Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Puzzle of the Attraction To Mystery Fiction

Scares the shit out of mystery fiction readers
Deeply loved by mystery fiction readers

Mystery fiction as a genre strikes me as a secure way to roll in the crime writing game.  The adage that ‘truth is stranger than fiction’  - actually, it was Lord Byron who said “the truth is always strange, stranger than fiction” – is, conveniently, true, which is what I figure scares the shit out of readers.  It’s one thing to watch or read about a good looking, civilized serial killer like Dexter. But it’s another to read about a slimebag, real deal serial killer like Anthony Sowell or Jeffrey Dahmer.
Fictional detectives like Hercule Poirot, Harry Bosch and Mike Hammer are creative figures, artistically rendered as one would a song or a poem. Some of these characters are based on real people; in the television series Law and Order, detective John Munch is actually Jay Landsman, the real deal homicide detective in David Simon’s Edgar-winning book, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.
There’s a reason for that; in fiction, a writer can remove anything that might be particularly objectionable about a villain or a protagonist.
I was at an appearance in the fall, sitting at a table next to a well-regarded mystery fiction guy named Steve Hamilton. Nice fellow, suitably humble and he came with a good sense of humor. The housewives trampled me to get his autograph. I was confused on that one, although I was aware that my brand was certainly nothing approaching that of Hamilton. It was the zeal with which these, umm, ladies, disregarded everyone else for a chance to chat with the guy who makes stuff up. Again, my brief interaction with him found him to be a cool enuff guy; it's his craft that I don't get.
Most of these readers would not be caught dead with one of my books, or that of any other true crime author. They watch TV and movies, both fiction by nature. Thankfully, there is an element of reader and person who likes life served straight up, with all the gory details. I consider them more fans of history and journalism, rather than people with a sick voyeuristic nature, as I’ve heard them derided.
This is perhaps why the true crime section in most book stores is hidden away, toward the back or upstairs, akin to a porn section in a video rental joint. Border’s was the worst offender, as you can read here. It refused to allow me an appearance at it's Utica, Mich., store while I was doing press for my first book, which went down in the Utica area. From a story on 2009: 
A Dec. 10 e-mail by a store manager says, “Our communities, on the east side in particular, were hit hard with this case. It was very close to home, and I’m not convinced our customers would react favorably to a booksigning event.”
Borders spokeswoman Mary Davis told The Macomb Daily: “The decision made not to have a book event at the store level was because we wanted to be sensitive to the Utica community.”
Davis, however, said the authors could appear at another Borders store in southeast Michigan if the book’s sales met criteria.
The Utica marketing manager also questioned whether some profits from the book would go to the Grant children.
Miller countered that no one has asked whether NBC, which produced a “Dateline” episode about the case that has been broadcast on MSNBC, donated part of its advertising profits from the show to the children.
“You don’t see  these multibillion-dollar corporations donating money to victims when they do a story on this kind of thing,” he said.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sarah Pender Escape Co-Conspirator Out of Prison, On Facebook

