Edgar Allan Poe Festival – 2015

Courtesy: Riverhead BID

This weekend marks the second annual Edgar Allan Poe Festival in Riverhead, New York. A parade on Main Street kicks off the festivities tonight at 7 p.m.

The Festival is sponsored by The Town of Riverhead and The Riverhead BID. The festival has been created by St. George Living History Productions.

On Halloween, Trick or Treat on Main Street begins at 11 am and continues until 3 pm. There will be musicals, story times, tours, family games, and readings. Members of the New York chapter of Mystery Writers of America will be available at the Dark Horse Restaurant starting at 11 am for book sales and signings.

On Sunday, beginning at 12 noon, members of the Long Island Sisters in Crime will be available for book sales and signing, also at the Dark Horse Restaurant.

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At the Vail Leavitt Music Hall at 12:00 pm on Saturday and Sunday, a one-act play depicting a fictitious meeting between three classic writers of the macabre: Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley, in “The Ghost Writers.”

Poe-inspired menus will be available all weekend at the Blue Duck Bakery, the Dark Horse Restaurant, Uncle Joe’s Restaurant, Sonoma Grill, Joe’s Garage, and more.

Readings will be done all weekend long. I’m proud to be reading some of Poe’s poetry; “Spirits of the Dead,” at 12:30 pm at the Sonoma Grill, and “Alone” at Joe’s Garage at 2 pm, both on Sunday, November 1st.

According to northforker.com, here’s a list of “5 ‘don’t miss’ events” at the festival.

For a complete listing of events, click here.

Follow me on Twitter @katcop13.

The Cultural DNA of “To Kill A Mockingbird”

In the L.A. Times, Michael Schaub writes how “46 times ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ echoed throuTKAMgh pop culture,” which includes movies, TV, celebrity offspring, music, shopping, and more. Look for the Etsy links for TKAM-related items for sale, including this bookmark. The literary masterpiece by Harper Lee was published in 1960 and won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961.

Tequila Mockingbird by Tim FederleAlso, check out Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist by @TimFederle.

In another article, Michael Schaub writes that after an expert examined the manuscript in a safe deposit box used by Harper Lee, he determined that no third novel will be forthcoming.To read further on this issue, visit an article by Laura Stevens and Jennifer Maloney in The Wall Street Journal.Go Set A Watchman

Lee’s second novel, Go Set A Watchman, is on Twitter @GSAWatchmanBook.

Follow me on Twitter @katcop13.

Memory, That Trickster

I’ve been thinking about memory lately, and how well or badly it serves us. My own memory is not as useful as it once was, that’s for sure. I always made lists and posted memos to myself. Now I have to remember to look at the lists! And my once enormous fund of completely useless factoids is slipping away.

But here, I am thinking about something more complicated, the twists our memories can take.

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This began with a long-running disagreement between two people I know well. As they both talked to me, I observed that they kept going back to certain sore points. OK. But they kept forgetting any details that did not support their emotional story line. It seems our memories, like our computers, can’t hold unlimited data. We unconsciously select what we can use, or what interests us, or even just what stuck at a moment when the memory card had some available space. mem1

Some more examples:

– a relative was collecting some family history. Having my dad and one of his sisters in the same room, she interviewed them about their mother’s background. And not one thing they thought they knew was the same! Her father had died in Russia when she was young and the only detail they agreed on was which relative brought her to the US. That was because they had both known him. It was very funny.

– the time I finally owned up, as an adult, to being scared of dogs as a child. My sister said, “That’s because of the time a dog grabbed your mitten with his teeth and dragged you.” It all came back to me instantly, but I had completely forgotten it until then.

