November 6, 2013

Big shots: Four best-selling crime-novel writers talk about death

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Jane Stillwater @ 1:08 pm

There are seven billion people alive on the planet today — and it’s a sure thing that every single one of us will die eventually. Death is completely unavoidable. And perhaps this cold hard fact is one reason for our universal fascination with murder-mystery novels: That they deal with the subject of death, an event that all of us face 24/7 — but which no one really knows one damn thing about.

Who can you ask about death — who has ever returned from the dead? “What was death like? Did it hurt? Is it better now? Is there an after-life? Do you like being dead? Will I survive the process?” The Bible says that Jesus came back from the dead. But probably nobody else ever has, not really — near-death experiences aside.

Death is the absolutely most important event in all of our lives (besides birth). But it is a totally unknown factor. And so we watch CSI on television and go to zombie movies and read crime novels, searching for clues.

At the 2013 BoucherCon convention in Albany last month, four prominent murder-mystery writers got together to discuss their craft, at a seminar called “Big Shots”. Anne Perry, Steven Hamilton, Sue Grafton and Tess Gerritsen? Yes, they are all still alive. But they certainly know where the bodies are buried!

Sue Grafton was first to speak, and told us a really funny story about the death of (wait for it) her chicken Peggy Sue. “The vet gave me a very serious look and said, ‘This hen needs a hysterectomy.’ Yeah but… Isn’t the main purpose of a chicken to lay eggs?” Then the vet billed Grafton $250 but the chicken still died. Moral here? I guess that chickens aren’t immortal either.

But as Steve Hamilton pointed out, “That’s a pretty hard-boiled story.”

“I get a lot of plot problems solved while driving,” said Tess Gerritsen, “especially while driving across Texas.” Gerritsen also plays the fiddle in an Irish-music band in Maine and is a MD. She writes best-selling medical thrillers in her spare time. Death becomes her.

Anne Perry, who lives in a small village in Scotland where there are only 500 people, has to rely on getting “an endless supply of faces, ways of walking and gestures for my novels — from watching TV.” And I bet she gets lots of ideas on how to kill people too, just by watching TV. I bet that at least 600 people meet the Grim Reaper on TV on any given day spent in Televisionland.

Hamilton writes at night, after the family has gone to bed. “The idea of me getting up and working at 6:00 am is pure science-fiction.” But all four authors prefer to write when it is quiet.

“I have to listen to my characters’ voices,” said Gerritsen.

Hamilton was having a whole bunch of trouble writing about a hero who was an urban private investigator. And then,”I heard a voice in my head saying, ‘I live in a cabin in the wilderness and I have a bullet in my heart,’ and this character, Alex McKnight, just stepped out from my mind.” And murder-mystery readers everywhere are glad that Alex did.

“I identify with characters, envision them,” said Perry, “and find their vulnerabilities. And they all have some sort of vulnerability, even the villains.”

Gerritsen added, “When I can’t get started, I wait and listen; listen to the voices most different from myself. If I were to write from my own point of view, I’d get bored. My characters are never boring.”

And all of these writers are grateful for their readers. As Hamilton put it, “I still can’t believe that people love my books.” And Grafton sees her fans as friends. At BoucherCon, I watched Grafton stand and sign books for her fans for two and a half hours straight, without any breaks.

These four authors have sold millions of books about death. So what’s my point? Have I learned more about the Big Sleep by reading these books? Not really. But I have learned that the important thing about death is to realize that I am still among the living — and, until a whole big bunch more people besides Jesus (and possibly Lazarus) come back from the dead and tell me how much fun it all is on the Other Side, I would prefer to keep it that way.

PS: If, despite being a murder-mystery lover, you are still truly curious about death and what will happen to you when you die, just keep voting for RepubliDems. They and their pals on Wall Street and War Street will have all the rest of us joining the ranks of the dead sooner rather than later, years and years before our time.

According to one right-wing publication I read recently, the whole purpose of the government shut-down is to “DeFund Obamacare!” So between trying to defund ObamaCare and shutting down government services, that alone should kill off thousands of us. The plot thickens!

However, Single-Payer healthcare could save millions of lives in America, and over one trillion dollars as well — and do all this without any computer snarl-ups or sabotage. But no one in Washington appears to be interested in Single-Payer.

PPS: And in the immortal words of Dr. Richard Webber, “We’re all going to die. We don’t get much say about how or when. But we do get to decide on how we’re going to live. So do it. Is this the best you can be? Can you be stronger, kinder, more compassionate? Decide.”


I also have photos of additional authors at the conference: Johnny Shaw, Cara Black, Lisa Brackman, Robert Kroese, Kelli Stanley, Rhys Bowen, Marcia Clark, Rebecca Tope, Peter Barus, Robin Spano, Lee Goldberg and Louise Penney at

August 31, 2010

EVERYONE dies eventually: My thoughts on death (and suicide)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Jane Stillwater @ 6:06 pm

Someone I know just died in her sleep. This person and I had been at loggerheads with each other on a number of political issues for the last 30 years but I still wanted to say something nice about her — and so I came up with this: “She pissed me off so much that she forced me to come up with much more interesting and creative ways to overcome our disagreements — which has made me a better person for having known her.”

