Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Killer Nashville: Death in Music City

Dear Readers, as the title of this post suggests, I intend to speak on the subject of the mystery conference Killer Nashville, which I just attended on August 23 through August 26.

Wednesday: August 22 - If It's Too Loud; You're Too Old
Because I have never been to Nashville - and have always wanted to - I arrived a day early (Aug 22) with the intention of doing the music rounds.  I immediately found out that I could see Kenny Wayne Sheppard that very night, but I chose not to.  First of all, it would have been $50, which while not outrageous, did give me pause.  However, the real reason was that I wanted to experience the music clubs that are in abundance in downtown Nashville: along Broadway, Church, Commerce, and 2nd thru 5th Avenues.  I'm not kidding.  In this compact area there has to be a hundred music venues. My plan: hit about 5 or 6 of these seriously, drink some beer, eat some food.  Not an ambitious plan, I grant you, but I girded my loins nonetheless and pointed the nose of my rental car toward downtown, otherwise known as "The District".

From my four blocks away parking space, I could feel the music, feel the energy, and as I got closer, the sound got louder.  When I hit Broadway, music was everywhere, coming out of a dozen different clubs, folks standing on street corners (or in the middle of the block for that matter). And it wasn't just Country (although there was plenty of that). Withing the span of two blocks I heard Raggae, Rock, Folk, and every type of Country music you can swing a stick at.  I picked a club where the blues was streaming out the door.  In fact, from the street, the sound was sweet.  A blond woman was singing, "Piece of my Heart' the old Janis Joplin/Big Brother and the Holding Company song.  The lead guitar player was tight and knew his way up and down the neck.

I went in.

Immediately, I realized something.  In order to be heard from the street, the mix inside the club/restaurant was much too loud.  The words, and even the lead were lost in the clang of the rhythm guitar and the thump of the bass.  Gone was the anguish of a woman lamenting the faithlessness of her man.  I hung out for about two songs then made my way back onto the sidewalk.  This proved to be the case in the next two clubs I experimented with.  I passed a club called "Margarittaville" which was indeed playing Jimmy Buffet material but once again the best sound was out on the street.  By now I was getting hungry.  I passed a place called "Tequila Sunrise" where a young musician was handing out flyers.  His band "The Springs" (it felt like an omen) reputedly had opened for The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Brad Paisley, and Little Big Town.

What the hell, I gave them a try.  The beer was good and the band I'm sure would have been good with a different mix.  Maybe, I'm just getting old.

Thursday: August 23 - This ain't Chattanooga, son

Pre-registration for the conference was at 6:30, so I had an entire day to myself.  I would see the Country Music Hall of Fame, walk a few miles along the Cumberland River, drink a few more beers.

CMHF kicked butt.  There were old guitars and flowered shirts, rooms that played the kind of twangy music that used to make me cringe when I was tyke. In this place I loved it.  I learned about the Bakersfield Sound (Buck Owens and Merle Haggard), the origins of Country Swing (Bob Wills) and the Carter Family.  I saw movies of old shows at the Grand Old Opry and learned about Minnie Pearl, Junior Wells, and Hee Haw.  One whole room was filled with brass placards of where a hundred (probably more) folks were inducted into the Hall of Fame: Hank Williams, Reba, Flatt and Scruggs. Another was filled with gold records: Elvis, John Denver, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, hundreds of them.

The Cumberland River is on one side of Riverfront Stadium--where the Titans play--so as I was later walking along the river (99 degrees, 90% humidity - I think there's a saying about mad dogs and Englishmen, well now you can add me to that list), I heard all the music from the football game that would be played later that day.  I walked for about half a mile and came upon an army of roadies setting up for the annual Nashville Bar-B-Que.  It seems Grand Funk Railroad (I'm Getting Closer to My Home) and The Fabulous Thunderbirds (Tough Enough) would be playing on Saturday.  I asked one of the guys setting up how far I could walk along the river.  He said, and I quote, "This ain't Chattanooga, you know?"  With that cryptic question ringing in my ears, I walked on.  Within a another half mile I came upon a fort that was the original residence of the folks who settled Nashville.  I mean right there along that lazy old Cumberland River, they started a city.  I was impressed.

