Archive Page 3


Meth lab found in funeral home

Ran across this while researching hearses and funeral homes for my novel in progress.

Apparently the drug lab guy has lost a few brain cells to his own merchandise.

At least he didn’t have far to walk to his cell.



I’ve been baking a lot lately. I started baking bread mainly as a way to save a few pennies, and to give myself a focus to my day, now that I’m unemployed (“freelance”).

The plan worked; I learned to bake good bread, and bread is so expensive now, along with everything else in the store, that I managed to save some money.

But beyond that, baking bread has reconnected me to things in a way I hadn’t considered.

For one thing, I didn’t realize how unconnected from daily life, from myself, from other people, I had become. I tended to blame my job, and it was true that my job was problematic–not a physically difficult job, and I felt strangely spoiled to be complaining about it, when so many people have such horrible jobs.

But working there was eroding my belief in myself, my sense of myself as someone who wanted to do the right thing, whatever that was. I felt I was becoming like a character in one of my books, a scammer, a sleazebag criminal who made his living by tricking other people out of their cash.

So when a job opened up at another place I jumped on it. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

Now that job has dissolved away from under me, and I’m scuffling around the fringes of unemployment as a “freelancer.” I like it, like working for myself,  which is good, since regular old-time employment seems harder to get all of a sudden. We’ll see if it’s sustainable.

But in the meantime I have the leisure to bake bread.

Making a loaf of bread takes time. Yeast rises, slowly, and the more slowly it rises (within limits) the better the bread tastes. You need to focus your attention on the temperature of the room, of your refrigerator if you’re slow-rising bread in it, of your oven when it comes time to put the bread in.

And it takes physical effort, kneading the dough until it comes alive. Because bread is alive, like everything else, and this is something you are made to realize as you work with it. The yeast foams; the dough rises; the bread grows in the oven. (The first jump it takes as it feels the heat is called the “oven spring”; I love to turn on the oven light and watch this happen through the glass door.)

“You are the bread,” I tell the forming loaves. “You are the bread.”

Working at home, you need structure, and baking bread provides a lattice, a framework. Each stage in the process requires time to happen; while yeast is doing its work, you can do yours.

The trick is to keep your computer keyboard from becoming a clogged mass of flour, butter and breadcrumbs. Forgetfulness is instantly punished. You pay attention better when you’ve come close to ruining an expensive and necessary piece of equipment.

I’ve gotten into the habit of cleaning each utensil as I finish with it, so that by the time the bread comes out of the oven the kitchen has been returned to its original condition, a clean world for the new loaves to cool in.

I always spend some time, once the bread is baked and cooling on its wire rack, standing there and admiring the loaves. I pick them up, examine them, look at how the slashes have developed during baking, make mental notes about forming the loaves better next time. I feel the weight and heat of each loaf. I can barely restrain myself from biting off big chunks of bread, squatting on the floor and devouring the loaves before they’ve even had a chance to cool, eating all the bread myself.

But I don’t. Because like a proud parent, I can’t wait to show off my loaves, to drag Jane into the kitchen to admire them, to cut off the first slice, cover it with good butter, and share it with her.

It takes a whole day to bake bread properly, but when you’re finished you’ve got something, something you’ve made yourself, like making a chair, a table.

A table you can eat.


Happy New Year

With the new year, a new direction for this blog. I’m going to open it up, include more stuff not directly related to writing, more of my day to day comings and goings. More like, I don’t know, a journal, or a diary, or a–log–that’s it! A weblog!



book soup

In the collective Chicago crimewriter blog The Outfit, PI novelist Sean Chercover has a wonderful post on books and bookbuying and the dizzying vortex of Total Collapse that is facing us:

Books and the Collapse of Civilization: two of my favorite topics.

In the current Harper’s there’s a sidebar excerpting recipes of desperation from Leningrad during the 1941-44 siege,  including a recipe for belt soup that sounds not bad.

A book, now, should be a good basis for soup. After all, people make soup from stones, and cakes from mud. There is much more nutrition in a book, even apart from the mental and spiritual nourishment provided by the words themselves. Animal protein: older books were sometimes bound with horsehair glue, bound in calfskin leather. Strip these covers for vegetarians: the interior of books made since about 1850 is pure tree, with the pesky lignin–the stuff only termites can digest–processed out.

