Friday, June 25, 2010


There is a group of books out there that try to answer some of life's imponderable questions, such as – If dogs are just domesticated wild animals, where did the wild poodles roam? Why doesn't the water in water towers freeze? Why do cats loved scratched behind the ears? There are actual answers to these questions in these books.

However, for a long time, I've had some questions to which I've never seen answers. OK, some of these may seem absurd and a couple are kind of goofy, but if you know the answers to any of them, let me know.

1.Why do boats have the steering wheels on the right side?
2.Why are women's clothing sized 2, 4, 6, etc? Why not odd numbers?
3.Along those same lines, why are women's shirt buttons on the opposite side from men's?
4.Who decided that the cold water tap goes on the right and the hot tap is on the left?
5.Why do most motel/hotel rooms start with the number 100 and not 1?
6.Who decided that odd numbered U.S. Highways and Interstates go north/south and even numbered ones go east/west?
7.Why are there no B-sized batteries?
8.Why do horse/dog/auto racetracks run counterclockwise?
9.Why are time zone lines not straight?
10.What exactly is snot, earwax and eye crud and what is their purpose for existing?
11.Why are blood types labeled A, B, AB, and O and not A, B, C, D?
12.Why do numbers on a phone go from the top down and numbers on a calculators go from the bottom up?
13.Seriously, was the orange the last fruit to be named? Did they just run out of other names and someone just said, “Aw the hec with it, it's colored orange, just name it that.” ?
14.Similarly, was the fly the last animal named? George Carlin had a joke – Why is there an animal named the fly, but not one named the walk? Seems as if walk should have come first.
15.Why is the penny the only odd colored coin?
16.Why does a brand new box of tissues have the first ones folded into each other so you have to dig out three or four at a time just to get the pop up system started?
17.Wouldn't a group of soloists be an oxymoron?
18.On a car, what's the difference between a moonroof and a sunroof?
19.Why do FM station numbers have a odd decimal but no even ones and AM station numbers are all even numbers with no decimals?
20.Why is 8.5 x 11 a standard letter size for paper? Wouldn't 8x by 10 or 10 x 10 be easier?

As Steven Wright once said, these are just some things I think about when I'm all alone and the television is broken. Of course, he, too, had some good questions – What's another name for thesaurus? If you drove a car at the speed of light and turned on the headlights, what would happen?

Ok, so nobody required me to be totally serious about my blogging topics. If you're not crazy every now and then, you'll go insane.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Salute to...

This week I salute the late Lawrence Sanders.

Now, here at the beginning it may seem I don’t like him because, to be honest, I didn’t completely enjoy his Deadly Sin and Commandment series. Detective Francis Xavier was and interesting character, especially with the fascinating sandwiches and meals he concocted. However, I felt there was a lot of extraneous material and I was only interested when he managed to get around to actual detecting; I only kept going on some of the books because I just had to know who did the misdeed. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get through one book-I don’t recall the title-when after a few chapters, the story just wasn’t going anywhere, and I decided to read something else. The only thing I got out of that book was an interesting meal called a ragu. I tried the recipe and the meal was pretty tasty.

His biggest hits were the Archibald McNally novels. I absolutely loved those books. They made me laugh and both love and get angry at the main character. First off, who taught him how to dress? The god-awful combination of clothes he donned everyday was just atrocious. Beyond gaudy.

He loved food, liquor and women and not necessarily in that order.

He thought nothing of dallying around (read: boinking) many of his female clients or female villains, but became jealous when his girlfriend fooled around-or even hinted at fooling around-with some other man.

He kept in shape by swimming a couple of miles per day in the ocean (although at times I longed for a shark to come bite him on the butt because he was being an ass in the previous chapter), but smoked and drank daily.

He drove a cool car, but lived and dined with his parents. His father, a lawyer, only handled big money and his mother was one step up from a ditz who preferred to tend her flower beds.

His friends were wonderfully naïve or snobbish or both.

Archie was a rogue, a scoundrel, a liar, a sneak, a cheater. He was such a bad boy sometimes, but you always came back for more.

