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.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Visual Guide to Bouchercon 2016 Events

So this is happening Wednesday evening. It's organized by Eric Beetner and his events are always fun, always fast-paced, and always over too soon:

Then there's my Thursday morning panel at 9:00 a.m., LaGalleries 1. This is the third year for this panel and it always comes up as one of everyone's favorites. I'll be talking about Peter Rabe....

There's an autographing session in there somewhere, but the better one should be in the book room at Mystery Mike's tables Friday morning at 9:40. This is the ad in the program book:

So please, by all means, find me and say hello if you're headed down to New Orleans for "the big one" next month....

Monday, July 25, 2016

Bill Crider

I am absolutely crestfallen by the news of veteran crime, western, horror, and men's adventure writer Bill Crider. Apparently Bill has found out very recently that he's ill, so ill that he sounds as though he may not be with us much longer. A very aggressive form of carcinoma is what he's told us.

Bill has not only been a great supporter of my books, but is truly one of the nicest people on the planet. Not just writers, but people. Those who knew him felt his pain as he related the loss of his wife of over fifty years not all that long ago. Up until now he's still posted pictures of Judy and little stories of their life together but now he says he may not be posting anything. Ever.

I've been called some flattering things about my personal knowledge of paperback original era authors, not only because of my essays but also my editing of and contributing to the book PAPERBACK CONFIDENTIAL. But I would challenge anyone who thinks they have more than a passing era of anything paperback related to have a conversation with Bill and not come away learning any number of things. You might have to draw a few things out of him, though; his humility prevents any sort of overbearing.

He's trying to get into one of the best cancer centers in the country this week. Someone posted somewhere about Jimmy Carter's miraculous recovery from his own cancer--maybe, hopefully, if the Universe has a heart, Bill can enjoy a similar resurgence.

Get well, Bill, and the sooner the better. We, the entire community that you've been such a part of for so long, needs you around for a lot more years. You set an example very few of us will ever match.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

My Mother's Funeral

Life likes its curve balls. When I did my trip through Florida, culminating in the wonderful Key West Mystery Fest, I came home for about a week and a half, and then I heard my mother had collapsed. My little sister called with the news. I'm not sure how she found out because my other sister and my brother have made themselves the only kids that count. When my father died my wife called Isa because the other two couldn't be bothered.

I called the hospital immediately. For some damn reason they gave me to the Queen sister, who asked me three times, "How did you find out?" as though her efforts to keep the news from me had failed. When my little sister told the busybody one that I would be there in the morning--living up in northern New Hampshire makes it difficult to get anywhere quickly--she said that I didn't even need to come.

There's a lot more in that particular story, none of it reflecting well on the one sister and my brother, and my father would have rolled over in his grave. Again, as he would have done it during his first funeral, when the busybody and my brother denied my younger sister a seat with the family. How was that communicated? With choice four-letter words, of course.

My mother's funeral was two nights ago. After I flew to see her in Minneapolis, I came home after the MRI proved that her brain had been destroyed, was home for a day, then drove to Manhattan for ThrillerFest. Then I stayed an extra day for a Noir @ the Bar reading (I need to put up that poster on my website) and drove home the next day. Two days later I was headed for the Public Saftey Writers Association conference in Las Vegas. I'd been invited, appeared on three panels, and got to enjoy the constant second-hand smoke that makes up Las Vegas's breathing spaces. Right now I'm jet-lagged off my rear end but I could have flown directly from Vegas to Minneapolis for my mother's funeral.

But I didn't.

It was very difficult to get any information from my brother but as he denied or lied about everything that happened at my father's service in regards to my little sister, I decided I couldn't tacitly support their untrue version of what they had done.

People not related to anyone were seated in the family row. We had to pull up an extra chair so my wife and I could both sit. I had no idea until later that they wouldn't allow my sister a seat. Plenty of people saw it, including my wife and a very good friend from high school. At the end of it, when I had just been told, my mother tried to get us to go over to my brother's house. Shocked and appalled I told her we weren't going to do that. We seemed to have parted on good terms. I wasn't going to make a scene.

When my brother deigned to answer my e-mails, he denied any of what happened with my sister was real. I had told him that that couldn't happen again, that when the officiator read her bio that Mom had eleven grand-children, instead of the four that came from my busybody sister. I told him that all of us should sit in the family row, as it should have happened at my Dad's funeral. I told him that all of us should be allowed to speak.

