Tag Archive for: Chris Grabenstein

Mayhem Diary

Mayhem in the Midlands – Friday Morning – May 23, 2008

I arrived in Omaha, Nebraska yesterday evening. Had an uneventful drive from Muskogee, Oklahoma – 450 miles give or take. Rented a car with good gas mileage for the trip (my old Ford Explorer is a heavy gas drinker and is better left in the driveway for now). I hope gas prices don’t double before I leave on Sunday.

The Omaha Public Library puts on a great event. I attended last year and really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and well-coordinated conference. Mayhem in the Midlands is held in the Embassy Suites – Downtown. The hotel staff is friendly and very helpful with dealing with everything from internet connections on my laptop to helping me get all my luggage and important “stuff” from the car to the room. Couldn’t ask for a nicer location.

The first panels start at 9:00 am. I’m hoping to get my act together and sit in on a few (several dealing with crime lab information and analysis) before my panel at 3:00 pm – Casting Call: Creating Real Characters.

More later. Right now I need some breakfast – or at least coffee. I also need to check out the silent auction baskets (Evelyn David donated one) and leave some bookmarks at the bookstore.

Mayhem in the Midlands – Friday Evening – May 23, 2008

Just got back to my hotel room. Ready to kick off my shoes and drink a Pepsi One (I brought some from home and loaded the hotel room refrigerator.)

This year Mayhem is doing something a little different by running a series of panels concerning “real life” crime labs. The first panel I attended was entitled, “Crime Lab/Crime Scene: Behind the Scene, the Real Crime Scene.” Jan Burke (author of the wonderful Irene Kelly mystery series) and Chicago author Alex Kava interviewed David Kofoed, the head of the Douglas County Crime Lab. He talked about processing a scene and how what he and his team do that is different from the tv CSI show. It was very interesting to hear how his job has changed since he began in the early 1980s. DNA is a big factor now, but because of the expense and backlog for testing, much of the best crime scene analysis is done with photography, blood splatter analysis, and meticulous observation and documentation of every detail of a crime scene.

The second panel I attended was entitled, “Crime Lab/Crime Scene: Inside a Real Case File: The Jessica O’Grady Case.” Leigh Ann Retelsdorf, Douglas County Attorney and Prosecutor, and Dave Kofoed gave a presentation of a real Omaha case where the victim’s body was never found but they were still able to get a murder conviction. It was a fascinating look at a real crime scene and how it was processed. They used a power-point presentation with actual photographs of the crime scene. I learned a lot about blood splatter analysis and building a murder case.

At 3:00 pm I sat on the panel: “Creating Real Characters.” I spoke about Murder Off the Books and the characters in Evelyn David’s fictional world. My co-panelists were: Craig Johnson and Debra C. Thomas. Suzanne Arruda moderated. Craig Johnson writes the Sheriff Walt Longmire novels. His latest book Another Man’s Moccasins will be released by Viking Press on May 29. Debra C. Thomas writes short stories that have been published in Great Mystery and Suspense Magazine. Suzanne Arruda (a former zookeeper and science teacher turned writer) is the author of the Jade del Cameron historical mystery series. Her books are set in Post World War I Africa.

The panel was informal and fun. The audience asked lots of great questions. After the panel, I autographed copies of Murder Off the Books and answered questions about when the sequel would be published. Right now, we’re hoping for fall 2008.

Star Watching: While going to and from the panels I spotted Charlaine Harris, Jan Burke, Chris Grabenstein, and two of the nicest women you’ll ever hope to meet – Honora Finkelstein and Susan Smily (co-authors of The Chef Who Died Sautéing). I also caught up with fellow Stiletto Gang blog sister, Marilyn Meredith. She and her husband always look like they are having a good time!

Tomorrow I’m on another panel – “Pet Peeves: Killing Animals vs. Killing People in Mysteries.” Should be interesting!

Stay tuned.

Evelyn David

Perception, Reality, and Hyper Happy CVS Customers

Anthony Award-winning Chris Grabenstein writes fabulous adult mysteries and thrillers. Hell Hole,the newest of the John Ceepak/Jersey Shore books, will debut this August. He also writes the Christopher Miller holiday thriller series. In May, look for Chris’s newest project: The Crossroads, a spine-tingling spooky ghost story for middle schoolers. The Stiletto Gang welcomes Chris Grabenstein!

A couple weeks ago, I was sitting in one of those Dilbert cubicle offices at our local Citibank branch, waiting for the management trainee (nice lady, but I suspect it was her first day on the job) to return once again from the Manager office – the real manager as evidenced by the fact that she had a) an office b) no mere mortal could deign approach said office c) it was behind all that brick-thick Plexiglas where they keep the new five dollar bills with the purple ink that my wife loves.

