Saturday, October 31, 2015

Monday, October 26, 2015

Squealing fangirl mode: ACTIVATED!!!

So, I've spent the past few days binge watching Manhattan, which has been cluttering up my DVR for a while now. Not sure why I never got around to watching it, because it looked interesting enough to schedule it to be recorded. Once I finally started watching it I was hooked. The show's second season started a couple weeks ago, but I didn't want to jump ahead. As of last night I'm officially caught up through the first two episodes of the new season. Great show, give it a shot if you haven't seen it, although you'll definitely need to begin at the beginning for it to make sense.

So I got on the official website (which is stunning) and started following the show on social media. I also found the show's creator, Sam Shaw, on Twitter and followed him as well. Last night I also tweeted about the show, how it's awesome and boo-hooed over how I have to wait for new episodes now just like everyone else. And today I woke up to this:

That would be my tweet favorited by the show's creator. I actually squealed when I saw this.

I do feel kind of bad that by waiting forever to watch his show, I cost him Nielsen numbers. Not anymore, I'll be watching in real time with bells on.

I've got several shows loading up the DVR that I need to get to. You're next, Rosewood and Public Morals. Hope you're as good as Manhattan.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Bouchercon 2015 - Days 3/4 (Sat/Sun)

Bouchercon rolled on through the weekend. Saturday and Sunday panels:

The Dark Side of Romance is Suspense and Murder
Cathy Wiley (moderator extraordinaire), Amanda DeWees, Robin Weaver, Jamie Mason, Sheila York
  • On why the genre works so well with romance: Limitless possibility for reaction due to chemistry and romance. Love is high stakes, high drama and high emotion. Life and death situations only work if you have something to lose. When you fall in love, it makes you vulnerable.
  • On naming their characters: Wiley - all her killers are named after ex-boyfriends. York - killed off her boss once because she thought he had the perfect last name. She got his permission first, and he brags about it. Weaver uses - enters characteristics of her character to generate names. 
  • On the importance (or not) of humor despite the darkness of the genre: DeWees - important. York - her characters have a wry sense of humor about themselves.
  • During the Q&A, the authors were asked what question they would like to be asked in interviews and DeWees quipped, "How does it feel to be a New York Times best seller?". Weaver was up next: "Ditto."
York's novels are set in 1940's Hollywood. Being a sucker for all things historic Hollywood/Los Angeles, I had to buy her book and get it autographed. She was sitting next to Wiley, who commented, "Great inscription." Apparently coming up with just the right inscription is a big deal. 

Psychopaths, Serial Killers, Sociopaths and Human Monsters Within Literature
Debbi Mack (moderator), Reed Farrell Coleman, Michael Robotham, Steve Hamilton, Jennifer Hillier
  • Coleman: Given the right motivation and circumstances anyone could do terrible things. Robotham noted Nazi Germany as an extreme example.
  • Subjects even they won't touch: Hillier - kids and animals. Robotham - "Heaven help you if you harm a pet." Coleman - Nothing, but things that make him uncomfortable often happen "offscreen". 
  • Sociopaths as sidekicks: Coleman referred to them as "socio-ex-machina". When your protagonist has to make the tough decision to do a bad thing, the socio-sidekick does it for them. Kind of a cheat unless it's really well done. The Easy Rawlins and Spenser series were cited as having these characters.
  • Hillier described growing up a big Stephen King fan. She quipped that she went from reading Sweet Valley High to Pet Sematary.
  • Favorite bad characters: Hillier - Dexter Morgan. Hamilton - Donald Westlake aka Parker. Coleman - Mouse (Easy Rawlins series), Robotham - Jack Torrance from The Shining, who he described as "an astonishing creation".

