Friday, October 31, 2008

Sam Reaves Sings the Mean Town Blues

by Libby Hellmann

Sam Reaves, aka Allen Salter, is, quite simply, one of the best crime fiction authors in Chicago. I’ve been reading him since his Cooper MacLeish series,and continued with his Dominic Martell and Dooley books-- he just keeps getting better. I love his prose. His plots and his characters aren't half bad, either. His tenth novel will be out soon, and I'm thrilled he's stopping by The Outfit to talk about it… and more. Both he and I will be around to check comments, so feel free to post. Welcome, Sam!

Some books are easy to write, others are tough. Sometimes a book just fights you from beginning to end; sometimes you start out like a house afire and get bogged down in the middle; sometimes you careen along having fun with the story and then when it’s time to wrap things up you realize you have so much going on you’re going to have the devil of a time making it all come out right, with no loose ends dangling.

Most of mine seem to be tough. Looking back, the easy ones stand out: Fear Will Do It practically wrote itself; Dooley’s Back took eight months from conception to completion, the fastest I’ve ever done a book. Homicide 69 was a lot of work from a research point of view but the writing mostly went pretty well, and I had a great police consultant, the late John DiMaggio, looking over my shoulder. But both Bury It Deep and Get What’s Coming gave me fits. I was struggling with the awkward nature of the Cooper series (essentially an amateur sleuth but stylistically closer to a P.I.) and having trouble getting a handle on the stories. I have bad memories of those books, though I think they came out all right.

Under my Dominic Martell pseudonym, Lying Crying Dying and The Republic of Night went well, making me think I had it down, and then Gitana twisted totally out of my control and wound up being the toughest to finish of all my novels.

Mean Town Blues was one of the easy ones. The premise is simple: we’ve all heard about a woman being persecuted by a stalker and thought, “Somebody ought to just shoot the son of a bitch.” (Admit it, you’ve thought that.) Well, what if you did? And what if when you did, you found out that you’d killed somebody with some very heavy connections? You’d need to be a fairly steady hand yourself to deal with the consequences. And there’s my novel. Tommy McLain, a Kentucky boy just back from a rough tour in Iraq, finds out that Chicago can be a mean town indeed.

Basically I just wound up the story and let it run. And because I knew who Tommy was, knew where he came from and what had forged him and how he thought and talked and reacted, the book pretty much wrote itself.

I wish I could figure out what I’m doing right on the easy ones, so I could do it every time. If I’ve learned anything, it boils down to keep it simple, find the right voice and take care of the prose.

I hope I can remember that when I start my next book.


PS You can celebrate Mean Town Blues with Sam at his launch at Sheffields on Wednesday, November 12 between 7 and 10 pm; 3258 N Sheffield, Chicago.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Much of madness, and more of sin

By Kevin Guilfoile

For three years running the last week of October has given Chicago its Days of the Dead.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the disappearance of Stacy Peterson, the suburban housewife, gone missing and presumed dead.

Last Friday, October 24, was the two-year anniversary of the savage stabbing murder of Dr. David Cornbleet by one of his patients in the dermatologist's Michigan Avenue office.

And next year around this time we will have another grim anniversary, that of the Hudson slayings, including the kidnapping and murder of seven-year-old Julian King.

These murders have one thing in common besides the date: As of this writing they are, to different degrees, unresolved.

The body of Stacy Peterson has never been found. Her husband Drew remains the primary person of interest in the case, but he's never been charged. He continues to appear on television--local news, the Today Show--for reasons that aren't entirely clear. He insists he is innocent and that Stacy ran away with another man.

Hans Peterson confessed to the murder of Dr. Cornbleet. Because he turned himself in to French authorities on the island of St. Martin, and because his mother was born in France, Hans will be tried under French law on the island of Guadaloupe for the murder of an American, by an American, that was plotted and executed entirely on American soil. The French have yet to charge Peterson with murder, although he has been sitting in an island prison for over a year. I am told that under French law a judge can hold him on "suspicion" for up to four years without trying him. Indeed, no timetable or trial date have been set.

In the Hudson murders police have focused on William Balfour, the estranged husband of Julian's mother Julia Hudson (Julia is also the sister of singer and actress Jennifer Hudson). According to today's Tribune, police may be looking for an accomplice, as well.

