to indicate the presence of the new, working UV bulb.
"Well, it looks like you got this mostly covered," Joe said. He then did the oddest thing. He told me to go online and find a replacement box and do the swapout myself.
Initially I was shocked that a tradesman would suggest that I handle this process myself. Later I realized that Joe didn't have an Internet connection, and that the job really only required screwing and unscrewing a few things and unplugging and plugging in a few things.
I called Joe a week or two later when the job was done and the box read 364 days, just to double-check that everything was kosher.
"Now we need to shock the well," Joe said.
"Shock the what?"
Apparently, once bacteria gets into your pipes, that's it. Your entire plumbing is contaminated and needs to be bleached for hours to remove the bacteria. Typically, bleach is poured into a well, and a few days later you can shower and wash clothes safely.
We couldn't do it that day because it was already dark out. (It's not like I have any street lights.) Scheduling conflicts meant we had to wait ten days until Joe could come back (don't ask) and so I continued to buy bottled water, boil water, and shower in contaminated water until Joe could return.
10 days later
Joe, carrying a giant container of powdered bleach, and I trekked through a foot of snow to the well, which looks like a doghouse. We lifted the lid and Joe said, "Nope, can't shock it."
"Why not?" I asked.
"Got water in it."
It's a well. Isn't it supposed to have water in it?
Apparently you're not supposed to see the water. With a drilled well, there's some cap where you can drop in the bleach and it can then reach the bottom and get into your pipes.
Once again, because of Joe's schedule, we had to wait another week for him to come back with a water pump and pump the well to access the opening of the well.
One week later
Joe returned with a pump. We stood out in the cold for ninety minutes pumping water out of my well. Joe told me about his motorcycle. He picked sticky things off my sweater. Then he asked me out. I started to think contaminated water wasn't so bad. They didn't have UV lights in the old days. I looked into the well. The water refilled, almost as fast as it was pumped. Finally Joe admitted defeat and suggested that we shock the pipes from inside the house. I paid him for his time and we made a plan for him to come back sometime at night during the week.
The next morning
I decided I needed a second opinion and got hold of the number of a professional "pump" service. I was thinking they must have a pump powerful enough to do the job. They came out that afternoon, opened the doghouse lid of the well, took one quick peek and said, "That's a hand-dug well. Why would you pump that?"
A quick explanation of hand dug wells: They're pretty much just a plain hole in the ground. And much more likely to have contaminants. And to shock it would require an outrageous amount of bleach, and you would not be able to shower or wash your clothes for a couple of weeks. Pumping a hand-dug well is just plain stupid and a giant waste of time.
I'm no plumber, so I don't know whether hand-dug and drilled wells are difficult to distinguish, but I promptly hired the pump guys to handle the inside job and called Joe to let him know that I would no longer be needing his services.
Once I was schooled in wells, I began retelling with story with a know-it-all's outrage. It sounded something like this: "He calls himself a plumber and can't tell the difference between a hand-dug and drilled well. Seriously!" But in my more generous moments, when I don't think about those extra weeks I was bathing in contaminated water, I can think of Joe as the guy who told me not to look into the blue light. The guy who kept me from going blind.
1. Names have been changed for plausible deniability.
Here's the scoop:
- The sixth book in the Spellman series, The Last Word, will be published on July 9, 2013. You can find out more about it here, and it's currently available for pre-order.
- The fifth book in the Spellman series, Trail of the Spellmans, will be available in paperback on May 21, 2013. You can find more about it here, and buy it here.
- Lisa's first children's book, How to Negotiate Everything, illustrated by Jaime Temairik, will also be available on May 21, 2013. Those of you familiar with the story in Trail of the Spellmans (written by David Spellman) have a sneak peak into this book -- but it's even better as its own publication! Find out more here.
Stay tuned for more news as the dates approach.
After consulting my calendar, I realized that it has been almost five months to the day since I packed up all of my worldly possessions, left my closest friends, and moved from the heart of San Francisco to an old farmhouse miles from civilization in upstate New York.
Dave’s guest blog post shortly after my arrival was a lark, of course (I have no idea where the closest Western Union office is), but it was based on truth. For the first several months after my arrival, there was an air of desperation about most of my communiques. I don’t think anything short of being dropped by helicopter in the woods with a backpack of canned goods and a sleeping bag would have properly steeled me for what I was in for.
Looking back on the last five months, the overarching theme has been trying to hang on to my sanity. And then discovering that I never had it to begin with. What kind of lunatic moves into a haunted house in the woods? It’s the beginning of 25 percent of horror films and 10 percent of romantic comedies. I don’t know which is worse.
But I’m here now and determined to make this work, which I suppose means I have to develop the thick country skin of a BB-gun-shooting, land-defending nature enthusiast. I’m not there yet. For now, I just want to learn how to adjust to my creaky house and cohabitate in some manner (not necessarily nonviolent) with my unwelcome housemates.
But enough about my aspirations. After five months of country life, here are my main findings:
I’ll kill anything
One of the first phone calls I made upon my arrival, before any furniture arrived, or home repairs were initiated, was to call in a reputable exterminator. Aside from ample evidence that my home was once overrun by rodents, there was also ample evidence that wasps, spiders, roaches, ants, flies, mosquitoes, gnats, moths, you-name-it were going to be a problem. Week to week as the weather shifted, one creature after the next became my enemy du jour. During the first few weeks of my minimalist stay in my country home, when I was sleeping on a twin mattress in an empty house, a creature was crawling and scratching somewhere in the walls, the attic, on the roof, I don’t know. We still haven’t caught or identified him. He comes back every once in a while to taunt me, to remind me that he’s out there, free.