She also got me started on the road to being a political blogger — because I figured that if I could survive 30 years of local political in-fighting, then taking on Cheney and Bush would be a stone cinch!

This person’s sudden passing away also got me to thinking about how none of us are immortal. None of us. Her death came as a complete surprise to me, even a shock. If this person could die, then death could come sneaking up behind any of one of us, at any moment — and it will happen to all of us eventually. EVERYONE dies. No one is immune. No one. Not even you. Not even me.

So. As long as we have been granted the magical gift of life, it seems clear to me that we should then be duty-bound to do the absolute best that we can with what we’ve been given. Fighting, killing, war, greed, lying? That’s just a stupid waste of our time. Instead of just taking the low road, let’s spend every possible living moment striving to be the best that we can — 24/7. Think of Gandhi. Think of Jesus.

And for those of us who might sometimes envy the newly-dead, who get discouraged and occasionally wish that we too had finally Gone Home and were in some nice coffin and being sung to by a nice choir — so that we would no longer have to trudge through our days under a cloud and feel so much pain, then here’s a short lecture for you (and for me too). “We are alive now. Let’s take freaking advantage of it.”

And for those of us who are committing suicide the hard way — by letting the earth get polluted and/or eating ourselves into a coma, allowing baby-killing nuclear waste to be created endlessly across the planet, allowing greedy corporatists to tear down the forests and kill the oceans that clean and filter our air, allowing bankers to steal our homes, letting Wall Street robber barons steal our jobs, drinking ourselves to death and/or spending our time in hundreds of other ways that we KNOW are unhealthy — that’s all just a stupid waste of time too.

Life is precious. Let’s stop wasting it. It’s like the bumper-sticker says. “Life is a competition. The winners are the ones who do the most good deeds.” Let’s shape up, guys. No more killing. No more hatred. No more pollution. No more greed. Sheesh.

You would think that at some point in time our self-preservation instincts might finally start to kick in — but apparently they haven’t so far. Clearly we’ve let our world fall apart — when everyone with half a brain knows that we can do better. Much, much, much better.

So I’m grateful to the person who died recently, if for no other reason than because she gave me a huge wake-up call regarding the urgency of death — and the urgency of life as well.

“Jane, you are starting to sound like one of those wild-eyed crack-pot street-corner preachers who go around shouting, ‘Repent! The end is nigh!’” Yeah, well?

PS: One of my friends was just telling me about Star Children. “They are the new babies that are being born today and they have a raised consciousness and empathy and intuition and idealism. And they are arriving right now — now when we really need them.”

“Hey, I was a Star Child once too!” I replied. Once. Long ago. Before my idealism got all stomped on. It was really hard to be a Star Child back then — when everyone around you was either fighting Adolph Hitler, working on their atom bomb chops, enforcing segregation, cheering on Joe McCarthy or trying to be June Cleaver and the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.

“But it’s not too late,” answered my friend. “It’s never too late to become a Star Child.”

PPS: When the human race starts to die out from war and pollution in the next 20 years, the resulting scenario will probably run something like this: All those Americans who have consistently voted for unnecessary wars, against maintaining important government services and in favor of Wall Street bailouts at the expense of the rest of us will just smile in that infuriating Mona Lisa way that they have and say, “We have nothing to worry about! We are under the protection of God and Fox News!”

And God of course will be siding with us few remaining idealistic liberal-blogger patriotic clean-environment war-resister types (still hanging on here by our toenails) who, following in the tradition of Jesus, have tried to protect the downtrodden, to seek peace and clean up the freaking air.

And all those Fox News guys like Rupert Murdoch and Glen Beck will just continue to smirk down at you from on high while you struggle to eat out of dumpsters, choke on pollution and scratch at your nuclear-waste-induced scabs. “We only needed you for cheap labor, suckers,” they’ll say — as they slam the doors of their air-purified bunkers in your faces. “And now that we have achieved our dream — more cheap labor than we will ever possibly need — there’s no longer any need for you. Sorry about that.” Not!


August 26, 2009

Sen. Ted Kennedy Dead at 77


Tireless crusader for liberal causes Sen. Edward ‘Ted’ Kennedy (D-MA) is dead at 77 from complications of a cancerous tumor in his brain. From a wealthy, famous, and well-connected family, Sen. Kennedy was perhaps one of the last practitioners, both personally and politically, of ‘noblesse oblige’ in America, the concept that those who have been fortunate in life have a moral obligation to be generous and kind to those less fortunate. (Literal French translation to English: “Nobility obligates.”)

“From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”
– Jesus, Luke 12:48.

Over the next few days you’ll hear all sorts of eulogies and encomiums to Kennedy, but the best way his colleagues could honor him would be to pass a health care reform bill with a public option covering those who can’t afford insurance, something he strongly advocated during his more than 40 years in politics.

U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy Dies at 77
NBC News & news services

August 25, 2009

The Death Party

Filed under: Commentary,Opinion,Toon — Tags: , , , , , , , — RS Janes @ 6:00 pm


Powered by WordPress