Homicides occur every week in Chicago, which this year holds the dubious distinction of the nation's highest murder rate. So far this year, 150 more Americans have been killed in Chicago than in Iraq. But lately, in the last days of October, which have traditionally been ones in which we remember our dead, it seems we've been getting some horrible extras.

Murders that horrify us, that defy explanation--cases that refuse to close, that refuse to go away.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Doing it right

I started reading Alaa al-Aswany's highly acclaimed new novel, Chicago, yesterday; so often, westerners imagine other cultures, and our knowledge of, say, India, may have been first shaped by E M Forster. I wanted to see how an Egyptian writer would imagine my hometown, but found myself unable to get past the historical errors on the first page. The novel starts with the arrival of Marquette and de la Salle, and the subsequent brutal treatment of the Indians by Europeans. When I read that the tribes peacefully herded cattle for centuries before the European arrival I started getting peevish, because domestic cattle didn't exist in the Americas until they were brought here by Europeans.

It's hard to write well about a country, society, culture that you don't know well. And that brings me to Tony Hillerman. Tony died yesterday in Albuquerque. I didn't know him personally, but I feel a personal loss. He was one of the great writers, great masters and students of craft, and he valued both a scrupulous attention to detail, and an immersion in the culture that he wrote about, in his case the Navajo nation. He grew up with the Potowatami, even attending a Potowatami girls school in Oklahoma, and, after returning from World War II--minus part of a leg, and vision in one eye--he lived in New Mexico, where he came to know the Navajo. In eighteen novels, he detailed crimes and culture on the reservation, and the local Navajo gave him their "Special friends of the Diné" award, because he wrote so empathically about their nation.

Tony suffered terribly from rheumatoid arthritis, from failing vision, from cancer, from cardio-pulmonary disease, but nothing stopped his writing. May his memory be a blessing.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Read 'em and Weep

by Barbara D'Amato

Putting aside the book I was reading face down, splayed open to hold my place, I got up to go make coffee. My friend said, “You shouldn’t treat a book like that.” I didn’t snap back that it was my book, bought and paid for, to handle as I wished, but I did ask why.

“Because you’ll crack the spine.”

Well, now, I buy books to read. I dog-ear them, as well as crack spines. Sometimes coffee spills on them. Sometimes I sticker passages I need to find later. Sometimes I even bracket paragraphs in pencil.

I have friends who treat their books with great care. It’s their choice, but they remind me of a friend of mine who traveled on business a lot and had the idea he needed to look good when he was traveling. When I’m traveling the look I aim for is Don’t Mess with Me. He had a set of matched luggage made, something extra wonderful, covered in kangaroo hide. On his first trip with the new luggage, he discovered that he cringed when the suitcases bumped down the luggage carousel or when a child playing tag in the airport lounge crashed into them. So he ordered zip-on canvas covers made for them. Now he was traveling with dreary-looking canvas luggage.

I love my books. But I don’t want to be preoccupied with their physical welfare. I pretty much love some of them to death.

Books are meant for reading. Of course if I owned a signed first edition of The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie, I wouldn’t crack the spine. But I wouldn’t read it, either. It would live on a shelf, wrapped in archival paper.

Many years ago, two author friends and I and a bookstore owner appeared on a local television show. The interviewer said to the bookstore owner, “You obviously like your books so much. Aren’t you sad to sell them?” The bookstore owner was nonplussed just for a second and then said, “Well, they can always print more.”

How do you read your books? You can snarl at my bad habits if you want.

Monday, October 20, 2008


by Michael Dymmoch

Many mental disorders can be traced to a traumatic event in the sufferer’s past. Agoraphobia to a frightening or embarrassing experience. PTSD to an actual attack or close call. Ailurophobia to an unfortunate experience with a cat or conditioning by a phobic parent. I’m not sure the phobia I suffer from has a name, but I can trace it to the day I found Northbrook Public Library discarding books that didn’t circulate regularly. Old books I’d discovered while browsing were disappearing from the shelves, frequently books that were out of print and unavailable through book stores. When the library tried to toss its only copy of James Baldwin’s Another Country, I was overcome by the fear of forever losing favorite tomes.

