THE GHOSTS OF HISTORY WHAT THEY CAN TELL US

Francine PainoBy Francine Paino

The late president, Harry S. Truman said, “The only thing new in the world is the history you do not know.”

People make history. What were the lives of those who came before really like? Men and women who lived without the conveniences, comforts, and communications we enjoy today.

Most adults throughout history couldn’t read or write. They depended on oral historians and they certainly didn’t have 24-hour news cycles to keep them informed.

How and why did they prosper or fail? Who were the great leaders of these populations? How was the common person’s life impacted by discoveries, wars, and political decisions? Were their lives improved or worsened?

What provocative question would you ask that cannot be learned from the histories you do know? The ghosts of artists, performers, and sports figures, political and military leaders might offer corrections or additions to our knowledge.

Starting with the first humans to stand upright, there are questions. Archeologists still ponder the evidence of humans using and controlling fire a million years ago. While spontaneous fires happened and probably frightened those first men and women. What accident caused the spark that showed these primitives that they could create fire? Perhaps it was a woman trying to crush the head of a fish and accidentally struck another rock that caused that first human made spark. Wouldn’t I love to know?

Think of the great warrior women in history. Would you call up the spirit of one of the biblical women like Deborah, Judith or Jael? What secrets could they tell of their lives? When thinking of great warrior women and leaders in ancient times one cannot ignore Cleopatra or Boudica.

I always wonder which Roman leader and general Cleopatra truly loved, if she loved either. Was it Caesar or Marc Antony? Did she seduce and use Marc Antony only to protect her’s and Caesar’s son, Caesarian’s birthright?

In A.D. 60-61, Queen Boudica, of the Iceni tribe was a remarkable pagan leader who refused to bow to Rome. Her courageous leadership inspired her tribe to fight against the might of the Roman war machine. Defeated in the end, Boudica and her daughters took poison rather than face capture.

Everything known about Boudica, the Iceni and the battles with Rome was written and recorded by Roman scholars. What corrections might her ghost give us, if summoned?

Albert Einstein, Marie Curie and other great scientists have advanced the sciences in all areas. Is there anything they might add to the histories we know? Are there unrevealed truths, known only to them?

In sports, maybe you’d like to know about Babe Ruth, beyond the opinions and movies. Already considered one of the best ballplayers, after leading the Boston Red Sox to three world series, how did the Sultan of Swat, otherwise known as the Bambino, really feel when club owner Harry Frazee sold him to the New York Yankees?

For me, there are too many ghosts to name, but if I could summon only one, it would be the 17th President of the United States.

Democrat Andrew Johnson was elected vice-president when Republican Abraham Lincoln won the presidency. In the early 19th century, presidents and vice-presidents did not run as a team from the same party. These two men served during one of the most devastating times in U.S. history.

After the destructive Civil War, that ended slavery, but killed 600,000 men, an exhausted nation then faced the shocking assassination of Abraham Lincoln, on April 14, 1865. Democrat vice-president Andrew Johnson, under the U.S. Constitution, took the oath of office and became the 17th president, even as the hunt for the conspirators continued.

Those involved in Lincoln’s assassination were speedily caught. The planner and triggerman, John Wilkes Booth resisted capture and was shot to death outside the barn on Garrets Farm, in Virginia. Another conspirator, John Surratt, Mary’s son escaped to Canada.

In early May 1865, the remaining eight faced a military tribunal. All were found guilty. Four, Arnold, Mudd, and O’Laughlen, were sentenced to life in prison, and Spangler received a six-year sentence. Their part in the conspiracy to kidnap the president was well established, but not their involvement in the assassination.

The four collaborators found guilty and sentenced to death were Herold, Powell, Atzerodt, and Mary Surratt.

After the trial, five of the nine military commissioners who found Mary Surratt guilty petitioned President Johnson. They recommended that her sentence be changed to life in prison. Instead, Johnson, who never directly replied to the request, ordered the executions to take place as soon as possible.

Thus, on July 7, 1865, Mary Surratt was the first woman ever executed by the United States.

