October 12, 2012

Wall Street & War Street & murder mysteries in Cleveland

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Jane Stillwater @ 1:28 pm

I just got back from attending a four-day murder-mystery writers’ and readers’ convention in Cleveland, Ohio – For a crime-fiction fan such as myself, it was a dream come true.

“Why do people love murder mysteries so much?” I asked one author.

“Because whenever we read crime fiction, we always know that the criminal will actually get caught in the end and justice will actually be served. In the real world, however, that rarely actually happens.” Sad but true. “In addition, crime fiction allows you to be deliciously afraid — but also to safely control your own fear.”

On my first day in Cleveland I played hookie from the convention, went off to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and totally relived my (gloriously misspent) youth listening to the soundtracks of my past, having spent the 1950s watching American Bandstand and dancing the Bop to Bill Haley at the MYF hall; spent the 1960s going to see Janis at the Filmore, Bob Dylan in Greenwich Village, the Velvet Underground at the Dom and the Temptations and the Ronettes at the Apollo every Saturday night; and spent the 1970s watching the Stones and listening to the Who. What’s not to love about the Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum!

On the last day of the murder-mystery convention, I also attended an interesting seminar on politically-themed crime novels. Let’s get right to the point. “We write them because there is an endless amount of criminal activity to write about in Washington!” Right on.

And dontcha just love that new TV series, “Scandal,” also based in D.C.

I wanna write a crime novel set in D.C. too! So much material to write about, so little time. For instance, I’d start with a “War Street” crime-fiction series. The Iraq war was a crime. The official and unofficial wars on Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, Libya, Pakistan, Bahrain, Nigeria, you-name-it? Lots of big crimes! Writing a best-selling “War Street” series should keep me busy for years! So many bad guys. So much fun.

And then I would go on to write a blockbuster “Wall Street” murder-mystery series. The greatest criminals and the greatest crimes of all time take place on the Wall Street side of D.C. Like the infamous “Goldfinger,” Washington’s evil Wall Street connections have set out to destroy the world — both economically and virtually. Talk about your bad guys! D.C. is offering an endless supply.

During my four glorious days in Cleveland last week, I had a wonderful time enjoying that city and seeing the sights — and also watching TV, featuring all those mendacious commercials urging Ohio residents to vote to send even more bad guys to Washington D.C. But there were also even some commercials about sending good guys there too. Did you know that Sherrod Brown is running for office in Ohio again? C’mon, Ohio. Vote for Sherrod! Let’s give at least one political crime story a happy ending.

PS: After I talked with one man on the street in Cleveland about the up-coming presidential election, it instantly became a mystery to me how, in this modern day and age of Google and Snopes, this guy could still actually be believing all those blatant scams and lies that Romney the Con-Man is sincerely hoping that we will believe.

PPS: It is also a complete mystery to me why War Street, supported by Obama, could still be killing so many women and children in the Middle East and yet still not understand that the blow-back that all this cold-blooded murder is creating will endanger America more and more, year by year. If they keep this up, pretty soon there will be seven billion people hatin’ on War Street — just like 2.2 billion people hated on the Third Reich back in 1942. Wise up, guys.

But, actually, drunk drivers kill far more Americans than “terrorists” ever had. So why is War Street still slogging through its twelfth year of war on Afghanistan, which is, ironically, a teetotaling country? And why is marijuana still illegal here but killer alcohol isn’t? Another big mystery.

PPPS: I also went to a party at BoucherCon sponsored by Soho Press and they gave me some more excellent free books — including the new Cara Black novel and the new Stuart Neville one Combined with a whole bunch of free books that I got from other publishers, I now have a whole suitcase full of free books. Eat your heart out, murder-mystery fans of the world!


September 23, 2011

My 9-11 detective novel: Investigating the broken chain of custody of evidence

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Jane Stillwater @ 1:35 pm

At the recent BoucherCon ( murder-mystery writers’ and fans convention held in St Louis this year, I’m still getting all fired up by the “Who Dun It” question.

When we first arrived, everyone who attended was given a ton of free books — nothing better than that. Then at one event I attended, they honored Robert Randisi, an excellent crime-novel writer who, among other things, has written 550 books. “At one point, I could finish an entire book in only three days,” he told me later, “but I’m getting older now and can only manage writing a couple of books a month.” The man wears out four keyboards a year, he types that fast. Genius.

