Friday, November 28, 2008

Jumping off the High Board

I'm not a big risk-taker, and it's making me frustrated and melancholy that I live my life in too tight a way, especially these days: hard times require a big spirit and a willingness to take risks.

My cousin, Barb Wieser, whom I love dearly, has just been visiting me, showing me as she always has, one version of the risk-taker's life.  Barb is amazing: she's a skilled trekker and wilderness guide  She kayaks around the Alaskan coast, making camp wherever she sees a flat bit of shore.  She started two presses; the second, Aunt Lute Books (name for our shared great-aunt, Lute) is still an active small press.  For over two decades, she ran the country's oldest bookstore, Amazon Books in Minneapolis (no connection to the behemoth, which came along after Amazon Bookstore had been up and running for more than twenty years).

And now she's turning her life in  yet another direction: at sixty-plus, she's joined the Peace Corps and is heading for Ukraine.  Barb is a warm and loving woman, a bright presence in the lives of the people who know her; I know her Ukraine experience will challenge and change her, but that she will bring all she has to the task, and that the people she works with will be richer for her presence, as I and her other friends are, too.

We're the same age, Barb and I, but here I sit, tight in my little ball, while she opens and takes in the world.  

I'm trying to learn to change that, so I'm wondering what risks others have taken, things I can learn from and grow.  Let me know.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

R. D. Wingfield

by Barbara D'Amato

R. D. Wingfield, born in 1928, was working in the sales office of an international oil company and writing radio plays in his spare time. His first, Compensating Error, was produced by the BBC in 1968. His plays became so successful that by 1970 he gave up his day job to write.

Wingfield was a very private man. I’ve not been able to find a photo of him, other than a very early one.

His first novel, FROST AT CHRISTMAS, introduced Detective Inspector Jack Frost, Denton Division. Wingfield had intended the book as a stand-alone, planning to kill Frost off at the end of the book, but fortunately for readers, changed his mind. There followed:

Frost gets no respect.

Frost is bawdy, slovenly, humane, insulting, and surprisingly humble. He ignores his boss, and steals his cigars. When he sees somebody bent over a desk, he gooses him or her. He’s an equal opportunity gooser. In HARD FROST, he appears in his superior’s office in a shower of cigarette ash. “There he was. Detective Inspector Jack Frost in the same battered mac, a button hanging loose, and an old scarf trailing from his neck.” But he’s not Columbo. He’s a far more complex character. He is insubordinate, and devious in evading directives and budget restrictions, generous to people who have broken a law but need help more than punishment.

In the end, Frost finds the bad guy, usually by sheer reasoning ability, which few of the people around him recognize. It’s not just that Frost gets no respect; he doesn’t ask for it. In fact, he permits or even plans for colleagues to receive the credit for his solutions. He’s interested in stopping bad people from doing bad things. He doesn’t care what he looks like or what people think of him.

This series is a wonderful example of the police procedural in which several crimes are being pursued at the same time. In terms of witness and suspect characterization, it goes well beyond its ground-breaking predecessor, John Creasey’s Gideon series. The social and physical background is brilliantly rendered. It is a lesson in how to plant clues and how to interweave plots.

I realize I’m not conveying what fun this series is. Frost cannot be summarized. Read one of the novels and meet him.

Wingfield died in 2007.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

This Just In

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has announced a freeze on acquiring new books.  Details here.  Harper Collins 3rd operating income was down 88 percent from last year.  Book sales as a whole are down by 2 percent.  

Monday, November 24, 2008

The End of Civilization

by Marcus Sakey

So I should tell you up front that this is a rant. Feel free to skip it and come back Wednesday.

For years, I've held out against the cellphone-as-umbilical-cord thing. I proudly had a piece-of-shit pay-per-minute phone that closely resembled a brick. But they've gotten so cool these days, what with ready access to the Internet and GPS and all kinds of Star Trek features, that I caved and bought a G1, the brand-new Google phone.

And it's really, really cool. When it works.

