Oct 182014
 

Guest Blogger: Dani Looney 

NYCC cosplay
With all the talk in the mystery world about Boucher-con, Marilyn thought it would be a good idea (which she may later regret) to let me be a guest blogger and write about my experiences at New York Comic Con.    

In the beginning, comic conventions were pretty much just for comics.  Buying and selling them, sharing the art, and premiering new story arcs.  Over time though, these conventions have become something much bigger.  Not only are they celebrating comics, but now they include a wide range of media.  Movies, television, books, and video games are all included under the umbrella of a comic convention.  Since it is now cool to be a “geek” and with the growing number of superhero movies, the explosion of gaming culture and the popularity of shows like “The Big Bang Theory”, Comic Con has become a 4 day extravaganza of all things “nerd”.   There are plenty of panels, screenings, games, vendors, and celebrities to draw even the most introverted of us out into public. Those running the show very quickly figured out that the quickest way to our hearts was to offer us a chance to buy merchandise from our favorite shows, and also offer us a chance to discuss and find out more about the things we loved.

As an avid reader and as a fan of things including, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Marvel, etc., Comic Con allows me 3 days of non-stop fun.  Not only do I get a chance to meet some of the actors portraying my favorite characters, like Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch last year, but I am also surrounded by other who enjoy these things and who are just as enthusiastic as I am.  Most of us have created cosplays, costumes, of our favorite characters, and quite a few attendees put some serious time and effort into these costumes.  The creativity that attendees put into their cosplays can be seen in what they can come up with.  Just this year, I saw a man dressed as the many characters Johnny Depp has played, as well as quite a few gender bends of male characters.  We all praise each other’s creativity, take pictures, and discuss our loves without fear or worry of others thinking we are “obsessive” or “crazy” or “too involved” (and those are some of the kinder things said).  It is easy to find friends while waiting in line for a panel and begin sharing theories over what the next series of Sherlock will be like, or how we are enjoying the newest regeneration of the Doctor.  Overall con going is a very enjoyable experience and the people in charge are continually trying to make things better.  This year there was even a new harassment policy about how cosplay is not consent.  This was a very welcome reminder that just because someone is dressed up, no matter how scantily, that it is not okay to just touch and take pictures of them.  As a woman, I was very appreciative of this new policy, and how it was a reminder to people that asking before touching is a good thing. 

Now to get to the best part of Comic Con for me: the books.  Since attendance this year topped 150,000+ people a day, publishers were ready with new releases and lots of new authors.  I found myself circling the few book aisles and chatting with the people working the booths.  Many times I was friendly and polite enough to snag some free ARCs.  There were also buttons, stickers, book samplers, and tote bags just being given away as you walked past a booth.  In total, I think I walked away with eight to ten books and around six of those were free.  Some of the free books being given away were part of a signing that was going on.  I was able to meet fantasy writing veteran Robin Hobb, who was happy to hear about the independent book store I worked in and that they were still around.  Many new authors were also in attendance and were encouraged to see how busy the publishing booths could get and how many readers were out there and wanting to take a chance on a new author.  The best part of these booths was the people working them.  Their enthusiasm for books and authors was contagious and I really loved being able to share my own love of books with them.  Many of them were very encouraged at seeing how many people stopped at their booths to ask about new releases and their favorite authors.  I garnered quite a few compliments on my own female Percy Jackson cosplay, which then of course led to discussions of what we all thought of the last book in the Heroes of Olympus series, as well as a few cries of, “No spoilers! I haven’t finished yet.”

Books were not only just available on the main floor, but this year there were quite a few literary panels that were incredibly interesting to go to.  There were panels for young adult readers, Doctor Who fans, ones for fantasy fans, and ones for fans of any kind of books.  Some of my favorites were, “Damsels in Distress Need Not Apply” and “How Game of Thrones Changed Fantasy, or Did It?” .  All of these panels featured authors talking and discussing different subjects.  A big topic of many of the panels was the representation of female characters.  It was very refreshing to see authors really looking at how women are presented in books, especially these genres where it’s easy to make them damsels who do nothing but be rescued.  Many authors are noticing that a good portion of their fan base is female and is craving unique strong female characters, and they are actively trying to give us these characters.  Marvel is really trying to show that comics are not just for boys anymore and have been trying to really incorporate more female heroes, including a new incarnation of Thor where a woman is worthy of the Mjolnir as well as separate arcs for characters like Black Widow and Captain Marvel.  No longer are they in skimpy costumes and armor that only covers the “important” bits, but they are taking charge and showing everyone that they are just as capable as any of the male superheroes out there.     

