Thursday, May 31, 2012

Crime and Punishment and Disappointment

By Michael

I received my share of spankings as a kid (this was the 1960s, when corporal punishment was still cool), but I had it easier than my friends whose parents used a belt, a paddle, or worse (childhood bruises were still a parental prerogative, at least in my neighborhood). For most situations as I grew older, though, disappointed words from my parents, or even a disappointed glance, would do the trick. Sometimes I took awhile to catch on – once my mother gave me the silent treatment for a full week before I realized I’d forgotten to cut the lawn – but eventually I would get the message.

The simple goal was to make me feel guilty. If I didn’t know the exact source of my guilt, I should feel guilty anyway, just in case. Sooner or later I would do something that warranted remorse, so I might as well put my tail between my legs and get in proper form for it.

As an adult, I’ve shaken off much of my burden of guilt, though at odd moments I realize that I still carry a child’s imagination in my fifty-year-old body. But now I’ve generalized my guilt.

Am I concerned that I haven’t worked hard enough? Guilty. Am I concerned that I’ve done too little as a husband and a father? Guilty. Am I concerned that I’ve done too little to make the world a better place? Guilty. Do I suffer from liberal guilt? Guilty (which makes me doubly guilty). If a cop were to pull me into an interrogation room and demand to know what I did last night, I would plead guilty – to watching a movie when I should have been editing a manuscript, researching a destination for a family vacation, and/or writing a letter to the governor. And then I would offer to cut the cop’s lawn.

Note: This is my final Criminal Minds post as a regular bi-weekly contributor. I’m looking forward to coming back often as a visitor, though, and in the meantime promise to remain guiltily criminal minded in all of my writing.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Modest Defense

By Tracy Kiely

What’s that? There’s been a murder?
That horrible old man who screamed racial epitaphs at the kids who walked by his house?
Oh, dear.
And you want to know where I was last night? You say that I seem agitated? And that I appear to have murder in my heart?
Wow. You are good, aren’t you?
Okay, I admit it. I do have murder in my heart. But I can assure you that I had nothing to do with your investigation. I was miles away from your scene of the crime. You see, I was at a pee wee lacrosse tournament game last night.
Yes. The reason for my agitated state and dark thoughts stems from what happened at my son’s game. Not his performance; nor his team’s. They were fine. No, it’s a few of the parents I want to off.   
Yes, I said a few. Not one. Not two. In the depths of my heart, last night was a blood bath.
My first victim? I don’t know her name. I just call her “Angry Mom.” She storms up and down the sidelines screaming at the boys. SCREAMING. At boys who are seven. She barks out such helpful comments such as, “Sticks UP!” “Look at the ball!” “Pay attention!” and my personal favorite, “WHEELS!” What the hell is that? Wheels?  Last night, Angry Mom surpassed herself. She yanked her younger son by the wrist – the wrist – and dragged his little body up and down the sidelines while she shouted angry instructions at boys who were not only wearing helmets but were a good fifty feet away.   
Then there is “Frustrated Dad Who Wants To Coach But Never Played the Game.” He’s the guy in the head-to-toe lacrosse apparel from a school he didn’t attend. He wears his baseball cap backwards, and sits his sunglasses on top of that. At no point does he ever wear the sunglasses. He, too, stomps up and down the field shouting furious instructions at his son, who I shall call Timmy because that’s his name. Instructions such as, “Timmy! Timmy! Timmy! Go for the goal!!” (Timmy plays defense.) Sometimes, he orders poor Timmy to do the complete opposite of what the coaches are saying. “Timmy! Timmy! Run! Get up there! Run!!!” (Coach: “Timmy! Stay where you are!”)
Timmy is going to have a facial tic by the time he’s nine.
I admit I was on edge by the time the Man In Black plopped down next to me. As my extremely clever nickname for him suggests, he only wears black. Even in the ninety plus degree heat we suffered through yesterday. He set up his chair and opened up a large umbrella over his head to shield his skin from the sun.
Fine. Whatever. Who am I to judge?
Then he, too, began to counsel the boys.
In a woman’s voice.
Do you remember that Seinfeld episode where Elaine had the friend who was married to the guy with the woman’s voice? Well, he’s alive and well and attending my local lacrosse games.
Again. Fine. Whatever. Who am I to judge?
Except this is what he began to croon – croon – at the boys. 
“Stop the penetration.”
“Stop the penetraaaaaation.”
It was at this point that my mind snapped. I killed them all. I then took their boys and placed them with good, loving families who didn’t froth and foam over a rec league game.
So. There you have it. Clearly, I had nothing to do with the death of that vicious old man.
But, should a freaky sports parent end up dead, I’ll probably need a good lawyer.    

