Thursday, June 28, 2007

Summer in 'Da City

So.. I just got back from a vacation in Spain. More about that sometime (Yes, it was wonderful…)

Less than 24 hours after coming home, I started shooting video for a DVD with Ben LeRoy of Bleak House. As some of you know, Bleak House is publishing the Chicago Blues anthology which includes stories from 21 Chicago crime fiction authors (including everyone in The Outfit). It will be released in October, and anyone who buys a hard-cover collector’s edition will receive a DVD along with the stories.

The DVD will include interviews with many of the authors as well as video of the locations in which their stories take place. So today we started shooting: at Rosa’s on Armitage… at BLUES in Lake View/Lincoln Park… at Milwaukee and North, the fictional location of V.I. Warshawski’s office. Tomorrow we’ll be shooting on Lower Wacker, Michigan Avenue, Daley Plaza, the Midway, and Chinatown. Saturday will be the north side and Wrigley Field. Ben is also going to shoot B-roll of the Lake, Navy Pier, and Sears Tower.

I can't wait. I’ve lived here for 30 years, and I still love to explore Chicago. And capturing it on video in summer, when Chicago is at its best, is unbeatable. “Taste” starts this weekend… (If you have to ask, you haven’t lived in this part of the universe)… this weekend is also the music festival at Fitzgerald’s… and there are probably a dozen street fairs and festivals scheduled.

But it’s not just the big events I wish we could capture on camera. It’s watching people lounging on porches in sleeveless shirts and tank tops on a hot humid evening, moving slowly, fanning themselves.

It’s pulling out of Grant Park garage on a crisp summer night heading north on Michigan Avenue. The Tribune Tower looms in the foreground, the street lights sparkle, and the guy who plays the sax on the bridge is belting out a blues number that you have to roll your window down to hear…

It’s digging into a deep dish pizza from Uno’s or Malnati’s with a beer and wondering how anything could possibly taste that good…

It’s strolling through the English walled garden at the Botanic Gardens, pretending I’m a character in a Jane Austen novel…

It’s joining hundreds of thousands of other cheerful, sweaty, half-drunk Chicagoans downtown for the fireworks on the 3rd – or is it the 4th – this year…

It’s enduring a day of blistering sidewalks and weather that’s great for tomatoes but not so good for humans… then having to wear sweat shirts and jeans 24 hours later…

When I first moved to Chicago from Washington DC thirty years ago, I was still a news junkie. I’d watch the raised eyebrow of Bill Kurtis and the sometimes self- righteous anger of Walter Jacobson, and I’d think that compared to DC, Chicago was so parochial. What I realize now is that parochial is good. Like Tip O’Neill says about politics, it’s all local. And while Chicago has its warts -- which I hope we continue to discuss here -- it has spawned something for me that DC never did -- a sense of community.

That’s part of the reason for Chicago Blues. I’m a Chicagoan now, and I’d love you to discover the city with me. Look for excerpts from the DVD at Bleak House and on my website this fall.

So, all you Chicagoans, past and present... what's your favorite summer spot?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Love Won't Be Calling At Your Address

By Kevin Guilfoile

One thing I remember about growing up was that my dad was really excellent at not murdering us. He had a look that made us believe he might kill us even when, it turns out, murder was never really an option.

Not killing your kids is a lost parenting art, apparently.

Experts (whoever they are) claim that the number of incidents of familicide are still quite rare and have remained fairly consistent over the years. They say that when parents murder their children it's always a sensational case and the overreporting in this modern era of media saturation makes it seem like such events are more common now than they actually are. I'll take their word for that, although last month surely represented an unprecedented spike in frequency.

In Chicago the papers are fixated on the case of Christopher Vaughn, who is accused of shooting his wife and three children on a June 14 daytrip to a downstate water park. The local papers ask how a man could commit such an unthinkable crime. It was a "coldly planned execution at dawn," Eric Zorn wrote yesterday. "A betrayal of love, trust, decency and biological imperative so complete it redefines the standard of everyday evil."