Sadly, Comic Con is now over.  I had a blast and would not change a thing.  After some great panels, a few autographs, numerous lines, a few hugs for a fallen Castiel, and one very damp day as Han Solo, you would think I’d be bone tired and very sore, and truthfully I very much am.  Carrying around multiple tote bags, early mornings, and lots of walking have left me very exhausted.  There are two things I know for sure though; I don't regret a single bit of it, and I cannot wait for next year.    

Sep 232014
 

Todd Moss

 

This week I’m very pleased to welcome as guest Tuesday Dead Guy author Todd Moss, whose Golden Hour (Putnam) is available at all the usual outlets, plus airports, train stations, Costco, and think tanks everywhere. Todd has been let loose the past few weeks, following publication; but his experiences may have been slightly different from what either he or you might have expected.

TMoss Cover (2)

I had no idea what to expect from the book tour for my debut thriller THE GOLDEN HOUR, released September 4th. I’d written several nonfiction books and had spoken in front of groups about foreign policy hundreds of times, but this was my first foray into fiction and certainly my first book tour. It’s been strange, nerve-wracking, and pretty cool all at the same time.  Here’s what I think I’ve learned so far.

  Todd sitting (2)

It’s okay to be excited. After all the hours alone in the office and alone in my head, the novel is now, finally, out there. And people who’ve heard about it, want to meet the author. I’ve been really struck at the number of friends (some I haven’t seen since high school!) who are both giddy and gracious about my first novel. Most haven’t even read it yet, yet it’s been tremendously gratifying and humbling to receive the flood of emails, Facebook messages, and even knocks on my front door. I’m a guy who normally shirks away from being the center of attention, so I’ve had to force myself to soak it all in, to take a few moments to just enjoy it. And even at 44 years old, it feels good to make your parents proud. 

  Housto airport 2

Yeah, no one knows you… yet. While friends and family have been pouring it on thick, no debut author has a fan base. This means any “book tour” sounds like a grand affair… but it’s not. I’d assumed that book signings would be at big box bookshops in cities like New York, Los Angeles, perhaps Atlanta and Chicago. Nope. After two launch events in my hometown of Washington DC, my publisher sent me to independent shops in Arizona and Texas. At first, I didn’t quite get it either. Then it was patiently explained what should have been obvious:  “No one knows you yet. No one will show up, especially in the big crowded markets.”  So instead, my stops have been specialty crime and thriller bookshops. Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale organized an intimate discussion about my book and, in an age of ISIS and Ebola, the role of America around the world. Murder by the Book in Houston hosted a reading and Q&A with around forty thriller fans.  Just as importantly as these in-person events, both shops provided a marvelous platform for tapping into their enthusiastic reader networks. Even if you aren’t generating lines around the block, it’s still exhilarating to sign a tall stack of your own books! (Note from JG--This was the best photo we had--it was after Todd had already signed the tall stack, and folks were carrying their own copies to him by then. Because even better than signing the tall stack is SELLING OUT the tall stack...)

  Todd signing (3)

 

Todd and stock of books

A modern tour is much more than bookshops. I keep hearing that the halcyon days oflarge crowds to meet authors are largely over for all but the most famous writers.  So, in addition to a handful of select bookshop appearances, I’m talking about THE GOLDEN HOUR at lots of other venues that can draw interested crowds. Since my thriller revolves around a professor who works inside the U.S. Government, I’m speaking at colleges (Columbia, Pomona, Texas A&M, Tufts, Harvard) and related professional associations (World Affairs Councils, think tanks). I’m also promoting the book through radio, newspaper opeds, social media, and even a few TV shows. Each of these hits relatively small audiences, but they accumulate. These efforts, I hope, will build fan momentum for the next book… and maybe even a more ambitious second tour?