Thing is, for near two weeks, I couldn't get the thing to work dependably. It had been fine for a couple of days, just enough to give me a taste that left me hungry for more, and then it started getting twitchy. Which meant that I spent hours--lots of them--on the phone with T-Mobile's Tech Support.

The people that I spoke to on the help line were all unfailingly polite. Several went above and beyond, doing everything they could to escalate the problem to the mysterious folks who actually make things happen. You know the ones--the ones that can never, under any circumstances, come to the phone.

And now we reach the subject of my griping. The safety of polite bureaucracy.

Because no matter how many times I called, or what acronyms I bluffed with, or the detailed history in my files, I could never get through to someone who would admit the power to do anything. After three hours one Sunday morning I was finally escalated to a "Supervisor," the first rude one of the bunch, who informed me that despite the fact that the problem was clearly on their end, there was nothing she could do. It was in the system, I was informed. That was the extent of her power--putting it in the system.

This kind of argument makes my forehead explode.

Could I talk to an engineer, I asked?

No sir, I'm sorry.

Okay. Could she? Could she call over and tell them that there was a customer who had been through the whole rigmarole and really needed satisfaction?

No sir, I'm sorry.

Did she care at all that I was ten minutes from returning the fucking thing, dropping my contract, buying an iPhone, and blogging about the whole experience?

No sir, I'm sorry.

Fine. Was there someone above her?

No sir, I'm sorry.

No? Well, could I ask her last name?

No sir, I'm sorry.

You get the point.

Obviously, part of this post is me just blowing off steam. But I do really believe there is a larger social issue at work here, and it worries me. When did it become S.O.P. to never connect the person having a problem with the one who can fix it? When did, "that's the way the system works?" become an acceptable answer? When did some corporate bright-boy realize that as long as the service is polite, they don't need to be able to do a good goddamn?

Maybe I'm looking too small scale on this. Bush ran the country for eight years with about three press conferences, and never got around to answering a direct question. Because that's the system.

I think what troubles me most about the whole thing is the idea that there is no personal responsibility. The central principle of civilization is responsibility. From the tribal days, it made sense to live and work together because those that did fared better than those going it alone. The basic precept of that organization is that we are all responsible for our little portion, and those who fail are punished, or castigated, or at least don't generally excel.

But somewhere along the line, that's changed. It's no longer about efficiency. It's about courtesy. Because we now have a foolproof excuse: That's the way the system works.

Why is there a $50 "missed appointment" fee on my cable bill when I never had an appointment? Because that's the way the system works. Can it be reversed? No; they don't have that power. Because that's the way the system works. Can I speak to someone who does have that power? No. Because that's the way the system works.

Worse still, I don't know what to do about this. How can I, as an individual, really make any impact? Sure, I could have dumped T-Mobile and gone to AT&T with an iPhone. But I don't believe they operate any differently. And the people I'm talking to, they don't care. They're not bad people--they're just part of the system, and that's the way it works. So it becomes an empty gesture. A protest held in my living room.

Does this drive anybody else as crazy as it drives me? And is there anything we can do, besides blogging about it?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A great road trip and more on DNA

by Michael Dymmoch

I was invited to come to Minnesota recently, to do an interview with The Minnesota Crime Wave. Carl Brookins, William Kent Krueger and Ellen Hart are exemplars of what makes the mystery community a community—gracious, generous and intelligent. Damn fine writers, too. Minneapolis/St Paul is a seven hour drive, so Carl offered to put me up after the interview. Next day, he gave me a tour of the Twin Cities, a terrific lunch, and a ride to the Mystery Writers of America meeting at Once Upon a Crime.

MWA’s guest speaker was Ann Marie Gross, Technical Leader of St Paul MN’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). The FBI recently honored her for her work with DNA.

