Thursday, October 29, 2009

I Like Halloween...I think

from James Grippando

Jackie is out doing the Monster Mash in London, so it's up to me to say a few literary words about the spookiest of holidays. Pumpkin Day. Trick or Treat. Halloween.

Let me say up front: I do like Halloween. But I don't love it. I have friends who really love it. They love the fake blood, the rubber spleen hanging out of their shirt, the eyeball falling out of the socket. I even have a friend who got married on Halloween. He's now divorced. Hmmm. Or should I say...Spooky. Wasn't there a song about that?

I like Halloween enough to have written it into the climax of my first novel. In "The Pardon" Jack Swyteck chases the bad guys all the way down to Key West on Halloween. The Key West Citizen even gave me a rave review, which probably wasn't enough to counterbalance the thrashing in Publisher's Weekly, but what they wrote was still nice:

"As the protagonist walks down Simonton Street on the way to meet the killer in an Old town masnion, the Flintstones dance by singing their theme song. Later when a chase ensues down Duval Street, the main characters pass peacocks, plow into Cleopatra, rip through a Chinsese dragon and bump into the Beatles. It's classic Key West."

Apart from reminding me how quickly pop culture references in works of fiction become dated (The Pardon was published in 1994), that little blurb reminds me how much fun I had writing those scenes set in the middle of Fantasy Fest. Never heard of Key West Fantasy Fest? What's wrong with you? It's only the world's largest collection of drunks who take hours to put on elaborate costumes and then jump at the first opportunity to rip them off and get naked. Sometimes it's just a little naked, like this...

Other times, it's way too naked, like this...

And other times...well, let's leave a little something to the imagination.

Nakedness on Halloween is something I've had to adjust to since coming to Florida. See, I grew up in northern Illinois. By Halloween, there was at the very least frost on the pumpkin (a phrase that takes on a whole new meaning at Fantasy Fest, I assure you), and sometimes even snow on the ground. As kids, we more often than not ended up wearing winter coats over our costumes. In Florida, however, it's beach weather, without fail. Supposed to be 92 here on Saturday, which means that, once again, there will be people getting naked who have absolutely no business getting naked. Like these folks.

Dear God. Somebody please pass the M&Ms. And the Pepto Bismol.

Happy Halloween!

James Grippando

Aging Gracefully --- Yeah, right

James O. Born

It's hell getting old. Just ask Paul Levine. The problem is I don't think you realize you’re old until one day it smacks you in the face like a mature salmon swimming upstream. In the time it takes to hold your cheek and wonder what the hell just hit you, life has rolled past and left you a bewildered, out of touch, grumpy, potentially lethal weapon behind a car that seems to move way too fast.

I'm not going to whine about being old. I realize in the big scheme of things my late, extremely late 40s, is not that old. Not when the 105-year-old woman I read about last week is looking for her twenty-third husband. But I have noticed a couple of warning signs creep into my life over the past few years.

The photos from upper left to lower right tell the slow decline of my life. From 1966 in my backyard, 1986 with Mas Nakayama at a karate seminar and earlier this year at a Romance Writer's of America party with C.J., a favorite of the group.

I could mention the obvious things like I have to wear increasingly strong reading glasses along with my contacts on a daily basis or that it takes me more than five minutes of running before my knees start to loosen up and my ankles don't hurt. But it's the other, more subtle clues that have made me feel my age.

I noticed that when I'm in the grocery store Muzak tunes are songs I listened to as a teenager. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young now play in the background while I shop for fat-free milk and high-fiber oatmeal. Monday night I did something that I don't think I had ever done before; I actually read a Playboy cover to cover. I read the articles and had too little interest in the photographs to make me comfortable. I know that's an old joke but somehow it's not as funny when you're lying in bed thinking - this is a really good story on a 1970s Oakland Raiders.
I complain about loud music, don't understand rap or its appeal in any way. I'm offended by poor manners whether they're directed at me or not and I clearly feel that society has gone to hell. These are all things for which I teased my father about what he was my age. The difference was he was part of the greatest generation and had gone to war not only to save America but Europe as well.

A month or so ago I spoke to my friend Paul Levine on the phone and I'm afraid much of our conversation centered around various surgeries to repair sports injuries from our youth. It was the highlight of my September

So if you see me at a conference or a book signing, looking pissed off and irritable, at least you'll know why.

Any signs that you are aging?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"The Gatekeeper" and "Peter and the Sword of Mercy" in stores now!

From Paul Levine...

OUT TODAY! This is pub date for Michelle Gagnon's "The Gatekeeper." Her very cool heroine, FBI Special Agent Kelly Jones, is up against biker gangs, skinheads, and border militias in Michelle's latest thriller. I waded into similar territory in "Illegal," so I'm anxious to check it out. I'll be heading over to the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood forthwith -- if not sooner -- to buy a copy.

RIDLEY'S ON THE ROAD: Here's a shot taken yesterday of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson and their "Swordmobile" in New Jersey, a small state located in the general vicinity of Delaware. Dave and Ridley are on the road flogging "Peter and the Sword of Mercy."

Today at 5 p.m., they'll be at Chester County Books in West Chester, PA. I might be mistaken, but I think Dave worked for a newspaper in that burg about 35 years ago.

I love Miami Book Fair International. It's a week-long celebration of books with more than 350 authors and several hundred thousand readers...or at least browsers who like to eat funnel cakes and corn arepas.

I'll be doing a panel Saturday November 14 with Jeff Lindsay, author of the "Dexter" serial killer novels and Richard Belzer of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and the author of "I Am Not a Psychic."

As a Giants' fan, I loved seeing the Dodgers lose to the Phillies. If it weren't for schadenfreude, I'd have no joy at all.

...AND IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE: As for my friends who are Yankees fans, if it were 1939, you'd probably be rooting for Germany against Poland.

I like Graham Zug, the Penn State walk-on who caught 3 TD passes in the whomping of Michigan last week. But...can't the scribblers come up with a better nickname than "Amish Lightning?"

Paul Levine

Monday, October 26, 2009

If the sidewalks could talk

Patty here…

I live in a quiet neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles. My neighbors are TV producers, architects, psychologists, and lawyers and at least one out-of-work construction worker (more on that later). My neighborhood has its own newsletter, annual dinner, block captains, and community council. We stop to talk to each other as we walk our dogs and sometimes we have parties and invite each other. Living in my neighborhood is not unlike living in Small Town Anywhere except it's in the middle of a city of 3,849,378 people.

