Like many people, I’m afraid of heights and sharks and grizzly bears. But one of my deepest fears is of losing my memory — and my sense of self — to Alzheimer’s Disease. My father died of it, so I know that it destroys not just the patient, it also devastates the entire family. And every year, more and more people fall victim to it.
Which is why I’m declaring war on Alzheimer’s.
This war can be won, and our fiercest warriors are scientists. They’re tantalizingly close to understanding the mechanisms of this disease, and how it can be prevented. Science will provide the answer …and the cure.
Join me in the battle — and win a chance at a unique prize: to name a character in a Rizzoli & Isles novel! Won’t it be fun to see yourself (or someone you love) chatting with Jane and Maura on the page? You might be a hero, or you might be a villain — you never know!
Visit my Alzheimer’s research fundraiser page for the details on how to enter the raffle.
Your donations will go directly to The Scripps Research Institute, which has long been at the cutting edge of biomedical research. With 1,200 scientists, including Nobel laureates, TSRI is one of the most influential scientific institutions in the world, and Charity Navigator has awarded them the top 4-star rating as a responsible charity.
An article I wrote for the Wall Street Journal.
May this help you remember to make the important journeys while you can. Life is short, and I will forever regret that I didn’t do this while my mother was alive.
If you’ve never read a Rizzoli & Isles book, here’s your chance to give it a try. THE APPRENTICE is the first book where both Jane and Maura appear — and for a limited time, it’s on sale in Kindle format from Amazon. Find it here.
Yesterday I came home from Atlanta in a wheelchair.
In my many travels, I’ve contended with pickpockets in Paris and Norovirus in London, lost luggage in Vietnam and countless delayed, cancelled, and just plain scary flights in the bush. But yesterday, while strolling toward the security gates in Atlanta airport, I finally met my Waterloo. I’d bent down to get the plastic bag of liquids out of my carry-on case … and felt as if a knife had plunged into my lower back. I couldn’t get up. As people walked around me, I went down on my knees in agony.
A week ago, I was hiking. In the summer, I’ll easily hike 20 miles a week. I can shovel off a deck covered with a foot of snow, and won’t feel a twinge. I was — or thought I was — superwoman. But there, crouched on the airport floor next to my open suitcase, I couldn’t move an inch without that knife stabbing deeper in my back.
An airport employee noticed me and came over to ask if I was OK.
I said what I never imagined I’d ever say: “Help. I can’t get up.” Yep, just like that TV ad for the Lifeline medical alert button. Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!
Gently she helped me to my feet, took my suitcase, and said: “Sweetie, you need a wheelchair.” Even as I shuffled in pain behind her, I was protesting that no, I was able-bodied. No, I was not going to sit in a wheelchair. For god’s sake, I’d been hiking a week ago! But the real truth? I was mortified. I was too proud to look disabled. I wanted to tough it out, which is my usual approach.
We got to the wheelchair area, where a kindly gentleman saw I was in pain but resistant to the idea of a wheelchair. He urged, in his sweet southern voice, “Honey, just sit in the chair. You deserve to go in style.”
I sat down.
As my female attendant zipped me through security, I kept my head down, too embarrassed to look at anyone. Wondering if other passengers, waiting in long lines, thought I was a fraud. And I understood, really understood for the first time, what it’s like to feel utterly dependent on strangers.
She delivered me to my gate, where I had a two-hour wait till my flight. There, sitting alone, I had time to think about what it’s like to be suddenly incapacitated. What it’s like to need help to do the simplest things, like take off my own shoes. Although I had wheeled my mother through airports in her wheelchair, and had seen what it’s like to be a caregiver, I had never seen it from the other side. How difficult it is to get into and out of a restroom. How a boarding pass dropped on the floor might as well be a mile away if you can’t even reach down to pick it up.
Then I heard the words “Bangor” and “snowstorm,” and I turned to see a group of passengers talking about the weather at home. I said, “Are you waiting for the Portland Maine flight? Is it taking off?”
And just like that, they adopted me. The other Mainers didn’t know each other, either, but they’d already bonded over weather woes. They wheeled me into their circle. They wheeled me to the other end of the terminal when our gate changed. They wheeled me to the bathroom. They offered to fetch food, water, whatever I might need. Complete strangers, yet we were all part of one family. We were Mainers.
My ordeal finally came to an end in a snowstorm, when our plane managed to land in Portland, just as a blizzard moved in. I came off the plane in a wheelchair. Yes, in style. My attendant brought me out to the curb where — thank god — my husband was able to meet me.
