Monday, December 30, 2013

Mystery Weekend Roundup for December 28, 2013

Crime Writers Who Left Us in 2013

2013 saw the departure of some truly fine mystery and thriller writers. Fortunately, they have left us a great legacy...their words and stories.

Robert Barnard, award winning British crime writer.  He wrote dozens of novels, most of them cozies. His work was described as maliciously funny and he poked fun at hypocrites and snobs in his writing. He explained his view towards his characters by stating, “All my characters are pretty awful in one way or another, partly because they are suspects in a murder investigation and I don’t really believe that nice people are potential committers of murder.”

In 2003 he was given the Cartier Diamond Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Crime Writers Association.

Jakob Arjouni, German crime writer who wrote a popular series featuring a German-Turk private eye. Most of his books were set in Frankfort's underworld. He was one of the first German mystery writers to reach international popularity in the post World War II era. At the time he started writing, private eye novels were practically unknown in Germany. He credited his hard boiled style to formative years hanging out in a pool hall, and also reading Red Harvest, by Dashiell Hammett, at the age of 12.

His last novel, Brother Kemal, was published just before his death.

Barbara Mertz (aka Barbara Michaels), known for her historical mysteries and extensive knowledge of ancient Egypt, she wrote over 50 novels and two scholarly works on ancient Egypt. She had a doctorate in Egyptology but could not find work in the academic world. She then turned to fiction and wrote about the ancient world she loved.

Tom Clancy, author of military and spy thrillers featuring Jack Ryan. His books have sold over 100 million copies. The debut novel, The Hunt For Red October, was so accurate and realistic that when the Secretary of the Navy read it, he demanded to know who had cleared the release of classified information. Yet Clancy peppered his novel with public information available at libraries and his own imagination.

Vince Flynn, who wrote a popular series of terrorist thrillers. His protagonist, Mitch Rapp, battled corrupt politicians, nuclear terrorists and oil-rich bounty hunters. Like Tom Clancy, he tried military service, but medical problems kept him a civilian. His writing was partly motivated by it.

Jack Vance, prolific writer of mystery, science fiction and fantasy. He wrote 11 mysteries under his full name and two others under the pen name Ellery Queen. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America made him a Grand Master in 1997.

Elmore Leonard, mystery writer of such classics as Get Shorty and Fifty-Two Pickup. He began by writing westerns, and one of his first stories, 3:10 To Yuma, was made into a movie not once, but twice. He was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America and won a Peabody Award, as well the 2012 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in recognition of his fiction by the National Book Foundation.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Oh Manuscript, Oh Manuscript! (A Holiday Carol For Writers)

For anyone who has ever submitted a query to an agent in hopes of getting published, this song will ring true! Sing to the tune "Oh, Christmas Tree".

Oh manuscript, Oh manuscript,
I long for agents calling,
with hope that they will never say
"You're storyline's appalling!"
I edit you all day and night,
to prove that I can truly write,
Oh manuscript, Oh manuscript,
I long for agents calling.

Oh manuscript, Oh manuscript,
I long for agents calling.
Revisions done, it wasn't fun.
My fingertips are bleeding.
My query's sent with greatest hope
that it will show I'm not a dope.
Oh manuscript, Oh manuscript,
I long for agents calling.

Oh manuscript, Oh manuscript,
I long for agents calling.
My hopes and dreams wait anxiously,
Rejections can be mauling.
It's ramen noodles for my next meal
Until I snag that three-book deal.
Oh manuscript, Oh manuscript,
I long for agents calling.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Writers Born Today - H. H. Munro (aka Saki)

It's the birthday of Hector Hugh Munro, born December 18, 1870 in Burma, son of a policeman. He wrote popular short stories which combined satire with the bizarre under the pen name, Saki (taken from a Persian poem, meaning "cup-bearer").

At the age of two, his mother was killed in an accident involving a runaway cow. He was sent to live in England with two aunts whose use of corporal punishment and strict rules inspired much of his writing.

He returned to Burma in his 20s and was a policeman, but poor health forced him back to England. After returning, he started a career as a journalist and began publishing his stories. His tales satirized the hypocrisy of the Edwardian society around him. Many of the best stories are still anthologized today, including Sredni Vashtar  and Tobermory. The Open Window is a classic tale using humor and the macabre to describe a nervous guest at a country estate and his young mischievous hostess. The surprise ending shocks the reader even today.

Although he was 44 years old and exempt from military service, he volunteered for duty when World War I broke out and was sent to France. He was promoted to Lance Corporal and served with distinction. Several stories were written while he was in the trenches. He died on the front on November 16, 1916.

In an ironic twist that could have come from one of his own stories, he was killed by a german sniper after barking an order at a soldier whose smoking risked revealing their position. His last words were, "Put that damned cigarette out!".

True Crime Tuesday for December 17, 2013 (Holiday Edition)

NY Times Urges Police: Bring Drunken Santas Under Control

Here's a headline you don't see everyday, but apparently, a tipping point has been reached. The unusual editorial appeared in the NY Times last week after a rash of bad santas got inebriated, picked fist fights and urinated on neighbors' lawns. Police are blaming the crimes on the annual event known as SantaCon, in which "revelers dress up as Kris Kringle (or, at least, put on a Santa hat) and participate en masse in an often literal bar crawl, cramming 12 nights of Christmas boozing into a single afternoon."

Yeah, that's gonna be trouble. In an effort to tone down the event, NY police lieutenant John Cocchi wrote a letter to bar owners urging them to stop serving any Santa who appears too drunk to crawl into his sleigh without falling out. The organizers of SantaCon have pledged to help by stationing several dozen "helper elves" at the event next year.

Santa Busted With Gift Wrapped Weed

Cops in Pennsylvania pulled Santa over on Interstate 80 after observing some suspicious behavior (as if a man driving a sleigh pulled by 8 reindeer wasn't odd enough?). But actually, Santa wasn't in a sleigh. He was in a minivan. No wonder they pulled him over.

