Pulitzer Prize-winning author


Tebow Transmogrifies

On its face, Tim Tebow rehumanized this weekend, pulling a donkey in Denver against the Pats.

Ye of Little Faith.

He did it again. Won in the fourth quarter. This time, in another stadium. Nine hundred miles away.

It’s Tebowtransmogrifying time.

No sooner had the Broncos given up the ghost in Denver then I take you to…Oakland Alameda County Coliseum. Home to the arch-rival Raiders, comfortably in front of the Detroit Lions by two touchdowns with 7:47 left in the fourth quarter. (The Raiders can only ever be “comfortably” in front in the sense that Mitt Romney can ever be comfortably in front, but I digress…)

The Raiders, as in: the team that trails the Broncos by only a single game in their division. The Raiders need only have held this late-in-the-fourth-quarter lead to be in a tie going into the last two games.

And then (channel inner reading voice of Howard Cosell)…Matthew Stafford drops…back… to…pass. The short version: Matthew engineers one score to bring the game to 27-21. And then the Lions got the ball back, with 2:14 left, on the three yard line, THEIR OWN THREE (‘cause sometimes italics just won’t cut it). You know what time it is.

It’s Tebowtransmogrifying time.

Hovering like the father, the son and the ghost of Bobby Lane, the disembodied Tebow/Matthew creature leads the Lions to a remarkable last-minute victory, including crazy floaty-Tebow-ethereal like passes of 21 and 48 yards.

The Lions. As in: the witch and the wardrobe. Narnia. Are you with me, people?!

It’s Tebowtransmogryfying time.

He cannot be contained. Not to a single quarter, or, rather, not to a single quarter in a single stadium.

Let us sing:

You better watch out, you better not cry

You better not shout, I’m telling you why

Tim Tebow is transmogriphying around

He knows if you are blitzing, he’s got a rough sense of nickel coverage

It matters not if you’re bad or good, ‘cause there are periods he’s not entirely average


You better watch out, you better not bet

It’s getting weirder, miracles abound

Tim Tebow is transmogriphying around

PS – Did I mention I grew up in Boulder and attended most home Bronco games as a kid? I’m just sayin’


Sexting and your brain on computers

Phones don’t sext people, people sext people; or do they?

From the food-for-thought files: Could the neurology of device use in part explain the recent Congressional sexting scandals?

(Bad phone, no donut!)

In our New York Times series last year, “your brain on computers,” we showed that people get a “dopamine squirt” — a little burst of adrenaline — when they use their devices. We showed that people fill moments of downtime with their devices. They get bored. The crave action. The device is there to fill the gaps. (Y’know what might kill some time here and is more fun than reading budget reports? Tweeting my pants).

Now, imagine if you’re an adrenaline junkie by nature, a Congressperson or someone who craves attention/the limelight/validation. The device becomes this ever-present fix. Tweet or text something, get a response. Why wait for election day? Or a press conference. The stimulus/response cycle is as near as the pocket. All foul wordplay is incidental.

Major caveat: I haven’t covered this story. I know nothing personally about Mr. Weiner or others that have had their digital peccadilloes. I speak not as Times reporter here but as observer of device use.

And so I wonder, in as much as we have been looking at powerful men and their failings, we might want to look at the gadget that becomes such a powerful facilitator. True, phones don’t sext people, people sext people. But could gadgets play a bigger role than they’re getting credit for?

It’s age-old dance of motive and opportunity, with a twist. On its face, the motive is provided by the person’s psychology, while the device provides the opportunity. But might we also say that the device, through the way it plays to our love of action, has a motivational role too?

Social Media And The Strong Silent Type

Marty Richtel spoke with his eyes, and sometimes, rarely, with his fists.

A tad under six-feet, burly, my grandpa drove the speed limit, understood numbers, folded clothes just so, walked on bunions. When you’re sixteenth in the line of succession, a high-school dropout, you squeeze into hand-me down shoes and don’t bother to complain. Not that doing so was in his nature.

He twinkled.