Monday, May 28, 2012

May I Call My Lawyer?

Yes, that is probably the first thing I'd say if I was questioned by the police about my whereabouts last night. Not because I was anywhere I shouldn't have been, or anywhere exciting or dangerous, or anywhere a crime was being committed, but because after working in the legal arena for 40 years, I've become kind of wired that way.

Where was I last night? I was going over the final proofs to HIDE AND SEEK, my 7th Odelia Grey novel, scheduled for release September 1st. Honest! Originally due by June 6th, I received a desperate-sounding e-mail this past week that lead me to believe they wanted the corrected proofs as soon as possible. So that's what I was doing last night and all day yesterday, and most evenings all last week, and all day today. And I have the marked-up proofs to prove it.

And as fate would have it, in this book Odelia spends an unusual amount of time at the police station being questioned about a murder and her whereabouts.  How fitting is that?

Do I have someone to collaborate my alibi? Of course, I do. Just ask either of my cats. They were with me the entire time and can tell you that I haven't left my apartment since coming home from work on Friday. My nose has been to the grindstone, or, in this case, to the page. I finished the job just before writing this blog. HOORAY!

I don't even think any of my neighbors laid eyes on me until this afternoon when I took out some trash, so it wouldn't help to go door-to-door bothering them. On weekends like this, I'm the recluse in apt. 307. The odd woman who lives alone, works long into the night at her computer, and talks to her cats.

As for the cats, they've got my back. Of course, one would sell me out for a belly rub and the other for a hit of catnip. Yeah, that's right, last night I was with an attention whore and a stoner. What of it?

Sunday, May 27, 2012


by Chris F. Holm

Fear not: the skull is plastic. As far as you know. And sadly, this is as tidy as this shelf ever gets.
Asking an author, "What's on your bookshelf?" is a dangerous question. On occasion, as with the shelf pictured above, it's even a dangerous shelf. Said shelf is one of six in our house - "our" in this case being me and my lovely wife, Katrina Niidas Holm, who writes reviews for The Maine Suspect and The Season's mystery section as well as blogging for Criminal Element, three endeavors that only serve to grow the pile(s). All six shelves are just as overflowing as is this one, and a complete inventory of their contents would still neglect the dozens, nay hundreds, of books stacked on, around, and/or under every coffee-, end-, and bedside-table we own. Not to mention the heaps of digital prose stashed on our Kindles.

Since my Collector series borrows heavily from the classic pulp tradition, I've talked at (possibly mind-numbing) length in many an interview about my influences (the latest of which can be read here), so rather than rehashing them once more, I thought I'd use today's question to talk about three recent additions (debuts all) to my bookshelf I'm quite looking forward to reading: two print, and one digital. (It's a compulsion, isn't it? Buying books, I mean. The fact I already own a lifetime's worth of reading material is no deterrent whatsoever.) Full disclosure: I met these three authors a Bouchercon last year, and count them friends. Fuller disclosure: I count them friends because they're good guys and hella talented, so don't let the fact that they had the dubious judgment to hang out with me a while deter you from checking them out.

So, alphabetically by title and without further ado...

Chad Rohrbacher

Chad Rohrbacher is a man after my own heart. (Hopefully not literally, though having read some of his darker short fiction, you never know. Point is, I'll be keeping an eye out for scalpels when next we meet.) He likes to dabble in many a literary sandbox. Crime, horror, sci fi - you name it, he's done it. His stories have appeared in such publications as Needle, Crime Factory, and Big Pulp, as well as a slew of anthologies, but the stingy bastard's denied us a bigger helping of his fiction... until now.

THE AZREAL DECEPTION is being billed as a cyberpunk collection. That sits just fine with me. But the fact is, Rohrbacher's so good, he could have called it MY COLLECTED GROCERY LISTS and I would have checked it out. And at under three bucks, I think you ought to, too. (Really, Writer-Boy? You're going with "to, too"?)(Yes I am, Hostile Condescending Parenthetical, so shut up.)

Peter Farris

When a book's being hyped by the likes of Frank Bill, Duane Swierczynski, and Douglas Preston, you'd better believe it's gonna catch my attention. When that book is described as a "backwoods fairy tale of fate and flight that is also a dark, modern thriller," so much the better for this born-and-raised country boy. Throw in a bank heist and a double-cross that leaves the robber and his hostage on the run from the cops, the Feds, and the Aryan Brotherhood, and this one looks to be one hell of a dark, uncompromising, thrilling read. I can't wait to dig in.