My burning question to the ghost of Andrew Johnson, would be,  After the recommendation for leniency from  five battle-hardened generals who’d found her guilty, why sir, could you not have shown mercy? There is much speculation and obfuscation, but I’ll never know that answer in this lifetime.

History is the study and accounting of past events, especially the development of human knowledge, understanding and growth, and the social interactions between peoples. It is through these affairs that we filter our attitudes and beliefs in today’s world. Not knowing history is imprudent and dangerous.

Real history is bloodier than the bloodiest fiction, more heart wrenching than the best novels of love and loss, and more beautiful and inspiring than anything an author can invent; and all created in real time by real men and women.

It makes one wonder what history books will say about us and what our ghosts may be able to reveal to the future generations.

Further Thoughts on Smell in Literature, or The Dog as Watson

 

 

By Helen Currie Foster

An author can get great mileage by giving the point of view to a Watson sort of character. The Watson can be present for all events, hear all dialogue and see all clues—while not understanding them. The Reader feels clever for having grasped the significance of clues the Watson missed or misunderstood. The Watson can admire Sherlock’s astounding mental feats while deploring Sherlock’s shortcomings (sometimes his manners, sometimes cocaine). Meanwhile the reader can identify with the Watson and can experience, perhaps, the feel and sound and… yes, the SMELL of a scene, while Sherlock is detecting or explaining arcana.

The best Watson I’ve met is…a dog. Yes, it’s Chet, the large (hundred-pounder!) companion and partner of detective Bernie Little in the Chet and Bernie Series. Spencer Quinn (nom de … plume? Or de tail?) of Peter Abrahams is the genius who most recently gave us The Heart of Barkness.

You say you won’t read a mystery told by a dog? I’m not a dog person, and that’s what I said too, turning my inadequate human nose up in the air. (I have donkeys, not dogs.)

Then I met Chet. Chet opened up the astounding sensory richness of the world that lies beyond human (that is, Bernie’s) detection, and, particularly, the world of smell.

 

Here’s a scene—a scent?—from The Dog Who Knew Too Much:

“Autumn didn’t mention your sense of humor.” Anya gave him a not-very-friendly look when she said that, but at the same time I picked up a scent coming off her—faint but unmistakable—that meant she was starting to like Bernie. Nothing about humans is simple: I’ve learned that lots of times in my career.”

        

 

Here’s Chet using his ears as well, when Bernie is banging on the door of the RV where he hopes to find Lotty Pilgrim, the country-western star accused of murder In The Heart of Barkness:

“Silence from inside. Then came footsteps, very soft, but there’s no such thing as footsteps too soft for my ears. Also I could hear breathing on the other side of the door. Plus there were smells of cigarette smoke, coffee, and perfume—and the specific smell of Lotty Pilgrim, which had an interesting milky quality. The door might as well not have been there.

At least in my case. Did Bernie realize Lotty was standing pretty much right in front of us? He raised his voice. “Lotty? Lotty?” Raised it to a level that meant the answer to my question was no.

No answer from Lotty. The milky smell changed, went the tiniest bit sour. I’ve tasted milk both sour and not, don’t like either kind. Water’s my drink. The best I ever tasted came right out of a rock, but no time to go into that now.”

Right there, we see Chet’s astounding ears in action, and his nose. We learn exactly what Lotty could smell like to our human noses, if only the dadgum door weren’t in the way. We learn that Chet can detect that some emotion—fear?—has turned Lotty’s milky smell “the tiniest bit sour.” Then we may wonder whether our human noses could possibly notice, at a subliminal level, what Chet detects as smell? Is our human sense of smell so low-level (Chet’s opinion) that our minds can’t really register certain smells as smells? Instead, perhaps our minds register an emotion, a suspicion, instead of a smell. That is, if we’re on Lotty’s side of the door, which Bernie is not, at least here.

Bernie and Chet make a great team. Chet hears a faraway car sneaking across the desert toward Bernie, way before Bernie hears it. Chet tries to let Bernie know…but Bernie’s slow on the uptake. We readers know peril impends. Listen, Bernie! Pay attention! He won’t, but not until the last second, when Chet must leap into action.