Every single day, I’m stalking some small bug or insect through my house with a magazine, a fly swatter, or a Dirt Devil (which works really well with weak bugs, but the sturdier ones live through it, so if you use that method, be prepared for them to leap out at you when you empty the filter). While I’m killing said bugs, I suddenly become Samuel L. Jackson in ... any Samuel L. Jackson film. “Motherfucker, don’t run from me. I will take you out one way or another.” Let me be blunt: this isn’t me being cute. I’m in a full-blown bug-induced rage and I want that fucker flattened against a window or ripped apart in a vacuum’s vortex.
My general feeling about these tiny murders is that anything that wanders into my house that is both (a) smaller than my foot, and (b) not purchased by me from a pet shop, needs to go. I’ll kill anything. Sometimes I let a spider slip by just because it will take out a few more flies or gnats before meeting its own end.
Recently I was on the phone with my editor when I saw something new. At first I thought it was a tiny bumble bee, and I started to feel my blood pressure rise.
“It’s a ladybug,” I said, a little disappointed. “Can I kill it?”
“No,” my editor said. “It’s bad luck.”
“Fine, I’ll let it live,” I said, disappointed.
I spared that one, but I hear they come in with a vengeance in fall. I doubt the rest will be so lucky.
Now I’ve got a grasshopper problem. They come into my office. They're loud. They make a clicking noise that can keep you up at night. Since they’re creatures that have been successfully anthropomorphized—and since they’re too big to kill tidily—my first reaction was to try to shoo them outside. The first one didn’t go peacefully or easily and I had to use the Devil on it and I felt kind of yucky inside. But I’m over it. The other day, when another grasshopper invaded my office, I killed it and didn’t feel a thing. Sorry, Jiminy. You were always too square for me anyway.
Nature is loud
When I first arrived, I was talking to a neighbor about bird feeders and stuff, and at one point she said to me, “Who doesn’t like birds?” I nodded my head politely, realizing that I really, really don’t like birds. Later, when I was talking to my uncle, he mentioned that I should get a bird feeder. “Why would I get a bird feeder?” I snapped. “I’m not a goddamn ornithologist!”
I don’t understand why everybody in the country wants to lure birds to their property so they’ll build disgusting nests all over the place and make a racket at the break of dawn. Birds are worse than lousy neighbors because you can’t knock on their door and ask them politely to be quiet, and then threaten them if that doesn’t work, and finally call the cops. One bird was single-handedly responsible for the longest stretch of sleep deprivation in my life, which lasted from early May to mid-July. It’s gone now, having flown south or died of natural causes. I had nothing to do with it, okay?
Not all birds are bad. I have an intellectual respect for the turkey vulture, for example. Given all the road kill in these parts, we’d be in trouble without them. I had to adjust to road kill quickly. The only thing I can’t quite wrap my head around is the turtle road kill. I always feel like maybe the turtle had just seen enough.
I need to find a really awesome handyman
Sometimes animals die on the road and sometimes they die in a creek in your backyard. If you’re me, when that happens, you call Dave, my one-time co-author, and tell him about it, because not much exciting happens in these parts. When it does you really have to tell someone and also you want to know how the hell you’re going to get a rotting deer out of your creek.
Dave acted like it was no big deal. He told me that the county had to have some kind of dead-animal removal service and I should just call the public health department. I will admit that I was calmed by our chat. I promptly went online and got the number and made the call.
“Carcass removal services, please.”
I was transferred, which seemed like a good sign.
A man answered, and I explained my predicament. He listened sympathetically and didn’t interrupt.
“Unless it’s on the road and a traffic hazard, I’m afraid we can’t help you.”
"I see,” I said.
“Because a dead animal isn’t a health hazard.”
“It’s nature, you see.”
“Do you know of any businesses that specialize in dead animal removal?”
“No, I’m not familiar with any. You could call a handyman.”
I don’t know any handymen I could ask to don a full rubber suit with goggles to wade into my creek and pull out a decaying deer covered in flies.
“If you were me,” I asked, “what would you do?”
“I would let nature take its course.”
“About how long will it take nature to take its course?” I asked.
“Two weeks, give or take,” he said.
“It’s going to smell a lot, isn’t it?”
“Yes. You’re going to want to stay out of the vicinity.”
Unfortunately the vicinity included my house.
“Thank you. You’ve been very helpful.”
When in Rome, or whatever. I decided to let the circle of life do its thing and braced myself for the odors of decay that would mar the next few weeks.
The next morning, I woke up and looked out my window and the deer was gone. Like-it-had-never-been-there gone. A few turkey vultures lingered like forlorn guests at a spent buffet, but there was nothing left.
Being a city girl, I figured some hunters must have come at night and stolen the deer for its antlers. Later, my neighbor told me it was coyotes. And for the first time in five long months I thought, nature, you don’t suck.
If you're tired of reading yourself, or have a long drive planned, check out the Spellman audiobooks. You can find clips and links to buy the downloads here: