Monday, June 30, 2008

Mail Order Author

by Marcus Sakey

So if you'll will forgive me a moment of self-promotion, I've got some happy news. My new book, GOOD PEOPLE, comes out August 14th. It's my fave thus far, and the early reviews have been very generous:
"Masterful...tops his previous two novels…stellar."
- Publisher's Weekly (starred review)

"Gleefully dread-filled and mercilessly tense, GOOD PEOPLE
moves with the speed of something fired from a sawed-off."
- Dennis Lehane, bestselling author of MYSTIC RIVER

"A killer of a book. Magnificent."
- Ken Bruen, Edgar-nominated author of PRIEST

"Dark, disturbing, and timely...Marcus Sakey is a prodigious talent."
- Laura Lippman, bestselling author of ANOTHER THING TO FALL

"GOOD PEOPLE scared the crap out of me."
- Julia Spencer-Fleming, Edgar-nominated author of I SHALL NOT WANT
You can read an excerpt on my website, if you're interested.

Meanwhile, I've got a fun opportunity. I'm planning my tour schedule, and while a lot of it is figured out, I want to make sure that I go beyond the usual suspects. So here's the deal—if you're interested in me coming to your area, let me know. I'll visit the place that gets the most votes. Not only that, but wherever it is, I'm taking everyone who attends out for drinks afterwards.

You can either post here or email me with the subject "Have a signing here" and your vote will be counted. Plus, if you're pretty sure you can rope in some other people to join, tell me how many and I'll count them as votes as well.

Those of you in Chicago, have no fear--I'll be all over the place, probably overstaying my welcome.

Thanks, folks! Looking forward to hearing from you.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Jerry Rodriguez . . .

by Sean Chercover

I write this with a heavy heart. I've been away for a week, just returned to learn that Brooklyn author Jerry Rodriguez has died at 46.

Jerry and I met at the Crimespree party at Bouchercon in Madison a couple of years ago. We saw eye-to-eye on a lot of things, bonded the way you do at such conferences, drank together and shared some laughs. After the conference, we kept in touch by email, and eventually telephone.

We liked each other's work and agreed to trade galleys, and he recently sent me the galley for REVENGE TANGO, the second book in his Nick Esperanza series (follow-up to THE DEVIL'S MAMBO). When I get my galleys for Trigger City in a week or so, the joy of that will be somewhat dimmed by the fact that one was reserved for Jerry.

Jerry Rodriguez was a true renaissance man - author of noir fiction, playwright and stage director, screenwriter and film director . . . and more. With all that, he still made time to do good works in the community, helping the homeless, HIV/AIDS patients, and drug addicts at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.

Not enough? Oh yeah, I forgot to mention . . . he did all this - with good humor and a sense of gratitude - while also battling cancer ... undergoing multiple rounds of chemo - carrying on that battle for the last seven years of his life.

He will be missed.

Learn more about Jerry by visiting his website and his MySpace page, and reading the NY Daily News article, and Sarah's post.

Then go out and buy his books.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Don’t lose it. Use it!

by Michael Dymmoch

Sunday evening I was driving up Halsted when my left front tire started making an unfamiliar sound and my car started tracking to the left. I pulled into a CTA bus turnaround to investigate and discovered the tire was flat. Damn! As it happened, I hadn’t had a flat since I bought the car—three years ago. And I hadn’t checked recently to see if the spare was good. Plus I had a trunk full of assorted junk that had to be removed to get to the spare.

Fortunately, it had stopped raining, and I had an hour of daylight. So I shifted all the junk to the front and back seats and got out the spare and the jack and the owner’s manual. None of the CTA drivers who had to drive around me called the cops. A very nice drywall salesman stopped to offer assistance. In a short time I was back on the road.

As a driver, I was really bummed. Flat tires are a waste of time and money. Sometimes they can be life threatening.

As a writer, I was happy to be reminded that anything you do or encounter can be used—something I learned when I had a job with a narcissistic supervisor. Nothing I ever did was good enough for the guy. He was a genius at making every thing my fault. The only time he ever listened was when I prefaced my remarks with, “I spoke to an attorney.”

But he taught me to be a better writer. At some point, I started to take notes, to record what he said, and how it made me feel. When I really worked at finding the words to make a reader feel what I felt, I forgot to be hurt. Or angry.