A fascinating Facebook post from Jamie Long today. Long was the woman who played a primary role in helping convicted murderer Sarah Pender escape from a prison outside Indianapolis in August 2008. Her 136 days on the run is the subject of my book, Girl, Wanted: The Chase for Sarah Pender, which came out last year.
Long’s post reads:
“To all my friends. There has been a book written about Sarah's escape filled with misinformation and misleading information that has hurt me and my family deeply. It is a great work of fiction from my viewpoint, but omits so much of the real truth. Now there is a movie coming out on Lifetime on Dec. 29th, that after reading the reviews, I believe it is even more atrocious and filled with more lies than the book. The production company will not respond to my emails which in itself says they know how much a work of fiction and an overactive imagination and false information it took to create this "real life" drama. If people want to write about me or make a movie, at least get the facts and the story right. The book is called "Girl Wanted; the Chase for Sarah Pender, and the movie is titled "She Made Them Do It". I don't know how the writers of either one can sleep at night with all the lies and BS they spread with their stories.”
Of course I sent a letter to Long when I was writing the book and she never replied. It’s always like that. This is what I sent her in March, 2010, as the final edits were being done:
“Ms. Long –
I am finishing a book on the escape of Sarah Pender and have reviewed your case file, included some things from it, seen the arraignment video, the AMW stuff, and spoken with a number of people about you. The book is mostly written and it is exhaustive. But your input would be a positive thing for yourself. I seek at all times to be fair and in doing so, invite anyone involved in a particular subject I write on to tell their own story. So I ask you for your input and your side of this tale.  It will be a lot more flattering than the information that is out there now, and there is little downside in visiting with me for an hour at your place.
I’d be glad to come to Indiana for a visit. “
She also refers to a Lifetime movie that hits in December, which was done in a particularly unprofessional way; it used the book as a blueprint – there was no other written material – and avoided paying the writer.I recall talking with Adam Parfrey about What We Do is Secret, the movie based on a book he co-wrote, Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short of Life of Darby Crash and the Germs. While they wouldn’t pay Parfrey, who wrote the book with Brendan Mullen and Don Bolles, the book, he told me, was all over the set of the movie. I never checked the movie out, simply because I prefer real life over fiction. More on that at a future date.
There have been a number of television episodes made on the Stephen Grant case without anyone involved ever talking with the authors of A Slaying in the Suburbs; The Tara Grant Murder, nor did anyone interview the prosecutors in the case, who did all of the heavy lifting. There is an episode of A & E's Biography on the Grant case coming up, in which I discuss the case. It's being done by Story House Media Group
I’m sure Gary Tieche, who is credited as the writer of this Pender movie based on the Pender book, has never seen the inside of a court file not has he sat down with inmates or knocked on doors of murder victims in doing a re-creation of an existing work. But the script was sold and money was made, somewhere along the chain. I’d look for another movie based on this book at some point. Only this will be the real deal. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tom Waits Waxes Musicians Selling Music for Commercials

This is the car; Clone Defects provide the music for the ad

 I wrote in September about bands selling their music for commercials and it felt good. I said that I was amazed at the eager embrace by musicians at the use of their songs on commercials while writing Detroit Rock City: The Uncensored History of Five Decades of Rock ‘n Roll in America’s Loudest City.
Today I see this note by Tom Waits in response to an article written by Doors drummer John Densmore in 2002.
Waits eloquently speaks of the practice, which he abhors:
   “Songs carry emotional information and some transport us back to a poignant time, place or event in our lives. It’s no wonder a corporation would want to hitch a ride on the spell these songs cast and encourage you to buy soft drinks, underwear or automobiles while you’re in the trance. Artists who take money for ads poison and pervert their songs. It reduces them to the level of a jingle, a word that describes the sound of change in your pocket, which is what your songs become. Remember, when you sell your songs for commercials, you are selling your audience as well.”
Well put. Then there is the case of Timmy Vulgar, the Detroit musician who told me about the time Mitsubishi wanted to use a Clone Defects song for a commercial. The car company called Larry Hardy, who runs In the Red Records, and asked about using a song. Vulgar tells the story better than I could:
“Larry called me and said, ‘Yeah, Mitsubishi wants to use one of your songs in a car commercial.’ I said ‘I don’t know if I want to do that corporate crap, you know? I don’t wanna deal with that shit.’ And I really didn’t want to do it at first, and then I asked Larry, ‘Man, I really need money and I’m really broke.’ So Larry says, ‘They’re gonna pay us $50,000, and we split it down the middle.’ He gets $25,000 and we get $25,000 to split four ways.  I think it was that much.  I’m pretty sure that’s how much it was.  So I thought, “Whoa, that’s a lot of money.  Holy shit.”  So then I asked, ‘what song?’ They wanted “Low Fashion Lovers,’ just the intro, basically; that’s it. Well, that’s kinda cool, it doesn’t really have any singing or anything on it.  I’m just doing some ooooo’s.  So I was like, ‘Yeah, all right.  I think we’ll do that.  Let me talk to the band.’  I didn’t really even have to talk to the band.  Of course we’ll do it."
And it came out good. Sometimes poverty has a funny way of subverting a stand that may not have much to back it up anyway. I heard the Fall’s “Blindness” in a Mitsu commercial.  Made me remember the already great song.