Love is Murder

Photo-7I spent last weekend as a special guest at the Love is Murder conference in chilly Chicago and I had a terrific time.

It's probably the smallest mystery conference I've ever been too and, reflecting the huge popularity of self-publishing, there seemed to be more authors than readers in attendance. In fact, there were two big "group" signings over the weekend and there were so many "authors" sitting behind tables that there were maybe three actual "readers" left standing to buy books. I've signed more books at funerals.

But the small number of attendees also made the conference more intimate, and I had a lot of opportunities to talk shop with authors like William Kent Krueger, Bob Mayer, Blake Crouch, Joe Konrath, Ann Voss Petersen, F. Paul Wilson, Robert Goldsborough, Jamie Freveletti, Libby Fischer Hellmann, Sparkle Abbey, Hannah Dennison and Raymond Benson, to name just a few (that's me with Kent and Libby in the picture). We spent a lot of time trying to figure out where the publishing business is going, though we didn't manage to come up with the answer. But we agreed that it's a great time to be an author.

I was treated by Joe Konrath to the worst hamburger I've ever had in my life. It was from White Castle. Joe, his wife, and F. Paul Walker went wild over those burgers. I sent mine to a forensic lab for analysis and am awaiting the results. I'm curious to know what that very thin, oddly-colored patty was actually made of. When Joe comes to Los Angeles, I'm going to take him to In-and-Out or The Habit so he can see what a real hamburger tastes like.

I was a guest on many lively and fun panels, including one on writing characters created by others. My fellow panelists were Robert Goldsborough, who talked about picking up Nero Wolfe where Rex Stout left off, and two strange women who wore matching shirts covered with their bookcovers and talked about revising an unfinished manuscript written by a dead guy…with help from his ghost. I kid you not.

One of the women said her first novel came to her in a dream. She encountered Bugs Bunny on a spirit path, he opened his skull, and there was her book, cover and all, inside his head. She read the book, woke up, then ran downstairs to make notes and describe the cover. She then fleshed the story out with the help of her friend's dead father's ghost. Or something like that. Their process was so confusing, and there were so many ghosts and cartoon characters involved in their writing, that it was hard to follow. They also read aloud from their book, which was a real treat.

On Sunday, Libby took me on a tour of Chicago, and one of our stops was the Sears Tower,
65509_10151382283928930_1628944150_n where I discovered that I have a slight fear of heights…it revealed itself to me when I stepped out on the "skydeck" that is basically a piece of plastic hanging out over the street where a normal window is supposed to be. I couldn't help thinking I'd be the one who finally fell through…and for what? A photograph. Libby was very amused by my discomfort.

Afterwards, we met with Jamie Freveletti for some deep dish pizza and shop talk, which I really enjoyed. I realized that one of the things I miss most about being on a TV show is all the time spent in the writers room, working with other writers. Now that I'm primarily a novelist, my writer's room is me and my dog, who doesn't contribute much when it comes to breaking stories.

I flew home on Monday. On the plane, a young woman fell asleep and snuggled up against me. That's not the first time that's happened. I must have a very comfy shoulder. After about an hour, I moved a bit and woke her up. She was startled an mortified, not so much because she discovered that she was clutching me, but because the first thing she saw was a graphic, brutal sex scene from Game of Thrones on my iPad. If the plane wasn't full, I think she would have switched seats.

All in all, a very pleasant trip. Next week, I am off to Florida for a photo shoot for The Heist, the book I wrote with Janet Evanovich.

Day of the Living Dead

Today I was so jet-lagged that I felt like I was sleep walking around Munich. I know I looked like the undead. But I fortified myself with some tea and chocolate at Kafer before the big pitch and it went well. Between the sugar, caffeine and adreniline, I've managed to stay alert from mid-afternoon until right about now (8:30 pm on Thursday night). We had a post-pitch discussion over dinner and then on my way back to the hotel I treated myself to a Kopenhagener pastry for a job well done. I am going to go to bed as soon as I finish typing this post.  Tomorrow morning I have a breakfast meeting with my friends at Hofmann & Voges Productions and then it's back to L.A.   All in all, I think it was  a very productive  five days that I hope to build upon in the coming weeks.

