Sunday, December 19, 2010

Killer Hot Fudge Sauce

I dream about food constantly.

At least two nights a month I dream about an incredibly messy, incredibly amazing chili cheeseburger that I ate ten years ago at the All Star Cafe in Pittsboro, North Carolina. They served it Carolina style, which means it was topped with cole slaw.  And it came with a basket of fresh, hot onion rings -- the better to mop up all of the chili, melted cheese and cole slaw that spilled out.  I also dream a lot about the mouth-watering pancetta and caramelized onion pizza that they make at a place on East 20th Street called Pizza Fresca.  Diana and I like to go there.

Mostly I dream about chocolate.  And not just while I'm asleep.  Chocolate occupies my mind day and night.  It's my greatest passion in life.  I'm really not a complicated person at all.  If my mind isn't occupied with figuring out how to murder someone, then the chances are very good that I'm thinking about chocolate.  If I'm sitting in the dentist's chair I'm wondering why it is they have mint-flavored toothpaste but not chocolate.  Or dental floss.  Wouldn't you floss more often if they made chocolate floss? I would. If I'm sipping my late morning herbal tea I'm thinking how much better it would taste with one of Maida Heatter's chocolate peanut cookies, and how I ought to bake a batch.

But nothing occupies my thoughts quite like my yearning for the hot fudge sauce that I give to friends and loved ones every year for Christmas.  Diana and I have jarred up two batches so far this season and are about to make a third today.  It is absolutely killer.  The best.  Once you've tasted it you'll never go back.  It's great on ice cream, of course.  And we find it to be the height of sin on Diana's warm, fresh-baked bread.  In the spirit of the season I've decided to share the recipe, which comes from the March 1997 issue of Saveur magazine.  The late, great journalist R.W. Apple uncovered it in Belfast, Northern Ireland, at a restaurant called Rostoff.  He thought it was the best he'd ever tasted and I don't disagree.  It's not that hard to make.  All you need is a stainless steel double boiler and a bit of patience.  Chocolate does NOT like to be rushed.

Here's what you'll need:

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
7 tablespoons sweet butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup hot water
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of kosher salt

Break up the chocolate into pieces.  Melt the chocolate and all of the other ingredients (except for the vanilla and salt) together in the top of your double boiler over water that's at a LOW simmer.  Like I said, don't rush this.  Chocolate will seize up if it gets too hot.   It'll take a few minutes for everything to melt. Use a wooden spoon to stir it together.  When it becomes nice and smooth keep stirring it with your wooden spoon for an additional five minutes.  Remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla and the pinch of salt.  Then pig out.

It'll keep for a couple of weeks in a jar in the refrigerator, not that it'll ever last that long.  You can re-heat it in a microwave or by placing the jar in a saucepan of simmering water.

Enjoy.  And, hey, happy holidays.



Saturday, December 4, 2010

Who I'm Listening To

My bud Rick Koster of the New London Day stopped by the other day to chat with me about "The Shimmering Blond Sister." After we got done with our weighty talk about the role of crime fiction in modern American society Rick, who has spent a healthy portion of his life playing in rock and roll bands, put aside his notepad, sat back on the sofa and asked me the same question he always asks when we get together:

"Who are you listening to these days?"

And so I told him.  I'm listening to Sam and Dave.  And Otis Redding.  There's just something about the energy of the Stax sounds that gets me going no matter how shitty a day I'm having. I'm listening to "The Road to Escondido," an Eric Clapton-J.J. Cale collaboration from a couple of years ago that I keep coming back to again and again.  I'm listening to, well, I'm listening to pretty much the same gnarly old white guys whom I've always listened to: Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty.  Also a lot of my same dead guitar heroes like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Duane Allman and Jeff Healey.  In fact, I find I'm listening to the same bands I used to listen to in high school and college.  The Grateful Dead.  The Rolling Stones.  The Beatles.  Traffic.  Cream.  To my ears, most of their music sounds so fresh and alive that it could have been recorded last week.

Rick nodded sagely and said, "So you don't listen to anybody new?"

Not so, dude, I said defensively.  I like  a lot of new people.  I like Green Day and The Dave Matthews Band. I love Eddie Vedder.  I was just about to say I love U2, too, when Rick broke into hysterical laughter.  We both did.  Because, of course, those are contemporary performers but they're not new.   Not even close. They've been around for, what, 20 years?

Which got me to thinking long and hard about my taste in rock and roll.  Up until a few years ago I used to feel I had to keep up with everything new that was coming out.  If a college freshman was listening to it then I wanted to be there.  Hell, I even tried listening to rap music, which I finally realized I just plain didn't like.  I was terribly bothered by this realization.  Positive that it meant I'd become paleo, uncool, old.  I was ashamed to admit that I still enjoyed listening to music that had been recorded more than 40 years ago.

You want to know something? That''s not where I am anymore.  I've moved on.  I've decided that from now on I'm going to put rock and roll in the same cultural category as movies and jazz.  I happily enjoy watching old Cary Grant screwball comedies and Robert Mitchum noir thrillers.  I can never get enough of Bogart.  I can watch a Preston Sturges farce any time, day or night.  Does it bother me that a lot of my favorite movies are 60, 70, even 80 years old? Not at all.  I don't care when a movie was made.  A good movie is a good movie, period.  I happily listen to Miles Davis and John Coltrane all of the time.  I've never stop listening to "Kind of Blue."  Every time I hear it I swear it's as if I've never heard it before.  Does the fact that it was recorded more than 50 years ago somehow invalidate it? Of course not.  So why should I feel guilty because I still like to listen to Hendrix and the Dead? The answer is I don't.   Good music is good music and it doesn't matter when the hell it came out.  I refuse to feel guilty anymore when I find myself getting down with an old Buffalo Springfield album.  

I don't know what any of this means.  I don't know if I've just achieved a new level of inner rock and roll peace or if I've simply reached a state of self-justifying old fartdom.  But here's the good part: I don't care.  I'm cool with it.



Saturday, November 27, 2010

What I'm Reading

People are always asking me what's on my night stand.  They're not referring to the tin of Bag Balm that's parked next to my Big Ben alarm clock.  Or to the stray shirt buttons, ball point pens or note pads that are scattered there.  Or to Freddie's brush, Freddie's toenail pruners or to Freddie himself, who at this very moment is perched on the night stand glaring out the bedroom window at the skinny black cat who's had the nerve to wander into our herb garden.

They want to know what I'm reading.  I happen to be a restless reader. I often have a stack of four or five books that I'm reading at once on my night stand.  I'm also a major league re-reader.  I'm someone who comes back to my favorite authors again and again -- especially when I'm in the middle of writing a book of my own.  If I'm lost in a jungle of my own invention all day long with no trail, no map and only a dull pocket knife to hack through the dense undergrowth with, then I like to curl up in bed at night with someone who I know I can count on.  My favorites are like a form of comfort food to me.

Here's what is on my night stand this very morning:

On top is the latest Alan Furst novel, Spies of the Balkans.  Alan Furst is my favorite contemporary writer and whenever I start one of his books I can't put it down so I usually save it for a long holiday weekend.  If you aren't familiar with him he writes noirish, murky, incredibly good spy novels that are set in Europe in the early days of World War II.   My favorite is Red Gold, which I've read four times. I'm halfway through the new one and so far it's great.

Underneath the Alan Furst is The Black Ice Score, which is one of the Parker novels that Donald Westlake wrote under the name Richard Stark.  I probably re-read the entire Parker series from start to finish every three years or so.  They're lean, stripped-down criminal caper novels starring the most ruthless, asocial, unsentimental son of a bitch you'll ever meet.  The first Parker, The Hunter, was made into the Lee Marvin movie Point Blank.  I find them incredibly addictive.   I'm also a fan of Westlake's lighter spirited Dortmunder caper novels, but I don't come back to them nearly as often as the Parkers.

Let's see, under The Black Ice Score is The Seersucker Whipsaw, by the great Ross Thomas, who also wrote under the name Oliver Bleeck.  Like Don Westlake, Ross is one of the writers whom I started reading when I was college.  To this day he remains one of my favorites.  He was witty, sly, cynical, nimble and a great plotter. He could do it all -- hard-boiled detective novels, international spy novels, caper novels, Washington novels, you name it.  He did it with seemingly effortless grace.  He was also one of the nicest guys I've ever met.  The Seersucker Whipsaw is a typical Ross tale about warring factions of greedy Western capitalists and spooks who are all trying to rig the same African election.

Beneath the The Seersucker Whipsaw is an old 1960 John D. MacDonald paperback original called Slam the Big Door, which is a tight little crime novel about a messed up journalist who goes down to a small town in Florida to visit a well-off friend only to discover that the well-off friend is in even worse trouble than he is. I'm a huge MacDonald fan.  I almost always reach for one of his more famous Travis McGee novels as soon as the weather turns cold here in Connecticut.  But as the years have gone by I've come to love his huge output of non-McGees even more.  There's no recurring, larger than life hero in any of them.  Just average people trying to get out of the messes they've made of their lives.  You can almost always find one of his paperbacks on my night stand.

Anchoring the bottom of the stack is Assembly, which is one of the dozen or so short story collections by John O'Hara that I return to when I'm not in the mood to read a novel.  I love short stories and for me John O'Hara is the greatest short story writer of the 20th century.  His fabulous career took him from a small town newspaper in Western Pennsylvania to Broadway and to Hollywood.  He wrote hundreds of short stories along the way.  My favorite story of his, The Man With The Broken Arm, is found in Assembly.  I've probably read it a half-dozen times.  O'Hara was a famously unpleasant person to be around but he understood human nature better than just but any writer I've ever read.