Next, I went to an interview with Charmaine Harris, a gentle kindly well-mannered typical Southern lady — who also just happens to write vampire books. She is the creator of that hot new HBO series, “True Blood”. And she doesn’t feel bad about killing off any of her characters either, “because it’s fun to write death scenes.” But sometimes she resurrects them if she likes a particular character a lot. “In vampire mysteries, you can always do that.” Plus her kids now think that she’s actually cool.

Then I went to a panel discussion on how to write books in the post-9-11 era. That was interesting, sure, but I think perhaps that the panelists missed one very important point.

One author stated, “I’m British. We are used to terrorism in Britain. But Americans before 9-11 lived in LaLa Land.” Too true.

Another author said, “People have an arc to their lives and some of them who worked at the Twin Towers never finished that arc. And that’s one way of approaching a book on this subject. But whatever you write on this subject, someone is going to misinterpret it. No matter what you write, you will be in for a kicking by someone because 9-11 is still too fresh and too new. Like Vietnam, we have to distance ourselves from the event before it can be approached through literature unemotionally.”

A third panel member said, “With all the coverage it has received, there is little to add to the actual event per se — but you can tell individual stories about people who were involved.” Another author was disgusted by the rampant commercialism of the recent tenth anniversary events.

One of the authors also said that, “As writers, we have chosen to make things up in order to put life events into perspective. So isn’t it our duty to write about 9-11? It is our job as writers to make sense of things that happen. And things have changed irrevocably after 9-11. It’s much darker now. For instance, we all had to go through security lines at the airports in order to get here. Writing has become much darker since then.”

Someone also commented that, “It is the job of a writer to take you where you cannot go in real life. The best example of this is still ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’. If you can’t be inside a war, this books shows you the absolute horrors of war. Your characters can bring these events to life and give your readers a better feel for what it was like on September 11, 2001.”

Another comment: “Detective novels are written at street level — which is why detective novels don’t work for big-themed events.”

And, “The real book waiting to be written is about how we now live in a world where there is always a war — where for young Americans, being a soldier is now a common career choice. And returning soldiers are now becoming a new under-class, violent, perhaps with drug problems. You could also write about what happens when the vets come back home.”

These are all good observations. But no one on the panel nailed it regarding what could possibly be the greatest detective story of all, the ultimate Who-Dun-It — who was really responsible for 9-11. For all too many thoughtful American citizens, this question has never been answered satisfactorily. So I started outlining my own detective novel on this subject.

“Jane Stillwater, hard-boiled NY private detective, was hired by a mysterious stranger to investigate what actually occurred on 9/11/01. Stillwater was dubious abut this assignment but started rounding up the usual suspects — the Saudis, Osama bin Laden, the CIA, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush.

“Stillwater, just another street-level down-on-her-luck gumshoe, had grudging taken on this difficult task for several reasons — her love of justice, her love of country, being patriotic as hell, and her burning desire to finally discover once and for all what actually had happened at the Twin Towers that day — but, most importantly, her rent was due and this huge new retainer would keep her landlord from throwing her out in the street.

“The first thing Stillwater did was check out the chain of custody of evidence: What kind of evidence was involved here and who had been in charge of it. ‘Time to start doing some legwork,’ she sighed, starting with obvious — the New York Stock Exchange. Who had bought up all those put-options on United and American stocks right before 9-11? The banks? Weapons dealers? Oil companies? The Saudis? The Cheney-Rumsfeld-Papa-Bush rat pack? Who had motive, means and opportunity? Dead end trail there. The chain of custody of evidence had been broken.

“Stillwater would have just loved to have grilled Osama bin Laden about 9-11, but the chain of custody trail was broken there too. Now the only ones who can give OBL the third-degree are some fishes.

“Next Stillwater went out to the landfill at Fresh Kills to see if she could find any evidence from the WTC building material itself. Clearly the chain of custody had been highly contaminated here. Burial in a landfill will do that. Plus how can one maintain a chain of custody of evidence after it has been hauled around Staten Island in a dump truck?

“‘What about all those airplane black boxes?’ Stillwater next asked herself. Maybe she could get her hands on a Black Box? But apparently American citizens’ right to know stops somewhere far short of the chain of custody of evidence here. And, frustrated, Stillwater couldn’t get a hold of any videotapes of a plane hitting the Pentagon either.

“But what about that L.A. Times report that Mohammed Ata and others had been training at U.S. military installations? That Saudis were flown out of the country after the attacks? Or the bizarrely-coincidental NORAD training exercises staged the very same day? Who even HAS the chain of custody there? And, since the chain has obviously been broken many times, then who broke it?