Crime, Mystery and Thriller Novels: The Game Changers
James Scott Bell (moderator), David Bell, M. Ruth Myers, Michael Robotham (filling in for Sean Chercover, who was ill), Stefanie Pintoff

The authors talked about what they do for originality, so that they're not telling the same old story.
  • David Bell: Combined suspense with a love story.
  • Robotham: It took him years to figure out how to make it work in a story, but he based his current novel, Life or Death, on a true story about a guy who escaped from prison the night before he was due to be released. He was never seen or heard from again.
  • Myers: Her main character is a female PI in pre-World War II Dayton, Ohio. She feels this era (between The Depression and WWII) produced the first era of career women, and wanted a character who wasn't Rosie the Riveter or USO entertainment.
  • James Bell: Married a legal thriller with zombie fiction. The titles in his Zombie at Law trilogy are awesome: I Ate the Sheriff, Pay Me in Flesh and The Year of Eating Dangerously.
  • Pintoff: Be creative, but stay within the framework of the genre.

Trends in the Traditional Mystery
Christine Husom (moderator), Ellen Crosby, Tracy Kiely, Mollie Cox Bryan, Kendel Lynn
  • On the appeal of traditional mysteries: Bryan - Sense of justice and solving a puzzle. Kiely - Safety due to lack of bloody gore and knowledge that things will end up okay. Lynn - The tradition of it. Comforting and entertaining, but not emotionally draining.
  • Kiely's current series is an updated version of The Thin Man with the roles reversed (wife Nic is the former cop, husband Nigel the wealthy heir). 
  • How they write: Lynn - is an extreme plotter, practically writes the whole book that way. Kiely - starts with the murder. Bryan - "When you think you've written yourself into a corner, blow some shit up." Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Choose Your Voice: First, Third or Omnipotent
Debra H. Goldstein (moderator), M.L. Rowland, Bill Crider, Patricia Coleman (aka P.R. Morris), Julieanne Holmes (aka J.A. Henrikus)
  • Crider thinks classic P.I. novels should be written in the first person.
  • There are certain constraints to first person, particularly that the protagonist can't know more than the reader knows. You can't hide things from readers.
  • Holmes wrote her Harvard thesis on Agatha Christie's use of point of view. She cited The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express as examples of how Christie used POV to inform and fool her readers.
  • Coleman writes historical novels and uses two dominant POV's, one male and one female. Her reasoning is that in that time period, men moved through society differently than women, even women of status. 

Bring on New Orleans! (Bouchercon 2015)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Goodbye to the future

After today, the entirety of the Back to the Future trilogy will take place in the past. Happy BTTF Day!!!

What are you looking at, butthead?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Bouchercon 2015 - Day 2 (Friday)

Lone Wolves and Loose Cannons
Bruce DaSilva (moderator), Jerry Ackerman, Mick Herron, Andrew Grant, Ben McPherson

The lone wolf/loose cannon character represents:
  • A savior who comes in from the outside to sort out the mess. Like Lee Child's Jack Reacher, he shows up, saves the day, then departs.
  • Capable of doing things other people wish they could, or at least wish they could do without suffering any consequences.
  • Obliged to help those weaker than themselves, or at least in need of their assistance.
  • Some archetypes: The vigilante (Dirty Harry) who operates outside the rules. The day job/secret life, often in disguise (The Scarlet Pimpernel).

Dark Romance and Dark Smiles
James R. Tuck (moderator), Liesa Malik, Julia McDermott, Cara Brookins
  • Malik: Described cozy mysteries as, "Nothing better than a little murder among friends."
  • Tuck: Writes a lot of emotionally damaged/stunted characters. When love is introduced, it has the potential to help or hurt. Also, being damaged makes one vulnerable, a target.
  • The story in love (even if it's not the main storyline) is how it can swing from asset to liability.
  • The question came up about the necessity of a love interest for a strong, independent female protagonist. Historically, women needed men to survive. These days, that isn't the viewpoint. Malik said she hoped her female protagonist grows up to be Jessica Fletcher. Brookins pointed out that you need to know your audience - millennials have a different reason for romance (not for survival).

Managing Red Herrings in the Mystery Narrative
G.M. Malliet (moderator), Carlene O'Neil, Diane Vallere, Bryn Bonner, Linda Lovely
  • "Red herring": A planted clue meant to mislead the reader.
  • Vallere had a character blurt out a confession early on in one of her books, so you know that character is innocent. Someone throwing themselves under the bus to protect a loved one they think has committed a crime.
  • Malliet: Agatha Christie was a master of the red herring (among other things) and would plant a clue in early chapters, knowing the reader would have forgotten it by the end of the book.
  • Who they admire for red herrings: Bonner: Jeffrey Deaver (master of the twist at the end), O'Neil: Carolyn Hart (The Locked Room), Lovely: The BBC series Death in Paradise and Foyle's War, Vallere: The BBC series Prime Suspect.