My love affair with Chet is not just his sheer joyousness. It’s his masterful specificity about smell. Here he is, on the job, searching a mountain campsite for traces of a lost boy camper:

     “When it comes to nighttime security, you can’t go wrong by sniffing around. Nothing new to pick up, the scents of the boys still all over the place—although growing fainter—plus Bernie’s scent, Turk’s, and my own, the most familiar smell in the world: old leather, salt and pepper, mink coats, and just a soupçon of tomato; and to be honest, a healthy dash of something male and funky. My smell: yes, sir. Chet the Jet was in the vicinity, wherever that was, exactly.”

Here’s a challenge for you dog people. Give us as detailed a description of your dog’s smell as Chet’s description of his own! Oh, okay, I’ll try to do the same for my donkeys. In November.

Last month I was bemoaning the stinginess of some of my favorite writers in using smells in their writing. Maybe Virginia Woolf—hey, she loved her dogs, wrote about her dogs, doubtless could have described their smells as well as Chet described his, if the times, or the Times Literary Supplement, had permitted—will rise to the challenge. Watch this space.

Bouchercon Lifts Up Community Through Silent Auction

One of the most wonderful things about being in the mystery writing community is how often authors and organizations dedicate themselves to raising money for causes that support literacy, libraries and youth reading programs. This year, Bouchercon2019 is sponsoring a fantastic silent auction in order to benefit Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT ).

According to Texas LEARNS, there are 3.8 million adults in Texas without a high school diploma. The importance of literacy to individuals as well as our community can’t be overstated. The ability to effectively read and write has a significant impact on job opportunities, upward mobility, community connectedness and social inclusion. 

Literacy is an important first rung on the ladder that can lead a person out of poverty and open doors for increased earning opportunities. Literacy can also improve a family’s options through future generations. When parents are able to model a love for reading and learning in the home, this impacts not only the children but also others who spend time in the home. For young women, the stakes are significant. Literacy empowers young girls and women and encourages them to become economically self-sufficient and independent. 

For these reasons and many others, we are proud to support LIFT this year in their efforts to increase literacy in Texas. We are excited to host a silent auction supporting this organization and are also asking for your support as well.

We welcome your donations for the silent auction at this year’s Bouchercon conference. To learn more about LIFT, click here: https://lift-texas.org. To learn more about how to donate to this year’s Bouchercon silent auction, click here:  https://www.bouchercon2019.com/silent-auction

You can also send an email to:  bouchercon2019silentauction@gmail.com

For ideas on creating your donation basket or offering, follow the Bouchercon2019 Silent Auction Highlights Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/Bouchercon2019SilentAuction/

–Laura Oles

Book Clubs for Authors: A Doggone Good Time!

by K.P. Gresham

I’m a fiction writer, and my world pretty much revolves around my profession. My friends, my colleagues, my editors, my publicists are comprised mostly of people in the writing business. To make that world even smaller, I write mysteries, and I love to read mysteries. Noir, suspense, thriller, cozies, you name it, I’m in. Sisters in Crime, I love you! Writers League of Texas? You’re the best! Austin Mystery Writers? Your support and critiques are off the charts.

I existed in a happy, but small little world of people who get together to figure out how best to kill other people. (Fictionally, of course.)

Until…

Marni, a good friend of mine from water aerobics, invited me to join her book club. I asked what do you read? She gave me the list for that year’s selection.

I knew one or two of the novels by name recognition. The rest? Not so much. Surprised that I was so poorly read across the genres, I joined Marni’s book club. I also quickly learned that not only was I not well-read, I’d lost touch with folks in the real world as well.

It’s been seven years since I joined that club, and I have no intention of leaving any time soon.

Interested in a narrative about the rise of communism in Russia? Check out The Gentleman from Moscow by Amor Towles. World War II stories from Italy? Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan. Okay, you’re more into the French point of view? Check out Wolves at the Door: America’s Greatest Female Spy by Judith Pearson. Okay, the last two were historical narrative fiction, but I learned so much from reading them.

I’m figuring with seven years at one book a month, that puts 84 books in my head that I probably would have never read. 84 books which used styles I’d never heard of before. 84 books of history, biographies, tragedies, comedies, science, science fiction–one of our group’s main goals is to read across the genres and experience new writers and subjects. I’ve read first person, second person, and third person POVs. Books that have been written in present and past tense, as well as time travels. This experience has been a microcosm of study on subjects I knew about, but had never really studied.