And now, if you'll excuse me, time's a wasting. I want to finish reading that Alan Furst novel before this weekend slips away.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Mind Of A Mystery Writer, Part Deux

I participated in a panel discussion on crime writing the other day as part of an all-day program called Literary Life in the Lymes that was held at Old Lyme Town Hall.   Believe me, this was quite some impressive event they put together.  There were panels crammed with local poets, children's authors, illustrators and non-fiction writers.  There was even cake.  Really good cake.  Honestly? I had no idea there were so many talented people living in this area.  My panel featured top-notch crime writers like Jim Benn and Eugenia West.

Anyway, when our moderator threw things open for audience questions a very nice lady looked in my direction and asked how I manage to write such intricate murder plots.

To which I replied, "Excuse me, are you talking to me?"

She was talking to me.  "Do you already know who committed the crime before you actually start writing the book?" she went on.  "Do you start with the ending and then write your way back to the beginning? Or do you have no idea who the killer is as you go along? How do you do it?"

How do I do it? Wow, how do any of us do it?  Really good question.  If you ask a hundred mystery writers how they do it you'll get a hundred different answers.  Trust me on this.  I know a hundred mystery writers.  And we all go about our business differently.

Some writers like to outline the entire mystery in great detail, scene by scene, before they ever start writing it.  They want to know in advance exactly who did what, why, when and how.  I don't do that.  For me, outlining a book in advance eliminates the joy of discovery, which is half of the fun of writing (the other half is finishing).  Outlining also reminds me way too much of my years in television, where you're often required to break a story down, scene by scene, before you're allowed to go to script.

Some writers are strict adherents of Sturgeon's Law, a philosophy attributed to the great fantasist Theodore Sturgeon that goes something like this: The reader can never know where the story is going if the writer himself does not know. In other words, they have zero idea ahead of time who the killer is. They're uncovering who did what as they go along, much as the reader is.  I don't do that either.  For me, it just doesn't work.

How do I do it?  Here's how: Before I ever set out to write a mystery I need to be able to grasp in the palm of my hand what the story really, truly is going to be about.  Which means I want to know who did the killing and, more importantly, why they did it.  I can usually sum it up in a single sentence: The sister killed her brother so she wouldn't have to share the inheritance with him.  Once I know that then I can start having some real fun.

For me, writing the first draft of a book is a lot like taking a cross-country car trip.  It's a journey.  I know that I'm starting out in here Connecticut.  I know that my destination is, let's say, Los Angeles (see above re: sister killing her brother so she won't have to share inheritance).  What I don't know is which roads I'm going to take or where I'm going to stop along the way or who I'm going to meet or what sorts of strange, interesting things are going to happen to me.  I have no itinerary.  I don't want one.  I want to be surprised.  That's the whole point of making the journey.  I'm excited when I wake up in the morning because I don't have any idea where I'm going to end up that day.  I just get behind the wheel and start driving.  Sometimes I get lost.  Sometimes I stumble onto wonderful people and places that become the highlight of the novel.  The only thing I know is that I will eventually arrive in Los Angeles.

It usually takes me about six or eight giddy, dizzying weeks to get there.  When I have what's before me on my desk is a very sketchy draft of the book.  It isn't until I write my second draft that I strap on my tool belt and really begin to construct the book.  That's when I focus on the mannerisms and speech patterns of the characters who I've met along the way.  Describe the places I've been to in detail.  Do the research I need to do.  And so on.  I usually produce about 25 pages of second draft a week.  Then I spend a couple of months cutting and polishing.  That's when my pacing and style come to the forefront.  I pay little attention to my voice early on.  I'm just trying to have fun on my way to Los Angeles.

That's how I do it.  And it's how I've been doing it since I first started writing mysteries 25 years freaking ago.  You want to hear something insane? I thought I was going to write one mystery and then move to something completely different.  But, like I said, I have no itinerary.  I want to be surprised.  And I almost always am.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Joy of Raking Leaves

There's no denying the truth of what's going on outside of my office window.  There are more leaves down on the ground now than there are up on the trees.  Heaps more.  It's time to get out there and start raking them.  A lot of people whom I know groan at the prospect of having to take care of their leaves.  They consider it an onerous chore.  Some of them even pay other people to do it for them.

Not me.  I look forward to it.

I love to rake leaves.  I love romping in them.  I love the smell of them.  I love holding them in my hands.  I'm an absolute nut when it comes to dead leaves.  They're one of the reasons why I moved to New England from Los Angeles (with a twelve-year layover in New York City).  Truly, nothing makes me happier than being outside on a crisp, sunny fall afternoon with a rake in my hands.

Mind you, my approach to the job is different from that of a lot of other people.  For starters, I'm not disposing of them.  I'm gathering them.  Diana has a vast complex of wire compost bins out back where I deposit them.  Today's leaves will be next year's nutritious mulch for our planting beds.

Plus I'm not a perfectionist when it comes clearing my property of fallen leaves.  Anything but.  I let plenty of them stay right where they are in the flower beds all winter long just like nature intended.  And the lawn? Forget about it.  The lawn is never completely clear of leaves.  Why should it be? It's not my living room rug.  It's outside.  I don't understand this fetish that a lot of guys have about forcibly removing every single fallen leaf from every blade of grass.  And I really, really don't understand those stupid leaf blowers that they use.  I actively detest leaf blowers.  They pollute the air with gas fumes and they are absolutely deafening.  Have you ever noticed that the guy who's standing there using one always has ear muffs on? Dude, how about some ear muffs for the rest of us? Better yet, how about you get rid of that whiny, stinky thing and use a rake?

No chance of that.  For a lot of guys a mere rake won't do.  They must, must get every single leaf off of their precious lawn.   That's another thing I don't understand -- guys and their lawns.  We're talking about a creepifyingly intimate form of attachment here.  We're talking about someone fertilizing the grass to make it  grow faster so that he has to -- or I should say gets to -- mow it more often.  Does that make any sense to you?  Why would someone want to mow the lawn more often than he has to? A lot of guys are also into this whole ethnic cleansing thing when it comes to what kind of grass they're growing.  They dump toxic herbicides and pesticides all over their very own property just so they can eradicate everything but the one perfect species of perfect grass that they yearn for.  Then they water it and water it so as to make sure it's an absolutely perfect emerald green all summer long.  I swear, they're more devoted to their lawns than they are to their wives.  Hmm...maybe we'd better not go there.  Forget I said anything.

My lawn must have eight or ten different kind of grass growing in it.  There may even be some terrorist weeds in it.  Actually, I don't actually think of my lawn as grass.  I think of it as Assorted Field Greens.  I can't remember the last time I fertilized it or did anything to it.  It's green.  It grows.  Once every week or two, depending on how much rainfall we get, one of us gets out our non-motorized push mower and mows it.  The job takes fifteen minutes.  That's my entire relationship with my lawn.  I doubt whether I give it more than five minutes of continuous thought over the course of an entire year.

I can think of a million things rather do with my time than mow my lawn.  I'm doing one of them right now.  Or I was.  Done now.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The O-Word

It was only a chance encounter on a Metro-North train, but it finally happened to me.  A complete stranger just called me old.

I was taking the train from New Haven into New York City to sign copies of my new Berger-Mitry mystery, The Shimmering Blond Sister, at some bookstores.  I had a pretty full day so I caught an early morning train.  Since we are now in the baseball post-season, I had stayed up much, much later than usual the night before to watch the Giants stomp the Phillies and I wasn't very wide awake.

Neither was the friendly young conductor who punched my ticket: "Heading all of the way to New Haven this morning?" he asked me politely.

"We're in New Haven," I said, blinking at him.

"Oh, right," he said sheepishly.  "Sorry, I've been on since five o'clock.  Got, like, three hours of sleep last night."

I nodded.  "These play-off games go on forever, don't they? I swear they add an extra three minutes of commercials between every half-inning."

"At least," he agreed.  "But I had to stay up and watch it.  And I don't even like baseball.  What I really like is boxing."

"I used to love boxing," I said.  "But I haven't watched a fight in twenty years."

To which he said, "Yeah, I hear that a lot from older guys such as yourself.  No offense intended."

"None taken," I assured him as he headed on down the aisle, leaving me there alone in my aging, fiftysomething decrepitude.

I'm a bona fide baby boomer.  I really, truly never thought I'd get old.  I always believed that when I got tired of being my middle-aged self I'd simply buy myself a ticket for a ride at Disneyland and come out the other end seven years old again, giddy with delight.   Old? Me? No way.

As I sat there on the train, gnashing my teeth, it dawned on me that I'd misled my young conductor friend on two fronts.  It hadn't been twenty years since I'd watched a fight.  It had been thirty.  And it wasn't boxing that I'd loved.  I loved Ali.

Long before there was The King and His Airness there was The Greatest.  Muhammad Ali was, and still is, the most transcendent star of his era.  He wasn't just a sports star who filled arenas and sold sugar water and sneakers.  His career ignited and transformed our nation's dialogue on race, on religion and on the Vietnam War that was tearing America apart.

I was twelve years old in 1964 when the brash, audacious 22-year-old Cassius Clay, whose nickname in those days was The Louisville Lip, slayed a surly goliath named Sonny Liston in Miami to become heavyweight champ.  I loved him.  Every kid loved him.  He was young, smart, funny and gifted.  He loved being Cassius Clay.  He loved being alive.

