Coming this Fall on The SciFi Channel

Thousands of turtles have  exploded in pond in Hamburg and scientists are baffled.

”It’s absolutely strange,” said Janne Kloepper, of the Hamburg-based Institute for Hygiene and the Environment. ”We have a really
unique story here in Hamburg. This phenomenon really doesn’t seem to have
appeared anywhere before.”

The toads at a pond in the upscale neighborhood of Altona
have been blowing up since the beginning of the month, filling up like balloons
until their stomachs suddenly burst.

”It looks like a scene from a science-fiction movie,” Werner Schmolnik, the
head of a local environment group, told the Hamburger Abendblatt daily. ‘

I’m sure it will be, very soon. Rob Lowe, call your agent!

Worst Opening Lines

My buddy novelist Joel Goldman has sent me the top 10 winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Contest (aka Dark and Stormy Night contest) conducted by San Jose State University’s English department. Contestants compete to write the first line of a really bad novel.  Here are the winners:

10. "As a scientist, Throckmorton knew that if he were ever to break wind in the echo chamber, he would never hear the  end of it."

9. "Just beyond the Narrows, the river widens."

8. "With a curvaceous figure
that Venus would have envied, a tanned, unblemished oval face framed with
lustrous thick brown hair, deep azure-blue eyes fringed with long black lashes,
perfect teeth that vied for competition, and a small straight nose, Marilee had
a beauty that defied description."

7. "Andre, a simple peasant, had only
one thing on his mind as he crept along the East wall: ‘Andre creep.  Andre
creep.  Andre creep.’"

6. "Stanislaus Smedley, a man always on the
cutting edge of narcissism, was about to give his body and soul to a back alley
sex-change surgeon to become the woman he loved."

5. "Although Sarah had
an abnormal fear of mice, it did not keep her from eeking out a living at a
local pet store."

4. "Stanley looked quite bored and somewhat detached, but then
penguins often do."

3. "Like an overripe beefsteak tomato rimmed with
cottage cheese, the corpulent remains of Santa Claus lay dead on the hotel
floor."

2. "Mike Hardware was the kind of private eye who didn’t know the
meaning of the word ‘fear’; a man who could laugh in the face of danger and spit
in the eye of death– in short, a moron with suicidal
tendencies."

And the winner is. .
.

1. "The sun oozed over the horizon, shoved aside darkness,
crept along the greensward, and, with sickly fingers, pushed through the castle
window, revealing the pillaged princess, hand at throat, crown asunder, gaping
in frenzied horror at the sated, sodden amphibian lying beside her, disbelieving
the magnitude of the frog’s deception, screaming madly, ‘You
lied!’"

What is the Link Between Trekkies and Pedophilia?

The LA Times reported on the ground-breaking efforts by Toronto police to track Internet kiddie porn, arrest the pedophiles and rescue the children being victimized. There was a startling fact buried in the article:  All but one of the hundreds of sex offenders they’ve arrested in the last four years has been a die-hard Trekkie.

Det.
Constable Warren Bulmer slips on a Klingon sash and shield they confiscated in a
recent raid. "It has something to do with a fantasy world where mutants and
monsters have power and where the usual rules don’t apply," Bulmer reflects.
"But beyond that, I can’t really explain it."

Land of the Lost

Variety reports that Will Ferrell will star in a feature film adaptation of the live-action children’s series LAND OF THE LOST, about a father and his kids who take a rafting trip and end up going back in time to when dinosaurs walked the earth. The movie will ditch the kids and is being directed by Adam McKay, who also helmed Ferrell’s ANCHORMAN. This will be Ferrell’s third big-screen, TV series remake — he’s also appeared in STARSKY & HUTCH and the upcoming BEWITCHED.  How long before he signs up to star in MR. ED and SHAZAM?

Star Wars: The TV Series

Variety reports that the future of STAR WARS is in television. George Lucas is mounting two series…one animated and one live-action… that will continue the franchise.

The first is an 3-D animated half-hour that expands on the "Clone Wars"
miniseries of which Lucasfilm has done two cycles for Cartoon Network.

Series could take advantage of the new CGI animation facility company is
building in Singapore. News also jibes with recent buzz in the toon
biz
that has had Lucasfilm talking to high-profile talent, including "Aeon Flux"
creator Peter Chung, who is known to have consulted on a TV project for the
studio.

Lucas also revealed that the company is working on a spinoff live-action
series that would focus on some supporting characters who’ve been introduced in
the movies.

"We’re probably not going to start that for about a year," he said. "Like on
‘The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles,’ we want to write all the stories for the
entire first season all at once. I’m going to get it started and hire the
showrunners and all of that, then I’ll probably step away."

Both skeins would be set in the years between the end of "Revenge of the
Sith" and the beginning of the original "Star Wars," aka "Episode IV — A New
Hope."

