Saturday, October 22, 2016

One of these things is not like the other

Via Tasty on Facebook, it's Buzzfeed's list of 21 Pictures of Food That Will Give You Extreme Trust Issues. They're also hilarious. #8 has definitely happened to me (although not that one in particular). It's why when I want a pizza, I buy a plain cheese one and add the toppings myself.

This reminded me of a website I found years ago, that is still one of the funniest things I've ever seen online: Fast Food: Ads vs. Reality. I still go over there periodically and marvel at the differences.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Some of the best kids Halloween costumes you'll ever see

When I was a kid, most of us had the store-bought costumes with the plastic masks that made your face all sweaty. But there's always people who go all out when it comes to costuming their kids and here are some of them: 39 Hilarious Halloween Photos of Kids Who Won at Life.

Some of them are really amazing. Here are my favorites:

Granted, a couple are disturbing for how young the kids are. Alex from A Clockwork Orange? Especially terrifying is the way that kid is selling it. I also thought the Zombie Kid was a bit over the top. They'd make great adult costumes, though.

Do check it out at the link. It's amazing how clever and creative people can be.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The delightfully sinister ad campaign for "A Cure For Wellness"

Director Gore Verbinski may be best known to most people for helming the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, but to me he's always been the guy responsible for the visually stunning English-language version of The Ring. If you've never seen it, do so. It's amazing. "Seven days..."

I was never a big fan of the Pirates movies and The Lone Ranger was apparently a mess. So I was happy to discover, thanks to a story at Deadline today, that Verbinski appears to be returning to his moody, creepy roots with his next film A Cure For Wellness. The description of the psychological thriller from Fox's site:

An ambitious young executive is sent to retrieve his company's CEO from an idyllic but mysterious "wellness center" at a remote location in the Swiss Alps. He soon suspects that the spa's miraculous treatments are not what they seem. When he beings to unravel its terrifying secrets, his sanity is tested, as he finds himself diagnosed with the same curious illness that keeps all the guests here longing for the cure.

In addition to the spooky visuals in the trailer, there is a trio of clips that seem to be hypnosis sessions from the "wellness center" that start out blissfully (I've done hypnosis and this is an excellent example of what it's like) then turn sinister.

"Embrace the meaninglessness of your wasted existence."

The trailer is here and the other clips are here. A Cure For Wellness will be in theaters February 2017 and I am really looking forward to it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Bouchercon - Day 3 (Saturday)

Missed a couple of early panels because I went to brunch with Mom and The Brother (it was his last day in NOLA) at the Palace Cafe. Still got in four panels.

I also got to meet my LAst Resort editor Matt Coyle and see him on a panel. We'd talked on the phone and via email while editing my story, but it was the first time I met him face to face.

Look Through Any Window: Hollywood
Holly West (moderator), Renee Patrick (aka husband and wife writing team Rosemarie Keenan and Vince Keenan), Melodie Johnson Howe, Diana Chambers, Kathryn Leigh Scott

Hollywood is always an intriguing location and this panel featured writers whose stories are set in Tinseltown.
  • The Keenans write a series featuring Hollywood legend Edith Head involved in crime-solving along with an amateur sleuth they created. Their pitch: "Edith Head, detective". Vince is the Managing Editor of Noir City, the e-magazine of the Film Noir Foundation. Rosemarie came up with the idea, Vince liked it, and they were off.
  • Scott, an actress who got her start on the 1960's series Dark Shadows, writes about an fictional actress who plays an amateur sleuth on TV and it carries over into her real life. As the character's fame fades, she ends up living out of her car, which she refers to as the "Ritz Volvo".
  • Vince Keenan: Despite being a native New Yorker, he believes that L.A is the ultimate noir town. When you screw up in L.A. there's nowhere else to go.
Their noir influences:
  • Howe: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Vera Caspary.
  • Chambers: Casablanca, filmmakers who fled Nazi Germany for the U.S.
  • Scott: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers.

