Monday, September 30, 2013

MIDNIGHT in the Chambers of Judge Alvin Canter

Today we have guest post from Kevin Egan, author of Midnight. Kevin tell us how he got ideas from his former workplace in the New York County Courthouse to set up intrigue in his novel. 

The exterior of the iconic New York County Courthouse, with its wide steps and massive columns, is well known from the opening credits of “Law & Order.” Midnight, my current novel, is largely set in a judge’s chambers inside this courthouse, where I worked for many years as a judge’s law clerk. A judge’s chambers is a self-contained world that evolves its own peculiar customs and rules. Our judge was a private person, and if she needed to spend an hour, or an afternoon, or a day away from the courthouse, the secretary and I were not to disclose her absence to anyone. Invariably, something would come up: a phone call, a hand-delivered letter needing the judge’s immediate attention, or an attorney presenting an order to show cause. But through deflection and deception and disingenuity, we routinely faked the judge’s presence in chambers.

As a fiction writer, I wanted to explore an extreme version of our customary ruse. The premise of Midnight is simple: when a judge dies, his staff keep their jobs until the end of that year. So when Judge Alvin Canter quietly expires in chambers on the morning of New Year’s Eve, his clerk, Tom Carroway, and his secretary, Carol Scilingo, find themselves in a difficult predicament. Their jobs will vanish at closing time – unless they can smuggle the judge’s body out of his chambers and make it appear that he died in his apartment after midnight.  

Harebrained as the scheme sounds, the remote privacy of a judges’ chambers, coupled with a largely deserted courthouse, lends enough plausibility for the reader to suspend disbelief until the darker parts of the novel kick in.

I based the fictional chambers depicted in Midnight on an actual chambers in the New York County Courthouse. Since few people ever visit a judge’s chambers, here is a peek inside. 

Like many chambers in the courthouse, Judge Canter’s is a three-room suite: an anteroom, a middle room, and the judge’s private office. This picture, taken from Tom’s desk, looks directly down the “avenue of doors” that link the three rooms. Along the way there are desks, bookcases, computers, and lots of paper. Carol’s desk is to the left; a corner of the conference table, where Tom drafts motion decisions and peeks out from behind his monitor to look at Carol, is to the right.

The middle room, shown above, separates the anteroom from Judge Canter’s private office. In the book, it is filled with potted plants and file cabinets. This chambers has only one potted plant (obviously not a “lush schefflera”) and only two small file cabinets. The table in the right foreground, however, is similar to the table where Canter drops piles of signed decisions for Carol to process and file.

Judge Canter’s desk, like the desk shown above, is massive and imposing, The book describes it as stretching almost the entire width of the office with an “orange cast accentuated by the light from two Tiffany chandeliers.” Canter signs the decision dismissing Bobby Werkman’s lawsuit here early on the morning of  New Year’s Eve. Two days later, working feverishly to save himself and Carol, Tom sits behind this desk and feels Canter’s ghostly presence looking over his shoulder.

I took some liberties with the judge’s office in Midnight, mainly enlarging it and adding furnishings. This picture is the view from the couch where Canter takes his final nap. Not shown, because they exist only on the page, are the other couch, where Tom and Carol discuss the first glimmerings of their plan, and the all-important Oriental rug covering the “bland industrial wall-to-wall carpet.” This view approximates what Judge Canter would have seen as he closed his eyes for the last time. 

About Kevin Egan

Kevin Egan graduated with B.A. in English from Cornell University, where he studied creative writing under Dan McCall (Jack the Bear) and Robert Morgan (Gap Creek). He is the author of six novels, most recently Midnight (Forge, 2013), and numerous short stories.

Kevin’s short fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Rosebud, The Westchester Review, and in the Small Crimes and Fedora III mystery anthologies.
He occasionally teaches fiction writing as an adjunct instructor at Westchester Community College in Valhalla, New York, and regularly teaches legal writing as an adjunct professor at Berkeley College in Manhattan.