And he was growing up before our eyes.  After he converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali he refused to enter the draft in 1967 to fight in Vietnam.  His stand against the war cost him his title and led to him being suspended from boxing for over three years at the very height of his career.  It cost him millions of dollars.  Half of the country demonized him.  The other half -- the anti-war half that I belonged to -- thought  he was one of the great, principled heroes of his time.

He didn't seem like the same fighter when he came back.  He no longer floated like butterfly and stung like a bee. His punches were slower.  His legs seemed heavier.  That was why absolutely no one gave the 32-year-old Ali a chance on October 30, 1974 against the reigning heavyweight champ, a young goliath named George Foreman.  Their bout in Zaire was called the Rumble in the Jungle.   I was going to journalism school in New York City then.  I went to see the closed circuit telecast of the fight with some friends at a packed movie theater on upper Broadway.  After Ali knocked Foreman out in the eighth round grown men -- black, white and brown -- stood outside of the theater hugging each other with tears streaming down their faces.  No one wanted to leave.  We stood out there for hours.

Ali fought on for several more years.  He shouldn't have, as we now know.  When he came out of retirement in 1980 to take on heavyweight champ Larry Holmes he looked like a listless shadow of his former self.  Some medical experts now believe he was already displaying early symptoms of Parkinson's Disease.  It was sad to watch Holmes beat him.  I didn't even watch Trevor Berbick beat him in 1981.  By then I'd stopped watching boxing because I'd stopped watching Ali. It was too painful.  

For me there will never be another boxing moment like that night 36 years ago when Ali decked Foreman and won back his crown.  But my young conductor friend can't possibly know what that was like, I realized.  How could he?  He hadn't even been born yet.

Wow, he's right. I am old.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Man's Gotta Know His Limitations

I did it again.

I couldn't help myself.  I always, always think I'm going to get smarter.  And I never do.  I can't.  I'm a guy.  And this is, well, it's just a guy thing.

Allow me to explain.  I'd been having what any living, breathing writer would consider a really terrific week on the job.   My new Berger-Mitry mystery, The Shimmering Blond Sister, was officially released on Tuesday.  It's an actual book now.  I can actually hold it in my hands.  Believe me, it doesn't matter how many books you write -- the thrill of holding your new book in your own two hands never goes away.  And people seem to like this one a lot.  Amazon e-mailed a list of their Top Ten new releases of the week for mysteries and thrillers to all of their crime fiction customers all over the world and The Shimmering Blond Sister was on the list, right there next to new books by John Le Carre and Elmore Leonard.  I was thrilled, needless to say.

And that's when I got into trouble.  I got cocky.  This is a guy thing, like I said.  I call it World Beater Syndrome.  It's not real complicated.  We're not real complicated.  Simply put, whenever things go super well for us on the job we get such a boost of confidence that we start to think that we're good at things that, hello, we're really not good at.

This can be a dangerous thing.  Some guys, for instance, suddenly think they are irresistible to comely, leggy younger women who happen not to be their wife.  If they're lucky, they just make total fools out of themselves.  If they're unlucky, they blow up their whole marriage.  Some guys suddenly delude themselves into thinking they actually understand the ins and outs of the stock market.  They decide they can manage their own investment portfolio on-line just as well as that so-called professional can.  What they manage to do is blow up their entire retirement nest egg in about seven minutes.

Me?  I delude myself into thinking that I'm handy -- and blow up my house.

I'm not handy.  I've never been handy.  My father was.  He could fix anything.  A toaster.  A car.  He could do wiring, plumbing, carpentry, you name it.  Some fathers take great pleasure in patiently, lovingly passing on what they know to their little boy.  My father wasn't like that.  Any time I showed the slightest interest in anything remotely mechanical -- like, say, what he was doing under the hood of the car -- he would bark, "Get away from here!" He did this because he wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer when I grew up.  He did NOT want me to be somebody who worked with his hands and got all greasy.  His greatest fear was that I would develop a fascination for the inner workings of engines and grow up to become a car mechanic.  I got even with him though.  I sat in my room and read books all day and grew up to become a writer. Hah!

I'm a cretin when it comes to fixing things around my house.  I know this about myself.  Except for when, well, see above re: World Beater Syndrome.  A clogged drain.  This time it was a clogged drain.  The sink in our upstairs bathroom had been draining real slooooowly for the past few weeks.   My shaving soap is the culprit.  And it's usually not a big deal.  All I have to do is take a plunger to it and I bring up a fist-sized blob of ooze that's straight out of the movie Alien and all is well again.  Except not this time.  This time I plunged and I plunged and nothing came up except stinky air.  Since we live in a 200-year-old house with old pipes it is not considered smart to use anything like Drano because it's just as liable to eat its way through the pipe as it is the clog.  So I'd been kind of muttering about this nagging, stubborn clog for weeks and feeling just real helpless and useless and unmanly.

Until, pow, I had a good week on the job and suddenly decided to hitch up my jeans, stick out my chest and take a snake to the clog.   I was gentle.  Really, I was.  I was careful.  Really, I was.  Didn't matter.  I still poked a dime-sized hole right on through the drain pipe and sent water and ooze gushing all over the floor.  "I'm sure it wasn't anything you did," Diana said kindly.  "That pipe must have been ready to go."

Lew the Plumber was nice enough to fit me in the very next morning.  Lew the Plumber, whose actual name is Arthur Lewis, is one of Old Lyme's truly great characters.  He is not only a licensed, practicing plumber but also a licensed, practicing hypno-therapist, a world class philosopher and a memoirist.  Lew has, to date, committed 150 pages of his life story to paper.  He is now up to the year 1978.  Anyhow, Lew took one look at the mess I'd wrought and said, "I'm sure it wasn't anything you did.  That pipe was ready to go."  He was even kind enough to show me how corroded it was after he'd taken all of the sections of drain pipe apart.   Didn't matter.  I'm a cretin and I know it.  Still, as my handyman disasters go, this one wasn't too bad.  He did clear the clog.  And we do have a nice new non-corroded drain pipe.  And it only cost me two hours of a plumber's time, plus parts -- which is to say more than my last royalty check but less than my next advance.

You would think I learned a valuable lesson this time:  A man's gotta know his limitations.  And I do know them.  This won't happen ever again. I swear it won't.

Except it will.  Because I don't learn.  I never learn.  It's a guy thing.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

What I'm Watching

People are always asking me what I'm watching on TV.   I guess that's because they know I used to write for TV and they think I possess some special insight into which shows are good and which shows aren't.  I don't.  I simply know a bit more than the average viewer does about how incredibly hard it is to put a show together.  I also happen to be a really cranky viewer.  If I don't get pulled in within the first five minutes I'm gone.

I don't think there's anything transcendently great on the air right now.  Nothing as intelligent and riveting as The West Wing.  Nothing as riotously hilarious as Reno 911.  And please don't talk to me about Mad Men.  I think it's empty, pretentious and appallingly badly acted.  I hate it.

My favorite program on television is  The Rachel Maddow Show.  I absolutely adore Rachel and if she ever decides to form a third party and run for president I promise I will work for her campaign.  I mean that.

It will not surprise fans of my Berger-Mitry mysteries to learn that Turner Classic Movies is my day in, day out go-to channel.  I watch old movies more than I do anything else -- with the possible exception of sports.  I watch a truly sick amount of baseball and football.  Although for some reason I am not enjoying Monday Night Football as much this season.  Actually, I know what the reason is. I can't stand the announcers.  Mike Tirico is clueless.  Ron Jaworski shouts too much.  And I'm really tired of Jon Gruden's act.  Or maybe it isn't an act.  Maybe he really as big an asshole as he seems.

Because I got bored by Monday Night Football this season I started surfing around and, as luck would have it, I became one of the only three people in America who actually saw Lone Star before Fox cancelled it after only two episodes.  Lone Star is this fall's most spectacular flop.  It didn't deserve to be.  I thought it was fresh, interesting and very promising.  I was looking forward to next week's episode.  Never happened.  Its ratings were abysmal.  Fox could have moved it to a different time slot.  Instead, they killed it.

Fox is famous for eating its young.  They famously destroyed Joss Whedon's brilliant, beautiful Firefly a few seasons back.  And they're currently hosing two other perfectly fine shows.  I'm talking mindless entertainment here, which is usually all I'm in the mood for after wrestling with words all day long on my computer screen.  One is Human Target,  a fun, entertaining action drama that stars Mark Valley, Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Haley -- if you can find it.  It's never on two weeks in a row, and seldom on the same night.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with the show.  It's fine.  And they're killing it.  The other is The Good Guys, which is a silly but very enjoyable cop show from Matt Nix with Bradley Whitford and Colin Hanks.  Fox has banished it to prime time Siberia -- Friday nights, where it is guaranteed to get low ratings and, therefore, die.

Matt Nix is the genius who has given us Burn Notice, which I watch religiously.  It's off the air right now but is supposed to come back in November.  I never miss it.  It's THE coolest show on TV.  And I'm madly in love with Fiona.

I checked out the new Hawaii Five-O.  It's okay.  But it's not Hawaii Five-O, know what I mean? And it's blasphemous to be calling it that.  Hawaii Five-O was Jack Lord in a shiny suit, shades and pompadour never cracking a smile.  It was a camp classic, like Dragnet.  This is a whole other deal.  There's skin.  People even smile.

