Friday, October 31, 2008

I don't know whether I'm going to dress up tonight.

Happy Halloween, folks. No parties for me tonight; instead, I'm running the box office for Gaslight Theater's production of Private Lives, which continues tomorrow and next Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. (If you're in central Maine, come see it; the performances are terrific, and it's very funny. Also, my living room sofa is part of the set.)

Our production of Private Lives is set in 1970s Maine, rather than 1930s France, so I'm toying with the idea of dressing up as a '70s hostess: wearing my mother's black-and-gold Moroccan caftan, teasing my hair very big, and laying on the blue eyeshadow.

My fear is that people will not recognize this as a costume; instead, they'll tell me how nice I look, and in the bar afterwards they'll shriek with laughter (or just shake their heads in sorrow) about my feeble attempts to make myself presentable.

What are you going to be for Halloween?

What I Read This Week

Karen Olson, SHOT GIRL. Karen's my friend, but I liked her Annie Seymour series before I met her. Annie's one of the most believable characters in crime fiction, a moody single woman who swears too much, bickers with her mother, and would sometimes rather be a good reporter than a good person. SHOT GIRL, the fourth book in this series, is far and away the best; it starts with Annie's discovery of a dead body who happens to be her long-estranged ex-husband. He's on the ground next to Annie's car, surrounded by bullets that appear to have come from Annie's gun. Annie herself is an unreliable narrator; it's a bold risk for a late book in a series, but it pays off.

Declan Hughes, PLAYS: Digging for Fire, New Morning, Halloween Night, Love and a Bottle. Meeting Declan Hughes was one of the great pleasures of this year's Bouchercon. I'd admired his novels before I met him, but my friend Richard Brewer asked, "Have you read his plays?" So now I have, and they are just as impressive as the novels: passionate, funny, and uncannily insightful, especially about their female characters. New Morning and Halloween Night are explicitly ghost stories, but all four plays are haunted by a kind of broken-hearted rage that feels specifically Irish.

Tim Maleeny, BEATING THE BABUSHKA. Tim was someone else I met at Bouchercon, and also just delightful; Bobby and others at The Mystery Bookstore have been raving about his books for years, and I'm embarrassed that I'm just reading them now. This is the second Cape Weathers investigation, but I didn't feel I'd missed anything by not having read the first (though now I'll go back to it). The San Francisco PI investigates the apparent suicide of a Hollywood producer who went off the Golden Gate Bridge, and finds himself poking a hive of Russian gangsters. Great fun, owing as much to Carl Hiaasen as to Dashiell Hammett, with a wonderful sense of place.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I don't know whether a zombie slave would be worth the trouble.

This morning Turner Classic Movies showed one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasure movies, Val Lewton's I Walked With a Zombie. It's a great melodramatic retelling of Jane Eyre, plus zombies. What's not to love?

Some people spend their fantasy time imagining resort vacations or fabulous meals or romantic evenings with George Clooney. I am not ashamed to admit that I have spent a fair amount of fantasy time deciding who among my acquaintances deserves to be my zombie slave.

But this morning, as I watched I Walked With a Zombie for at least the sixth time, I had second thoughts.

The truth is, zombie slaves would be pretty high-maintenance. Their self-care skills seem very low, and in the absence of Purina Zombie Chow, it would be a hassle to feed them. Dizzy's vet chides me for not brushing his teeth; if I don't brush my dog's teeth, I'm definitely not brushing my zombie slaves'. I have a guest room with a pretty big closet, but I already use that closet for winter coats and luggage, so my storage space for zombie slaves is limited.

Most of all, though, I've never been a good delegator. Zombie slaves would by definition not be self-starters. I can't see taking the time every day to figure out their to-do lists, then watching them to make sure they actually get stuff done.

If you had zombie slaves, what would you have them do? And how would you support them?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I don't know how reliable polls are.

During the month of September, I did not have a television, and my access to the Internet was limited. That was a good thing, since I observe an inverse relationship between time spent in front of a screen and time spent with live human beings; that ratio had gotten way out of whack in my ordinary life, and now that I'm home again, I'm trying to keep it from getting so unbalanced again.

Also, while I was away from the screen, I was not able to track political coverage as obsessively as I might want to. This was also good.

Now I have too much information, and no idea of how to sort through it all. This afternoon I watched a consultant for the McCain campaign say that the race is a statistical dead heat, while the Huffington Post says that Obama is pulling away. The average of polls show Obama six points ahead -- outside the margin of error, at least -- but is that nationwide, and what does that mean from an electoral vote perspective?