Twenty-four hours later, after half a dozen Advils and a night’s rest, I’m much better. Well enough to believe that, yes, I’ll be hiking again in a few weeks. In some ways, I’m thankful that this happened to me. It made me appreciate my usually robust good health. It made me appreciate the miracle of being able to walk, or just to bend down.
Most of all, it made me appreciate the innate kindness of most people. And how it moves in a circle.
While I was waiting in my wheelchair at that Atlanta airport, I saw a distressed-looking Hispanic woman hunting frantically for quarters to make a long-distance call to Ecuador. The pay phones were giving her trouble, and she needed to tell relatives that her flight was hours delayed. I called out to her that my cell phone had an international plan, and she could use it. Afterwards, when I refused the five dollars she tried to give me for the call, I received something much better: a big, tearful hug.
And that was my day at the airport.
I’m always in search of the quirky and charming, and I certainly found plenty of both in the lovely city of Vilnius. I’d never visited any of the Baltic countries, so I didn’t know what to expect. From Wikipedia, I learned that Lithuania is a brand-new country, independent since only 1990, with a population of three million. But facts and figures don’t tell you about the soul of a place, and I went in search of Lithuania’s soul.
And to do some book business, of course!
I was invited to the Vilnius Book Fair by my wonderful publisher Jotema — the first time they’ve ever invited an American author to their country. I was a little nervous about not speaking Lithuanian, but soon discovered that most young people in Vilnius speak English, putting monolingual Americans to shame. Luckily, I also had the loving attention of Aiste Matjosaityte, my publisher’s foreign rights manager, who escorted me everywhere.
Aiste soon discovered that I do love my coffee breaks!
My visit started off with a TV interview at my hotel.
Followed the next day with a visit to the Book Fair, where crowds of book-lovers, young and old, mobbed the aisles. I signed for a long line of readers.
And got the chance to meet the terrific Jotema publishing team:
There was also plenty of time to wander the streets of Vilnius. Few Americans visit the town, which is a shame, because it has so many charms. There are the narrow, picturesque streets…
Lots of shops featuring the region’s famous Baltic amber:
Churches, museums, and historic buildings. (Here is the town hall.)
And did I mention bookshops? I couldn’t believe how many bookstores there are in this city, just about one on every other block. This seems to be a town that loves its books.
And just a short distance out of town is another wondrous spot: Trakkei, famous for its island castle, built in the 1300s. Here I am with our guide Viktorija:
But it’s also a city of ghosts, and everywhere I wandered, I could not forget the tragic history of this city, and of Lithuania. During the Nazi occupation of WWII, almost all of its Jewish population — said to be 40% of the city, which was then vibrantly multi-ethnic — was murdered. This was followed by the Soviet occupation, which brutally hunted down Lithuanian partisans who were fighting for independence. One absolute must for every visitor is the KGB museum, which once served as a notorious prison. Here I came face to face with the heartbreaking history of this city, and the courage of its freedom fighters. I was astonished by how many of them were women, who served as messengers and spies and nurses. They too were executed, or disappeared into prisons and were never seen again. In the basement of this building is the very room where thousands of prisoners were summarily executed by gunshots to the head. I stood all alone in that room for a long time, thinking about the men and women for whom those walls were the last thing they ever saw.
When I walked out of the building, it was like getting a second chance at life. I took no photos of the museum. It was simply that disturbing.
Despite that dark history, Vilnius is morphing into a place with a vibrant sense of its own culture — and its own humor. One of my favorite little spots was their “Literature street”, where authors are honored with sometimes hilarious plaques.
Not all the authors are Lithuanian — I spotted the names of Thomas Harris and Jonathan Franzen on the wall! Please please, a Tess Gerritsen plaque some day???)
Then there is the TRULY quirky, a little neighborhood I visited twice just because I couldn’t believe it existed. As you approach the river, you come to a bridge with this sign announcing you are about to enter the Republic of Uzupio. It has its own president, its own constitution, and even its own passport stamp. It demands that you must enter with a smile.
Attached to the bridge are hundreds of padlocks, which seemed to serve no purpose:
Until you take a closer look at the padlocks and discover that they’re each engraved with a couple’s name:
It’s tradition in Vilnius, when a couple gets married, to attach a padlock to the Uzupio Bridge, as a good-luck charm that their union will last. Of course, I took the symbolism in a slightly different way!