This was before the internet; I was still a teen. So I started checking out great stuff—like The Disappearance by Philip Wyle or Sword At Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff (the original 1963 novel, not the 2008 paperback rip-off allegedly coauthored by Jack Whyte)—just so they wouldn’t be on the hit list. And I started collecting my own copies of books I might want to read again.

Damage to those early acquisitions—by sun and damp and frequent moves—has made me overly cautious with later purchases. New books get onto my shelves only after they’ve been cataloged and armored in archival plastic. Then they’re shelved by subject or author—alphabetically, so I can find them when I need to. Some books are duplicated, so I can loan out favorites without anxiety.

The remedy (A remedy--there is no cure.) for this particular malady is obviously used book dealers and Amazon. com—mere palliatives, each with its own unfortunate side effects. Both sources are highly addictive. Like any good pushers, book sales persons will eagerly find your book. And half a dozen other titles that might interest you. Amazon. com is like C.S. Lewis’s gradual road to hell—“the gentle slope, soft underfoot...”—with their free shipping offers and “Readers who liked (your title here) also liked...” And unlike street-drug vendors, book stores and Amazon take plastic.

Used book stores and websites can also lead to fugue states. Great pieces of one’s life are forever lost to mindless browsing. And huge portions of one’s living space are eaten up by bookshelves filled with titles you never imagined existed. (Thirteen other bookshelves not shown.)

But as addictions go, this one isn’t bad. There’s no stigma among people whose opinions you might value. And as with alcohol, the really good stuff rarely leaves you hung-over.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


"This has been an unusually rich year for crime fiction. But Sean Chercover's second Dudgeon book, after 2007's terrific "Big City, Bad Blood," manages to rise to a unique height. He seems on his way to becoming the Ross Macdonald of his time, close to rubbing shoulders with Dashiell Hammett in the Crime Writers' Hall of Fame."

--Dick Adler, Chicago Tribune

Friday, October 17, 2008

Town To Town, Up And Down The Dial. . .

by Sean Chercover

Last weekend, it was Baltimore. Tuesday, New York. Wednesday, Clinton, NJ at noon and Pittsburgh in the evening. Thursday, Cincinnati (thank-you to Nathan Singer and Jim Winter for coming out and being familiar faces). Today, Dayton. Tomorrow, Cleveland. . .

And so on. I am in the midst of it. The madness. The Trigger City book tour.

I enjoy visiting different cities and I like driving, and the autumn colors of the Pennsylvania and West Virginia mountains are pretty as they fly by in a blur of illegal velocity. Sometimes it's a long way between cities in this vast land of ours. Audiobooks help. It's a lot of driving.

And because I have the Best Publicist In The World(TM), I was on television this morning in Dayton. So Daytonians could enjoy my stories of murder and mayhem with their morning coffee.

Tomorrow morning, I do the TV dance again, in Cleveland. And Sunday, I'm Rick Kogan's guest on his Sunday Papers radio show. WGN Radio, 720AM (or listen online).

Please check my new-and-improved website for all the upcoming tour dates. I hope you'll stop by and say hello, if I'm coming to your area.

Speaking of new-and-improved . . . ever wonder what goes into choosing a book cover? I love the cover for Trigger City and I think we chose the best one, but there were some other excellent covers that didn't get chosen, and I'd like to give them a little love.

So I'm pleased to offer you a glimpse behind the curtain and share a few of these runner-up covers with you, along with a few words about the deliberations that went into choosing. You can even rate the different designs, and we will share the feedback with the publisher. [A big thank-you to the good folks at HarperCollins for allowing me to do this]

This interactive experiment takes place in the behind the scenes section of my website. To access, simply click on the little gun logo that appears at the bottom of each page. When asked for username and password, enter "triggercity" (without the quotes) in both fields.

Hope you enjoy the covers.

See you down the road...

For those of you in the Chicago area, I'm having a launch party next Tuesday (the 21st). There will be beer to go along with the books. Jake's Pub - 8pm. Details on my website.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cold Case Already?

by Libby Hellmann

I had that feeling of helplessness and outrage when I read this article the other day. Apparently, the disappearance of Stacy Peterson is now a cold case. For those of you not in Chicago, Stacy Peterson was the fourth wife of former Bolingbrook cop Drew Peterson. She disappeared almost a year ago (hard to believe it’s been that long) after telling friends she wanted to leave him and that if she were found dead, it would be no accident.