How reliable are polls, anyway? Have they caught up to modern technology yet? Are people just lying? What about the 2004 election, when early exit polls were calling the election for Kerry? Are we all just going to be fooled again?

We have six days left before Election Day, and at this rate I am not going to make it. I need to do some deep breathing and step away from the screens.

After I watch Barack Obama's speech tonight. And then the after-speech coverage.

Five Random Songs

"I Think I Love You," The Partridge Family. Ah, the Partridge Family. That's what I need. Some Partridge Family reruns ... if I iron my hair and find a vest and a tambourine, I can claim to be Laurie Partridge for Halloween.

"I Wanna Be Like You," Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. A cover of the song from "Jungle Book," fun but not as good as Louie Prima's original.

"The Man That Got Away," Rufus Wainwright. From the Rufus Does Judy album. Thisclose to being one step too far.

"Lets Go (Nothing For Me)," New Order. I love the jangly guitars on this song.

"It Was a Wonderful Time in Our Lives," Toronto Consort. Modern chamber music from The Sweet Hereafter soundtrack, spooky and beautiful and heartbreaking. I do not know the names of the instruments played here, and wish I did.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I don't know whom they survey for "Family Feud."

I've all but stopped answering my phone around the dinner hour, because it's either a political candidate or a pollster. In the right mood, I'm glad to talk to pollsters; anyone who asks for my opinion is someone I want to talk to.

At this point, though, I'm bored with it. Plus, I've already voted, and I'm strangely less willing to talk about how I did vote than about how I will vote.

In wishing the pollsters would ask me better questions, it occurred to me to wonder about that survey-based game show, "Family Feud." When I was a kid, I always wanted our family to be on it; now that I'm an adult, I'm very grateful to my mother for never taking that wish seriously.

It's a pretty bizarre concept for a game show, if you think about it. You win not by knowing things, but by guessing what other people said in response to a survey. It's a game designed by and for advertising executives and jury consultants.

And what's that survey like, anyway? Whom does "Family Feud" survey, and what are those questions like? Part of me thinks it would be fun to participate in a "Family Feud" survey, just to skew the numbers -- but do the people who take the "Family Feud" surveys know what they're for?

Here are five "Family Feud" style questions for you to leave your responses to. Tell me:

1. A good name for a dog
2. A bestselling author
3. A red food
4. An occasion for gift-giving
5. Something you break

Don't look at other people's comments until you leave your own answer...

Monday, October 27, 2008

I don't know whether I'm drinking caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee.

I gave up caffeine at the beginning of July, as part of a broader change in my eating habits. After the first painful week, I didn't miss it much -- and then, the week the show opened, I was grateful to be able to go back on caffeine and get the full effect when I needed it most. I was on the junk for Bouchercon, too (four days of sleep deprivation and alcohol abuse without caffeine was unthinkable), but gave it up again once I got back to Maine.

Until this morning -- maybe. The can of decaffeinated espresso (I know, it's a cruel joke) I bought on the way home is now gone, and I've turned to the grounds in a Tupperware container that's been in my freezer for God only knows how long. I think -- I think -- that these were decaffeinated beans I ground myself before I left for New York.

But I'm not sure. And this is why Heloise tells us to label everything that goes into our freezers, people...

So I've just made a pot, and we'll find out shortly. Today could be even more productive than I was hoping!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I don't know why it's fun to be scared.

The Augusta Jaycees are running their Haunted House in a warehouse right across the street -- this weekend and next weekend, $8 -- so my friend Jason and I went last night, after fortifying ourselves at the newly-reopened pub next door.

Neither of us had any idea of what to expect; Jason had never been to a haunted house, and I hadn't been to one in decades. Also, I don't see much in the dark anymore, and did not know whether that would ruin the effects or make them even scarier.

Even scarier, as it turned out. Jason let me clutch his arm all the way through the house, and without him I wouldn't have been able to see enough to walk; but strategic lighting and strobes were enough to let me see the monsters and scary things that jumped out at us.

It was really well done, genuinely scary, and we were both glad to get out -- but also glad to have gone through it.

It's a weird idea of fun, but it was fun -- and why is this? Why do we like horror novels, why do we like roller coasters and thrill rides?

I'm guessing that adrenaline fuels some mood enhancer in the brain, and it's fun to dump a lot of adrenaline into your system when you're not really in danger. There's probably a lot of medical research on this very issue, but it's Saturday and I am not going to spend the day looking it up.

Instead, I might go rent a scary movie.

Friday, October 24, 2008

I do not know why they call the purple flavor "grape."