  MSNBC

In the end, that’s the point: lots of small steps toward a fan base who will love your book, tell their friends, and (fingers crossed!) buy the sequel. 

 

Todd Moss, senior fellow and COO at the Center for Global Development in Washington DC and the former top US diplomat for West Africa, is author of THE GOLDEN HOUR, the first in the Judd Ryker series from Penguin’s Putnam Books. Todd is represented by Josh Getzler. 

Aug 312014
 

Gwen Gregory guest blogs for Jessy Randall this week.

WolfIn the wake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Swedish mysteries are all the rage. Not that they aren’t good, but they may be getting more attention than thrillers set in, say, Honduras. Anything with a Swedish connection seems to have a little extra oomph right now. Cecilia Ekbäck is, in fact, from Sweden, but she now lives in Canada and wrote this book in English, which probably makes it easier to present to a U.S. audience. Historical novels are also hot, and Wolf Winter wins on this front too.

Set on the frontier of Swedish Lapland in 1717, Wolf Winter includes a murder, but it goes beyond to study human behavior under extremes. In 18th century Scandinavia, the struggle with winter and just finding food to make it through until spring was brutal. Maija has moved from a coastal town to a rugged mountain with her husband and daughters. This sparsely-settled area holds just a few families, and the closest town is miles away. Almost as soon as they get there, one of the daughters finds a dead body; the story of how and why this man was killed unfolds throughout the novel. Against a backdrop of the politics and culture of the time, Ekbäck explores of how people act under pressure, whether political, social, or religious. The culturally distinct Lapps play a role in the story, as does the state-sanctioned church and even the King of Sweden. In the end, Maija and most of the other settlers survive the harsh winter, but not without much suffering, both physical and psychological.   

At times I was reminded of Halldor Laxness’s Independent People and other novels that bring home the fundamental toughness of rural life in Scandinavia. I can’t evaluate the authenticity of Ekbäck’s recreation of Sweden in 1717, but I found it all eminently believable. I enjoyed both the historical detail and the characters. The author’s spare style fits well with the reserved people and harsh landscape she describes. This title is due out in January 2015. 

Gwen Gregory is the resource acquisition and management librarian at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She reads books the way many people watch TV.

Jul 202014
 

Gwen Gregory guest blogs for Jessy Randall this week. The short version: an engrossing YA mystery.

Artofsecrets

I was first drawn to The Art of Secrets by James Klise (Algonquin, 2014) because it takes place in Chicago and the author is a librarian. Once I started reading, I found that Saba Khan, the teenage heroine, lives just a mile or so from my home in the Rogers Park neighborhood on the north side of the city. I was quickly drawn into the story, which blends elements like teen angst and learning to get along with arson and art theft.

Without revealing too much of the plot, here’s a quick rundown. Saba’s family’s apartment burns in an arson-caused fire and they lose all their possessions. Her fellow students at the private school where she is on scholarship want to have a benefit auction to help the family, and one donated item turns out to be quite valuable. Chaos and crime ensues.

The text is almost all in the form of first person narratives from different characters, including Saba, her parents, others students, and teachers. Some are police or newspaper interviews, some are journals entries; there are even a few text messages. It took me a bit to get used to this, as well as to the different fonts used to express handwritten entries, but I got into it fairly quickly. 

Klise manages to touch on quite a few interesting issues, especially cultural, religious and socioeconomic diversity as exemplified by Saba and other students. The mystery is not particularly complex, but it did keep me guessing until the end. While the crimes committed are serious, there’s no violence or drugs involved. The Art of Secrets will be engrossing for most young adult readers, and quite a few grown-ups as well.

Librarian side note: there were comments in the text about a student using the library catalog terminals for email. Only a librarian would bring this up, so I know the author is the real deal.