Similar columns are being written in San Francisco, but Christopher Vaughn isn't on their radar. Out there the name they're putting on everyday evil is Kevin Morrissey, who on June 18 similarly pulled his car over to the side of the road and murdered his wife and their two children before killing himself.

In Montclair, New Jersey it's Thomas Reilly, who drowned his two daughters on June 21 and then hanged himself, just hours after their mother had dropped the girls off for a visit.

In Delavan, Wisconsin the name is Ambrosio Analco, accused of killing his twin infant sons on June 9, along with his ex-girlfriend and two other people before killing himself.

In Griffith, Indiana it's Mickey Gordon who on June 10 killed his teenage stepdaughter before, of course, killing himself.

Now there is the case of professional wrestler Chris Benoit, who apparently strangled his wife on June 23, his seven-year-old son on June 24, and then, after placing a Bible next to each of their bodies, hanged himself with a weight machine pulley.

And I don't need to tell anyone about Bobby Cutts, Jr. who on June 14 allegedly killed his ex-girlfriend and their unborn child right in front of their three-year-old son.

For those of us who are parents there is something especially repellent and fascinating about a father killing his children. But it's different than fear. There are an almost infinite number of things that I worry might harm my children but obviously I don't worry at all that my boys will be murdered by me.

Maybe that's why there seem to be so few fictional villains whose target is their own family. We might have a visceral reaction to these cases--we might be appalled--but we never think our own family might be in similar jeopardy. The prototypical villain of fiction is the murderer who chooses randomly. The killer who picks his victim because he or she is in the wrong place at the wrong time. That is somebody we can all fear.

(There are exceptions of course and I'd love to hear examples if you have them. The Stepfather is an underrated horror film in which the new head of the household is a serial killer. Terry O'Quinn's performance in that film is so good that 20 years later, when his character does something on Lost and I miss it, my wife still recaps it by saying something like, "The Stepfather just opened the hatch.")

Writers also like to have a motive for the crime and when a father kills his family we are frequently left with no explanation at all. According to forensic pyschiatrist Dr. Louis Kraus, when a woman kills her family it's frequently the result of a mental illness. The mother is depressed or she thinks the children are in some imagined jeopardy and using the logic of insanity decides that the only way to save them is to kill them.

When fathers kill their children, Kraus says, they are less likely to be insane and more likely to be narcissists and sociopaths for whom fatherhood has become inconvenient.

It's the new mid-life crisis. Murdering your kids is the new sports car.

When the killers take their own lives we rarely get any hint at motive. Benoit allegedly sent disturbing text messages to his friends while he was in the middle of his household killing spree. Perhaps that evidence will explain something.

On Memorial Day, 1998*, Daniel LaMere of Gurnee, Illinois sat down at his computer just moments before he would take a shotgun and kill his wife, his two stepchildren, and then himself. He typed:

"I guess your (sic) wondering why I did it. I have stayed as long as I can, but time has run out."

[Note: The original post of this article misstated the year in which this event occurred.]

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Godfather--Part N+1

The real Outfit is on trial now, down at the Federal building on Dearborn. Four men, including Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, are charged with 18 murders; the fifth defendant, former Chicago police officer Anthony Doyle, is included in the indictment because he (allegedly) protected the four from police scrutiny. In their opening remarks, the prosecution told the jury to put The Godfather and The Sopranos out of their minds--these men weren't entertainers, they weren't glamorous, they were murderers.

Most of the victims were involved in the Outfit--a hitman and hitwoman were murdered, another high-ranking Outfit member killed when he was going to turn state's evidence, and so on. It's hard not to think of it as made-for-TV melodrama.

These are frightening people to cross--so much so that a journalist I know refused to go to Eagle River, Wisconsin, where part of the extended Chicago Family vacations, to investigate an alleged murder of a bartender there who allegedly mocked a senior Family member. Glenn had interviewed and written extensively about many scary people; this was the only assignment he ever turned down, but he has a son in frail health and couldn't afford to risk turning him into an orphan without medical insurance.

