Friday, March 16, 2018

An Update is Occurring as We Speak

Finally or at last or why not, as we speak an updated website version is being ftp'ed up to the GoDaddy servers wherever they are. This has a small and not very good cover scan of The Digest Enthusiast, issue 7, where editor and publisher Richard Krauss took a very long conversation and turned it into a nice twenty-some pages of interview. He liked it so well he commissioned a portrait created of me for the cover. How much it actually looks like me, well, ah, um, I'll leave it to other people's imaginations.

The sad story behind it is that the painting was done by a guy named Joe Wehrle, Jr., whom I'd conversed with in the past on Harlan Ellison's board back in the days when the man himself would actually spend time there. The way I understand it, Joe complained of pain in his ear on December 10th and passed away on the 12th.

When I got back in town from wherever I was, there was a package for me dated December 5th. The return address was in Joe's handwriting. Inside was a nice note, the original artwork, and a few prints of other work that he'd done in the past. It was the first time I'd ever opened a package from a dead man.

I sent Joe's daughter an e-mail and she sent back a very nice reply where she told me that Joe had completed other work since he'd done the thing for The Digest Enthusiast which I found a comforting thought. I haven't thought about why and I don't think I will. Overall it's just a sad story.


At last year's Creatures, Crimes & Creativity (C3) Conference in Columbia, Maryland, which is put on every year by Austin and Denise Camacho, Cynthia Lauth, and the other fine people at Intrigue Books, Jess Williams of the Maryland Writers Association talked to me about doing a workshop and moderating some panels at their conference this year. That's going to happen this coming Saturday, March 24th in Baltimore.

A few months after that, I received an e-mail from someone else asking if I'd do not just one but two workshops at their conference. I'd sent them something so much earlier that I'd actually forgotten about it and when the e-mail came, I thought it was for the same conference as the Maryland one. I wrote out a reply telling them that I was already coming but that I'd been dealing with Jess Williams when something made me stop and check it out....

This was for another conference completely. In New Jersey.

The first thing I did was delete my e-mail reply. Then I told them that I had another gig on Saturday but if they were willing, I could do both workshops on Sunday. The woman said she'd have to check with her board and long story short, this week is going to be busy.

On Wednesday I've got an all day dental thing going on. I think my dentist needs a new car. And when did these guys start working four-day weeks? And I used to wonder why people would want to work in other peoples' mouths. Clearly they knew something I didn't.

Thursday I head out for Baltimore by automobile. I bought a car that's supposed to be comfortable that even my bent and twisted spine can drive it for distance and so far it seems to be working. Friday I'll lurk the first day of the conference and hopefully relax a little after the hellish schedule I've been working (seriously). Saturday I'm on the floor from 8 until 6, presenting one workshop, appearing on one panel and moderating three others.

Good thing I'll have new teeth. At least temporary ones. Hint: don't guzzle a gallon of fresh-squeezed citrus juice every morning for years. Apparently the enamel of your teeth can't stand up. On the other hand, neither did all the Florida orange and grapefruit groves that are now office buildings. Try to find fresh-squeezed juice from an orchard anymore--I think your teeth are safe.

Saturday night I drive away to Iselin, New Jersey and present two workshops the next day, Sunday, March 25th. If I'm still able I'll drive back to New Hampshire that night, otherwise its hotel time. Stay around NH for a few days, then drive through the wild flats of Canada to Minneapolis for the 31st Anniversary event at Once Upon a Crime Books from mid-morning on.

And then, because there's no such thing as too many miles, or anything worth doing is worth over-doing, or hey, I haven't blown an engine in decades, I'll drive to Florida and see to a couple of things that need seeing to, like writing more of the next book and watching sunsets sink beneath lakes. Or maybe the Gulf of Mexico.

Wait, I just realize--then I'll have to drive back to New Hampshire, about 31 hours. And have another marathon (get it?) session with the dentist. I better have a better time in Florida than I'd planned.

How much trouble can you get in when you're on a soft food diet?

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

If Time Flies, When Will It Land?

I can't think of a time the past few years where I haven't been crying in my soup over not having enough time to meet my obligations. I've stated here in the past that one of the pieces of advice I regularly give to writers is to "find ways to say 'yes.'" On the other hand, I haven't found the answer to the question of what happens when you say yes so often you can't weather any bumps in the road.