When you've lived in an area for a while, you learn that the neighborhood closet has skeletons, too. Bad things happen here as they do everywhere. Burglars broke into my neighbor’s house some time back. I didn’t even know until we were out in our front yards chatting recently. An elderly man down the block committed suicide with a handgun several years ago. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a very good shot because it took him several tries before he succeeded, which sent the woman next door diving under her kitchen table, dodging bullets. A teenager who lived three doors down from me attacked her father with a knife. The previous owner of the house in which I live hung himself in the room that is now my closet.

About a week ago, I was driving to Hollywood to attend the screening of The Messenger starring Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson. I had just turned on a side street a block from my house, when I noticed several black-and-white police cars blocking traffic. There was a small white tent on the lawn of a nearby house. I knew immediately that under the canvas was a dead body.

The next morning, I found a small article in the newspaper describing the incident. A construction worker, distraught over his inability to find work, called the police to say he had killed his girlfriend and was about to shoot himself. Officers arrived at the scene and for hours, they tried to talk him down. During that time, he walked in and out of the residence numerous times brandishing the gun and threatening to kill anyone who came near. At some point, he exited his house and pointed the gun at officers. Not a good idea.

As it turned out, he lied. His girlfriend was not dead inside the house. The truthful part of his story was that he wanted to die. He just couldn’t pull the trigger. For that, he needed the police. It’s called police-assisted suicide or suicide by cop and it happens more frequently that we can imagine.

A February 2005 FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin reports:

A 1998 report by the American College of Emergency Physicians examined all deputy involved shootings that occurred in the Los Angeles County, California, Sheriff’s Department. The findings revealed that suicide-by-cop incidents accounted for 11 percent of all deputy-involved shootings and 13 percent of all deputy-involved justifiable homicides. The report concluded that suicide by cop constitutes an actual form of suicide and defined it as “an incident where a suicidal individual intentionally engages in life threatening and criminal behavior with a lethal weapon or what appears to be a lethal weapon toward law enforcement officers or civilians specifically to provoke officers to shoot the suicidal individual in self defense or to protect civilians.”

Here's another article about the phenomenon.

I suppose it's too much to ask these people to consider the officers who are forced to shoot back. To kill someone over a lie. To find out that the gun wasn't loaded or that it wasn't even a real gun.

On second thought, maybe my neighborhood has one too many skeletons in its closet. Before I go for any more walks in the ‘hood, I think I’ll go shopping for a new outfit.

What about you? Got any skeletons in your neighborhood closet?

Reflective Monday!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

On Being A Team Player

from Jacqueline

I've been in New York for the past few days, visiting my publisher. I changed publishers in the middle of last year, and it was time to go to New York to meet the team working on the launch of my next book, scheduled for release in early April. My, doesn't time fly? I still feel like such a new girl on the block, yet this will be my seventh book, and I'm already getting geared up to start #8.

I think one of the aspects of being an author that sometimes takes new writers by surprise is that, from the moment the manuscript leaves your hands, you go from being a solitary person of words to being a team player. And that's a big leap for a person used to their own company, who is then in partnership with an editor, and following that, at the heart of brainstorming about everything from how to engage the booksellers to whether posters will work and if there is a powerful enough hook to get the media interested. But it's part of the job, and it's an important one. Then of course there is the time spent on book tour, bringing you out of your cave again and into company - and we've all waxed lyrical about the trials and tribulations of book tours on this blog.

I consider myself fortunate to have worked in publishing, albeit many (many, many) years ago. Even then I only spent a year in general books before moving into academic publishing, which is a very different animal indeed. But I was in sales and then marketing, so even though time has marched on, I knew the process and what to expect when I published my first book - so I'm more than happy to be part of the team (though I sometimes go green about the gills when they talk about the book tour, and all I can see in my mind's eye are security lines and me trying to ram my bag into an already-full overhead bin on the next 'plane).

On the subject of travel, I'm off to London on Monday, visiting my parents for a couple of weeks. As they have aged, so these visits are becoming more frequent, and - without doubt - more emotionally loaded than before. I always try to book my next trip before I step on the 'plane for the current one, so that when I see my parents I can tell them exactly when I will see them again - it's a bit like throwing a line out into the future and pulling ourselves onto an island of time spent together.

That being said, I've asked James Grippando if he'll sub for me, so all being well, you'll be hearing from him for a couple of weeks.

Take care, all, and have a lovely weekend. Safe travels!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Perception of Truth

James O. Born

This is a post I made for the Lipstick Chronicles a month ago. TLC is one of my favorite blogs and the women oevr there rock!

Here it is verbatim:

I appreciate the invitation to blog once again at the Lipstick Chronicles. I’m a fan of each of the contributors and when Elaine Viets asked me back, I jumped at the chance. The last time I wrote a piece for the Chronicles, it concerned buying lacrosse equipment for my daughter and suffering the prejudice of the Sports Authority clerk who couldn't believe cute little girl could be involved in such a rough sport. I can assure you, from my career in law enforcement, that women are just as capable of drawing blood as men.

Perceptions are exactly what I want to talk about today.

I've written five crime novels under the name James O. Born. Because I have spent much of my life involved in law enforcement, people perceived the novels as being autobiographical when, in fact, they were anti-biographical. The novels contained all the quips and quick action that I wish I had taken in real life but the books were simply novels. I made the procedure and interactions between cops as realistic as possible but the plots were largely from my imagination. In magazine interviews or even casual conversations at Bouchercon, I could rarely convince people that the stories were made up.

A couple of months ago I published my first science fiction novel. It's called The Human Disguise and it's under the pen name of James O'Neal. Several crime fiction friends and bookstore owners asked me why I did something so different. The real answer is that it is not that different. In fact, the police procedure and tactics in The Human Disguise is quite a bit more realistic than many of the popular TV shows about crime today. I've yet to find a cop who didn't think The Human Disguise was more realistic than CSI.

Disguise follows detective Tom Wilner as he tries to piece together a gangland shooting in southern Florida twenty years in the future. That's the storyline. It's the setting and subplots, which set it apart from crime stories. Like many cops, his personal life is a mess. And one of the men he’s investigating has hooked up with Wilner’s estranged wife. In real life today no cop would be allowed to investigate someone who had stolen his wife. But in the future, when manpower a short and resources almost nonexistent, the boss tells Wilner, "we don't have time for conflicts of interest. Find out who did the shooting and why, then close the case." And that's what adds a wrinkle to the story.

As a native Floridian, I looked at the way things were when I was growing up in the 1960s, how Florida looked when I moved away in the 1980s and how it looks today, then simply extrapolated the changes to the next generation. I took into account possible pandemics, the effect of terrorism, floundering economies and a few other more fanciful possibilities.