Forensics & Technology and the Changing Face of Criminal Investigation
Neal Griffin (moderator), Kathy Reichs, Anne Hillerman, Ryan Quinn, Dr. Alex Lettau

  • Hillerman is the daughter of author Tony Hillerman and has continued his Native American series. She has fun with the flip side of dependence on technology because her stories take place in remote areas where cell phones don't work.
  • Some advances in technology: Establishment of databases, the ability to track people via their cellphones, 3-D printers being used to create skulls for students to use for study.
  • Advice for using technology in stories: Don't get bogged down in science as a narrative - you're not writing a textbook. Keep in mind that medicine is not an exact science. 
  • The next big things: Datamining is growing exponentially, and it's not just the government. Google, Facebook and companies dedicated to gathering information. Also on the horizon: We are moving into an area where DNA can be used to not only ID people, but to reveal their physical characteristics. We're not quite there yet and it will need to be tested in court.

Beyond The Wire, Bosch and True Detective: TV Crime Evolves
Lee Goldberg (moderator), Megan Abbott, Alison Gaylin, Christa Faust, Tim O'Mara

Bouchercon, like many conferences, doesn't give descriptions of their panels, just titles. This usually isn't an issue, but I was expecting this session to be a discussion about specific shows, but it had to do more with content the panelists would like to see.

  • Faust's colorful background includes working in the sex trade and she has brought that experience into her books. She seemed kind of obsessed with the desire to see more alternative sexuality and fewer attractive people on TV.
  • The appeal of shows like Law & Order is in how they wrap up crime in every episode - it gives them a built-in comfort factor for viewers. O'Mara has been a schoolteacher in New York City for twenty-nine years and has a brother who is a cop - he didn't like the idea of softening the reality of the situation to make it more appealing to audiences.
  • One of the novels Abbott is most famous for is Dare Me, set in the world of high school cheerleaders. O'Mara commented that Abbott writes kids so accurately it may change the way teens are portrayed. 
  • Gaylin pointed out that serialized shows keep viewers coming back to see what happens next. O'Mara referred to it as "the novelization of television" and also feels it contributes to binge-viewing.
  • Goldberg on launching new shows: Netflix did a study showing the most viewers will give a show three episodes to hook them. If you can't do it by then, you've lost them.
  • Several of the panelists had crazy stories about dealing with execs and producers, but as usual Goldberg had the best. One of his novels, The Walk, is about a TV producer trying to get from downtown L.A. to his home in the San Fernando Valley after a mega-quake has struck. In discussions he was asked if it was really necessary to make the protagonist a TV producer and Goldberg allowed that the guy could be anyone. He was then asked if the protagonist could be six midwestern cheerleaders. I don't think The Walk will be gracing our screens anytime soon.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

In good company

Apparently world famous forensic psychologist Dr. Katherine Ramsland, little ol' me, and a bunch of others Like the latest news about next year's Writer's Police Academy:

I feel so important. Thank you, Facebook!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Bouchercon 2015 - Day 1 (Thursday)

Things I learned on Day 1 of Bouchercon:

The Resurgence of Traditional Mystery
Helen Smith (moderator), Wendy Corsi Staub, Marcia Talley, Dorothy Cannell, Terrie Farley Moran
  • Staub is the author of about 80 novels, including three this year. I can't even finish one.
  • Cannell's current series, which is set in a 1930's English country house, has been described as "Downton Abbey meets Agatha Christie". Sold.
  • A couple of panelists discussed including social issues into their recent stories, which isn't usually done in traditional mysteries. 