Prancer and Dancer were nowhere in sight, but the vehicle did have a bunch of gift wrapped packages. Inside was twenty pounds of marijuana, and now Santa is sitting in the Centre County Correctional Facility. The stash was worth about 160,000 dollars.

That's an awful lot of Christmas cheer. Looks like someone's going to be getting coal in their stockings. Maybe next year, Santa will just spike the egg nog.

Candy Cane Thrower Banned From Santa Claus Parade

The fur is flying up in Canada after a member of Parliament tossed candy canes to the local children from a float during the annual Santa Parade. Dr. Kellie Leitch was told by the president of the Creemore Business Improvement Association that she'd be placed on the naughty list if she didn't stop throwing the candy, and has been banned from next year's festivities.

The BIA president said that kids could get hurt by chasing a piece of candy that might fall under a float, endangering them and he was concerned that the candy would not be picked up once it hit the ground. "Once candy falls on the ground the kids aren’t likely to pick it up and then you have a garbage issue."

I can tell you, that would never be a problem as long as I was there...five second rule, after all. (Actually, my rule extends to five minutes, depending on the situation).

Of course, there's also the safety issue of flying shards of candy cane...she could knock someone's eye out! My glasses in the stockings this year.

Reindeer Slashed By Grinch

The Cape Cod Times has reported a shocking crime against Christmas. Vandals destroyed thousands of dollars worth of Christmas displays, including an inflatable Santa, Reindeer and sock monkey. The display by the Thompson family has delighted neighbors for the past 8 years.

Then, like in the animated TV show featuring the Grinch, a miracle happened. "People dropped off Christmas lights, a new inflatable Santa and ornaments. It will become a community display,” Richard Thompson said.

It's good to see neighbors sticking together. As for the real life Grinch, no arrests have been made, but with any luck, they will be hunted down and punished. Force feeding three year old fruitcake comes to mind as an appropriate punishment.

Gun Toting Santa Urges Criminals: Be Nice

Santa is apparently taking drastic measures to insure that former criminals turn their lives around. In British Columbia, Police Chief Bob Rich dressed as Santa and sent out cards to urge the recipients to get themselves back on the nice list this year. Otherwise, there'll be nothing under the Christmas tree for them. The card says, in part, “I know it’s pretty likely you have had a much more difficult life than most of us. The hard truth is that nothing can be done about that. But it is also true that it is never too late to make a different choice about the rest of your life.” Apparently, it has made a difference to some, as the chief says at least four people have responded positively.

Merry Christmas To You and Yours!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Writers Born Today - Shirley Jackson

It's the birthday of Shirley Jackson, born December 14th, 1916. The author of numerous stories and novels of suspense, horror and the supernatural, she gained international fame with the publication of her short story, "The Lottery".  The story takes place in a small New England town during an annual event. It ends with a drawing, in which the unlucky winner is stoned to death in public. After it's appearance in the New Yorker, the magazine received hundreds of letters demanding an explanation, canceling subscriptions or spewing abuse. Jackson claimed that some of the letters came from people who wanted to know where the lottery was held, so they could attend and watch. Today, the story is recognized as an American classic.

Ms. Jackson gave this explanation of the story in a newspaper article a month later, stating "I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story's readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives."

In hindsight, the answer made perfect sense. Only three years earlier, World War II had finally ended, costing 50 million lives, most of them civilian. The stench of the Nazi death camps was still a fresh memory. Even after the war, the globe was still in turmoil. The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union had begun. Just days before the story was published, the Russians cut off access to West Berlin in an effort to starve out the allies, and America once again stood on the brink of war. To a nation looking to put the past behind them and restore a semblance of sanity, the story was an unwelcome reminder of what human beings were capable of doing to one another. The twist in the story was responsible for much of its shock. It started as cozy, but finished as noir.

The story made her famous, but Shirley Jackson did not stop there. She wrote a thousand words a day almost her entire life and produced novels of horror and the supernatural that were both popular and critically acclaimed. The Wall Street Journal called The Haunting of Hill House "the greatest haunted-house story ever written". Describing her inspiration behind the novel, Shirley Jackson said "I had no choice. The ghosts were after me."

In 2010, the Library of America published a collection of her novels and stories. In an LOA interview with the editor Joyce Carol Oates, a quote appears calling Jackson's novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, "a masterpiece of Gothic suspense...". You can read Ms. Oates' review in the New York Review of Books.

In addition to her fiction, Shirley Jackson wrote non-fiction memoirs detailing her family life with a household of children, including Life Among The Savages and Raising Demons. She died of a heart attack in 1965. She was only 48 years old.

After her death, more of her stories were discovered and published. In August 2013, the New Yorker published her short story Paranoia for the first time. In that same month, Ms Jackson's story Louisa, Please Come Home appeared in the suspense anthology Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives. Shirley Jackson won an Edgar Award for this story in 1961, and another in 1966 for the short story, The Possibility of Evil.

In 2007, the Shirley Jackson Awards were created in her honor to recognize writers who demonstrate "outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic". The award is a small, polished, and engraved stone that fits comfortably in one's hand...perfect for throwing.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Mystery Weekend Roundup for Friday December 13, 2013

Fear of Friday the 13th Has a Long History

Today is Friday the 13th, a day so rooted in ancient fears and phobias, that even in this modern age, it paralyzes some people. According to an article in the National Geographic, fear of this date will effect at least 17 million people and cost the economy almost a billion dollars in lost productivity. One historian traces the fear to the number 13 and an old Norse legend. Other associations are rooted in religion. Judas, for example, is the 13th guest at the Last Supper and betrays Christ to the Romans.

In 1980, the teen slasher film Friday the 13th was released and has spawned an entire horror movie industry.

Even today, most buildings and high rises have no 13th floor, and your chances of being assigned room 13 in your local hospital or inn are practically nil.