The problem is she hasn’t been found. There is no body. Peterson claims she told him she was leaving him, but her friends and family say she would never have abandoned her two small children. Rumors implicating Peterson (vicious arguments between the two, a sudden silence, barrels being taken out of the house during the wee hours, and other tantalizing circumstantial evidence) swirled, but nothing stuck. Peterson was further implicated when it was discovered that his third wife died “accidentally” in the bathtub after their marriage fell apart. Her body was exhumed, and experts decided her death was a homicide after all.

Still, nothing stuck. Peterson waged a sleazy media campaign, alternating between victim and clown. Among other things He went on the TODAY show twice, avoided direct answers, taunted reporters, and generally made an ass of himself. In fact, he looked like he was enjoying all the attention. Which, given the fact that he’s known to be narcissistic, controlling, and aggressive, isn’t surprising.

What is is that a year after Stacy’s disappearance, he’s still around, complaining now of being a single father, and making ends meet. Yes, he was stripped of being a police officer, and yes, he’s been convicted of illegal gun possession which might put him behind bars for a few years. And yes, he’s considered the prime suspect in his wife’s disappearance, but he hasn’t been charged with either wife’s demise.

Which means that -- so far – he’s gotten away with it.

And that makes me mad. I realize the police need to work slowly. I know they want to build a meticulous case. I know that it takes overwhelming forensics to sway a jury these days. Still, I get the feeling Drew Peterson is almost daring police to indict him. And I’m frustrated enough to ask why we shouldn’t take him up on it. What would happen if a really good prosecutor got the guy on the stand, and caught him in enough inconsistencies to make a difference? What are the stakes? What point is served by letting him remain out here, spinning his self-serving lies? That he’d get off? That double jeopardy would apply if he did?

I guess I’m asking what the blood-boiling factor is. Mine’s pretty high. I can hardly look at the man any more. It’s hard for me to read articles about him. I need someone to tell me it’s all going to work out. That justice will ultimately be served. But after a year, I don’t know any more. Maybe that just happens in the fiction we write. As Rachel Maddow says on her new TV show, I need someone to “talk me down.”

Monday, October 13, 2008

I'm a Man With a Mission in Two or Three Editions

By Kevin Guilfoile

When you have a five-year-old you watch a lot of Cartoon Network, which isn't a really big deal. What is really maddening is that you watch the same shows--the same episodes--over and over and over and over. One of the things that gets me through the multiple viewings is the fact that Sean Chercover looks exactly like this unmasked villain on Scooby-Doo.

I mention this because it makes me laugh, but mostly because last weekend at Bouchercon Sean's terrific debut, Big City Bad Blood won a much-deserved Shamus award for Best First Novel and, as if on cue, his follow-up Trigger City is being released today. If you haven't read Big City, do it now. If you have read Big City, you don't need me to tell you to buy the new book. You probably already have.

If you live in New York, Sean will be appearing at Partners & Crime in Greenwich Village Tuesday night (October 14) at 7 PM with Zoe Sharp. He has a million other signings in a million other bookstores, many with The Outfit's own Marcus Sakey (whose Good People is every bit as awesome, and it sounds like I'm just saying it but it's not. Seriously, it is a privilege to call these guys friends but even if I hated them with the heat of a family-sized pancake griddle I would begrudgingly admit that that you had to read their books because they are that good).

Also Sean is now pretty much committed to having the word "City" in the title of all Ray Dudgeon novels for the rest of time.

We're taking suggestions in the comments. The one that makes me laugh the most gets a free book, courtesy of a publicist who didn't realize I already bought all of Sean and Marcus's books on my own. If you can wait a week or two I might even be able to get some ink on the title page.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

What happens to the novel in the Age of Fragmentation?

