Thursday, June 01, 2006

On the Road Again

Well, I'm off to Murder in the Grove. Blogging is likely to be light, etc.

After being proved totally wrong in my misconceptions about Omaha, I am now about to discover what I don't know about Boise.

It's going to be fun, I'm sure. I'm looking forward to my panel with the amazing Twist Phelan, Carolyn Wheat, and especially Con Lehane. But I've got to tell you, all this time in airports is starting to wear on me.

Note to self: next year, back-to-back cons are Right Out.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Mayhem Report

At long last, here is my report from Mayhem in the Midlands, the mystery conference held every year in Omaha. That's in Nebraska.

Like most East Coasters (and probably West Coasters), I had unfair expectations of Omaha. No, corn does not actually grow in the streets there. No, cows do not roam free. The people do not all dress in overalls (not that there's anything wrong with any of that. I do, after all, live in North Carolina). In fact, it was a very nice place,with great food, cool record shops, Irish pubs, blues bars, and a wine shop where I scored a fifth of very tasty Appleton Estate rum.

Omaha: my deepest apologies. I'll not underestimate you again.

But is it always that damn windy?

As always, first credit goes to the people who put the thing together, especially the folks from the Omaha Public Library, and of course, the volunteers. Thanks to you, the thing ran like it was on rails, and that's no easy task.

One highlight of the conference for me was getting to spend some time talking with the amazingly talented and gracious Laura Lippman. It's become a cliche among conference attendees that mystery writers (most of them anyway) tend to be nice folks, despite the violent, bloody stuff we write. And, like a lot of cliches, it's true. I've been truly humbled by how kind and generous the writers I've met have been. And, as the formidable Jerry Healy reminded us at one event over the weekend, it's a long-standing tradition.

Even in that community, however, Laura stands out. Despite a crushing schedule, she was unfailingly generous with her time and unselfish about sharing her experience in the industry. She's a very thoughtful person , in both senses of that word. In short, Laura Lippman is a class act, and I'm happy I got to meet her.

Another high point was getting to meet and talk a bit with Victor Gischler, who's been one of my favorite writers ever since Gun Monkeys. Victor let it be known during one of his appearances that he is currently working on something extremely cool. Expect surprises.

Sean Doolittle is not only a kick-ass writer, he knows the best places to eat in Omaha, including one catfish and chicken place way the hell and gone out by the Missouri River...or for all I know it could have been the Colorado, considering how far we drove. It had great drinks. And raccoons, which are always a plus.

It was good to see Jeff Shelby again. I met Jeff at last year's Cape Fear Crime Festival, and soon after, I got to know his surfer PI, Noah Braddock. Jeff's a great writer and great company as well. He was, however, a bit evasive on the question on everyone's mind: since Jeff's main character's a surfer, when are we going to get to hear him say "Cowabunga!" ? Your intrepid reporter, however, will continue to pursue this one.

A new discovery for me was Jeff's compatriot from the First Offenders gang-blog, Lori G. Armstrong. Lori's appearance on the "kick-ass heroines" panel intrigued me enough that I picked up her first novel, Blood Ties. I fell straight in love with her main character, Julie Collins. Angry, profane, drawn to the wrong kind of guy, and frequently found with a bottle in hand, Julie is a tough chick with issues. I do love me some chicks with issues. It takes a courageous writer to craft a character that comes close to being unloveable, and it takes a writer of uncommon skill to find the character's heart and make you love her anyway. Lori Armstrong is one to watch. (In person, I'm happy to say, Lori's refreshingly issue free, and loveable all on her own).

I did see one truly amazing thing that no one believes, but I swear on the graves of my Confederate ancestors, it's true: I saw Anthony Neil Smith smile. I just wish I'd had a camera. Or knew how to work a camera phone. As a fan of 80's hair-metal, of New Orleans, and of noir, I'm really looking forward to reading his latest, The Drummer.

As with any conference, there are folks I met or re-met who I wish I'd had more time with: William Kent Krueger, Susan McBride, Denise Hamilton, the aforementioned Jerry Healy (that's lawyer talk, he'll understand), Maria Lima, Donna Andrews, Patty Smiley, Pari Noskin Taichert (Duane Swierczynski, I will never again complain that your name is hard to pronounce), Twist Phelan (see you in Boise),...really too many to mention,

And what conference would be complete without the Jordans, Jon and Ruth, of Crimespree magazine? It's great to be around such truly joyful people.

Last but not least...I finally met Sue Kelso. I mean, Sue freakin' KELSO, man! What else is there to say?


Since Republican commentators childishly persist in refusing to call the Democratic Party by it's right name, bizarrely referring to it as "the Democrat Party", The Gadflyer has a suggestion. If the host of the show refuses to call them on it, begin referring to the Republicans as the "Republican'ts."