At 6:30, all showered and feeling like I now knew stuff about Music City, I made my way to the Hutton Hotel and registered for Killer Nashville.  I played Mystery Bingo (won a Hank Phillippi Ryan book), ran into old friends from other conferences, Laura Hayden for one.  Made some new ones.

Friday: August 24 - A tree fell on him.  He might be a little late.

It seems not only did a tree fall on Clay Stafford, the guy who started Killer Nashville, but on the way to the conference he was in a car accident.  But, he was expected to eventually show.  Anyway, here was the first full day of the conference and I had stuff to do.  I was on a panel (The Light Side, Humor and Cozies), and had book signing, but I had the morning to myself.

After the opening ceremonies - Clay Stafford did show - they had maybe the most famous Forensic Anthropologists who'd ever lived, Bill Bass.  This was the guy who started the famous 'Body Farm' in Tennessee.  Yeah that guy.  He showed us slides and told us of a case where an illegal fireworks factory exploded.  Out on a farm at the edge of town, a massive barn was being used.  From all evidence, one of the crew used a hand drill/stirrer to mix a batch of black powder ingredients. A spark set everything off.  Bodies and body parts flew through the roof and scattered the countryside for about a half mile radius.  Mr Bass actually had us laughing at gruesome slides.  It was fabulous.

So, it was only natural that from there I went to a class on writing humor.  This lady actually wrote comedy for sitcoms, political speeches, and even funerals of celebrities.  We learned about timing and what is off limits for comedy (according to her, nothing).

After lunch, I had my panel and waxed poetic about cozies, humor, and Bonnie Pinkwater.  I also made arrangements to interview (in this very blog, dear reader), my panel-mates.  Then came the booksigning.  And here, I think is where conferences like Left Coast Crime, Malice, and Killer Nashville could improve.  The signing itself is an hour, and all of the audience was invited. However, almost immediately, folks have to go to the next panel and the signing area is a ghost town.

Sisters in Crime, bless their hearts, hosted a party, with music and pretty darn good food.  I think these guys (mostly women actually) are fabulous.

Again, I had a evening on my own in Music City and now new friends to share it with.

Saturday: August 25 - Take Another Piece of the Heart Now Baby.

Saturday, at least mine, was set aside to sit in on things called Agent/Editor Roundtables.  Picture this: fifteen people bring the first two pages of their unpublished manuscript pass them out to fellow writers and two agents or editors.  The agents (and other authors, if there is time) then critique these works.  It was a lot like sky diving.  I did two of these and it filled my morning.

After lunch it was time to interview, two authors I admire, C J Box, and Peter Straub.  Well, Clay Stafford (yes the same guy with the mangled body. I'm thinking meds) did the interviewing; I just sat in the audience and listened.  Not bad, Clay.

Then a real treat.  A panel with CJ Box, Peter Straub, And Jeffrey Deaver, who I was told wrote a rock album (to accompany his new novel XO) with none other than  Clay Stafford.  A band, in fact the same band who played on the album, would perform that bad boy later in the evening after the banquet.  As always, Deaver was hilarious.

Then another party.  This time by Mystery Writers of America.  A lot of Hummus.

The banquet was great, made greater by the company.  A friend I had made at Malice Domestic was at my tab le and was a finalist in the Claymore Award (our host claims the award wasn't named after him; I'm not buying it).  She wrote a mystery set in 16th century England.  A lot of laughter, but in the end, my friend did not win the award (which is a sword sticking out of a stone).  Jeffrey Deaver was the toastmaster and gave a hilarious speech. At the end of the banquet, each of the guests of honor, CJ Box, Peter Straub, and a screenwriter named Heywood Gould (wrote Fort Apache, the Bronx, Cocktail, Boys from Brazil, and Rolling Thunder) was given a gift.  In true Nashville style, they were guitars.  I don't think any of them play.

Then came the dance, the band, and the songs from XO.  Music was loud.  The songs weren't bad.  I stayed for about five of them.