Gwen Gregory is the resource acquisition and management librarian at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She reads books the way many people watch TV.
Jul 112014
 

Black Hour cover web2I'm honored to turn the mic over today to Lori Rader-Day, whose fantastic debut novel, THE BLACK HOUR, is out now. Enjoy her post...and then read her book!

 

As I write this, my to-be-read pile is teetering precariously. With my debut novel, The Black Hour, out this week, I’m behind on just about everything. The dog always gets her walk. No one in the house is starving. Sure, the bathroom could use a good going over—with a flamethrower. I’ll get to it.

The book stack only grows taller.

Yet this week instead of picking up one of the many (many) new books I’ve purchased to support a mystery-writing friend or to keep current with what’s selling in the genre, I took up a book I’ve probably read five times before.

If I tell you that it was Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, maybe you’ll understand why I turned to the same book again. If you haven’t read it, Bird by Bird is a book of essays but also a balm for the soul of any fretful writer. Since on any given day what I’m fretting about is finding a few minutes to write some fiction, the advice, the balm, and the off-genre reading are all part of why I return again and again.

Stephen King said in his book On Writing (which I have read three times), “If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

I would amend: If you don’t have time to re-read something once in a while, you’re missing out on one of the best self-education tools available to you.

Writers are often fast readers. That’s good news if you like to see your to-be-read pile decimated as though it’s being fed into a wood chipper. You are the wood chipper. But if your goal, like mine, is not just to know what happened in a story but to understand how it all came together satisfyingly—or rather how it petered out and bombed, which is another good thing to understand—then once in while, you need to pick up a book for the second time.

The first read, you’re finding out what happened. You’re experiencing the book as a reader—emotionally. This is not an unimportant part of the process, because you want to write stories that take readers on an emotional ride. The trick is: can you go on the ride and not stand to the side, spectating? You’re a reader on the first time through, a passenger.

The second time, you’re a conductor, pointing out to yourself the twists and turns the other writer took. You’re also probably going more slowly, which has its own benefits. This time through you’re not a tourist. You might still enjoy the ride, but you’re also hanging over the side watching all the mechanicals underneath.

With so many books on my shelves—and yours, I’m willing to bet—is it crazy to reach past those signed hardcovers your friends wrote and whose online reviews you’d really like to add to? There’s only so much time and so many (many) books. Sometimes I mourn that I’ll never read all the books I want to. You probably do the same. We’re a different breed. All we can do is go bird by bird—read the books that speak to us, learn from those that call to us a second or third time, read widely, read deeply, read. 

Rader Day_Lori 2Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery The Black Hour (Seventh Street Books, 2014). Born and raised in central Indiana, she now lives in Chicago with her husband and dog. Her fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Time Out Chicago, and others. Visit her at LoriRaderDay.com.

 

 

Jun 012014
 

Guest post by Jon Khoury for Jessy Randall

Laymon
If you're unfamiliar with the great work of writer Richard Laymon you owe it to yourself to find a book or two and take the plunge. Laymon, the author of over 50 mystery, thriller, horror stories follows the traditions of absolutely no one. In fact, suffice to say, that any 21st century writer of mystery and horror without understanding Laymon is cheating the genre by ignoring a wonderful and true talent.

In Laymon's 1994 mystery In The Dark, librarian Jane Kerry finds a note in an envelope sitting on her chair at the circulation desk just before closing one evening. "Jane," the only word on the sealed envelope lurks in front of her as she turns and notices. As she glances around the library to see who may have left the note, she is interrupted by several last minute patrons checking out last minute books for the evening. Finally, once the library is closed, Jane is able to reach down, open the letter and read what it says. "Look Homeward Angel," it says along with a further clue or two as the book and the mystery begin. 

Jane is subsequently led, via these notes into more and more dangerous tasks while receiving gifts from The Master of Games, doubling after each mini-adventure. (the first envelope contains $50)  If you know Richard Laymon, the tasks become more and more difficult, risky, ambiently and overtly sexual and what lies ahead is good old fashioned, pre-cell phone to get you out of a tough situation, mystery, horror suspense,with spot on dialogue and absolutely not, your grandparents' cheerful Miss Marple adventure. 