I'm still watching NCIS.  I think the plots are well-crafted and the actors are really funny together.  But it does seem to be getting just a tiny bit tired this season. Plus I miss the scenes in Jethro's basement.  And I really miss McGee's chin.  It's gone.  I know he's lost some weight but he actually looks like a different person.  Did he have cosmetic surgery? Lipo? I don't want to know.  I don't watch the NCIS Los Angeles spin-off that follows it on Tuesday nights.  I think it's a complete bore.  Although not as boring as The Good Wife, which has to be the dullest show on prime time television.  And the hugest waste of fine acting talent.

I miss Warehouse 13.  I became strangely addicted it to these past two summers even though I know, deep down inside, that it's not very good.  But I'm looking forward to its return.

And I'm becoming strangely addicted to Nikita.  It has a brooding, noirish, low-budget charm to it.  And Maggie Q is off-the-charts hot.  Actually, I'm enjoying Nikita more than I did the much more highly touted hot spy summer series Covert Affairs, which had a great two-hour pilot and then really fizzled. Mostly because Piper Perabo just plain isn't a star.  She doesn't have It.  Believe me, Maggie Q has It.

I'm not watching a single sitcom that's currently on the air.  And you can't  make me.

Don't even try.  

Saturday, October 2, 2010

"Match me, Sidney"

Back in the early Eighties, when I was a baby Broadway critic, a young theatrical press agent whom I knew named Jeff Richards  always used to assemble a rat pack of fellow young press agents for a pilgrimage any time a movie called "Sweet Smell of Success" was playing at one of the many revival houses that still existed throughout New York City in those days.  The whole gang of them would go see the movie together as a kind of tribute.  Jeff, who is now a very successful Broadway producer, even invited me to join them once.

Their devotion to the movie came as a real surprise to me.  Partly because I didn't know anyone else who'd ever heard of "Sweet Smell of Success," a hard-boiled, truly nasty little 1957 black and white drama that was quite obscure at the time.  But mostly I was surprised because it's a movie about a malevolent Broadway columnist named J.J. Hunsecker (played by Burt Lancaster) who preys upon and steps all over a cheap, conniving little schnook of press agent named Sidney Falco, who was played by Tony Curtis.  The movie hardly portrayed the profession of press agentry in a flattering light.  And yet these guys adored the movie.

They also seemed to notice something that seemingly all movie goers and critics had somehow failed to recognize over the years.  We recognize it now, of course.  Because pretty much every obituary I read about Tony Curtis, who passed away this week at the age of 85,  singled out his portrayal of the press agent Sidney Falco as the greatest acting job of the great star's entire career.  That and the three roles he played in Billy Wilder's classic 1959 farce "Some Like It Hot" -- Joe the sax player, Josephine the sax player and Shell Oil, Jr., a millionaire who talked astonishingly like Curtis' boyhood idol, Cary Grant.

I was born in 1952 and Tony Curtis was one of Those Guys for me.  I don't remember a time when he wasn't a huge Hollywood star.  He's just always been around my whole life.  Paul Newman, who died not long ago, was one of Those Guys, too.  Actors like Curtis and Newman starred in some of the very first movies my parents ever took me to see.

The Tony Curtis movies I remember most fondly are those that I saw when I was a kid.  The ones where Tony Curtis played, well, Tony Curtis.  Like "Operation Petticoat," a 1959 World War Two service comedy that he starred in with Cary Grant.  It's rather broad.  It takes place aboard a pink submarine, okay? Curtis plays Lieutenant Holden, a slick, fast-talking, twinkly eyed charmer who knows how to cut corners and con people and get things done.  You can't help but love the guy.  And "Captain Newman, M.D.," a 1963 World War Two service comedy/drama he starred in with Gregory Peck that takes place in the psych ward at an Army Air Corps hospital.  Curtis plays Corporal Liebowitz, a slick, fast-talking, twinkly eyed charmer who knows to cut corners and con people and get things done.  Again, you can't help but love him.

Tony always seemed most at home in those kind of glib roles.  Giddy with delight, in fact -- much the same way James Cagney was when he played a character like Rocky Sullivan in "Angels With Dirty Faces."  That's what makes his portrayal of Sidney Falco in "Sweet Smell of Success" so inspired.  Sidney is Tony Curtis playing Tony Curtis except the mask has slipped and we can see right into fast-talking Sidney's desperate, pathetic, tortured soul.  Sidney -- unlike the nasty J.J. Hunsecker -- isn't an evil man.  He's just hungry.  Starving, in fact.  And a tremendously poignant figure in the end.  I guess that's why those young press agents loved "Sweet Smell of Success" so much.  Sidney's pain was their pain.  They felt it.  I know I feel every time I see the movie.  There's just something about the way he jumps every time J.J. pulls out a cigarette and barks, "Match me, Sidney," that breaks your heart.  

Like I said, Tony Curtis was one of Those Guys.  There are very few of Those Guys still among us, and I don't want to say their names out loud for fear of jinxing them.   Every time one of them dies I feel as if another one of the historic landmarks in my hometown of Los Angeles has been torn down to make way for a McDonald's or a gas station.  The world is never quite the same after that.  And I feel a cold wind on the back of my neck that makes me shudder.

Unlike Paul Newman, who enjoyed a long, full career until the very end of his life, Tony Curtis flamed out in the middle of Act Two.  There was hardly any Act Three at all.  His last major Hollywood movie was "The Boston Strangler" way back in 1968, and he had to fight to get the role.  There weren't many roles after that.  Too many personal demons.  Too many drug problems.

It gives me no pleasure to say this but my TV writing partner and I once turned Tony down for the lead role in the pilot of a series I was writing for CBS in the early Nineties.  It was a revival of "The Saint." We were green-lighted to film the pilot and we had a solid list of very fine, virile young British leading men who we felt were ideal to reprise the role of Simon Templar made famous in the Sixties by Roger Moore.  Anthony Andrews was our top choice.  The network turned him down cold -- and countered with Tony Curtis.  "He looks fabulous and he feels great," one executive told us.  Tony was even willing to pay his own way to New York to read for the role.  We said no.  So did our executive producers.  We all said no. For two reasons.  Because Tony was about 65 years old and because Simon was supposed to be a Brit.  Tony was no Brit.  But he was a hell of a movie star.  And there aren't many people who you can say that about.

In case you're wondering, the network backed down and didn't force Tony on us.  Instead, they forced us to use an Australian actor named Andrew Clark who happened to bear a striking resemblance to another CBS star named Tom Selleck.  The pilot wasn't picked up because Andrew tested poorly with focus groups.  I have no idea what happened to Andrew.  Tom Selleck is still working.

Me, I no longer write for television.  I no longer smoke either, which means I never get to stick a fresh Marlboro in my mouth and say, "Match me, Sidney," to whomever is sitting next to me.  I miss saying that.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The New Normal

When I first moved to Old Lyme from New York City I was warned that the local A & P supermarket happened to employ the grouchiest women in all of Southeastern Connecticut.  I learned this for myself right away when I was poking around in the produce department and heard one of them growl to the other, "I hate this fucking department.  I want to go back to the courtesy desk."

But Old Lyme is a small village and there's only the one supermarket in town so I became a steady, loyal A & P customer.  In fact, I've shopped there several times a week for 25 years.  And I've discovered that the women who work at the A & P -- and they are mostly women -- aren't grouchy at all.  They just don't like to be treated the way some of the people in town treat them, which is rudely.   But if you're nice to them -- if you talk to them like people -- they'll be nice right back to you.  More than nice.

In fact, I've gotten to be pals with a lot of them over the years.  Not pals who go out to dinner together but pals who catch up with each other for a few minutes every day to exchange tidbits of local news and gossip.  That's small town life.  It's a community where everyone is connected to everyone else.  When you go shopping you stop and chat with with your pals.  I'm pals with, let's see, there's Rosie and Sue and Yvonne.  There's the two Lisas, there's Tina, Marian and Mary Lou.  I've probably been pals with Terri the longest.  Terri was a cashier fresh out of high school when I first moved here.  Now she has a daughter of  her own in high school.  Terri and her husband Greg just adopted a black lab puppy named Riley.  I saw his picture on Facebook.  Terri and I are Facebook friends.

I know what goes on there with them.   I know whose husband is no good.  I know who can't get along with her mother no matter how hard she tries.  I know whose son just got back from Iraq. I know who has a new boyfriend and who wishes she did.  "I'm still searching for Prince Charming," she informed me brightly one morning.  "But all I ever meet are frogs."

And they know what goes on with me.  They always want to know when my newest Berger-Mitry mystery is coming out.  When it does they all read it.  They are some of my most faithful fans.

So it came as something of a blow to me when we were informed last week that our local A & P is closing at the end of October.   The market has been sold to another chain called Big Y, which intends to shutter it for a month and then reopen it under new management.  Only about 30 percent of the 88 people who presently work there will be retained by Big Y, and most of those people will be transferred to other Big Y markets.

I'm going to miss seeing my old friends every day.  They're going to miss seeing each other.  Already, they've begun exchanging tearful embraces.  And they're planning a major farewell blow-out party.  I know what they're calling the bash but I've sworn I won't tell anyone.

In case you're wondering why Big Y isn't keeping them around it's really pretty simple.    The A & P is a union supermarket and Big Y isn't.  So those lucky 30 percent who do hold on to their jobs will make be making less money and enjoying fewer benefits.  Which, of course, is what our economy is all about these days.  Squeezing more profits out of an existing business by taking money from the pockets of the people who work there -- if they're lucky.

I'm sure it will all be fine in the end.  I'm sure I'll get used to shopping at the new market and I'll make new friends with the new ladies who work there.  But it won't be the same.