Sunday: August 26 - And I Shall Lay Me Down by the River

Truth is, I was exhausted and had to leave early.  I had eleven hours of flying ahead of me (for some reason to get me back to Colorado, American Airlines thought it a good idea to first fly me to Washington DC).  I had the best time, but I was ready to head back to the mountains.  And I missed my wife.  We had texted all weekend (she went camping with eight of her long time girlfriends) but I wanted to kiss her face and hold her hand.

And there she was waiting at the airport to take me home.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Assassin Solution

As the old saying goes, there is more than one way to kill an iguana.  At least I think that's that way the old saying goes.

Well never mind.  There is more than one way to solve the Assassin in the Santa Lorena Plaza Problem.  I will list a few here.

Working Backwards:

As you may or may not recall in the last gory event there were 8 folks remaining.  Since each spree resulted in the demise of one third of the folks hanging around (once again there is no explaining why they didn't just run out of the plaza).  That means two-thirds lived through the incident.  Dividing by two-thirds is the same as mutiplying by three-halfs.  8 X 3/2 = 12.  Now just iterate the process two more times.  12 X 3/2 = 18.  And again.  18 X 3/2 = 27.  Besides the assassin himself, there were 27 folks, so the answer is 27 or 28 depending on how you interpret 'originally'.

Forward Using an Equation:

Let X be the original amount of people in the plaza (not including our assassin).  After the first killing, there would be X - X/3 = 2X/3 people remaining.

 Of these (after his latte of course) the killer wiped out a third more or 2X/9.  The new amount left would be 2X/3 - 2X/9 = 4X/9.

After his round of pilates, the assassin took out one-third more or 4X/27.  Subtracting again we get
4X/9 - 4X/27 = 8X/27.

But this equals 8 people.  Thus 8X/27 = 8.  Solving for X we get X = 27

I think I'm going to quit here.  If anyone used a third method, (say a chart) please fell free to post it on my Facebook page.  You will be appropriately lauded.

I will recognize and award the un-prizes there as well.  I hope you had as much fun with this problem as I did.

Thanks for playing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Final Unicorn Solution

The task is to fill a basin with water.  We know not the volume of this basin...nor do we need to.  We shall merely consider this the job that needs doing.  In fact we shall, upon completion consider this ONE job done.  And we shall use this consideration to build our equation.

First and foremost, this is a work problem, akin to where two or more individuals are working together to perform a task, when we know how long the task will take for each of them individually.

Let's reiterate the facts, shall we?

We have a unicorn fountain statue spewing copious amounts of water from various orifices: eyes, horn, and mouth.

Mouth - takes 6 hours (ancient greek hours) to fill the basin.

Horn - 4 days or 48 hours

Right Eye - 3 days or 36 hours

Left Eye - 2 days or 24 hours

Let X be the amount of time it takes all four orifices to fill the basin.  Let's consider each orifice's contribution toward the completion of this one job.

Mouth:  X/6 because the mouth alone would complete the task in 6 hours

Horn: X/48           Right Eye: X/36         Left Eye:  X/24

Gathered together they each perform the filling of the basin.  In other words, the equation:

X/6  +  X/24  +  X/36  +  X/48  =  1

Solve for X

Multiply by the Common Denominator 144

6X + 4X +  3X + 24X = 144

37X = 144

X = 3.891 to 3 decimal places.

Remember, these are ancient Greek hours and twice as long as present day hours.  Soooooo, in today's parlance about 7.8 Hours.  Roughly about a normal 9 to 5 workday (minus lunch).

Hopefully, you found this as much fun as I did.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Why 1089: the solution to this week's puzzle

Hold onto your diapies babies.  Here we go:

Let abc be the three digit number we choose, with the stipulation that 'a' and 'c' differ by at least 2

abc is really 100a + 10b + c

reverse the number we get 100c + 10b + c

Subtract them: (assume, w/o loss of generality, that abc is the larger)

100a + 10b + c - (100c + 10b + a) = 100(a-c) + (c-a) but c-a is negative so we must do a little slight of hand to change this back to a decimal number.