In a bizarre coincidence, the Apollo 13 mission, which crippled the spacecraft and nearly cost three astronauts their lives, was launched on 4-11-70. The digits total to 13. The launch time was 1:13 PM, 13:13 in military time. The crew was scheduled to arrive at the moon on April 13th. The rest, as they say, is history.

By the way, the fear of Friday the 13th is known scientifically as  friggatriskaidekaphobia. Bet you can't say that fast three times in a row.

More Gift Ideas for the Holidays

Mystery Scene Magazine has a great book list out if you're looking for gift ideas. There's something in here for everyone, whether you've been naughty or nice, including a travel book by Agatha Christie and a bio of  Raymond Chandler. New works include a recently discovered treasure chest of Dashiell Hammett stories and a great anthology of female suspense writers put together by Sarah Weinman. There's even a collection of Christmas mysteries edited by Otto Penzler.

Need more ideas? Here are some additional "Best of" lists compiled by various websites, blogs and publishers.

Best Crime Fiction 2013 from down under by Fiona Hardy.

NPR Guide to the best Mysteries and Thrillers.

Best Books of the Year from the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Best Mystery & Thriller List from Publishers Weekly.

Goodreads Choice Awards for 2013.

Top 100 Books from the Kansas City Star.

Creativity...It's a Good Thing! Isn't It?

An interesting article crossed my desk from Slate Magazine, suggesting that while we all crow about the importance of creativity in our lives and jobs, we really don't like it.

Could this be true? After all, every resume on the planet probably contains some reference to "thinking outside the box". But in the real world, we prefer risk averse behavior, and working with people who fit inside the box...and the cubicle.

A study from Cornell University confirms this theory. But in a surprise, according the author of the study, Barry Shaw, "The effect can liberate creative people from the need to fit in and allow them to pursue their interests."

This may not be as crazy as it sounds. Many a great work of art has originated from misfits and nonconformists. The very act of writing a novel to completion is a massive act of creativity that very few of us 6 billion people ever accomplish. How many times have you ever heard the phrase, "I've always wanted to write a novel"? And how many of those people ever do?

Perhaps that's for the best. Frankly, I don't have time to read the pile of books I've got on my nightstand now!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

TRUE CRIME TUESDAY for December 10, 2013

Definitely in the Running For Worst Boss of the Year

You can be sure that car dealer Larry Barnett won't be getting any presents on Boss's Day next year, after he tried to hire a hit man to knock off a former employee. The almost victim discovered the plot quite by accident.  Mr. Barnett was on another phone hiring the assassin when he butt dialed the victim, who overheard the plot and called police.

This economy has been rough on the average working man and woman the past five years, but there was a time when the worst that could happen was being fired. Apparently, a lot has changed in the world of business. It's becoming a lot more cutthroat...literally!

U.S. and British Spies Infiltrate Middle Earth. Will Gollum Have His Phone Tapped?

You have to hand it to our spy agencies. They'll go anywhere to uncover a terrorist plot against America...even if that means chasing down suspects like elves, gnomes and supermodels, according to an article in the New York Times. Spies have targeted World of Warcraft and Second Life, and have gone so far as to create avatars to collect data on players and recruit informants. The theory is that the games may be hotbeds of communication between terrorists. According to one memo,  "Virtual games “are an opportunity!” another 2008 N.S.A. document declared."

It's an opportunity opportunity to play games and oogle girls (which your taxes are paying for, by the way). Yeah, I can see how super models might pose a threat to national security. Bet they watched the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show this year, too.

TSA Seizes Gun at the Airport...From a Sock Monkey

Seattle resident Phyllis May, who makes sock monkeys and sells them online, got a shock at the St. Louis airport recently when a TSA agent pulled her carry-on bag from the scanner.  The small business owner was told that she had a gun in her bag, and it was seized.

 The gun actually belonged to her sock monkey. The weapon is about the size of three quarters laid end to end. It weighs less than one ounce.

When Ms. May protested, the agent allegedly said, "If I held it up to your neck, you wouldn’t know if it was real or not...". The agent also told her to contact the police about the incident.

Her sewing supplies were also seized, although she got them back, minus the weapon (naturally).

No word on the whereabouts of the sock monkey suspect, Rooster Monkburn, and we have been unable to determine if he was arrested or if bail has been set.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Writers Born Today - Emily Dickinson

It's the birthday of Emily Dickinson, born December 10, 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts. Born into a prominent family, she was educated at Mount Holyoke College, but returned home to take care of the household, as was the custom of the day for unmarried daughters. She rarely left the house and saw few visitors, but wrote over 1800 poems in the years between 1855 and 1886. Only a handful were published during her lifetime. Most of her work was not discovered until after her death. In 1890 a volume of her poetry was published and was an instant best seller. More volumes followed, and today she is considered one of the greatest poets in the English language.

She never marries and although she gained a reputation as a recluse, she was not content just to dust and clean. “God keep me from what they call households,” she exclaimed in a letter to a friend in 1850. She preferred to keep her garden, bake bread and write. The home she grew up in is now the Emily Dickinson Museum.

Because of competing family interests, it took decades for her complete works to finally be published. Much of it can be found online. You can read some of her poetry here and here.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Mystery Weekend Roundup for November 30th, 2013

The Book Lists Are Here!

The end of the year Best Book Lists are pouring in left and right. J Kingston Pierce, editor of the award winning blog, The Rapsheet, just issued his list, as did Sandra Parshall and Publisher's Weekly.

If you have any Irish booklovers in the family (and who doesn't?) check out Declan Burke's post on his blog Crime Always Pays, to find out who won the Irish Crime Novel of the Year, and see the full list of nominees. There's more than one winner in this pile.

I'll keep you posted, as this is just the beginning.

Take Your Child To A Bookstore

Founded by suspense writer Jenny Milchman, this celebration of reading has returned. Take Your Child To A Bookstore is on December 7th. Started in 2010 with 80 bookstores, the event has grown rapidly, with over 600 participating this year. It's a great way to promote reading for children.

To find a location near you, click on the website link here.