It'll just be the new normal.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Signs Are Everywhere

It was a balmy 81 degrees yesterday here in Old Lyme.  In fact, it was so warm out that it almost felt like a long, lazy summer day.  But it's  not summer anymore.   The air smells different.  The sunlight slants much lower through the trees.  No, I'm afraid there's just no denying it.  Autumn has truly arrived in our little corner of Southern New England.

The signs are everywhere.  And I don't just mean the maple trees that are starting to turn a million different spectacular shades or red and orange.  Oh, sure, the trees are a dead giveaway.  But there's much, much more going on here as the seasons change.  You just have to look.  And listen.

There's our neighbor's rooster, Ugly Bob, who has taken to crowing from dawn straight through until dusk with newfound stentorian vigor.  I've stopped calling him Ugly Bob and started calling him Mr. Bob Goulet.

There are those squadrons of geese that have started flying low over the house in the first light of dawn, honking their heads off.  When Freddie was still a kitten the sound of those honking geese would send him darting from the foot of the bed to my night stand so he could watch them through the window, his ears up, tail swishing eagerly.  Now that Freddie is a mature gentleman he just opens one eye and says, "Oh, the fucking geese are back." And goes back to sleep.

There are the swarms of migratory birds like those grackles that paused yesterday afternoon to rest in one of our trees for a few minutes.  There were hundreds and hundreds of them perched there -- just like in Hitchcock's movie "The Birds" -- before a silent signal passed between them and they took off again in a huge, flapping cloud.

The monarch butterflies are passing through, too, on their way down to sunny Mexico.  They were nearly wiped out a few years back by a freakish winter freeze down there.  But they're staging a comeback.  A whopping six -- count 'em six -- spent some quality time basking in our butterfly bush yesterday before they resumed their long journey south.

Ed, the pickerel frog who took up residence in our herb garden a couple of weeks ago, has started to burrow around in the soft soil.  He's searching for a possible winter residence, we think.  Diana has provided him with a berm of composted leaves in the hope that he will stay with us.  We've gotten kind of attached to the little guy.

We had our first chilly morning on Wednesday.  It was 43 degrees.   My morning coffee tasted better than it had for quite some time, I must admit.  And, for the first time since Memorial Day, I had to put on something other than a T-shirt, shorts and flip flops.  Out came a pair of treasured old blue jeans and a flannel shirt.  An actual pair of socks, running shoes.  It felt weird to be wearing so much clothing again.  It triggered a powerful Back to School sense memory.  A feeling of pure dread, no question.  Followed by a wonderful sense of relief that I no longer have to go to school every morning.   I felt this same relief the first morning after Labor Day when I heard the school bus going by our house.  I was just so incredibly glad that I wasn't one of the kids on that bus.  Better them than me.  I suppose a day will come when I'm finally mature enough to not feel this way.  But I'm not counting on it.    

This is reputed to be a bumper year for acorns.  You don't have to tell the squirrels this.  They know it.   They are positively manic.  Scampering up and down the oak trees with feverish intensity, their cheeks bulging.  There are so many acorns up there that the squirrels have even taken to knocking them from the trees down to their brethren waiting there for them on the ground.  I can hear the acorns falling on our roof and driveway all day long.  It's a strange, crackling sound.  It took me a while to figure out what it was.

Very industrious, those squirrels.  Smart, too.  They know that winter will be upon us sooner than we can possibly imagine.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Truth About Rock Hudson and Me

I get asked every once in a while to teach a creative writing seminar.  I have to be honest with you, okay? I'm really not the academic type. In fact, whenever I walk into a college lecture hall I feel an almost uncontrollable urge to snooze. But I'm always happy to help young writers learn how to write.

Or I should say un-learn how to write.

I happen to think that we're all natural born storytellers.  We've been telling each other all kinds of stories since we were little kids.  Funny stories, scary stories, crazy stories, all kinds of stories.  The problem that a lot of us run into is when we try to put those stories down on paper.  That's when the awful crap they taught us back in high school kicks in and we suddenly get all self-conscious and lose our voices and choke.

Our teachers mean well, I suppose.  I really don't mean to dump on them.  But it's my belief that most educators manage to systematically suck all of the pleasure out of the writing process.  They turn it from a natural, juicy, joyful form of self- expression into a tortured, dry, foreign language that exists only in the academic world of term papers.  Term Paperese is not a language that anyone ever speaks in.  It's a dense, impenetrable language of convoluted, contorted grammar replete with multiple commas, gerunds and lots and lots of impressive sounding, empty words. It's a language of paragraphs that begin with phrases like "Having therefore concluded that he could no longer proceed on the existing course he henceforth proceeded to blah-blah-blah." It's a language that uses semi-colons.  Who the hell ever uses semi-colons? I don't.  I've written 20 books and I've never used a single one.  Because I don't talk like that. Nobody does -- outside of a term paper.

I think writing should be un-self conscious and fun.  It should be just as easy and natural as talking to a friend.  I'm a member of the Grip It and Rip It school.  Just let it go.  So whenever I teach a class my whole thing is to start out by trying to get young writers back to where they were before their natural voices got all suppressed by Term Paperese.  That's why I always begin with the following exercise.  You can try this at home.  It's easy.  It's fun.  And you will really be surprised at what pops out.  That's because every time you do this it comes out differently.

What the hell, I'll do it myself and show you what I mean:

The five most amazing things that absolutely nobody knows about me are...

1.  I once appeared onscreen in a movie with Mr. Rock Hudson.  It's true, I swear.  It was called "Pretty Maids All In A Row."  It was made in 1971.  It co-starred Angie Dickinson and Telly Savalas and was directed by Roger Vadim.  Rock played a high school football coach who was diddling a string of comely young female students.  I was an extra in a crowd scene of high school kids.  You'll need a microscope to find me but I'm actually on-screen with Rock Hudson.  I got paid $35 for a day's work that mostly consisted of sitting in the hot sun.  And a box lunch that consisted of a ham sandwich, a pickle, a cookie and an apple.  The pickle was limp.

2.  I was Art Linkletter's paper boy when I was a kid growing up in West L.A.  I used to deliver the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner to the famous TV personality every day.  He was a lousy tipper at Christmas.  Don't ask me why.  Cheap old people do the darndest things.

3.  All of the men in my family can wiggle their ears.  I can even wiggle one ear without wiggling the other.  None of the women in my family can wiggle their ears at all.  I don't know why this is so. It just is.

4.  Ruth Gordon once tried to give me her Oscar to take home with me.  Do you remember Ruth Gordon? She was that somewhat nutty, tiny old lady who starred in the cult movie "Harold and Maude." Anyway, she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress back in 1968 for "Rosemary's Baby."  And when I was a young reporter in New York in the early '80s I interviewed her in her palatial apartment overlooking Central Park.  She had just co-starred in a Clint Eastwood movie called "Every Which Way But Loose."  She and an orangutan called Clyde.  Miss Gordon was quite elderly by this time.  Also quite dotty.  After our interview was over I happened to notice her Oscar sitting there on a bookshelf.  I'd always wanted to hold an Oscar so I asked her if she'd mind if I picked it up.  She shot back: "Aw, hell, you can take that goddamned thing home with you for all I care.  Go on, take it.  It's yours. You want a bag or something to put it in?"  For the record, I left it right where it was.

5.  Everybody at Emerson Junior High School thought I was Kenny Handler's kid brother.  All of my teachers did.  Mr. Rudolf, the boy's vice principal, certainly did.  It was Mr. Rudolf who gleefully administered swats with a wooden paddle to my bare bottom whenever I committed a grievous offense like, say, coming to school with my shirt untucked.  God, I feel old all of a sudden.  Seriously, I actually went to junior high way back when they used to beat us.  Hard to imagine, isn't it? Almost as hard to imagine as, say, growing up in a world where filmgoers actually bought that Rock Hudson would chase after high school girls.  Where was I? Oh, yeah.  After Mr. Rudolf got done paddling the crap out of me one time he said, "Why can't you behave yourself like your brother Kenny?" Mystified, I asked my father, "Do I have a brother named Kenny that I don't know about?" "No," he replied.  "But you know who he is.  Kenny's a couple of years older than you.  He's probably in high school by now.  And his sister, Barbara, must be five or six years older than he is."  "Dad, what in the heck are you talking about?" I asked him.  "I'm talking about Elliot and Ruth Handler's kids," replied my dad, who happened to be in the toy business himself but was not related to Elliot and Ruth Handler, the founders of Mattel Toys.  But he did know that the Mattel Handlers had two kids named Barbara and Kenny and that they'd named the Barbie and Ken dolls after them.  Mystery solved.  It was just a simple, painful case of mistaken identity.  All of my teachers at Emerson may have thought I was one of those Handlers but I wasn't.  Because if I'd been one of those Handlers then there would be a Dave doll.  There's no Dave doll.  Never has been, never will be.  So near yet so far...

Okay, there, I did it.  That was kind of fun.  Actually, I'd forgotten all about Kenny.  Haven't thought of that in years.  It's surprising what pops into your mind when you do this.  Now it's your turn.  Don't hold back.  Go for it:

The five most amazing things that absolutely nobody knows about me are...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

It's Not Me, I Swear

Call me naive, but I really, truly thought this whole tawdry scandal would go away.  I was wrong.  The ugly rumors have continued to swirl throughout the New York publishing world week after week after week.  Sleazy tabloid journalists by the dozen have been e-mailing me and phoning me, day and night.  And here in my bucolic New England village of Old Lyme -- better known as Dorset to readers of the Berger-Mitry mysteries -- my friends and neighbors have taken to hooting at me behind my back at the hardware store even more than they usually do.

