Friday, November 25, 2005


This past Sunday I had the pleasure of attending the Miami Book Fair. This was the first year they charged admission and I must admit I didn't enjoy paying $5 to get in. I watched much of it on TV on Saturday and with the lousy weather - it rained off and on all day - and with most of south Florida still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Wilma, the crowds were very light. Sunday was hot and humid and seemed a bit busier, at least according to Joanne Sinchuk, owner of the fabulous Murder on the Beach bookstore. Joanne has a tent every year at the street fair and schedules author signings every hour during the event. I met Nancy J. Cohen, author of the Florida fun Bad Hair Day mystery series, and Lynn Sholes & Joe Moore, authors of The Grail Conspiracy.

As always, the book fair radiates most of its energy on the nonfiction authors, which may have something to do with the fact that those events are televised live on Book TV (CSpan 2) and the serious fiction authors; for the most part, the mystery authors are relegated to smaller, less conspicuous venues. I'm posting some pictures that I took despite their quality, or lack thereof. Photography is obviously not one of my talents.

Nonetheless, early Sunday morning I made my way to a panel simply titled: A Mystery Reading, featuring Reed Arvin, James O. Born and Jonathon King [seated left to right.] The crowd was small, the room was un-air-conditioned, and the woman who introduced them obviously wasn't a mystery reader and decided Jonathon King and John Connolly were interchangeable (don't ask.) But rest assured, a good time was had by all who attended. Jim Born is as terrific a speaker as he is a writer and it is always a pleasure to see him. His next book, ESCAPE CLAUSE, is the third in his Bill Tasker series and comes out in February, and I'll be giving a few copies away, so check out next February.

Jonathon King talked about how he was finally able to quit his day job - crime writing for the Sun Sentinel - to focus on fictional crime writing. His next book, EYE OF VENGEANCE is a stand alone, a departure from his wonderful Max Freeman series, and it sounded really interesting. Unfortunately, we have quite a wait - it doesn't come out until next May.

I'd never seen Reed Arvin before but I really enjoyed his book, THE LAST GOODBYE, so I was happy to finally get to meet him. He's a very interesting guy. He grew up on a working cattle ranch in Kansas, the son of two lawyers and his mother went on to become the first blind female judge in the country. He talked about having a blind mother and how it really forced him to articulate everything because she couldn't see his face. His newest book, BLOOD OF ANGELS, has received excellent reviews and I'm looking forward to reading it.

The next panel I attended was also called "A Mystery Reading" (do you see a pattern here?) and featured Greg Iles, James W. Hall, and [standing at the mic] the real John Connolly [seated left to right below]. John Connolly started, and apparently while he isn't writing dark thrillers like his latest, THE BLACK ANGEL, he's honing material for a stand-up comedy act. He went on about medieval burial practices, Papal troubles, making candelabras out of human bones and I don't even know what else but he was funny as hell and had the audience laughing nonstop for his entire fifteen minute talk. His next book will be a complete departure for him, it's not part of his series and isn't even a thriller, more mainstream fiction.

Jim Hall, who happens to be a very funny guy himself, refused to follow that act so Greg Iles stepped up to the plate. He started off by basically putting his foot in his mouth; he commented that he doesn't write a series because he doesn't want to do the same old thing over and over again, he needs the challenge of writing something new everytime. Except, of course, that both Connolly and Hall write series, of which Iles was apparently unaware. Note to authors: it always pays to at least look at some of the books the authors you are sharing a podium with have written. Iles seems like a very intense, very bright guy who definitely marches to his own drummer. Then Hall did his thing and he is always entertaining. He talked about how he sold his first book which had his character Thorne and was about 150 pages into his next book, which had nothing to do with Thorne, when his agent called and said they could get a lot more money for the paperback rights for the first book if the second book also had Thorne. He suggested he use the "find and replace" option in MS Word to change the character's name! Instead, Jim shelved that book and wrote another Thorne book. Seems like every time he wants to write a stand alone, he's asked to change the character to Thorne. However, his most recent book, FORESTS IN THE NIGHT, is a stand alone and it's wonderful. He also mentioned that anyone can write a brand new book every time out of the box, but it's much more difficult to keep creating fresh stories for already established characters!

After some wandering through the street fair, which every year seems to be getting more and more Hispanic, and offer fewer and fewer books for sale, it was time for the afternoon panels. First up was another "Mystery Reading", this time with Paul Levine, Dylan Schaffer and Jeff Lindsey.