“Next, Stillwater tried to put a tail on Dick Cheney — but that trial led nowhere. That trail was as covered up as a Yeti in a snowstorm. That trail was cold. And unbeknownst to Congress, Cheney had already put a shadow government in place just hours after the attacks. How could Stillwater possibly shadow a government that was already a shadow itself?

“Next Stillwater tried to check out the air traffic controller interviews right after the attacks. Broken chain of custody of evidence there too. They’d disappeared without a trace.”

So. How is my new 9-11 crime novel going to end? Can’t tell you that! Because if I did, I would be instantly labeled a conspiracy theory nutcase instead of the next Dashiell Hammett. Or else I would have to be killed. So you’re just gonna have to wait until after my new book comes out (if I can ever find a publisher, that is.)

No wonder nobody ever writes murder-mystery novels about 9-11!

PS: The next exciting and wonderful BoucherCon convention is going to be held in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2012. See you there! And maybe we’ll be able to see Cleveland’s congressional representative Dennis Kucinich there too. He’d fit right in at BoucherCon — because Rep. Kucinich is absolutely the best crime detective in the U.S. House of Representatives today — or ever!


September 20, 2011

Libya & NATO: The biggest murder mystery of all

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Jane Stillwater @ 2:58 pm

Here I am, off in St. Louis, Missouri, attending the 41st annual BoucherCon convention, a hugely entertaining and highly informative gathering of over 1,800 murder-mystery writers and their fans. It’s pretty much crime-novel heaven here. I bet you would love it.

The first thing I did after arriving in St Louis was to take the MetroLink in from the airport and chase chickens around my friend Patrick’s back yard. Then I went off to attend a BoucherCon panel discussion on why murder mysteries are important.

“Crime novels give us the freedom to explore characters’ deepest dimensions,” stated one author — was it Colin Cotterill, Sara Paretsky, Laurie R. King, Joseph Finder, Ridley Pearson, Robert Crais, Val McDermid, Charlaine Harris or Kelli Stanley? I forget. “They also give us a chance to express values, uncover the truth about past occurrences and to pursue social justice. Mystery stories are the voices of social justice today.” Hey, that’s deep.

Then another author stated that, “Writing about killing off bad guys or getting revenge on them is cheaper than therapy….” And probably better than Prozac.

So after listening to all these authors go on and on about how wonderful their craft was, I decided to try my hand at writing a murder mystery myself. Here it is:

“As winter approached, all of Europe lay under a chilling black haze of economic free-fall. Greece was hovering close to the nightmarish throes of bankruptcy. Britons were rioting like soccer fans because they were upset by all the Victoria’s Secret ads they had watched on TV without having the money to buy enough push-up bras to keep themselves from sagging (economically speaking). And jobs in America were disappearing like popcorn at a B-movie.” So far, so good.

And now that I’ve luridly described the crime scene, all I have to do now is track down the bad guys who are causing all this misery and then put them in check. Means, motive and opportunity, right?

However, at this point my exciting new crime novel begins to go off the track and wanders into a tangled web of smoke screens thrown off by the bad guys — who are now committing another horrendous crime somewhere else in order to distract attention from their original crimes. Aha. The plot thickens.

“Before brave Inspector Stillwater can finish solving the crimes in Europe and America, the bad guys have gone off and bombed Libya!”

Hey you guys, no! I’m supposed to be bringing you to justice here, not letting you run hog-wild off in the Sahara, becoming serial killers yet again and cold-bloodily slaying even more people and even more seriously ruining the economies of Europe and America!

The cost of even a few of those deadly NATO bombing raids on Tripoli alone could have put Greece back on its feet for a year or employed every jobless guy in Florida and Ohio between Christmas and the 2012 election.

“Now D.I. Jane is really up against it. Now she has to find and apprehend these bad guys for committing even more heinous crimes. Will just a single street-level detective be able to stand between the Free World and crime sprees on an unimaginable scale?” And will I also be able to find a mainstream publisher for my book? More than likely not — even though there’s definitely a lot of mystery and murder in my story. And definitely a lot of bad guys.

But this book probably wouldn’t sell very well anyway. Why? Because what self-respecting murder-mystery fan would ever believe for an instant that so many Europeans and Americans would be so stupid as to be so complicit in all these crimes — turning a blind eye while these truly evil bad guys get away with the Crime of the Century.

What decent crime-fiction fan in their right mind would ever believe a plot that allows evil bad guys to steal hundreds and hundreds of billions of tax dollars and then waste them on murdering complete strangers in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Libya — while our own economies are being murdered back home? That just wouldn’t make sense.