Conflict is a bitch in life, but it’s the life force of fiction. So when you encounter it, use it. Get out a pen or your pocket computer and record the details. Not just the facts of the event, not just what was said, but what it felt like. What did the guy who got in your face say? What would you have said to him if only you could think faster? Was he scary or just infuriating? What did he smell like? What did he look like? How was he dressed? What was he driving? Why does he behave like that? (He’s just a jerk isn’t an adequate answer.) Be precise. Make your reader feel your rage and all the physical sensations that go with it.

Years ago I was driving a bus through a construction zone. One of the flaggers was busy yakking with his buddy, not paying attention to traffic. Suddenly he looked up to find a 47-foot bus passing him two feet away. (This isn’t particularly close for a bus driver. Sometimes we have only inches of clearance.) The flagger was startled enough to use the c-word to express his displeasure. I laughed and kept driving. But if I’d been able to think faster, I might have stopped and asked if I’d scared him. Someday I’ll use that incident in a story. My protagonist will stop and ask. The flagger will probably have to defend his masculinity with an R-rated comeback. The whole thing may develop into a huge fight, maybe even a murder!

The act of recording a conflict, concentrating on the details, searching for the exact words to describe how you feel, may dissipate your anger and give you something you couldn’t have made up.

Monday, June 23, 2008


by Libby Hellmann

It’s summer and today is my birthday and I can’t think of a better present to myself than to travel to far away places, at least virtually. So please welcome Guest Blogger and Friend-of-the-Outfit Laura Caldwell. A Chicago trial attorney, law professor, and a wonderful romantic suspense author, Laura is amazingly talented, but her greatest talent might well have been snagging a month long trip to Rome. Be sure to check out her most recent book -- THE GOOD LIAR-- a real page-turner-- and her website.

And now, from a sidewalk café in Rome, heeerrre’s Laura. Saluti!

Ciao from Roma!

How lucky am I? I’ve spent the last few weeks teaching at the Rome campus of my alma mater, Loyola University, and now I get to step in and blog for the wonderful Libby Hellman. Happy Birthday, lady! And thanks to Sara, Barb, Michael, Marcus, Sean and Kevin for letting me hang with you guys.

I had great designs on writing lots while in Rome. But another professor who arrived before me had emailed, telling me that things still take a long time in Italy and cautioning me not to count on too many hours at the writing desk.

So I decided to try and get my words done while still enjoying la dolce vita. One day I wrote at the Piazza Barberini, a glass of Greco de Tufo wine in front of me on a yellow linened table.
The Italians don’t sit at cafes or coffee shops working on laptops the way we do, so I went back to my roots—good, old fashioned paper. I wrote my first book, Burning the Map, a book set partially in Rome, on a raft of yellow pads, then dictated it and had it typed. Now, I’m a straight-into-the-computer kind of girl and usually only scribble notes when my laptop isn’t around. Marcus Sakey, who I was lucky enough to tour with a few months ago, said that he sometimes breaks out the Mont Blanc when he’s a little stuck, and I agree—actual pen to paper can be motivating, inspiring something off the beaten path.

The ristorante I wrote at that day faced Via Veneto, a wide, stately avenue with regal apartamentos decorated with stone balconies and potted plants. At the Piazza Barberini, a hotel sat to one side. Its unimaginative brick front looked more like an American hotel, but around it were stuccoed buildings painted ochre and mustard, their windows and shutters thrown open. Taxis and scooters and the tiniest of cars zipped around the circular piazza and the fountain in the middle that looked like a large naked man on his knees. Perfecto!

For the first hour, I kept neglecting my notebook, gazing instead at the foot traffic. Rome is the perfect city for people-watching. The Roman women are gorgeous, and the men are strutting peacocks, masculine and yet dressed to perfection. And it’s always comforting to see another tourist pointing, wearing befuddled books, turning a map one way, then another and another.

I thought about the last two times I was in Rome—signing Italian versions of my books, Burning the Map and A Clean Slate. Reminding myself that there would be no more book signings, not with Sakey, not in Rome or anyplace else, if I didn’t get down to work, I dropped my attention to my notebook and started to write.