Last year I broke my wrist. Could have had surgery. Should have had surgery. The doc put me in a cast, said I'd be able to type. Nope. That was seven months ago. I've been able to type the past couple of months but not only am I so behind, I'm going to PT twice a week, I'm supposedly a year out from "recovery," and at the same time the second surgery on my left knee (fourth total! Yay!) still has me literally limping along.

I was so bulletproof until I was twenty-seven. I could take a punch, I could fall of a truck going down the highway in Nassau, I could jump off upper story balconies at the U of M, I could jump down flights of stairs rather than walk them, spit out crowns after hard parachute openings... there was no limit to the stupid things I could do and walk away without apparent lasting damage.

Then one day, there came a day, some bony apparition came calling with its hand out, and took, and took, and took, and keeps taking. By the way, it's easier to write this after a therapy session after lunch and a dose of painkillers and muscle relaxants. Just saying.

I desperately need to update my website and put up 2018's calendar dates. There are going to be a lot of them. Seems like the Noir @ the Bars are drying up a bit lately. They take a lot of work and from time to time new people need to step up. I just hope they don't die altogether.

I'll be doing more conferences this year than in years' past, and I'll also be presenting at least three workshops. If anyone wants particular information on those, let me know ASAP. All three are in March, one is in Baltimore, and two others will be in New Jersey.

Lastly, a few years ago I wrote about a movie depicting the life of artist Jackson Pollock. Here is a link to more information about Pollock, his life and his art. Pretty cool stuff. It defies a quick once over, probably as most good art should, though "good art" will always be relative to us common folk.

"Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is."
-Jackson Pollock

Look for that website update but if you have any questions in the meantime, don't hesitate to shoot a carrier pigeon. Or shoot me an e-mail.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Home from Toronto

Since so many people do post-Bouchercon reports, I probably don't have a lot to add. I know that my biggest disappointment was in not seeing people I was planning and hoping to see.

The first was a friend from Montreal I haven't seen for years. I looked for them from the moment I arrived on Wednesday until after my panel on Saturday afternoon. Yes, I was heartbroken.

I also never ran across Bill Crider though I know he was there, or Sam Weibe, or a few others. A couple more I saw only in passing. Every Bouchercon has it's own issues, and at least in Toronto the elevators worked (sorry, New Orleans). But this one had a disjointed three level four plan that really could have been utilized better so that people were more often in a centralized place.

Now, the people I did see were the best part of the conference, of course. Gary Phillips, John Sheppird, Eric Campbell, Reed Coleman, new writer Lissa Redmond, Scott Montgomery, everyone in the book room and scores of others. I had a lot of good work-related meetings and came out of there owing three different booksellers. It didn't help that I didn't bring much cash because, you know, credit cards. Until they didn't work in west of Montreal.

Big thanks to Mystery Mike Bursaw for taking care of me so I could free my car from the parking ramp, have gas money to get home, and actually eat something the last two days. And to Debi Chowdhury for buying me new shoes when my surgically repaired knee went out while--of course--talking to one of the booksellers.

The community of writers was never a better friend to me than they were in Toronto. Thanks, guys.

All I've got to do now is pay you all back....

Monday, December 05, 2016

No Checkout?

Must blog something of substance soon. Must update web site.

But first....

Whether you love or hate Amazon, I just read where their new company-owned brick and mortar stores are going to have no checkout line or cashier. Evidently you're supposed to be able to take what you want... and just walk out the door.

I have no notion why I find that idea so cool. Like we need easier ways to spend money, right? But I don't think I'd be able to resist going to one of those stores, grab a few things and just wave ta-ta as I left. I'd still have to hide the billing trail from my wife, but some things are just too tempting not to get in trouble for, if you know what I mean.

Meanwhile, support your local independent bookstores. Too many have been too kind to me to recommend otherwise. But just taking something off the shelf and leaving with it without getting arrested is like deep sea diving, or something: you just gotta try it once.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Win a Bunch of Books in October!

Because everyone loves free books! Today I seem to like exclamation points!

MAD DOG BARKED was chosen to be part of Stacy Alesi's's October giveaway of a half dozen new crime fiction novels. Head on over there to enter! You still have two weeks....