= 100(a - c) + c - a = 100(a - c - 1) + 10(9) + (10 + c - a)

Check it out for yourself

Reverse these and add

100(a - c - 1) + 10(9) + (10 + c - a) + 100(10 + c - a) + 10(9) + (a - c - 1) =

100(10 - 1) + 10(18) + (10 - 1) = 1089

Now, you might ask, why was it necessary for 'a' and 'c' to differ by at least 2.

Case 1 a = c then abc = cba and abc - cba = 0 and we can't continue.

Case 2 a = c + 1 (differs by 1) then with a little arithmetic we see the difference is a two digit number and our process breaks down.

I hope that made things crystal clear.

Live long and prosper.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Music and Moose Madness

An earlier post promised that I would wax poetic about a mini-vacation my wife Barbara and I took in and around Rocky Mountain National park.  here goes.

On Friday last, July 26, 2012, my wife Barbara and I headed for Lyons, Colorado for Rockygrass.  If you've never been to this wonderful weekend of bluegrass and fun I highly recommend it.  I went to see Sam Bush, The Punch Brothers, but Trampled By Turtles, a group from Minnesota stole the show.  Think Flogging Molly blended on puree with manic fiddle playing and excellent vocals and songwriting.  These guys just blew me and the rest of the crowd away.

And the crowd at Rockygrass has the feel of family, tons of kids.  There's a river that runs through the festival grounds and everyone, especially as the heat of the day ratchets up, goes swimming.  Music playing, water cascading over mountain rocks, children laughing....and beer.  One great day.

The next day, Saturday, I had a signing at MacDonald Bookstore in Estes Park...sweet little bookstore in a wonderful town.  I admit it.  I love Estes Park.  Anyway, the signing wasn't until 2:00 so my wife and I hiked in the Rocky Mountains.  Oh my God, was it ever beautiful.  Smells, sights, sounds, the whole nine yards.  I had the best time.  At two, the sky darkened and I wondered if the signing would be a bust.  True, the streets were filled with those wonderful tourists spending their fabulous out-of-state money, but would they all go away once the rains started?

Just the opposite.

Once the sky opened up, the people poured into the bookstore, where I was ensconced in an overstuffed chair like a by-gone patriarch.  Folks seemed to need reading material and what's better than a signed book by a brilliant author, especially a Bonnie Pinkwater mystery.  Well, I might be biased.  The signing was not only a rousing success but a kick in the butt as well.

The next day we were off to one of my favorite places on the planet, Grand Lake.  Over Trail Ridge Road and the sights from twelve thousand feet down into a town surrounded by two gorgeous bodies of water: Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Lake.

Last year, Barbara and I found this spot where a moose and her baby were just hanging out and enjoying a perfect day.  We remembered all the warnings about how crazy moose can be especially when accompanied by their young, so we stayed on the other side of the river from the pair...when they decided to cross over.  We stood behind our car as this mother (all serious and grand) and her calf (prancing around and full of the grace that new born things possess) passed by and barely gave us a second glance.

This year our ambitions were higher.  This year we wanted to see a bull, all horns and attitude.

We got our wish in spades.  The first night we had seen nothing but a distant herd of elk and were heading out of Rocky Mountain National Park when we saw a crowd gathered by the side of the road. After we parked and approached we saw what all the fuss was about.  A family, a female moose, a baby, and giant honker bull were feeding down in a gully.  As he fed, the bull's antlers were causing the bush he was eating to shake like there was an earthquake going on.  I think I must have cracked my face smiling.  There aren't that many bulls in the park compared to females so we figured we had just got lucky and on the first at that.  Over the next two days we saw three more. One even crossed the road right in front of us.  His mate, a beautiful female, followed demurely even taking her time in the middle of the road as if to say, "That's right.  I am pretty and you're lucky to get to see me."

But the highlight of the trip happened on the last night.  Barbara and I decided to go to this spot in the park called the Beaver Ponds.  Misnamed because there were no beavers anymore.  We wanted to go there to watch the park grow dark after the sun went down.  We parked - all alone in the lot because it seems everyone knew about the lack of beavers - when first one then another elk came into the parking lot from the mountain meadow down below.  We watched with grins on our faces when one then another elk, some of them adolescents made their way into the lot.  Then we held our breath as a huge female moose entered.  At first she didn't seem to see us.  We had turned off our car not to spook the elk, so we sat there silently just holding our breath.  Then her head turned slowly in our direction.  She didn't look happy.