– all the times my grown children mention a childhood memory and are shocked that I don’t share it. And all the times I remember pieces of their childhood they have forgotten. We were in the same moment, but experiencing it differently

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– and my favorite – the people who insist the Good Old Days of their youth were better times than now. That time is otherwise known as the Great Depression and World War II. Depression1

This isn’t merely idle musing for mystery writers. The witness who is sure he saw the dead man threaten a cop before the cop started shooting. Or was it the other way around? The classic instance in the classic Twelve Angry Men, where it finally becomes clear that a witness could not have seen what she testified to. (No spoiler but if you’ve never see the movie, go rent it ASAP.)

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Then there is the witness who is sure she would recognize her attacker, until DNA proves otherwise. The suddenly retrieved memory of a long-ago crime. The child who remembers abuse and the parent who denies it ever happened. The child who saw something but did not understand it and reports what he saw with his child’s interpretation.

There is a plot twist in every sentence, isn’t there?

Ginning the Bestseller Lists, Old-School

imageI came across a fabulous write-up on the hoax of I, Libertine, which conned the New York Times bestseller list, also literary reviewers, publishers, and booksellers (even a lit professor) in the mid-fifties. Not because it wasn’t an obvious hoax. I encourage you to read the whole post to see how funny but transaparent the hoax was, and how easily it could be detected by people who asked questions rather than pretending to have the answers. From the blog of author J. Mark Powell:

Shep [Jean Shepherd, radio host and satirist] may have been working in Manhattan, but having been born and raised in Hammond, Indiana (where A Christmas Story is set, by the way) he still had Midwestern sensibilities. One thing that astonished him about New Yorkers was (and still remains) their slavish obsession with Top 10 lists. “The 10 Most Beautiful People…” “The 10 New Looks for Summer…” “The 10 Hottest Movies…” Shep felt New Yorkers blindly followed whatever appeared on those lists without thinking or questioning them. The one that got his goat most of all was The New York Times Best Seller list for books….

But here’s the thing: in Shep’s time, despite its name, the criteria for making the list involved more than just book sales. It included customer requests for and questions about books to book sellers. So if a retailer had a stack of a particular book that wasn’t selling, he could gin up enough queries about it to get the title included on the best seller list, which then made people go out and buy it.

You have to read it all to marvel and laugh at how long the hoax went on, how many people knew, and how many other people fatuously pretended to have read the book or to have met the author. The truly turgid cover above came rather late in the game, actually, when a real book was finally written to fit the hoax. Yes, it also hit the bestseller list.

There are still ways that people try to shift this list or that one, and the keepers of the lists still put their own thumbs on the scales, too. But also, for me, the story also highlights the way that people still assume if they haven’t read about it or seen it from a handful of media outlets, something couldn’t possibly be happening or be true. I’ve come across this more in New York than other places I’ve lived, to be frank. The downside, if there is one, of immersion in perhaps the preeminent media capital of the world is that people within may not look outside very often, assuming they already know all that’s worthy of knowing. Therefore, a story that’s unremarked and unreported in the northeast ends up working like a very successful “conspiracy,” because a huge number of people (in this case, listeners across 37 states) know something of which the self-appointed tastemakers and trendsetters remain ignorant and/or are satisfied to have other people remain ignorant.

In some salons, Frederick R. Ewing was considered the acme of success, but who among us will ever compare to his reach (not to mention his genius)?How do you define a writer’s success? How tough are you on yourself about your own?

TBT: The Confession by Mary Roberts Rinehart

A double Dell mystery: The Confession and Sight Unseen by Mary Roberts Rinehart, originally published 1921, reprint 1948

A double Dell mystery: The Confession and Sight Unseen by Mary Roberts Rinehart, originally published 1921, reprint 1948

I’ve been traveling, so pardon this quickie post. While flying a leg, I started reading this set of mysteries my Mary Roberts Rinehart. So far, I’ve gotten through The Confession, which is interesting since it was written in the 1920s. Without overmuch focus on the era by the author, contemporary for her, it’s before the time of ubiquitous car travel and features the occasional horse carriage, when a woman with newborn relatives in the family had to be concerned about only vacationing places with plentiful access to cows. One of the important aspects–you can tell from the wonderful cover– is the telephone, the single instrument located down a hall. The pace of the novel taking place in a small, insular town is slow, like a hot summer, which helps the claustrophobic atmosphere build as the otherwise-sensible protagonist begins to question her own sense. More than mystery, it’s psychological suspense.