Hot Dogging

Greetings from Munich. I arrived here on Tuesday night from London, where it was rainy and gray, to weather that felt more like Southern California than Germany. I guzzled Diet Coke on the flight so that I wouldn't fall asleep when I met my friends Daniela & David Tully for drinks at 9 p.m.  Daniela is a top executive at ProSeiben, a major German network, and her American husband David is a screenwriter. It was great to see them again and to get caught up on the state of the German TV market (which is lousy, just like everywhere else).

The next morning I awoke to a beautiful day…clear blue skies, warm weather. It was the nicest weather I've ever had in Munich and I took full advantage of it, walking all over the city and discovering it anew.  The best part was sitting in the Viktualienmarkt, eating a delicious hotdog and butter streusel, sipping Diet Coke, and enjoying the scenery.

I got back to the hotel in mid-afternoon for meetings with my friends at Action Concept, the studio I am working with over here. I ended the day with a nice long dinner at an outside table at an old Bavarian restaurant with Heiko Schmidt, the terrific line producer I worked with on FAST TRACK. I was in bed by midnight…but I awoke at 3:30 in the morning and couldn't get back to sleep. So I got up around 4, called home, answered some emails, and studied my notes for my meetings.

Now it's 7 a.m. I have been up for three-and-a-half hours already, and my meetings start with breakfast at 9. The most important meeting is at 3, when I will have to pitch three projects to a potential international coproduction partner. I hope I don't fall asleep in middle of it.

Tomorrow morning I head back to L.A….and hope to do some serious plotting for my next  MONK book on the plane. On Monday I start jury duty.

I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane…

I am off to Europe  in a few minutes for two and a half days in London and two and a half days in Munich. In London, I'll spend Easter Monday with actor Shaun Prendergast and his family (Shaun was one of the stars of my film FAST TRACK). On Tuesday,  I'll be meeting my UK agent for the first time face-to-face for breakfast and then he's got meetings set up for me with some studios. Then I am jetting off to Munich, where I will be joining my good friends at Action Concept to pitch some projects to broadcasters. It's going to be a whirlwind week but I am really looking forward to it.  It's been a year since I've been to Europe but it feels like much longer, especially after spending so many months working there in 2006 & 2007. 

The Flight from Hell on Air India

I flew to Germany on Halloween night and, perhaps fittingly, it was a nightmare. Never, ever, EVER fly on Air India. When I got on the plane, the first thing I saw were the torn carpets. Not a good sign. When I got into business class, the first thing I saw were two broken seats. Again, not a good sign.

The overhead luggage bins were full of dirt and crumbs. The walls were stained and, in many places, held together with masking tape. The seats were torn and stained.  The two big televisions hanging from the ceiling were cracked and held together with duct tape. My assigned seat turned out to be broken, so they moved me to another one.I thought about running out of the plane but they’d already sealed the doors and my luggage was in the hold.

I settled in for the long haul. The individual entertainment units are broken, so you have to watch movies on the two TV’s hanging from the ceiling, one of which shows everything in yellow.  If Bollywood musicals are your thing, you’ll love Air India. Luckily, I had my video iPod and it was full of shows to watch.

The snacks and meals are Indian, which is to be expected, but your silverware comes wrapped in a dirty napkin, which is not. I had to request a clean napkin. Amazingly, they had one.

Midway through the flight, my seat collapsed on to the woman behind me. It went completely flat, smacking into her lap. I climbed out of my seat. I tried to lift the seat, but it just fell back onto the poor passenger. The stewardess came over to help…and kept pressing the volume control button on my armrest. Clearly, she had no idea how the seats worked. But we finally managed to get the seat up and folded completely forward (that’s how broken it was). I was moved to yet another seat…my third one of  the flight.

I asked the stewardess why they don’t repair the seats…she said it’s because the plane is so old, they don’t have replacement parts. It made me wonder what condition the rest of the plane was in…particular the parts that make the damn thing fly.