So why do we glamorize the Mob so much? Why do we love all those movies like Pulp Fiction and the Godfather that celebrate slaughter? Any hunches?

by Sara Paretsky

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Ten Best Movies of All Time

by Barbara D'Amato

One question can start an argument faster than “How do you like dem Cubs?” What are the ten best movies of all time? Like politics and religion, you should not discuss this at dinner.

So—my ten favorites:


If you haven’t seen BEAT THE DEVIL, find it and watch it. Trust me on this. Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, and Peter Lorre, all at their best.

ODD MAN OUT is a James Mason film, and he’s not playing James Mason this time. It's a tear-jerker -- in a good way.

My sorry-to-have-to-leave-out list is long, of course. It includes VERTIGO, DUMBO, THE GODFATHER, CASABLANCA, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, and THE GENERAL. And KELLY’S HEROES [Telly Savalas, Clint Eastwood, Don Rickles, Donald Sutherland and Lalo Schifrin’s music] -- a truly funny film.

What riches there are!

Overlooked of the Orson Welles movies is TOUCH OF EVIL. The one that heads all lists is CITIZEN KANE.

I’m sure we all have the utmost respect for CITIZEN KANE, but does anyone watch it for enjoyment?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


by Marcus Sakey

Okay, actually, not so much a slacker as a guy behind the eight ball. The plane in from my brother-in-law's wedding last night was canceled, and the one I'm jumping today leaves in two hours. So I'm afraid I'm going to have to short-post here, and beg your forgiveness.

A few notes from my head, of almost no value:

  • I'm reading a book called STONE CITY, which was released in '91 to great acclaim, and then vanished. Busted Flush is reissuing it this summer, and I have to say, the book is astonishingly good. Achingly good. Painfully, how-the-hell-does-he-do-that good. Preorder-now-good.
  • I'd forgotten how terrific The Clash are. I've been on a punk kick lately, lots of Dropkick Murphys, and decided to revisit an old fave, "The Essential Clash." Every track a winner.
  • I'm running out the door to catch a flight to Utah, in order to write an article on rock climbing and canyoneering for a magazine. This is a very good gig, especially as I'm getting paid for it. Fingers crossed I still remember how to tie a figure-eight.
  • Saturday night I'll be driving to Los Angeles to do a ridealong with the LAPD's 77th Street Gang Unit, the unit that covers South Central LA, the worst gang territory in the country. I am very excited; my wife, less so. However, I promise to give you all the details in a subsequent post.
All the best, folks! Sorry for the lame filler.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Lunch at the Gangbanger’s Grill

by Michael Dymmoch

This is my picture of Hell: Eternity in criminal court without possibility of parole.

Even before you get into the building at 26th and California you’re demoralized, in the parking garage—assuming you’re a juror, lawyer or cop and can get in it. It's filthy. Defendants and their families have to park on the street or take the bus.

You have to go through security—“Take off your belt. Everything out of your pockets. No exceptions.” When you get to your courtroom, you spend 75% of your time waiting for something to happen. Some judges handle dozens of cases daily. Bond court judges sometimes process 200 arraignments per hour.

At lunch time, since the cafeteria is closed for renovations, you get to choose between the roach-coaches parked on California and the coffee shop near the main entrance. Cognicenti call it the Gangbanger’s Grill.

When you find an anomaly like Cindy, the Sheriff’s deputy who still seems to give a damn, you wonder how she escaped the process that turns most of the deputies into zombies, and most of the defendants--most of whom are guilty--into placid cattle herded from cell to pen to court room and back. Cindy, as it turns out, has only been here since December. And since she used to be a process server in bad neighborhoods, this probably seems like easy duty.

The system is a Bizarro version of Monopoly:

Your attorney didn’t show--Lose two turns.