All right. Not every book was great. But as a writer I learned a great deal from those selections as well. Too many characters? After a while I didn’t care about any of them. Switching point of view from sentence to sentence? What a pain in the neck for the reader. No description of setting? Little to no sense of character development? A cop out ending? Yeah. They drove me nuts. BUT that also provided me with a cautionary tale to avoid those pitfalls.

What’s the book club’s biggest pay-off? The friendships I’ve had the privilege to develop with these well-educated, well-traveled, successful women. (Men aren’t banned. They just don’t ever come.) And we have a great time. Wine and snacks are involved. We always discuss the authors and their backgrounds, oftentimes showing You Tube author interviews. Some of us are very opinionated (me!), but the atmosphere is never hostile or uncomfortable. We genuinely want to hear each other’s opinions and personal experiences that relate to the book, all the while trying to figure out what we’ll recommend when the time comes for the next selections.

So authors, consider joining a book club that takes you out of your genre. Besides expanding your writing skills, you’ll have a doggone good time!

***

K.P. Gresham, author of the Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery series and Three Days at Wrigley Field, moved to Texas as quick as she could. Born Chicagoan, K.P. and her husband moved to Texas, fell in love with not shoveling show and are 30+ year Lone Star State residents. She finds that her dual country citizenship, the Midwest and Texas, provide deep fodder for her award-winning novels. Her varied careers as a media librarian and technical director, middle school literature teacher and theatre playwright and director add humor and truth to her stories. A graduate of Houston’s Rice University Novels Writing Colloquium, I.P. now resides in Austin, Texas, where life with her tolerant but supportive husband and narcissistic Chihuahua is acceptably weird.

Sharks: Who, Where, and How to Get Rid of Them

by Kathy Waller

This is a shark:

This shark does not live in the ocean. It lurks in bookstores, coffee shops, libraries:

Disguised as an aspiring writer, it invades critique groups and, fueled by ego, envy, jealousy, and just plain mean-spiritedness, can do untold harm.

Writer, instructor, and “genre-hopper” Maralys Wills describes its pernicious effect:

“Nothing will stifle creativity faster than the critiquer who’s ‘out to get’ other writers. Subtly, or not so subtly, a shark is so impossible to please that other authors become frustrated, then discouraged, and finally defeated.”

Wills speaks from experience. She was once in a critique group with a writer who wrote “golden prose” that Wills could only praise. But she was the only one who saw flawless writing.

“Sure enough, each week,  the others ripped and tore and nit-picked to death the work I found so perfect. . .  and all the time I was thinking, You guys must be desperate to flaunt your hatchets. None of you are as good as she is.”

Wills has a rule covering toxic critique groups: “Any group dominated by a shark should be disbanded. Preferably, you should kill the shark on your way out.”

In critique groups, intentions matter. Relationships matter.

In the most productive groups, members behave like professionals. They look for the positive and address the negative in language designed to help their colleagues improve. In the best groups, they behave like friends. Sometimes, members even morph from friends into buddies. And in a buddy-style relationship, anything can happen.

For example, in a chapter I submitted to a short-lived two-person group—we called ourselves the Just for the Hell of It Critique Group, for a reason I won’t go into here—a  contentious old lady says to another character, “And you and that Claudia person can just go right back where you came from.”

Gale, my partner, objected to the word person; she said the old woman knew Claudia and so would say, “You and Claudia can just go right back where you came from.” I didn’t argue (a rule: no arguing),  but I knew the character, and I could hear her say, “that Claudia person.” Because writers are free to reject advice if they wish, I left the word where it was.

Some time later, commenting on  a revision of that page, Gale again said I should remove person. But I still liked person—it was one of my darlings—so I quietly declined to do so.

By the third go-around, Gale had  had enough: “That Claudia person thing is driving me crazy.”

She wouldn’t have said that to just anyone. We’d worked together and learned to trust each other. We spoke the same language. We were buddies.

She knew I would laugh. I laughed. She laughed. I removed the offending person.