Visit his website or his Goodreads author page

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cady McClain and Suzy Homemaker

Cady McClain (who plays Dixie Cooney Martin on All My Children) has been doing these great videos on YouTube starring a character she created called Suzy F***ing Homemaker. Suzy lives in Hollywood has a bit of a drinking problem and other issues but she is super funny. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Book Review: Designed to Death

Today Kerry Hammond reviews Christina Freeburn's Designed to Death. 
Designed to Death, a Faith Hunter Scrap This mystery by Christina FreeburnDesigned to Death by Christina Freeburn is the second cozy mystery in the funny Faith Hunter Scrap This series set in Eden, West Virginia (available September 10, 2013).
I don’t know if there is such a thing as a typical scrapbooker.  But if there is, Faith Hunter would not be who I would imagine. She used to be in the Army, and has a secret past (so secret that Book 2 in the series does not yet reveal the whole story). She moved back to West Virginia to start fresh and work for her two grandmothers at their scrapbooking store Scrap This.  Since she was raised by her two grandmothers, she feels safe and secure back at home with them.  Well, as safe as anyone can feel with a murderer running loose.
The murder that takes place revolves around the most recently appointed Life Artist Diva, an honor given by the scrapbooking magazine Making Legacies to the person who submits the winning crop (meaning photos, not produce) layout.  The Life Artist Diva of the moment is Belinda Watson, and Faith has planned a signing and crop class to honor Belinda and bring in business for the store. Belinda’s cousin, Darlene, shows up claiming the work submitted to win the contest was actually stolen from her, and a brawl ensues. Let’s just say, not all the glitter in this story made it out unharmed.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Once Upon A Time Recipes

Photo from the Snow White special exhibit at the Walt Disney Family Museum
Once Upon A Time returns this Sunday with an episode called, "In the Heart of the True Believer." In honor of the new season here are a few recipes for your Once Upon A Time viewing party: Poison Apple Salad with Cranberries and Blue Cheese, Captain Hook Breadsticks and a new blue drink called The Neverland.  

Poison Apple Salad with Cranberries and Blue Cheese


2 Red Delicious Apples, cored but not peeled
1 Gala Apple, cored but not peeled
2 Granny Smith Apples, cored but not peeled
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup blue cheese chunks

1/4 cup Trader Joe's Orange Muscat Vinegar 
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

Chop all apples into half inch chunks. Add cranberries and blue cheese. Mix vinegar and olive oil together add a dash each of salt and pepper. Mix dressing. Add to the salad and toss. 

Captain Hook Breadsticks 

Pillsbury breadstick dough (from the refrigerator section)
Olive oil
Parmesan cheese

The dough is easier to work with if it is still cold from the refrigerator. Break apart the twelve bread sticks. Twist one as if you were going to make a regular bread stick only form the twist into a hook. Then take half of another bread stick and make the stem of the hook. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Cook according to the directions. 

Last but not least is our festive and refreshing blue drink, called The Neverland. The blueness of it was inspired by Kendra Kelley's post on The Wave with a Blue Drink from the summer drinks with reads series

The Neverland

1 finger Bacardi Dragonberry Rum
2 Tablespoons Toroni Blue Raspberry Italian Ice Syrup
Crushed ice

Fill your cup with crushed ice, add in a finger of Dragonberry rum and add in the syrup. It's that easy and that delicious.

Now sit down and enjoy the season premiere of Once Upon A Time. 


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fortune Teller Machines: Fortune Red

I do love a good fortune telling machine. So here's Fortune Red. Fortune Red resides near the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Disneyland's New Orleans Square. When you put in your 50 cents (double the price of my favorite fortune telling machine, Esmerelda) the song Yo Ho Yo Ho, A Pirates Life for Me plays. While the song plays, Fortune Red points to a cool pirate map and supposedly makes up your fortune. 