Motion to dismiss denied--Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go.

The Judge grants you a continuance--move forward three spaces.

Witness recanted--Get out of jail free.

Individually, the players seem decent enough. The attorneys could be your next door neighbors—if you live in a good neighborhood. When they come to court, the defendants seem harmless. Until you discover that the 24 year old standing respectfully before the judge with his hands behind his back--that fellow you wouldn’t give a second glance if you sat behind him on the bus--has been charged with pouring gasoline into an occupied car and setting it on fire.

Maybe the people involved in the day to day get so jaded by the enormity of the horror and the mind-numbing delays that they don’t notice any more. But somebody ought to.

If the rest of us don’t get involved, who will?

If no one does, how can anything ever change?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Cops and Dads...

by Sean Chercover

My first ride in the back of a police car happened at the age of thirteen, on a beautiful autumn Sunday. I’d spent the morning with my buddy Greg, setting off bottle rockets around the neighborhood.

Out of ordnance but still full of energy, we returned to my house for supplies. I’d recently purchased a starter’s pistol, impressed by how real it looked, so we took turns with the gun, chasing each other through neighbors’ backyards, shooting, diving over fences, tucking and rolling, and dying dramatic deaths.

We were Joe Mannix. We were Jim Rockford. We were Beretta.

It was almost noon, and Greg had the brilliant idea of using the pistol to freak out the local churchgoers as they emerged from service.

So we did.

We sprinted past the God-fearing civilians in their Sunday-finest, Greg about five yards ahead, me giving chase and unloading with the starter’s pistol.


And off we ran. Through backyards and over fences, until we came to rest in an alley. Laughing our asses off. Reliving the looks on their faces. Catching our breath. And laughing some more.

I handed the gun to Greg and he reloaded. I straddled the top of a fence, ready to fall onto a pile of leaves on the other side. Then I heard a terrible sound.

A cop car, flying down the alley toward us, sirens wailing and lights flashing. I went over the fence and took off. Greg came over the fence right behind me, and fled in a different direction.

I tore through a backyard, over a fence, through a backyard, over a fence, down a driveway, across a front lawn, over a hedge, and across the street.

My peripheral vision registered cop cars and motorcycles and flashing lights. On the other side of the street, I went over another fence, through a neighbor’s backyard, and into my own. I slowed to a walk, sucked wind, crossed my backyard, up onto the deck and into the house.

As the adrenaline rush subsided, I took stock. I was home. Safe. I’d gotten away clean. But what about Greg? He’d gone in the other direction, likely straight into the arms of waiting cops. He was a tough kid, and I didn’t think he’d roll over on me.

Maybe I was a good friend, or maybe I was a sucker, but I decided I couldn’t let him go down alone. I walked outside and around the block and turned myself in.

They handcuffed me and put me in the back of a cruiser and drove me to the station. I fought back tears, thinking how disappointed my parents were going to be. Then they put me in a little office with a gray metal desk and gray metal chairs. They made me empty my pockets and demanded to know why I had a book of matches.

“For burning leaves,” I lied. I may have been dumb, but not dumb enough to mention bottle rockets.

A detective came in and sat at the desk and phoned my parents.

My dad came to fetch me. When he entered the room, my eyes hit the floor. The detective explained: They’d received a call about a gunfight in progress. They’d dispatched 13 cars and two motorcycles. They’d caught Greg and I’d turned myself in.

The detective talked for a while, using words like reckless and dangerous and potentially disastrous. A uniformed cop brought Greg into the room, and handed the gun to the detective. The detective demonstrated the gun for my dad. He shot it into a wastebasket. It was very loud in that small room, and a flame jumped from the barrel.

The uniformed cop said to Greg, “You scared the hell out of me, kid. When I yelled for you to stop and drop it, you stopped, but you turned around before dropping it. If you hadn’t been so small…” he turned to me, “…if it had been you with the gun, I would’ve shot.”