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Late Blog, Death, and More Death

"Disniheritance Provision: Not for any lack of love or affection, I hereby provide no provision herein for my daughter, ISA H. ERICKSON or my son, RICHARD C. OLLERMAN, JR., nor for any of their respective surviving issue."

I quote the above from the will of my mother, who literally dropped dead in July. She went golfing, had drinks and dinner with friends, went out to her car and collapsed. The only thing they could find was a low potassium level and while she had no stroke or heart attack, she did suffer an event to her heart and by the time rescue people got it beating again, her brain was long gone.

Despite the fact that she had a living will that said she did not want to be kept alive by machines, two of my siblings did exactly that, just so that a husband and their own friends could come and see her. With a ventilator down her throat and looking like she was exactly in the condition in which she was. The husband left town on vacation after my mother went down, and didn't come back until a few days later. But, the other sibling said, he and my mother had a "special relationship" so they were going to wait. And wait longer for that sibling's best friend to come by.

My cousin told me that my mother had been in his life since he was seven and he would go to the funeral but not the hospital because, he said, as well as he knew her he didn't think my mother would want anyone to see her like that. And I completely agree. When I popped into the hospital years and years ago when my father's mother died, she kicked me out of there so fast I was amazed until I understood her words: "I don't want anyone to see me like this." It made me sad that I couldn't spend time with her and that she was all alone in her hospital room, but that was what she wanted. I used to stop by her house unannounced all the time, sometimes with my friends, but under those circumstances, I knew that was the last I would ever see her.

 When they finally unplugged my mother, they didn't even let me know.

To be clear, I wasn't planning to go; who wants to see anybody choke out their last breaths, let alone your own mother? But the first thing I was asked when I got to the hospital, before we knew she was gone, the sibling with the husband asked me four times, "How did you find out?"

Well, little did I know that my little sister and I had been disinherited in my mother's will filed three months after my father's death. Two siblings, the two that inherited everything, knew, because they are the executors of the will. It is characteristically cowardly that none of the people, including my mother, let me or my sister know.

Yes, the reason for this is completely inexplicable. My wife is shocked, and said she was physically ill when I finally got a copy of the will after my brother stopped trying to keep it hidden (I understand by law he can't, but he did anyway). My wife said my relationship with my parents had been great. They moved to Florida to be near my family. We spent every Thanksgiving with them, either at their house or sometimes at ours. After Hurricane Charlie I climbed up their steep as hell broken clay tiled roof to survey the damage. I did some wiring in the ceiling of their house. They babysat my kids, the same ones my mother also disinherited.

My father wanted to make my son a set of golf clubs but he wasn't really well enough to do it. He'd give my son and daughter rides on his golf cart and golf with my son, who is named after him, in their backyard. My son is a golfer today because of my father. These are only two of the kids that my mother disinherited from her estate, the one which is only worth anything because my dad made it. The fact that he left everything to my mother just tells me he left it to her to do the right thing and split everything four ways. My father was the smartest man I've ever met but in some ways he was almost naive. He trusted my mother to be a person who was perhaps better than she was.

I worked for the man for fifteen years and he wanted me to take over his business, the reason for his living as far as I could tell when I was a kid, but I didn't want it. My brother took it instead and has never had to work for anything in his life. Everything was given to him. Regardless, a crooked bookkeeper forged checks and stole every penny from the company. She bought a house, gave money to her sister, etc., all right from under the nose of my brother. (The bookkeeper eventually went to jail, her husband divorced her, and her life presumably changed for the worse.)

My dad, fearing for the continued existence of his life's work, covered what he told me was probably close to a million dollars from his own personal wealth, which was never an amount I was familiar with. He was well off, that I knew from being as close to him as I was in the years that I was working for him, but I didn't know then and don't know now how well off.

I'll stop here.  This will be the subject of a longer piece when I get to writing it. I started it after the death of my father, wondering as to the nature of love when my mother would not visit him in the hospital for longer than fifteen minutes only on most days of his final time. Wondering as to the nature of love of a daughter who moved her mother to Minnesota from California and then told her not to buy a winter coat, installed her in an all-white apartment that was impossible to be non-sunglassed during the daylight hours due to the glare off the snow, and who told the women at my dad's company that she wouldn't take any of her calls.