I remembered the warning signs and she had them all.

Hair on hump bristling - check
Ears upright - check
Walking slowly toward you with eyes glaring - big time check.

We were in a car, so we didn't think we'd get killed but she was a big one.  We also thought she would get hurt trying to stomp us into pesto.  She came within a few feet when I thought, "time to get out of Dodge boys and girls."  I turned on the car and she took a few steps backward.  I suppose I could have stayed but by now I had the feeling she had a baby hidden in the meadow down below and that made this evening belong to her.  This was her home.  We were just guests.

Drive By Shooting At My House.

First of all, let me state that I am a mystery writer, so I take a slightly different view of certain events than others, say someone taking a shot at me.

Last night, Wednesday, August 1, 2012, I had just returned from a working vacation in Estes Park/Grand Lake; this will be the subject of the next post.  Be sure to read it.  It will be cool.

Back to the shooting.  About 10:00 PM, I'm watching CSI New York when I hear what sounds either like shots or really good fireworks - four shots close together about a block away.  I'm thinking, "Those really do sound like shots."  I head out the door to see a purple sedan come slowly around the corner to pass in front of my house.  Another loud pop, definitely coming from car.  The car speeds off down my street and emits a sixth loud pop.

Keep in mind I still don't know for sure that a firearm has been discharged.  I see absolutely no evidence of it.  I do, however, walk to the end of my sidewalk to watch the car speed away.  No license, but I can see that it is a sedan and kind of purple/maroon.  The street lights on my side of the street are not on.  I go back in.

About thirty minutes later as I am checking my e-mail, my wife comes in to inform me that the police are at the door (I couldn't hear them because my fan is pretty loud).  I put some shorts over my underware to see several officers at my door.  They inform me that I have a bullet hole in the side of my car.  I follow them to the street where there are not one but three cop cars all with their lights going bananas.  Also, there is a cruiser at the far end of the street where the popping car went a half hour before. Lo and behold, the officer is correct.  There is a hole in the side of my Subaru that a bullet would fit nicely through.  Further investigation - by the cop, not by me - reveals that the bullet passed through the back door on the driver's side then grazed the back of the passenger seat to lodge in the rear door on the passenger side. The cop digs it out.

Meanwhile a second cop finds a casing in the street and marks its position with one of those little triangle dohickeys you see on CSI.  By now there are at least 5 cops all chattering excitedly to me and to each other.  They are taking pictures like nobody's business.  They bag the slug (I can talk the talk) and the casing and one of them takes the evidence - they have found a few other casings around the corner where the first shots happened.  I am told the shot came from a 9 millimeter so its possible a fingerprint could be gotten from the casings.

I give a play by play of my sighting of the car, which now seems somewhat fool-hearty (I'll explain more of this later).  Additional cop cars show up.  I get a case number for my insurance and am told that it is unlikely that a print will be attainable from the casings because of the high heat of the firearm discharge.  A very interesting fact.

Eventually, I go to bed.

Now, it needs to be said that I am a Neighborhood Watch block captain, actually I'm a co-captain with another neighbor.  I can't wait to tell her.  She comes down the street to view my bullethole.  I tell her my tale of nocturnal excitement.  It seems nobody on my block heard anything!!  We view the through and through of the bullet's path, its eventual position.  Valerie, my co-captain stands back, has me explain again, where the car was when the shot was fired.  Then, using her arms lines up the path with the shooting car's position.  Then she shows me the trajectory of the bullet's path: shooting car to car door then beyond.  Her arm is pointing straight at my front doorway, where the night before I was standing bathed in the glow of my porch light watching a suspicious car come around a corner.

Were these guys shooting at me?

Anyway, I'm okay; and too knuckleheaded to believe that anyone would want to do me harm.

Definitely thinking I'm a lucky son-of-a-gun.