Greg’s parents were out for the day, so my dad told the cops that he would take responsibility for Greg. We drove home in silence, dropped Greg at his house, and then pulled to a stop in our driveway. But my dad didn’t get out of the car.

“You understand what an incredibly bad idea this was,” he said. I did. “And you understand that you are grounded for three weeks.” I did. “And you will never do something stupid like this again, right?” I wouldn’t. “Okay.”

And then my dad did one of the coolest things any dad has ever done for any son: He reached into his pocket and handed me the starter's pistol. “I believe this is yours. Keep it locked-up, and if you ever want to use it again, just tell me and I’ll supervise. But if I ever find out that you used it without telling me, there will be big trouble.”

I’ll never forget how my dad treated me with more respect than I deserved at that moment. He used the experience to get me to take responsibility for the starter's pistol that I had used so irresponsibly. He used it to teach.

Now that I’m a dad, I just hope I can be half the father that my dad was, and is, to me.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


No… this isn’t about book endings (Marcus did that last January). Or about the ending of The Sopranos (Kevin did that the other day). Or the season finale of The Shield(only one more season? Please say it isn’t so!)

It’s about real-life endings. And it’s somewhat personal, so if you’d rather not go there, stop reading now.

My youngest child graduated from high school a few days ago. Two months from now she’ll be off to college. A major phase of her life– and mine – will be ending, and while I’m not sure what to expect, I do know the house will be quieter. And emptier. (My son already goes to law school.)

My 13-year-old Beagle – has Cushings Disease. He’s on medication, but his old age, plus the complications of the disease have taken their toll. He can’t get comfortable in any position for long, he’s losing his hair, and he won’t go down steps. We still take walks every day, but aside from those, he doesn’t do much but sleep. I know we are closer to the end than the beginning

I went to my high school reunion last month. It was a big one, and the night before I had dinner with my high school boyfriend. He was my first love -- the one you still have a soft spot for. I listened to his story, which includes three marriages, three kids, working and traveling all over the world. While it was enjoyable, it made me realize how far apart we’d grown, and how many connections to my past have ended.

I’m about two chapters away from finishing my sixth novel. It’s just the first draft, but the story has been told. The rush of figuring out how it’s going to unfold is over. Now it’s down to mechanics: good prose, suspense, believability. After living with this book for over a year, it’s an ending of a special kind -- you writers know what I’m talking about. I’m already feeling a void, a detachment, which will only disappear when I throw myself into a new story.

None of these are earth-shattering events. They’re the kind of passages we all enter and exit in life. And I’m not overly sad or depressed about them, since I know endings are also beginnings. I’ll be living in a house that actually stays clean for a few hours… enjoying the freedom to eat ice cream for dinner… meeting new people… starting a new book. Already the possibilities are materializing like a rosy summer dawn. And yet part of me wants to stay in that dusky purple hour of evening just a little while longer, watching the light fade into night.

What’s been the most difficult ending for you to navigate? How’d you get through it?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Everybody Wants a Thrill

By Kevin Guilfoile

Lots of people have asked me what I thought of The Sopranos finale last night. Many of those people are angry. Like them, I had been expecting something different from the show and so I went to bed not certain how I felt about it. When I woke up this morning (no A3 reference intended) I realized the profound statement Sopranos creator David Chase had just made about storytelling and I was sure that I loved it.

In fiction characters live their lives episodically. We drop in at a particular point and drop out at a particular point and everything that happens in between ties up nicely along the way. Presumably the characters get up the day after the story ends with blank slates. No worries, no debts, no obligations until the next episode starts. It's a manipulation done to satisfy us. Real life, we all know, is a lot messier and a lot weirder.