Owen Laukkanen

In the short time since its release, THE PROFESSIONALS has been burning up the charts in Owen's native Canada. With ebullient blurbs from such blockbuster authors as Lee Child, John Sandford, and Jonathan Kellerman, I suspect it's not long before Laukkanen becomes a household name (which I further suspect will cut down on him having to take the time to spell it for people.) Four friends, jobless recent college grads all, hatch a kidnapping scheme to make ends meet. For two years, it goes like clockwork. Then they kidnap the wrong man. Tell me that's not an irresistible premise.

Oh, and now for a little blatant self-promotion for any CM readers in the greater Albany, NY area: I'll be reading, signing, and generally dancing for your amusement at Flights of Fantasy on Sunday, 6/10 at 2PM. I'd love to see y'all there. And as an added bonus, Flights of Fantasy is giving away two copies of DEAD HARVEST! All you have to do is shoot them an email ahead of time. Click through for details.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

You Want Books? I Got Books!

cookbooksby Alan

What’s on my bookshelf?

Well, what isn’t? I’ve got books of all sorts on my bookshelf (and by bookshelf, I’m using a very liberal definition of the word to include my eight large bookshelves, my bedroom floor, my nightstand, my Kindle, and anywhere else in the house a book might have escaped to).

I own mysteries and thrillers, many by friends of mine (I won’t name names, for fear of leaving someone out). Some of the books are new, some date back many years (none are stone tablets, thank goodness). A lot of them are inscribed to me with a personal greeting, which I find to be a nice touch (it also pretty much guarantees those books won’t be given away to charity or library book sales).

Practically every genre/topic is represented in some fashion: YA, children’s, architecture, engineering, coming-of-age, sports, romance, paranormal, career, marketing, psychology, fish (we used to have an aquarium), running, investing (we used to have money), and many others. I have a disproportionate number of books about golf and poker, and enough volumes to fill a (small) reference library with “How To Write” books (You can probably tell I haven’t read half of them…)

A few of my own books are on the shelves, as well.

One entire bookshelf houses my cookbook collection (hundreds!), which I’ve sorted by type. By cuisine: Chinese, Japanese, French, Mexican, Spanish, Hawaii, Caribbean, German, Jewish, and soul food. By food type: chicken breast, chocolate, garlic, salsa, burgers, pasta, omelets, and grains. By cooking equipment: grill, slow cooker, microwave, bread machine, dehydrator, and 9x13 pan. (I could go on, but I’m making myself hungry.) Of course, the kicker is I rarely even use a recipe. I’m more of a “wing-it” cook.

Downstairs, hidden from view of most visitors, I’ve got lots of science fiction and horror paperbacks. Most of these were acquired a while ago, in a period when they comprised much of my reading diet. I admit I’ve only read about a third of the ones I own, but hope springs eternal and you never know when Mr. Heinlein or Mr. Asimov or Mr. Koontz may tickle my fancy again. (I also think I own every one of Stephen King’s books, but those I’ve already devoured.)

Now, don’t even get me started on all the unread magazines I’ve got lying around…

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Happy Home is Full of Books

by Meredith Cole

I grew up in a home surrounded by books. It feels normal to me to be able to walk over to a shelf after dinner and find a book I've never read before. I have happy memories of spending a summer in high school reading from the shelf filled with poetry, another summer reading through fiction classics, and one winter break reading Shakespeare plays.

My own home now has floor to ceiling book cases in our living room filled with books. I had to give some books away when we moved (my husband insisted), but I think I've quickly collected more than we gave away (don't tell him I said so--but I think he's already guessed). Some books I can never give away--they're signed books from friends or favorites I love to read and reread. Some others I will eventually pass on to friends or donate to the library (but mostly so I'll have more space to fill).

It's the oddest sensation for me to walk into a house that has no books at all. It's eery, like a house empty of people and full of echoes. I keep looking around wondering where they keep their books. To have none seems so strange.

What's my favorite book on my bookshelf? I'm always thinking of the latest book I'm reading. I just finished reading DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY by Erik Larson. It's a book about building and designing the Chicago World's Fair and a serial killer who used the fair to get even more victims. It highly deserves the Edgar Award it received, and it was a very enjoyable read.

I'm about to start reading Susan Orlean's book "Rin Tin Tin." I really enjoyed "The Orchid Thief" so I'm looking forward to jumping into her next book.

So what's my favorite thing to read? Like any writer, it's writing "The End" when I finish a new book (which I'm about to do any day now), and dreaming of the day when my next book will be on someone's bookcase.