Doin' What Comes Naturally: Believable Characters
Meg Gardiner (moderator), Matt Coyle, Diane Vallere, Erik Storey, Marty Wingate

Writing characters who do jobs you have (or haven't) done:

  • Wingate: Avid gardener, has gone to England to research their gardens. Her stories are set in Seattle, where the weather is similar to England's.
  • Coyle: First novel was set in a restaurant - he's a former restaurant manager.
  • Vallere: Her books are set in the fashion industry - she's a former fashion buyer.
Challenging their characters:
  • Storey: Trial by fire.
  • Coyle: Make them do something they don't want to do.
  • Vallere: Find the emotional thread.
Making larger than life characters believable:
  • Storey: Give them a flaw. And have them fail once in a while - it's boring if they're perfect all the time.
  • Wingate: Trip them up. And give them a vested interest in the victim.
  • Coyle: Doesn't think of his character, Rick Cahill, as larger than life, but he has to do huge things.
Heroes vs. Villains:
  • Storey: Both should feel real.
  • Coyle: Villains often get short shrift. The villain thinks he's the hero, and needs to have a motive for his actions.
What kills believability:
  • Storey: Stereotypes.
  • Coyle: Behaving out of character to keep the plot going.
  • Vallere: Being too perfect.
  • Wingate: Too much coincidence.
Most important aspect to creating a believable character: 
  • Storey: Adding layers as the story progresses.
  • Vallere: Can you list 20 things about them? Even things they don't do anymore and have left in their past.

Born on the Bayou: Louisiana Stories
Bill Fitzhugh (moderator), Bill Loehfelm, O'Neil De Noux, S.W. Lauden, Harley Jane Kozak, Jaden Terrell

This panel was different than usual in that the participants took turns on the stage and did one-person performances showcasing their personal experiences with New Orleans. They were all terrific.

Loehfelm is a New Yorker who moved to New Orleans in 1997. He described dealing with the New Orleans Police Department's Mounted Unit during Mardis Gras, which can be summed up in three statements: "Yes sir/ma'am", "No sir/ma'am" and "Thank you officer, I'll be on my way".

Kozak was attending a conference in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit and she described fleeing her hotel, the city and the airport. Short version: It got crazy.

O'Neal was a Jefferson Parish Patrolman who had a hilarious story about a naked dancer who ended up on his patrol car while on duty on Fat City Avenue, which he described at Metaire's (a suburb of NOLA) version of Bourbon Street. So basically, there was a ton of booze involved.

Laughton discussed his memories of his band's road trip to California to New Orleans. Apparently you can take the 10 Freeway all the way from Southern Cal to NOLA. I'll be that's an interesting trip even if you aren't crammed in a van with a bunch of rockers.

Fitzhugh had a great story from his teen years about cutting school and driving from Jackson, Mississippi with some friends, and indulging (or trying to) in all the vices that NOLA has to offer. This included trying to score a tryst with a lady on a stoop, who, when he got closer, was sporting facial stubble. 

Because I'm writing this a month after the fact, I can't exactly remember Terrell's story because my notes are minimal, but I do remember that she still owes a tip to a construction worker.

Take a bow!

So Long, Farewell: Nailing the Ending
Cara Black (moderator), Lisa Alber, Charles Rosenberg, James Hankins, Stuart Neville

On playing fair with the readers' expectations of resolution:

  • Neville: As a writer you have a contract with the reader that the story will reach a satisfying (although not necessarily happy) ending.
  • Hankins: Playing fair is critical. You can hide the ball, but it still has to be there.
Endings they envy:
  • Hankins: Author Greg Iles - shades of gray in his resolutions, because you can't save everyone.
  • Neville: James Ellroy's American Tabloid, which ends with President John F. Kennedy's assassination. Instead of describing the shooting, the character of Pete Boundourant hears, "One big fucking scream."
  • Alber: Author Sophie Hannah. You get the sense of things continuing after the book ends.
  • Rosenberg: Gone Girl. He quoted T.S. Eliot: "This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper."
Cool factoid: Neville proposed to his wife at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

And that does it for another Bouchercon! I didn't go to any of the Sunday morning panels because I wanted to hit the French Market again. Among other things, I had a gator burger for lunch!