We rely on stories to make sense of the world around us. When writing was first invented in ancient Sumer, about five thousand years ago, it was because the Sumerians needed to create tax and property records (which makes me wonder if writing is really a sign of an advanced civilization). However, among the clay fragments that have survived five millennia of war and weather, we can also read the words of the poets, women and men, who were our first storytellers.
Stories typically have beginnings, middles and ends, because our lives are structured in that way. We need stories to make sense of our journey from beginning to end, of our times of loss, of our times of joy. We need stories to give us hope, and to give us understanding.
I have been wondering, lately, what kind of stories will survive the age of the Internet, which could also be called the Age of Fragmentation. We are awash in information, but we aren’t awash in the truth.
But in the Age of the Internet, the problem of information and how to evaluate it has become magnified. We are pummeled from all sides by snippets of news, all purporting to be facts. We go to websites, get soundbites, move on to the next, and we end up carrying around confused images of wolves, terrorists, censorship, milk, mortgages, pregnancy, life, death.
If we live only with sound bites, then we are at the mercy of the person who creates the most compelling narrative out of these jostling fragments,. This happened with the narrative about Saddam Hussein, 9/11 and the Weapons of Mass Destruction. When we don’t check for facts, when we don’t pay attention to the whole arc of an event long enough to build a reliable narrative, we end up being controlled by unreliable narrators.
Fiction doesn’t pretend to dig into the truth about public affairs, but, at it best, it helps us understand the human heart, the ways we make sense of the events that shape our lives. It gives us the heroes we all would like to be, and the ordinary people who look away, or don’t speak up in the moment—as most of us, or at least as I, too often am.
Lately, I’ve been wondering what happens to the novel in the Age of Fragmentation. If we only have time or attention enough for a single paragraph, I guess we could go with:
A silly woman with five daughters, who wants them all to marry well, finds her wishes partly realized when the two elder marry wonderful wealthy men. Sadly, her favorite, the youngest girl, runs off with a scoundrel and is forced to marry him. The fate of the remaining daughters is left ambiguous. The End.
Or: The great soul of the Russian people helps them endure war and suffering and also teaches the French a thing or two about invading and nation building. Artistic women like Natasha, who break their hearts over noble officers, don’t understand that their true need is to retreat to the land with a peasant-like lout and have a dozen babies. The End.
If you haven’t read Pride and Prejudice or War and Peace, these little summaries will save you the trouble. But will they help you understand life?
Every day, we chop our lives into bits. On the college campus near my house, I see young lovers arm-in-arm, both talking on their cellphones. We text while driving down the highway, we cruise the Web while on the phone with our friends and children, we create more and more of a jumble in our minds. I am as subject to these distractions as anyone, although, since my own fears include a terror of traffic accidents, I don’t use my phone while I’m driving.

So what kind of story will survive the age of the fragment?

Thursday, October 09, 2008


Did everybody see cover guy Marcus Sakey on the cover of this issue of MYSTERY SCENE? If you didn't, you should.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Year and a Day Rule

by Barbara D'Amato

Okay, no politics. Just something I think is interesting.

A mugger attacks his victim, bashing him with a crowbar and then rifling his pockets. Having taken the victim’s watch, money, charge cards, even his silk scarf and Lobb loafers, he worries that the victim will remember him and gives him another hard blow to the head to kill him.

However, his victim is not dead. Rushed to emergency care, his life is saved, but he has severe brain damage and is in a permanent coma. His assailant is arrested two days later, using the victim’s credit card. [As a cop friend of mine used to say, “If they were all geniuses, we wouldn’t catch them.”]

The attacker is tried and convicted of attempted murder, or grievous bodily harm, or assault with a deadly weapon – the actual charge will depend on the jurisdiction and the state attorney. But he is not tried for murder.

Two years later, the victim dies. What happens to the attacker?

English common law has long held that if the death occurs more than a year and a day after the attack, it was not murder. Until very recently, medical science was unable to keep people alive for long periods of time after a “murderous” attack. Now, of course, people can survive in a coma for years or decades on life support.

In the U.K. the law reform of 1996 abolished the year-and-a-day rule. In the United States, the situation is mixed. Several states have explicitly abolished it. But it survives because the common law underpinning of our laws survives.

Year-and-a-day goes way back. In Europe in the middle ages, if a serf ran away from his master and could keep from being captured for a year and a day, he became a free man. In many parts of the U.S., year-and-a-day is tied to the definition of certain crimes. A misdemeanor may carry a sentence of less that a year and a day, often phrased as eleven months and twenty-nine days. A felony is punished by more than a year and a day.