The inks are probably a nasty stew of petroleum byproducts and heavy metals, unfortunately. Only the most recent books will be printed with soy inks. But perhaps they can be skimmed off, like excess fat.

These are hard times coming toward us. People are reportedly  selling off their excess stuff to get cash; apparently the average family has almost $4000 worth of stuff it doesn’t really need.

For me, most of my disposable for years has gone into books (okay, and some arcane musical instruments). I am loath to part with  any of them. Every time I sell or donate a book, I soon discover that it contained info I need, or a story I desperately want to read again. It never fails.

So if it comes to eating them, I hardly know where to begin.

And I may starve to death, because whenever I do something as simple as re-arranging my book accumulation or spreading the wealth into a new bookcase, I always end up sitting on the floor, surrounded by a pile of books, totally absorbed in reading one that I had forgotten about, or needed suddenly to read again, and the re-arrangement goes unmade, the new bookshelf unstocked.

Proposed: That reading a book is better than eating it.

You may want to stock up the larder this holiday season by buying yourself a book–buy several! And buy them for your friends! Because by so doing you will help bookstores  (and writers!) survive what looks increasingly like a very grim winter. And you will be doing your bit to save civilization.  What is more civilized than a book?

After all, you can always eat them later.


Killer Year crosses the water

Killer Year: Stories to Die For, the awesome, endlessly readable short-story anthology edited by the mighty Lee Child, is now available in the United Kingdom, and Australia. Killer Year features 15 stories by some of the best crime writers writing, and one by me. Plucked fresh from the vine are stories by: Brett Battles, Allison Brown, Robert Gregory Brown, Ken Bruen, Bill Cameron, Toni McGee Causey, Sean Chercover, J.T. Ellison, Patry Francis, me (featuring the only other appearance in print of Johnnie LoDuco, narrator of Vinnie’s Head) (Hey, it’s my blog), Derek Nikitas, Gregg Olsen, Jason Pinter, Marcus Sakey, Duane Swierczynski, and Dave White.

Here are the covers, first the UK cover:

Then the cover as it will be seen in Oz:


For crying out loud

My short story, “California Racing Pigs,” is now available on Seth Harwood’s awesome crimestory podcast, Crimewav.

Give it a listen, and browse through the truly wonderful selection of great crime writers reading their own works aloud. It’s a lot of fun.

And be sure to check out Seth’s own stuff. In addition to being the host and presenter of Crimewav, he is the author of the Jack Palms series of p.i. novels, available now as podcasts through his website The print edition will hit stores next spring.


Hard at work

“I wasn’t sleeping, I was thinking!” –attributed to Lillian Hellman

I get a new idea for a book project. I like it; it’s different from what I’ve been working on, shiny and new, filled with all possibility.

But the project as it exists in my head requires an in-depth knowledge of certain things–knowledge I don’t really have, though I’m generally familiar with the subject.

Research is required. But that’s all right–I really like research. The web is very useful in assembling book lists and outlining the topic. Instant wisdom: I love me some search engines. Some really useful articles can be found online too.

But as I read over the spines in my book accumulation, I realize that, from years of poking around  the edges of the topic and returning obsessively to it again and again,  I have a  lot of the needful books already.

I pull them  down from the shelves and make a big pile of them next to the couch where I do most of my reading. Right at my elbow. Then I sit down and admire them, their comprehensiveness, the multiple insights they’ll provide, the sparks of new information that will give me compelling details, plot points, new books even!

Some of the books I’ve read already, not recently though. Others I’ve never got around to somehow, but always knew they’d come in handy some day.

Someday soon I will read my way down the stack.

In my mind, the pile of as-yet unread books begins to take on a shape, the form of the novel yet to be written. Orders, dominions. I start to rearrange the stack, rebalancing, creating hidden connections, obvious and not so obvious juxtapositions

Once the book-henge is created, it’s almost superfluous to actually write the novel.

One day while I am sitting, not reading, but admiring the stack, it occurs to me that one book, one I’ve already read, and that superficially relates to the topic, doesn’t really belong.

I get up. I take the offending volume out of the stack. I leaf through it to confirm my judgment. Just as i thought; it doesn’t fit. I return it to the shelves.

I feel a great sense of accomplishment.

Hey, I’m done for the day!

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