So here is my love song, not fancy or fine, but most sincere, to the Austin Mystery Writers, the Just for the Hell of It Writers, and all those groups that give aspiring writers the knowledge, support, and  courage to keep aspiring, to publication and beyond.

By the way, the toxic critique group Maralys Wills wrote about—she and the writer of “golden prose” left the group. I don’t know what happened to the sharks. Wills and the other writer might have killed them on the way out. Or they might still be out there, destroying other writers’ creativity.

Maralys Wills, however, became an award-winning author of both fiction and non-fiction.

And the writer of “golden prose” that the sharks trashed at every meeting? She became the author of the best-selling Inspector Lynley mysteries—Elizabeth George.

***

These are not sharks:

For your reading pleasure, I recommend Maralys Wills’ Damn the Rejections, Full Speed Ahead: The Bumpy Road to Getting Published. 

***

Kathy Waller’s stories appear in the Austin Mystery Writers crime fiction anthologies, Murder on Wheels (Wildside, 2015) and Lone Star Lawless (Wildside, 2017), and at Mysterical-E. She blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly and has a novella coming out this fall.  She lives in Austin with two cats and one husband.

VISITING THE AUSTIN DPS – AN EXERCISE IS PATIENCE AND ENDURANCE

Francine Paino

 

 

 

 

 

By Francine Paino

A few weeks ago, I was forced to visit the Austin Department of Public Safety, where I spent four long, long hours. Let me be clear, however, I’m not slamming the Austin DPS. It’s a factor of population vs. the number of employees. In fact, I found the agents polite and friendly, as opposed to the Department of Motor Vehicles in New York (DMV) where friendly and courteous are not in their vocabulary. To be fair, (maybe) they too suffer from the imbalance balance of employees vs. the population.

Thank God, I don’t visit every DMV, DPS or departments throughout the country that issue, renew, replace and take care of every function concerning drivers licenses. I can only guess that it will almost always be the same. Population vs. the number of employees.

So, I arrived at the DPS with my 96-year-old mother, who had her wallet stolen. TWICE IN ONE WEEK! (Another story for another blog.)We arrived at 9:30 a.m. Can’t get this nonagenarian out of bed much earlier than 9. People lined up outside the door; a police deputy watched the exit then let us in, one-at-a-time. First stop, the information desk.

Ten ahead of us.

When it was our turn, I explained the reason for our visit: mother needed a new license.

Her only identification (remember her wallet had been stolen – TWICE) was her old, expired temporary license. The young woman nodded, put it in an envelope, made a few notes, handed us the envelope and another number, and told us to take a seat.

In the waiting area, the seats were all filled. People were sitting on the floor. Mother cannot sit on the floor. She leaned on her cane and sighed. To our delight, a lovely lady, sitting in the front row, saw her number come up before it was called. She gave my mother her seat. Then a very nice gentleman insisted that I take his. (my age must be showing, too!?!)

I looked at the board, and my heart sank. It was 9:50 a.m. The active letters were L, S, and N. Our number was S 3097. The highest S number on the board was 3009. I thought an “S” word. It was going to be a very, very long day.

So, trying not to lose my cool, I fidgeted in the hard plastic seat castigating myself for not bringing something to read. Instead, I decided to think about what could be accomplished while enduring a wait that could make an overly stressed person wig out.

Beside launching one into antiquity, if used effectively, the time spent at the DPS can be constructive.

One could improve one’s Spanish since all announcements, written notices and billboards are bilingual. If one sits there long enough, one becomes proficient in short phrases, such as: Now, the number being served is_____, A ora, serviendo numero____, at station _____. a la stacion ____Or, Children must be accompanied by an adult at all times. Los niños deben estar acompañados por un adulto en todo momento. 

A  few more hours and I might have achieved some decent conversational skills.

One could, of course, read a book for pleasure, but A-type personalities who feel they must accomplish something could make lists. Shopping lists, chores, e-mails to be sent, phone calls to be made, lists of things to do to make up for lost time when one finally leaves the DPS.

If one is really proactive, one could begin writing envelopes for Christmas cards, or draft the terms of a last will and testament, since the wait might thrust one to the brink of the next world.

