Thursday, March 8, 2012

Unsolved Mystery

How do you like your mysteries?  Solved and fully-explained at the end of a one-hour TV show?  Cleverly tied up like the proper English package that is an Agatha Christie novel?

Or are you more of an unsolved mystery kinda gal?  Fuzzy details, fog machines, men in trench coats saying we may never know what really happened that fateful night?

Well, if you’re one of the latter group, you’re in luck.  I have an update on the Iowa Lottery mystery I blogged about in January.  You may recall that a winner stepped forward at the last possible moment to claim his mega-winnings.  Only it wasn’t the winner exactly, it was a group of lawyers representing a trust set up by the winner. 

I had theories.  Oh yeah, I had theories.

We may never know what the real deal was.  As the Wall Street Journal reports, the winner has stepped aside and has withdrawn from the lottery.  Iowa was asking too many questions, and the winner’s lawyer just said, “Hey, you know what?  Never mind.”

I have to note that the Wall Street Journal could have described the lawyer many ways.  They could have called him a tall man with high cheekbones.  A lover of Labradoodles.  An avid butterfly collector.  They went with “a 76-year-old Yale graduate who has faced allegations of fraud in business dealings in lawsuits in Texas and Delaware.  Clearly, someone at the WSJ thinks the story isn’t a complete mystery. 

Though I wish we could have known what really was behind the lottery winner and his shadowy trust, I guess we’ll just have to be content with an unsolved mystery. 

Cue the fog machines.

So what about you?  Know any good unsolved mysteries? 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Carved from the Pages

All I can say is wow ... just wow.  Art and books, all smooshed together.  Treehugger posts some of the gorgeous work of artist Guy Laramee, who knows what to do once Kindle takes over the world.

Guy Laramee

Guy Laramee

Guy Laramee

I'd like to think that this is what my blog would look like, if transmogrified into Art.  But we all know the actual result would somehow involve an artist's interpretation of the Happy Days episode when the Fonz lost his cool.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Rip It!

It’s official, guys.

Rip It -- wherein I take a weird, riveting, or downright freaky news story and offer it up as worthy of novelization or film adaptation -- is now a recurring feature on my blog.

You faithful readers will no doubt remember the first Rip It installment, where I poked innocent fun at an all-knowing, all-controlling tech/spy firm. Not sure what I was thinking there. I'll be more careful this time.

This week, an AP news article, dateline Iowa, caught my eye. Some lucky guy won the lottery. Over $14 million. But instead of turning in his ticket right away, he waited. For almost an entire year. In fact, he waited until two hours before the forfeiture deadline. And he sent a team of lawyers, representing a “shadowy New York trust” to collect the winnings.

This went down on Friday afternoon, so the details are still sketchy. Iowa Lottery officials don’t know who, exactly, the winner of the lottery is. All they have is the shadowy footage of someone purchasing that winning ticket at a convenience story in Des Moines over a year ago.

But before close of business Friday, lottery officials started fielding calls from several quick-thinking, industrious people who claimed the ticket was theirs. It had been stolen.

Once I read all this, my mind started jumping to fantastic conclusions. Surely, the winner is the lone survivor of a group of coworkers -- no, friends! no, family members! -- who went in together to buy a ticket. While they waited to come forward until they could decide how to split the money, greed got in the way. The lucky winners started turning up dead.

This would make a fantastic book. A best-selling book.  A book like A Simple Plan.

Scott Smith's A Simple Plan, is a gorgeously-written piece of suspense.  An honest, hardworking accountant, his no-good brother, and the brother’s even less-good friend stumble upon a duffle bag stuffed with millions of dollars. They decide to keep it.

The plan is simple:  They’ll wait things out, then divvy up the cash once the police stop searching for the missing money. But of course, simple plans have a way of getting really complicated really fast.

Smith takes us down a path where we readers imagine we might go. Until suddenly, our accountant hero starts making bad decisions.  His actions go from white to gray to darkest, most sinister black.

It’s a wonderful read. And I hope for the sake of our unknown lottery winner, it’s just fiction.

So what about you? Did you hear any news that deserves to be ripped from the headlines?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

West Winging It

Living in Washington, DC in the 90s was probably one of the only times in my life I ever achieved the double feat of Right Place and Right Time. After college, I moved to DC and began work near Capitol Hill.

Then the television show The West Wing aired.

Being young, smart, and a little bit geeky was suddenly cool. Not in a Hogwarts sort of way (though Harry Potter was arguably the harbinger of the Smart is Cool movement). No, it was an inside-the-beltway cool. Where walking down a hall speaking incredibly fast about policy and politics was simply what the popular kids did.  Wonk wasn't a bad word at all. 

The West Wing seemed to be perpetually ripped from the headlines. Scandals, political battles, even the people and organizations that popped on my screen on Wednesday nights were the fictionalized versions of what we read about every morning in the Washington Post.

I achieved another feat of Right Place and Right Time last week, when I finished reading Rob Lowe’s memoir Stories I Only Tell My Friends just a day or two before visiting the White House for a holiday reception.

I fully admit to elementary school crushes on St. Elmo’s Fire Rob Lowe and -- somewhat interchangeably -- all those Brat Pack guys. But whenever I picture Lowe, I see him as Sam Seaborn. So while it was fun reading about Lowe’s life before fame, or his string of Fabulously Famous girlfriends, I felt warm, fuzzy, and downright nostalgic reading his reminisces of his time on The West Wing.