So I'm going set the record straight right here and now.  This will be my only official statement on the matter.  After this, I will not say another word about it because, quite honestly, I'm sick to death of the whole mess.

This (alleged) Chelsea Handler Sex Tape that has been making its way all over the damned Internet is not, repeat not, a tape of me having sex with some hot babe in a chic hotel room in Chelsea.  For the record, I've never even had sex with a hot babe in a chic hotel room in Chelsea.  Actually, maybe I have.  But never mind -- that's not where I was going.

My point is that this (alleged) Chelsea Handler Sex Tape is a tape of a blond television personality named Chelsea Handler having sex with, well, I don't know who the hell the guy is.  Or where their sweaty encounter took place.  But I do know this much:

It's not me on that tape.  I have no connection to the tape whatsoever.

Chelsea Handler is not, repeat not, my ex-wife, as has been widely and erroneously reported.  Nor are we related, as has also been widely and erroneously reported.  Chelsea Handler is not my sister.  Chelsea Handler is not my cousin.  I've never so much as met Chelsea Handler, although she seems like a perfectly nice person.  Actually, no she doesn't.  But never mind -- that's not where I was going.

To many loyal readers out there: Anyone who has tried to download this (alleged) Chelsea Handler Sex Tape thinking that what they'll be seeing is a tape of a certain sleek, hard-muscled mystery writer named David Handler having sex some hot babe in Chelsea will be seriously disappointed.  I apologize for the confusion.  I'm truly sorry.

Actually, no I'm not.  The truth is, I've gotten a ton of attention from this whole fiasco.  It's the kind of free publicity that an author like me dreams of his whole life.  In fact, I've gotten so much free publicity I've been thinking that I may as well just cash in and make a sex tape of my own.  You know, a tape of me having sex with some hot babe in Chelsea.  Or, better, yet, having sex with Chelsea Handler.  In Chelsea.  I wonder if she'd go for that. It sure would give my book sales a huge boost.  Maybe I ought to have my people reach out to her people.  But never mind -- that's not where I was going.

My point is:  It's not me on that tape.  I have no connection to the tape whatsoever.

At least not yet.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Writer's Best Friend

I first heard from David Thompson about 20 years ago when he sent me a hand-scrawled fan letter telling me how much he loved my work.  My third Hoagy and Lulu mystery, The Man Who Would Be F. Scott Fitzgerald, had just won an Edgar Allen Poe Award, which for you civilians out there is a moderately big deal in the mystery world.  David told me he worked part-time at a mystery bookstore down in Houston called Murder By the Book.  He was writing to not only congratulate me but to tell me how much he wished he could get his hands on some copies of the first two books in the series, The Man Who Died Laughing and The Man Who Lived By Night.  My publisher, Bantam, had let them go out of print.  He asked me if I knew when they'd be coming back into print.  Soon, I said.

Well, they did come back into print.  But it wasn't soon.

I didn't actually meet David face to face until a couple of years later at a Bouchercon in...I don't know where.  Seattle? St. Paul? He turned out to be a gawky, toothy kid with glasses who looked about 13.  For all I know he may still have been in his teens.  We had lunch together.  Or I had lunch.  He talked.  And talked.  And talked. I had never met anyone who loved to talk about mysteries and mystery writers as much as David did.  He was the most enthusiastic guy I'd ever met.  And it wasn't just mysteries that he loved. It so happened that I was still a sitcom writer in those days and, believe me, he loved sitcoms almost as much as he did crime fiction.  When he found out I'd written for Charles In Charge he got so excited I thought he was going to pee in his pants right there in the hotel coffee shop.  He peppered me with a million questions.  He was still asking them when the elevator door closed in his face.  He almost lost his nose.

He also asked me if those first two Hoagy and Lulu novels were ever coming back into print.  Soon, I said.

We stayed in constant touch over the years, especially with the advent of e-mail.  He became the kid brother I never had.  He was an incredibly sweet guy.  He was always writing to tell me how much he was enjoying my work and other people's work.  He was always peppering me with questions.  Had I ever heard of this new writer named Laura Lippman?  Yes, I said. I just met her at the Lake Mohonk Mystery Weekend.  She's very talented and nice.  Do I like Seinfeld? I didn't at first, I said.  But now I'm hooked.  Were my first two Hoagy and Lulu novels ever coming back into print? Soon, I said.

Constantly, he was begging me to come down to Houston for a signing.  I was able to make it down to Murder By The Book on several occasions.  I love mystery bookstores.  Hell, I became a mystery writer because my first apartment in New York was right down West 87th Street from Murder Ink.  But I'd never been in a mystery bookstore like MBTB.  That's because it's not a store.  It's a community center.  A place where people hang out and never leave.  Why would they? Everything, everybody they need is right there.  Dean was still managing the store the first time I went down there.  This was about ten years ago, if memory serves me right.  I'd just launched my Berger-Mitry series.  The next time I went down there David was managing the store.  And there was an uber-cool young woman who'd started working there named McKenna.  They were a couple, it turned out, and would get married a few years later.

After my signing they took me out to dinner and the first thing David wanted to know was -- you guessed it -- were my first two Hoagy and Lulu novels ever coming back into print.  I had to admit to him that I honestly didn't think they ever were.  That was when David started talking.  I swear, he didn't come up for air for 45 minutes.  He told me that he intended to bring those novels back into print himself.  He told me he was going to launch his own little publishing company that would be devoted to paperback reprints of books like mine that deserved to be back in print.  He was going to call it Busted Flush Press in honor of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee.  The first title he intended to bring out would be an omnibus of my long-lost first two Hoagy novels.  Would it be okay with me, he asked, if he contacted my agent Dominick Abel in New York to inquire as to how to purchase the reprint rights and so forth? I said sure.  Then I got on a plane and never thought about it again.

Until the crazy son of a bitch actually did it.  All of it.  He launched Busted Flush Press just like he said he would.  And he brought out my first two Hoagy and Lulu novels in 2006 just like he said he would.  Quickly, he brought out another Hoagy and Lulu omnibus.  And, believe me, he didn't stop with me.  Before long he was publishing writers like Ace Atkins, Ken Bruen, Reed Farrel Coleman and A.E. Maxwell.  He was assembling mystery anthologies.   He was commissioning original novels.  The guy was a total juggernaut.  Truly, I didn't know how he did it.

The last time I was down there was right after that big hurricane that flattened Houston.  He and McKenna were married by then and not only was Busted Flush Press roaring along in high gear but they were in the process of buying the store.  Or I should say she was.  Technically, she's the owner of MBTB.  But I couldn't imagine David wouldn't be involved in the day to day operations.  I also couldn't imagine how he found the time and the energy to do everything he was doing all at once.  Well, I found out on that trip.  There were still power outages at a lot of the hotels so I ended up spending the night in their guest room with McKenna's cat, Manolo, parked firmly on my hip for company.  And that was when I found out David's dirty little secret: He never slept.  The guy worked eighteen hours a day seven days a week.  He also seemed to subsist on nothing but fast food and caffeine.

When he took me to the airport I thanked him for all of his support and hard work.  I also gave him some big brotherly advice.  I told him that when I was in my 20s and early 30s I used to work the kind of crazy schedule he was working and I ended up getting deathly ill with pneumonia.  Seriously, I was coughing up blood like Doc Holliday for months.  You can't keep living like a college kid who's cramming for finals, I told him.  I urged him to slow down and take better care of  himself.  Get more sleep.  Eat better food. Exercise.  All of those things.

My advice didn't go in one ear and out the other.  It never went in at all.  He didn't hear me.

He just kept going.  More reprints.  More anthologies.  David never slowed down.  David loved what he was doing too much to slow down.  A couple of months ago, bam, he called me up out of nowhere and asked me if I'd consider writing a brand new Hoagy and Lulu novel for him.  He already had the subject in mind: Baseball.  And then a couple of weeks ago, bam, he told me that he was going to combine forces with Tyrus Books which, like Busted Flush Press, is a small outfit devoted to paperback reprints of long-lost titles.  He was very excited about the merger.   So was I.  "It'll give you a chance to slow down," I said to him.

He didn't slow down.  He just died.  His heart gave out last night.  Did he make it past 40? I'm not sure. If he did it wasn't by much.   I was really shaken by the news when my agent, Dominick, just called me with it.  I went onto Facebook and discovered that everyone in the mystery world is shaken.  Because David Thompson was a friend and supporter and kid brother to dozens of other writers just like me all over the country.  Hell, all over the world.  He loved writers and writers loved him.  This writer certainly did.

Goodbye, David.    

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Rebel Without a Pause

One of the things I have in common with Mitch Berger, the hero of my mystery series, is that I'm a total old movie junkie.  I haven't seen every old movie ever made.  No one has, with the possible exception of Leonard Maltin.  But I've probably seen as many as your average ten people put together.

And so has Diana, who has been watching old movies with me for years and years.  This is a woman who I've dragged to see everything from La Dolce Vita to Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.  Hmm...that's not a good analogy.  Both of those movies qualify as high art.  I'll try to do better.

Anyway, the other day we got into this argument about Rebel Without A Cause.  I noticed it was going to be on that night on Turner Classic Movies.  I hadn't seen it in at least 20 years and wondered aloud how well it held up.

"I wouldn't know," Diana said.  "I've never seen it."

"Yes, you have," I insisted, which makes me the butthead of this story.

"No, I haven't," she insisted right back.

"Wait, wait...did you ever see East of Eden?"


"How about Giant? Did we ever see Giant together?"