A cousin of mine took her out and bought her a winter coat. I measured her windows and had custom blinds and curtains made so she could see in her apartment. I would take her to different malls (she'd never driven on snow) so she could get out of the apartment and walk around. When the roads were clear, I put my life in her hands and taught her how to drive on the freeway for the first time ever. She told me two things early on. One, that she was heading back to California as soon as her lease was up, and two, that if it weren't for her and my deceased grandfather (who had spent World War II in Germany as refugees), my mother would have grown up farming potatoes in the Soviet Union.

When my grandmother, who has lent her name to my daughter's middle name, was dying, I flew out there and spent weeks not getting paid, first setting up the surgery she thought was coming but wasn't until the doctor and the insurance company did whatever they needed to do, and then as she lay in the hospital, never to go out again. Where was my mother, who didn't worry about money and who could have been out there every second of this ordeal?

I had no idea. One day she waltzed in with my father and she hung around at the very end, much she did with my dad.

The last time I saw my mother was at my father's funeral. She was upbeat and handling things surprisingly well, and she was trying her damndest to get me and my wife to go with her over to my brother's house. I had just been told how my older sister and brother did not allow my younger sister to sit with the family during the service and I didn't say anything to my mom but I wasn't going to my brother's after that. It was unlikely that I would have gone in any event, but still.

At the Noir @ the Bar event in Austin that took place the week after Bouchercon, a woman came up to me and read something I'd written about this dysfunctional family and said she was very gratified to know that she "wasn't the only one." But like I said, a longer piece will be coming, when my writing commitments are fewer.

So this went on too long, so I'll wrap it up as quickly as I can from here. I just learned that Ed Gorman passed away two days ago. He'd been fighting multiple myeloma, an incurable form of cancer, for fourteen damn years. I never met him in person and I kick myself that I never made it happen. We communicated over e-mail and it was Ed that gave me encouragement when my first two books came out, a cover blurb I didn't know was coming for my third book ("This one has the power to hurt you"), and was the first to suggest all my non-fiction pieces be collected into their own volume. This is happening, and guess who it will be dedicated to? Rest in peace, Ed. The number of people that will miss the support, counsel, and of course your own writing, are more numerous than you could ever know.

Doing a signing in Minneapolis on November 5th. I'll do another blog post about that. I did get a three star review from someone who didn't like the characters in TRUTH ALWAYS KILLS but the majority of readers, at least the ones that have communicated to me, have said they'd like to see a sequel because they like the characters so much. My publisher, though, has asked for a sequel to MAD DOG BARKED so that will be the next novel. He wants it for an October, 2017 release so I'll have to find a way to write it for him.

And there's the anthology honoring the late Gary Shulze, the collection of letters between John D. MacDonald and his wife, the true crime book, and my own collection of essays. Next month I have two stories appearing in anthologies. One is in WINDWARD: THE BEST CRIME WRITING OF NEW ENGLAND 2017 and the other is in a collection titled WAITING TO BE FORGOTTEN, which are stories based on or inspired by the music of The Replacements, a band that came to prominence around the same time as Prince, which also happened to be the years around my time at the University of Minnesota. And you know college students and their irrational passion for music.

Where did all that wisdom go? I assume we all just grew up and realized our younger selves had been full of some sort of pretentious inert gas. And got haircuts.

I'll post again very soon, I promise.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

AVENUE OF SPIES by Alex Kershaw

This is a very good book about the Nazi occupation of Paris in the second world war from the perspective of an American husband/Swiss wife couple that lived on one of the swankiest streets of the city. I had no idea how Paris had been taken by the Germans without firing a shot, and the enormity of the gradual but constantly building of the SS and Gestapo's efforts to track down resistance.

The Jackson family in the book is headed by Sumner, a native of Maine, who worked at the American Hospital. While the Gestapo confiscated houses all along his street, not only did Jackson continue his work at the hospital but he helped hide food for his patients as well as aid downed Allied fighters on their way out of France and back to Britain.

Toward the end of the war, a French collaborator turned them in and the family was arrested after the Allies had landed at Normandy. Toquette Jackson, Sumner's wife and Phillip's mother, was separated from the men, who miraculously were able to stay together until the end of the war. The odds were stacked against all of them, and still two out of the three survived the war.

The book tells the story of the Paris occupation and the Vichy government with the center around this one family, and by doing so gives a microcosm of life in the City of Lights, including how Hitler's offices disobeyed his direct order to leave it in rubble before the Allies arrived. Recommended.