It's been a busy couple of weeks, and I haven't had time to get to the grocery store lately. My breakfast scavenging this morning produced an unopened jar of homemade grape jelly, which I know was a gift but can't remember from whom -- the Beas? my friend Susan? my sister Peggy? If you gave this to me, leave your comment below.

So breakfast this morning was whole wheat toast with grape jelly, and I was shocked to discover that this jelly actually tasted like grapes. Wow!

That sounds silly, I know, but I am so used to "grape" flavor tasting like something else altogether: an indefinable combination of fruitiness (hate that word) and sweetness that is recognizably purple, but that we've all just agreed represents "grapes."

"Grape" is not the only fake flavor, but it's the one that bears the least resemblance to the thing it's supposed to be -- except, maybe the "blue raspberry" flavor of Kool-Aid and ice pops, though I never took that seriously as a representation of anything real. If I say to you, "It tastes like red drink," you know exactly what that means, and it's a flavor that is unrecognizable as any one fruit. (Interestingly, the distinctive flavor of Hawaiian Punch is guava; I didn't know that until I was an adult and tasted a real guava.)

Anyway, how did this happen? How did those first food chemists convince us that the purple flavor is "grape," and why do we continue to go along with this?

This is real grape jelly, and I am sorry I didn't open the jar before now (it's marked "2005," but the seal was intact). Now that I know it is possible to make "grape" things taste like real grapes, I'm never eating anything purple-flavored again.

What I Read This Week

Stuart Woods, HOT MAHOGANY. I have been working flat out this week and fighting off the last of my Bouchercon cold; I'm editing a couple of manuscripts and can't manage anything too complex in my spare time, so this book was perfect. Stone Barrington hunts for a priceless piece of furniture that may be an expert forgery, and sleeps with three different women along the way. It's an interesting premise that could have been so much more; what's here is very thin, and Stone's relentless philandering is getting kind of depressing.

Stieg Larsson, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. It took me weeks to get through this book, not because it wasn't good but because I could not turn off my mental editor as I struggled with the translation. Not being able to read Swedish, I have no way of knowing whether this is a good translation or not. I only know that I found the English unnecessarily convoluted and ponderous. But the story, parallel plots of a disgraced journalist resarching a long-unsolved murder and a troubled young female investigator who crosses his path, is compelling, and I'll probably read the next two books in the trilogy.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I don't know how to wear earbuds.

No post yesterday because I went to Boston to meet with a client -- I had a choice between an extra hour of sleep and getting up early to post, and the sleep won.

But somewhere along the way I lost my favorite pair of cheap headphones (I got them at Reny's for $5; they hook over my ears), and this morning I had to use the earbuds that came with my iPod.

Dizzy and I had not gotten past the mailbox before one of the earbuds fell out, and as I was putting it back in, the other fell out. I spent a 20-minute walk juggling the earbuds, and am ready to throw these things away.

What is the trick? Is it possible that my ears are just the wrong size for earbuds? Why does everyone else seem to be able to do this?

What I really want is a pair of those cool noise-cancelling headphones, although I would be a danger to myself and others (not to mention looking like a complete geek) if I tried to wear them while walking Dizzy.

Since I didn't post yesterday, here's

Five Random Songs

"Nothing's Changed," Chris Isaak. I listened to Chris Isaak pretty much constantly for about four years in the mid-'90s, and now rarely listen to him at all. Not sure why.

"Empty Glass," Pete Townshend. Love this album, love this song.

"Children of the Revolution," Kirsty MacColl. I wish she were still alive and making new music.

"Tomorrow, Wendy," Concrete Blonde. Goth mood music, appropriate to the season. The Augusta Jaycees' Haunted House is in a warehouse right across the street from me, tomorrow night. I'm definitely going.

"Blue Shoes," Katie Melua. More mood music, a gift from my friend Gary. But boy, it hasn't been a very cheerful set this morning...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I don't know how to break an egg open with one hand.

It's one of many enchanting scenes in the classic film Sabrina: Audrey Hepburn in cooking class, breaking egg after egg into a metal bowl with one hand only.

Every time I crack an egg I think of that, but I no longer try it myself; I've learned my lesson. I get the cracking part right, but when I try to open the egg with one hand, I either put my thumb through it or just crush the shell in my hand. I've always told myself it's because my hands are too small -- Audrey Hepburn had disproportionately large hands and feet, she was always self-conscious about them -- but I'm pretty sure people with hands smaller than mine can do this.

What is the trick? Can any of you do this, and if so, can you teach me? Or is it something I'll have to resign myself that I can never do, like whistling through my fingers?

Monday, October 20, 2008

I don't know why some words make me cringe.