Thursday, October 13, 2016

When a 1994 parody sketch becomes today's reality

Keep in mind that The Kids in the Hall did this sketch in 1994. It sounds like something you'd hear about happening on a college campus today. H/T to for sharing this.

"The poor woman-child is just another victim of the patriarchy!"

"Hate crime! Hate crime!"

"It is also a racist construct! This woman represents the same white image of beauty that has oppressed women for centuries!"

"Anyone who stays is obviously racist!"

"White male!"

I love Dave Foley's line: "Sorry, it's just naked, fat, black, crippled dykes are hard to find."

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Bouchercon - Day 2 (Friday)

Update: I realized that I had included meeting Matt Coyle, my editor on LAst Resort, on this post. That didn't happen until Saturday, so I moved it to the Day 3 post. This is what happens when you recap several weeks after the fact. And also because Bouchercon is so overwhelming at times it turns into a blur.

Speaking of LAst Resort I ran into Rochelle Staub, President of Sisters in Crime Los Angeles, and she had spectacular news about who is writing the forward/introduction for the anthology. It hasn't been officially announced, so I don't want to say anything, but let's just say my jaw just about hit the floor. Definitely raises the book's profile. It also means that my story will be read by one of the most successful writers alive. So very, very cool. I asked her about the cover art and she told me it resembles the cover of Hotel California, which I think sounds awesome. LAst Resort will be released in early April 2017 and will be available for pre-order 6-8 weeks prior to that.

And now, panels!

Writing Groups: Our Experience Forming and Running a Group
Eleanor Cawood Jones (moderator), Donna Andrews, Ellen Crosby, John Gilstrap, Alan Orloff, Art Taylor

The panelists (with the exception of moderator Jones) have been in a writing/critique group for six years. They shared their experience and advice.

  • They meet monthly and schedule several months in advance. Attendance is about 95%.
  • Andrews: "What's said in group stays in group."
  • When they formed the group, they selected all writers who had already been published in order to avoid tension over success or lack thereof. They recommended that if you're starting a group to have writers with similar experience (new and experienced is a bad mix). They also live in the same area, so getting together is doable. They also decided to meet at Gilstrap's house because he commutes to and from Washington DC, so this makes it easier for him to make the meetings.
  • Orloff: "I know everyone in this group has my back."
  • They all indicated that they have learned a lot about writing from the critiques they've received from the group over time. 

You Always Hurt The One You Love: Messing With Your Protagonist
Karen McInnery (moderator), Jeff Abbott, Laura Benedict, Cara Black, Susan Elia MacNeal, Michael Wiley

The worst thing they've done to their protagonists:
Wiley: He's divorced, but still in love with his ex-wife.
Black: Internal pain and loss of her parents and fiancee.
Benedict: Rape, loss of child.
MacNeal: Made her kill a man.
Abbott: Pregnant wife kidnapped, brother killed on video by terrorists.

And why:
Abbott: "I have pages to fill."
Benedict: Conflict moves the story forward. Bad things are going to happen, but revenge is sweet.
Wiley: Facing fears and overcoming them is important.
MacNeal: Likes the idea of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. "What would you do?"
Black: Arc of her story is characters learning about themselves.

On the subject of going too far, or at least considering it and then pulling back:
Benedict: Her agent once told her that a decapitation in her story was okay, but rolling the head across the floor to the heroine was a bit much.
Black: Had a pregnant woman in an ambulance but couldn't decide if the baby was going to live. Her agent: "Yes, the baby will live."
Wiley: Wouldn't kill a dog for the longest time, and when he finally did, he made it a bad dog. Won't go after kids. Also feels there's a difference between something horrific happening onstage as opposed to offstage.

Have they ever cried about something they did to a character?
Abbott: Had to kill off a character he loved and had to walk away from his computer.
MacNeal: Just killed off a major character and all she could think about was his mom.
Benedict: Recently killed off a young character and it made her feel sad.
Black: Killed off a character and made her agent cry.
Wiley: Killed off a secondary character once and got a letter from a reader complaining that she had been in love with the character and wanted to kill Wiley for offing him.