But then I ran out of wine. Somehow, in my pathetic, meager Italian, I managed to have a twenty minute conversation with the waiter about Italian whites. When he delivered my much debated glass, I finally got back to work.

My first mystery series—what we’re calling the Red Hot series—will be released in the summer of 2009. It features a sassy, red-headed lawyer named Izzy McNeil who keeps finding herself in loads of trouble. The first book, Red Hot Lies, is done. Ditto for the second, Red Blooded. But the third (anyone have a sizzling, suspenseful ‘red’ title?) needs to be done by the end of this year. Why not, I thought, send Izzy to Rome, at least for a little while?

I was a few paragraphs into a scene when I heard my name called. I looked up to see a Loyola alum and his wife, a couple who have recently moved from Chicago to Paris and have been spending time at Loyola of Rome. The Italian way requires inviting people you bump into for a glass of wine. Far be it from to ignore cultural tradition. They sat down, we talked, we watched the pedestrians, the waiter brought more wine.

I had recently read Sara Paretsky’s post about the fairly alarming trend of corruption (okay, I’m a lawyer, I’ll say alleged corruption) amongst Illinois governors), and I mentioned this to my friends. We began comparing and contrasting Italian politics with those in Chicago and Illinois.

Two and a half hours after I arrived, those few paragraphs were the only thing to show for my “writing time”. I said Ciao, Ciao, to my friends. I strolled over to Palazzo Barberini and gazed at the frescoed ceiling for the rest of the afternoon. I hadn’t scored a lot of pages, but at least I got the la dolce vita part right.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Lying On the Beach With My Back Burned Rare

By Kevin Guilfoile

It feels like one of those lazy Fridays when everyone is getting ready to blow out for somewhere else, and so it's appropriate that my one time employer and second family, Coudal Partners, has launched a new edition of Field Tested Books where a group of writers and bloggers and otherwise interesting people have written short essays about particular books they read in a particular place. Sometimes the reviews are about the appropriateness of the read (don't miss thriller writer Lori Andrews's story about reading The Journalist and the Murderer while sitting next to an actual murderer in New Orleans). Sometimes the stories are about inappropriate settings. Last time around I wrote about reading Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee's powerful account of the lives of depression-era sharecroppers, while on spring break in South Padre, Texas. In every case, the subject is how the environment in which we read is related to our experience of the book.

Back when I worked there, each of us made a big deal about selecting what books we would bring on vacations. There could have been days and days of debate on the subject and those discussions no doubt led to the project, which is in its fourth incarnation now. A nice feature of the page is that you can sort by reviewer or by book title or by place. And after three editions there are enough of them that you might want to check them out for suggestions before you head to the airport.

But how about you? As we look forward to the official start of summer tomorrow, what memorable experience have you had on the road with a good book?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What are the Odds?

Illinois has sent three governors to prison in the forty years I've lived here--Otto Kerner, Dan Walker and George Ryan. In Illinois it's always about money, not sex, and now that , a big Illinois fixer,has been found guilty, I'm wondering if Rod Blagojevich will become the fourth. Disclosure Notice: I voted for Walker and Ryan. I was too young to vote for Kerner at his final re-election campaign.

I wonder what the odds are? And how do I find out? I was in England during the NCAA tournament, and since I went to KU (go, Hawks!) I decided to bet on my boys. A friend who's a serious punter got her bookie to give me odds--7:2-- and I made me 22 pounds on the boyHawks. They won the day after I came home, so the money is sitting over there. And in April, I decided, DieHard Cubs fan that I am, to spend some of it on the Cubs. My friend's bookie is in a solo shop; he couldn't do pennant races, only the divisions and the Series. So I have 5 quid on the Cubs winning the Central Division, 5 on the World Series. The odds were 10:1 when I placed the bet, so if they come through for me, I'll have 50 pounds, which in today's money, is worth, I think $50,000. or maybe it's fifty million. I'm hopeful, but not optimistic--my first year with the Cubs was the year of the Miracle Mets. Realistic odds should have been more like a thousand to one. Still, I've put money on them this time; I care more. Want my bookie's name?

Monday, June 16, 2008


by Barbara D'Amato

We’ve all heard that Stephen King and Dean Koontz, prolific writers both, were told not to write more than a book a year, and if they couldn't resist writing, write under a different name.