Because of the difference between states on this, and because even in states that have abolished the rule, cases are still successfully argued against charging a person with murder when the victim lives more than a year and a day, there are rich veins here for a crime novelist to mine.

Monday, October 06, 2008

GUEST: Matthew Sakey

We have a fantastic guest blogger for you today, and I'm not just saying that to angle for an expensive birthday present. I'm proud to present my brother, Matthew Sakey, who besides being your basic hell-of-a-good-guy, is also a tremendously respected writer and scholar in the video games industry. Whether or not you play games, I think you'll find his take on the medium fascinating:

No Pulp, Please
by Matthew Sakey

I have often wondered, particularly now that my brother is one, how novelists feel when they hear certain types of stories decried as "pulp." Or "schlock," or "airplane reading," or whatever. I keep meaning to ask Marcus about it. To me, those terms sound derogatory; after all, authors work hard on their novels and care about the story and characters. Seems like hearing someone describe the product of all your beavering in that way would be hurtful.

On the other hand, a lot of people buy pulpy novels. Horror, science fiction, fantasy, romance, and… crime fiction. These are the genres that generally endure the adjectives, but they're also the ones with the biggest margins. After all, any successful writer is essentially a business; a business that's in the business of staying in business. Who cares what they call your work, so long as they buy?

I am a some-of-the-time journalist and consultant in the videogame industry. This is a medium only 30 years old, the entire canon of which still exists in living memory. It's a medium that's still in the throes of the is-it-art debate (it is). Imagine: you are alive at the infancy of an art form, watching it struggle to define itself. And like rap before it and rock before that and Dungeons & Dragons before that and television before that and comics before that and the tango before that and the novel before that, it's also a medium in the throes of the it-will-destroy-our-youth debate.

To most--even to most gamers--videogames are seen as… pulp. As vapid entertainment. In fact, a large segment of the games industry actively fights against the merest suggestion that games have meaning, can affect emotion, can make social commentary. It's ironic that some of those creating art are also the ones who refuse to believe that it is art. It's especially ironic today, when in the past five years we've seen some games that flat-out prove the evocative power of the medium.

For me, games have always mattered. I have always been emotionally involved, even back when "videogames" were nothing more than yellow blocks moving around a screen. Everyone thought I was weird. Games sometimes made me cry when I was a kid; admittedly, that usually happened when they were taken away as punishment for some childish infraction, but not always. And little has changed, so I'm baffled when I encounter individuals who can't get emotionally involved, even now, when the technology is powerful enough to make it real and writing in games is often actually about something. We've seen games that deal intelligently with racism (Mass Effect), drug use (Bioshock), senseless violence fueled by misguided love (Shadow of the Colossus), teen suicide (Persona 3), and the Iraq war (Half Life 2). We've seen games based on Tarkovsky films (S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl), games as brilliant and minimalist as Samuel Beckett (Portal) or as extravagant as Frederic Chopin (Eternal Sonata).

And I spend a good part of my day trying to convince people of that, which leads to the sales pitch portion of this little rant. For the last six years, I've written for a small web outlet called Four Fat Chicks. I write there as "Steerpike," from the Gormenghast novels, and over the years, I've reviewed many of the games I mentioned above. It's got a great forum community and a tight-knit, intelligent staff. For a long time, it's been one of the few places you can go to read articles from people who know that games matter, and I've been proud to be part of it.

The original owners of the site--the, ah, two fat chicks who remained by 2008--were ready to throw in the towel this year. The community was dwindling, the staff's contributions were slowing down. Plus it's hard work and they were tired of it.

I couldn't let it happen. That place has been my snuggly blanket for way too long. Nearly every job I got in the games industry came as a direct result of something I'd written for Four Fat Chicks. I now write a monthly column for the International Game Developers Association because of an article I published at FFC. There's no opportunity for reflection or criticism on what games mean, and why we love them so much, at the other outlets I write for. FFC is the place where I do that stuff. So I bought it, along with a partner who does the technical work, and we rolled out a brand new site on October 1. It's still kind of an ugly mishmash of the old site and the new one, and we haven't installed all the features we want yet. But it's a beginning. A chance to drive some more traffic to a place that, hopefully, can one day convince at least one more person that games are more than pulp.