Once you read Laymon, assuming you'll accept exactly who he is, as a writer, you will crave more. Like the great works of Alfred Hitchcock, innocent people get tangled in most unusual ways. My promise to you is that a treasure hunt of your own will ensue as you begin looking for more and more Laymon books. And in a funny way, the prize and pleasure seems to double, as does Jane's fortune, with every read.

Jon Khoury is the Executive Director and CEO of Cottonwood Center for the Arts. Although he has a knack for being a people person, the people he meets in books are his favorite company.

Note from Jessy: Thanks, Jon, for recommending this book to me. I found it compulsively readable, couldn't put it down and finished it in two days. Here's my favorite sentence in the book: "The pistol went nicely into the big, loose pocket on the right front of her culottes" (p. 296). (Not a sentence you'd find in many books today.) I was disappointed that Jane didn't use her library and information skills more, however. Her librarianhood seemed to be for titillation rather than for plot. On the other hand, how titillating are culottes? Well, at least she was wearing something at the time. For great swaths of the book she's at least partly in the buff.

Apr 202014
 

Gwen Gregory guest blogs for Jessy Randall this week.

Blood
Walter Kirn is a respected contemporary writer, author of novels including Thumbsucker and Up In The Air.  He is also widely published in magazines, including Time, GQ, and Esquire. Kirn’s new book Blood Will Out is being promoted as the next great true crime story, right up there with In Cold Blood. I beg to differ. While it focuses on Christian Gerhartsreiter, a man of many aliases perhaps best known as Clark Rockefeller, it isn’t really the story of this German who came to the U.S. and remade himself as an American aristocrat. There is another book all about that, The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal.  There was even a Lifetime TV movie about Gerhartsreiter. Rather, this is the story of Kirn’s relationship with the man he knew as Clark Rockefeller and how being a writer affected the situation.

Kirn first encountered Gerhartsreiter/Rockefeller in 1998, when Kirn agrees to take a rescue dog from Montana to the latter in New York. From the beginning, Kirn admits, to himself at least, his interest in meeting a Rockefeller, both as a writer in search of characters and out of a fascination for the rich and famous. After a rough journey, Kirn delivers the disabled dog and thus begins a years-long friendship.  The two men are in contact off and on for many years. In 2008, Clark Rockefeller is arrested in a child custody/kidnapping case, his real identity is discovered, and he ends up in prison. In 2011, he is charged with the 1985 murder of Jonathan Sohus in California. This trial took place in 2013, with Kirn in attendance.  He used it an occasion to reflect on his relationship with the man he knew as Clark Rockefeller and considered the testimony of the witnesses through the lens of his own experiences. Kirn made friends with other writers at the trial and even took his own teenage daughter to court one day.  He was really into it. After the guilty verdict, he visited his old friend in prison a number of times. Even after hearing all the testimony, and knowing so much about all the cons and lies, he could see how easy it was to be manipulated by him. 

The strength of book Blood Will Out isn’t in psychological insights about sociopaths or forensic evidence about cold murder cases.  It is really about Kirn’s relationship with this totally off the wall person and how that worked out. Like most people, Kirn generally believed what Gerhartsreiter told him about his life, maybe taking things with a grain of salt but never imagining that it was all totally fabricated.  In fact, he dismisses the first reports of his friend’s false identity in 2008, until it becomes fully clear that it was all a lie. Kirn examines his thoughts and feelings, ranging the gamut from being impressed at Rockefeller’s modern art collection (which turned out to be all forged) to betrayal upon the revelation of his true identity and full-on anger at some points during the murder trial. Along the way, Kirn shares bits and pieces about his own life, including his family and divorce. He frequently refers to stories of self-invention like Fitzgerald’s Gatsby and Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, believing they inspired his friend’s efforts. This is an interesting exploration of both our fascination with celebrity and how we react when faced with someone who breaks all the rules of social convention.

Gwen Gregory is is the resource acquisition and management librarian at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She reads books the way many people watch TV.