This morning I'm eating a very good apple, which I almost didn't buy because its name makes my skin crawl: "Honeycrisp."

The word "crisp" has always bothered me, and combining it with anything -- as in this apple's name, or worse, the Burger King (is it Burger King?) "tendercrisp" -- makes me want to roll around in broken glass.

Why do some words feel like fingernails on a chalkboard, even when we see them? Most food adjectives do that to me, especially when they're applied to things that aren't food. I once dumped a guy for using the word "delicious" to describe a story (okay, that wasn't the only reason; that was symptomatic of much larger issues. But that's the part of it I remember). "Rich" bothers me in any context except to describe wealth. My younger sisters can't stand any word that describes a clothes fastening, especially "snap."

I'll defend the right to free speech with my dying breath, but the reason it's so important is because words themselves have so much power. One of the things I researched for The Express was a list of racial epithets in common use in the late 1950s/early 1960s; it caused me physical pain to put that list together, and it would not surprise me to hear that it hurt the actors who had to say those words.

If words couldn't hurt, we wouldn't need laws to protect our right to use them. The right to carry a weapon is the Second Amendment; the right to hurl invective is the first. I like to fantasize about issuing licenses to bear adverbs.

Anyway, I wish the apple growers had come up for a better name for this excellent apple. What words can you not stand to hear or see?

Friday, October 17, 2008

I don't know what dogs remember.

Dizzy, I admit, is not the world's smartest dog. He has some important dog skills, such as keeping track of how many biscuits I have in my pocket, and detecting feral cat poop at 20 yards. He can also hear (or smell) a peanut butter jar opening from about half a mile away. But he is not a problem-solver, his vocabulary is fairly small, and when the apocalypse comes, I fear I will not be able to rely on him to hunt for us.

So when I left him with family for more than a month, I was not sure he'd remember me when I got back -- or that he would remember me as his owner, and want to go away with me. Dogs don't wear watches or keep track of calendars; what's their sense of time?

I need not have worried. Dizzy was very glad to see me, and did not leave my side once I'd gotten to the Beas'. (He cries when I leave the room, even to go to the bathroom. My sister Peggy says that if he were a child, he'd need to be in therapy -- and that's probably true, but it's also very flattering to be the center of another creature's existence.

Dizzy wasn't glad to leave the Beas', though, and didn't want to get into the Beetle once I'd packed it up. He loves short car rides, as they're usually to the river, the park or to visit friends; suitcases mean a long trip, where I yell at traffic, and he hates that.

I got him from people who found him on a highway shoulder, so that may have something to do with it, too; he is afraid of car headlights at night, teenaged boys, skateboarders, umbrellas, and clowns. He used to be afraid of men with beards, but seems to be over that. He was about five months old when I got him, and when he has nightmares, I wonder what he's remembering.

He remembered Gardiner. About 20 miles from home, he started to get very excited, and he was thrilled when we pulled into our parking lot. Since we got home he has had joyful reunions with his two best dog friends in the neighborhood, and now it's just as if we had never left at all.

But I still wonder if he thinks about Clancy and Patches and the Beas, and he must miss their backyard, with all the squirrels.

What I Read This Week

This is actually what I read last week, because I've read almost nothing not work-related since Bouchercon began. (Declan Hughes made the comment on a Sunday morning panel -- how ironic it is that during a conference devoted to books, one has no time for reading.)

Frankie Y. Bailey, YOU SHOULD HAVE DIED ON MONDAY. Frankie was one of the panelists at the session I moderated -- on social issues in crime fiction -- and I'm so glad, because otherwise I never would have discovered this series. Criminal justice professor Lizzie Stuart searches for her mother, who abandoned her as an infant, and finds a tangled history of violence and murder in 1960s Chicago. Emotionally complex without a trace of sentiment; if anything, I'd have liked it to be longer.

Mark T. Sullivan, TRIPLE CROSS. I got a very early copy of this thriller, which won't be out until next year. At an exclusive Montana ski resort, the world's wealthiest people gather to celebrate New Year's Eve. A group of commandos takes over the compound and starts putting the business titans on trial for crimes against humanity. The head of security, badly wounded, makes it out alive - but his three children are still in the compound, hiding from the invaders. This is going to be a huge movie for someone.

Stuart Archer Cohen, THE ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC. A political thriller set in the very near future, in which a small group of radical patriots determine to take government back from corrupt corporate overlords by any means necessary. This book is at least 75 pages too long and annoyed me more than once, but the power of the story is undeniable, and I finished the book thinking of at least half a dozen people I'd recommend it to.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I don't know why synagogues don't have bells.