But if you look at his face up close, he's a little scary in a plastic monster pirate way. Fortune Red - don't you know that smoking is bad for you? 

Once the music stops, a little card pops out with your fortune in pirate speak. As an aside, did you know that you can change your Facebook language to pirate? Anyway, here's what Fortune Red had to say last time I visited him.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Six Feet Under - The Last Six Minutes

One of my favorite shows of all time is Six Feet Under. The last episode was both heartbreaking and satisfying. The final six minutes of the show, set to the song Breath Me by Sia are probably the best six minutes of television ever. Six Feet Under did what so many other shows do not in their finale. Since this was a show about life and death, they showed us how the main characters died. I still cry when I watch this. The video is below. I apologize in advance for the ad at the beginning of the video. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

S is for Sue Grafton

The fabulous Kerry Hammond talks about her love for the books by Sue Grafton. 

I try to attend as many author signings as I can—let’s face it, I’m a groupie. I feel very lucky to have the locally owned Tattered Cover Bookstore chain near me. I scour their emailed newsletters for author events and when I saw that Sue Grafton was coming to sign her new book “W” is for Wasted, I couldn’t keep the smile off my face.

I started reading Sue Grafton’s alphabet series at the end of the 1980s, but her first Kinsey Millhone novel was published in 1982. It was called “A” is for Alibi, and launched what is commonly known as the alphabet series. I was a Kinsey fan immediately. I love her quirky, strong, self-sufficiency, and often laugh out loud at the things she does. What normal woman trims her own hair with nail scissors?

Readers of the series, if asked why they like it so much, will not only talk about Kinsey. The books have a supporting cast of characters that add to the fun on a regular basis. From Aunt Gin, who raised Kinsey when her parents were killed, to her octogenarian landlord, Henry Pitts. As with most single women, her life is fraught with relationships that don’t quite work out, and love interests that seem to make things more complicated. When you put all of these things together, you come up with wonderfully entertaining books that appeal to mystery fans of all ages. 

This series is no different than most in the fact that Grafton’s novels are better if read in order. There’s just something about following a character through her trials and tribulations in the order in which the author conceived them. But what happens when we reach “Z?” That’s a question that many Grafton fans are wondering. The plan seems to be that “Z” is for Zero will be published in 2019, when the author will be 79 years old. She has indicated that she may end the series at that point, in order to go out on a good note rather than run the series into the ground. But who knows what might happen between now and then.

And for those of you waiting for the new Poirot to be penned by a writer other than Agatha Christie, in a recent Publishers Weekly article, Lenny Picker explains that “Grafton revealed that she has pledged to her children to haunt them from beyond the grave if they even thought of having another’s hand penning more Kinsey Millhone.” 

If Grafton does end up calling it a day at “Z,” readers will have to be content with Kinsey living on in their minds rather than on the page.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Book Review: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Night Film by Marisha Pessl (Special Topics in Calamity Physics) is the freshest book I have read in years. By fresh I mean, new plot, new characters, new vibe. It's a hybrid between mystery and horror, leaning more towards mystery. 

The beautiful young daughter of a famous underground horror film producer is found dead. It looks like a suicide, but her actions before her death indicate otherwise. For a journalist named Scott McGrath who's career was materially damaged by reporting on her father's activities in the past, the search for what really happened to Ashley Cordova becomes an all consuming investigation for him.

Pessl succeeds in getting us deeply inside the head of her protagonist, Scott, who knows how to get himself deeper and deeper into trouble without a whole lot of regard for the long-term ramifications. The character of the horror cult film producer, Stanislas Cordova, is as intriguing as he is mortifying. 

The newspaper articles and photos inside the book add another layer to the book so it feels like you are examining some of the evidence. I really liked this aspect. 