November 7, 2010

Tips from famous crime writers: Solving the mysteries of writing & righting

I love reading murder mysteries because they are like puzzles to be solved — and because, in these books, there are always wrongs to be righted and Justice to be served. And the constant efforts of murder-mystery heroes to identify and capture the bad guys fit right in with my own life-long passion for Justice, especially in politics. Who dun it? “Karl Rove!”

When I attended BoucherCon, a convention of mystery writers and mystery readers held in San Francisco recently, one facet of the conference that I really liked was when several famous murder-mystery authors spoke to us groundlings about how they went about writing their books. Here’s what I learned from the following authors:

EDDIE MULLER, San Francisco’s current Czar of Noir: “I wrote about 1940s San Francisco because I wanted to recapture a place that no longer exists. It was my father’s town and I wanted to live his life vicariously — World War II, Dashell Hammett, the Barbary Coast. My father was actually born in Golden Gate Park after the 1906 earthquake. This was a whole part of San Francisco that I never got to experience myself but only heard stories about.” And so he wanted to write some of those stories down before they got lost forever — that was his motivation to write. (My powerful original motivation for starting to write was that I was completely pissed off at George W. Bush for stealing the 2000 election. Now there is one who-dun-it that no one seems to want to solve.)

“My job is to make sure that the things of the past don’t disappear. I write in order to preserve this past for future generations. I write for five-year-olds. And, in addition, if you can possibly do as an adult the things that you loved to do as a six-year-old, you’ll be fine. And my best subject in elementary school was Show and Tell. You have to find something that you really want to write about. You become curious about a character and a time.” And also about how the events of the day shapes a character’s world.

“My publishers were very upset with me after a while because they wanted me to keep writing books like my first ones. But my passion had moved on.” You have to have passion about something in order to write well about it. “It’s very hard for me to just sit down and write about something. It’s got to have a visceral spark for me to do it — one where I can’t eat or sleep until I do it.”

Short stories are easier to write than novels, according to Muller. “That’s because novels have their finish lines way off in the distance. And talking your stories out is also part of the writing process. You need to try as hard as you can to make your characters distinctive. Dialog is always at the service of developing character — in every dialogue you should be able to distinguish who is talking by the tone of what they say, even without attributions such as ‘he said’ or ‘she said’.”

Muller also said that it was easier to write a novel if you do it a chapter at a time. “I always write little mini-novels, about 20 pages ahead of where I am, because I think you need to leave space for zig-zags. A writer, unlike a pilot who always flies from Point A to Point B, constantly needs to leave his comfort zone. Tell the story you want to tell, not just follow the formula. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone.

“In my novels, I’ve tried to reclaim the hard-bitten dialogues of the 1940s without turning them into parody. Newspaper reporters from that time knew how to relate the facts in the shortest time possible and it is this timing that I’m trying to reclaim. That’s how newsmen wrote back then.”

Muller loved the old newspaper days. “There is nothing more impressive than an old-time newspaper office. The cacophony and urgency of those old newsrooms is gone. My dad worked for William Randolph Hearst and I myself took a job at the Chronicle because I wanted to be there when that behemoth went down. Now no one even goes to the office any more. Work is done at home. The Chronicle is still being published today but it’s just not the same. The romance is gone.

“Face it. Romance happens when people interact. And that just doesn’t happen any more. Everything now is done at home. Bars and theaters and public places are where people interact.” Now people just use the internet and rent videos.

“Always remember that It’s not how you spend your money that is important — it’s how you spend your time.”

Then Muller defined the “Noir” concept for us newbees. “In true Noir, it’s when fate is indifferent and the protagonist knows that he is doing wrong — and does it anyway. He has a tendency to self-destruct. Noir makes you feel the anxiety and despair of these people who knowingly do wrong. Thus Noir can happen anywhere. It doesn’t just happen in the Tenderloin. It also happens in the nicest part of town.”

DAVID BALDACCI: As a lawyer, I did the same thing that I did later as a writer — tell a story. It’s all about words. You do the research and then you tell the story. Transitioning between being a lawyer and being a writer was smooth. And your reader is like your jury.” I agree. I used to write personal injury settlement briefs — which is just like writing soap opera.

“I do a lot of research but don’t use 99% of it. Then after you have all the points down, you shorten it. Your final product should be all muscle, no fat. If it doesn’t describe a character or advance the plot, take it out. Distill it down to the best stuff — from 100 pages down to one paragraph if need be. But you still need to do the research.” I myself hate research — but Baldacci apparently thrives on it.