A random point of ignorance this morning, but church bells are a regular feature of life in my picturesque Maine town (and it is picturesque, especially at this time of year; it's raining today, but I'll take some leaf pictures tomorrow).

This was a question that occurred to me when I lived in Los Angeles, in a heavily Jewish neighborhood. We had all kinds of temples, from storefronts to elaborate Byzantine strucures -- but none of them had bells. (And no, Gardiner doesn't have any synagogues. Augusta has one. It doesn't have bells.)

Temples have shofars, ritual horns blown on high holy days, but no bells. For that matter, Islamic temples don't have bells, either. Why and how did Christians get the bells?

Bells as we think of them seem to have originated in China, so maybe Marco Polo introduced them to Europe -- but the middle East traded with China, too, so why weren't they interested? If anyone knows of a good history of bells, leave a recommendation below. I'd like to read it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I don't know how we chose the foods that are supposed to be for breakfast.

Home again, with the luxury of my own kitchen and my own electric kettle and my own espresso machine. I always claim that I am not materialistic, but admit that having certain gadgets fills my heart with joy.

The refrigerator was empty after six weeks away, so I picked up essentials on way home: dog food, milk, bread, eggs, turkey. Rather than make eggs this morning -- because I am still very tired -- I am having a turkey sandwich, which feels like I'm getting away with something.

Why is this? Why don't Americans eat turkey sandwiches for breakfast? We eat other meats; we eat bread. And conversely, why does it feel like an event to have pancakes or waffles or bacon for any meal besides breakfast? How did Americans get to a collective agreement on the appropriate foods for breakfast?

I do know some of the history of how we started eating cereal for breakfast, one of the greatest marketing case studies of all time. Dr. John Kellogg and his rival, CW Post, deserve credit for essentially creating the American "health food" movement, and the first official health foods were breakfast cereals. But cereals replaced eggs and bacon, not turkey sandwiches.

As Pee Wee Herman said, "I'm a rebel..."

Five Random Songs

"Leave Me Alone (I'm Lonely)," Pink, from I'm Not Dead. I listened to this CD nonstop when I first got it, and now -- according to my iTunes history -- I haven't listened to it for more than a year. Weird. Anyway, this song is a little too on-the-nose for my first day back in Gardiner. Next.

"Summertime," Sam Cooke. Love Sam Cooke, dislike this cover, which sounds Muzak-y to me.

"Mary Mack," Great Big Sea. Even thinking about this tongue twister this morning makes me more tired. "Mary Mack's mother's making Mary Mack marry me, my mother's making me marry Mary Mack..."

"The Light Pours Out of Me," Magazine. From Zero: A Martin Hannett Story, 1977-1991, a great collection that introduced me to several bands I hadn't heard before, including this one.

"I'm an Optimist," Mark Isham. From The Express soundtrack, which is classic orchestral Americana; and why haven't you seen that movie yet? (Don't pretend you have; based on last weekend's box office, hardly anyone saw that movie. Go. Bring your kids. You'll be glad.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I don't know the best way through New York.

Headed back to Maine this morning, a trip that will take between 10 and 12 hours depending on traffic, weather, and how many times I stop. It's a long trip to make alone, but bearable; I've done it so often that I am used to it by now. (I've driven from Gardiner to Virginia Beach in a single day, too, and will not be doing that again.)

When I tell people I'm headed north, those who have made the trip ask one question: "Do you take the George Washington or the Tappan Zee?" These are the two main bridges that get you from one side of southern New York to the other; the GW takes you through Manhattan, the Tappan Zee swings you around Manhattan and up through Westchester County. The Tappan Zee adds mileage, but unless you hit the GW in precisely the right circumstances, it can take an hour just to cross it.

I usually take the Tappan Zee; it's prettier, and traffic usually moves more quickly. Not always, though. The Tappan Zee requires a long stretch of driving on the Garden State Parkway, where traffic can be terrible. The Garden State Parkway also has toll booths every five to ten miles, and I am still holding out against the damn EZ Pass (a topic for a future post).

But the leaves are turning, and the sun is out, and even if the Tappan Zee takes a little longer, it will be prettier than the grime and traffic on the George Washington Bridge. And one advantage of driving alone with Dizzy is that Dizzy will never second-guess my route.

Dizzy will miss the Beas, who have taken such good care of him for the last six weeks; he'll miss Clancy, their big yellow Lab, and he'll even miss Patches, their cat. In his perfect world, I'd just move down here, and we'd all hang out together.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I don't know what happened to the "sleep cure."