Although I completed the book three years ago, a few of my projections are starting to emerge. In The Human Disguise, Florida's tax structure has crumbled, forcing all the public safety services to be combined into one agency called the Unified Police Force or UPF. Several different pandemics have swept the globe and Florida is depopulated to the point of near wasteland. A report recently came out that showed Florida's population decreasing for the first time in fifty years. That was just a lucky guess.

I've been a fan of science fiction since I could first read. A story is as real and believable as the author makes it. I wanted more of a challenge than just writing about the things I hear other cops say. So I embarked on this new adventure to write something completely different than anything I had tried before. What I found is no matter how unusual you try to make things, somehow the world and society catches up to the point that it's no longer science fiction.

The truth is largely a matter of perception.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Road Trip !!

Posted by Ridley

I am heading off on the proverbial author's tour, but with Dave Barry, so things could be worse.
Disney has "wrapped" cars (with the jacket of our book, Peter and the Sword of Mercy) on the east coast and west coast for us to drive around to our events. I am going to try to get a friend to fill in here for a few Wednesdays. In the meantime, if you wonder what's going on... click here for a new Dave/Ridley video. (sorry, there's a 15 second ad first)

See you out on the road--this time, literally. Here are our tour appearances.... (no ad!)

Disney has asked us to shoot videos and post them daily onto -- they should be a hoot. So check the site often if you're interested.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Balloonheads of the World, Unite

Random, scattered thoughts from Paul Levine...

YOUR LOYAL SLEUTH has uncovered a SECOND hoax in the "Balloon Boy" escapade. Cash-strapped TV stations did not send remote crews to the scene. Instead, they photographed a runaway Jiffy Pop container in the newsroom kitchen.

begins now. Who's the worst parent of the year? OctoMom or Richard (Balloonhead) Heene or Jon & Kate Gosselin? Lifetime Achievement Award to Joe Jackson, Michael's old man. Special posthumous award to John Phillips, father of MacKenzie.

Dear Random House: Yes, I know the manuscript for the new Jake Lassiter novel is overdue. You're not going to believe this, but I was building this helium balloon in my backyard. I planned to sail over to Oxnard to buy some salsa at the Farmer's Market and edit the m/s on the way. Unfortunately, the balloon took off with my m/s, and I think it's somewhere over Catalina right now...

"THE DROUGHT," Jim Born's Barry award-winning short story, could be the basis for a short course on how to write a character study. Young writers (and old ones like me, too) constantly fret over how much "interior" to give their POV characters. Jim hits the perfect balance with the interior life of his homicide detective protagonist investigating a tough, politically charged case, a cop's shooting of an unarmed man.

REMEMBER THE TITANS? If my arithmetic is correct, and I got a C in Math 2 at Penn State (there was no Math 1), Mark ("Brr, It's Cold") Sanchez had a QB rating of 8.3 yesterday while Tom Brady had a 152.8. A perfect rating is 158.3...impossible to score higher. Sanchez (10 of 29 for 119 yards, no TD's, 5 INT's) and the Jets lost to the Bills, 16-13, while Brady (29 of 34 for 380 yards, 6 TD's, no INTs) and the Patriots buried the Titans, 59-0. Speaking of winless Tennessee, is this the NFL's biggest collapse compared to the prior season? "Remember the Titans?" No, me either.

STOP DISSING THE BIG TEN: Prediction: Iowa will be one of the teams playing for the B.C.S. title. Iowa is #6 in the first week's standings. Yeah, go ahead and snicker S.E.C. and Big 12. I'd like to see Florida, Alabama, or Texas play the Hawkeyes in Iowa City on Jan 7....instead of the Rose Bowl. Let's see those southern teams play in wind and rain and slush. (Exhibit A: Mark Sanchez item, above).

BASEBALL TAKES TOO DAMN LONG: I'm not just talking about the 162 game regular season and the two sets of playoffs to get to the World Series, and the series itself, running nearly to Thanksgiving. We've had a 4 hour nine-inning game in the NLCS and a 5 hour, 10 minute extra-inning game between the Angels and Yankees. Jeez, my first marriage didn't last that long. If I were king of the world or occupied Bud (Light) Selig's chair, I'd pass a rule. No baseball game can run longer than the director's cut of "Lawrence of Arabia"...a healthy three hours, 47 minutes.

Paul Levine

Monday, October 19, 2009

Get real: Jon Gosselin and the Balloon Boy

Patty here…

Eight is Enough

I don’t watch much TV and can’t remember how I stumbled upon the TLC show Jon and Kate Plus Eight. I do remember that after watching the eight Gosselin toddlers frolic around the room like puppies in a cardboard box all I could think about Jon and Kate was better them than me. The noise! The laundry!

Along with other viewers, I chuckled at the candid moments all parents experience when their child says something precious. For example, during dinner the kids were discussing the fact that they were part Asian. In a confidential moment with her blond-haired, blue-eyed mother, one of the little girls whispered, “We’re the only ones who’re Asian.” Sweet.

Then Jon woke up one morning and realized his window of opportunity for attracting hot chicks was closing. He wanted to be Peter Pan, not a husband with a testy wife or a father to a gaggle of rug-rats.

Now Jon and Kate are divorcing.

If you believe the tabloids, Jon has a girlfriend he says he loves but even so, he continues serial cheating, including a fling with three Las Vegas showgirls. (More issues with multiples). I guess he thinks his sexual escapades may position him for a spin-off show of his very own.

Mud is slinging. When TLC dropped Jon’s name from the title of the show, he had it taken off the air “for the good of his children.” TLC countered by filing suit for breach of contract. In a recent interview, Jon speculated about his future now that the show is over and the cash has stopped flowing. He said he planned to stay in television.

When I heard that I slapped my palm to my forehead and thought, Jon, Jon, Jon, I have only two words for you—Joey Buttafuoco.

Nobody wants to watch a chubby ex computer guy lock lips with the wild child whose father performed his soon-to-be ex-wife’s tummy tuck. Viewers watch the show because of the dynamic of those eight puppies and two exhausted parents waxing poetic about the trials and tribulations of raising all those kids.

Another What were they thinking? moment

If Jon and Kate weren’t enough to raise my blood pressure, enter the balloon boy. Richard and Mayumi Heene are parents of three young boys who chase tornadoes and hurricanes with their kids. They are also wannabe reality TV stars, having appeared twice on “Wife Swap,” and unsuccessfully pitched a reality TV show of their own.

Then one day they build a hot-air balloon shaped like a silver space ship. It escapes its tether. They call the police to report that their six-year old son Falcon is trapped inside the balloon. All hell breaks loose. The balloon sails for 50 miles, shutting down flights at Denver International Airport, leading the Air National Guard to mobilize. Then a shadowy blob appears to fall from the sky and the world collectively moans, The balloon boy is dead!