In the final scene Chase pulls out every manipulative trick in the filmmaker's bag. The two strangers in the restaurant are doing nothing suspicious and there is no reason to think they have designs on Tony except that Chase keeps cutting back to them. Outside Meadow is having trouble parking. Perhaps this happens every time she tries to parallel park but Chase keeps returning to it and suddenly it's ominous. One of the strangers gets up and walks into the bathroom. Anyone who has seen The Godfather knows there's always a gun hidden in the restaurant toilet and we just saw Phil Leotardo killed in front of his wife and grandchildren. The automatic symmetry creator in our heads is already storyboarding the next cut. It's a brilliant scene.

Much has been made about the fact that Journey's Don't Stop Believin' is playing in the restaurant at the time. Some think it's ironic and we're supposed to assume the worst after the screen goes black. Others try to sap meaning from the song's title. But it's obvious why Chase chose it:

Some will win, some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues
Oh the movie never ends
It goes on and on and on and on

There is no place to end this story. Endings are arbitrary and artificial. It doesn't matter if Tony is about to be whacked in front of Carm and the kids, or if they will just finish a quiet meal and go home. Either way it's not an end to the story, it's middle. The Sopranos was all middle, riddled since the series premiere with red herrings and slow parts and unresolved storylines. Our lives are all middle, too. We never get many answers, and the real story just goes on and on and on and on.


It goes on this month in a federal courtroom where "the last big Outfit trial in Chicago history" begins. Among the 14 defendants will be reputed former boss Joey "The Clown" Lombardo (not to be confused with fictional New York boss Phil Leotardo). Lombardo is alleged to be a brutal gangster who ordered the killings of even close friends including the father of his own godson. A famous cut-up, Lombardo is employing a bizarre defense, claiming that he was never really a part of the mob and even if he was he voluntarily left that life a long time ago. To bolster that claim, Lombardo's attorneys will show the jury a full page newspaper ad that Lombardo took out in the early nineties daring anyone who saw him associating with mobsters to call his parole officer. Um, yeah, no one took him up on that.

One of the main witnesses for the prosecution is former Outfit hit man Frank Cullotta. Cullotta's been a federal informant for over two decades and unlike Lombardo he flaunts his long ago connections. In one of the most bizarre turns in mob (or mob movie) history, Cullotta actually played himself in Martin Scorcese's film Casino, graphically reenacting his 1979 murder of barber union head Jerry Lisner. (Cullotta was also the inspiration for another character in Casino, Frank Marino. Marino was played by Frank Vincent, who by the way played Phil Leotardo on The Sopranos.)

During a Saturday break from the Printers Row Book Fair we were sitting at Kasey's Tavern on Dearborn, just blocks from the skyscraping correctional facility where Lombardo is awaiting trial, and I told Cullotta's story to CJ Box. He shook his head and said, "If you tried to put that in a novel you'd never get away with it."

And David Chase knows it.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Reeling, Writhing and Fainting in Coils, or is the book here to stay?

At Book Expo this year, Google and Microsoft talked again about putting books out on the Net. A group of University libraries have agreed to digitize their collections. And Barbara's post talked about the Kansas City man who burned his books because no one wanted to read them. Oy, veh. Is the book going the way of the LP/CD? Are authors--or Content Providers, as Simon & Schuster calls us--going the way of the woolly mammoth and the dear dodo? What will people like me, old, grey and without a working knowledge of New Media, do to keep from eating dog food in the alley if we can't earn a living from our creative work?

And how much is anyone reading any more? I am embarrassed to say that I don't read as much as I used to. I am putting myself on a "book-gain" diet this summer: I'm reading the Brothers K, Joan Smith's new novel, the Madonnas of Leningrad, and revisited Allingham's Traitor's Purse, but it's been a long time since I sat with a book, so engrossed I didn't want to do anything else but read, so until I get back to that frame, I can't much bemoan a country that prizes American Idol over an American Tragedy .

What about you? Are you reading these days? As much as you used to? And what book has kept you reading while the clock struck midnight unnoticed?

Sara Paretsky

by Sara Paretsky

American Idol, Brothers Karamazov, the end of the book, aging

Outfit Events - this weekend, Chicago...