As in: Can't balance the budget; can't stop raising the national debt ceiling; can't manage federal emergencies; can't find Osama bin Laden; can't control our borders; can't stop smearing and leaking; can't answer tough questions from the media; can't find weapons of mass destruction...

Sauce for the goose, folks...

I can't wait to hear the indignant howls from the thin-skinned "pundits' of the Right. Then you can add: Can dish it out but can't take it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Irony Is.

Woman Hit By Lightning While Praying in Storm

"I said, 'Amen,' and the room was engulfed in a huge ball of fire," she said. "I'm blessed to be alive."

Uh-huh. God was really watching out for you, sweetheart.

Quote of the Day

"Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage."
--Winston Churchill

Monday, May 29, 2006

BIg Stinkin' Lies and Killer Albino Monks

I'll have a fuller report on Mayhem in the Midlands after I've had time to organize my thoughts, answer all the phone messages, and catch up on my sleep. Until then, you'll have to content yourselves with the latest newspaper column:

The other day, I was riding up U.S. 1 when we passed one of those Christian bookstores. Outside was an illuminated sign describing the week's specials and such.

That week, the sign proudly announced, the featured items were "Books and Videos Refuting The Da Vinci Code."

Hmmm, I thought. That's odd. When I got home, I looked in my copy of Dan Brown's mega-selling thriller. Sure enough, the disclaimer on the flyleaf was just as I remembered it: "All of the characters and events in this book are fictitious," etc.

I scratched my head. Last time I checked, "fictitious" meant "something someone made up." So why, I wondered, was there this sudden need for books and videos refuting made-up stuff?

In case you're one of the five people in the English-speaking world who haven't read the book or seen the movie, it's about a brilliant but studly college professor and a brilliant but smokin' hot French cryptologist who've stumbled across a secret that could shake the foundations of modern religion: Mary Magdalene, rather than being one of those ladies of negotiable virtue, was in reality the wife of Jesus and bore him a child.

The child's descendants live among us today and are being protected by a mysterious organization called the Priory of Sion.

The conservative Catholic organization known as Opus Dei, on the other hand, is willing to do anything to protect the secret, up to and including dispatching killer albino monks to wipe out anyone threatening to expose it.

When all these people collide, hijinks ensue. There are puzzles to be solved and bad guys to be eluded, including the aforementioned killer albino monk. OK, I confess, I just like writing "killer albino monk."

Now, I found The Da Vinci Code quite entertaining, but it seems a little silly to me for anyone to be going to great lengths to refute all this stuff, since it's the sort of thing that would only be treated as fact by the sort of people who line their hats with tinfoil to keep out the rays from the secret mind-control satellites, if you catch my drift.

Then I did a little more research and found something astonishing. While The Da Vinci Code is making a fortune, a smaller but still substantial fortune is being made by people striving mightily to refute a work of fiction.

Well, you know me, folks. Where some people see foolishness, your Humble Columnist sees opportunity. It may be too late for me to jump on the Anti-Da Vinci Code bandwagon, but by golly, there's plenty of other wildly popular entertainment based on wacky religious theories that I can refute.

So I"m announcing the publication of a series of works doing just that. I'll be starting with the series of popular action-adventure films that began with Raiders of the Lost Ark. The first book in the series, Big Stinkin' Liars of the Lost Ark, will conclusively prove that:

*The Bible does not, in fact, speak of Ark of the Covenant "laying waste to entire regions." (It did kill one poor sap whose only sin was touching the Ark to keep it from falling off a wagon and being smashed to bits, which seems inordinately harsh. But I'm sure it's just an error in biblical translation).

* The Nazis did not, in fact, find a city that had been buried in the desert by a sandstorm that lasted a whole year.

* It is not, in fact, possible to ride for thousands of miles on the outside of a submarine with nothing more than the clothes on your back and not die of either drowning, thirst or exposure, to say nothing of being discovered by the crew.

* If someone picks up a piece of red-hot artwork, it is not, in fact, likely that you will be able to recreate the inscription on the artwork from the burn scars on the person"s hand.

The second book, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Big Stinkin' Lies, will expose the long-buried truths that:

* It is not, in fact, possible to slide down a Himalayan mountain using a rubber raft as a sled.

* Smart-alecky little Asian kids are not, in fact, cute.

* Kate Capshaw cannot, in fact, act her way out of a paper bag.

In Book Three, Indiana Jones Is Still a Big Stinkin' Liar, I will reveal to the world that:

* The Holy Grail is not, in fact, guarded by an immortal knight who's spent the least couple of thousand years in a cave with no restrooms.

* While Sean Connery played Harrison Ford's father in the film, he is only 12 years older than Ford in real life.

So. I've got a concept. I've got an outline. Now all I need is a publisher. Oh, and I also need to find a way to work killer albino monks into the book. Then I'm good to go. Happy reading!