On the Road Again

I feel as if I am the only person in the world who is not at Bouchercon this week. I had planned to attend, but a music law seminar in New Orleans which I need to attend to keep my continuing legal education hours current and which has traditionally held in August was inexplicably switched to September, butt-up against Bouchercon. So it is that as you read this I will be in my car, somewhere between Ohio and Louisiana.

I have not flown commercially since 1997. I never liked flying to begin with — when you get down to it, I have control issues — and between the hassles of transporting an unloaded firearm in checked luggage and the thought of a jihadist with a LAWS rocket in hand staring longingly at the silver undercarriage of my plane I made the decision to drive everywhere I need to go. I have never regretted it. I probably will never get to Europe, and getting to the West Coast to serenade Michelle Gagnon with “Happy Birthday” in person will take some planning, but folks who fly everywhere miss a lot. It takes me fourteen hours to drive from my front door to the French Quarter, and that’s with stops for gas, coffee, and draining the crankcase. Westerville to Cincinnati — I can see the house my father where my father was born in from I-71, just after I cross the bridge into Kentucky — to Louisville where I switch over to I-65. The next big crossroads is Nashville, with its amazing intersection of interstate highways right in the middle of the downtown. You best be paying attention to where you are going or you might find yourself heading to Memphis, Chattanooga, or, if you’ve really cocked yourself up, back toward Louisville. I figure that if I can traverse it successfully then Alzheimer’s Disease remains at bay. Less than three hours later I am in Birmingham. With luck and good fortune I stop for lunch with Michael Garrett, with whom I have been friends for a half-century and who was the first editor for a bespeckled, quirky-looking guy named Stephen King. After lunch or otherwise I dog leg down to I-59; south of Tuscaloosa, the state of Alabama slowly melts into Mississippi, which after three hours or so becomes Louisiana. Or so the signs say. Once the swamp starts it is hard to tell the difference. And strange things happen. On a number of occasions, mostly late at night or very early in the morning, a pack of wild black dogs will run onto the freeway south of Picayune, Mississippi and chase my car for a few hundred feet. I almost wrecked the first time it happened; now I toss Milk Bones at them. Eventually, however, the swamps and the dogs gradually give way. I take the entrance ramp to I-10 west and isn’t too long at all before New Orleans rises to the south like a fever dream, as close to a foreign country as you will find within the borders of the United States.

Each trip is much the same, and each trip is a little different. I’ve actually made friends with gas station attendants and waitresses along the way who know the names of my wife and children, even though I see them infrequently (the gas station attendants and waitresses, that is). I would have missed a lot if I had flown, and not just with respect to traveling to and from New Orleans. I’ve gotten speeding tickets in Liberty Hill, South Carolina, been propositioned in a Baton Rouge hotel parking lot at 5:00 AM by a prostitute in a cheerleading outfit, and crammed a Pulp Fiction week’s worth of adventures a few years ago during a road trip to Phoenix with Marcus Wynne driving with a trunk load of machine guns, knives, hand grenades, and other assorted and sundry weapons. For demonstration purposes only, mind you. When the country is passing underneath you at 500 miles an hour, you can miss a lot; on the ground, every mile holds a potential story.

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Our Survey SAID…

I received a Kindle for Father’s Day 2010. I loved it. I still do. It is the junkie’s dream come true, instant gratification in a tool that will fit in Captain Kangaroo‘s pocket. On Father’s Day night, I looked at the stacks (yes, stacks) of books next to my bed that await my terminal illness (I figure I’ll have lots of time to read everything if I’m too ill to do anything else. Well, maybe not lots of time…) and told myself that there was no longer need for me to grab a book off of a store shelf that I didn’t have time to read, just so I’d have it when I wanted to read it. Since I could have a book when I wanted it just by pressing a couple of buttons, I didn’t need to create a backlog. I would load a book, read it, and then buy another. Never again, I told myself, would I need to hoard books. Right.

At last count, one year later, I have thirty or so books that have accumulated on my Kindle. I mean, why would I pass up the complete works of Sax Rohmer for a couple of bucks? Or a new Marcus Wynne novel for ninety-nine cents? I drop ninety-nine cents in change on the floor of my car when I’m exchanging bucks for ambrosia in the Sonic Drive-through. I’m going to resist buying Lawrence Block books, which have been out of print for decades, for less than the cost of a Venti espresso that I will purge within an hour? I’m going to pass that up?

So I ask…how many of you out there have an accumulation of unread books on your Kindle? If you have such an accumulation, how many do you have? And do you have any idea why you are doing it, since, well, it’s not like Amazon is going to run out of a particular title? Is there something really, really wrong with us? Or are we okay and it’s just the guy who collects virtual beer cans who needs an intervention? You tell me.

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Milestones

I will be mercifully short this week. I drove to Baton Rouge and back from Westerville, Ohio for a quick two day visit and am still working the road whine out of my ears and catching up on the archeological dig which I call my desk. I do have something to share with you, however.