Her publisher told Agatha Christie not to write more than a book a year. Think of all the Christies we might have if the publisher hadn’t been so foolish.

The reasoning seems to have been that more that a book a year would:

First, diminish the value of the book. If you can write it so fast, it can’t be worth much.

Second, the public will think the second book is the first book and if they already have the book for this year, they won’t buy the new one. This comes under the heading “The Public is Stupid,” which is used as an excuse for a lot of ill-considered and paternalistic behavior.

Well, things aren’t like that any more.

Clea Simon and others have called attention to an article in the Boston Globe by David Mehegan. Mehegan notes that publishers are now urging their authors to get out at least one book a year. Not surprisingly, the issue has been a hot topic on crime and mystery writers’ listserves. The pressure to put out a book a year is apparently strongest for suspense and thrillers but strong for mystery writers as well. Sometimes a promise to write a book a year is a condition of accepting that author in the first place. Difficult? Not so good for quality? It’s good for marketing.

In the article, Patricia Cornwell is quoted as saying, “It’s no problem as long as you don’t have a life.”

Dennis Lehane said that he would not go back to doing a book a year, back to the “hamster wheel.” His novel PRAYERS FOR RAIN came out, he believes, before he really perfected it. Under pressure to get it into print, he thought too late of a way of making it much better.

There are writers who seem to have no trouble with a book or more a year. Robert B. Parker has three books out with a 2007 pub date---NOW & THEN, HIGH PROFILE, and SPARE CHANGE, which I suppose will keep him high profile. But very few people can work that way successfully. On the listserves, there has been much talk about burnout. And of course the issue of quality.

For about fifteen years I brought out a book a year. My just-finished manuscript took four years. There were family reasons, plus I was working part of the time on another project, but mostly it took longer because it’s a bigger book with more technical detail. But I, and I’m sure a lot of other writers, find this new publishing demand stress-inducing. Or as a friend said to me, “poisonous.”

The publishers say we have to keep reminding the readers that we exist.
This seems to be another form of The Public Is Stupid. The public will forget your name if they don’t se it constantly.

Opinions, anyone?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Shouting Out

by Marcus Sakey

Today, instead of blathering on one of my usual topics, I thought I'd take a moment to give a couple of shout-outs.

First, my buddy and sometimes-writing-partner Marc Paoletti's debut novel SCORCH hit bookshelves last week:
SCORCH tells the story of David Cole, a Hollywood special effects pyrotechnician whose world is blown apart (literally) when he inadvertently crosses a film producer with mob ties. In the ensuing mayhem, Cole loses his son, he's horribly burned, and he must use his knowledge of F/X to exact justice before he goes insane from pain and grief.

Publishers Weekly called it "authentic" and "brutal." Kirkus Reviews called it "razor-sharp." BookList called it "genuinely engaging." Crimespree Magazine called it a “thrill ride.” And The Mystery Gazette gave it five out of five stars.
Besides being a hell of a guy and a fine writer, Marc is a former F/X professional who worked on some of the biggest movies of the previous decade, so he really knows his stuff.

Also, the folks at Bleak House Books continue their tradition of publishing exceptional work with Nathan Singer's latest, IN THE LIGHT OF YOU. Check out some of these quotes:
"Quite simply one of the finest coming-of-age novels published so far this century. Incendiary and moving, deeply relevant and searingly honest, it deserves to catapult Nathan Singer into the list of America's best young novelists."
—John Connolly , author of The Book of Lost Things

"In furiously fast-paced prose, Singer gives voice to 16-year-old loner Mikal Fanon and his infatuation with the white power movement. An unblinking portrait of young white rage."

“A brutal, unflinching look at America's racist subculture, replete with sex, violence and jagged-edged punk rock. Nathan Singer does more than narrate the story of the rootless, disaffected kids drawn into the hate: he lets you hear the siren song that lures them to their doom. This is a writer with balls bigger than my entire head.”
—J.D. Rhoades, author of The Devil's Right Hand

And speaking of Dusty Rhoades, the paperback of his latest Jack Keller novel, SAFE AND SOUND, came out recently:

Jack Keller works in fugitive apprehension, and never feels more alive than when he’s hunting down a skip. But when a young girl goes missing, and Keller finds out that the father is an AWOL member of the army’s elite Delta Force, he knows immediately that this case will be anything but fun and games.