Dirty Boulevard: Hard Boiled
Susan Alice Bickford (moderator), Craig Faustus Buck, Rob Hart, Barbara N.S. Nickless, Lisa Turner

  • Buck and Hart when asked about the difference between hard-boiled and noir, cited editor Otto Penzler's take on noir: that it's about losers and everyone is doomed. Hart feels that hard boiled stories are about winners who feel their moral compass is superior to others. Buck also feels that noir has a certain hipness.
  • Hart on archetypes: The hard-boiled private investigator, the gunslinger, the hero - important that they have a disconnect from the world. Orphans, children of tragedy or estranged from their families. 
  • Nickless believes the "lone hero" is an American thing - cited Shane as an example of a story in which the hero comes in, saves everyone, then rides off into the sunset alone.
  • Buck noted that a hard-boiled protagonist can't be a normal, well-balanced guy. Stories need conflict, and that's hard to do if everything is rosy.

Common People: Amateur Sleuths
Clea Simon (moderator), Tim O'Mara, Marcia Talley, Con Lehane, Suzanne Trauth, Susan Oleksliw

On their amateur sleuths:
Trauth: Sleuth is a restaurant manager - her hook is her organizational skills.
O'Mara: His protagonist is a New York City schoolteacher/former cop. O'Mara himself is a long-time NYC teacher and said that there isn't much difference between being a teach or a cop in NYC. Had a cop in his classroom one day and at the end of her visit she asked him, "How do you do it?" His brother is also an NYC cop.
Oleksliw: Her sleuth is a photographer. Oleksliw uses her camera as a character.
Talley: Librarian - research is her strength.
Lehane: Sleuth is Library Crime Fiction Coordinator.

Justifying the continuing involvement of an amateur sleuth in stories and series:
Trauth: Give protagonist an emotional imperative in relationship to the crime. A driven personality helps too.
Talley: Try to make her involvement logical (friend, family or self in danger or under suspicion).

  • Talley: If using a real location, be as accurate as possible. She has noted things as specific as where a coke machine is located in the waiting room of an ER. If you get something wrong, someone will let you know about it.
  • Amateur sleuths are usually softer than in other sub-genres of mystery and crime. Think Agatha Christie's sleuths.
  • Talley often auctions off characters names as fundraisers. Usually the "winners" ask to be murder victims. Was once asked if she could off the person's ex-husband in the story. She did.

Next up: Saturday panels!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Bouchercon - Day 1 (Thursday)

Another Bouchercon - my third - is in the books. This year's event was held in New Orleans, which is my new favorite place on the face of the earth. If someone could have just shipped Sophie to me, I could have just moved into that hotel room permanently. I didn't even mind the god-awful humidity. It feels weird to know that I've already been home for three weeks. Mentally and emotionally I'm still back in Louisiana. Get this girl some gator bites.

One of the great things about this year's Bouchercon was that instead of packing the book bags with random books as they've done in the past, everyone got to pick six books from the "book bazaar", many of which were from authors who were appearing on panels. It was hard to pick just six, there were so many good ones available. But good idea, not to mention it probably saved the volunteers tons of time not having to pack the bags.

Here are my Thursday panels:

Hank to Hendrix: Beyond Chandler and Hammett
Peter Rozovsky (moderator), Martin Edwards, Gary Phillipe, Eric Beetner, Rick Ollerman

The panel was asked to discuss writers who are not as well-remembered as say, Chandler and Hammett, but who in their opinions should be. Here are their picks and reading recommendations:

Beetner: William P. McGivern - An Edgar Award winning author whose novels were turned into great noir films, including The Big Heat with Glenn Ford. Later, McGivern wrote for TV shows including Adam-12 and Kojak. Also recommended: Shield for Murder, Odds Against Tomorrow.

Edwards: Michael Gilbert - A prolific British author of crime and spy novels, as well as numerous short stories. He was a lawyer and did a lot of his writing on his commutes to and from work. Ironically, Raymond Chandler was once a client of his. Recommended: Smallbone Deceased, Death in Captivity.