I loved the McNally books and I wish Sanders had lived longer to write more. Vincent Lardo continued with a few more McNally books after Sanders died. They were very well written and many times the style was very Sanders-ish, especially when it came to language and phraseology. He has moved onto other series, and I wish he’d write a few more McNally.

McNally’s stories weren’t gruesome or gory. Yes, there were dead bodies, but you didn’t read about spilling innards or ragged pieces of flesh. The language was risqué and lighthearted and jovial and good-natured. The characters were funny, witty, unique. The stories took you to a land of money and wealth, but showed a slightly cynical side to high society because the stories never really took themselves seriously. McNally wasn’t the world-weary, hard-boiled detective. There were traces of Archie Goodwin, Richard Diamond, Vincent Price’s Saint, but nobody would confuse Archibald McNally with anyone else. He was his own man.

Read any of the McNally series from both Sanders and Lardo and you will not be disappointed.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Imagine that

I love old time radio shows. The Shadow, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, The Man Called X, The Weird Circle, Gunsmoke, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, Burns and Allen, Jack Benny and many others. I found a website where I downloaded a whole slew of programs and I'll be sest for years to come with hundreds of programs. I enjoy the intelligent, clean comedy and the action/mystery series, although sometimes corny by today's standards, still provide entertainment.

Like any good book, those radio shows allowed your mind to visualize the scenes. Through sound effects and voice inflections, you could imagine the bad guys confused by the mysterious voice of Orson Welles as he laughed as the invisible Shadow. One of the first Shadow mysteries I remember was one where the Shadow was trapped in a room with an electrified door. Through a window, the bad taunted and then released lethal gas. The Shadow outfoxed the bad guy by shorting out the electric system, releasing the door. Another episode had the Shadow on top of a tall building trying to talk down a sniper.

I can listen to those old shows while washing dishes, dusting (yes, mom, I do dust every once in awhile) or completing other projects, and the mind will still actively imagine the scenes being played out. Even characters I've read in books or have seen on TV are still enjoyable over the radio.
Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, Ellery Queen.

A couple of years ago at a writers' conference, I listened to the guest speaker, and she said writers had one of the best jobs because they could do anything, be anything, create anything. So true. If you can imagine it, and you can make it real for others, then you can write it. Simple things like a Fibber McGee and Molly program to a X-Minus 1 space drama.

Donald Westlake wrote about his character Parker, a thief. One of the books he tried to write had various comical things go wrong with Parker's latest scheme. The problem Westlake ran into was that it didn't fit the Parker character. A few years later, he resurrected the story with another character, John Dortmunder and the comedic aspects worked. I love the visualization in the Dortmunder books. His characters come alive because each is unique. That's the way the old radio programs were, too. Each character created by the actors and actresses were unique...yet, in some ways, they were the same.

Sounds funny, but you could expect a lot of similarities. The bad guys pretty much sounded alike with harsh New York Bronx or Brooklyn accents or like they were all talking out the corners of their mouths. The women criminals all were brassy and hard while the heroines all sounded breathy and beautiful. But they were all unique in that you could always imagine their looks. Each crook had a little Edward G. Robinson in them. Each dame could be Lauren Bacall.

Many times, you were familiar with the actors who voiced the roles because they also starred in movies. Dick Powell, Vincent Price, Basil Rathbone, just to name a few. Their radio roles were similar to their movie roles, so that fit. Others were more vague. I always picture the lovely Margo Lane, the Shadow's assistant, to be curly, dark haired with a subtle beauty, pretty, but not in an Audrey Hepburn or Marilyn Monroe way. Richard Diamond's girlfriend, Helen, and Sam Spade's secretary, Effie, both sounded perky with a touch of ditz, darker blonde, with smooth, rounded cheeks, and short.

When I was writing Beta, I ran across a couple of scenes which came alive for me and after I wrote them I knew I had written something good. I'm not being immodest, because I think writers should feel that their work is something good if they are personally affected by it. In a few of the scenes with the kidnapped girl, I was moved by what I had written. I thought if I could feel that way, others could, too. I hope so. When I write about Mallory's office, I liken it to a scene in Moonraker. Bond comes through the door with M, both wearing gas masks, expecting to see a lab; instead, they enter Draco's huge elaborate office. I loved that scene and stole the grandeur of the bad guy's office for Mallory's. It fits her quirky character.