But wait! As it turns out, Falcon is not in the balloon at all but hiding in a room above the garage. Everybody breathes a big whew, until CNN’s Wolf Blitzer conducts an interview with Falcon. When asked why he didn’t come out of his hiding place when he knew people were calling to him, he turns to his father and says, “You said we did this for a show.”


Now the parents are facing felony conspiracy charges and could be sentenced up to six years in jail and a $500,000 fine. They may also be charged for the costs of the rescue attempt. Worse yet, they could lose custody of their children.

If you ask me, realty TV is out of control. I’m tired of real people acting like knuckleheads. The next thing you know, somebody will make me watch Tom Delay do the lambada on Dancing with the Stars.

Happy Monday!

Congratulations to our very own James O. Born!

His short story “The Drought,” from the anthology The Blue Religion, edited by Michael Connelly, won the Barry Award for Best Short Story. Jim received the award this past weekend at Bouchercon, a mystery convention held in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Literary Legacy & The Shredder

from Jacqueline

It was when I published my first book that I came across the phenomenon known as the “modern first edition.” At least, that’s what I believe is the correct terminology. I had a few bookstore events lined up – as a first-time author my publisher correctly thought I shouldn’t tour; after all, if no one had ever read my books, the most I could hope for were people running into the store to get out of the rain. And what if it was a sun-filled day? Doomed and crushed first time author. In any case, it was at one of these events, when someone said, “Signature only, and date please,” that I realized that there were people out there collecting copies of the first edition of my first novel. These same people were ecstatic when I told them it was the real first edition, and not just the first American edition. But I guess I just didn’t get it. “Are you sure you don’t want me to say, “For Jenny?” I’d ask, and they would look at me in horror. I guess I had never noticed that shelf of books in my local bookstore, behind locked glass doors: recent first editions.

Now, of course, I know more about the collectors of modern first editions, but I still don’t quite get it. To me, a first edition has a certain look about it – it’s bound in a deep burgundy cloth cover with gold-blocked lettering, it has a fine ribbon book marker and the front piece announces that it was published in 1849, or thereabouts. Or it might have a bold dust jacket with cowboy-movie lettering, and even I would think that perhaps I would pay the money for that copy of a Hemingway or a Steinbeck. But parting with more than the cover price of the book for a Winspear? Hmmmm.

The issue of value and worth of literature came up again a few months ago, when I met a man who is a dealer in modern first editions. A more delightful and knowledgeable person would be hard to find, in this business. His catalog was impressive and included a good number of mystery authors. I was more than taken aback when he said that he would be delighted to “place” my literary archive. He had recently placed the archive of a major mystery author (I really shouldn’t mention the name) with a university of some stature. I laughed and said, “Oh, no ... I mean, who would want to read my scribbles?” I guess I didn’t want to admit that half of my literary archive was in brown paper grocery bags in the garage under two old saddles, and the rest had been shredded because I thought they might ignite and burn the house down. Plus, I really didn’t want anyone ever to see my scrawling corrections. In fact, I was ready to heave off the saddles and take the rest to the shredder. And there’s not much that survives the occasional purging of unwanted stuff from my computer.

This week, however, I realized that I might not have been taking this issue of value as seriously as might. I was chatting to my editor, going over some last minute questions regarding the manuscript of my next book, when she happened to say, “Oh, at least it will be one for the archive.” I laughed, “Oh, no, that’ll go the way of the rest of my papers – straight through the shredder.” And the line went quiet. Silent, until I said, “I think I’ve just said something really bad.” I heard a deep intake of breath. “Well, Jackie, don’t do that any more. No shredding or deleting. You need to protect your archive.”

So, dear reader, what say you? What do you think about literary legacies and first editions? For my part, with all this paper and the books stashed in boxes in the garage, I think I could end up being one of those old ladies who the paramedics can’t find in her own house. And frankly, I can’t imagine anyone wanting my dog-eared marked-up manuscripts, whether on paper or nestled within the confines of a memory stick.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Posting Late

from Jacqueline

I'm posting late this week - check in again tomorrow for my weekly words!

Have a lovely Friday!


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stuart Kaminsky

James O. Born

Last Friday night I attended a showing of the Florida State Flying High Circus. One of the only collegiate circuses in the country. After the show, all of the many acrobats, jugglers and dancers appeared on stage at once to be introduced individually to the crowd. I noticed that one of the young women’s last name was Kaminsky. I immediately wondered if she was related to the writer Stuart Kaminsky who has a long connection to Florida State. Once out of the big top I really didn't think much more about it.

When I returned from Tallahassee and fired up my e-mail I learned that Stuart Kaminsky had passed away on the same day that I made a mental note to ask them if he had any relatives in the flying high circus. I mention this coincidence only because it reinforces how I felt about Stuart. He was a really good guy and I like being around him and I didn’t talk to him as much as I would have liked. That's not a common complement but it is sincere and extraordinarily difficult to achieve.

This blog is probably the first one that mingles my personal feelings with responsibilities I have as president of the Florida chapter of the Mystery Writers of America (MWA). I enjoy working with the MWA and part of the MWA was Stuart Kaminsky. Not only was a member but as a recipient of the grandmaster title which he received a couple years ago during the Edgar awards.

I first met Stuart, his wife Enid and his daughter, Natasha, several years ago when he was signing books at Murder on the Beach in Delray Beach, Florida. His stately manor and keen insights into the craft of writing pressed me very much.

Sometime shortly after that I wrote a brief profile of him for a magazine here in Florida. The following is a draft of that article, which points out his many accomplishments up to that point. He will be missed, mourned, celebrated and remembered for many years to come.

Here's the profile:

The author of more than fifty books, , Stuart Kaminsky shows no signs of slowing down. A native of Chicago, Kaminsky studied journalism at the University of Illinois and eventually earned a PhD in communications from Northwestern University. But it was his high school English teacher, Mrs. White, who encouraged him to write. She talked a young Kaminsky into entering a national poetry contest, which he won. During his college career one of Kaminsky’s professors, George Scoiffas, pushed Kaminsky toward writing after finding one of his short stories outstanding. Later a photo journalism professor named Richard Hildwein arranged Kaminsky’s his first job with United Press. On a broader scale, Kaminsky was influenced by a number of writers whom he read. From Raymond Chandler's noir to Arthur Conan Doyle and the more contemporary Evan Hunter, also known as Ed McBain, Kaminsky developed a sense of plotting and style that has translated success across the publishing spectrum.

His career took a turn in the early 1970's when he started teaching at his alma mater, Northwestern University. As a professor in the Department of Radio, Television and Film he taught a fairly wide variety of subjects including English and Theater. In 1988, he joined the faculty of Florida State University, considered by many to be one of the finest schools in the country. At FSU, he became the director of the Graduate Conservatory in Film and Television.

