Apr 25, 2005

Reality bites - Ruth's turn

Jon and I spend most of our free time within a fictional world of murder. The dead body in the story might be many things. A fully developed character sometimes. Sometimes just a means to a clever conclusion. But murder mysteries always have a resolution. Mostly good, sometimes horrific but at the end of the day our fictional detective has more often than not resolved the story with a nod of hope or human resilience that is in one form or another a parable of the human condition. Reading as many mysteries as I do I am often able to put real life atrocities in the back of my mind. Although aware and horrified by the daily deaths occurring in the Middle East I’ve insulated myself from the day to day stories. The statistics may overwhelm me but homicide occurs everywhere. Here and abroad. Add the horrific accidents that occur daily through machinery, fire and weather and sometimes it’s hard to understand why I retreat into the genre of mystery but I do or at least I have.

This is all a preamble to explain last weekend. Jon and I were busy. A pile of books to review, a pile of movies to watch, great weather that allowed me downstairs and into the garden for two solid days. The Hope of Spring , the comfort of home. Still my latent catholic self kept abreast of the Pope contest. Checking our news server whenever I looked at e-mail and briefly scanning a local story about an elderly couple killed over 4,800 hundred dollars. I thought to myself stories like this are why I hate my Grandmother being a thousand miles away. On Monday I went to work, put in a full day and did the minimum when I got home. Tuesday began like normal, a too short workout and too much coffee with a lot of Spider solitaire. I turned on the radio and in my morning fog the truth came to me in the form of a name. Uttered the same way I’ve said it hundreds of times myself. You see I knew the old couple who’d been murdered on Friday. Had seen them at least once a week ever since my marriage. I was jerked out of my mystery reader fog with enough violence that I became physically ill.

And now I share a real story with you all that is very simply a tragedy.

The couple was in their early eighties. They had escaped the work camps of the eastern bloc and immigrated to the U.S. in the mid fifties. They found a home and raised a family in Milwaukee. They helped to establish one of the most stable neighborhoods in our city. A neighborhood where everyone still knew one another and the casseroles were still forthcoming during an illness . I went back over the news story. They were repeatedly stabbed with a knife. There were no less than thirty defensive wounds on both corpses. The woman was dead first and during the attack the husband managed to escape from the basement into the backyard. Mortally wounded he screamed for help thinking only to save his wife who was already dead. A neighbor heard him and came to aid with no thoughts of his own safety. He suffered minor wounds and shook the perp up enough that he fled to his car. A twelve year old girl followed that car and got the man’s plates. Vanity plates of course. For this man was as stupid and amoral as any fictional criminal I’ve ever read. The very dregs of our society.

He had befriended my couple you see. Gained their trust and as it became harder for the husband to function had said to him, “look I can do your banking for you, I don’t mind.” He stole 4,800 dollars and although suffering from onset post-stroke dementia the man had lucid days and soon the discrepancy in his bank account became apparent. He presented the man with documentation. He wanted full reimbursement or he was going to the police. The presentation of papers occurred on Thursday afternoon. At his arraignment last Monday the man said he decided on Friday morning that his only way out was to try reasoning with the elderly husband and if that failed he’d need to kill them both. And he did. Our perp is a sixty plus gentleman who has in his lifetime somehow decided that the trading of two lives is a fair exchange for seven years in prison.

A daughter is distraught. She’d tried to get her parents to move close to her for years but they wanted to die in the house where they’d found peace. Whenever the subject of moving came up her father said , “I’ve lived a good life in this home and I want to die here.”. He did. There’s nothing we can do for her except give condolences and telegraph good thoughts. Oh and the casseroles. The neighborhood is insulating itself. Participants in the attempted rescue are refusing to be named by the press. Former co-workers are saying only what a great couple and wonderful friends they were. This neighborhood has been made all too aware that sometimes it’s real even if it isn’t on television. And me I have no clever social commentary to add to this story. Only the shame that when I first read it I treated it like one of my books. How could this relate to my world?

This time it did. And it’s real.


Apr 18, 2005


Bouchercon is held in a different city every year. The people hosting it are doing it as volunteers. They donate their time because they love the mystery community and they love the convention. Every year I go I have a wonderful time.

And every year I hear people bitching. Bitching about every little thing. And almost of the bitching is from people who have never donated their time to putting one together or helping at one. None of the people involved gets paid. It’s usually three or more years of volunteer work. And the last year is really crazy with a lot of work involved. And these people do it for free. No money. Nada. They do it because they love it.

Panels: Any idea what it’s like to try and make 300+ authors happy? Balancing personalities and times and interests? And then adding the last minute registrants? And how about explaining to that self published author why they don’t get to be on the panel with Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly? And how about coming up with enough ideas and making them interesting? It’s no small job.

Picking a location: Once someone picks a city and decides to put in a bid, many things come into play.