Ollerman: Peter Rabe - Fled Nazi Germany and landed in the United States as a teen. In addition to his crime novels, he also wrote a couple episodes of Batman. He was once misdiagnosed with terminal cancer (he was accidentally given another patient's diagnosis). His take on noir: "You start out screwed, you end up screwder." Recommended: Kill the Boss Goodbye, The Silent Wall.

Phillips: Clarence Cooper, Jr. - An African American author whose stories revolved around the Black American life at the time, especially violence, drugs and jail, the last two both of which Cooper was well acquainted with. He started out as a newspaper editor, but his heroin addiction landed him in prison, where some of his books were written. Unable to get a handle on his drug problem, he died in his mid-forties, destitute and strung out. Recommended: The Scene, The Farm.

Guest of Honor Harlan Coben interviewed by Michael Connelly

Connelly interviewed Coben in front of a packed house. Coben is the author of thirty novels, plus he is also the creator of a British series called The Five. His bestseller Fool Me Once is in development with Julia Roberts attached, with Coben writing the script. Some other things discussed:
  • Personal loss is influential in his writing due to his own experiences. By age 32 he had done seven eulogies, including his parents and a three-year-old niece.
  • He doesn't outline. 
  • He doesn't write for the market and doesn't recommend it.
  • On what he is going to do next: "I'm gonna write a book."

One More Time: Character on the Screen
Lee Goldberg (moderator), Nina Sadowsky, Burt Weissbourd, David Morrell, Alexandra Sokoloff, Phoef Sutton

Goldberg has been at almost every book event I've attended the past few years, and he's always entertaining. In fact, I just saw him at Writers' Police Academy in August. Despite the title of the panel, they discussed adaptation more than seeing their characters brought to life.
  • Panelists offered best adaptions in their opinion (movies at least - if not better - than the books): Jaws, Terms of Endearment (six separate characters in the book were combined into the one played by Jack Nicholson), Silence of the Lambs, The Godfather, The French Connection, Psycho.
  • Sokoloff: Find 6 to 8 things that are key to the story and keep those. Think of scenes that a reader would expect to see in the movie trailer. Sutton: Find the main set pieces.
  • Sadowsky: The more successful the book, the less you can change in the adaptation because of reader/audience expectations - she gave the Harry Potter books as an example.
  • Morrell, the author of First Blood, talked about how his book became a series of movies that took on a life of their own. First Blood - which has never been out of print - introduced the character of Rambo, who would later be played by Sylvester Stallone, and Morrell talked about how the tone of his story was changed quite a bit in the process of being adapted for the big screen (not to mention that Rambo dies in the novel, which didn't go over well with test audiences).
  • Goldberg related the story of meeting with a studio executive to discuss his book The Walk. The main character in The Walk is a male TV executive who has to walk from Downtown Los Angeles to his home in the San Fernando Valley after a major earthquake. The executive wanted to change the main character to six midwestern cheerleaders and the quake (too cliche) to a flood. Goldberg passed.

Can't You Hear Me Knocking: Social Media and Promotion
Sarah Williams, Cara Brookins, Tess Collins, Jennifer Kincholoe, Maddee James

How to navigate the internet, social media and self-promotion as an author was the focus of this panel. Some of the advice:
  • Don't depend on social media sites to manage your readership. Direct traffic to your website - you own your mail list. Your website should be the hub of your online presence. 
  • Run your online presence like you're running for President.
  • Think about interaction and community, not just your sales pitch. 
  • When responding online, make it count. No "LOL", "Thanks" or "Heh".
  • Publishers will take notice of how many followers you have.
  • Pay for a professional profile photo, logo and website design.