We landed in Frankfurt (and my old seat smacked into the poor passenger again) and then I switched over to a Lufthansa flight to Munich. As soon as I got on the clean, beautiful, new plane…my stomach started doing somersaults. The instant we were at cruising altitude I ran into the restroom and stayed there for the rest of the flight. It was a much better seat than I had on Air India…the airline that had poisoned me.  I spent my first night in Munich in the bathroom of my wonderful hotel.

Aside from the travel hell, the rest of my trip has been great. I had the day to myself on Friday to explore Munich. I have been here many times before, but usually only for the day…and this was the first time I’ve visited when it wasn’t pouring rain or snowing. It was the first time i’d seen the city in the sunshine, thought it was still very cold out (at least for this Southern Californian).

I’ve been consulting with the head writer, producers, and network execs who are working on a new show. I’ve been helping them to find and refine their franchise by teaching them about the different kinds of conflict, the four-act structure and how to use all of that to generate stories that could only be told on their series. I’m essentially teaching an advanced TV writing class and it’s been a lot of fun. Today the writers join us  and I will begin walking  them all through how a writer’s room is run…and the relationship between writers, the studio and the network (at least how it is in the U.S.)

The only downside to this trip is that I haven’t been able to lick my jet lag. I fall asleep around 9:30-10 pm each night and wake up at 3:30-4am each morning. Hopefully that will pass in another day or two…

In Flight

I traveled home from Germany today. I woke up at 4:15 am to make a 6:30 flight out of Munich. At the airport security checkpoint, there are posters and videos alerting you to restrictions on liquids, etc. in carry-on baggage. A young couple went through with two overnight bags loaded with cosmetics, scissors, etc and couldn’t understand why security wouldn’t let them through.On the flight from Munich to Dusseldorf,  where I was catching a connecting flight to the U.S., the businessman who was sitting next to me to me grabbed his crotch at take-off and again at landing. I dont know what he was protecting himself from. In Dusseldorf,  the couple in front of me in the security line had bought a ton of drinks and cosmetics at the terminal gift shop. I warned them that they couldn’t bring their purchases on the plane, but they insisted that since it was bought at the airport, it was okay. I showed them the signs, and they still argued with me. So I shut up. They were shocked and infuriated when security made them throw it all out.  I just smiled and went on my way.

On the flight home, I caught up on five episodes of HEROES and the last few BOSTON LEGALS of the season on my iPod. I think that HEROES is getting too twisty for their own good…to the point that it has become ludicrous and maddening…not to mention nearly impossible to follow. I still have two more episodes to watch and I will have seen the whole season. But it seems to me the show started out with a lot of promise and hasn’t delivered on it.

Back in May, BOSTON LEGAL did yet another episodes where the lawyers are held hostage…this time the bad guy was the troubled son of a murder victim wants revenge from Denny Crane (William Shatner) for getting the accused killer acquited forty-some years ago. But what made this tired plot special was that David Kelley cleverly incorporated footage from the original, black-and-white pilot of THE DEFENDERS, which co-starred a very young William Shatner as a lawyer. Kelley used the old footage as flashbacks of a younger Denny Crane defending the killer. I had to admire the episode as a TV geek, a pilot nut, and as someone who has done much the same thing (using reruns of MANNIX as flashbacks for a new Mannix story on DIAGNOSIS MURDER). I’m surprised the episode didn’t get some attention…or did it?

I see that last week TWO AND A HALF MEN was the highest rated show on television. What has happened to America while I was gone!?

I have been up for over 24 hours now…I want to try to stay awake until 8 or 9 pm. So if this post is riddled with typos and incoherent thought, now you know why.


I am sitting in my hotel room in Munich, getting ready to go out for some network meetings. I won’t bore you with all  the details from my travels, except to say it was great to see the cast of FAST TRACK in Berlin again and that it was hell being in London for a day during the subway strike (though  I managed to run into someone I know amidst the crowd on Oxford Street…what are the odds of that!?).  The weather has been rainy and miserable here and I haven’t managed to conquer my jet-lag. I seem to be tired all the time. I have a 6:45 am flight home tomorrow and am looking to getting some sleep, seeing some sunshine, and making more headway on my MONK novel.

Read more