What kind of discount will the hotel give? Can they supply enough room for everything needed to be done?

Things pop up like food and beverage minimums, and room fill rates. And how about availability? The hotel picked is generally the place that fits most of the needs. No place is perfect. No place ever will be perfect for everyone. A hotel with lower room rates may have facilities charges. That means higher registration rates.

Closer to the airport usually means further from the cool stuff to do in the city. It’s all a matter of balance. And finding a place that fits most of the needs at the best cost is no easy thing to do. The length of the contracts would scare most people.

I’m guessing putting together the goodie bags everyone gets is no small task. It’s hard to get review copies of books, it must be a real treat asking for 1500 copies of something.

And a lot of money doesn’t come in until the last couple of months. Putting deposits down for this stuff must be a real treat when you only have a handful of registrations paid for.

I could go on and on, but I think you get what I’m trying to say. Putting on a Bouchercon is a lot of thankless work.

The price is till pretty cheap. Considering that it is the biggest convention for the genre offering the most to see and do, it is still pretty cheap. Other conventions with a lot less authors and events charge as much or more. Hell, the cover price of the free books is generally higher than the registration cost.

Bouchercon is a great convention. I’ve enjoyed every single one, and I’m sure I will continue to do so. I always find good panels. And I always see people I love. I always find good food. I always have an unexpected fanboy moment. And the truth is, there are so many mystery fans there you are guaranteed to find people you’ll love hanging out with. It’s a 4 day part for the mystery community. I think you would have to make an effort to not have at least some wonderful memories.

So to Deen Kogan and Sonya Rice, Mary Helen Becker and Al Abramson. Al Navis, Dana Stabenow , and all the other people who have been brave enough to host Bouchercon: THANK YOU.

Thank you for giving me a place to go every fall and see old friends and meet new ones. Thank you for giving me memories that will last forever. Thank you for all your hard work.

TROY and other films

Well, I can't say I wasn't warned. Someone actually referred to this movie as "The Brad Pitt Porno Posing Movie".

Well I sat through the whole thing. Truthfully? It's a good saturday afternoon with time to kill kind of movie. Big fight scenes, lots of swords and arrows. Not that bad. But wow, all tha death and destruction because of someguy thinking with his weinie.......

Office Space.
Laura and David were right. I laughed my ass off. They told Ruth and I we would like it and boy did we. Some really funny stuff. I love the scene when they go postal on the fax machine.

Ripper 2
The worst horror movie I have ever seen. Ever.

Ladder 49
A fireman movie with John Travolta. Lots of fires and the perfectly planned tear jerking moments. No surprises, but fun enough to watch.

The Final Cut
Robin Williams in the near future. Implants that record everything you see and hear edited for viewing after you die. Really good movie. Really good.

Finding Neverland
Watched this twice. I'll be buying it. Johnny Depp was incredible. So were the kids in the movie.
Makes me proud to be a kid inside.

All in all not a bad movie weekend.

Doin Nuthin' - and doin' it well

This weekend consisted of my doing not much of anything. Ruth worked in the garden, I read comics. I read a whole lot of X-Men comics. X-Men dating back to the days when they only had 1 title on the stands, The Uncanny X-Men. Now of course there are about thirty seven diffrent x-titles out there for our consumption, but the originals are still classics. I picked up and started at about issuee 101 and read whatever I had up to about 400. Not being a collector anymore I have some gaps, but it was still very relaxing. I think Professer X died and came back about three times. Magneto also died and came back quite a bit. But I love X-Men comics. Wolverine in particular. I liked him back before he had his own comic.

The reason for this reading binge? Next weekend I do the layout onthe next Crimespree, so I need a clear head. And comics really cleanse my palet. Now I can jump in and finish off the few more books to review with a clear head and get to it.

Apr 11, 2005

Nervous? Who ? Me?

This coming Wed Ruth and I have been invited to speak to the Midwest MWA chapter.
At first I thought "cool... sounds like fun and free food"
But now I'm thinking.... We have to talk about Crimespree for an hour.
Wow. I don't know if we even talked about it that much deciding to do it!
It should be interesting if nothing else.
Plus the people there are all very nice and freindly, so how bad can it be, right?

But it's not like a panel where you have an hour to fill but get to make other people talk!

Apr 9, 2005

Boiled, Hard Boiled

Hard Boiled

When hard boiling an egg you take something very fragile and drop it into water so hot that it is turning into steam, water at a rolling boil, violent and potentially dangerous. <>This kind of sums up hard boiled pretty nicely I think.

So, you might be thinking to yourself, what doe this have to do with anything?

Well, it’s a lead in for this:
downbytheriver lyrics

“Down by the river
I shot my baby
Down by the river,
Dead, oh, shot her dead.”

Neil Young writes some fairly hardboiled lyrics at times.

So did Warren Zevon. In fact there re a lot of hardboiled songs.