The Perfect Christmas Gift

If you're a mystery fan looking for Christmas Cards to sent out, consider these cards featuring the face of Edgar Allen Poe. Available through the Barnes & Noble website, usually ships the same day. Spend 25 dollars and get free shipping (2 to 6 business days).

And if you'd like some expert help in picking a book, then visit your local independent bookstore today, November 30th, for assistance. Local writers will be on hand around the country at many independent bookstores to recommend just the right gift. At Mysteryscape in Kansas, authors Nancy Pickard, Linda Rodriguez, Sally Goldenbaum and Anola Pickett will be there to help.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Writers Born Today - Louisa May Alcott and the Power of the Dark Side

It's the birthday of Louisa May Alcott, born November 29, 1832. She is best remembered as the author of popular novels depicting domestic bliss, like Little Women and Jo's Boys. These stories brought her the financial success she had struggled to find her whole life.

But Louisa May Alcott had a secret life, a dark side. Under pen names like A.M. Barnard, she wrote Gothic thrillers which featured strong, independent women bent on revenge and murder. Recurring themes in these stories of "blood and thunder" as she called them, include madness, infidelity, drug abuse and obsessive love. One of these tales was considered so scandalous that her editor refused to print it, and it sat undiscovered among her papers until 1993. It was finally published in 1995 as A Long Fatal Love Chase.

She was raised in Concord, Massachusetts, where she counted among her friends and educators such esteemed philosophers as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. But the family lived in grinding poverty, and by the age of 15 she was determined to work at anything to earn money...a seamstress, servant, teacher. During the Civil War she went to Washington, D.C and worked as a nurse. Typhoid fever forced her to return home. 

Six years before the success of Little Women, she entered a contest and won first prize, 100 dollars. The story, Pauline's Passion and Punishment, was published anonymously and was the first of several thrillers that supported her and her family. It wasn't until the 1940s that literary scholars discovered that these thrillers had been penned by Alcott.

After the success of Little Women, Alcott found herself constantly in the public spotlight. The attention made it impossible for her to continue writing the thrillers that she loved. Despite her liberal upbringing, 19th century conventions and her father's influence dominated her actions.

"I think my natural ambition is for the lurid style. I indulge in gorgeous fancies and wish that I dared inscribe them upon my pages and set them before the public. And what would my own good father think of me...if I set folks to doing the things I have a longing to see my people do? No, my dear, I shall always be a wretched victim to the respectable traditions of Concord."

Behind a Mask: The Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott
 ---Madeleine Stern, editor

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

60 Years Ago Today, The Long Goodbye is Published

In 1953, after several years of struggle, Raymond Chandler's novel, The Long Goodbye, came to print. He wrote the book while nursing his wife through an extended illness, which eventually took her life. It had a profound impact on Chandler. His last years alone were marked by alcohol abuse and loneliness.

The Long Goodbye is one of Chandler's most personal stories, and he put a lot of his own suffering into the characters. He told his agent, "you could not know the bitter struggle I have had in the past year to achieve enough cheerfulness to live on, much less to put into a book."

Anthony Boucher gave the book a rave review in the New York Times, and declared it one of the best private eye novels ever written. Today it is recognized as a classic work of art and helped cement Chandler's reputation as a great writer. In 1955 the Mystery Writers of America awarded The Long Goodbye an Edgar for Best Novel.

"To say goodbye is to die a little."

                     from The Long Goodbye

TRUE CRIME TUESDAY for November 26, 2013

Senate Demands Answers on NSA Surveillance, Inspector General Says "We're Broke"

The Inspector General who is in charge of the NSA and other intelligence has replied to a request from Congress demanding answers about the massive data collection on millions of Americans.

Charles McCullough III has told Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Leahy that the NSA doesn't have enough money to investigate the allegations.

Oh, really? That's convenient.

Maybe the NSA doesn't have the money for an investigation because they're spending it on data centers that are continually suffering from unexplained equipment failures. According to the Wall Street Journal, an NSA data storage center in Utah has had 10 meltdowns in the past 13 months, and no one has been able to figure out why. According to the article, "each incident caused as much as $100,000 in damage". That's 1.3 million dollars in overrun costs.

You can ask a lot of questions during an investigation for 1.3 million dollars. But hey, it's just money...your money.

Santa May Be Running Late This Year

If you've already started putting out the Christmas decorations and hung the stockings over your fireplace, take a break. Santa may not be on time this year. Seems he's been arrested.

According to the Boston Globe, Santa has been charged with groping a female elf. So far, there's been no comment from Kris Kringle, or his spouse, Mrs. Claus.

The good news is, Santa was able to post bail, which is set at 1,000 dollars.

The bad news is, he's due back in court on December 24th...Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve? Uh, can someone point out to the judge that Santa is going to be a bit busy that day?

Tip of the Week - Don't Use Social Media To Taunt the Police

Rolando Lozano will have some time in jail to think about that one after he posted on his Facebook account a challenge daring police to track him down. The cops took the challenge, and he was arrested 15 minutes later. Police had already arrested Lozano's brother Damian as a suspect in a series of car break-ins and were looking for Rolando. He obliged them after seeing his mugshot on the facebook page of the Rosenberg police department.

Monday, November 25, 2013


Crime Writers and the Movies That Inspired Them

On Tuesday evening, TCM is showing several notable crime films, along with an hour long special featuring crime writers who were inspired by classic film noir. The guests include crime writers like James Ellroy, Joseph Wambaugh and Otto Penzler. Tess Gerritsen also appears with commentary on the role of the femme fatale in crime movies.

After the hour long special, TCM is serving up several classic films of crime, such as The Asphalt Jungle, Bonnie and Clyde, and The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three.

The special airs at 8 PM EST and again at 11 PM. Check the link on TCM for more information and to see the full schedule.

Linda Rodriguez Interview on KCUR Radio

Linda Rodriguez is appearing on the Kansas City radio talk show, Central Standard today. The program airs on  KCUR at 10 AM CST. You can listen live, or check out the interview later on the show archives. Linda, President of the local Border Chapter of Sisters In Crime will discuss the organization and its role in supporting crime writers.