Feb 022014
 

My writer friend Bruce Bentzman recently published a three-part essay about being burgled in the online magazine Snakeskin (part 1, part 2, part 3). I thought Dead Guy readers might be interested in some of the real-life procedural details of the case.

Bentzman left his apartment unlocked for about fifteen minutes while he did some outside work. When he returned, he discovered his laptop and a few other things had been stolen. Bentzman and his “more significant other,” Ms. Keogh, called the police. Meanwhile, they soon learned, the burglar had already begun using the credit card to purchase gift cards from local shops.

Pen1Bentzman was especially upset about the less-monetarily-valuable thefts: his mail, his journal, and three beloved fountain pens including a Sailor Bamboo Susutake similar to the one pictured at right. (I occasionally receive handwritten letters from Bentzman; it’s clear from looking at them that he cares deeply about ink and penmanship.) He followed the credit card trail of the burglar, hoping to recover whatever he could from nearby trash bins. He says:

In the trash at the Rite Aid in Yardley, I found three envelopes that were not mine. It appeared that someone had paid bills and thinking they were mailing them, inadvertently tossed them into the blue recycle bin mistaking it for the blue mailbox that was only a few feet further. I picked them out, noted the return address, mailed them correctly, and called Mr. N. of Yardley to reveal the error. Mr. N., who sounded like a dear man, 92-years-old, was thoroughly astonished and grateful. So was I. I felt I had been afforded the chance to restore some goodness into the world, countering the damage caused by the shithead burglar or burglars, only I never found my mail.

Bentzman soon learned that two women, likely the burglars, were under arrest for other crimes in the neighborhood. He filled out a form requesting to see the crime report for his burglary:

A week later, I received a letter from the Township Manager informing me that my request has been denied pursuant to the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law Section 708 (b)(16). 708 (b) are the exceptions. (16) has many parts. Which parts are pertinent to me? One that stood out was, “(iii) A record that includes the identity of a confidential source or the identity of a suspect who has not been charged with an offense to whom confidentiality has been promised.” But maybe more pertinent was, “(v) Victim information, including any information that would jeopardize the safety of the victim.”

Then there was (vi), which is subdivided into five parts. “(A) Reveal the institution, progress or result of a criminal investigation, except the filing of criminal charges. (B) Deprive a person of the right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication. (C) Impair the ability to locate a defendant or codefendant. (D) Hinder an agency’s ability to secure an arrest, prosecution or conviction. (E) Endanger the life or physical safety of an individual.” That last one, would my inquiries place me in danger?

Bentzman found out as much as he could about the accused women. The more he learned, the less likely it seemed he would ever recover his pens or his journal (and indeed, as of this writing, he hasn’t gotten them back). He learned that the two women were heroin addicts and repeat offenders, and that he would be in attendance at the hearing for Anne Bambino, the woman who had used Ms. Keogh’s credit card. What was it like to see her up close?

The courthouse was unimpressive, a one-story white stucco building. It looked insignificant, as if the law did not merit any special honor, held no particular virtue. When Ms. Keogh entered the stark lobby of the building, I pointed to the window in the wall where she needed to sign in. We then sat together and waited, wondering if we would recognize Ms. Bambino when she arrived.

I expected to recognize her. After all, I had seen her photograph. I had seen the pictures taken by surveillance cameras. I had seen her mug shots. There are several as she has been arrested multiple times. I had seen her Facebook portrait. She would not have recognized me or Ms. Keogh. Whether it was she or her associate who rifled our apartment, we had no photographs of ourselves on the walls. And there she was. She was easy to recognize. She arrived under guard and in chains.

She wore a maroon prison suit under a winter jacket. A chain dragged between her ankles. Her wrists were also chained and it extended to a steel loop on a thick leather belt. Even in this sad state, she was more attractive than I expected. It was disconcerting to see this small, pleasant appearing woman in such determined restraints.

Ms. Keogh and I took a seat in the last row of the small courtroom. I looked at Magisterial District Court Judge John J. Kelly, Jr. I knew him! Was I to call the kid I wrestled back in our Neshaminy High School gym class “Your Honor”?