The history of Uzupio starts off tragically. Once a neighborhood of Jews, it was transformed into a ghost neighborhood by WWII. The downtrodden were the first to move in to the abandoned buildings, and for a time it was a seedy, dangerous section of Vilnius. Gradually artists and bohemians discovered it, and they transformed it into the wacky counter-culture place it now is.
In their “square” is a statue of the Archangel Gabriel, who represents their “Saint of Creativity”:
Of course I had to take a photo of one of its charming local inhabitants:
And finally, here is the Constitution of Uzupio, translated into a whole host of languages, and posted on a wall for the world to see. If the whole world followed this constitution, we’d live in a much better place:
For the complete Constituion, you can find it here
Good luck finding a constitution with articles like these:
THE CONSTITUTION OF THE REPUBLIC OF UZUPIO
1. Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnele, and the River Vilnele has the right to flow by everyone.
2. Everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter, and a tiled roof.
3. Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation.
4. Everyone has the right to make mistakes.
5. Everyone has the right to be unique.
6. Everyone has the right to love.
7. Everyone has the right not to be loved, but not necessarily.
8. Everyone has the right to be undistinguished and unknown.
9. Everyone has the right to idle.
10. Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat.
11. Everyone has the right to look after the dog until one of them dies.
12. A dog has the right to be a dog.
13. A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of need.
Thought you’d like a peek at what I do when I’m not writing. I play fiddle with my musician pals!
I’d love to hear about the hobbies of other writers!
From CJ Lyon’s website “Thrillers with Heart.” We chat about thriller writing and storytelling.
I am still stinging with shame about a letter I just received. It came from one of my old high school teachers, a man with whom I have corresponded over the decades. Every Christmas, I’d send him a personal letter about my year, and every summer, I’d mail him an autographed copy of my newest book.
About six months ago, he wrote me a long, long letter sharing all the latest in his life. I set it on my desk, with every intention of replying. Because he doesn’t do email, I would have to actually write a letter and send it snail mail, so I delayed the task until I had a bit of time. The trouble was, time got away from me. I had to proof-read the galleys of my book, then I had to leave for China to bring my mother’s ashes to her hometown, then I went on book tour, followed by weeks of travel for various speaking engagements. In the meantime, that letter from my teacher got buried under other accumulating mail. I never did write him back.
A few days ago, after returning from my latest trip, I found a new letter from him in the bin of mail that the US Postal Service had held for me in my absence. He was hurt and upset that I had not answered his earlier letter. He asked if our friendship was dead. He assumed it must be, because I hadn’t responded, nor had I sent him my latest book. I immediately mailed him a book and a card of apology, but I’m still having sleepless nights about it. And I’m mulling over why, exactly, I didn’t write back sooner.
My crazy schedule is one reason. But a bigger reason, I think, is how much I’ve come to rely on email as a primary mode of correspondence, a convenience that’s so quick and immediate that it makes old-fashioned letter writing seem like a burden. Every morning, when I sit down to catch up on messages, I answer my email first. As tasks go, it’s the low-hanging fruit, something you can speedily accomplish. Letter writing? That feels like a far more ponderous task, so I put it off. And I put it off.
And before I know it, weeks and then months have gone by, and unanswered letters are still lying on my desk.
I, and people like me, are responsible for the impending death of the snail-mail letter. In this era of “Faster! Faster!”, we feel the urgency of accomplishing everything at top efficiency. We feel too harried to actually write with pen and paper, address the envelope, affix a stamp, and bring it to the post office.
And that’s a shame. Because years from now, all our emails, all those quickly dashed bits of information rendered to the electronic ether, won’t be around to enlighten our descendants. The death of the handwritten letter means that we, too — our thoughts, our memories, the way we press pen to paper — will vanish forever when we’re gone.
On Saturday, I got a peek at the biggest, strangest, most mind-bending convention ever. I’ve attended two Star Trek conventions (yep, once I even went in costume) so I sort of knew what to expect. But Comic Con in New York City was on a level I couldn’t imagine, with outrageously amazing costumes.
I signed and gave away free copies of THE APPRENTICE, and one of the ladies waiting in line was a 50-ish woman wearing an enormous orange “Angry Bird” costume made of voluminous felt. It was warm in the convention hall, and she was sweating but good-humored about the whole thing because “My kids made me do it,” she said.
And outside the Javits Center, walking on the streets of NYC, the show continued. Weirdly dressed characters were everywhere, hailing taxicabs, strolling into restaurants. The funny thing about NYC? Nobody gave them a second glance.