I was full of this warm, fuzzy nostalgia when I took my son Sam to the White House for a holiday reception. I give plucky Sam lots of credit for trying to talk his way through a guarded partition towards the West Wing and the Oval Office. It didn’t work, but someday Sam will get his Right Place Right Time moment.

An interesting tidbit from Rob Lowe: White House staffers don’t really do the fast-paced talk and walk that was the epitome of West Wing-ness. Nowadays, if they find themselves walking the corridors, talking like Aaron Sorkin had scripted their dialogue, they high five each other and exclaim, “Hey, we just ‘West Winged!’”

Yes, indeed -- geeky is still cool. 

Happy Holidays, everyone! To celebrate the season, I leave you with one of my favorite holiday moments from The West Wing. Get those tissue boxes ready -- Leo gets me every time!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hidden City

When I was 16 years old, my father let me tag along with him on a business trip to Greece. It was my first trip out of the United States, in fact, my first trip out of the South. I applied for my passport, bought a travel security belt, and learned how to say hello, goodbye, and bathroom in Greek.

Excitement. Adventure. I was ready. Bring it.

When my dad asked me where I wanted to visit, my answer was swift and sure.


Listen, I never claimed I was a cool 16-year-old. In fact, I was a geeky, weird 16-year-old. The kind who wanted to visit prisons on her first trip abroad. But you see, I wanted to see Greece, the real Greece. I wanted to learn about how they treated the outcasts, the criminals, the least among them. Because that, I imagined, was how I would really get to understand the place.

My dad, he didn’t get it.

But you know who gets it? Marcus Sakey gets it.

                                                                                                                                     Credit: Frank Pinc

On December 6, crime novelist Marcus Sakey will begin his series Hidden City on the Travel Channel. Described as Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations meets Castle, Sakey’s new show promises to take us to the darkest corners of our favorite places. According to Sakey, “If you only see the tourist districts, Seattle is the same as Shanghai. The real stories are in the shadows—and shadowy stories are my business.”

From the comfort and safety of our sofas, we’ll join Sakey as he rappels with a SWAT team, hangs out with South Side gang members in L.A., and learns to rob an armored car in Boston.

In the first episode of Hidden City, Sakey tours Chicago -- and gets pepper sprayed so he can better understand the Democratic National Convention riots of 1968.

Because Sakey is a novelist (an accomplished one at that), we’ll be getting a writer’s perspective on each travel experience. As Sakey explains, “One thing I’ve learned writing fiction is that it’s the little details that make a world real.”

So when the pepper spray hits his eyes, his reaction isn’t ouch. Actually, his initial reaction is pretty colorful. But then he gives us this rather literary description of the panic, not just the pain, that sets in:
"And in that dark space, panic’s ragged edge was so close. It sucked and pulled at me. It teased and tempted. I knew it would only make things worse, but that didn’t lessen panic’s gravitational pull."
With a perspective like that, Sakey’s show is on my Gotta Watch List. And who knows, maybe he’ll get around to touring Greece. If he does, I highly recommend prison.

What about you? Which destination’s seedy underbelly do you most want to see? If Sakey came to your hometown, what dark corner would you recommend?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Look at me, I'm a guest blogger!

Today I'm guest blogging at author Ken Hoss's Bloggers Corner.  I've written about my experience at the Backspace Writers' Conference last month in New York City.

Ken is a fantastic supporter of new authors, and a killer writer himself.  Thanks so much for hosting me, Ken!

Check it out! 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rip It!

How many times have you heard a news story and thought, somebody ought to write a book about that? Or make a movie? You know, a true story so heart-warming, gut-wrenching, or downright bizarre that it really deserves to be ripped from the headlines?

Viola! I offer, for your consideration, a new blog feature: Rip it!

My choice this week:
A Bloomberg Businessweek article -- wait, stay with me... 
about a Silicon Valley company -- no seriously, don’t go just yet...

Pretty cool, right?

A movie adaptation of this news story could really go several different ways.

1) The Mission Impossible Treatment (aka, Spy Thriller)

So you’re wondering what is this company, anyway? And how does it see everything? The company is Palantir, and it has created computer software that combs through mountains of data -- financial records, e-mails, web search information, DNA samples, sound samples, video clips, maps, floor plans, and human intelligence reports -- to root out the bad guys.

They’ve busted up bombing networks in Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. They’ve stopped large-scale identity theft scams. They’ve solved child abduction cases. U.S. Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan uses Palantir to plan assaults. According to one Special Forces member, “Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap.”

All we'd have to do is cast Tom Cruise. Blockbuster!

2) The Informant! Treatment (aka, Black Comedy)

These guys aren’t Jason Bourne types -- though neither was the character from The Informant!, and that didn’t stop Matt Damon from playing the part. If you’re a Tolkien fan, you already know the company got its name, Palantin, from Lord of the Rings. They’ve decorated their office space (previously the headquarters of Facebook) with Care Bear murals and bobblehead collections. They’re not bad asses, they’re nerds. Tell me there’s not potential for some dark, dark humor there.

3) The Full-On Minority Report Treatment (aka, Cautionary Tale)

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this sort of technology could go too far, with too few safeguards. Palantir already has its detractors, despite its employees’ penchant for Care Bears. “I don’t think Palantir the firm is evil,” says Christopher Soghoian of the Center for Applied Cybersecurity at Indiana University. “I think their clients could be using it for evil things.”

Okay, Hollywood, you have your assignment. Now go make a kick-butt/darkly comedic/Philip K. Dick-inspired movie based on a Bloomberg Businessweek article. And don’t forget those Care Bears!

So tell me, gentle readers, what current events do you think deserve to be ripped from the headlines?