This week marked a couple of personal milestones for me. The first, and more important of the two, was that on April 1 I completed twenty years of sobriety. I believe in giving credit where credit is due and the credit in this case is due to a now-retired Baton Rouge pediatrician named Leon Bombet whom I was fortunate enough to meet in 1989. Dr. Leon at that time had been sober for nine years, and my reaction, which I kept to myself at the time, was “What?! Nine years?! Without a drink! Wow. I’m sure glad I don’t have a drinking problem.” Of course, I did. I eventually stopped stuffing my life down the commode and it has been Dr. Leon’s friendship and example, and that of his wife Susan, that have kept me on the proper course some two decades down the road.

The second milestone was the fulfillment of a promise I made to myself as an urchin in short-pants in 1962. When I wasn’t sneaking Shell Scott and Mike Hammer paperbacks into my bedroom, I was reading a lot of science fiction. Ace Books at the time published a number of titles per month, Dick and Vance and Zelazny, oh my, as well as reprints of Burroughs’ Tarzan and John Carter titles with those beautifully painted covers by Frank Frazetta. I promised myself, at the tender age of eleven, that I would be published by Ace Books one day. That happened this week with the publication of Dark Delicacies III: Haunted, an anthology of original fiction in which my story “Starlets & Spaceboys” appears. “Starlets & Spaceboys” was inspired by a hallucination I experienced some six years ago in the New Mexico desert just west of Albuquerque while driving with author Marcus Wynne; the title was graciously given to me by my lifelong friend William D. Plant III. I would not be sitting here today but for the friendship and assistance of both of those gentlemen.

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What I’m reading: The Priest by Gerard O’Donovan. Just get it and read it, whatever you do. You won’t be sorry. You will have nightmares.

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And a Ho Ho Ho!

I would like to follow John Gilstrap’s heartwarming blog (you wear that tux quite well, my friend) with a comment or two about gift giving, or to be more specific, giving books, in all of the permutations in which they are available in this Christmas season 2010. The planets aligned and it struck me, once again, that we live in a wondrous age. So many choices that it might drive a person mad. But what a way to go.

I have just finished reading Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1. It is the first of three planned volumes, the complete work presented as Samuel Clemens intended, right down to his request — nay, demand! — that it not see the light of day until one hundred years after his death. Dribs and drabs of it have been published before now but this is the mac daddy, right here. It is sharp, nasty, clever, astute, prescient — Clemens predicted the e-book, believe it or not — and really, really funny. There is a good laugh every paragraph or two. The folks at the U. of C. at Berkeley did a remarkable job of putting this together, especially when you consider that it was compiled from several feet of handwritten notes, transcriptions, and the like. Some reproductions of Clemens’ handwritten passages are included, and I assure you that if I had been assigned the task of herding this particular gang of cats I would be in a quiet room sipping tranquilizers and listening to Michael Hedges CDs until the end of my days. It is available for free online at www.marktwainproject.org, and in an ebook version, but hunt down a hardcover version and gift it to a bibliophile. This is a work that is meant, was born, to be held in hand (well, hands, actually,) and read the old-fashioned way.

You can gift ebooks now, in some formats, and a couple of interesting works which are ebook-only appeared this week. Marcus Wynne, long a favorite of the intelligence community which he has been a part of, has returned after too long an absence with a new stand-alone thriller entitled WITH A VENGEANCE. Wynne is painfully aware of the way in which the world works, away from the theories and hypothetical and think tanks. Marcus deals with front lines, hand to hand with the terrorists in the trenches; WITH A VENGEANCE will put you on the edge of your seat and keep you there for several hours. Some of those who read this book, pre-publication, said it was too powerful, too frightening, for the reading public. I read it two years ago and have never forgotten it, particularly the first third of it. Anyone you gift this work to will either love you forever or never forgive you. Or both.

Dave Zeltserman is one of those thriller and noir crime writers who has slowly but steadily moved from the “critically acclaimed” list the “must-read” list of mystery and thriller fans. His literary thriller The Caretaker of Lorne Field transcended genres, and will undoubtedly receive several “best of” nominations when the various and sundry literary awards start to rev up next year. Zeltserman has a new, ebook only work just out entitled Vampire Crimes, in which he cuts across genres yet again, a crime tale of the undead in which Natural Born Killers meets Near Dawn. Don’t give this one to your niece with all of the Twilight posters in her room. You could give it to her dad, however.

One of the most interesting projects of all that came across my desk last week, however, wasn’t an ebook or a hardcover, but an audio book by Jim Fusilli. It has been far too long since I’ve seen a book-length work from Fusilli, and Narrows Gate is book length, but not available as a book. It is an original work commissioned for audio by audible.com, the first to my knowledge by a single author (The Chopin Manuscript, of course, was an collaboration of many). It is part novel, part performance piece; I remember when radio dramas were still available, and if they were still in existence, they might sound something like this dark and gritty mob tale set on the mean streets of Hoboken, New Jersey in the 1940s. I don’t normally listen to audio books as I can read faster than I can listen, but this is worth making the exception for; and if you have someone who loves crime novels and audio books, they will be in your debt if you present them with this.

Your turn now. What are you giving, book-wise? And what do you wish to receive?

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