When he saw a grandchild or great grandchild, his eyes went 150-Watt. His luminescence would’ve sold well on TV, like Sinatra between notes. But his best medium was in person. Genuinely handsome, no matter how inexpensive the haircut, grandpa was a bit each blue collar and ol’ blue eyes.

His family and generation were tough, legend has it. Way back, his brother, Mutty, needed only one punch at a smoker in Boulder to knock out football great and court justice Whizzer White. Maybe. And Maybe another brother, Irving, fought at Anzio, bayoneted a German POW in the throat for making an anti-Semitic remark.

I’ve no doubt the story is true about Grandpa Marty and the guitar. It’s the early 1950s or thereabouts, Grandpa has a nephew named Melvin, who buys a guitar at a pawn shop in Fresno. From the start, the guitar doesn’t sound right. But the pawn shop won’t refund the purchase. Melvin goes to Marty, his tough and loyal uncle, to make things right. Marty goes to the pawn shop. He tells the owner he wants to return the guitar.

“Can’t do it,” the owner says. “We don’t return things unless they’re broken.”

“My nephew says this doesn’t sound right,” Grandpa Marty responds.

The pawn shop owner takes the guitar, looks it over, declares it in good condition.

Grandpa Marty takes the guitar back, raises it, smashes it to bits on the counter.

“Now it’s broken,” he says.

Money returned.

For Grandpa Marty, social media meant giving a bottle of whisky each Christmas to customers of the scrap steel yard he built into a nest egg. He spoke when he had something to say. He might’ve gone unnoticed in an era that favors the garrulous.

Tweet, blog, send status updates. That’s how to stay relevant, sell books and yourself, I’m told. Not a big stretch for me. I can share. I talk with my eyes a bit, not with my fists, much more so than Grandpa, I use my mouth and fingers. Credit, Marty. Generous to a fault, his sacrifices helped give me a voice. And I share his nose.

Tweet, blog, send status updates. Stay relevant. But then take a moment in silence and remember Grandpa Marty.

The Acknowledgements That Weren’t

In an unusual twist, Harper Collins, my esteemed publisher, forgot to print the acknowledgements at the back of Devil’s Plaything. True, the industry is struggling, but I don’t think they were saving paper or ink. It was just a mishap. Not a biggie. But I do want to thank the people who made a huge contribution to this book. Here are the thanks I wrote and that, due to a production hiccup, wound up on the cutting room floor:

Devil’s Plaything deals with the fragility of memory. I begin on that note: this book went through so many iterations that I have likely have forgotten some of the creative and emotional contributions made by friends and family. But I well remember that the contributions have been numerous, and key. So If I’ve forgotten here to mention you by name, please forgive me and remind me later. You will still get your beer. And also beers for the rest of you:

Thanks to a cadre of creative bad asses (alphabetically): Darrin Bell, Josh Friedman, David Liss, and Bob Tedeschi, who spent collective hours helping me grasp a plot that hung for so long just out of reach.

To a big group of consultants and confidants (not alphabetically): The Stanford Medical Gang (Go Bears), copy editor sans peer Sara Jane Cohen; Liza Dawson, Adam Bryant, Noel, Rick, Erik, Susan MacTavish Best, Susan Tunis, Barbara Peters, Margie Scott Tucker, Tammy Nam; and, not least, the eerily-supportive Thriller writer community, especially Steve and Liz Berry, James Rollins, and Joe Finder.

To Carl Lennertz, a publishing triple threat: you rock at the editorial, sales and friendship sides of this slippery business.

To Laurie Liss, my agent. You should all be so lucky.

To my parents, for always listening and reading, and my in-laws (you heard it right) for kvelling.

To the eMs — my beloved Meredith, a tireless reader and quiet creative force, and our babies Milo and Mirabel, muses all.

And to my grandparents: Leo and Barbara, thank you for always remembering us and keeping us in your hearts; Marty, your soul rests but we will strive to pass on your peerless grace, strength and generosity. Grandma Annie, your insatiable zest for life and curiosity has set the highest bar. May you keep resetting it for years to come.