Linda publishes a popular mystery series, which started with Every Last Secret, winner of the Malice Domestic Award for Best First Traditional Mystery Novel in 2011.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Hank Phillippi Ryan at the Kansas City Library with Sisters in Crime

Here's the video from Thursday's ceremony celebrating Sisters In Crime Border Chapter 5 year anniversary. Since it's 45 minutes long, here's a rough Table of Contents.

Introduction by Linda Rodriguez, Border Chapter President
0.00 minutes

Nancy Pickard's Role and Gift  (Nancy founded the local chapter)
3.05 minutes

Hank Phillippi Ryan talks about the journey to her career as a fiction writer
4.53 minutes

Questions Session
37.12 minutes

Saturday, November 23, 2013

MYSTERY WEEKEND ROUNDUP for November 23, 2013

Hank Phillippi Ryan Comes To Kansas City

We were thrilled to have Hank Phillippi Ryan, award winning writer of thrillers such as The Other Woman and The Wrong Girl at the Kansas City Library on Thursday, November 22nd. Sisters in Crime Border Chapter is celebrating its 5 Year Anniversary, thanks to writers like Nancy Pickard, who helped establish the local chapter.

Hank spoke at the Kansas City library about her career as an emmy winning investigative journalist, and how she met the challenge of switching to fiction. The transition seems to have worked. She has won the Agatha, Anthony and Macavity awards. I'll post a video link to her speech on this blog as soon as it's available.

Suspense Radio Interviews Beth Groundwater

Beth Groundwater will be interviewed today on Suspense Radio about her writing career and latest mystery novel, A Basket of Trouble, the latest in the Claire Hanover series. Beth lives in Colorado and uses the beautiful scenery as material and inspiration in her books. 

She'll be answering questions after the interview, but if you can't listen in, you can find it in the archive following the show.

Cozy Mystery Contest

If you're a fan of cozy mysteries, here's a chance to win some books from the Cozy Chicks, featuring novels from writers such as Julie Hyzy, Lucy Burdette, Krista Davis and Daryl Wood Gerber.

Get Ready for Pitch Wars!

Are you a writer with an unpublished manuscript? Need some help finding an agent or polishing the novel? Then sign up for Pitch Wars, for your chance to find a mentor who can help get that novel into shape. The next submission round starts December 2nd. Check out the link for details and to pick out a mentor who may be interested in your work. There are 32 participants, so you'll have plenty of options.  Polish up those queries and get ready to pitch!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

TRUE CRIME TUESDAY for November 19, 2013

German Refuses To Surrender Looted Art

The man whose apartment held 1500 works of art, some of which may have been looted by the Nazis during World War II, is refusing to cooperate with authorities to return them to their rightful owners. About 500 of the works may be stolen, including masterpieces by Matisse and Chagall.

It gets worse.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, "he is the owner of the artwork until proven otherwise". Cornelius Gurlitt reportedly told the German magazine Der Spiegel that he would not even discuss the matter with police. His refusal will make it far more difficult to reunite the stolen art with the rightful owners.

The art was seized two years ago as part of a tax fraud investigation, but the public only learned about them a few weeks ago. Countries around the world have been critical of the handling of the discovery, saying that Germany hasn't done nearly enough to return the looted art.

For his part, the 80 year old art collector says that he is a hero for saving the works from being destroyed by the Nazis. He was furious when the authorities displayed some of them to reporters, claiming they had no right to show "his private property".

You can see samples of some of the seized artwork here.

Recognize anything?

You can read more about this strange tale, including the allied soldiers who were assigned to search for such stolen art in the closing days of the war, at this link.

Book Burning Still Stirs Hard Feelings Forty Years Later

It was 40 years ago this November that the school board in Drake, North Dakota received one single complaint about a school assignment. What happened next made the town famous, or rather, infamous.

A new teacher had assigned some novels to read, including Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five and James Dickey's Deliverance. After the complaint, the books were removed. The teacher had some defenders but, as an outsider in a small town, most of the citizens stood against him.

Then the books were burned. The outcry was immediate. The image of book burning was worsened by the fact that one of the works, the now classic Slaughterhouse-Five, was inspired by the author's experience as a survivor in the horrendous fire bombing of Dresden, which killed tens of thousands of civilians and burned the city to the ground.

Obviously, the people responsible for making this decision didn't bother to read the book. At the time, none of the school board seemed to understand the impact their action would create. But in hindsight, Superintendent Furhman said "it would have been better to just store them".

The teacher, Bruce Severy, resented by the town folk who blamed him for the outcry, left for Fargo with his family after his contract was not renewed and his pupils re-assigned to another class.

Today, people in town don't like to discuss the matter with outsiders. Probably for the best. None of us like to dwell on our blunders, especially when they make the national news.

To this day, the town library doesn't have a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five or Deliverance on its shelves.  But did you know that donations of used books is tax-deductible as a gift to charity? Let me know if you want the library's address.

Tip of the Week - Don't Rob a Gun Store If You're Armed With a Baseball Bat

The headline pretty much says it all, but if you'd like to read more, here's the link.

I will add this. If you're looking for your 15 minutes of fame in life, there are better ways to get it. Um, actually, all of them are better. Write a book, save a life, run for public office, volunteer at your favorite charity, start a blog (I may try this one, myself). Patent an invention, even if it's something that may only wind up being pitched on late night infomercials. And have some fun along the way.  Life is short.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Junie B. Jones And The Very Sad Day :(

Barbara Park Dies of Ovarian Cancer, Wrote Popular Bedtime Stories

Barbara Park, author of the popular Junie B. Jones series for children (and adults), has passed away at the age of 66 of ovarian cancer.  She leaves behind a husband, two sons, millions of adoring fans, and one impish little girl who can never seem to stay out of trouble. When asked how she managed to create such true to life dialogue for kids, she stated "I don't have a problem being 6 years old in my
head". A self described class clown, she listed as influences writers as diverse as Judy Blume and J.D. Salinger.