He told me in no uncertain terms that none of what had happened at my Dad's funeral had actually happened, despite all the people that saw it, and that I would not be allowed to speak.

In other words, it was their way or the highway. They have done so much over the years to splinter the family. My parents moved down to Florida to be near my wife and I. My Dad taught my son to play golf. We were together every Thanksgiving. I'd drive my dad's car and he'd drive my Jeep. I helped him out in his house, crimping and connecting the cable outlets in the ceiling of his house, helping clean up after a hurricane, and so on.

Apparently my older sister and younger brother thought they knew best. They tried to make me an outcast. I didn't allow it at my father's service but they toughened up for my mother's and forced me into a choice: attend not as my mother's son but at their tolerance, or be satisfied with the goodbyes I'd said to my mother at the hospital.

They kept her plugged in for a couple of extra days so people who had gone on vacation for the Fourth could come back. They left after my Mom had collapsed and went anyway. When they finally unplugged her, they didn't make the effort to even let me know.

When I was younger, I rode my bike to the hospital where my dad's mother was dying of lung cancer. I remember going into this big empty room expecting to spend some nice time with my grandmother--I used to drop by on her and her husband at random times at their house--and was shocked when she couldn't kick me out of there fast enough. "I don't want anyone to see me like this!" she said.

I don't believe my mother would have like to have been kept alive artificially so people could come and see her. That's just my opinion, but it seemed so unnecessary and absent of dignity (and my mother wasn't exactly devoid of being vain), that it was painful for me to see. At least one of my relatives came to that conclusion on his own and I salute him for it.

So I didn't go. I assume I could have changed flights and got there on time but for what? To be shunned by two people who had no business shunning any family member? To legitimize their inane and disingenuous claims?

I didn't go because they were lying about essentially everything, their keeping her artificially breathing against the terms of her living will, and their continued denial of their misdeeds kept me away. I've always been above those family dynamics. I moved away from those people after college and never went back. There are reasons.

I suppose I will always be the son that didn't care enough, but that's not the truth. I'm the son that was done being talked down behind his back by tiny, insignificant people. My wife went, and took the kids, and later when she told me how she and my busybody sister had an unpleasant conversation, my sister said that she hadn't "a mean bone in her body." Then she must be a squid. My wife told her that she'd seen it and that essentially ended the conversation. My wife's take? When my sister thinks no one's looking, that's when she's doing her dirty work. And I'm sure she's write. What she does is fairly apparent.

So my mother's gone. I suppose with luck I never have to see two of my three siblings again. And I won't miss them. I have always had an almost pathological disdain of dishonesty, of lying, and there's a taint that stains any dealing with these people.

I tried once to get on better terms with my sister. My dad asked me to, and I invited her to my wedding. I really would have tried. She sent a note saying she didn't think I was sincere enough in wanting her to come, so she was going to decline. So much for that effort.

Bottom line, they don't know the relationship I had with my parents any more than I knew theirs. We were in Florida, they were in Minnesota. The point is that they presume to know and to shape their own reality based on their twisted little partnership. That's up to them, and they're welcome to it, but it's a shame and pity they had to carry it over first to my dad's funeral, and then to my mother's.

Shame on them.

Whatever they do, though, doesn't change any facts. Oh, they can convince their friends of anything they want to, and more power to them. Talking behind people's backs is how they've gotten to where they are. There's nothing anyone could do about it if they tried.

So congratulations, you two. You kept me out of Mom's funeral. I can only hope that I'm more at peace with that decision than they can be with theirs, but I'm sure that's a forlorn hope.

Good night, Mom. I miss you.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Short review, more stuff soon

I've been out of town forEVER, my mother passed away suddenly, and when I cure my own zombie-ism, I will write a longer blog. Right now, here's a brief review of a book I finished on a loooong plane ride to Vegas for the PSWA conference.

"The Apache Wars" by Paul Andrew Hutton
4.5 stars
Very readable, very entertaining history of the struggles of American expansion into Apache territory in the years following the Civil War. Treachery and betrayal on all sides--American, Apache and Mexican--highlight the violence and ultimate conquest of the region. The cast of characters is large, and the book does a wonderful job of showing how the personalities and policies of Washington, including the greed for gold and silver, collide with the torture and cruelty of a people that at times showed willingness to live together with the white man. When thing broke down, the degree of murder and cruelty are horrifying. Excellent history.