Hot Button Comments

My "hot button" post yesterday has generated a lot of comments… but I didn’t want two interesting responses to get lost amidst all the discussion about fanfic.

Here’s an excerpt of what  PK the Bookeemonster had to say about the influence of crime fiction blogs:

But if blogs went away, I would continue to enjoy books without the
"insider knowledge." And that is a part of it, the insiders versus the
outsiders, and as you stated, there is another dark side to blogging
which is the power the more popular ones have similar to the cliques in
high school all over again: if you’re not in, you’re out. Ken Bruen is
an excellent example. I’ve tried his books and they don’t click with
me; that’s just me and my taste but they’re equally valid as those who
do like his stuff. There is a strong undercurrent in the mystery world
promoting the "coolness" of noir, dark novels which is great but it
shouldn’t come at the expense of any other subgenre. The phenomenon of
blogging is bringing mystery lovers together but also separating us
into niches of us and them.

Author/editor Michael Bracken discussed, among other things,  the unfairness of lumping all POD publishers as vanity presses, particularly as it applies to the issue of the MWA restricting active membership to"published authors. Here’s an excerpt:

There must also be an effort to make clear distinctions between
legitimate small presses and self-publishing operations. Unfortunately,
this is difficult to do. For quite some time–and still in the minds of
some–any book printed using print-on-demand technology was
automatically presumed to be less than legitimate. The growing number
of legitimate publishers using PoD technology is changing that
perception.

A similar situation applies to on-line and electronic publishers.
The low cost of becoming an electronic publisher means every Joe,
Frank, and Reynolds can be a publisher without any knowledge of
publishing. The few legitimate and legitimately "professional"
electronic markets are difficult to separate from the non-professional.

Read moreHot Button Comments

Hot Button Topics with Mystery Writers

In my chats with mystery writers this weekend at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, a few "hot button" topics came up…mainly because I was tackling them on my blog and they wanted to thank me for bringing them into the open. I asked them why, if they share my views, they don’t say so publicly. The answer across the board was the same: fear. They’re afraid of getting lots of angry emails, losing sales, and awkward encounters with fans at signings and conventions.

Anyway, here are some of the hot-button topics that emerged in our conversations:

1) Self-Published Authors: There seems to be a strong consensus among published mystery writers that the MWA has gone astray and that  serious efforts should be made to restrict membership to published authors only. "We’re Turning into the ‘Mystery People of America,’" lamented one novelist. Another said "Being a member of the MWA used to mean something…now it doesn’t." Still another feared the MWA was becoming a clone of Sisters in Crime, which she said "should be called ‘PublishAmerica in Crime.’" Many of the authors were hesitant about publicly expressing their view that MWA should become a strictly professional organization because , as one said, "I don’t want to deal with all of the controversy it’s going to create. I don’t want people hating me." But that same person would gladly, and quickly, vote yes for such reforms.

I agree with the view that the MWA should restrict its membership to published authors and produced screenwriters only. That said, I think the view of Sisters in Crime that one author expressed is unfair and way, way too harsh. I think SiC is a fine organization that does a great job, offering tremendous support to aspiring writers and hosting interesting seminars and conferences (as well as producing  an informative newsletter that, in many ways, is better than the MWA’s). The success of SiC, in my mind, is evidence that there’s really no need for  no need for MWA to expand to include self-published and aspiring authors among their ranks.

2) The LA Times Book Review: Most agreed it’s a snooze that doesn’t do a very good job covering crime fiction in a city that’s so associated culturally with the genre in both literature and film.  When I brought up Eugen Weber, the most frequent response was "who is that?" Which tells you all you need to know about how relevant his views are in the field.

3)  Fanfiction:   It creeps out most of the authors I spoke to (a few, it should be noted, have no problem with it and knew of several novelists who got their start writing fanfiction). They’re all struck by the double standard — it’s okay for fanfic writers to steal your work, but if they see something similar to one of their stories in your book they’ll threaten to sue (or write very nasty letters). They said if the fans truly respected the author and his work, they should ask for permission before disseminating fanfiction (it’s not the writing that bothered them, it was the "publishing" of it on the Internet). The authors I spoke to said they don’t complain about fanfic or publicly forbid it because they are terrified of the blacklash, of getting deluged with hate mail. Instead, they close their eyes and pretend it doesn’t exist.

Read moreHot Button Topics with Mystery Writers

Marcia Muller

Today’s Los Angeles Times pays tribute, in a lengthy profile, to MWA Grandmaster Marcia Muller, who created the first female private eye, Sharon McCone, blazing a trail that Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky and others have followed with great success.