After her diagnosis with cancer seven years ago, she started a charitable organization to help women struggling with cancer, called Sisters in Survival.

Her books sold over 55 million copies (with at least a dozen of those in our house). Barbara Park never got around to writing an adult novel, explaining "I'm not actually sure I'm grown-up enough for grown-up books."

I began reading her stories about 6 months ago, and immediately fell in love. The author's humorous way with words and use of mischievous slang has filled our house with laughter. Her books are a fixture on the nightstand next to the bed.

Oh, by the way, my grandchildren like them too.

"I got tricked!
     'Cause on the day of the trip, I told Mother I had a fever. But that woman did not even take my word for it.
     Instead, she took my temperature!
    And so what kind of trust is that, I ask you?"

                                                -- Junie B. Jones Has a Peep in Her Pocket

Saturday, November 16, 2013

MYSTERY WEEKEND ROUNDUP for November 16, 2013

Sisters In Crime Borders Chapter Celebrates Five Year Anniversary with Hank Phillippi Ryan

Our local chapter will be celebrating it's 5th Anniversary this coming Thursday, and award winning author Hank Phillippi Ryan will be there to discuss her latest novel, The Wrong Girl. This promises to be an exciting and entertaining event that you won't want to miss.

Join us at the Kansas City Central Library on November 21st at 6:00 PM. The program starts at 6:30 following a reception. Admission is free. Free parking is available on Baltimore Avenue in the Library District parking garage. RSVP at Kansas City Library or call 816-701-3407.

NBC Plans Another 'Murder, She Wrote' Series

NBC has plans to revive a beloved mystery series.  Murder, She Wrote will be filmed with a new star, Oscar winner Octavia Spencer.  The original series, which starred Angela Lansbury in the lead role of J.B. Fletcher, mystery writer, ran for 12 seasons and was a favorite among TV viewers. It was one of the first TV series that gave the main role to an actress over the age of 50.

The new series will star Octavia Spencer, as a hospital administrator and amateur sleuth who self-publishes her mystery novel.

Angela Lansbury has stated that she is opposed to the revival of the series with the original name, although she was approached and offered a role in the new show. According to her, the series "will always be about a Cabot Cove and this wonderful little group of people who told those lovely stories and enjoyed a piece of that place, and also enjoyed Jessica Fletcher, who is a rare and very individual kind of person."

Now comes word that the new series may not even be called Murder, She Wrote. In addition, Deadline reports that the character will not be named Jessica Fletcher. It's enough to send a detective back to his or her  notes to re-interview the witnesses and suspects.  We'll keep you posted.

Writing Awards and Contests

The Claymore Award is accepting entries for 2014. Submissions must be received by April 30, 2014. Any unpublished crime novel is eligible. The winner will be announced on August 23rd at Killer Nashville.

If you've already published a crime novel this year, consider submitting it for the Silver Falchion Award. Previously only open to attendees of Killer Nashville, the award is now open to non-attendees. The award is presented to the author of the best book published during the year.

Submissions for the Edgar, mystery fiction's most prestigious award, are open until November 30th. Check with your publisher if you think you may have a work to submit. The awards will be announced at the annual MWA banquet on May 1, 2014.

Unpublished novelists still have time to enter the St. Martin's Minotaur/MWA First Crime Novel Competition. Your entry must not have been published or under contract with a publisher. deadline is one minute before midnight on December 16, 2013.

Time to sharpen those writing skills with another contest, compliments of literary agent and query shark Janet Reid. The competition is open now until Sunday at 7 AM EST. Entries must be 100 words or less and include the following words.


Check the link for complete rules, or risk becoming shark bait!

Councilman Wants to Cut Library Budget, Calls Patrons 'hippies and junkies'

Lafourche Parish in Louisiana needs a new jail. And Lindel Toups has just the answer for how to fund it. Cut the local library budget.

After all, they don't need the money. The patrons are, in his words, "junkies and hippies" who only use the library to "look at drugs and food stamps on the internet." But that's not the biggest problem he sees with the library. Their greatest offense is that one of the branches has a program to help Spanish speakers learn our language.

That's a problem? Most people want newcomers to learn English, but Mr. Toups has a...shall we say...a simpler solution.

"Let that son of a bitch go back to Mexico."

To be fair, Councilman Toups is just trying to use the taxpayer's money efficiently. According to him, "We’re giving the public the chance to raise the jail money without raising taxes. Any blind man can see that.”

Of course, even a blind man knows that spending money on education, including libraries, reduces the need to build jails in the first place. But Mr. Toups may have a more personal reason for spending money on a new jail. The old one is in fact overcrowded, and he won't want his son and grandson to have to live in poor conditions.

Seems the councilman's family members were arrest in 2009 for drug possession, so they may get a chance to see the new jail firsthand. Something to look forward to, perhaps. Who says there isn't a silver lining behind every dark cloud?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Writers Born Today - Vera Caspary

It's the birthday of writer Vera Caspary, born November 13, 1899.  From 1927 until her death, she supported herself and her mother entirely from her pen. She published over a dozen novels and numerous short stories, and worked as a highly sought after screenwriter for Hollywood. Universal bought one of her screenplays for 150,000 dollars, with Marilyn Monroe in mind for the lead.

Her reputation was made with the publication of the novel, Laura. It was hailed as the first psycho thriller. Told from multiple points of view, the novel gives the reader a complex portrayal of a successful business woman and her competitive suitors. The combustible mix leads to murder. It was made into a popular movie that has achieved classic status, although it earned Vera very little money.

Described as one of the original "Gone Girls" who influenced female mystery writers of the 80s and 90s, her work is receiving fresh attention. Sarah Weinman included a Caspary short story, Sugar and Spice, in her critically acclaimed anthology Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives. Her most influential novel, Laura, was featured in the groundbreaking Library of America collection, Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s.