Keller is a Gulf War vet who knows his way around the Army’s red tape, but the psychological scars from his experiences in the gulf have only just started to recede enough for him to live and love again. No one is sure how taking on the kidnapping case will affect him, least of all his girlfriend Marie, who’s counting on Jack’s recovery if they are going to have any future together. But a young girl’s life hangs in the balance, and a shadowy group of missing Delta commandos seems to be the key to finding her. For Jack Keller, it’s not an easy decision, but it’s the only one he can make: consequences be damned, he’s going after the girl.

If you're looking for a can't-put-it-down thriller, you can't do much better than J.D. Rhoades.

Finally, our guest-blogger Julia Spencer-Fleming's latest novel, I SHALL NOT WANT, came out on Tuesday. If you haven't tried her series yet, by god, get your butt in gear. Beautiful writing and wonderful characters.

Phew. I know I've forgotten a few people. What else came out recently, or is about to come out, that you think we ought to know about?

Monday, June 09, 2008

I have no idea where I'm going with this

by Michael Dymmoch

Sometimes when you're supposed to be working on something else, you get these flashes of inspiration that have no connection to anything.

And sometimes, when it's your turn to blog, you haven't a clue what to write about.

So I've got this story fragment and I'm open to suggestions...

He grabbed me at the top of the stairs.

“Don't move or I'll break your fuckin' neck!"

He was massive as two of me and he had me in a full nelson. So I stayed perfectly still until the SWAT guy came through the door.

I used the distraction to cross my wrists and press them against my forehead. I let my weight sag downward.

My assailant didn’t notice. He said, “Drop the gun or I’ll snap her neck.”

The SWAT guy froze. Ready.

When I raised my arms and let my legs go out from under me, the bad guy couldn’t hold me. He wasn’t ready.

But the SWAT guy was. He surged forward.

I rolled on my side. I hooked one foot behind my attacker’s heel, drove the other at his kneecap. He screamed and fell toward the stairs.

Momentum carried him down, heels over shattered knee.

I rolled to the landing’s edge, saw him hit the floor below.

He didn’t move.

The SWAT guy relaxed, his expression priceless as he wrestled his attention back to me. “You okay?”

In times of crisis what would we do without clichés?

I nodded. “I heard him tell someone this place is full of bombs. On the phone.”

“Then we’ better get out.” He lowered his gun and crept down to feel the assassin for a pulse. A formality. The angle of the dead guy’s head said it all.

“We’d better get out of here,” SWAT guy repeated.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Aiders and Abettors

by Libby Hellmann

In the crime fiction community there are writers, and there are readers. And then there are others. They started out as fans, but somewhere along the way they started to “aid and abet” – showing up at signings, buying books, writing reviews, producing magazines, editing newsletters, planning conferences, escorting authors, hosting them at their homes, running organizations, and a slew of other things.

They do it – mostly without making much money, and sometimes none at all – because of their love of the genre. They don't want exposure... they don't crave praise. They do it because they love to read, and they love to read crime fiction. And we authors owe them a debt. We couldn’t be or do half the things we do without their help. But readers owe them, too, because without them, you might not know about new authors, great books, and fun people. Booksellers, publishers, editors, and agents should thank them as well, because without them, the word-of-mouth about what’s new and what’s good just wouldn’t be as widespread. In short, these people are what makes us a “community.”

I’m talking about people like Jon and Ruth Jordan, Judy Bobalik, Sarah Weinman (who's a hell of a writer as well), Ari Karim, 4MA’s founder Maddy Van Hertbruggen… all the people who were recently nominated for an Anthony for Special Service to the field. But there are many others, without whom the community would not be what it is: websites like Reviewing the Evidence, Stop You’re Killing Me, New Mystery Reviews; list-serves like RAM and Dorothy L; webzines like January Magazine. People like David Montgomery, Hanley Kanar, Beth Wasson, Gloria Feit, Margery Flax, Mary Lou Wright, Janet Rudolph, PJ Nunn, and David Thompson (ok he’s a bookseller but a special one), and a host of other people I know I’m forgetting.