“One time I went out on a police patrol doing research and the policeman busted five criminals. And I swear this happened. As one of the criminals was lying there on the ground in handcuffs, he looked up at me and said, ‘I love your books!’ It really happened.”

When Baldacci was a lawyer, he saw a lot of justice not being done. “All of my books are about seeking justice. Sometimes my characters find it and sometimes they don’t.”

And none of Baldacci’s heroes are perfect — just as none of his villains are totally bad. “My villains can rationalize any behavior they commit. They are not a part of society so why should they care about society? And while 99% of us have a societal inhibitor that prevents us from acting on our feelings, some of us don’t. Look at Ted Bundy. His brain was just freaky. But most other villains are motivated because they have been left out of society.” Yeah, like most of Americans have been left out of the global corporatists’ grand schemes for MY country. But does that make us villains too? Hopefully not.

“My brain is always going on stories. You can’t turn it off — always thinking about writing. Even now. It’s absolutely never turned off. Wherever you go, whoever you meet, it’s all fodder for stories.”

Regarding inspiration, “The spectacular ideas, the Eureka moments, the epiphanies don’t happen often. I get ideas and extrapolate on them and distill and increase them so they will amount to a 400-page novel that someone other than your mother will read.”

Regarding many writers’ lack of self-confidence, Baldacci was hopeful. “I’m still fearful about my abilities, but that is a great combatant to complacency. Every book I write is like my first one. If you do this, you write a better book. But all people in the creative business have to have a high level of confidence. To put yourself out there to strangers is hard. Who do you write for? Your readers? No. I write for myself — not what sells, not what’s hot. I ask myself, ‘Do I want to spend a year of my life with this? Is this stuff cool?’”

Baldacci’s latest book is called “Hell’s Corner” and it’s about his regular group of characters, the Camel Club. “And it’s all smoke and mirrors, which is what Washington DC is all about. It’s my tip of the hat to DC.” Baldacci also talked about his favorite charitable project — trying to get more books into the homes of poor children.

LAURIE R. KING: “Sherlock Holmes is a terribly useful guy [for juicing up a plot]. I got about two lines into my first Mary Russell book and thought, ‘Oh crap. I really should learn more about Holmes.’” And apparently she did. I love king’s series about Mary keeping bees with Sherlock and later becoming his wife.

“I first sat down to write when my son had just gone off to pre-school for three glorious days a week. I wrote my first book on paper, typed it up and sent it off. Publishers’ reaction? Silence. I was such an ignoramus when I first started submitting manuscripts. I didn’t have an agent. Many publishers don’t take unsolicited manuscripts. I sent the thing out to publishers for three years with no luck, and then the Linda Allen agency took me on and I started selling manuscripts — but it only took me six years from writing my first book to its publication.” And it’s even rougher now to find a publisher than it was back then.

Sometimes readers stop and ask, “Would a character really do that?” Apparently books that have too many weird things happening in them usually don’t work. But the Mary Russell series certainly does.

JOSEPH FINDER: “My standards for what I write have grown higher over the years. Unfortunately, however, my skills have remained the same — except that now I have a better sense of structure and a better idea of what I’m trying to do. And being a published author now and doing all that it entails takes away from my writing time.”

Regarding having a book turned into a movie, Finder said, “I’ve sold a number of books to Hollywood that never got made into films. In Hollywood, writers are so low on the totem pole that they are below the ground. One time I tried to get an acting part in my movie [like Hitchcock did] and that was really strange. In Hollywood, they have a false respect for novelists but they mistrust us. Once, someone actually told me that I didn’t understand what my own novel was even about. They leave out all the good novelistic stuff in my books there, so now I just write what I think they will cut out. First they buy the script. Then they laugh at it. I don’t need that.”

And Finder actually likes to do research for his novels too. “When writers go to a place to do research, we go with heightened senses. But research is a dangerous drug for me. I love research. It’s like heroin. I start out with insecurity, knowing not much. And what you learn, you can’t show it off — it’s only the tip of the iceberg of what finally ends up going into the book.” I hate research.

“I read Robert Ludlum and John Forsythe when I was just starting out. I read a whole bunch of different thrillers. As writers, we start out imitating someone else and then we find our own voice.”