Caspary's fiction portrayed strong, independent women at a time when most wives and girlfriends were expected to support their men and cater to their needs. In her autobiography, Vera expressed delight at having lived during the turbulent changes of the 20th century, when roles for women dramatically expanded due to the Great Depression and World War Two.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

TRUE CRIME TUESDAY for November 12, 2013

“I came from a real tough neighborhood. Once a guy pulled a knife on me. I knew he wasn't a professional, the knife had butter on it.”
                                                                                                        ― Rodney Dangerfield

Burglar Breaks into the Wrong Home. Is That an Ax?

A man who broke into a woman's home to rob her got the shock of his life when she grabbed an ax and chased him from her property. He was arrested by police, but he should count his blessings. The victim was an ax throwing champ, who could have easily turned the burglar into swiss cheese had she wanted. "I could have thrown it", Robin Irvine stated.

And I bet she wouldn't have missed.

Pittsburgh Mayor Elect Bill Peduto Fights his Victory Celebration

Newly elected mayor Bill Peduto held a victory party at the Greater Pittsburgh Coliseum a few days ago and has already made a dent in crime when a fugitive in attendance was arrested. Ernie Daniels, who jumped bail several months earlier on an assault charge, was arrested after he showed up, no doubt attracted because of his keen interest in the political process.

Or maybe it was the free food and beer.

In any event, the new mayor is already taking a bite out of crime. Hopefully, this bodes well for the city of Pittsburgh. At least it will make a great campaign button for his next election race.

Be On The Lookout For These Baaaaad Boys

Police reported that 160 sheep have been stolen in a small town called Wool.  They assume the criminals will try to sell their ill gotten goods on the cheap, so if a man in a dark alley tries to sell you a side of mutton at a big discount, call the cops. But don't approach them. They may be armed with a pair of shears.

Man Arrested For DUI...On A Horse

A man who wanted to attend his brother's wedding in Utah decided to get there on horseback, which would have been OK if he hadn't been drinking. Witnesses saw the man strike his horse and force pedestrians from the sidewalk as he rode along, all the while carrying a dog in one arm. Police arrested the man and charged with him cruelty to animals and DUI, among other charges. The beer cans were in his saddle bag (of course, where else would you keep them?)

And the reason he was on horseback instead of in a car? He lost his driver's license. Why doesn't that surprise me?

Monday, November 11, 2013

On Veteran's Day Help A Warrior Tell His Story

He was still a teen when he enlisted the army. By the time the war ended two years later, he'd seen brutal combat in the Battle of the Bulge, won three medals and been badly wounded. He saw fellow soldiers treat Native American warriors with contempt, and it made a lasting impression on him when he returned home.

He got employment as a journalist and professor. In his spare time he began writing fiction. Deeply influenced by the Indian culture of the Southwest, he wrote his first novel about a Navajo tribal policeman. Although his first agent urged him to dump the "indian stuff", he persevered, and won an Edgar Award for Best novel with his third one, Dance Hall of the Dead. He went on to write 18 mystery novels, many of them best sellers.

His name was Tony Hillerman. And he was a veteran.

As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down, hundreds of thousands of veterans have returned home. Many of them have seen horrific combat and witnessed the death of close friends. Although their physical wounds will disappear in time, the emotional scars often remain. For many of these vets, writing down their experiences may be the best way to heal and move forward with their lives.

The Veteran's Writing Project is helping vets tell their stories, so that they can re-integrate with society and their families and neighbors. Donations to their organization are tax deductible.

Perhaps the next Tony Hillerman will emerge from their workshops. You can read more about them in this New York Times article, Warrior Voices.  Are you a teacher? You can also read about how to conduct a successful writing workshop for veterans.

Either way, your support can make a difference for our veterans. They deserve it.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

MYSTERY WEEKEND ROUNDUP for November 9, 2013

Author Appearances

Raymond Benson is at the Beth Am Book Fair today until 3 PM in Lincolnshire, Illinois.

On Wednesday, November 13, Jenny Milchman appears at the New York Public Library with P.M. Carlson, Dirk Robertson and Wendi Corsi Staub. They'll be discussing with Jillian Abbott the topic, "How Did You Become A Mystery Writer?" The program is at the mid-Manhattan library and starts at 6:30 PM.

Crime Fiction Talk on Radio

Looking for an idea for your next murder mystery? Why not try a little poison? To learn more about exotic ways to kill that character, check out this audio broadcast on Suspense Radio with Deborah Blum, author of the Poisoner's handbook. She'll be discussing The Infancy of Toxicology.

And Sarah Weinman sat down with Ian Williams of Catskill Review of Books to talk about the critically acclaimed anthology, Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives.  Sarah edited the collection and chose some excellent stories from female writers we should all get to know. Spend some time at home with these masters of Domestic Suspense.

Thriller Fiction Gets Some Respect

Still derided as pulp or lowbrow literature by some, the thriller novel is getting a boost from an unlikely source. Robert Stone, whose previous work has made him a recognized master of the literary novel, has just released his first thriller, Death of the Black-Haired Girl. His usual work involves exotic locations with complex story lines. Previously, he produced seven novels in 47 years.

Stone is hardly the first literary giant to take on genre fiction. Other pillars have taken a stab at it, including Thomas Pynchon and Joyce Carol Oates.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Writers Born Today - Bram Stoker

Today is the birthday of Irish writer Bram Stoker, born in Dublin on November 8, 1847. As a sickly child, he spent most of his time in bed, listening to stories told by his mother. He wrote 18 books, and published his first horror story, The Primrose Path, in 1875.

His most famous novel is Dracula, published in 1897. It was not the first piece of fiction to feature vampires, but became the standard by which all subsequent vampire stories are measured, and is considered a masterpiece of the genre. Stoker's main character was originally named Count Wampyr. But he changed it to Dracula after reading that the Romanian translation of Dracula meant "Devil". The story is set in Transylvania and he did research for the geography at the British Museum.

Despite being well received by critics, the novel made little money for Stoker, and he died in poverty. His widow was forced to sell his notes and outline for the novel at auction for just a few dollars.