These are the people who make us look good… who treat us like rock-stars (at least for an hour or so)... who encourage us when we’re being hard on ourselves. Some are even known to help brainstorm plots…

So while it’s not Valentine’s Day, I want to send a special thanks to all the Aiders and Abettors out there. They have made the community what it is, and we couldn’t survive without them.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

We Can Save Ourselves From Sinking

By Kevin Guilfoile

When we were seniors in high school my friend Rob broke his arm in a skiing accident. Instead of having his friends sign it or decorating it with some kind of Warren Zevon motif as I might have expected, Rob took a Sharpie pen and wrote seven large letters across the front of it: R-O-N H-E-A-D.

Ron Head was our economics teacher. Rob and I also had him for homeroom. Rob liked to sit in the front row, and the morning after he received his cast he sat at his desk and flopped his immobilized arm across the front of it. Mr. Head squinted and looked at it sideways. "What's that about?"

"It's an homage," Rob said cheerily.

I was student body president at the time and so I was called to the principal's office for a summit meeting on the situation. The principal reacted as if the letters on Rob's cast were some sort of sleeper cell code triggering a terrorist attack.

"What are we going to do about this?" he demanded.

"Um, nothing?" I said.

"The writing on this cast shows gross disrespect," he said.

"I don't think so," I said. "Ron Head Sucks would be a sign of disrespect. I don't think he has anything against Mr. Head. He just wrote his name in really big letters."

"If he's not mocking him, then why did he do it?" he asked.

I was only 18 so I didn't know much about modern art, but I told the principal I thought Rob wrote that on his cast for two reasons:

1. There are only seven letters in Mr. Head's name so Rob could write it at such a size that it could be seen from a long way away.

2. He knew it would agitate you.

Parents were called in. I was asked several times to intervene. I refused. It was a silly thing, but it was one of a string of free speech issues (most of them not this amusing) that I had been forced to address throughout the year and I could tell that if I gave in on any of them the adults would keep pushing and pushing and pushing. One of my last duties as president was to help oversee the election of the following year's officers and I remember being alone in a room with a school administrator when it became clear that the candidate he favored for student council treasurer was going to lose. He looked at me and said, half-seriously, "I wish there was a way we could fix this thing." He laughed, but at the time I had no doubt that he would do it if I let him.

For me the whole year was a memorable lesson in power. People who have power will always ask for more of it and it is the duty of people with less power to say no as frequently as possible.

I was reminded of all this a couple weeks ago when I heard that Linda Kane had been removed from her position as student newspaper advisor at Naperville Central High School after nearly 20 years in that position. Under her leadership, the Naperville Central Times had risen to national prominence. It is perennially ranked among the top high school newspapers in the country, and even broke important stories under difficult circumstances.

Last February the Central Times published a series on marijuana use. One of the stories contained profanity. Naperville principal Jim Caudill asked that the paper change its policies regarding acceptable language and Ms. Kane refused. The following week, in the Daily Herald newspaper, she was quoted criticizing Principal Caudill, saying "he doesn't know squat" about the First Amendment. He asked her to resign. She refused. Caudill fired her.

Six weeks later, the Central Times finished third in the Illinois High School Association's journalism competition.

It all seemed unfair. A gross overreaction. Certainly it is more important to teach students about journalistic freedom, integrity, ethics, and responsibility than it is to protect them from profanity. Those lessons are undoubtedly more important than a high school principal's desire not to have his ego bruised in public, or his fear of being disrespected.

But then something happened to remind us that the universe can wrap up a gift tidier than all the fictionalists in the world combined.

Jim Caudill, who just months earlier fired a teacher for claiming he "didn't know squat" about the First Amendment, was caught plagiarizing large sections of a decade-old speech and recycling them for a talk he gave at an honors ceremony for graduating seniors. Incredibly, the student who actually wrote those lines is now a teacher at Naperville Central and was in the room when Caudill was reading her words without credit.