So--what's on your bookshelf?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Research Bookshelf

By Kelli Stanley

First, let me say this: it's good to be back at Criminal Minds. Thank you to Gary Corby and everyone else who pinch-hit for me during my absence! And thank you to our readers, those who've been with us since the beginning, and those who just, perhaps, stumbled across us, thinking we're related to the TV show. Welcome--and stick around, you may like us just as much. :)

Now, as to the shelf question.  I live in a very small house with my partner, two cats and a dog. What this means is that I have fewer bookshelves, but a lot of ledges, towers, bins and boxes full of books. Books in the basement, books in the kitchen, books in the foundation of the house ... you get the idea.

Along with books by fellow old and new Criminal Minds like Rebecca and Josh and Hillary and Michael and Gary and Meredith and Graham and Sue Ann and Vicki and Reece and Gabi and Shane and Sophie and (well, you get the picture) and my noir library (which contains my most precious writing collectible, the edition of Henry James given to Raymond Chandler and inscribed by John Houseman when Chandler finished The Blue Dahlia--yes, this book was once owned by Chandler and now reposes on one of my  bookshelves), and classics and Classics and books about film and film noir and books from childhood and books with memories and books as gifts ... have I mentioned how small our house is? But I digress ...

Anyway, along with all this plethora, this plenitude, this prodigality of the written word, are books and magazines and newspapers and articles that I depend upon every day. This is my sacred research shelf ... and most of these sometimes out-of-print, dusty and forgotten objects aren't available electronically, so an e-reader won't help me.

Y' see, I can't read fiction when I'm on a tight deadline and in the throes of a novel. And I'm on a tight deadline and in the throes of a the next Miranda Corbie book, City of Ghosts. So what I read is research ... research before and during the writing process.

So let's take a look at just a few items on the City of Ghosts bookshelf (which should give you some idea of some of the plot elements) ...

1. A handsome, over-sized paperback called Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany. An out-of-print catalogue from an exhibit held at the Los Angeles County Art Museum ... absolutely priceless.

2. Tragic Train: "The City of San Francisco". Long out-of-print book from the '70s about the historic streamliner The City of San Francisco and its mysterious (was it really sabotage?) train wreck in 1939.

3. A Century of Spies: Intelligence in the Twentieth Century. Reasonable overview, though seems a little overeager to accept revisionist theories about the Verona cables and Alger Hiss.

4. Secret Armies: Exposing Hitler's Undeclared War on the Americas. A fascinating expose from 1939 by muckraking journalist John L. Spivak.

5. The Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany. Terrific analysis and information.

There are many other books, of course--books about San Francisco, about the Spanish Civil War, books about forensics and California, pamphlets and maps and menus and matchbooks from the period. And perhaps my most valuable research tool, a 1940 Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Telephone Directory. Miranda would be lost without her copy, and I would be, too.

Thanks for reading! And tell us  ... what kinds of bookshelves are in your house? :)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Bookshelf


If only my bookshelf was a bookshelf - that would be so much more orderly.  Instead my bookshelf is a desk and a vacant chair - that if you want to sit in you will have to lift a dozen tomes off of and a box that I never unpacked after moving because well, I'm sure I'll move again someday so I'm just being efficient. 

But considering these are my bookshelves I would say all the usual suspects are there and accounted for.  I have best sellers from Dan Brown and John Grisham.  I have old favorites like The Lord of the Rings.  I have Crichton and Cussler and Rollins and Berry and Stanley and books from many of the people who have been part of this blog over the years, including Stanley and Cantrell.  But instead of discussing them I'll talk about a few unpublished authors I have on my shelves - or should I say self published.

The first is a book I want to talk about is called Beethovan's Tenth Symphony.

I found it fascinating, partially because I was working Beethoven into a project I'm currently still working on and partially because the author Dr. Erik Ericson was so excited to tell me about it.  It's a spiritual story about faith and belief and the journey it takes to find those things within yourself.  It's also a mystery that begins with a man completing Beethoven's unfinished tenth symphony.

You can get it on Amazon and read about the author here:

The second book couldn't be more different - except for the fact that it is also published by the author and in its own way is about a spiritual journey.  It's called Rising Above Enron. 

It details the story of the how the big collapse affected the regular people who went through it and how they felt it affected them positively despite - in some cases losing fortunes or ending up jobless for years.  The author is Carey Falter.  I think she did a first rate job.  Pretty hard to not feel inspired when reading either of these books.  Pretty easy to get inspired by the author's tales and perseverance. 

 Good luck guys,

All the best,