What leads a man to devote his life to the study teaching and pursuit of writing? In Kaminsky's case, he had also been a voracious reader and by the age of twelve he knew he wanted to be a writer. Although he worked at jobs from loading timber on trucks or waiting tables he never lost sight of his goal to write. This seems to be where many would-be writers get side tracked. The need to find immediately profitable employment obscures the need to write. That is why so many authors tell people that if they are not absolutely compelled to write something every day they should not try to write a novel. It generally frustrates the writer and annoys those in the publishing industry.

Kaminsky's prolific output of novels, writing for television and other endeavors, such as raising his teenage daughter Natasha, visiting with his grown children and grandchildren, or playing softball with his wife, Enid Perll, shoots down another common comment from would-be writers: That many people don't have time to write. Not only does Stuart Kaminsky find time to lead a very active life at the age of 70, he also writes between ten and thirty pages of text each and every day. His newest project is writing a novel series based on the popular TV show C.S.I. New York. In 2005 alone he has three different books slated to be released by two different publishers. Tor will publish Denial, a new Lew Fonseca novel and Terror Town an Abe Lieberman/ Bill Hanrahan novel. In addition to these two popular series, Hothouse press will publish a series of interviews and profiles of best-selling mystery writers. These are based on Kaminsky spending a day with each writer in a natural setting like their home.

Among his series is the popular Toby Peters series. Peters is a private eye in Hollywood of the 1940s who deals with a number of well-known celebrities. In the most recent addition to the series, Now You See It, Peters helps famed magician Harry Blackstone as he’s suspected of murder. The Inspector Rostnikov Novels includes the Edgar nominated Black Knight On Red Square. Kaminsky’s other series include the Abe Liberman and Lou Fonseca books as well as two original novels based on the popular TV show The Rockford Files.

A former President of the Mystery Writers of America, Kaminsky is dedicated to helping other writers. His advice can be simple but profound. From taking writing courses to developing characters, the former professor has a deep reservoir of knowledge. Kaminsky has two cautions on signing up for courses on writing. “Never take a writing course from someone who hasn’t been published,” says Kaminsky. He follows that up with, “Take one course and then write. Don’t make a career out of taking classes.”

Kaminsky continues to write from his home on the west coast of Florida as his youngest daughter prepares to choose a college. Whatever changes happen in Kaminsky’s life we hope he continues to produce the novels that make us chuckle as they frighten us.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wire Gnomes and Crawls

From Ridley

A funny thing happened on the way to the airport. Being a Road Warrior, I am inclined to bring along with me every wire that has ever been included with any item I've purchased. I am worth mugging for the copper content in my backpack alone. And although I won't call myself a type A (others might), I do like things... orderly. Because of this, I neatly organize my wires in a variety of zippered pockets and pouches in my backpack -- I purchased this particular backpack because it has approximately 7000 such pockets and zippers. Each has a particular function: the iPod and earphone pocket with external hard drive; the Kindle pocket; the outer section of the biggest zippered compartment where I will always find my quart sized plastic bag with toothpaste, and next to that my neatly curled power supply, and this of course, next to a similar plastic bag filled with all sorts of dongles and adapters required by my Macbook Air (which is so stripped down it needs a hundred items just to run). There is the front zippered half-pocket with the hand sanitizer, the key ring, and all the pens, highlighters, erasers, cartridges, flashlights (three), you get the idea.

So, my wires go in pretty well-organized. But somewhere between home and the airport, the hotel and the airport, the wire gnomes go to work. They are clever little things. I've never actually seen one, but I know they are there. I know this because their mission is to torture me. Once I have organized my backpack, zipped it up and thrown it onto my back, these devious little creatures go to work. I can picture them in there: running around frantically, consuming my Cheez-Its and Oat Bars, chortling as they do their best to tangle up every single wire in the bag, to lace and braid and knot every last wire so that when I unzip it at my destination my backpack resembles a rat's nest. Just now, it took me close to five minutes to untangle my headphone wire, a wire that went into that backpack perfectly organized and coiled and has remained untouched since -- I mean, what more proof do I need? The real question is: What to do about the gnomes? To my knowledge there is no anti-gnome spray or trap currently on the market (although I think if I could invent one I would be a zillionaire). There are no gnome-detectors that I know about -- infrared devices that can sense the little creatures moving around and trigger an alarm.

I am fraught with despair. Surely, someone, somewhere has come up with a solution to obliterate the Wire Gnomes.

The Crawl

Okay, so maybe I don't like my MTV, but I like my CNN and ESPN. I don't spend a lot of time watching television, but I do like news and sports. And now that we're in the digital age of television, I have a suggestion: if we can put a button on the remote control that can mute the sound and bring up captions in the process, why the heck can't we invent a button on the remote control that removes the crawl at the bottom of the screen? I am a reader. Surprise! Put words in front of my eyes, and I will read them even if I'm trying to pay attention to a woman far too beautiful to have anything to do with news. So it is that my eyes end up on the bottom of every television screen reading information I have no interest in while unable to focus on the news story on the screen that I am in fact interested in. I'm in a hotel at the present, and so had an hour or two to watch television last night, and I was literally talking to the screen telling them to get the crawl off of there, though not in language that can be repeated here. So you geniuses out there, ye who brought us digital television, will you please create a way that broadcasters can broadcast in "layers" allowing the viewer to elect as many overlays as he/she wishes. A single button marked CRAWL, which when pressed repeatedly brings one or two or three different levels of crawl, and outside air temperature, and time of day, and the network logo, and the anchor's waist size, and the station's website, and the name of the fashion designer who dressed the talking head. But don't give it to me if I didn't ask for it. I don't just miss Walter Cronkite (and I do, very much), I long for the days when a TV screen was an image shot from the camera, not composed on a computer. Call me old-fashioned.

Follow me on Twitter (slightly less old-fashioned)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

George Gershwin Goes Surfin'' U.S.A.

From the cluttered mind of Paul Levine...

The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson is going complete and record some unfinished George Gershwin songs, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times. I know what you're thinking. Just when is Jimmy Buffet going to finish one of Mozart's symphonies?

Gershwin is one of the geniuses of American music.

He wrote Broadway musicals, sophisticated popular songs, and classical compositions. He experimented with jazz. He wrote the amazing "Rhapsody in Blue" in three weeks at age 26! It is one of the greatest American compositions of the 20th Century. Who does not recognize that opening 17-note clarinet glissando, signalling the magic that is to come? (My son grew up calling Rhapsody the American Airlines song. Don't blame Gershwin; blame his estate for selling rights for commercial purposes).