So, how did I spend my time?

I drafted this blog, made a list of chores and tasks to be completed by the end of the day, and outlined two chapters for my next book. All of this, however, had to be written on a very little notepad because I didn’t have the foresight to bring along a decent size writing pad or my tablet – dumb!

I’m sure you’re wondering why, with at least 100 people ahead of us, we didn’t leave and come back. The first, most important reason was the uneven progress at the stations. It reminded me of what it was like learning to drive a stick-shift car. Stop, start, and jerk the vehicle. The digital board stopped, started, crawled then hit overdrive, posting numbers in rapid succession. Thus, the risk of missing our number and starting over was unthinkable!

The second reason, to stay put and allow one’s butt to fuse into the comfortless chair is, as soon as you get out of it, someone else takes it—and rightfully.

So, I sat there muttering curses and scribbling cramped little notes in my cramped little notebook. Finally, four hours later, number S 3,097 was flashed on the board, followed by the announcement in English and Spanish.

“At last! Come, mother,” I said and literally had to pull her out of the chair. I think her butt had melded to the plastic.

We proceeded to the assigned station. Then disaster!

“Where is your application?” asked the agent.

“Application!? What application?” My voice was on the edge of hysteria. I broke out in a sweat. “I wasn’t told to fill out an application.”

Mother stood there in her best fragile little-old-lady posture, which she is not, and thankfully kept quiet.

“Please,” I begged. “We’ve been here for four hours. I wasn’t told to fill anything out.”

This kind agent smiled, handed me the application, told us to step aside, and fill it out while she serviced the next person on the line. For this, I believe she’ll have a place in heaven—or perhaps she was afraid I’d go postal.

I filled it out as fast as I could, controlling my serial killer handwriting so that it would be legible. The kind agent waved us back to her station, and fifteen minutes later, mother had a new temporary license.

So, what have I learned? The next time I must visit the DPS, I’ll have a supply of pencils, a legal pad, and a book. Perhaps a pillow too.

No matter how you look at it, spending four hours in a bad chair, waiting to be called for a process that takes only minutes is an exercise in patience, endurance, determination, and a sense of humor – which I did not have.

My Unconventional Writing Partner

–By Laura Oles

Writing, as we all know, is a solitary process. You’re the only one who can get words on the page, edits turned in on time, and new projects out in the world.  Because of this, it helps to have a support network to help you get out of your own head. I don’t subscribe to the idea that being alone all the time makes my writing any stronger.  In fact, I think it’s quite the opposite.  I’m grateful to have several talented writers as friends, and I know I’ve become a stronger writer because of their guidance and support. 

I also have someone in my life who contributes in a different way.  She doesn’t get to our critique meetings and harbors no opinion on the plotter/pantser debate.  

This is Amber.  She’s part of my writing support group.

Her words per minute score on the laptop is pretty abysmal, she naps for hours and she always wants me to write stories about dogs in swimming pools. 

But she has other skills.

She gets me outside for a walk each day, which it turns out, is really important when I’m spending my days at my desk or inside the house.  I tend to overthink things–big things, small things, you name it–so the fact that she needs to get out to stretch those Labrador legs comes in very handy. When I find myself wrapped up in something that I can’t figure out, it’s time for us to go outside.

The temperatures in Texas are topping triple digits on the regular, so this means we have to get our two-mile walk down pretty early in the morning.  After a few hours of wrestling with a project, I’m ready for a break and a short walk around the neighborhood.  Amber is always ready for a stroll.  Her dependence on me makes me a better writer. It forces me to go outside and get a different perspective. Dogs plus nature equal happiness in my book.

Sometimes I talk to myself, trying to work out a plot point or a scene, and Amber is the perfect partner in this situation.  She lets me talk it out without looking at me like I’m crazy.  She walks alongside, searching for deer to chase and brush to walk under for back scratches.  Those brief outings help me shake things loose in my mind, not to mention my back.  