At yesterday's Bouchercon Guest of Honor interview, Laura Lippman talked about having secretly read her mother's hidden copy of VALLEY OF THE DOLLS at an age that was too young to understand it completely.

I too felt too young to understand VALLEY OF THE DOLLS when I read it, and I was in my late 30s at the time -- but the power of good trash is that some images and plot points stick with you.

At one point fairly late in VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, the sex kitten Jennifer North checks herself into a clinic in Switzerland to lose weight through a "sleep cure" that keeps patients unconscious for a week at a time. The bipolar Neely O'Hara, strung out on pills and panicked over her own weight, latches on to this idea as a lifeline, although her own psychiatrist advises a year in a sanitarium.

My friend Karen Olson and I have discussed this wonderful old-fashioned vision of the sanitarium -- the idea of a gracious converted mansion with lounge chairs on a rolling green lawn, where quiet attendants dressed in white bring you toast and cups of tea. Did those ever exist, or did we just get the idea from some Harold Robbins miniseries? Whatever happened to the "rest cure"?

And for that matter, whatever happened to the "sleep cure"? I recently did some research about miraculous recoveries from extreme cases of hypothermia, which often involve a medically-induced coma, but I don't think that's the same thing. Is anyone still offering a VALLEY OF THE DOLLS-style sleep cure, and if so, for what, and what does it cost?

I realize the possibility of my own crummy insurance covering it is slim. But just for today, instead of driving home to Maine, I'm going to take a couple of Benadryl and try to catch up on my sleep. I've picked up an alarming cough, and hope that a day of antihistamines and 16 hours of sleep will get me back on the road early tomorrow morning.

Bouchercon was terrific, by the way. As usual, I didn't get a chance to talk to everyone I wanted to see, but did manage to spend some quality time with friends, make a few new ones, pick up a couple of new projects, and avoid making any new enemies that I know of. (And no, if I did make any new enemies, I don't need to know.)

Friday, October 10, 2008

I don't know where I'm going to see THE EXPRESS this weekend.

It remains true that I cannot be in more than one place at a time. Thus I have not been able to go to three panels simultaneously, nor have I been able to blog and hang out with my friends at the same time, nor have I been able to sleep and talk at the same time (contrary to appearances around 2:00 this morning).

I do hope, however, to see The Express this weekend even while I am officially attending Bouchercon. I'm not sure where the nearest movie theater to downtown Baltimore is, but I imagine the hotel staff will know.

This week's reading list is postponed until tomorrow, when I should have a little more time. In the meantime, go see The Express, and report back here after.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

I don't know what to put on my business cards.

The meat of today's post is over at Notes from the Handbasket, my friend Laura Benedict's blog, where I am today's guest. Go there, leave a comment, and share if you win one of the prizes she's giving away.

I'm off to Bouchercon with way too much luggage -- what's appropriate for six weeks in New York is ridiculous for four days in Baltimore -- but I did manage to groom my eyebrows and remove unsightly facial hair, and I'm beyond excited to see so many of my friends in one place. Blogging will continue for the rest of the week, but who knows when or under what circumstances.

Five Random Songs

"She Loves the Jerk," John Hiatt. Another great song about unrequited love for someone else's woman, up there with "My Best Friend's Girl," "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" and -- yes, I'll put it out there -- "Jesse's Girl."

"Nothing New," Evan Frankfort. From the Trampoline Records Greatest Hits Vol. 1 collection, a gift from my sister Susan. This collection turned me on to several new artists I really like.

"You Do Something to Me," Bryan Ferry. Classic Cole Porter. "Do do that voodoo/That you do so well."

"Begin the Beguine," Salif Keita. More Cole Porter, this from the tribute album/AIDS research fundraiser Red Hot + Blue.

"China Girl," Pete Yorn. A cover of the David Bowie song, off the extra disc on musicforthemorningafter.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

I don't know how to put nail polish on my right hand.

Bouchercon starts on Thursday morning, and I'm headed up to Baltimore tomorrow afternoon to settle in at my friend SueLin's and meet the members of my panel.

Bouchercon is basically one big high school reunion for the crime fiction world, and I'm looking forward to seeing lots of people I haven't seen for months or even years (Scott Phillips, find me!).

So I want to look my best, especially since I've spent the last month dressed in black in a windowless concrete bunker -- but this is where I run into a vast gaping hole in my knowledge base and skill set.

I don't know how to do any of the girly stuff, not really. A makeup artist on one of the game shows I did showed me how to put on makeup (finally, in my mid-30s), but it's still not something I do well. I get in trouble when I try to pluck my own eyebrows, and my cousin Sheila once compared my lipstick application skills to Bette Davis's in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (Okay, that was one night at Drag Queen Bingo, and I might have been Lipsticking Under the Influence.)