Ms. Gross told us that crime scene evidence is brought to the BCA by submitting agencies or sent in via US mail or FedEx. In the biology section, a visual inspection is performed for trace (hairs, fibers, etc.) as well as stains. A serological exam reveals whether blood, semen, saliva or other body fluids are present on clothing or other items; presumptive semen stains are examined microscopically for the presence of sperm. Blood and semen are commonly known to yield DNA, but DNA can also be recovered from licked envelope flaps, and the sweat found on hat bands, shirt collars and garment underarms. Individuals may also leave enough skin cells on a gun grip or trigger to prove they’ve handled the weapon—something convicted felons often learn to their dismay.

The root of a hair is the only part containing nuclear DNA—the type required for positive identification of an individual (or his identical siblings). A hair shaft can, however, yield mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) which, as Barbara D’Amato recently pointed out, is inherited from the maternal line and shared with non-identical sibs. MtDNA is most often used to identify unknown human remains, since there are usually more standards—DNA from relatives—for comparison. (The Chicago Sun-Times reported Friday that the remains of Nicolaus Copernicus, the first astronomer to recognize that the earth orbits the sun, were recently identified by comparing DNA from his skeleton with a hair found in one of his books.) All 50 states have laws requiring convicted offenders to provide DNA samples, and the national DNA database, CODIS (Combined DNA Identification System) has 5 million on file.

After the DNA is isolated and amplified at the BCA, it’s analyzed by a machine (ABI 310) that runs 24 hours a day, five days a week. The process, which once took seven weeks and required a dime-sized blood sample, can now be done with a sample the size of a pen tip and completed in 30 minutes. Evidence turnaround time at the lab is two months—from receipt to report. Public safety cases (e.g. serial rapists) are moved to the head of the queue with scientists working late and on weekends.

BTW: Murder & Mayhem in Muskego was even better than Alison Janssen predicted in her November 7 guest blog. Thanks to Muskego librarian Penny Halle and Jon and Ruth Jordan for a terrific conference.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

All I Want For Christmas . . .

by Sean Chercover

All I want for Christmas. . .

"But it's too early to blog about Christmas," I hear you say. "We haven't even reached Thanksgiving!"

True, but we are living in desperate times, and they call for desperate measures. Surely you've seen the news, and you know just how desperate. You've heard the cries from Washington and Wall Street and Detroit. It's a Global Economic Meltdown(TM), and just in time for the Holiday Shopping Season(TM).

Run and hide!

Okay, I know that we're all in for some serious belt-tightening, but here's the thing: You will probably buy a few Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa gifts for your loved ones this year. You may not be as lavish as in years past, but you'll probably buy something, right?

Right. So please, make that something a book.

Doesn't have to be my book (although I have no objection to that), just any book will do. Fiction, preferably. But as I said, any book will do. Fiction, non-fiction, hardcover, paperback, frontlist, backlist. Just so long as you give books.

Maybe give a book that had a big impact on the way you see the world, or simply a book that made you smile. A book is a beautiful, thoughtful, personal gift. And a book can be burned for heat when the entire economy collapses and we are all left freezing in the dark.

Really, there's no better gift this year.

Those of you who read the publishing trades know that I'm not kidding around. Share prices of the largest book retailer in America just hit an all-time low. Some other bookstore chains and many independents may not survive the winter. Even the most optimistic economists project no economic growth until next spring. And that will be too late for many bookstores.

It's that serious, kids.

Of course, if you're so broke that you're considering roasting the family pet for Christmas dinner, you get a free pass. But for the rest of us . . . for those who are going to buy something to give our loved ones this Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa. . .

Please, give a book.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Jon Burge and the Theater of Corruption

by Libby Hellmann

Studs Terkel once said Chicago is not the most corrupt American city… it’s the most theatrically corrupt.”