It hardly mattered that we came to the hearing. There was no confrontation. We were not called to speak. Ms Bambino was offered to sign a waiver. It wasn’t that she was pleading guilty, but she was not contesting the charges and was having the case combined with other charges that would involve other courtrooms.

They placed the waiver on the judge’s bench for her to sign. It was too high for the small Ms. Bambino, only 5’3” and her arms restricted by chains. She rose on her tip toes to sign. One of the officers of the court said she was looking well. It caused a charming smile to arise across her face and I heard her pleasant voice. As I made it out, she was admitting that despite prison life she felt she was doing well. Then it was over and they led her away.

We left the courtroom and Detective Nicastro discussed the matter with us. He told us about Ms Bambino. She had been married, but it wasn’t known if she was separated or divorced. I asked if she had any children, but he didn’t know. I asked about my stolen pens. Detective Nicastro said that when the burglars realized they were just some pens in those little sacks, they probably threw them out.

It was hard to be indifferent to whatever happened to Ms. Bambino. I was angry with her, but with all the years she will be incarcerated, it would be terrible enough; I could not bring myself to wish her more. What is the value of my pens compared to several years of her life wasted in prison? That day at the hearing, seeing this meek blonde incongruously shackled and fettered, I felt sorry for Ms. Bambino. I am relieved the decision isn't mine to make.

Jan 162014
 
Guest post by Jim Winter

A few years back, I read an interesting theory about The Great Gatsby that suggested Jay Gatsby might have been black trying to “pass” in the more racially rigid 1920’s. It was an interesting theory, but I wish I’d read the novel before the article as it changed my perceptions of the story. Then again, there also was nothing in the book suggesting Gatsby resembled Robert Redford, so my perceptions were already altered by Hollywood. 

However, that idea played into a story I wrote for Spinetingler a few years later. “Profiled” told the tale of an undercover cop born in Tehran. In the post-9/11 era, if Gatsby were black, he would not have had to pass himself off as white. If anything, he would get called out for fostering the same prejudice that would have made his charade more acceptable in the twenties. It’s easier to call people out on racial bias, and these days, gays are finding it much easier to be open about themselves. But are there some groups that, no matter what, are going to draw suspicioin? In “Profiled,” Eddie Soroya tackles this very issue.

When we meet him, he’s sitting on a commuter train in a Midwest city posing as a homeless man while watching for trouble in our terror-panicked world. When a woman calls him a “raghead,” Soroya swears at her in Spanish. In a city with a large Mexican population, the perceived insult would warrant a harsher response. As he rides from the city’s lakefront to the airport, watching a suspicious duffle bag, we find out he is actually from the Middle East, that speaking Spanish becomes a defense that not even a badge can give him. People – black, white, Hispanic – are paranoid since those planes crashed in 2001. Unfortunately, that means people are automatically suspicious of entire groups.

When dealing with people’s biases, you have to walk a thin line. Despite what some of the more hysterical pundits on 24-hour news like to tell us, we aren’t quite in 1930’s Germany. But you hear the slurs, the misconceptions, and the outright hatred that seems to have found a new outlet.

In a way, though, Soroya is between a rock and a hard place. We also live in a nation wary of illegal immigration, so posing as a Mexican to keep people from flagging the nearest TSA worker or FBI agent is a double-edged sword. Without a badge, he’s still likely to get pulled over. He faces a different kind of harassment from what he would get if he were open about his Iranian origins. Granted, it’s easier to fight by simply sliding into his normal accent, a Rust Belt twang I myself have not been able to get rid of after 22 years, but it’s still more than most people have to deal with in this day and age.