I first heard Rhapsody with a full orchestra in a tent at the Aspen Music Festival. Chills-up-the-spine time, and this from a guy who thinks the greatest American singer is Waylon Jennings. (Coming in second is Ridley Pearson).

Here's a decent performance of Rhapsody with Leonard Bernstein on the piano.

"Rhapsody" was so original, so startling, so new...that some traditional critics hated it. Here's a bit of Lawrence Gilman's moronic review of the premiere concert in 1924 in the New York Tribune:

"How trite, feeble and conventional the tunes are; how sentimental and vapid the harmonic treatment, under its disguise of fussy and futile counterpoint! ... Weep over the lifelessness of the melody and harmony, so derivative, so stale, so inexpressive!"

Gershwin died of a brain tumor at age 36. Who knows what he might have composed had he lived a full life? Which brings us to Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys.

Gershwin changed the face of American music; Wilson wrote "Good Vibrations." Okay, I know that's unfair. Wilson is a highly regarded popular musician and songwriter...especially among surfers and stoners. The Gershwin estate must know what they're doing in hiring the guy, right? You know, those same people who sold Rhapsody to American Airlines. What do you think?

How do you feel about Robert B. Parker finishing Raymond Chandler's "Poodle Springs?" What prevails, the author's wishes, or society's "needs?"

Franz Kafka wanted his unfinished works destroyed; some were published anyway. The heirs of Carl Jung next week will publish his highly personal journal, "The Red Book," despite the analyst's apparent wish that it remain secret. They would argue that the world is entitled to learn Jung's deepest thoughts, but apparently not for free. The cover price is $195!

Often, writers leave multiple versions of unfinished works, and literary executors hire new writers to fill in the blanks. This happened to Mark Twain's "The Mysterious Stranger" and J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Silmarillion."

Charles Dickens' "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" was even more mysterious because another author finished it. More recently, Truman Capote's "Answered Prayers" were answered by another; Richard Yates' "Uncertain Times" were given more certainty by a different writer; and F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Love of the Last Tycoon" was finished and, as we say in Hollywood, additional dialogue provided by Matthew J. Bruccoli.

By the way, if I leave any unfinished manuscripts when I kick the bucket, I would like Jim Born to complete them...and clean out my garage. In fact, why wait? Jim, please take over and finish my current Jake Lassiter manuscript.

Hey, come to think of it, let's all wish Jim luck. He's headed to Bouchercon where his stunning short story, "The Drought," is nominated for a Barry Award. The story was contained in "The Blue Religion," edited by Michael Connelly. In my opinion, Jim's story is worth the price of the book, especially if you buy it used on Amazon.

Paul Levine

Monday, October 12, 2009

Why we do the things we do

Patty here…

For those of you who’ve been following my posts, last week I took my 89 year-old mother on a pilgrimage to visit friends and relatives in Washington. Veni, vidi, visited (we came, we saw, we visited). The trip had its challenges but we made it home safely and my mother had a “marvelous” time.

Since returning to LA I’ve been thinking about why I took her on this journey. The simple answer is she wanted to go. However, other daughters would have said no, that she was too physically compromised for such an ambitious itinerary. The truth is I took her because my core need is to do my duty.

I first heard the term “core need” twelve years ago in a class about character development taught by Elizabeth George at Book Passage in Corte Madera. She later wrote a book on writing called Write Away in which she describes the concept:

“We all have them; single needs that are at the core of who we are. We’re born with them and during our lifetimes, we mold most of our behavior to meet our core need. This is something essential to a person, an automatic striving within him that, when denied, results in whatever constitutes his psychopathology.”

Here are some examples she gives of core needs:

Need to be competent (to be good at everything/perfectionist)
Need to do your duty
Need to belong
Need for excitement (adrenaline junkie)
Need to be authentic (genuine)
Need to be right at all costs
Need to be a big shot

Here are a few more I added to the list:

Need for privacy
Need for curiosity
Need for independence
Need for power
Need for control
Need to express oneself
Need to maintain stress (drama queen)

There are more, of course, as many as your imagination or experience can conjure up. George believes when a person’s basic need is denied, he/she becomes stressed, which manifests itself in behaviors she calls psychological maneuvering (delusions, obsessions, compulsions, addictions, denial, hysterical ailments, hypochondria, illness, behaviors harming the self, behaviors harming others, manias, and phobias).

The concept resonated with me. Now whenever I create fictional characters, I assign them a core need and a corresponding psychological maneuver in response to stress.

I’m currently working on a new book featuring a female character with a “past.” Circumstances (of her own making) have challenged her core need, the need to be competent, and she is now obsessed with perfection. She believes there is no margin of error in her decisions and she will do anything to keep her life and career on track. Anything? Methinks that will make for a few wayward choices, at least I hope so.

Do you writers out there use core need to develop characters? Better yet, what is your core need?

Happy Columbus Day!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Things That Go Bump In The Night

from Jacqueline

A few years ago I bought a thumping great book on the subject of “Fear.” I was working on my fifth novel, An Incomplete Revenge, and wanted to really get to grips with the subject of fear, and its ally, violence. Scared people are known for doing things that, in the normal course of events, they might not do. Scared people en masse can be a force of madness to be reckoned with. Then, of course, there are the fears we encounter in everyday life. Most of the time we just get on with it, try to ignore something fearful as if it were a bump in the road, and continue with life. Other times fear can be debilitating. Writers of mysteries, thrillers, suspense and tales of horror deal in the business of fear, to a greater or lesser extent. I am one of those people who just cannot read horror stories or watch horror movies – they really do a number on me and I don’t sleep for weeks. But just lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about fear, about the things that scare me, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve probably been among the walking scared my whole life!

I’m still a bit scared of the dark. Not to the extent that I’ll leave all the lights on, but if I’m alone in the house, I definitely hear every creak, every whine in the rafters. When I was a kid, I remember my brother and I squealing from the bedroom we shared – we were convinced there was a ghost in the room. Dad walked into the room, the voice of calm. “Look at it this way – would you want to live with this family? You mark my words, the ghosts moved out when we moved in. You won’t find any self-respecting ghost in this house.” And of course, he was right.

When I was a child my mother would tell us stories about the Blitz, about how when she was a girl, the family were bombed out of one house after another. She’s a graphic storyteller, my mother, and those dark tales took root in my imagination and self-propagated like weeds . Our house was only a few miles from a small airfield, and at night you could often hear a solitary ‘plane making its way back to base, the distinctive rumble of propeller-driven engines coming ever-closer. In the darkness I would be close to tears, because I was convinced it was a bomber and that we would all be dead by morning. Except, when morning came, I would wake up under my bed, the place of safely to which I had retreated when I couldn’t stand the noise any more. The funny thing is, I could never get enough of those stories.

