Saturday, July 22, 2006

Kansas SCBWI Conference

An update on the Kansas SCBWI Fall Conference, September 29 & 30, 2006, in Parkville, Missouri (just north of Kansas City): The conference schedule, brochure, registration form, and instructions are available online at

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Scene of the Crime

When I read mysteries, I encounter clever murderers able to commit crimes without leaving evidence, who can only be brought down by brilliant, intuitive, and determined detectives. Last week, however, I attended the monthly meeting of Partners in Crime, the Kansas City chapter of Sisters in Crime. The speaker was a forensic scientist from the Kansas City Crime Lab, and I came out of his thoroughly fascinating presentation convinced that in real life, criminals are just plain stupid.

Example: Two guys stole an SUV and noticed a weird smell coming from the back. They investigated and discovered, to their surprise, a dead guy, wrapped in plastic. So they called the police to report the body. (Who says car thieves can’t be good citizens?)

The police arrived and found that the dead guy was the owner of the SUV. They went to his house, chatted with his girlfriend, and uncovered an interesting story. The dead guy had apparently run low on crack, so he sent his girlfriend to a crack house in a less-than-savory part of town to buy more. While she was there, the three crack dealers became a bit vulgar and, uh, suggestive. When she came home and reported their rude behavior, the outraged, soon-to-be-dead guy grabbed a knife, jumped in his SUV, and headed to the crack house to confront them.

Okay, let’s pause here for a moment to reflect. If you’re considering a life of crime, here are a few suggestions:
  1. Before you steal a car, check it thoroughly for human remains.
  2. If you don’t want your girlfriend to be sexually harrassed, avoid sending her to a crack house.
  3. Most importantly, do not, under any circumstances, charge into said crack house by yourself, looking for a fight, armed only with a knife. Crack dealers have much better weapons.
And in this case, they used them. They shot the guy several times with several guns as he fled from the house toward his SUV. (Yes, they chased him down the street, firing handguns. And nobody reported this. The police only discovered a crime had been committed when the car thieves called to report the body. Am I the only one who finds this disturbing?)

The crime lab came up with ample evidence to convict the three crack dealers for murder. One crucial piece of evidence was a bullet that grazed the victim’s head and lodged in the door of the crack house as he ran out. Investigators found blood, tissue, and hair on the bullet that matched the victim.

So I’ve decided things work the way they’re supposed to: In real life, criminals are stupid, which makes the world safer for the rest of us, while in fiction, criminals are clever, which makes murder mysteries much more interesting to read. And in both cases, criminals are brought down by smart, intuitive, determined investigators.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Pulled In

I’m possibly the last mystery lover on the planet to have discovered Elizabeth George, but I’m fast becoming a fan. I’ve enjoyed the filmed versions of her Lynley and Havers mysteries on PBS’s Mystery! the last few years, but until recently had never picked up her books.

(Okay, I actually had picked up her books on several occasions, but put them back down again, frightened, I think, by their hefty 800-page length. I love a long, meaty novel I can sink into for a lengthy wallow, but I don’t love starting a long book only to find I dislike the writing, story, or—worse—the characters. Do I continue reading, hoping it will get better? If so, for how long? Will I be sucked into reading the whole thing only to toss it across the room at the end, disgusted at myself for wasting all that time?)

But I saw the audio version of George’s A Place of Hiding in the library last week and checked it out on a whim. A day or so later, I saw her book on writing, Write Away, on sale at my local bookstore and snatched it up, too. I haven’t finished reading or listening to either, but I’m already hooked on both. I’m listening to A Place of Hiding in my car, and I find myself thinking up errands I have to run and places I must drive, simply to hear more of the story (which isn’t good for global warming or my budget). And she hooked me in the first chapter of Write Away with this:

...characters are interesting in their conflict, their misery, their unhappiness, and their confusion. They are not, alas, interesting in their joy and security. The first gives them a pit out of which they climb during the course of a novel. The second robs them of story.

So very true. And judging by the first few chapters of A Place of Hiding, it’s obvious that Elizabeth George is a master at creating wonderfully complex characters who must spend all their time climbing from pits, and her stories are the richer for it.

So now I’m an Elizabeth George fan and am looking forward to starting at the beginning of her series and discovering the characters and stories other mystery fans have loved for years. Lucky me!