Night Film also comes with a free smartphone app that expands on secrets from the book: audio and video snippets, a journal and other documents, etc. These media elements enhanced the story and I loved the experimentation of it. If you don't want to deal with the app you won't miss any plot elements, but the app suited the book well and I hope to see multimedia elements included in more books in the future. 
One of the photos inside the book. Any photos with the bird symbol you see at the right bottom corner can be scanned by the app for additional multimedia

If you like tight suspense, deep characterization, dark subjects and a fresh and moving plot, this book might be for you. The subject matter is dark and moody. The book is tightly written and incredibly hard to put down. It sticks with you long after you've read the last page and closed the book. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Dispatches from Bouchercon: Wrap up #Bcon2013

Chris Grabenstein, Donna Andrews and Al Abramson the Bouchercon Live Auction

Kim Hammond sums up her trip with Tracey Loh to Bouchercon 2013, the world's largest mystery convention. You can read about her other Bouchercon 2013 adventures as well. 

I was excited to get home to my family as I was packing on Sunday morning to go home from Bouchercon, but a little sad too. The next Bouchercon isn't until November 13-16, 2014 and I won't see some of my friends again until then, except on Facebook or if they have a book signing in the Cleveland area in the next year.

I went down to the hotel lobby to wait for my airport shuttle and of course ran into some people. Hank Phillippi Ryan was on her way home to Boston so after a hug she was off.

The Jungle Red panel

Jeffrey Sieger needed multiple hugs before heading to the airport to return to Mykonos, Greece, where he now resides. We'll be working together for the next few years on the board of National Bouchercon and I look forward to it.

Tess Gerritsen signing books

I thanked Judy B. for a fabulous job putting together the 2013 panels because I know how many hundreds of hours of volunteer time goes into each Bouchercon (and also some blood, sweat and tears), as these conferences are entirely run by volunteers. Judy was sitting with Joseph Finder and I confessed that I thought he had the sexiest voice of any author I know. I think he blushed. 

The highlight of my departure was riding to the airport in the same shuttle with Lee Goldberg as my trip ended exactly how it began. He entertained us all on the trip with stories of fan mail nightmares.

Jeffrey Deaver at Bouchercon 2013
I have many fond memories as I say goodbye to the 2013 conference. I saw many old friends, made some new ones, and I think I got Tracey Loh hooked on Bouchercon. Let's see if she comes to Long Beach. With Jeffrey Deaver, J.A. Jance
and Edward Marsdon as Guests of Honor and Simon Wood as Toastmaster, how can she say no? 

Kim Hammond and Tracey Loh, our #Bcon 2013 reporters on the ground
To learn more about Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach, California, you can visit the website, like the page on Facebook, or follow @Bcon2014 on Twitter. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Dispatches from Bouchercon: Day Three #Bcon2013

Laurie R. King signs 2013 Anthony Award winner Dana Cameron's copy

Kim Hammond & Tracey Loh report from Albany, New York from the world's largest mystery fan convention, Bouchercon. This is the third report from this year's convention.  

Today was all about book signings. I'm serious. We got to see so many favorites: Harlan Coben (OK, that was yesterday, Sue Grafton (she signed books for more than an hour), Laurie R. King, Lawrence Block and Tess Gerritsen (love Rizzoli and Isles).

Harlan Coben 

Tess Gerritsen

Sue Grafton

Sue Grafton's very long signing line

Mr. Lawrence Block

We also went to a great panel this morning on Young Adult Mysteries, called Root Beer Rag featuring Joelle Charbonneau, Charles Benoit, Cara Brookins, Harlan Coben, Chris Grabenstein, Beth Kanell and Lea Wait. 

Harlan Coben - Harlan is new to writing young adult mysteries. He said he writes like he does for adults but his protagonist is a teenager. Why did he turn to YA with Myron Bolitar's nephew Mickey? He was writing a Myron book and discovered he had a nephew. He also always wanted to write Myron when he was in high school. This was a compromise. 