If that’s so, turn on the stage lights and cue the actors. The dénouement of one of the Chicago’s longest running police scandals is about to unfold. The villain is former Police Commander Jon Burge; the hero is U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald; and a supporting role will be played by Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow. If past is indeed prologue, we’re in for high drama next spring.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the scandal, Jon Burge was a police commander in Area Two on the South Side of Chicago. For over 20 years, mostly during the ‘70s and ‘80s, he and his men allegedly tortured over 200 suspects into confessions for crimes they may or may not have committed. We’re not talking about your run of the mill police pressure, interrogations, or threats. We’re talking cattle prods. Alligator clips attached to body parts. Electric shocks. Suffocation. Radiator burns. Mock executions. And, of course, beatings, as described in the following trailer of a 2007 documentary:

Never before has there been such an extraordinary pattern of police abuse and brutality. Once the rumors and reports about the behavior surfaced, a series of complaints, investigations, and lawsuits followed. Burge was tried for police brutality in 1989 -- he was acquitted – and then tried again for civil rights violations. But he was never convicted of a felony, and after he was fired in 1993, he moved to Florida where he’s lived – unrepentant and free and collecting his police pension -- for 15 years. To date over 30 million dollars has been spent by the city and CPD in settlements and legal fees. Many believe Illinois’ stay on death row executions by former Governor George Ryan was prompted by Burge’s behavior.

Enter US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. On October 21 Fitzgerald finally arrested Burge in Florida and charged him -- not with torturing his victims-- but with lying. Fitzgerald, an aggressive, rising legal -- and probably one day political-- star is best known for his work on dramatic cases like the first World Trade Center bombing, the Valerie Plame scandal, and sending George Ryan to prison after the licenses for bribes scandal. (In Illinois you truly can be a hero one day, a felon the next. In fact, the story of Ryan’s career would make for great theater too… but I digress.)

Fitzgerald’s charges are themselves interesting. Because the statute of limitations on the actual torture ran out, the prosecutor used Burge’s denial of the torture in a 2003 federal civil rights case as fodder for charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. In his announcement, he compared Burge’s arrest to that of Al Capone who was arrested for tax evasion, rather than his mob and prohibition-related crimes.

It turns out Friend-of-the-Outfit (ours, not Capone’s) and best-selling author Jonathan Eig is writing a book about Capone and the man who nailed him (It wasn’t Elliot Ness). Eig says while the practice of using one crime to pay for another started with Capone, it wasn’t a slam dunk. Indeed, there was high drama there, as well.

They weren't crazy about the idea and they weren't sure it would work. Even the tax charge against AC was fairly weak. In the end, it worked, of course. My book will show that Capone actually got screwed during the trial. If he had a better lawyer he might have beaten the rap… It doesn't have to be tax evasion. Barry Bonds was indicted with the Capone method; instead of nailing him for steroids they (the IRS again) are after him for perjury. Countless terrorism suspects have been arrested for visa violations and locked up for long stretches on the assumption that they're probably dangerous. Burge fits the pattern perfectly.

When he's not pleading the 5th, Burge has – of course - said he's not guilty. The trial is set for May 1st and the judge is none other than US District court judge Joan Lefkow, whose husband and mother were tragically murdered three years ago by a disgruntled plaintiff. High drama there, too.

So, the pieces are in place. The characters’ back stories are fascinating; the issues are fraught with conflict, tragedy, and not at all pre-ordained. Stay tuned. This is going to be some show.

What about you? What corruption cases would make great theater in your neck of the wood?

Friday, November 14, 2008

I've got a couple from Israel and Azerbaijan

By Kevin Guilfoile

Before I wrote Cast of Shadows, I spent over a decade as a creative director at the advertising, design, and interactive firm Coudal Partners. Every single word of the thousands of ads I wrote while at Coudal have been long forgotten (alas, even vegan agitators have forgotten the hate mail they sent me for the steakhouse billboard on the Kennedy with an image of Mrs. O'Leary's cow and the headline: It's Payback Time!). One of the only enduring legacies I probably have from those days is the Museum of Online Museums, a rotating collection of links to serious and oddball collections around the web that Jim Coudal and I started back in 2001. The site's been featured in the New York Times and on All Things Considered and Time magazine named it one of the internet's 50 Coolest Web Sites.

I'm still something like the MoOM's part-time co-curator emeritus or something, and today I found a great new entry, a small collection of lurid covers from Cambodian pulp novels.