My fingernails have been mangled over the past two weeks of loading in and loading out, and I was thinking this morning that I might try to hide this with a bit of polish ... but then I remembered that it's one more thing I don't know how to do. I also don't know how to keep fingernail polish from chipping.

It's probably too late in the grand scheme of things, but if you see me at Bouchercon looking unkempt and have any ideas about how to fix that, feel free to offer. I'll be grateful.

Monday, October 06, 2008

I don't know how to prevent post-show letdown.

It's a physiological response, programmed into our genes by our earliest ancestors: after excitement, we sleep and recover. Several years ago, I did some literature research into the relationship between depression and infectious disease, and read a couple of studies that suggested that depression may be part of the body's immune system defenses. As Billy Crystal says in When Harry Met Sally, "One thing about depression is, you get your rest."

The show ended yesterday, and we had about half an hour to clear all of our stuff out of the theater. It's not a good system, and I hope NYMF changes that next year. But I was running all weekend, and excited about seeing visitors from out of town, and nervous about getting everything done ... and now it's Monday morning. I have some work I need to do and some cleaning of my sublet, but the big job of the past five weeks is over.

I could sleep for about a month, I think, but that is not an option. I need to get back to work that pays me and a town that is slightly less expensive than New York City. I'm anxious about everything I've neglected in the past month, and I'm going to miss my friends here and the daily excitement of the big city.

A bad funk is on its way, I fear, and I don't know how to prevent it. Bouchercon, later this week, should postpone it, and maybe if I postpone it long enough, it'll just go away. But suggestions are welcome.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Check local listings!

Sneak preview screenings of THE EXPRESS are showing in certain markets around the country tonight at 7:00. Check your local paper to see if it's showing near you, and go see it if you can.

If you can't make the sneak preview, the movie opens nationwide on October 10. I'll probably drag as many people as I can to a matinee in Baltimore at some point during the weekend.

While I'm here, birthday greetings to Thomas Schulz, celebrating today in Venice. That's a good excuse for not being able to catch THE EXPRESS...

Friday, October 03, 2008

I don't know what to do this afternoon.

Today is my last free day in New York City. I have shows tomorrow and Sunday, and Monday I head to Washington, DC for a few days before going to Baltimore for Bouchercon. (I am moderating a panel at 8:30 Thursday morning. If you get up that early and come see us, I will buy you coffee after and be your best friend for life.)

Anyway, I'm paralyzed by choice. What to do with my last free afternoon -- The Met? MOMA? The Guggenheim? The Morgan Library? The Cloisters? Somewhere I've never been? Maybe I could just go to a movie... or sit in a cafe with a cup of decaf and a slice of cake, doing Bouchercon homework and watching the world go by.

As I prepare to leave New York, I'm proud of how well I packed -- not just clothes, but books. I've read all but three of the books I brought with me, and we won't mention the three I bought yesterday, the two I got in this week's mail, or whatever I might pick up between now and Monday.

What I Read These Weeks (special two-week edition, since I didn't post last Friday)

Irvine Welsh, CRIME. It always interests me when "literary" authors turn to genre or young adult fiction, as if those were somehow easier than writing Serious Work about Serious Topics. I could make an argument for classifying some of Welsh's earlier work as crime fiction, and certainly he's fascinated by violence and redemption. CRIME is the story of a Scottish police detective who investigates a young girl's troubles while on vacation in Florida. Vivid writing and sophisticated literary techniques (alternating present-tense and second-person POV -- wouldn't one of those have been enough?) didn't keep this book from feeling weirdly tedious. It was interesting to compare CRIME with THE UNQUIET by John Connolly, a superior and very different take on similar subject matter.

Derek Haas, THE SILVER BEAR. More present-tense narration, but very well done; an impressive first novel about a hit man who calls himself Columbus, hired to take out a Presidential candidate with whom he shares a secret past. Reminiscent of Richard Condon and early Charles McCarry.

Will Thomas, THE BLACK HAND. The latest in this Sherlockian series finds private inquiry agent Cyrus Barker and his assistant, Thomas Llewelyn, investigating a series of Mafia attacks on and around the London docks. More action than plot, but the pleasure of this series is the two main characters.

Alex Kava, EXPOSED. FBI Special Agent Maggie O'Dell is exposed to a deadly virus, spread by a criminal mastermind who borrows tactics from historic serial killers and mass murderers. The copy I read was labeled "in progress," but this was a solid thriller.