Just the Facts: The Police Procedural
James O. Born (moderator), Stephanie Gayle, Dana King, Larry Kelter, Colin Campbell
  • Campbell flew in from England, but his luggage didn't make it. A local cabbie took him to Wal-Mart to pick up what Campbell referred to as appropriate clothes. He was ribbed about that for the rest of the panel.
  • On the importance of accuracy: Important, won't do something intentionally incorrect, but if necessary, things should at least seem possible and accurate. Fiction is held to a higher standard of accuracy than non-fiction and even small mistakes and you will hear from readers. 
  • When asked what brought them to writing, Gayle responded, "The money." That got a big laugh. Per King, reading Raymond Chandler gave him the writing bug.

Beyond Hammett, Chandler, MacDonald and Spillane
Peter Rozovsky (moderator), Kevin Burton, Jordan Foster, Laura Lippman, Sarah Weinman

I thought this panel would be a general discussion of genre writers not included in the title, but the format was each of the panelists discussing a writer they feel has been underappreciated or lost to time. 
  • Foster: Ted Lewis - Probably best known for Jack's Return Home, which became the Michael Caine film Get Carter. Foster also discussed Lewis's last and probably best book, GBH (which stands for Grievious Bodily Harm. Lewis died young due to affects of alcoholism.
  • Lippman: Zilpha Keatley Snyder - Prolific author of kids/fantasy books. The two Lippman cited were The Egypt Game, in which a group of kids play out Egyptian rituals as a child predator menaces their neighborhood and The Changeling, which Lippman described as the first "mean girl" book.
  • Weinman: Elizabeth Sanxay Holding - Started out writing romance, but turned to detective novels after the stock market crash. She was praised by Raymond Chandler and Anthony Boucher. A number of her books have been brought back into print.
  • Burton: Norbert Davis - His forte was hard boiled detective fiction overlaid with humor, but he also wrote westerns and romance. He reportedly inspired Chandler to start writing. Committed suicide at age 40.

Friday, October 9, 2015

September reading

Oof - only four books in September.

Sgt. Reckless: America's War Horse (Robin Hutton)

This is the improbable true story of a little mare who served with distinction alongside U.S. Marines during the Korean War. 

Originally bred as a racehorse, she was reluctantly sold by her Korean owner to the Marines so he could pay for a prosthetic leg for his sister, who had been injured when a bomb went off in a rice paddy she was working in. The Marines renamed the mare Reckless (after their Reckless Rifles Platoon) and put her to work carrying ammo and their wounded through miles of firefights. In addition to being an amazingly quick learn, she performed her terrifying tasks with supernatural bravery and became a beloved member of the platoon.

After the war, rather than leave Reckless behind, her fellow Marines arranged for her to be shipped to the U.S. to be cared for for the rest of her life. She was retired to Camp Pendleton, eventually being promoted to Staff Sergeant. She was also awarded two Purple Hearts, in addition to other military honors, and was even awarded her own Breyer Horse Model.

I approached this story as a horse lover. There's a lot of detail in this book about the weapons and military strategy, which is kind of lost on me, but if you like that stuff and can follow it, there's a lot of info there. But even without that aspect to hold my attention, the story of Sgt. Reckless was fascinating and kind of mind-boggling. I've ridden and handled horses, and the idea of one going out and delivering supplies unsupervised with a battle going on around her is unbelievable. She was truly special.

"She first stirred American hearts in April 1954, when Marine Lieutenant Colonel Andrew C. Geer detailed her Korean War exploits in the Saturday Evening Post. The feats of heroism were so great that Reckless was eventually promoted to the rank of staff sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps. She was no mascot. Reckless was the real deal - an actual combat Marine."

Dexter is Dead (Jeff Lindsay)

Spoiler alert: Jeff Lindsay is ending the literary version of Dexter Morgan with this spoilery titled final novel.

(Note: The worlds of novel Dexter and TV Dexter went in very different directions after the first season of the Showtime series, which used the first Dexter novel as a blueprint for Season 1. In the novels, Dexter's brother Brian wasn't killed and in fact resurfaces in the current book. Rita wasn't killed until the end of the previous book, and after she and Dexter were married they had a daughter, not a son, and somewhere in one of the novels I've missed Deb had a son. I think that pretty much covers what you need to know going into this book.)

