Thursday, September 15, 2005

It's almost eerie. There's not another soul in sight. Cars breeze past us on six lane highways, a slight breeze ruffles the fronds of tall palms in the baking desert heat, cacti bristle and prick the fibrillating air with their needle points. Beyond the urban spread of single-storey buildings, rust red mountains rise into the clearest of blue skies, nearly painful in their crystal clarity. This is Scottsdale, a suburb of Phoenix, the fifth largest city in the US. And I still can't see anyone walking.

Nobody walks here. It is too hot. You ride around in your air-conditioned car, and hurry from parking shade to air-conditioned buildings.

We have just arrived from the humid heat of Houston, where mist hung in haloes in the lamplight of our early morning ride to the airport. We take a taxi to our hotel and ask the receptionist for directions to the nearest restaurant. It's not far, but we're on foot. "Y'all take care," she said, "and find a safe place to cross the road."

We wondered what she was talking about until we tried to find just such a place. This is not a city made for pedestrians. We dodged the traffic and scurried across to a restaurant called "US Egg". No beer, no wine, just egg with everything. And everyone, we noticed, was pasty white. No golden tans or deep burnished skin. Just pale, pasty people. For a moment we thought we were back in Scotland. And then we realised - it's the same reason nobody walks. It's too hot. You just don't step out in the sun.

I love the heat, the clear air, the fact that hardly any buildings rise above the first floor. I love the backdrop of the mountains. I could take any amount of this. But then we meet Evelyn Jenkins. She comes from out east but has lived here for years. And when I ask her how she likes it she tells me, "Some mornings I wake up and look out the window and my heart sinks. And I think, 'Not another sunny day!'"

Evelyn is an author escort. She picks up visiting writers at the airport, gets them to their hotel and their book event, and sets up media interviews. She is taking us to Metro Source Media, where I am doing a half-hour radio interview with Bill Richardson, which will be syndicated across America. Bill is a lovely guy who puts me totally at my ease, and we breeze through the radio interview like old friends chatting, and Evelyn drives us back to our hotel.

She is an interesting lady, whose business is booming - in August she was handling more than an author a week. We pose for photographs, and then La Patronne and I take a little siesta - we're in that kind of country after all... and we WERE up at 2.30am (Phoenix time) to get to the airport.

Then we brave the people-less streets again to walk to our book event at the Poisoned Pen bookstore - the biggest selling mystery bookstore in the world. It is run by a dynamic lady called Barbara Peters who once described me in one of her newsletters as "charming". But I am even more well-disposed to her because she has been the champion of my books in the States, promoting them and singing their praises from the start.

I meet up again with new friends from Bouchercon, Carl Brookins and William Kent Krueger of the Minnesota Crime Wave . We're doing the gig together, moderated by Barbara. I really like these guys, they are such good fun, and Barbara does a masterful job of steering the discussion in fruitful directions. She asks questions that make me think again about why I wrote "The Firemaker", what motivated it in the first place. It's easy to forget.

The cousin of an old friend from Scottish schooldays shows up with her husband. Sharon and Sandy Karpen. Sharon grew up in Battlefield, on the south side of Glasgow. I really appreciate their support. And then a couple from one of our French writing courses appear - Jim and Pat Loomis - a lovely couple who have lived out here for years, and they join us all afterwards for Margaritas and ribs under a bright clear moon on a balmy warm night. We are so busy talking I forget to take photos. Damn!

Barbara, who is also a successful publisher, expresses an interest in my French series, and I promise to let her see a manuscript. Kent and Carl are touring by car, and heading off next for Sedona, before crossing into California. They'll be at many of my venues a few days ahead of me. Pat and Jim drive us back to our hotel and we fall into bed, eager to be clutched in the arms of Morpheus. It's been a good day. More than fifty books sold and signed.

But tomorrow it is another early rise and a flight to Seattle, where we can expect cold weather and rain. Brrrrrrrrr.

I would NEVER get tired of the sun.

With Evelyn Jenkins

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