Jeffery Deaver, THE BROKEN WINDOW. Deaver's best in ages, a frightening thriller about identity theft. Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs investigate a killer who frames suspects by using the most intimate secrets of their daily lives.

Patricia Sprinkle, SINS OF THE FATHERS. I don't read many amateur-sleuth novels. This one, about an investigation into how a black family's graves came to be on an all-white Georgia island, was plausible and compelling, but marred by two gratuitous acts of violence at the very end of the book.

Declan Burke, THE BIG O. I was favorably inclined toward this book because 1) it was a gift from the author, 2) my friend Bobby recommended it, and 3) it includes a reference to my friend Gary's movie Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead. Notwithstanding, this thriller is great fun in the Elmore Leonard tradition, unapologetically jammed with wild coincidences, and surprisingly low-violence for a book whose main characters are an armed robber, a kidnapper and a Siberian wolf.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

I don't know the ideal attributes of a Vice President.

I have tonight off, which is great because, like most readers of this blog, I plan to watch the Vice Presidential candidates' debate. I feel other people's embarrassment too easily, and thus hope that both candidates are articulate, well-prepared, and polite to each other.

Beyond that, though, I don't have a good sense of what this debate is meant to achieve. What qualifies someone to serve as Vice President, other than the Constitutional minimum requirements?

We talk about Vice Presidents being a heartbeat away from the Oval Office; that has happened once in my lifetime, three times in my father's (and it's Dad's birthday today, so many happy returns). It hasn't happened in more than 30 years, though, and frankly I would not vote for either Joe Biden or Sarah Palin to be President of the United States.

The incumbent aside, traditionally the Vice President has represented the United States at state funerals, weddings and other ceremonial events, and the Vice President has been the Executive Branch's primary official liaison to the Legislative Branch. The Vice President serves as President of the Senate, and casts votes to break ties -- a real possibility in the next Congress.

Unquestionably, Joe Biden is more qualified to be President of the Senate than Sarah Palin is. Sarah Palin, however, is arguably better-looking than Joe Biden, and might look better in photographs at international funerals. As Vice President she might be as invisible and innocuous as Dan Quayle was, and as much fun for late-night talk show hosts.

Thus it seems to me that the standards for "winning" tonight's Vice Presidential debate are very different for Senator Biden and Governor Palin. Biden needs to convince us that he can help make a broken Congress work; Palin just needs to convince us that she won't be an international embarrassment.

I'm betting on Biden.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I don't know how important reviews are.

The good news is that the New York Times saw our show and liked it. (In the interest of full disclosure, we also got a rather scathing review from a theater website; I'm not going to link to that one.) By coincidence, the first reviews of The Express are also up at Rotten Tomatoes, and both are good.

Once again, though, I wonder what (or whom) reviews are really for. They're one person's opinion, and while that one person might have a body of experience or knowledge that makes him or her a subject matter expert, it's equally likely that that person is a recent college graduate who wrote the review for beer money or free tickets and had a nasty case of stomach flu that day. (Believe me, that isn't gratuitous snark; I've been that reviewer, or that reviewer's guest.)

The book community has been up in arms lately about the disappearance of book reviews and book review sections from newspapers, which is part of the catastrophic decline in newspapers in general. In New York, I read the newspaper on the subway, but when I'm home, I read the papers online, and so do most of my friends. I used to pay the fee to subscribe to the Times online, but they don't charge anymore, and that makes me happy -- although I wonder how it's going to work as a business model.

And it's true, I don't browse reviews online. More often, I look for reviews through sites that aggregate them (yes, usually Amazon, though I rarely buy from them). I almost never read a review before I've read the book, and it is very unusual for me to buy a book, see a movie or go to a play based on reviews.

Reviews are entertaining, and most weeks the reviews are all I read in Entertainment Weekly. Maybe that's enough of a reason to justify their existence. But I'm curious: do you read reviews? Do you make purchasing decisions based on them? Are there any reviewers you especially trust, or any you automatically ignore?

Five Random Songs

"Hesitating Beauty," Billy Bragg & Wilco. Woody Guthrie's marriage proposal, set to music by Wilco. This whole album (Mermaid Avenue) is great.

"Rain is Falling," ELO. One of the more obscure tracks off the Greatest Hits album. I've always thought they sounded like the Beatles, and this song is especially Beatle-y.

"Give Me Back My Wig," Hound Dog Taylor. Electric blues from the Alligator Records 20th Anniversary Collection.

"A Face in the Crowd," Kathleen Edwards. A great cover of one of my favorite Tom Petty songs.

"The Rascal King," The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. I've said it before and I'll say it again: horns are the bacon of popular music. Horns make everything more fun.