Snakes. I am really scared of snakes. And snakes seem to find me. My friend, Kas, says that she knows that if she’s hiking with me there will always be a snake on the path at some point. Oh, deep, deep joy. Last week – and for the life of me, I cannot remember where or with whom this discussion took place – at one point the topic of conversation was about people who buy snakes and other exotic reptiles, but when these pets get too big to handle, they throw them down the drain, so they end up in the sewers. And then of course we talked about those cases of people who go to the bathroom, only to find a 15ft python in the toilet bowl. Try getting rid of that with Lysol. So yes, I am scared of bathrooms in tropical places, especially when it’s dark.

I’m scared when the ’phone rings in the middle of the night. Me and tens of thousands of others. The ’phone in the middle of the night is not a good thing, though the last time it happened, it was my cousin John in Australia, who had managed to miscalculate the time difference. I was so relieved I spent over an hour talking to him.

When I was younger, I used to do things because they scared me, a sort of “feel the fear and do it anyway” thing. I think I was trying to prove to myself that I wasn’t a wimp. Of course, being older and wiser, I don’t jump from great heights with parachutes, crash rally cars and that sort of thing any more. Looking back at this post, I’ve realized that most of these fears could be seen as something of an indulgence – though perfectly human, in their way – when set against the fearful existence that amounts to everyday life in Darfur, Afghanistan or Iraq; or when one takes into account the fear that grips someone who has just had an accident and has no medical insurance, or who stands to lose a house or a job. But fear is fear, an emotion, one of the many things that makes us who we are.

So, that being said – what scares you? Go on, tell us. Talking about fear is the equivalent of turning the light on in a dark room - and believe me, there are no ghosts lurking in the Naked Authors cupboard. They moved out when we moved in!

PS: Another one of my dad's sayings, on those occasions when we were scared, was, "You don't want to worry about the dead - they're gone, they can't hurt you. It's the living you've got to watch!"

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A couple of Good Books

This blog is essentially about writing and books even though we often get sidetracked on subjects ranging from politics to sports. So today's post is a simple commentary on a couple of the books I read this summer.

I’ll admit I am not above pimping my friend’s books. I will further confess that my personal feelings about author can often I influence my view of his or her book. In this case I’m happy to say that both books are just plain, entertaining reads.

The first of these books is Jonathon King’ The Styx. This is quite a departure for the Edgar Award winning author of the Max Freeman series. Jon is a good friend of mine and I’ve enjoyed all of his books but this one had special meaning to me. It is an historical novel centering around my hometown of West Palm Beach, and because it is set in the late nineteenth century, also what is now the town of Palm Beach. It's a ministry that focuses on the famous fire, which burned down the shantytown that housed the workers for Henry Flagler and other people living on the island.

The Styx also means something special to me because my father, John Born, is also a character in the book. Jon made him a judge in a courtroom scene, reflecting his real-life profession as a circuit court judge who sat in the Palm Beach County Courthouse until 1986.

Jonathon King is appearing this Friday night (tomorrow night) at Murder on the Beach Mystery-Bookstore in Delray Beach, Florida. Stop by, say hello to Jon, and buy a great novel.

The second book I'd like to mention in today's post is Julian Comstock: A Tale of 22nd Century America by Robert Charles Wilson. I do not know Mr. Wilson personally, but we do happen to share the same publicist at Tor, the world renowned Justin Golenbock.

Julian Comstock and my own novel, The Human Disguise were reviewed in the same issue of Publisher’s Weekly at the beginning of the summer. They had this to say about Julian Comstock :

Written with the eloquence and elegance of a Victorian novel, this thoughtful tale combines complex characters, rousing military adventure and a beautifully realized, unnerving future.

I appreciated the novel on several levels. It was a simple, first-person adventure story told from the perspective of a young semi-indentured servant named Sam Hazzard. In the future, the United States has turned back the clock (both technologically and culturally) to roughly the late nineteenth century. Horses and steam locomotives are the primary transportation. Sam Hazzard is the friend of the president's nephew, the title character. The story leads through the country’s politics as well as culture with a good dose of war thrown in. The book almost felt like a Civil War adventure both in tone and action. I loved it.

Both books are different from our usual fare of serial killers, burned-out cops, private detectives that actually enforce law and all the other crime novels we see every day.

Drop a quick comment about a book you liked that was a little off the beaten path.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Sharpening the Sword

There are indignities large and small in this business, and there is just plain fun. So when Disney came to Dave Barry and me, asking we shoot a teaser video while 1500 miles apart, we took them up on the suggestion.

In a few weeks, we go on a road trip, some of which will be spent in three different (identical) vehicles, "wrapped" with our book jacket.

New York to DC; Seattle area; and LA/SanDiego will all be in the "Sword mobile." The crowning jewel to an already bedecked tour, was an invite from an ex-politico to attend a soiree in our honor at his Los Angeles home (and sell books!), but alas "the schedule" may now prevent us from attending our own party. Sadly, we may have to cancel that one. Oh, well: that's politics.

One last gripe -- and this might demand an entire post at some point: Out Of The Office. It seems, in this modern world of ours, that every time I send an cc:ed email to a publisher, one or more of the recipients are "Away From The Office for the next 9 weeks, please contact my assistant." Thing is, this happens EVERY week, all year long, implying some of these figures are mythical -- collecting checks, when in fact they don't occupy an office. Does the company know this? Do they have truancy officers in corporations? Who's manning the store? What's curious about this is I happen to know these people, and I know for a fact that they carry a Blackberry or iPhone; I do, in fact, often hear back from them within a few minutes of my sending the email, which means they are using their devices and keeping current the way THE REST OF US DO when we're away from home/office (constantly, in my case, for the next seven months!) SO WHY POST THE OBNOXIOUS MESSAGE in the first place and clog our in-boxes with invalid blow-offs? Just a thought: omit the automatic reply next time. If you want your assistant to handle it for you, then forward or cc: your inbox email to your assistant. It would save the rest of us from deleting all those auto-replies.

And now I'm off... to practice my driving.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Modesty Prevents Me...

From Paul Levine...

THEY SAY I'M THE GREATEST: On Sunday, I served on a panel at the West Hollywood Book Fair. Rather than introduce the panelists, Jerrilyn Farmer, our moderator, asked each of us to say a few words about ourselves. Being the modest type, I'm always uncomfortable doing this. Won't it seem like boasting to mention my Nobel Prize for Literature? And that I would kill for a Nobel Peace Prize?
Luckily, I had just read the new "Mystery Scene" magazine with its cover story about literary wild man James Ellroy. The author of "American Tabloid," "The Cold Six Thousand," and "Blood's a Rover" is not overly burdened with modesty He has also come up with a clever way to compliment himself without being blatantly obnoxious. He quotes someone else, in this case Joyce Carol Oates: "She called me the American Dostoevsky."