One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever received is to “keep your butt in the chair.”  I remind myself of this during those times when I’m feeling challenged and want nothing more than to get up and distract myself. So, in those situations, I sit and wrestle with the task at hand.  Well, not all the time. There are times that I go get a cup of coffee and a snack. Or two snacks. Maybe do some productive procrastination (housework, email). However, sometimes Amber needs me to get my butt OUT of the chair, and this responsibility is what helps me get back IN the chair later. 

So, dogs are good for writers.  

Cats may disagree. 

 Not sure.

I’ve never had a cat willing to go on a walk with me.  

Murdercon, 2019–The Perfect Ménage à Trois!

By K.P. Gresham

I’m talking about the recent crime writer’s convention recently held in Raleigh, NC. What did you think I was referring to?

To create this perfect threesome, you combine Lee Lofland and his crew at The Writers Police Academy with Sirchie—the leading manufacturer of criminal investigation, forensic and law enforcement products, and add a few crazy crime writers who want to learn new and innovative ways to kill people. Then you title it, Murdercon, 2019, and put all those three elements together in Raleigh, NC for four fantastic days of murder and mayhem. More importantly, the goal of the conference is to teach the mystery writers what REALLY happens in the world of criminal investigation. What we see on TV or the big screen is often a far cry from what really happens at a crime scene and beyond.

For example, I love watching NCIS and NCIS New Orleans (shout out to Captain Archer, A.K.A. Scott Bacula), but let’s be real.  DNA identifications don’t happen in less than a day, nor do face ID’s, fingerprint analyses, or hook-ups to every street camera in the known universe.

The experts at Murdercon absolutely know what they are talking about. In fact, this year’s conference was held at the actual Sirchie headquarters in Raleigh. Okay, so who or what is Sirchie?

Sirchie, founded in 1927 by Francis Sirchie, supplies law enforcement agencies with fingerprinting supplies, advanced equipment, customized vehicles, and kitting services. He got his big break in World War II with his state of the art fingerprinting technology. The U.S. Government awarded Sirchie’s company the contract to fingerprint every World War II soldier, munitions worker, medical personnel—the list goes on. That contract rocketed Sirchie into the forensic investigation giant that it is today.

They “manufacture high-quality criminal investigation, tactical, surveillance, and other police-related solutions including customized special purpose vehicles as well as delivering industry-leading training for public safety, medical, and education communities featuring hands-on learning techniques.” That came straight from their website,  https://www.sirchie.com/. Check out what this incredible company does to keep our country and our world safe.

So, back to Murdercon. The conference was nonstop from dawn to way after sunset. I attended sessions on latent fingerprint development, fire arms and ballistics, an impromptu talk given by David Alford, one of the FBI’s lead Crime Scene Investigators of the Unibomber’s cabin, and a session on “Weapons of Mass Destruction”. (Scared the pants off of me, and yes, I’m going to use the info in a book!) We got to touch, use, experience some of the equipment Sirchie develops, and we even got a tour of their factory.

But the one-on-one interactions between the experts and writers was the best part for me.  Thanks to the patience of James Reynolds, a Sirchie guru who helped lead the conference, I was able to get my crime scene for an upcoming book “just right”. For two hours he helped me line up who had to be where, what evidence would be left, how the investigators would find it—the entire experience was off the charts. By the time we finished mocking up the crime scene in the hotel lounge, I think we’d scared some folks away—were we really planning a crime?

Hats off to those who put together this incredible conference. A perfect ménage à trois ? More like a match made in heaven!

An Interview with Elizabeth Buhmann, Author of BLUE LAKE

by M.K. Waller

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When I began Elizabeth Buhmann’s BLUE LAKE, I was—I’m ashamed to say—afraid I would be disappointed. Her first novel,LAY DEATH AT HER DOOR, was so well constructed, clues so obviously placed, that I should have been able to predict the ending—but so deftly woven into the plot that the last chapter was a complete surprise. More than a surprise—a shock. That novel was so good, I knew BLUE LAKE couldn’t match it.

I was wrong. BLUE LAKE is different from its predecessor, of course, but just as well written and just as suspenseful.  And when I reached the end, I said, “I should have known.”

BLUE LAKE does not disappoint.

Buhmann hides things in plain sight—the mark of a good mystery writer, and the delight of every mystery reader.