Chris Grabenstein - He a wrote book aimed for adults and then someone said that they would make good kid's books. He writes middle grade, and says he never mentally matured past age 12 (Ha!). Chris' editor said in children's books you can only kill off someone who really deserves to die. His goal is to get kids to read. His proudest moment is when a kid tells him I read your book in 2 days or my mom took my flashlight away while I was reading your book.

Lea Wait - She says it's hard to define YA, middle grade 7-12 but then you have to consider the reading level of the kids. Middle grade there's a prohibition on bad language and sex can't be overt. Librarians and teachers have to defend buying certain books so they look at that kind of stuff.

Beth Kannel - She told us that a kid is an unreliable narrator. The protagonist is less experienced. This opens new possibilities for a plot. 

Cara Brookins - She pointed out that kids are naturally more curious and experimental. This make them good protagonists.

Charles Benoit - Young adult as a category didn't exist when he was growing up. He writes dark noir with typically sad endings. He wanted to write a book that covered adult topics but with a kid protagonist.

Sex in YA books? Some of the authors do up to a certain point. Little or no swearing. Possible drugs to teach a lesson. 

Four out of five authors on this panel write from a boy's point of view, Why? They've found a girl will read a book from a girl or boy's point of view, but a young boy typically won't read a book from a girl's point of view. 

It was a great and fun panel.

The Anthony Award Winners were announce tonight, congratulations to all the winner and nominees: 

The Beautiful Mystery – Louise Penny 

The Expats – Chris Pavone 

Big Maria – Johnny Shaw 

“Mischief in Mesopotamia” – Dana Cameron

Books to Die For: The World’s Greatest Mystery Writers on the World’s Greatest Mystery Novels 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Dispatches from Bouchercon: Day Two #Bcon2013

Monette Michaels, Heather Graham, Melinda Leigh and Tina Whittle sign at Mystery Mike's 

Kim Hammond & Tracey Loh report from Albany, New York where the world's largest mystery fan convention, Bouchercon, is taking place. This is the second report from this year's convention (the first is here).  

One of our favorite panels today was called, Stop in Nevada: If the IRS asks, it's research: places we've visited, people we've met and boneheaded things we've tried in the name of a story. You can see the panelists names in the photo above. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Dana Cameron got to spend three months in London at the London Museum doing research. Then she told a story that happened while she was attending Bouchercon in Anchorage. She wanted to fly into the Alaskan bush but you could only go in a very small plane. It has a reputation of being one for the 10 most dangerous air trips in Alaska. While on the flight, the door of the plane flew open on its own and the pilot told her to just hang on with her legs and pull it shut - btw there were no safety belts. When they finally landed it was on a very short landing strip at the top of a mountain.
  • Sean Chercover worked as a real Private Investigator for six months to research one of his books. He even got the license to be one in Illinois. Has met a lot of people in law enforcement by calling them up and asking questions and the next thing he knows he's out buying drinks and getting all kinds of stories. He has also met with a group of mercenaries just back from Iraq.

  • Alafair Burke uses her marriage for book research. Her first Ellie Hatcher book featured a killer finding victims on online dating service, exactly how Alafair met her husband on an online date service. Hmmm, experience with serial killers?
  • Lou Berney writes off beat crime with humor. In one book he had drug cartels using powered hand gliders to bring drugs over border. He was in Hawaii with his wife and he would take an hour class on a power hand glider and he thought it would be good for research. It's like a go cart with a big wing and a lawn mower engine on the back. He did it anyway. Gets in a flight suit and helmet. It was the most scared he's ever been. They were way up in the air and then the instructor says "uh-oh." Hmmm. 
  • Chris Holm - His books are supernatural in origin and while they aren't horror, they have horror elements. So while he's writing a horror scene he tries to scare himself.  He has a horrible scene where the main character wakes up and is covered in bugs. He had an incident as a child with bugs that terrified him.
The Jungle Red gang

Another favorite panel was the Jungle Reds. It was hilarious and interactive. I don't know how to describe it so you'll just have to make a note to attend their panel at the next conference.
Happy Jungle Reds crowd
In other sightings out and about at Bouchercon, we ran into Harlan Coben (that's Tracey with him).