Chicago is a hell of a town for summer fairs and festivals, and this weekend is the PRINTERS' ROW BOOK FAIR - a must visit for all book lovers. South Dearborn, from Harrison to Polk, will be buzzing with booksellers, author panels, and much more.

If you look to the sidebar on the right, you'll see where various Outfit members will be speaking. We'll also be signing books at various bookseller's tables, wandering around buying far too many books, and drinking at the local watering holes (we recommend Kasey's Tavern and Hackney's, both on Dearborn). So come on down and say hello!

As an added bonus, this is also the weekend of the Chicago Blues Festival in Grant Park - a short walk from Printers' Row. And once the outdoor music ends, the party continues at Buddy Guy's Legends, right around the corner, on Wabash.

We hope to see you this weekend!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Better than burning books

by Barbara D'Amato

We’ve all read recently about Tom Wayne, who runs a used book store and wanted to give some books to libraries and thrift shops. None would take them, so he held a book-burning. For this he was roundly criticized.

But I can sympathize. Shortly after Katrina hit, and we were all saddened by the destruction of libraries or the water damage to books in libraries, I started hearing about places we could send books. Every time I checked, though, they wanted money, not books. I’m happy to send money to help rebuild a library, but I still have a lot of books I could give away. Good books, read just once.

Since then, I’ve kept an eye out for places to send books. It’s not as easy as I thought, and not as easy as it should be. Don’t we all have books we are finished with that could be a delight to somebody else?

I’ve discovered a few things:

Donating to libraries in general is difficult. Many libraries say that it costs more to catalog and shelve a book than it’s worth. You have to take it pretty much library by library. Some are delighted to have donations, but you may see your books later on the tables at their annual book sale fund-raiser. Nothing wrong with that, I guess.

You can donate books to prisons. Call and ask. But they don’t take hard covers. Prisoners apparently can make weapons out of hardcover books. [The pen is mightier --?]

Many retirement homes are really happy to get books. Call first.

Some hospitals, especially long-term care hospitals, will take them.

Sending to men and women in the military is tricky. Most people I talked with said to contact your local VFW for the best way.

I’m still having trouble sending books to New Orleans libraries. Thanks to a DorothyL contact, I have found one person in the area who is collecting books for a library that is being rebuilt. You can send books to her at:
Jeannie Ripoll
325 Ferguson Ave.
Long Beach MS 39560

The San Diego library is helped the following person, who sorts books for the Friends of The Library and sends duplicates to the penal system. She is:
Lynn Dielman
4150 41st St. #10
San Diego CA 92105

But this shouldn’t be so difficult. Somebody else help out here. What organizations would be glad to receive books in good condition, free?

Outfit Events - This Weekend, Chicago...

Chicago is a hell of a town for sumer fairs and festivals, and this weekend is the PRINTERS' ROW BOOK FAIR - a must visit for all book lovers. South Dearborn, from Harrison to Polk, will be buzzing with booksellers, author panels, and much more.

If you look to the sidebar on the right, you'll see where various Outfit members will be speaking. We'll also be signing books at various bookseller's tables, wandering around buying far too many books, and drinking at the local watering holes (we recommend Kasey's Tavern and Hackney's, both on Dearborn). So come on down and say hello!

As an added bonus, this is also the weekend of the Chicago Blues Festival in Grant Park - a short walk from Printers' Row. And once the outdoor music ends, the party continues at Buddy Guy's Legends, right around the corner, on Wabash.

We hope to see you this weekend!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Is There Such A Thing As Too Fast?

by Marcus Sakey

Recently, I dragged my wife g.g to see 28 Weeks Later. I'm not particularly a horror fan, but a well-told zombie tale is something different, and the reviews were startlingly positive, praising the political acumen and dark tone. As a general rule, g.g. doesn't like movies with explosions and blood sprays, but after reading the press, she was willing to give it a chance in the hope that the suspense and intellectual elements would overwhelm the gore.