Stoker wrote the first adaptation of the story for the theater, and Dracula made his first appearance in film in 1922 with Nosferatu.

Over 200 Dracula films have been made, including the 1931 release Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi. It was the first full length supernatural horror film by a Hollywood studio, and newspapers reported that some members of the audience fainted at the horrific scenes. Despite the reports, or perhaps because of them, the movie was a huge success.

Bela Lugosi was not the first choice for the starring role, but eventually was cast after he agreed to a reduced salary. He received only $3,500 for his work.

After the censorship code went into effect in Hollywood, some of the scenes were cut from the movie because they were either considered too intense or due to fears that religious groups would object. As recently as 1994, the novel was removed from a required reading list for senior students at a high school in Lewisville, Texas because of "sexual references".

Bram Stoker continued to write horror and science fiction until his death in 1912. Other works of note include The Lair of the White Worm and The Jewel of Seven Stars. The Horror Writers Association has a coveted award named after him, the Bram Stoker Award. Some of the most famous winners of the award include Thomas Harris, Peter Straub and Stephen King.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

TRUE CRIME TUESDAY For November 5. 2013

Man Refuses To Stop at McDonald's, Girlfriend Has Big Mac Attack!

The next time your significant other asks you to stop for fast food, think it over before you say no. One man did and his girlfriend ran him over with his own truck. The Hamburglar has nothing on this felonious female. According to the story in the Daily Mail, Crystal Brooks hit the gas after moving into the driver's seat and while her boyfriend was still standing in front of the truck. She struck him two more times, just for good measure.

Naturally, she told the police it was an accident. They weren't buying it, and she is now in county lockup on a $15,000 bond.

Intelligence Chairman Claims No Privacy Violations by NSA - You Didn't Know Anything!

According to Representative Mike Rogers, Chairman of the Congressional House Intelligence Committee, the NSA did NOT, in fact violate the privacy of millions of law abiding Americans,
simply because those citizens were unaware that their privacy was being violated!

This ranks up there with other famous contradictory statements by government officials, such as "We had to destroy the village in order to save it."  and ‎"We are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it."

At the end of the video clip, Rogers suggests they discuss the idea further over a bottle of wine. Judging from the logic of his statement, I think it's quite possible he's already had one too many.

Man Arrested For Overdue Library Book

If you've ever returned a book late to your local library, better beware. Our lending institutions are cracking down on you scofflaws, as one unfortunate man discovered.  Jory Enck of Texas was arrested for failing to return a book he checked out three years ago.

I better check my nightstand. I think I may have a couple of overdue books. Is that a police car in my driveway?

Author Appearances

If you're in Panama City today, stop by the The Purple Grape on Beck Avenue. Michael Lister is having a book signing for his new thriller, Separation Anxiety.  

And Beth Groundwater is releasing a new mystery in her Claire Hanover series on November 8th, A Basket of Trouble. 

If you haven't read their work, check out these events and pick up their books. It would be a crime if you didn't.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

TRUE CRIME TUESDAY for October 29, 2013

'If the law supposes that,'said Mr Bumble...'the law is a ass, a idiot.'
Charles Dickens, from Oliver Twist

It's murder getting a driver's license...when you're already dead.

An Ohio man is learning the hard way that it's tough to get a driver's license when you're dead...legally, that is.  Donald Miller, Jr., who disappeared in the 1980s was declared legally dead in 1994. His ex-wife was able to collect social security survivor benefits, as is her right.

Then a strange thing happened. Donald returned home in 2005, and that's when his problems really started. Unable to get a job or a license, he naturally appealed the ruling. But Probate Court Judge Allan Davis has told Miller he is out of luck, since the ruling cannot only be reversed within three years of a decision.

From the Columbus Dispatch article, “I don’t know where that leaves you, but you’re still deceased as far as the law is concerned,” the judge said.

The ex-wife supported the judge's decision, since she would have to pay back thousands of dollars in benefits should the law resurrect Mr. Miller from the grave.

Which poses an interesting question. If Donald Miller is dead already, what happens if he dies in an accident or is murdered? Can anyone be held accountable for his death?

In a word, no.

Let's hope he doesn't have any enemies. If he was murdered, a defense attorney would only have to request a dismissal based on the fact that the victim was already dead. Based on the probate court ruling, a judge would be forced to comply and dismiss the charges.

Ridiculous? Well, maybe. But no more ridiculous than a judge staring a man in the face and telling him he's still six feet under.

Where's Oliver Wendell Holmes when you need him?

CIA Shenanigans.  Bars, Brothels and Magic...The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception!

In 1959 a famous magician was hired to write a manual of sleight of hand and deception for the CIA. It was part of the Cold War attempt to control people's minds by tricking them into taking LSD and
revealing government secrets. The CIA even employed prostitutes to lure suspects to brothels for the experiments.

 Although it was once thought all the manuals had been destroyed, one complete copy survived. And now it can be yours! And yes, it's even available on Kindle.  Seems that deception is not just relegated to government officials anymore. Imagine the fun you can have with this manual. And why not? After all, you, the taxpayer, paid for it.  Some of the best examples of deception can be found in this Boston Globe story, complete with illustrations.

Please, deceive responsibly.

The Case of The Missing Bourbon

One of the most sought after whiskies in America, 20 year old Pappy Van Winkle, has disappeared from a warehouse in Kentucky, according to a story in the New York Times. 195 bottles of the ultra rare spirit was spirited out of storage in Frankfort, Kentucky. This is hardly the work of a few winos or miscreants hoping to get drunk. The bottles have a suggested retail price of $130, and can go for much more at auction; as high as $1,190! The whiskey, which is aged for two decades, is described as "the most complex bourbon you have ever tasted" and has a cult following.

No suspects have been arrested, but Sean Brock, a restaurant owner in Nashville, has his own theory.  “I’m pretty sure it was George Clooney and the boys from ‘Ocean’s 11.’ ".