As the title indicates, a confession to a crime is a linchpin of the plot. I have a manuscript of my own with a sort of written confession that becomes important. It’s an MS never to-be-published, I’m pretty sure, but I don’t blame the plot point for that. Anyway, it made me wonder whether you’d ever used a confession as an important feature in a crime plot of yours, or do you recall your favorite novel in which one was used?

TV’s Hannibal: Gross, Perverse, Artistic. I Like It!

Mads Mikkelsen stars as the cannibal and serial killer Dr. Lecter in TV's Hannibal

Mads Mikkelsen as TV’s Dr. Hannibal Lecter

Based on Thomas Harris’s novels, the Hannibal TV series, created and produced by Bryan Fuller, is not for the squeamish. But I’m not. I just ask that gore be purposeful, be interesting, be done with care for what it causes and the consequences. Hannibal mines the rich inspiration of art that’s in the books and marries it with aesthetically inventive visuals, sharp but minimal dialogue, and great performances to make a show that doesn’t feel or look like any other. Dramatic, cultured, very close-up and personal, it meanders the deceptive byways of the human mind. As far as shows that could be considered mainstream horror, you can think of Hannibal as the other end of the axis that the also-unique Walking Dead occupies.

For me, the shock value of the usual red-dyed corn syrup wore off after, oh, maybe watching the already dated Toolbox Killer in high school. Most horror isn’t that horrible once you’ve seen a bunch, and when you suspect a new story is just graceless, hopeless, manipulative three-card monte, it can lose its appeal. I make an exception for trope-licious campy fun, sometimes great fun, as TV’s American Horror Story often plays in this sandbox. In my least favorite kind of horror, the effects of all the bizarrities and carnage have no cumulative effect on the characters. They could be stepping through the stations of Candyland for all it matters. That’s how you know the writer made the victims of cardboard, because not even their nearest and dearest seem to care. The slaughter-forget-repeat cycle isn’t that captivating.

But it’s not merely horror, because Hannibal is also a lawless serial killer. Whether his pursuers on TV are now retired, estranged, or recuperating, it’s their connections to law enforcement, FBI specifically, that brought them into contact with Dr. Lecter. This show is set before the events of the novel Red Dragon– seen in the movie versions Manhunter (1986) and Red Dragon (2002)–and the even later-set novel Silence of the Lambs, the basis for the 1991 movie of the same name. In the TV series, we’ve gotten to backward to see the FBI’s star-profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) meet Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikklesen) for the first time. We have explored the earliest, dangerous, see-sawing interaction of hunter and hunted. Later, we know, the cannibal will perfect with profiler Clarice Starling a method of corruption which is in-development here with Will Graham. Now, in the show’s third season, Hannibal has escaped the U.S. after dramatically revealing himself as no ordinary psychiatrist-consultant to the feds. His pursuers, who are all now also profoundly wounded victims, are closing in. Which is exactly what he wants. What he craves.

I know this kind of fare is NOT to the taste of everyone among the WoM or our regular visitors, not by any means. However, I thought I’d make a stab (ha) at trying to explain the appeal of the form and of this show in particular. I’ve been doing weekly show recaps at Criminal Element. Each week, I try to explore at least one of the cultural or artistic elements raised in the episode with more detail as bonus info, if you will. The episodes you’ll notice are all named after courses or categories of cuisine. Season 1 was French, Season 2 was Japanese. This season, which takes place partially in Florence and Palermo, is appropriately Italian. So here are the links to those posts if you’re interested!