And Brad Parks, our new favorite Superman (That's Kim with Brad):

In other news, at today's meeting the bids for Bouchercon 2016 in New Orleans and Bouchercon 2018 in St. Petersburg, FL were approved. Congratulations! 

Here's the fabulous Laura Lippman signing autographs:

And Tracey with Daniel Palmer:

Don't forget to "like" the Mystery Playground page on Facebook

BBC Sherlock Legos

Look at these fabulous BBC Sherlock legos. You can't buy them yet, we have to vote them into existence. They currently have more than six thousand of the needed ten thousand votes to be made. You can vote for these legos here. 

The little house rooms that would come with them are pretty cute too, so go vote. Check them out. 

*UPDATE* The Sherlock Legos received enough votes to be considered. It is now with the Lego review board and they should make a decision in January. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Dispatches from Bouchercon: Day One #Bcon2013

Kim Hammond reports from Albany, New York where the world's largest mystery fan convention, Bouchercon, is taking place. This is her first report from this year's convention. 

I arrived in Albany on Wednesday night and who was on the shuttle from the airport with me? None other than Lee Goldberg.  I recently met Lee with Janet Evanovich when they were on book tour for their joint book, The Heist

My first panel of the day was called When in Rome: Murder is Everywhere. All of the panels here at Bouchercon 2013 are named after Billy Joel songs. Anyway, the panel featured writers who write about locations outside the US and are all on the Murder is Everywhere blog. Panelists included Annamaria Alfieri, Lisa Brackman, Jeffrey Siger, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, and Michael Stanley. There were about 100 people in attendance. Highlights included:

  • Cara Black described Paris in the old days and told stories about interviewing the art cops in Paris. She said they only recover 10% of stolen objects in a year. That seems really low and sad.
  • Jeff Siger talked about living on Mykonos.
  • Yrsa Sigurdardottir talked about living in Iceland and it's history. Then she  gave away a trip to Iceland for the new Iceland Noir conference in Reykjavik. I love Iceland in November, but darn it, I didn't win. 

The second panel I attended was You're Only Human: Secret powers & other little-known talents that would make us great Super Heroes...or Villains. Panelists included Jen Forbus, Catriona McPherson, Daniel Palmer, Brad Parks, Tom Schreck, Zoe Sharpe and Michael Wiley. The highlight of this panel was when Brad Parks turned from Clark Kent into Superman. 

Here's Brad in Clark Kent mode:

Here's the whole panel with Brad in Superman mode:

The Macavity and Barry Awards were announced at the opening ceremonies last night. The Derringers were already announced but winners received their awards last night. 

Congratulations to all of the winners and the nominees.

2013 Macavity Award Winners:

Short story - Barb Goffman

Historical- Charles Todd - AN UNMARKED GRAVE

Best Non-Fiction - BOOKS TO DIE FOR 

Best First Mystery- DON'T EVER GET OLD by Daniel Friedman

Best Mystery Novel - THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY by Louise Penny

2013 Barry Award Winners: 

Don Sandstrum Award for Lifetime Achievement in Fandom - Ali Karim

Best Paperback Original- MR. CHURCHILL'S SECRETARY by Susan Elliott McNeil

Best Thriller- THE FALLEN ANGEL by Daniel Silva 

Best First Mystery Novel - A KILLING ON THE HILLS by Julia Keller

Best Novel - THE BLACK HOUSE by Peter May

I'll be reporting from Bouchercon all weekend so come on back. Don't forget to "like" the Mystery Playground page on Facebook

A view of the Bouchercon 2013 book room before the rush

There are day passes available for the Albany show if you are nearby and curious, it would be a great day spent for any mystery fan. 

If you are more of a planner you can learn all about next year's convention, being held in Long Beach, California, November 13-16, 2014. You have more than enough time to plan.