It goes back to a conversation I once had (and was part of the impetus for “Profiled”). A friend and I were discussing, of all things, the bias against obesity. At one point, I said, “You know, most of the bullshit you have to deal with everyday stares back at you from the mirror in the morning.” And it’s true. Race, gender, weight, age, physical imperfections, and even disabilities all come back at us when we look in the mirror. Things like sexual preference, religion (or lack thereof), and politics (a stupid bias since that one causes most wars) are all internal aspects of who we are. We can hide those. We can act straight or gay. We can keep our religion and politics to ourselves. But the things that define us physically to other people are there in the mirror, which means they’re out there for all the world to see. Being a straight white male is, as John Scalzi puts it, playing life on the lowest difficulty setting. That’s not to say life is easy for anyone. We still have to deal with our personalities, and we still need to have a strong sense of self. We also need to be aware that, over time, it’s how we react to the world around us that ultimately determines how we get by in the world.  The question “Profiled” asks, and leaves hanging, is whether Eddie Soroya made the right choice about it.

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Born near Cleveland in 1966, Jim Winter had a vivid imagination – maybe too vivid for his own good – that he spun into a career as a writer. He is the author of Northcoast Shakedown, a tale of sex, lies, and insurance fraud – and Road Rules, an absurd heist story involving a stolen holy relic. Jim now lives in Cincinnati with his wife Nita and stepson AJ. To keep the lights on, he is a web developer and network administrator by day. Visit him at http://www.jamesrwinter.net , like Jim Winter Fiction on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter @authorjimwinter.

Pick up some Jim Winter right here.
Dec 312013
 

Josh Getzler

 

So we’re on vacation in Florida, and my son Joe, who’s pinch hit for me before, told me as we took a walk that he’d like to write the year-end post. Since I really had written my Last-of-year post last week, I figured it would be OK. So this is where my always-unique freshman son is on December 31. I hope we all succeed in our hopes and dreams for 2014, and that our expectations are realistic. Happy New Year, everyone!

-

Josh

  DadJoeDec13

On the Cusp of the New Year

By Joe Newman-Getzler

Well, folks, in mere hours 2013 can be officially known as “last year” and 2014 will be upon us. I have to say, 2013 was a very mixed year, and at times like this I like to look back at the old year and think of the positive things in my life. After all, I’m an optimist, and who likes thinking of the lowlights when we can celebrate the highlights? In the previous year, I:

  • Starred in 2 school plays
  • Discovered the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book, which utterly changed my life
  • Watched Citizen Kane for the first time (lived up to the hype)
  • Fully developed a complete cast of characters and a plot to a cartoon series I’m working on
  • Went to Columbia
  • And finally saw one episode of Dr. Who (“City of Death,” which wasn’t bad)

So, you might be wondering: what are you going to resolve for the new year, and, for that matter, what am I going to resolve? Here’s the thing: I don’t believe in making huge, lifestyle-changing resolutions for the new year. I fear that too often I’ll forget them and resort to old habits. For instance: you can’t just go out and say, “I’ll never argue with my sisters again.” You could never live up to that. It’s easier to say, “I’ll try harder not to argue with my sisters.” And don’t set huge goals like, “As soon I can, I’ll lose 50 pounds!” Start with 5, then 10, then 15, and move up. It’s easier to receive gradual gratification than immediate. So my new year’s resolutions are relatively small. They aren’t huge lifestyle changes, just little things I’d like to do or improve on.

  • Read and watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Finish the first episode of my series
  • Work on my novel, Ham City
  • See The Lion King on Broadway (heck, I liked the movie...)
  • Learn how to read music for the spring musical
  • And watch a Simpsons episode at last (I hear “Marge vs. The Monorail” is a good one)

You see? All of these goals aren’t impossible to reach. No, I can’t do them all at once, but that’s what so many people don’t understand about new year’s resolutions. They think the moment the clock strikes midnight, their goals must be set into action and they can never go back. This isn’t realistic! It will make them feel pressured to meet the expectations immediately, and when they forget or change their minds, they’ll feel immensely unsatisfied and guilty. Be gradual, and set realistic expectations. Good things come to those who wait.

In closing, let me wish everyone, on behalf of my dad and the folks here at Hey, There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room, a happy and safe new year. Let’s hope you all set good goals and achieve all of them. Bonan Novjaron!

(See Joe’s own blog at http://livetonerd.blogspot.com/, his YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/SuperJNG18, and artwork at http://herodeablazingcarpet.deviantart.com/)