I hope, too, that I've created a climactic scene in Night Shadows when the heroes are fighting the shadows in the art exhibit. When doing research I ran across this particular site and was so moved, I knew almost instantly I had found the right location. Thanks go to Virginia for suggesting it. I hope the reader will be able to imagine the eeriness. The neat aspect about that room really exists; you can go look at it for yourself.

This post's idea came to me because I'm currently reading one of the many stories featured in the old Shadow magazine, on news stands everywhere...well, sixty years ago. Although the magazine's stories differed from the radio program's a lot, they're still enjoyable, if predictable. As I often joke with friends about the murder rate in Cabot Cove with Jessica Fletcher, I find it a wonder that any bad guy is left in New York with the body count racked up by the Shadow's automatics. It was nothing for the cloaked figure to take on ten, fifteen, twenty foemen at a time. Yes, you had to suspend reality because none of the bullets ever made contact with the lone hero while every one of his shots found their mark.

But, that's the fun of imagination and can do anything.

Friday, June 4, 2010


If you spend a moderate amount of time enjoying your profession or your hobby, you have probably developed a list of the top relevant people of whom it would a thrill to meet. Anthropologists and archaeologists have their idols, dead or alive,of whom they've studied or wanted to emulate. Police officers would like to talk about the big case with a top cop who was involved.

We all are fans of somebody. If you're into movies and television, you have people you watch and would want to meet. (Note: If you know that Kristen Bell, Steven Segal, or Clint Eastwood might be in my area, please let me
know.) Music lovers sometimes follow their favorite artist around the country or the world for the concerts. (Avril Lavigne is single again, hey, hey, she can be my girlfriend). We have our sports heroes. (Sheesh, look at the world wars at soccer games.) You want gobs of people, go to any comic book convention. You have the true fanatics attending those.

I'm into taekwondo, so of course I look forward to tournaments where I get to meet the masters. I am honored to have known our founder and first Grand Master of the organization to which I belong and have attended a few workouts led by our current Grand Master. When I attended my first World Championships I managed to get the autographs of scores of Masters. I still remember hopping over chairs to chase them down. I ran around that venue feeling like a kid.

Writers/authors/readers are no different. The writers' conventions throughout the year all over the country bring in top authors as guests. At the 2007 Love Is Murder convention in Chicago, I listened to Max Allan Collins and Anne Perry.

Years ago a friend gave me two grocery sacks full of mystery books. I discovered new authors to read. One of them was Nancy Pickard. She also attended the 2007 LIM convention. Since I had never read Perry (sorry), and I didn't get a chance to meet and greet Collins, Pickard was the big star for me. All the authors who attended were open to giving autographs, so I quickly bought up all of Pickard's books I hadn't yet read and presented them to her to sign.

Last year at Killer Nashville, J.A. Jance was the guest. Wow, is she a great woman! When she spoke about her life and her writing and her books, we all were just about enraptured. I even managed to ask question or two one on one with her later in the day.

This year's KN features Jeffrey Deaver. How cool is he? Next year's LIM in Chicago will have two authors I like – F. Paul Wilson and Jon Land.

Conventions are a great way to make contacts and new friends. Even if you are just a reader, there are fan-based conventions. KN is more learning about material to put into mysteries – poisons, forensics, surveillance, DNA. I enjoyed last year's because it had something for the beginner writer to publishing discussions. LIM is a little of both. Plus, you get to meet cool authors.

What I learned from LIM and KN, is that there are a lot of locally based authors with their own fan and friends groups. Although some aren't nationally famous – yet – you can still pick up some great books and learn from those who have had publishing experience. Who knows, you might become a fan.

In the Des Moines area, there are many local authors with books out and due out. To name one, Mike Manno, has his second mystery available the first part of June. For more, you can look in the local book stores, many of which have a section just for Iowa authors. Or for those not local, a little time on the internet search engines might open some new doors.

And, don't forget about that guy in Oskaloosa looking forward to next year.
He'll be looking to drum a fan base of his own. lol

And that's Oskaloosa, Iowa. I don't want Miss Lavigne to get confused if she decides to drop by.