In memory of Dan Reed, who stuffed two lifetimes of amazing stories into one cut way too short.

Devil’s Here

We all keep secrets? Is someone monitoring them? Even changing them?

I am pleased to announce that today marks the debut of my latest novel, Devil’s Plaything. It’s a fast-paced suspense story set in San Francisco, built around a conspiracy drawn from real science. This is what Publishers Weekly raved: “Numerous plot twists and cliffhangers keep the reader turning pages in this plausible if disquieting scenario of Big Brother not only watching but messing with minds.”

The story revolves around an unusual duo: Nat Idle, a seasoned investigative reporter, and his aging grandmother, Lane, who suffers severe dementia. The book starts when the pair are nearly, inexplicably shot and killed in Golden Gate Park. Nat quickly realizes his grandmother carries a secret inside her and he must unlock it to uncover the world-changing conspiracy.

James Rollins , the NY Times bestselling thriller writer, wrote that Devil’s Plaything is “a brilliant thriller, a blend of Michael Crichton and Alfred Hitchcock. From page one, you’ll not be able to put this book down.”

I would be thrilled if you would buy a copy from your local retailer, the Independent Bookseller’s Association, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders, or at Costco, Sam’s Club, the airport. Wherever you buy your books.

Please join me for one my readings in the coming month. The first is TONIGHT, Tuesday, May 31, 6:30 p.m., our launch event at Books, Inc. in the marina in San Francisco. More event dates in the Bay Area, Colorado and Arizona at http://www.mattrichtel.com.

And please share this note with your friends. I’ve tried to write a great story. I hope it will find its audience. But the book business is tough and I am grateful for your support.

Thank you for reading and remember: an Idle Mind is the Devil’s Plaything.


Magus the Cat, 1991-2010

Magus the Cat, whose adventurous spirit cost her a toe in her first year of life and who went on to become among the most vocal felines of her generation, took her last meow on Sunday night. She was 18.
She used up the last of her lives while at home surrounded by family (not the kids!) after a brief illness that the veteranarians, despite being paid copious sums in a handful of recent visits, described as “any number of things.”
Magus took her name from a book by John Fowles but was less a sorcerer or “one of the wise men from the East” (Wikipedia) than she was, as she was affectionately known, a love hound. She craved petting and attention and her favorite position on Earth was to fall into a blissful stupor curled under the arm of a trusted friend. Until her last two days, she would instantly purr when scratched on the head, chin, behind the ears.
Like the man who raised her, Magus was verbal and liked regularity in her life. Each night before bedtime, she meowed as loudly as any passing garbage truck to beckon everyone into bed for her nightly snuggling ritual. She used her broad vocabulary of meows to express moods and also communicate anonomlies. If, for instance, she saw a spider on the wall, she meowed and meowed (meow version #19) until someone flicked the spider to the floor, whereupon she would play with it, then eat it. She was not a friend to the spider.
Her lifetime mousing stats were modest. She caught only a handful (two that I can actually remember) and took only one of them to its eternal rest. Her stats would obviously have been higher, but, contrary to reputation, I do a remarkable job cleaning up the house, which is why mice do not nest here. Magus did not have a cat fight, owing either to her loving spirit or abject terror at things bigger than her, which most living things were/are.
But she was adventurous. When she was a kitten, her owners (‘guardians’ under Boulder, Co law) came home to find her eight feet in the air, swinging from a curtain rod she’d jumped onto from a table. She was dangling by the little toe that was subsequently amputated.  For many years as her health allowed, she remained undeterred, leaping high into the air to reach for cat toys and feathers. Magus (who was smarter than your dog) played fetch; She would bring back balls or drag her toys across the house to enlist someone in more play time.
In her last years in life, Magus’s chief gift was teaching Milo how to do gentle petting and the humility that comes with being two and trying in vain to catch a cat racing through the living room. No, we haven’t figured out exactly how to tell him about her absence.
We sometimes referred to Magus as “the three-toed kitty” but mostly by her nickame “Schmago.” We completely loved and cherished her. She will be sorely missed.

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