Suffice it to say, I owe her the chick flick of her choice. That was settled the first time thumbs went through eyeballs. But besides being far bloodier than necessary, to me, the movie had a deeper flaw.

It went too fast.

I don't mean it started too fast. I'm all about jumping into the middle and trusting the intelligence of the audience. No, what this movie did was press down on the accelerator and then never let up. Ever.

On the surface, that sounds good. But there came a point between escaping fire bombing, stumbling through corpse-strewn tunnels, machine gunning civilians, and endlessly running from incredibly fit zombies (apparently being zombified is a great diet--not a beer belly in sight, and they sprint like entrail-spattered Olympians), when I realized I just didn't care. I didn't care if the protagonists made it out. I didn't care about the wise doctor or the stoic soldier. I didn't even care if the plucky little boy got his head gnawed. Actually, I was kind of hoping for it, because I figured that would signal the end of the movie.

My friend Joe Konrath and I have an ongoing discussion about this. He's of the belief that keeping the action unrelenting is a good thing. That you never want to give an audience, or a reader, a point to quit.

But for me, it has to come in waves. I want to care about the characters, to find something in them to relate to. Certain traits can be conveyed well in action scenes--resourcefulness, courage, even a sense of humor--but to my mind, you can't really get to know anyone if all you do is see them run and shoot and bleed. And if I don't know 'em, I don't much want to follow their story.

That very fact is what makes the technique work in a medium like video games. In a video game, I do want to run and shoot and bleed, and I want very little else. Long cutscenes or "get to know you" moments drive me up the wall. But the difference is that I'm controlling the character, so although I'm not moved emotionally, I am physically involved, and the balance is maintained.

My concern is that "pedal-down" style seems to be a trend. There are an increasing number of novels written this way, books that focus on never letting up. Some work better than others. But the trend is most common in TV and film.

Take 24; while never exactly Tolstoy, in the glory years it featured developed characters, and while there was always an overwhelming threat, much of the tension came from the smaller crises in each episode, often rooted around emotional and personal challenges. In the later years they lost that, and decided that what we wanted was all action, all the time. As a result, this season I gave up by the second episode, when I realized that I wouldn't save any of the characters if they were drowning in a bathtub.

So what do you think? Is it me? Do you like it when the accelerator never leaves the floor? Or is breathing room a good thing?

Friday, June 01, 2007

There’s no downside

by Michael Dymmoch

Mayhem in the Midlands is a sweet little mystery conference put on every May by the Omaha Public Library. It’s little by design—limited to a couple hundred attendees. Which means most of the thirty or so authors get to be on more than one panel. Which means, if the author you want to see is on opposite another of your favorites, you have a chance to encounter both at some time during the weekend.

This year, Mayhem was held at the Embassy Suites, located across the street from “Old Town,” the restaurant-shopping-tourist Mecca of Omaha. Great food. Great place to continue the conversations you strike up after the panels adjourn. And the panels I attended were well thought out and (for the most part) skillfully moderated.

I always drive to Mayhem—about seven hours from Chicago. This year I rode with friends, and we talked about books and writing on the way west, revisited the conference on the way home.

Somewhere on I 80 in Iowa, I wrote down the gist of a conversation that occurred:

“Hey, there’s an adult superstore!”

“Do we need to stop for anything?”

“No. It’s an adult book store. With mostly picture books.”


“With grimy fingerprints. And other things you don’t want to know about--DNA samples.”


The exchange sounded to me like the opening of a mystery, and inspired the story’s next lines: The reason I remembered that conversation is because my gut and my professional experience told me the kid we arrested for Delaney’s murder didn’t do it, notwithstanding DNA results. Teenage boys leave DNA samples on girlie magazines all the time, and in a mind-boggling variety of places.

So Now I’ve got another great beginning. And yet another reason to go to Mayhem next year.

Good friends. Great food. Inspiration.

There’s no downside.