Hannibal 3.01: an “Antipasto” of Drains and Snails — more on comic opera Don Pasquale and the medieval torture device called the Catherine Wheel

Hannibal 3.02: “Primavera” Springs Will Graham — more on true-crime killer, Il Mostro, the Monster of Florence, and Botticelli’s painting Allegory of Spring

Hannibal 3.03: “Secondo” Means Choosing — more on ancient Rome’s meat apportioning and how Death’s Head moths and entomological imposters are used on screen

Hannibal 3.04: “Aperitivo” Whets the Bloodlust — more on the conspiracy to kill Caesar, mythological death goddesses, and John Donne’s sonnet “A Fever”

This will be the show’s last season on NBC, and credit to them for sticking so long with something so different. However, I have high hopes this quality show will be picked up by another network or streaming service. After all, it has a built-in base of passionate fannibals, and there’s a whole world of cuisine, art, architecture, and music left to explore!

Flannery O’Connor U.S. Postage Stamp

Author Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) will grace a U.S. “Forever” Postage Stamp, set to debut on June 5, 2015. The stamp will also feature peacock feathers, since O’Connor raised peacocks on her family’s farm in Georgia.

This will be the 30th stamp issued in the USPS’s Literary Arts series.

WatercolorJoyce Carol Oates, however, does not think the watercolor painting resembles O’Connor.

The publishing firm Farrar, Straus & Giroux is holding a sweepstakes open to U.S. residents to win a complete set of Flannery O’Connor’s newly reissued Wise Blood, Everything That Rises Must Converge, The Complete Stories, The Violent Bear It Away, and Mystery and Manners (with covers illustrated by June Glasson and designed by Charlotte Strick), by subscribing to their FSG Work in Progress email news. The deadline to enter is 11:59 PM ET on Monday, June 22, 2015. There will be five grand prize winners.

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On Twitter, you can learn more about Andalusia Farm, the historic home of Flannery O’Connor in Milledgeville, Georgia; or “like” the farm’s page on Facebook.

Listen to a rare audio of Flannery O’Connor reading, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” ~ my favorite short story of all time.

Late-breaking news: Minnesota artist Chris Larson takes on Flannery O’Connor in opera, “Wise Blood,” by Gregory J. Scott in the StarTribune. If I lived in Minneapolis, I wouldn’t miss this production at the Soap Factory!

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Follow me on Twitter @katcop13.

Jury Duty Part 2

Jury duty is: 1. A civic responsibility 2. A time-sucking inconvenience 3. Excellent experience for a mystery writer 4. Tedious 5. Inspiring

Pick one? The correct answer is: All of the above. I’ve just finished being on a trial, my third. It did take six days out of my life.

While waiting in the jury pool, you may read, check mail, do a crossword puzzle.
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However, once selected for a jury, you must pay attention. It can be tedious. (“Stop with the objections already!”) Or interesting. (“That witness keeps changing his mind. Lies or nerves?”) Every time the jury left the box, there was a long list of the same instructions read. (“Ok, we got it the first – second, third – time.”)

The last part, deliberation, is always interesting for the interaction among the jurors, the way people work things out, who is surprising and who surprises himself.

In three trials, one each for homicide, dental malpractice and criminal misdemeanors, no one on any jury has done less than their best to understand the case and apply the law fairly. In short, the system worked. Seeing that in action is actually quite inspiring.

So here are a few random observations:

The first trial was the homicide. The accused owned up to the shooting, possibly because there was an entirely credible witness. The question was whether or not it was self defense. There were a number of possible verdicts and we deliberated for about three days. At least two people reversed themselves as we talked. One was less sure of his original, open-and-shut assumptions and one did the opposite, becoming less sympathetic to the accused.

The first thing that was said when we finally began deliberation: “The only thing I am sure about is that if I am ever in trouble, I want the defense counsel for my lawyer!” We all agreed immediately on that. He was that good.