Those images reminded me of the wealth of literary collections that can be found at the MoOM, especially in the pulp, sci fi and detective genres, which seem especially collectible.

A great place to start is the University of Buffalo's George E Kelley Paperback and Pulp Fiction Collection. You could spend a whole afternoon just in the Gumshoes, Sleuths, and Snoopers section. In addition to cover art, each book has plot, theme and character summaries. It's not nearly as sexy (or comically sexist) as some of the others, but I have always loved the cover of The Con Man, the first 87th Precinct novel.

Not exclusively mystery-related, but equally lurid, is this collection of men's magazine covers from the fifties and sixties. I'm not sure what we have to do to get young men reading fiction again, but anyone who is uncomfortable with the level of exploitation in Maxim should probably not click that link.

Switching gears to something more charmingly nostalgic is this extensive collection of French editions of the Saint novels.

I've spent years digging around in the catacombs of the MoOM. I promise you could easily lose a couple of hours there if you lack restraint. And if I really wanted to destroy your Friday, I'd tell you how to find the MoOM Annex where all the MoOM links, past and present, wait to be rotated in and out of the main exhibit.

I would never do that to you, though.


UPDATE: It has been pointed out by more than one astute reader that I made a mistake in my last post when I said Chicago has the "highest murder rate" in the country this year. Chicago has had the most murders of any US city in 2008, more than even New York or L.A., but smaller cities such as Detroit and New Orleans have higher per capita murder rates than Chicago. That was careless of me. I apologize.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Whatcha Reading, Barack?

On November 1, the Chicago Tribune invited its two heavy-hitter writers, Aleksander Hemon and Garry Wills, to come up with a list of required reading for the new president: five fiction, five non-fiction. You can see their list here: It includes Thucydides, Al Gore, and Jose Saramago, among others. I have to confess, I was underimpressed with their recommendations.
My own list:
Non-fiction: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.  Barack will have policy wonks aplenty on specific issues but my physics friends say this should be required reading for anyone having to think seriously about nuclear weapons, proliferation, dirty bombs, and related policy issues.  
Ahmed Rashid's The Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia.  Rashid, a Pakistani journalist who covered the Taliban for years, wrote this important book right before 9/11.  We could have avoided a lot of mistakes in Central Asia if we had listened to him and experts like him.
National Security, FBI and CIA Intelligence Briefings.  Given that the nation's security apparatus had warned Bush and Condoleezza Rice of an imminent attack on U.S. soil in the summer of 2001, a great deal of the mess we're in now could have been avoided had the president and his aides only read the briefings and acted appropriately.
Women's lives and bodies have been compromised by eight years of the Bush administration, in which access to contraception and abortion have been curtailed both at home and abroad.  Barack has announced support for Griswold and Roe, allowing people to return to the privacy of their  homes and doctors' offices to make important choices, but the Catholic bishops are demanding that he abandon these views.  There are many books available on reproductive matters; one that is eminently readable is Daniel Maguire's edited volume Sacred Rights. Maguire is Professor of Moral Theology and Ethics at Marquette University (a Catholic Institution) and has a deep and nuanced understanding of religion and reproductive rights.
Finally, Helen Thomas's Watchdogs of Democracy? is a timely critique of the way in which the Washington  Press Corps failed to ask the key questions needed for our citizens to understand what the Bush administration intended to do about war, peace, the environment, the economy, and our nation's health.
Fiction, Poetry
Irina Ratushinkskaya's Grey is the Color of Hope.  This memoir from the Soviet-era gulags tells readers about the human cost of power, and the human capacity for survival and hope.  
The Brothers Karamazov.  A ripping good yarn about faith, families and murder.
Richard II.  What happens when you let power go to your head.
Melissa Benn, One of Us.  This novel about ambition and politics, by the daughter of one of England's important labor leaders, is a gripping novel of the cost to the people who support the big kahuna on his/her quest for power.
Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest. Shows what could happen when we let greed rule in the place of justice.

What do you think Barack should be reading?

