From the moment we heard the Santa Anas would blow at hurricane-force levels, we knew what was coming.

And still, the onset of the first fast-moving, rampaging firestorm came as a shock to the community, because it hit the sector of our society that is usually the most privileged and protected—Malibu. I heard about the fires when I clicked on the television news that morning at nine a.m. I immediately called my best friend from college, who lives on the beach in Malibu. Turned out she had no idea there was a major fire going on, because her power was out.

I gave her updates from the reports on CNN, and told her to pack up her most important items. But like any good Malibu-ite (Malibuan?), she already had everything organized, the same way Californians learn to keep an "earthquake survival kit" tucked away in some dusty corner of their garages.

I kept hearing local reports that people were trying to get into Malibu, not leaving. I remembered my friend who had no clue that a disaster was racing down a canyon toward her house. Her church had already been destroyed, and it was directly across the street from her son's school.

And so, like the former journalist that I am, I called the CNN news tip line and told them that power was down in some areas of Malibu, and suggested that perhaps people who had friends in the area should call them on their landlines, which still seemed to be working. The CNN tip-taker was very nice and took a lot of notes, but I never saw the tip come over the news that friends should call their friends and family in the area to roust them out.

That day ushered in a strange, surreal week in Los Angeles. We woke up each morning to discover a fine layer of ash—like dust in the attic—settled over cars and surfaces. The skies seemed permanently overcast, but from smoke, not clouds. It became slightly irritating to breathe, no matter where you were. People all around me were coughing more. We had spectacular, firestorm-fueled sunsets that were even more beautiful than our worst pollution-caused sunsets. In some places in Southern California, you could stare directly at the sun, because it had diminished into a swollen, tangerine orb behind the layers of smoke.

My Malibu friend seemed quite relaxed about the flames that were racing her way. She even met me for lunch Monday afternoon—and then was turned back by police when she tried to return home. She and her family spent a couple of days as Malibu refugees, which does seem like an oxymoron.

But still, this experience hasn't soured any of us on living in California—or even in Malibu. We do have occasional impressive catastrophes here. Earthquakes, firestorms, city-wide riots, to name a few. But every other day, it's paradise here. The weather is so wonderful and consistent, you almost forget what "real" weather is. And we don't deal with the far more frequent disasters that plague other areas of the country, such as hurricanes, snowstorms, and tornadoes.

When all is said and done, I'm staying put. Everyone I know is, too.
Where you live, are there any recurring disasters that you've just learned to accept, prepare for and deal with? Do other aspects of the environment offset the occasional problems?
Life—and the book tour—continues...
I had a wonderful book signing event on Wednesday at the B Dalton in the mall at Los Angeles City Hall. The bookseller, Candace Davis, set up a nice table—complete with a vase of flowers!—and I sold lots of books. I was impressed by how many men bought the book. But that was encouraging--I think diet, exercise, humor and murder mysteries is a combination that will interest many readers in America, not just women.
On Saturday, I spoke to a nice-sized crowd at Mysteries To Die For in Thousand Oaks. The staff and Heidi made me feel very welcome. I recruited a good friend of mine who once attended the same diet clinic as me in Durham, North Carolina (DYING TO BE THIN is set in a fictional diet clinic, AKA fat farm). We regaled the crowd with stories about how the real diet doctors would roam the town, tracking down and busting people who were cheating on the program.
Whenever a diet doctor entered the building, the cheating dieters would flee--running for the ladies room, exits, wherever we could find to take cover.
Ah, those were some good times.

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