"Then do you realize what that means? Those are the only three movies James Dean ever made.  You've never seen James Dean."

"That's correct.  I've never seen James Dean."

Not that she's ever been able to avoid him.  James Dean has been a perennial American cultural icon ever since he cracked up his Porsche back in 1955, the same year that Rebel Without a Cause was released. I can't recall a time in my life when James Dean hasn't been a hero to young people.  Decade after decade, he has always been the definition of cool defiance.  Mostly, that's about Rebel Without a Cause, which co-starred Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo and was directed by the great Nicholas Ray.

So we had to watch it.  Have you seen it lately? Like I said, I hadn't seen it for a long, long time.  And I have to tell you -- it's not the movie I remember at all.  I think I must have conflated it in my memory with The Wild One with Marlon Brando.  Just for starters, the movie's title, which is one of the greatest in Hollywood history, is totally misleading.  Dean's character, Jim Stark, is a sweet, conventional kid who yearns to be...conventional.  He wants to be socially accepted by the cool kids in his new high school.  He wants his father to stand up and be a father to him.  What he doesn't want to be -- what he isn't -- is a rebel.

Like I said, not the movie I remembered at all.  It's actually much more interesting. And way weirder.

Here's what I remembered about Rebel Without a Cause.  I remembered the famous, fatal game of chicken on the bluffs.  I remembered Dean's cool red leather jacket.  And I remembered the scene in the police station when he moans at his bickering parents, "You tearing me apart!"

What I didn't remember were the film's truly strange and disturbing touches -- especially considering that we're talking about 1955.  I didn't remember that the pivotal scene when Jim begs his father (Jim Backus) to define honor for him takes place when his dad has just spilled a dinner tray meant for Jim's mom all over the stairs.  Their entire heart-wrenching conversation about the meaning of manhood takes place with Backus wearing a frilly apron over his business suit.

I didn't remember that when Natalie Wood's character, Judy, tries to give her father (William Hopper) an affectionate kiss he slaps her right across the face.  Hard.  The man is a portrait of torment, clearly inflamed and enraged by the illicit lust he has begun to feel for his own nubile teenaged daughter.

I didn't remember the overtly homo-erotic goo-goo eyes Sal Mineo's Pluto keeps making at Jim throughout the movie.  In fact, Pluto's thing for Jim is so gay it's hard to believe they let it on screen in 1955.

Actually, it's hard to believe they let any of it on screen. Especially the undercurrent of utterly blasphemous anti-American nihilism that runs throughout the picture.  I didn't remember that either.  I didn't remember the scene when Jim first meets Judy:

Jim: "Is this where you live?"

Judy:  "Who lives?"

I didn't remember the conversation Jim has with Buzz (Corey Allen) just before their fatal car race:

Jim: "Why do we do this?"

Buzz:  "You gotta do something.  Don't you?"

I don't remember Jim saying these words:  "I don't know what to do anymore.  Except maybe die."

Honestly? Rebel Without a Cause is a reminder that life wasn't all a Technicolor dream in Fifties America.  There was a dark side.  There were people who were lost and confused.  There were people who didn't understand what the point of it all was.  This is a much, much more interesting and disturbing artifact from 1950s America than I realized.  And Dean's performance is totally amazing.  He practically jumps off of the screen at you.  Check it out if you haven't seen it in a while.

ps. Diana liked it a lot.  Especially his cool red leather jacket.  


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I Miss My Goodbye Hug

Ta-dah!  The big day's finally here!  I've just sent my newest Berger-Mitry mystery, The Blood Red Indian Summer, off to my publisher.

Several friends have asked me what it feels like to finish a novel.  So here goes.  Me, I feel elated and excited.  Truly, it's a day to celebrate.  I feel a great sense of accomplishment.  Really, really proud of myself.  I feel, let's see, relieved. I feel exhausted.

And I feel totally nauseated.  Doesn't matter how many years I've been doing this.  I get tremendous separation anxiety whenever I let go of a book.  After all, it's been mine and mine alone all of these many months.  Now I'm sending it out into the cold, cruel world all by itself to be scrutinized, judged and thrown under a bus by heartless strangers who probably worship at the altar of James Patterson.  In case you're curious, this separation anxiety of mine soon gives way to a much stronger emotion -- blind panic.  For the first time in a year I realize that I'll be waking up tomorrow morning without having the slightest idea of what in the hell I'm supposed to do that day.  Actually, this is something that happens to most of us.  Usually, the blind panic lasts about a week for me.  It goes away just as soon as I open my eyes one morning, rub my hands together with glee and eagerly get started on my next book.

But I have to confess that lately I've been feeling something new and different whenever I turn in a book.  And it's really starting to bug the hell out of me.  I'm not proud to admit this but, well, here it is:

I miss my goodbye hug.

I guess I'd better explain.  I've been writing books for over 20 years.  In fact, I've been writing books for so long that I wrote my first eight books on a typewriter.  Now those were good times.  If you wanted to make even the slightest editorial change to the final draft you had to retype the entire goddamned manuscript.  Or pay someone to do it for you at the rate of $1.50 per page, which was a lot of money in those days.  Come to think of it, it's still a lot of money.  Switching to a Mac made life a lot easier for writers.  Not so much when it comes to the creation of the first draft but the re-writing and editing part, which for me is where most of the work comes in.  I can input the changes myself and generate a clean, finished draft in minutes.  It's like magic.

I used to have a bit of a personal ritual whenever I finished a new manuscript and was getting ready to send it off to my editor.  I'd carefully bind up a fresh, clean copy with two rubber bands.  I'd place it there on my desk next to a neatly addressed mailing pouch.  I'd gaze at it with fatherly pride.  And, before I slid it carefully inside of its mailing pouch, I'd pat the manuscript twice with the palm of my right hand.  Not once.  Not three times.  Twice.  I've never told anyone this before.  It was a superstition of mine, I guess.  No, it was more than that.

It was my goodbye hug.  And I don't get my goodbye hug anymore.

Wanna know why? Because there's no more manuscript.  You just attach the file to an e-mail, hit Send  and off it goes to your editor. Whooosh and it's gone. Again, it's like magic.

Except that it's cold.  It's really, really cold.  And I don't mean to sound like a hopeless trog except, well, I am a hopeless trog.  And I miss my goodbye hug, okay? There, I said it.  


Monday, September 6, 2010

My Worst Job. Ever.

I'm lucky and I know it -- I get paid to write.   But I didn't always have it this good.  If it weren't for a certain individual who came along and steered me in the right direction I wouldn't be where I am today.  That's why I like to celebrate Labor Day every year by giving thanks to Mr. James Joyce.

I don't mean James Joyce the writer.  I mean the James Joyce who managed the A&W Root Beer franchise on Santa Monica Boulevard near University High School in West Los Angeles.  Mr. Joyce was my very first boss after I turned 16 and joined America's workforce evenings and weekends for minimum wage, which in those days was the princely sum of $1.25 per hour.  We kids who worked there at A&W also kept a tip jar on the counter that we greedily divided up at the end of the night. Which didn't didn't take long.  It's not hard to divide zero three ways.

Mr. Joyce, or Jimbo as we called him behind his back, was fat, bald, cheap and mean.  A tyrant.  He hated everyone.  He hated his customers, his employees, his wife, his kids. If he'd had a pet gerbil he would have hated it.  The only pleasure in his life came from terrorizing the pale, knock-kneed high school kids who worked for him.  He was the only man I'd ever met who was meaner than a gym teacher.

The A&W on Santa Monica was a small fast-food outlet by today's Golden Arches standards.  We sold mugs of the famous root beer, of course, and a few other beverages like lemonade and coffee.  We sold soft-freeze ice cream for cones or root beer floats.  And we cooked up hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries and onion rings.  The place was mobbed after school -- it was one of the primary hang-outs -- and did a brisk business on sunny weekends.  There were about two-dozen tables outside if customers wanted their order To Stay.  A lot of people, like members of the LAPD, always took theirs To Go.  There was a police station not very far away and the A&W was popular with cops -- not so much because the food was good but because all cops in uniform ate for free.

A&W employees did not.  If Jimbo ever caught any of us sneaking a frosty mug of root beer or a burger he'd dock it from our pay.  He also believed each and every one of us to be thieves. We were guilty until proven innocent. I know this because when he totaled up the receipts after my first night of work he discovered that we were $10 short.  One of my co-workers had swiped $10 from the till knowing Jimbo would blame it on the new guy. And he did.  I was docked $10 even though I denied I'd taken it.  I spent the first eight hours of life in the fast food business working off that debt.

There were usually three of us on duty per shift.  All of us were guys.  Jimbo never hired girls. Probably thought they'd distract us. We needed a fourth man.  Actually, we had a fourth man --  Jimbo.  But Jimbo didn't work. He just sat there and barked orders at us.  We would rotate stations hourly because it was really, really hard to perform any one job at a high rate of speed or efficiency for much longer than that without collapsing with exhaustion.  The counterman took the orders from customers, handed them off to the cook, got the drinks himself and worked the cash register.  That was the hardest job.  You had to be organized and polite and not lose it when customers became abusive and, gulp, asked to speak to the manager.  If that happened then Jimbo would make you sorry you were ever born.  The grill man made the burgers.  That was the scariest job.  If you overcooked a burger or undercooked a burger or -- God help you -- flipped one onto the floor, Jimbo would make you sorry you were ever born.  The fryer man made the French fries and onion rings.  That was the worst job.  I hated being the fryer man. Have you ever stood over a deep fryer inhaling boiling, spattering grease for a solid hour? I don't recommend it.  The grease doesn't come out of your pores or your hair no matter how long you stand under the shower when you get home.  And, hello, burns?