*

“Rural Virginia, 1945. The Second World War had just ended when Alice Hannon found the lifeless body of her five-year-old daughter, Eugenie, floating in Blue Lake. The tragedy of the little girl’s death destroyed the Hannon family.

“More than twenty years later, Alice’s youngest daughter, Regina, returns home after a long estrangement because her father is dying. She is shocked to discover, quite by accident, that her sister’s drowning was briefly investigated as a murder at the time. . . . 

Click here to read the original post on Ink-Stained Wretches.

 

PLAYING FOR PIZZA – by John Grisham

Written by Francine Paino

  The master of suspense took a break from his usual mystery, crime, and thriller books to write Playing for Pizza; a football story hatched as he researched settings for another novel.  

Playing for Pizza tracks a third-string quarterback for the Cleveland Browns in what turns out to be a life lesson – the question is, will he learn?

Poor Rick Dockery. With only minutes left to play, in the AFC Championship game, Dockery comes in as Quarterback with a 17- point lead and snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.  Rick ends up in a hospital, recovering from the concussion he suffered along with the loss. His agent, Arnie, and the duty nurse discourage him from remembering too much of what had happened, but eventually, poor Rick does remember and then learns that virulent Cleveland fans want to storm the hospital and dismember him – or at least run him out of town on a rail. In addition to the disaster, his agent informs him that the Browns have released him and no other team wants him – he is unemployable in the NFL, but Rick isn’t done with football – he can’t be; it’s all he knows.

Dubbed by an unforgiving and vicious press as “the greatest goat in the history of professional sports,” Rick has hit rock bottom.  His agent suggests that it might be time to find another profession; Dockery, however, refuses to give up. Arnie is running out of patience and ideas, not to mention the fact that he isn’t making any money representing the disgraced Quarterback, yet he makes “one more call,” to an old buddy.

Coach Russo is looking for a QB for the Panthers—of Parma, Italy. They play at a Division 3 level – maybe. Russo wants an American QB to lead his team of tough Italians, whose professions range from truck drivers to airline pilots and everything in-between. These men hold full-time jobs and play for love of the game, and pizza!  As one of the three Americans allowed on any team in Italy, Rick will be provided with a car, rent money and a very small salary – nowhere near the pay scale in the NFL.

With no other options available, feeling the pressure to get out of the States, filled with resentment and self-pity, Rick Dockery accepts the job. He flies off to a country he barely knows exists and a city he’d never heard of before.

The coach meets him at the airport and immediately realizes that Dockery is in for a few shocks. Coach Russo crash courses Rick in Italian football. The Panthers are on an eight-game schedule with play-offs and a shot at the Italian Super Bowl. At the same time, Rick must cope with stick-shift small cars, bumper-to-bumper parking, and the culture of food, wine, and opera– things about which Rick Dockery knows nothing. By his own admission, his education consisted of football, Phys. Ed., more football, and cheerleaders. 

Rick begins the process of adjusting to his new circumstances and his new team. Secretly, he believes he would be hiding out in Parma for a while and would return to the States after other NFL teams forgot his humiliation and offered him a spot.

One vicious reporter from Cleveland, however, finds out where Dockery is and has no intention of allowing him any salvation in football. The reporter stalks him and reports back to the Cleveland Post on Dockery’s progress, turning anything Dockery does well into a series of “lucky breaks.”

Throughout, we watch Dockery cope with the culture shock of a completely alien environment while melding with teammates who are unlike any he’d ever encountered in the States and somehow, play his best football.

Sometimes the story feels like a travel guide through northern Italy and a play-by-play in football, but it’s told through the eyes of a lost soul on a life journey. Dockery learns that in Italy, although “it (footfall) was just a club sport, winning meant something – commitment meant even more.”

By the end of Rick’s story, we see a man emerge from the immature self-absorbed, culturally deficient boy/man who’d arrived in a foreign country only a few weeks before. Moreover, if you are a football fan, the last game is a heart-stopper.

There’s no fairy-tale ending here. Dockery has choices to make, but he finds confidence, becomes comfortable in his own skin, and learns the real meaning of playing for pizza.

It’s not a new release, but it’s still a great summer read.