P.S.  Heman couldn't come up with any books by women; Wills had one.  Extra points for those who imagine women writers.

Monday, November 10, 2008


by Barbara D'Amato

Leicester University in the UK invented DNA fingerprinting in 1984. Now comes news that they will soon be able to predict the surname of a male suspect from blood, hair, saliva or semen found at a crime scene.

DNA on the Y [male] chromosome is passed down the male line. A study of 2,500 men showed that there was a twenty-four per cent likelihood of two men with the same last name having a common ancestor. However, if the last name was uncommon, the chance of a common ancestor was fifty per cent. With very uncommon names, the chance went as high as seventy per cent.

Sooooo—with a large enough database of Y chromosome DNA, a crime scene analyst will be able to send a hair to the lab and, in whatever time it takes, tell us “This hair is from a man named Fosdick.”

Mitochondrial DNA, mtDNA, is inherited from the mother. Both males and females inherit their mother’s, and the father’s is lost. If a person’s mtDNA mutations are the same as another’s, they have a common ancestor. Comparing a sample to the Cambridge Reference Sample identifies the maternal line. All humans today belong to one of only thirty-three haplogroups or clans, which are ethnically specific. In other words, the lab can look at your mtDNA and tell your ethnic makeup. There are even companies which will test your mtDNA and come with an ancestry portrait—for example Fosdick is 2 per cent East Asian, 10 percent Native American, and eighty-eight per cent European.

Since DNA already tells ethnicity and such things as genetic diseases and physical appearance – Fosdick has brown hair and salt-sensitive hypertension -- and mtDNA reveals ancestry, there will soon be nowhere to hide. As crime writers, until fairly recently we had only to keep our malefactor from leaving fingerprints if we didn’t want to catch him too quickly. More recently we had to deal with DNA, but of course that couldn’t be matched unless the police found the bad guy. Now from a smidgen of blood we know what he looks like. Soon we will know his name.

To the crime writer this is both a challenge and an opportunity, as PRESUMED INNOCENT used an earlier level of forensic analysis to befuddle the reader.

The bar has just been raised.

Friday, November 07, 2008

YARMPHF: Murder and Mayhem in Ghostwriting (and Muskego)

Ladies and gentlemen, we have another great guest blogger for you today. Alison Janssen is not only one of the premiere editors out there today, she's also one of the coolest people you'll ever meet. So, without further ado, allow me to present, my FF, One-L Alison:


I commandeered Marcus's post. Marcus is incapacitated at the moment, me having drunk him under (several) tables.

Ok. So, that's a lie. He's right here next to me, and challenging that assumption. Point is, I'm in control of the keyboard and he's busy smoking a cigarillo (aka tiny cigar), so we'll go with my perspective of events.


We're about to attend Murder in Muskego, one of the fastest-growing, most-awesomest conferences in the Midwest. Tomorrow legions of folk will descend upon the Muskego Public Library (and the Mobile station across the way) for several hours' worth of wisdom from varied and experienced crime writers. But more than that, as with most conferences, this is a chance to celebrate the community of mystery writers and readers, and that's what we're here, right now, at the Jordans' palatial estates, doing.

I don't know if you ever stop to think about how amazing the mystery community is. No, seriously. In all earnestness. This isn't one of those "OMG, I'm so drunk and I loooooooove you!" statements.

This community supports its authors. This community's authors care about its readers. There are not a lot of areas of industry in which there's such a connection between producer and consumer. I mean, really. You can bid, at an auction, for your name (or the name of your loved ones) to appear IN a book that you will later purchase and read.

Talk about meta.

In any case, we're really excited about tomorrow. You should really make it out, if you're in the vicinity.

And if you're not, that's cool, we still love you. But we'd ask you to think about this. I mean, really, think about it. You are a part of something, by being part of the mystery community. You have ownership of the genre you read. On some level, you get to tell the stories that most move you.

So, tell us. What do you want to see? Where do you want this community to go? And ... how will you help it get there?