The second trial was dental malpractice. It would be beyond my powers to describe how boring two days of dental charts are! dental

We learned that in a civil trial,if there is doubt, we were required to find for the defendant, and we did.The plaintiff’s lawyer had not proven his case.

In this most recent trial? Simplifying it, the accused, who had not actually done anything, was frightened when some men approached her and she ran to her car. Turned out they were plainclothes cops, they pursued, they jumped on her car and she kept driving for a brief time. They were hurt, a little, and that is where the charges came from. Was it deliberate? Had they properly identified themselves or not? She said she did not know they were cops and had some reason to believe she had been set up. She is a tough young woman – a boxer! – but had never been in any trouble with the law. On the very first round, five of the six of us voted to acquit, which speaks strongly to which witnesses were convincing.12-Angry-Men-Images

Small observations:

1. In my previous blog on jury duty, I included this impressive photo of a courtroom, pristine and dignified.
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Ah, not exactly. The room was quite cluttered and cramped in real life. There is a table for each side, often covered with papers and files. The is a court reporter with a special stand, chair and bulky equipment. On the side there is a another desk for the court officers, also piled with papers and files.

2. Every court officer I have encountered, in all three trials, seemed to be friendly, funny, helpful, at least in dealing with the jury. Are they hired for that personality? Are they trained that way? And who would have expected that, in busy Brooklyn courthouses?

3. First time for me, the judge in this recent case was a woman, perhaps 40, very gracious and pleasant.

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4. Completely unimportant but: I have space age metal in both legs. I have never set off an airport metal detector, but I did it every single time I walked into the court building! By the end of the week, I was taking regular kidding from the officers. court

Feel free to ask me questions, here or offline.

Juror # 5

I am on jury duty this week and I have been selected for a trial. This is actually my third time as a jury member. One homicide. One dental malpractice civil suit. One criminal misdemeanor.

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Did you ever see the thrilling drama Twelve Angry Men, in the classic movie, the excellent tv version or on stage a few years ago? 12-Angry-Men-Images

And of course who could ever forget the trial scene in To Kill a Mockingbird? Peck

Ah, actually it isn’t much like that. However, anyone who writes or reads about fictional crime would find this an interesting experience. Even the dental suit – a week of dental charts! – became interesting for the human interactions in the jury room. I met a man who works for Spike Lee on that one.

Since I cannot write about this time until it is done, and am kind of trapped, far from my computer, for the duration, this will be my brief post for today. A full report is promised as soon as I am sprung.

Crime Poetry at The Five-Two

April is National Poetry Month, and to help celebrate, the Women of Mystery (along with several blog pals) are participating in the “30 Days of the 5-2″ Blog Tour.

5-2 Tour Badge

Since 2011, “The 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly,” has been expertly edited by Gerald So (and an occasional guest editor), in which an original poem (in text and audio/video) is published each Monday. Submissions of poems (crime-related, or the poet’s reaction to what he or she sees as crime), 60 lines or fewer per poem (any form or style) are open year-round. The 5-2 seeks original, unpublished work only. Read the complete submission guidelines for further information.

One of my favorite poems on The Five-Two is hot off the presses. Just published on April 13, this poem by A.J. Huffman is right up my alley; in that, I mean, it is inspired by a true story. I tend to write stories that are based on reality (which, as we all know, is certainly stranger than fiction).

MAN STALKED WOMAN HE BELIEVED WAS EX

A PA moron, I mean man, was jailed
for stalking
a woman he thought was his ex wife.
He was mistaken
about the kids too. The woman’s real
husband gave a statement: he used to be
friends with the man who was
never married to his wife. The gifts
left on their porch for the woman
and imaginary children were taken
into evidence.

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Follow Crime Poetry Weekly on Twitter @poemsoncrime.

If you are active on Twitter and would like to help promote The 5-2 Blog Tour this month, use the hashtag #30OfThe52.

Follow me on Twitter @katcop13.