As Trib columnist Eric Zorn points out, the principal's excuse was even more pathetic than the original offense. Caudill claimed that he found the speech in a file and meant to call the individual to ask if he could borrow from it, but time slipped away and he didn't realize until he was on stage giving his talk that he had never called. Except that totally misses the point. He didn't have to call Megan Nowicki-Plackett and ask permission. He needed to credit her in the text of the speech, which he apparently never had any intention of doing.

So now Jim Caudill has been removed as principal at Naperville Central and although I don't know Ms. Kane, I hope his successor has the good sense to return her to her post. I should think people like her are desperately needed as an example to counter Mr. Caudill's. If you doubt it, the valedictorian of Naperville Central was just caught plagiarizing his graduation speech from The Onion.

As for my buddy Rob with the broken arm he's now one hell of a DIYer. He also has a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering, which is quite a good thing. We need more good journalism teachers and environment doctors than we do controlling school administrators.

But you can't say the kids in Naperville haven't learned anything this semester.


Also, a program note: Libby, Michael, Marcus, Sean and I will be at the always great Printers Row Book Fair in downtown Chicago this Saturday at 4PM. Our panel, Murder Most Foul will take place in the Grace Place sanctuary, right on Dearborn at the heart of the fair, across from the Heartland Stage. And if it's very hot, I'll point out that our event is indoors.

You can download a full Printers Row schedule or a helpful event map.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Write to the City

Gilda Haas, who directs a tenant rights group called "Strategic Actions for a Just Economy," reads a lot of crime fiction--maybe because she's married to that prince of noir writers, Gary Phillips. Anyway, along the way she saw that a lot of us write about the same issues that she and her colleagues worry about--imbalances in money and power, the disappearance of unique urban landscapes in exchange for cookie-cutter strip malls and steel towers, and the displacement of people from their homes to make way for the gentrifying high rises.

Last Thursday, Gilda and Gary put together quite a show in LA. Called "Write to the City," they brought together some noir writers, including Gar Haywood, Denise Hamilton, the inventive Nina Revoyr, and me with some organizers and tenants.

I used to do a certain amount of organizing, sometimes more successfully than others--tenant actions against a slumlord, student actions during the Vietnam War, community actions during the civil rights heyday, and even Sisters in Crime. But I've been living the Yuppie life for some years now and it was a good and sobering wake-up to be on a platform with Luis Rodriguez, Davan Corona, and others, to hear what is happening in the lives of people on the margins. Gar Haywood read an elegant essay on urban geography, I read from Blacklist, and Luis and Davan read from life.

Stories of disabled people being locked out of elevators to keep them from protesting the slum conditions of their buildings made my blood boil, but I was cheered, too, by the energy in the room, by Gilda, Davan and Luis, and their intelligent passionate resolve.

I live in a university neighborhood. Until ten years ago, it was a mixed community of academics, students, black, white, middle class and low income housing. Not a perfect m ix, but mixed nonetheless. Then the downtown money people realized the south side of Chicago was not a terrifying crime zone and they could be ten minutes from the Loop, five minutes from Lake Michigan, and--voila, we now have a lot of lawyers, finance people, unaffordable housing for the blue collar folk who used to live here--and unaffordable for junior faculty, so that the university itself is losing its collegiality and community. My own property taxes went up sixfold in four years. What should we have done that we didn't do? I don't know how to solve these problems, but I sure wish we'd had Gilda here ten years ago!

How do you balance the desire to repair and gentrify your neighborhood with the rights of people who've lived there for decades?



The Outfit is thrilled to congratulate our boys for -- not one -- but TWO Major Award Nominations! Sean's BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD and Marcus's THE BLADE ITSELF were nominated both for the ANTHONY and the BARRY for best first novel!

The winners will be announced at the Baltimore Bouchercon in October. Of course, it does present a dilemma for Anthony voters. Happily, though, there's a solution -- Everyone needs to vote early and often. After all, it's the Chicago way.

We also want to give a shout-out to two friends-of-the-Outfit who also got nominated. Joe Konrath's DIRTY MARTINI was nominated for a Barry for Best Novel, and Judy Bobalik, everybody's best friend, got an Anthony nod for Special Service to the industry.

Clearly, there is something in the air...

You all rock!

btw, you can congratulate Sean and Marcus personally at Printers Row this coming weekend. The Outfit (with Michael, Kevin, and me) will be doing a panel at 4 PM Saturday.