As we all know, "pulp" as a term comes from the crappy wood pulp paper on which dime store novels and so-called "Penny Dreadful" magazines were printed. The content of these publications tended to be fantastical, or violent, or weird, or heavy on the T&A. And over time the term "pulp" came to mean fiction that was cheap, tawdry… insignificant. I don't want videogames to be seen in that light any more than, I imagine, you would want literature to be.

So check out the new Four Fat Chicks. I hope you enjoy what we're trying to build. And if you've always dismissed videogames as something mindless, to be enjoyed only by children and adults who never grew up, give the medium another look. You might be surprised by what you see.


Matthew will be hanging around for the next few days, so if you have thoughts about his article, concerns about videogames or their content, or simply want to ask a question of a preeminent game scholar, please, let fly.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Maps In My Head

by Michael Dymmoch

Every culture seems to have a vocabulary and symbols for direction. We use north, south, east and west, up and down, diagonal, and right and left. We say clockwise or counterclockwise. (Wonder how long this will last now that everything’s digital.) Other cultures say toward the ocean, mountains (or other highly visible landmark) and sun-wise. Creatures without language apparently have notions of direction, though they may not be able to communicate them. (Chimpanzees appear to be one exception—at least those who’ve learned human sign language. Honey bees are another.) Most animals manage to avoid getting lost when they’re out and about. Carrier pigeons usually find their way home. Migratory birds navigate between continents with few directionally based mishaps

We humans appear to learn most of our navigation skills; some of us even manage to communicate directions effectively to others; Florida is southeast of Chicago, L.A. is southwest. Go east to get to Europe, West to Hawaii. Or Turn left on Halsted and go seven blocks to get to Division. Take I-290/Eisenhower to Mannheim Road and... Most of us see our place as the center of the universe, the world’s navel. (Chicago is—for sure!—the center of the country.)

The directionally challenged usually manage to get to the mall, gas station, and grocery store—whether or not they can tell you by which street or in what direction. After we’ve been somewhere a few times, most of us can navigate the route on auto pilot while simultaneously primping, texting, eating, or plotting murder. We get into trouble when our intended route intersects with a more familiar subconscious route map, and autopilot takes over. Those of us who navigate by the sun have trouble in strange places on overcast days. And sometimes when we’re given directions involving left and right instead of north or south (or vice versa).

Ever get somewhere and realize it wasn’t where you set out to go? Or try to give someone directions and realize you don’t know any street names? Do you get lost a lot?

BTW Marcus got a very nice write-up in the Fall/Winter edition of The Men's Book Magazine. Congratulations, Marcus

Thursday, October 02, 2008

In Praise of Wakesha County Librarians...

by Sean Chercover

Last night I spoke at the Wakesha County Federated Library System's trustee dinner. That's Waukesha, Wisconsin. I was invited to speak by the awesome Penny Halle, of the Muskego Public Library.

Muskego is the home of the upcoming Murder & Mayhem in Muskego convention (November 7-8). If you're not registered for M&MinM, you should be. It's a fantastic time; an intimate gathering of about 30 authors (check out the list) and about 300 readers, with panels and interviews and books and coffee and cookies. This year's keynote interview is Dennis Lehane, interviewed by Michael Koryta. And SJ Rozan and Reed Farrel Coleman will interview each other. That alone is worth the drive to Muskego. Of the Outfit, Libby and Michael and Marcus and I will all be there.

Okay? Okay. Get thee to Muskego on November 8th (and 7th for the cocktail reception).

Anyway, so I spoke at the Waukesha library thingy last night. I sat at dinner with Jon Jordan of Crimespree Magazine (if you're not a subscriber, you should be) and the aformentioned super-librarian Penny Halle and State Senator and longtime library supporter Ted Kanavas and other library big-wigs.

A great time was had last night, and this morning I awoke still full of the love of libraries.

But I was up all night talking with Jon and Ruth, and my brain doesn't work to blog. So I'm just stopping in to share that love of libraries.

Go to your local library. Support your local library. Join the American Library Association.