The fryer man also had to work the parking lot.  If there was ever a lull in business Jimbo would bark at you to "clean up after the pigs," meaning sprint out to the outdoor tables and throw away all of the half-eaten food, dirty napkins and greasy wrappers that our customers had left behind for us.  A lot of people, I quickly discovered, really are disgusting pigs.  To this day, I never leave a wrapper or a coffee container behind anywhere. I always clean up after myself.  I have Jimbo to thank for that.

We were not allowed to ease the grueling tension by speaking to each other while we worked -- other than to convey food and drink orders.  Anyone caught cracking jokes or talking about last night's Dodger game or in any way having the slightest bit of fun was automatically docked an hour's pay.

As brutal as our high-volume rotating shifts were they weren't even the worst part of the day.  The worst part was the before and after.  Saturday and Sunday mornings we'd arrive at 8:00 on the button -- if you more than two minutes late Jimbo would dock you for the entire hour -- and spend three solid hours doing our prep work. That might mean filling the deep fryers with fresh, yummy oil.  Or making the condiments, such as the yummy gallon tubs of Thousand Island Dressing for the burgers.  Trust me, stirring a big tub of mayo, ketchup and pickle relish is not an appetizing job at 8:00 a.m.  Nor is chopping onions.  One Saturday morning I chopped onions for two solid hours. I could not get the smell out of my fingers until my mom suggested I soak them in lemon juice.  But the biggest prep job of all was making the famous A&W root beer.  In the back room we had a giant stainless steel vat that resembled one of those locker room whirlpool baths that NFL players dunk themselves in after games.  Into the vat we would dump a 100-pound bag of sugar (it took all three of us to hoist it up and in) followed by a gallon jug of special A&W syrup.  Maybe it was two gallons. I don't remember. It looked like molasses.  After that we would turn on the cold water and fill the vat up, up, up to the top.  Then we would lower the lid, seal the vat shut and hit the switch that would aerate it, positive it was about to explode and send all of us flying out into Santa Monica Boulevard.

After I'd been working at A&W for a week I stopped drinking root beer.  To this day, I still can't stand the taste of it.

Still, I haven't even gotten to the worst part of the job.  The worst part was clean-up.  We had to scour the whole place with cleanser and disinfectant after we'd served our last customer of the night.  That entire place had to sparkle before Jimbo would let us drag our weary bones home at night. Do you have any idea how dirty a fast food grill is by the end of the day? How dirty and disgusting the deep fryer oil is? How filthy the floor and walls are?  Everything had to be white glove clean.   Again, Jimbo never lifted a finger to help.  Just barked orders at us.

I would be too tired to shower standing up when I got home.  I'd just sit there on the floor, limp and greasy, and let the water beat down o me.

Truly, my stint at A&W was the worst job I've ever had in my life.  But it was the single most important, too.  I was 16 years old then.  I would be starting college soon if I wanted to.  Working for James Joyce taught me a critically important lesson: I wanted to.  Because if I didn't go to college and make something of myself then ... cue the drum roll ... I would be spending my whole life working at places just like A&W for mean fatsos like James Joyce.  This would be my life.  This was what I had to look forward to.

No way, I said to myself.  No way.

So thank you, Jimbo -- wherever you are.  And Happy Labor Day.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

(Don't) Send in the Clowns

Our next door neighbors here in the village of Dorset, I mean Old Lyme, have adorable three-year-old twins named Zoe and Shane.  I happen to know Zoe and Shane are three because Martha stopped over recently to let Diana and me know that they were throwing a birthday party for them in their backyard on Sunday afternoon.  Or, more exactly, warn us they were throwing a birthday party.  "We're expecting about two dozen three year olds," she informed us forthrightly.  "And things are liable to get really, really loud."

"Wait a sec," I said warily.  "You're not having a clown, are you?"

Martha turned pale instantly.  Looked ready to faint, I swear.  Which shocked me.  Right up until that moment I would have sworn Martha was not the fainting type.  She's a scientist who does something with, well, bugs.  She's also one heck of a strapping physical specimen.  I'm talking solid muscle.  Let me put it to you this way: If Martha and I ever come to blows one of us is going to end up in the hospital and it's not going to be Martha.  Anyway, after a long pause she gulped at me and in a weak, quavery voice said, "I hate clowns..."

"God, I hate clowns, too..." moaned a wide-eyed Diana, who worked her way through college in Iowa by hacking up turkeys at a slaughterhouse.  "They give me nightmares."

I have to tell you -- this was a major revelation for me.  All of these years I've been thinking I was the only one in the world who harbored a visceral hatred of clowns.  Now it turns out that everyone hates clowns.

I don't have anything against circus clowns or rodeo clowns or Bozo the Clown.  Check that, I never liked Bozo.  I always thought he was an asshole.  I'm talking about birthday clowns.  You know the ones who I mean.  Those mean, horrible guys who supplement their day jobs as rodent exterminators or health insurance claim deniers by donning a cheesy, moth-eaten costume and big red nose and showing up at some poor, unfortunate little kid's birthday to generate loads and loads of f-u-n.

Why do parents do this to their children?

It turns out that everyone has their own private clown horror story.  Here's mine.  And it's probably not that different than yours.  I was four years old. It wasn't my own birthday party.  It was someone else's.  I don't remember who the kid was.  Anyway, there were probably two or three dozen of us there in his folks' backyard.  Lots of cake.  Lots of games.  But the "highlight" of the party was the arrival of this clown who was supposedly there to entertain us.  He urged us to gather around him really close.  We did.  He asked us if we were having a good time. We were.

And then he attacked me.

Squirted me right in the eye really hard with this big flower that was pinned to the lapel of his stupid costume.  I let out the loudest scream you've ever heard in your life.  I was convinced that this horrifying, red-nosed freak had just blinded me.   I screamed so loud the bastard actually broke character and said, "Relax, will you kid? It's just water."  Which didn't calm me down one bit.  Why would it? The monster had just attacked me.  I screamed some more.  I screamed some more.  By now my mother had come rushing across the yard to find out what the hell was going on. It was only a matter of a few seconds before she was carrying me -- my arms and legs flailing -- back to the car and home, where I think I spent the remainder of the day under my bed.

That's my birthday clown story.  What's yours?  You must have one.  Everyone does.

ps.  Zoe and Shane's party was a big, big success.  Everyone had a lot of fun.  We heard tons of laughter and no screaming.  That's because their parents didn't invite a clown.



Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Mind of a Mystery Writer

The question that I get asked the most often by readers is where I get so many weird ideas.  I think all of us who write murder mysteries get asked that a lot.   It's not so much that we have twisted minds.  Well, okay, we do.  It's more a matter of how we perceive the odd little things that happen in our daily lives.

Here's an example.

I have a chum named Red who I often walk on the beach with early on weekend mornings here in the historic Connecticut shoreline village of Old Lyme, which is the real-life setting for the fictional Dorset of my Mitch Berger-Desiree Mitry novels.  Red is a retired airline pilot in his early 70s.  An avid birder.  A fellow suffering N.Y. Met fan and ardent reader of crime fiction.  We always find plenty to talk about.  Anyway, during one of our recent Saturday morning walks Red informed me that he was enjoying a bumper crop of rose hips this season and wondered if Diana and I would be interested in a bag of them for making rose hip jelly.  When I got home I asked Diana if she knew how to make rose hip jelly and she confidently replied, "Sure.  Well, no." Not a problem, Red assured me on the phone.  He said he'd swing by later that morning with the rose hips, a sheet of simple instructions and a block of paraffin wax for sealing our jars after we were done.

Have you ever had rose hip jelly? It's amazingly easy to make, we discovered later that day.  Also amazingly delicious.  So amazingly delicious we quickly realized that the whole sealing the jars with melted paraffin thing just wasn't going to be an issue in our case.   Our rose hips yielded one good-sized jar that we were pretty sure would be entirely licked clean within 48 hours.

So when I picked up Red the following morning for our Sunday beach walk I brought the block of paraffin with me to return to him.  Red was running a bit late that morning and didn't want to keep me waiting there in his driveway so he came scuffing out to my car in his slippers, hiking shoes and socks in hand, and changed into his shoes as I drove down to the beach.  We had a really nice walk.  There was a nip of early fall in the air.  It was a lovely, lovely morning.

As I was driving us back toward the village on Route 156 Red said he was enjoying the crisp morning air so much -- in particular the prospect of bacon, eggs and toast with his own batch of rose hip jelly -- that I needn't bother to take him all of the way home.  He told me to just drop him at the corner of Ferry Road, which is where I'd turn right to go to my house.  He'd just cross over Route 156 and walk the quarter-mile to his own place on Sandpiper.  I said no problem and let him out there, reminding him to be careful crossing Route 156 because drivers really fly around the bend on that road.  We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways and that was that.

Except here's where the mind of a mystery writer takes over.  I'm pretty sure that as Red was crossing that road he was still thinking about the breakfast he was going to make when he got home.  What was I thinking? You really want to know?  Okay, here goes: I was thinking that if, God forbid, Red got run over by some semi-awake speeder that the first responder to the scene would be wondering what in the hell a retired airline pilot was doing in the middle of Route 156 at 7:45 on a Sunday morning carrying only his bedroom slippers and a block of paraffin wax.

And that, my friends, is how mystery plots are hatched.  


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Blog posts coming soon!

David will write a blog post as soon as he's off deadline!

maddee the webmaven