Dead Man's Party: The Realities of Death Scene Investigation
Ayo Onotade (moderator), Jan Burke, Alistair Kimble, DP Lyle

  • Burke, in addition to being an author, is also the founder of The Crime Lab Project, which is trying to bring awareness to the fact that most crime labs aren't well-outfitted like the crime labs you see on TV. A lot of them are underfunded and backlogged (especially in terms of DNA samples waiting to be tested for rape and murder cases) and The Crime Lab Project is working to correct that. D.P. Lyle, who I blogged about here (and whose expertise I called on again when editing my LAst Resort story) is also involved. Burke and Lyle also do the highly regarded Crime & Science Radio Show podcast
  • Lyle and Kimble (who is an FBI Special Agent) joked about the "CSI Effect", the phenomenon of the public believing that crime scene investigation, crime labs and other aspects of crime investigation are what they see on TV. It becomes a problem when viewers end up on juries and wonder why real-life doesn't imitate art.
  • Kimble's FBI forensics team worked the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting. Their crime scene was covered with popcorn along with brain matter, and inside the theater it was hard to tell the difference. As a result, a number of people on the team can no longer bring themselves to eat popcorn.
  • Burke: DNA is a great tool. A sample the size of a dot from a pen on a piece of paper is sufficient to test. 
  • Kimble was asked how his bosses at the FBI feel about his writing fiction. The FBI requires its employees to get permission to take on any additional employment and don't usually give it, but because he can write on his own time he gets a pass. They do review all his manuscripts. He joked that the FBI's 3-day turnaround on his work is faster than most editors.
  • Lyle on being the difficulty of being writer: "After sixteen books, there's still that 50,000 word panic, like you don't know what you're doing, you're a fraud, this is horrible, why are you doing this, go kill yourself. Happens every time."

It was a long day - Friday was a bit more sane and is up next.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Number 14 I will definitely use

24 Pictures That Will Forever Change the Way You Eat Food.

If this works I will attain Avocado Master Ninja Status.

Friday, October 7, 2016

10 Things Only HGTV Addicts Understand

I don't really consider myself an HGTV addict, except when my Mom comes over to the beach for a few days to escape the periodic heatwave, and then it's all we watch because it's really the only TV viewing we have in common now that Downton Abbey and Poirot are done. And then it's hours and hours of Chip and Joanna and people with totally unrealistic expectations and those twin brothers who are simultaneously hot and kind of creepy. I don't know how they pull that off. Probably a twins thing.

But even with my rare HGTV binging, I totally got this: 10 Things Only HGTV Addicts Understand. The whole thing nails it, but here are a couple of my favorites:

Favorite lines include: "Oh, we'll just knock down that wall." "Let's just add a second story." "We can just move the bathroom to the first floor." "What do you mean load-bearing?" "Can't we just take it out?" "Oh my god, that carpet is hideous." "I can't live in a house with that color." 

The tears you shed knowing you could buy a home in Waco for next to nothing. CHIP AND JOANNA, WHY DO YOU TORTURE ME?

No kidding. Why does it have to be Waco? Why can't it be the beach here in Southern California, or the French Quarter in New Orleans, or Hawaii, or some other place I'd actually be open to living in? I know people with higher car payments than what some of these people are paying for their mortgages in Waco.

That feeling you get when you correctly guess which house they'll buy on House Hunters.

I have to say, House Hunters is pretty addictive, especially when they're in areas I'm either familiar with or would be open to living in. And then it becomes personal.

Whoever put this list together knows their HGTV shows. Check it out and H/T to Veranda on FB for the link.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Words of Wisdom: New Orleans edition

Don't you just love those long rainy afternoons in New Orleans, when an hour isn't just an hour - but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands - and who knows what to do with it? --Tennessee Williams

New Orleans gets right into your bones and into your blood. --Toni McGee Causey

What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens in New Orleans goes home with you. --Laurell K. Hamilton

New Orleans is unlike any other city in America. Its cultural diversity is woven into the food, the music, the architecture - even the local superstitions. It's a sensory experience on all levels and there's a story lurking around every corner. --Ruta Sepetys

In America, I would say New York and New Orleans are the two most interesting food towns. In New Orleans they don't have a bad deli. There's no mediocrity accepted. --Mario Batali

New Orleans lives by the water and fights it, a sand castle set on a sponge nine feet below sea level, where people made music from heartache, named their drinks for hurricanes and joked that one day you'd be able to tour the city by gondola. --Nancy Gibbs

And you find as a writer there are certain spots on the planet where you write better than others, and I believe in that. And New Orleans is one of them. --Jimmy Buffet