"McCone’s development is kind of the history of where women were from the ’70s
to the ’80s, where we were still fumbling our ways into some of these roles,"
says Paretsky, whose Chicago private detective V.I. Warshawski debuted in 1982.
"The year I published my first book was the first year the Chicago police force
let women be part of the regular force, as opposed to matrons. It’s kind of hard
to believe it’s only been 20 years and everybody takes [female police] so much
for granted."

It’s likely, critics say, that modern female hard-boiled
detectives would have entered fiction without Muller, though probably a few
years later. "What we were looking for in our culture were models for how women
could best be not only strong emotionally, but more independent and alone — like
Raymond Chandler’s concept of man defining himself," said Jerrilyn Farmer, who
teaches mystery writing through the UCLA Extension and is the author of seven
Los Angeles-based mysteries featuring caterer Madeline Bean.

Muller got
there first, an arrival she ascribes to luck: She found a willing publisher,
though it took her four more years to sell her second book. And while Muller has
been successful, with about 3.5 million books in print, her readership pales
next to that of Grafton, author of 17 Millhone novels, the last four of which
have nearly matched Muller’s career sales, according to estimates by Publishers
Weekly.

Grafton, though, credits Muller with helping make her own success
possible.

"She paved the way for the rest of us," Grafton says. "She was
doing what had not been done. I know there are antecedents in terms of other
women doing mystery fiction years before, but Sharon McCone recast the part. She
sort of brought us into the 20th century."

Reality Check for Trekkies

A while back, I wrote  about the silly campaign by Trekkies to raise the money to finance another season of STAR TREK ENTERPRISE.  The LA Times reports today that even the Trekkies are finally realizing  what anybody who has spent even a little time visiting the real world already knew — that Paramount isn’t going to ever accept money from viewers to produce ENTERPRISE or any other TV series. Duh.

But now there’s a scandal in the Trekkie universe. It turns out the folks spearheading the inane effort, led by  Tim Brazeal, were informed by Paramount at the get-go that their campaign was pointless…but the Trekkies in charge kept this communication secret.

After Paramount posted the letter on its www.startrek.com website earlier this month, Brazeal tried to
explain to his fans that he hadn’t mentioned the Paramount letter earlier
because he had made "personal promises" that he wouldn’t reveal any information
about the negotiations.

Brazeal’s rationale unleashed a torrent of abuse on various "Trek"-related
online forums, where insult and invective are fairly common. Critics poked fun
at some of TrekUnited’s colorful leaders, including Andrew Beardall, the
attorney and sometime seafood purveyor who is perhaps best-known around
Bethesda, Md., as "the Lobster Guy," and Al Vinci, a mysterious Canadian
producer and publisher who said he was spearheading talks with an unidentified
executive at the studio. In a phone interview last week, Vinci refused to
provide details of the discussions, names of other broadcast professionals he’s
worked with or the titles of his recent credits.

Brazeal insisted that he was not raising the money for his personal enrichment.
However, as the attacks continued he admitted in an online posting that he had
been arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession in 1979 and served probation
for an auto theft charge in 1983. He also confirmed to the Los Angeles Times
that he filed for bankruptcy in 1998, but added that he does not believe the
filing is relevant to TrekUnited’s mission.

Brazeal now says he just
wants his life back. "You reach a point where you have to say, ‘Reality’s
reality.’ … Paramount is just unwilling to bring [the show] back," he
said.

Sunday at the Book Festival

Things were relaxed at the Book Festival today…perhaps because it was chillier and cloudier than in past years. I signed at the Mystery Book Store with Michael Gruber (yes, that Michael Gruber), who autographed a copy of his new childrens book for my daughter Madison. We had a very pleasant chat and neither one of us discussed ghost-writing.  Also at that signing were my friends Paula Woods and Charles Fleming.  Afterwards, I chatted with my friends Victor Gischler (who sported a bushy new beard), Scott Phillips, Terrill Lee Lankford, Jan Burke, and a number of other authors, booksellers and mystery fans.   I also got the chance to meet Seth Greenland,  who has written a highly-acclaimed, dark comic book about TV entitled THE BONES.  For obvious reasons, I’m really looking forward to reading it (I’m sending him copies of MY GUN HAS BULLETS and BEYOND THE BEYOND for his amusement).

My brother Tod’s panel on short stories, which featured folks like Aimee Bender and Steve Almond,, was packed with people and was very entertaining…though perhaps not as much as the panel of  LA Times Book Review editors past-and-present.  I didn’t attend the Steve Wasserman panel, but enjoyed reading The Elegant Variations’ play-by-play. I liked Digby Diehl’s comments, particularly this one on Wasserman’s view that the LATBR is playing to a national audience:

Diehl thought national and international aspirations were "ridiculous … ultimately the L.A. Times failed in San Diego!"

Wasserman also compared the LATBR to a dinner party at his house. What can we learn from this? If you’re invited to dinner at Wasserman’s house, bring plenty of NO DOZE.