Paul Levine was introduced by his former law partner from Miami, and some old friends came to see him too - Edna Buchanan, Ridley Pearson and Christine Kling. He hasn't written a novel in several years (see my interview with him on this blog somewhere) but his newest, SOLOMON VS. LORD, is just terrific.

Dylan Schaffer spoke next, and I must admit he was not at all what I expected. His first book, MISDEMEANOR MAN, introduced his main character, a public defender with no ambition - he's totally happy dealing with the flashers and not with the murderers because it frees up more time for his true passion: playing with his Barry Manilow cover band. It was a really fun read providing you don't mind having Manilow songs stuck in your head for the duration! The sequel just came out, I WRITE THE WRONGS, and I'm really looking forward to reading it. My point being that I guess I expected Dylan to be somewhat like his character - bad assumption on my part. In reality, he is a serious lawyer who handles appellate work for cases dealing with the likes of John Gotti (he claims to be the only person in America who listened to all 400+ hours of the tapes that convicted Gotti) and said he will probably be handling the upcoming Scott Peterson case.

Jeff Lindsey, the only non-lawyer on the panel, spoke about his loveable serial killer in his newest adventure, DEARLY DEVOTED DEXTER. Showtime is trying to turn it into a series and is filming the pilot in Miami. It starts Michael C. Hall (Six Feet Under) as Dexter - but still, I can't imagine watching it. I don't mind reading serial killer books but I won't watch that sort of thing.

[seated left to right: Leveen, Pearl, Burton, Basbanes] This panel ended fairly quickly so I was able to catch the second half of a panel of authors who write about reading - I missed Nicholas Basbanes whose latest book, EVERY BOOK ITS READER: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World, doesn't come out until next week so wasn't available for purchase. I also missed Betsy Burton, owner of The King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her book, THE KING'S ENGLISH: ADVENTURES OF AN INDEPENDENT BOOKSELLER looked really interesting and included lots of quirky booklists. But luckily for me, the writer I most wanted to see on this panel was just starting to speak when I got there. Nancy Pearl is a recently retired librarian and has been immortalized by the Archie McPhee company as a librarian action figure doll with "amazing push-button shushing action". She has a couple of books out, BOOK LUST and MORE BOOK LUST and is currently working on a book of recommended reading for children and young adults called BOOK CRUSH. I really wanted to meet Nancy for several reasons, but mostly because she had invited me to submit a column on Romance for Men for the Readers' Shelf page of Library Journal, which she edits. She was a pleasure to work with via email, and I was delighted to finally meet her. She is charming and funny and possibly even more obsessed with books than I am, if such a thing were possible. Steve Leveen spoke last about his book, THE LITTLE GUIDE TO YOUR WELL READ LIFE, which is a wonderful book designed to get people who say they love to read but don't have the time, to find the time. But he was, as he put it, preaching to the choir - this was an audience of readers!

I headed across the fair to the main auditorium where Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson were speaking. I got there a few minutes after they started and was surprised to actually find seats available, albeit wayyyyy in the back of the room. I took a picture but I was so far away it is just a blurry shot of two guys with guitars so I'm not even bothering to post it. They were really funny, and talked about living in Florida, how they became friends, the beginnings of the Rock Bottom Remainders and the books they are writing together - children's books, PETER AND THE STAR CATCHERS and the sequel, PETER AND THE SHADOW THIEVES, which will be coming out in July. Then they strapped on their guitars and played a new song Dave said he wrote recently, entitled "Hurricane Blues". They were great and it was a wonderful presentation.

The last event of the day, in fact the event that closed this year's book fair, was Scott Turow. Turow has written fiction - probably set the standard for legal thrillers with PRESUMED INNOCENT; nonfiction, his first book, ONE L about his first year at Harvard Law School is still widely read (and became a question on a final exam on copyright law during his third year of law school - cute story) and with his most recent book can add historical fiction to his resume. ORDINARY HEROES is about World War II and was based on his father's letters during that war. It's a remarkable book that I was privileged to review for Library Journal (read my review at, so I really wanted to meet him. He spoke for about an hour and was just fascinating, and afterwards sat in a darkening outdoor hallway and patiently signed books and listened to his readers. It was a wonderful ending to a wonderful day.

Can't wait 'til next year.

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