(p.s. We had ought to talk about how these conferences seem to go better with beer ... Jon and Ruth have provided a bathtub ... yes, a BATHTUB ... full of different beers. So, bonus question: What's YOUR favorite social lubricant? I vote Ale Asylum's Ambergeddon, but that may just be because I'm halfway though a bottle and it's right here in front of me right now ... )

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The End... The Beginning...

by Michael Dymmoch

I pretty much stayed out of the political debate. There’s been no shortage of information (and misinformation) about the race and the candidates, and our readers are smart enough to make up their own minds.

I voted early yesterday, then put the election out of mind. I didn’t even turn on my TV until 11:00 PM—to get coverage of the rally in Grant Park. Here in Chicago there weren’t any fireworks, though the rest of the world was/is celebrating like crazy.

Barack Obama’s words to his supporters were eloquent, wise, gracious, hopeful and brief.

We are all winners.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Notes From The Road . . . (Go Vote!)

by Sean Chercover

Been on the road since I don't know when. Feels like forever. Meeting many great people, talking 'bout books, putting serious miles on the old Chevy Malibu.

Some random notes from the road. . .
  • If you want to know how to host the best Bouchercon ever, ask Ruth Jordan and Judy Bobalik.
  • You really should visit the grave of Edgar Allan Poe. At night.
  • Pittsburgh continues to impress. Beautiful city, friendly people.
  • The people of Ohio are totally sick of political commercials, and for good reason.
  • Obama bumper stickers outnumber McCain bumper stickers in Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and California.
  • McCain bumper stickers outnumber Obama bumper stickers in West Virginia.
  • If you stop at the visitor's center in Wheeling, West Virginia, and ask where the nearest bookstore is, the answer will be, "Pennsylvania."
  • I did not make that up.
  • West Virginia is probably sick of being thought of as less than literate, but . . . damn.
  • There are some really bright students at the University of Illinois, Champaign.
  • Touring with Marcus is great fun. I recommend it.
  • Breaking your toe while on tour is not so much fun. I do not recommend it.
  • If you break your toe and then drive to the next town, do an interview for cable access TV, do a workshop at a library, walk to a pub, walk back from the pub, go to a cocktail party and stand for three hours, then drive for three hours, your toe will be ugly.
  • If a guy in line at a gas station accidentally steps on your broken toe, you will immediately go out and buy steel-toe shoes that you really don't need.
  • Doc Martens are not the quality shoes that they once were.
  • Overheard in a bookstore. . . A wealthy suburban mom, speaking impatiently to her 12-year-old son: "Fine, you can have the Metallica CD, but then we're putting the books back. You can't have everything you want."
  • It takes a great deal of restraint to keep your mouth shut and mind your own business when you hear a mother telling her son that he can't have books, in a country where very few young men still want to read.
  • California hasn't changed.
  • I love palm trees.
  • If you live in California, please vote No on Proposition 8.
  • The OC is very OC.
  • You can get signed copies of Trigger City at the Barbara's Bookstore near gate H1 at O'Hare.
  • Signed books make a thoughtful Christmas gift.
  • And all them other religious holidays, too. Like Hanukkah. And Kwanzaa
  • I can never remember how to spell Hanukkah, and I'm not sure why it sometimes has a C and sometimes doesn't.
  • And I always forget the extra 'a' on the end of Kwanzaa.
  • I am obviously rambling and in need of sleep.
  • G'night...

Go Vote. Now.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Studs Terkel RIA

Studs Terkel died yesterday. Studs was one of the country's great journalists, in print and on radio, a gifted listener, a commanding raconteur, the ultimate "voice of the voiceless." He was born in New York, but Chicago was his home for the great span of his adult life. He had a restless curiosity for the human condition and human life, and he continued to do his best work in his last decades as he had in his first. It's a joy to have known him and worked with him, a sadness to have lost him--especially before Tuesday's election. I don't want you to rest in peace, Studs; I want you to rest in action, so that those of us who remain behind don't stop the work which you "have thus far so nobly advanced."