But Finder doesn’t waste his time writing on subjects that are familiar to him. “I hate the advice, ‘Write what you know.’ That’s crap. I always write what I want to find out. And someone said, ‘Suspense is undermined by humor.’ Screw that. I want to write what I want to write. Write what you like to write. If it clicks in the marketplace, that’s a plus. If publishers don’t like it, too bad.” Totally!

“The biggest struggle is actually just sitting down to write. But you have to keep writing because once you get into it, it’s really wonderful. I wish someone had told me that the first book is not the end-all and be-all. Just keep writing! But I still fear the empty document screen. Just shut everything else off and write. But if you get blocked, just take a look at your outline the night before, sleep on it and work on it in the morning.”

I’ve heard that before — that our brains sort stuff out for us in our sleep and we do our best creative work when we first wake up in the morning because our brains have already done most of the dirty work for us while we slept.

ANDREW KLAVAN: At first I wasn’t going to review Klavan’s suggestions on writing because I didn’t agree with his politics. However I have changed my mind about that. Why? Because of something that some guy I correspond with on the internet said recently. Internet Guy and I have such completely polar opposite views about how America should be run that, frankly, I almost hate him. I mean really! Teabaggers like him have just sold out our country to foreign interests and global corporations solely because the Supreme Court decision regarding Citizens United now allows our former democracy to go to the highest bidder — whoever can pay for the most libelous and mendacious campaign ads. But I digress.

Anyway, I thought I would NEVER have anything in common with Internet Guy, who I considered to be a completely ignorant schmuck, a willing victim of corporate brainwashing — but then I suddenly discovered that he and I were both murder-mystery fans! So maybe Internet Guy isn’t such a dumby after all (except for in politics of course, where he is clueless). And so perhaps I should give Klavan a chance too.

“I like screenwriting because it gets me out of the house,” said Klavan. “Writing novels is a lonely business — but I still love writing them. But the results of writing for Hollywood are so random. Sometimes they are good, sometimes bad.”

Klavan’s influences? “Raymond Chandler. He is the portrait of what a man should be like. And when I was 19, I read ‘Crime and Punishment’ and it changed my life. Someone just said of my latest book, ‘It’s like Chandler meets Dostoevsky.’ And I started out with no mentors, just walking around New York City with a manuscript box under my arm, literally getting thrown out of publishing offices.” Apparently this is the story of every writer’s life.

“One of the dangers of writing is that other stuff that you need to do keeps creeping in and grabbing up you time. I’ve been setting aside four hours a day to write since I was 14. And I still have to do that.”

MARTIN CRUZ SMITH: This man is one of my favorite writers — him and Janet Evanovich. “Writing is harder for me these days. It seems like everything interrupts me now. There’s either too much noise — or else too much quiet.”

Regarding Hollywood? “Hollywood has a technique that is debasing. It’s like you have a raincoat, they take it, jump up and down on it and throw it in the gutter. After that, do you really want it back? One main actor even apologized to me for what they did to my book.”

Regarding research? We have to evoke Donald Rumsfeld when we write — we have to know what we don’t know. The key to a good research interview is to just listen. Let it flow. I went to Russia to write and Moscow was such a fantastic city that I had to throw away my planned American character for a Russian one.”

Smith was most influenced by “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold,” and James Caan is his favorite American writer. “You have to find those tiny little bits of detail that come together and make the character come to life. My advice is to don’t listen to anyone else, just write. Write until your butt is sore. Stay home from those writers’ conferences and just write.”

And as a writer, you have to be hyper-aware. “A pitcher sees only home plate — but a writer see everything. And you put everything into your book.” And then you go out and look for a publisher — and press your luck.

LEE CHILD: He was at the convention too, mingling. Unlike some other writers, Child seems to like mingling with his fans. I saw him in the hotel lobby. He’s really tall. But I missed his presentation because I was off babysitting Mena the Kid. However, I am now reading his books and trying to catch up on his hero Jack Reacher, the impossibly perfect man, almost an American version of James Bond.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of international-spy-ring, CIA assassination, testosterone-laced who-dun-it types of murder mysteries, as a result of learning about them (and getting free copies of them) at BoucherCon — and also because I’m still trying to figure out what is REALLY going on in that clandestine American nether-world of black ops, assassinations, skulduggery and unaccountability that most of us Americans know nothing about — but still have to pay for. And this type of mystery writer lets us in on the ground floor of what is really going on behind all those closed doors. And it ain’t pretty. Or democratic. Or American. But Karl Rove would definitely approve.


To see photos of the murder-mystery authors and Clifford the Big Red Dog giving Mena an interview, click here:


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