After the events of the previous novel (Dexter's Final Cut), everyone's favorite sociopathic serial killer finds himself held without bail, framed for a murders that he actually wasn't responsible for (including Rita's) and he is not amused. Literary Dexter is a true sociopath in that he genuinely does not concern himself with anyone else, it's all about the misfortune that's befallen him and he's pretty put out about it. They humanized him at times in the series and I think that was probably a good call for a TV audience, but Lindsay never went there with Dexter. Lindsay's black humor is in rare form; Dexter's unrepentantly self-absorbed "poor me" musings on the unfairness of it all are hilarious. Unfortunately for Dexter, his luck really has run out. What seems like a ticket out of this situation only gets him into another deadlier situation and then...well, it isn't like Lindsay didn't warn us.

"Brian had two storm anchors in the back of his van. We wired Octavio to one and his new friend to the other, and muscled them both into the water of the quarry. They sank quickly, leaving not even a ripple to show where they had been, and I tried very hard not to see that as a metaphor for my life at the moment. It didn't work. All I could see was the sad Detritus of Dexter sinking into the dark abyss, cold and murky water closing over my head, leaving no trace at all of the wonder that had been Me."

Anthony Zuiker (creator of the CSI franchise) was at his desk in the writer's offices of CSI: New York when he received a call informing him that his estranged father had eaten his gun. This memoir is largely the story of him grappling with their lengthy estrangement and the question of what drove Zuiker Senior so low that he took his own life, while also detailing his own journey to Hollywood success.

Zuiker explains that the book was originally intended to answer a question he got frequently: "How'd you do it? How did you go from driving a tram at the Mirage Hotel for eight bucks an hour when you were twenty-six years old, to creating the most profitable franchise in TV history?" And in a way he does - his obsessive drive to succeed - and succeed wildly - was largely influenced by his deprived childhood and his troubled relationship (and eventual lack thereof) with his father, who once told his teenaged son that he wished he (Anthony) had never been born. Zuiker wanted to prove that he could attain the kind of success his father sought but never achieved.

As fascinating as Zuiker's story is, some of my favorite parts of the book were when he described some of the things he saw while with police, crime scene investigators and coroners in Las Vegas, Miami and New York (which was still dealing with the remains of 9/11 victims) as each version of CSI was being developed. Some crazy stuff in there. Real life crime is a hell of a story.

If you're interested in a behind-the-scenes look at the CSI shows, this isn't it. There's interesting information on the development and launch of each show and some neat stories about Zuiker's first meetings with the actors who would be his leads (William Petersen, David Caruso and Gary Sinise), but that's about it. This is his story, not CSI's.

"I wondered if he knew about CSI. The local papers had done stories about me before last Christmas and I had been mentioned in a few other features about the show. It was likely he knew. Surely one of his friends had shown him the Las Vegas Sun or USA Today and said, "Isn't that your kid?" I would've loved to have heard his response, but then I'd accepted our lack of a relationship long ago for what it was."

The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang (Leonard Maltin and Richard W. Bann)

An unbelievably comprehensive - almost overly comprehensive - bible of the beloved series. Every child actor who was part of the series is covered and every single episode is reviewed, with cast and crew listings for each included. It's also loaded with photographs. Just a warning - it was published in 1992, so a lot of the players who were still alive then are now gone.

"In 1987 he (original cast member Ernie Morrison, aka Sunshine Sammy) was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, and defended Our Gang from criticism that it made fun of his race. "To me, that's foolish," he responded, "because what these kids are doing has nothing to do with prejudice. If you look at kids, you'll see they do the same things today." He remained devoted to Hal Roach, and declared, "When it came to black people, the man was color-blind."

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bouchercon 2015 - Welcome to Raleigh!

Bouchercon 2015 is upon us and so is my first trip to beautiful Raleigh, North Carolina. More about the panels later, but first up, pictures!

Gotta have the obligatory "view from my room" pics:

View to the right.

There's a lot of construction going on in downtown
Raleigh. This building, right across the street, is
either new or being remodeled - notice the empty floors.

View to the left.

Morning view.

Wandering around.

The Sir Walters Apartments for seniors.

Why thank you, Marriott Raleigh City Center!