There are a lot of hardboiled songs out there. Some you might not even notice at first because of the catchy melody or how happy it sounds.

I know people who are hard boiled. People who put hot sauce on eggs are hard boiled. People who work out every single day are hard boiled. Reed Farrel Coleman’s sense of humor is hardboiled. In my opinion Bugs Bunny is hardboiled. Hieronymus Bosch is a hardbolied painter.
bosch paintings

Hard boiled is all around us. It’s not just the way
Manuel Ramos wrote MOONEY’S ROAD TO HELL.

Apr 5, 2005


I just finished a pretty cool book, OBSESSED by Ted Dekker

He' s got a bunch of other books, but this is the first I've read.
It's as much thriller as mystery, but very entertaining. A quick idea of what it's about.
It takes place in 1973 with flashback to WWII. Stephen Freidman is an LA real state developer. His life is going well. We his also an Jewish war orphan. He discovers some secrets about his paste when an elderly lady dies.This begins a search for some relics called "The Stars Of David" It also takes him on a path to finally resvolving his issues withthe past.

Evil Nazis, some hippes, and lots of fun. Check it out

Apr 3, 2005

Ross Thomas Award

Blame Chuck Dickens. He started the whole "great first line" thing, with "it
was the best of times." Now we all have to have to keep up. Happily,
nobody does better first lines than mystery and thriller writers.

"Shortly after the death of the failed Quaker, Steadfast Haynes, the Central
Intelligence Agency received a telephoned blackmail threat that was so
carefully veiled and politely murmured it could have been misinterpreted as
the work of some harmless crank. But it wasn't misinterpreted."

Read that and I dare you to close the book without reading on. In
recognition of the art of crafting great first lines, several of us in the
mystery community have decided to launch the Ross Thomas Award (named with
the permission of Ross's widow, Rosalie). It will be given to the best first
line of a mystery or thriller published in English in 2004.

Nominations can be submitted through Jim Huang's website:
Anyone can submit a line - as long as the work from which it is taken was published in English
in 2004. (You absolutely can nominate yourself.) The top ten "great first
lines" - and the winner -- will be selected by a panel of booksellers, fans,
and writers and will be announced at Midwest MWA's Of Dark and Stormy Nights
Writing Conference, June 11, 2005, and be featured in a forthcoming issue of
The Drood Review. Those who nominate the winners will also be recognized.

We hope to make this an annual event, and we encourage everyone to submit
their favorite first line. And if you're interested in becoming a judge or
otherwise being involved, please drop an email to samhill@samhillonline.com.
Nominations are due May 21.

Apr 1, 2005

!!!!!!!KING OF THE KILL!!!!!!

From the wizards of words over at Bleak House--

For anybody interested, we're running a short story contest at www.bleakhousebooks.com. The contest is ongoing. The winner stays for a month. After a month, we'll pick two challengers (out of those mailed to us), people will vote on our website for the #1 contender.
#1 Contender will face the reigning King/Queen. More voting. Either the crown stays put, or a new monarch is coronated.

The current king is
Reed “The King” Coleman, author of The James Deans.


Warriors……. Come out to plaaaaAAAAaaaayyyyyyy

Waaarriooooors……. Cooooome out to plaaaaAAAAAAAAaaaaayyyyyyy!

>cue bottles clinking together< Sol Yurick wrote the book in 1965, based loosely on The Lost Patrol. In 1978 Walter Hill took it to the screen as Director of The Warriors.
It’s a theme that’s actually pretty basic and hard not to rally behind.
People fighting their way back home against insurmountable odds.
Underdogs, doing what they need to do.

But between The Warriors and the film adaptation of Richard Price’s The Wanderers, the summer movie scene scared the hell out of a lot of adults. And some of the fear might have been for a reason. Fights broke out in theaters all over the country. However it’s hard to blame the movie makers, after who’s to say that these were not people predisposed to violence already. And I have to admit to feeling pretty charged up after I saw it the first time.

Cyrus, the leader of “The Riffs” has a plan to unite all the gangs together and take control of the city. Some knuckle head shoots him and blames The Warriors. They just want to go home, but that’s going to be a little hard with every gang in the city out to kill them.

And what fun gangs! A whole gang of dudes dressed as mimes! Scary!!!!

And the Furies, baseball outfit wearing guys with clown like makeup. And The Lizzies….. Ahhhhh I love this movie.
<>It could have been the beginning of a fun career for Michael Beck, too bad he followed it up with Xanadu….
But there are some other faces showing up early in their careers

<>I think the real reason it holds it’s charm is that this was back when gangs still had fights. The level of violence was different. You actually needed to be able to fight. Today, they just point and shoot over any imagined slight. <>But I can close my eyes and still hear Joe Walsh cueing up as they walk down the beach as the credits start…

“Somewhere out on that horizon…..
Out beyond the neon lights….”

Ahhhhhhhh I miss the seventies sometimes….