I like it. So, here's my introduction:

"'Illegal' is so good I nearly finished it." -- James O. Born

"Levine is to words what McDonald's is to cattle." -- Maury Povich

"What makes you think you're so funny?" -- Sally Levine (Paul's mother).

SOMEONE ELSE WITH NO SHORTAGE OF EGO: Chain-smoking Mike Wallace interviewed Frank Lloyd Wright on network television, September 1, 1957. Here's the intro: "Good evening, what you are about to witness is an unrehearsed, uncensored interview. My name is Mike Wallace, the cigarette is Philip Morris."
It's a great interview. Here's the transcript. Here's the video:
The interview holds my interest because of the battle of two giant egos. At one point, Wright denied he ever said he was the greatest architect of the 20th Century. But then: "I've been accused of saying I was the greatest architect in the world, and if I had said so, I don't think it would be very arrogant."

He could have said: "Other people say I'm the greatest."

Paul Levine

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Mutiny on the Bubble

from James Grippando

“So when do you think this legal thriller bubble is going to burst?”

I will never forget those words from my first editor. It was the fall of 1993, I was in New York to meet him for the very first time, and I nearly choked on my penne with Arabiata sauce.

“Bubble?” I said.

I didn’t know it yet, but I was talking to one of the handful of distinguished editors who had essentially passed on The Firm, having told John Grisham’s agent that he could maybe get him fifty grand for it. By 1993, the movie rights had already sold, Tom Cruise was on board to play Mitch McDeere, and Grisham was huge. So was Scott Turow. Richard North Patterson. Steve Martini. The television hit L.A. Law was still racking up Emmies by the bushel. Law and Order was in its fourth season. Even Judge Wapner of The People’s Court had become a household name, for crying out loud, and …

“Bubble? You really see it as a bubble?”

This fall marks fifteen years since the publication of The Pardon, my first novel—one of those “bubble” legal thrillers that is still in print and selling strong as installment #1 in the Jack Swyteck series. I realize now that my editor and I had radically different definitions of “legal thriller.” To him, it was a new invention. To me, it was at least as old as one of my all-time favorite novels: Mutiny on the Bounty.

It’s hard for most people to think about that masterpiece without conjuring up images of Clark Gable casting Charles Laughton adrift in that overloaded lifeboat (“I'll live to see you - all of you - hanging from the highest yardarm in the British fleet.”) If your memory (or film library) goes back only to Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard, you’re probably still scratching your head at my “legal thriller” argument. But if you re-read the novel, you will quickly understand what I’m talking about. Sure, the bulk of the story is a maritime adventure. But those court martial scenes in later chapters still get my heart racing, and I can almost feel the shadow of the gallows as those mutineers plead for help from their lawyers. There are courtroom scenes in the movies, but for me they pale in comparison to the prose. That’s why, in my book, Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall was perhaps the first—and is definitely one of the finest—legal thrillers ever written. It is Exhibit A in the stack of proof that this is no bubble.

I wish I had written it.

P.S. Patty will return in all her naked splendor next week.

Friday, October 02, 2009

A Day Off

from Jacqueline

I'm not at home right now and working with internet access that isn't consistent enough to post today, so I will save my words until next week.

Have a really lovely weekend. The sun is shining in my part of the world, and may it shine on yours, too.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Right and Wrong

James O. Born

Events this week affected this post in a big way. I’d been formulating this blog entry for several weeks and had even made a couple of notes. Then the arrest in Switzerland this weekend of Roman Polanski brought it into even sharper focus. Everyone's got an opinion on Mr. Polanski’s talent, tragedies and legal situation but lost in the shuffle is the bigger issue of what he did that the state of California found so objectionable and frankly so did I. In 1977, at the age of forty-four, he had sex with a thirteen-year-old girl. I'm sorry but that's unacceptable. That's me speaking as a father of a teenage girl, as a law enforcement official, as a writer, as a relatively responsible adult, hell, it's me speaking as a football fan. Despite his obvious talent and the heartbreak he suffered, sleeping with a child is something I have a real problem with.

I know all about the circus courtroom and the publicity hungry judge. I know about the lawyers and the plea agreement and about the now middle-aged victim who just wants it all go away. I could not care less if Mr. Polanski is extradited to the U.S. or dies peacefully in his bed in France twenty-five years from now. The fact that he would consider sleeping with a child makes me shudder.

He is not the only celebrity who seems to be excused for his lapses in judgment because he's wealthy and people like his films. Woody Allen married his stepdaughter. And she was past eighteen and legal adult at the time and they are still married. That doesn’t make it right. At some point she was the sister to his children and a little girl while he was a middle-aged man. Am I the only one that finds this creepy?

Then there's Michael Vick who restarted his career in the NFL this week after being convicted of crimes related to dog fighting. We've heard the accounts of how he tortured and murdered dogs. This goes beyond creepy to me and moves on to sickening. Despite that, he played quarterback on a few plays for the Philadelphia Eagles this weekend. The major difference here, and one that I find hard to argue with, is that Mr. Vick did pay a debt to society by spending almost 2 years in prison. He has clearly stated that he made a mistake and that he will not engage in activity like that ever again. He sounds convincing when I hear him in interviews. I'm interested in giving people a second chance when they admit wrongdoing and have paid for their mistakes, although I must admit this is a stretch in Michael Vick's case.

Another way to look at all three of these instances is to think what would happen if the guy who fixes your garbage disposal had sex with your thirteen-year-old neighbor. Even if she agreed to it and was drunk at the time, I doubt you'd think it was okay. Or what if your second husband, who owns a video store, decided to marry your twenty-one-year-old daughter. Would that be an issue for you? Would you use an auto mechanic had been in the paper for electrocuting a dog?

Sorry to be a little bit of a downer on a beautiful Thursday morning but I've been thinking about this for a few weeks now. I've met too many kids whose lives were shattered because some adult thought thirteen was old enough to make an informed decision.

Talented or not, wealthy or poor, we should each have to face roughly the same consequences if we’re caught doing something really heinous.

Do you agree or am I a blockhead? I’m interested in all opinions but please don’t mention Chinatown as a defense. Thank Robert Towne for an excellent screenplay instead. And forgive Towne for his big lapse of judgement: writing the screenplay for Tom Cruise and Days of Thunder.

(Note, since I wrote this I've seen alot of essays on this. None influenced this blog.)