I’m sitting at the bank for the worst reason possible: someone has been forging checks on our account (look for the name Michael Butler to show up in one of my books soon. I’m not sure who he’ll be but, most likely, it will be a character who is pimply jerk with bedwetting issues and very frilly, feminine penmanship).

That’s all I want to do: stop payment on the forged check, close the account, find the forger, draw and quarter him/her, restore a sense of justice to the world. Hey, I write mysteries. The assistant manager keeps asking me if, while I’m there, I would like to take out a home equity loan. Maybe sign up for a mortgage. I think I get free airplane tickets if I do. I wonder if this is why we are currently weathering a mortgage meltdown crisis? Too many airplane tickets for folks who sign up for adjustable rate mortgages when they came in for a roll of quarters so they could do their laundry.

Anyway, I digress.

I meant to be writing about perception and reality.

Maybe it’s because, even though Ceepak Mystery #4 HELL HOLE won’t be out until July 22, 2008, I’m already working on book #5. It takes place in Atlantic City and deals with manipulated realities: a murder backstage at a world famous illusionist’s show playing in the casino’s main theatre. Lies everywhere to confound Ceepak’s honor code! As Bruce Springsteen says in his new song Magic, which, of course, will be quoted in the book: “Trust none of what you hear and less of what you see“

As I sit in the cubicle, admiring the cubicle school furniture all around me, wondering if it will ever rival Stickley, I see this poster. An ad.

For the record, I spent 17 years writing and producing TV, radio, and print advertising. I am still fascinated by the manipulation of imagery for devious purposes.

On the Citibank poster, here is what is depicted: An Asian dude, probably in his mid twenties, headphones strapped over his ears, orange shirt artfully open so one can see the yellow T underneath it (the rumpled slob look currently en vogue so I know this Asian dude is a happenin’ young adult). He is riding a unicycle on gravel in a park.

That’s it. No headline. No body copy. Just the image of the lanky guy who sort of reminds me of that Chinese NBA star riding on one wheel like a doofus over gravel that will scrape his knees when he loses his balance.

This is a six-foot tall “dangler” – one of those posters that hang suspended from the drop tile ceilings in banks and fast food joints (I’m sorry, I meant to say QSRs – Quick Service Restaurants, because that’s we had to call Kentucky Fried Chicken when we told the world “Everybody needs a little KFC.”)

Why is this poster hanging in Citibank? Do they give out unicycle loans ala auto loans? Did he get the unicycle free with his Citibank Thank You points? The orange shirt?

There’s another poster. In the window. This one is at least semi-bankish. It shows an extremely happy older couple staring at a blue print and the bare beams of a house under construction, imagining their uber kitchen. Their dreams are coming true! Life is good! This one I get. Bank. Mortgages. Home Improvement Loans.

But there are other danglers simply showing happy, peppy people. Lots of heads tossed back in laughter. Super joy. Puppy dogs. Frolicking in leaf piles. The folks depicted in the bank look the same as the ones in the windows of the CVS drug store on 86th Street and Amsterdam Avenue where they have whole windows filled with headshots of impossibly blissful, dare I say exultant, individuals.

Ethnically diverse. Fashionably dressed. Happy, peppy, and bursting with love. Inevitably, the heads are tossed back in throes of ecstasy. These giant heads in the CVS windows have never been SO GOSH DARN HAPPY!

So why am I so miserable? Sitting in the bank cubicle wasting over an hour with, unfortunately, a very nice lady who doesn’t know what she is doing.

Why am I not giddy with joy at CVS or Circuit City or any of the corporate chains that plaster these posters of happy people all over the place while paying their Customer Service (and I use that term loosely) workers the minimum wage, thereby attracting the surliest and sourest humans possible, folks who think it’s rude of
you to reach their register while they are in the middle of an interesting cell phone conversation.

The people in the pictures in the windows and dangling from the ceiling are happy.

I should be too.

It’s my fault.

This, I think, is the real reason behind the image of the unicycling Asian dude merrily wheeling his way through life at the bank, the cheerful senior citizens loving life, dentures and all, in the windows of CVS.

If I am having some problem with the slooooow service, the shabby products, with anything it’s just that – my problem. Everybody else, as I can plainly see, is having a wonderful time.

If my reality doesn’t meet the perception as depicted, whose fault is that?

Most likely mine.

I start unicycle lessons tomorrow.

Chris Grabenstein