Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I have really missed writing lately. The NCAA tourney had put everything on hold... reading, writing, movies, the interviews, you name it, it stopped. It is so good to be back at the computer and sharing stories with you. I was a bit down in the dumps this week when I came home Thursday night to find a couple e-mails from Turn Row Books and Murder by the Book. Both e-mails were a heads up for the same event, the Delta Blues Book Launch, to be held on Saturday in Clarksdale,Ms. at Morgan Freeman's, "Ground Zero Blues Club". "Delta Blues" is a collection of short stories by 20 different authors, (12 of whom were in attendance.) The books forward was written by the wonderful actor Morgan Freeman, and it was edited by Carolyn Haines. The short story collection includes shorts from Ace Atkins, John Grisham, Tom Franklin, Michael Lister,James Lee Burke, Beth Ann Fennelly, Charlaine Harriss, and Dean James amongst others.

If you know me very well, then you already know this next fact...I LOVE MISSISSIPPI !! And, you don't have to ask me twice to go there. You throw in books & music and that's a slice of heaven on earth as far as I'm concerned. We left from Carmi, Il. on Saturday morning at 8 a.m. under clear skies, with my wife & mother ready for the 6 hour drive to Clarksdale,Ms. It was smooth driving with Guy Clark, Lucinda Williams, Tom Russell, and Granny's Intentions pounding out some road trip music.

We soon caught our first bit of luck when we called the Downtown Oxford Inn & found they had just had some cancellations minutes ago. We had tried to find something prior to leaving ( The Lofts & The ShackUp Inn in Clarksdale, Ms., The Alluvian in Greenwood,Ms., and The Downtown Oxford Inn, in Oxford,Ms.) but to no avail. With the hotel now out of the way we were free to stop in Blytheville, Ark, at the "Bookstore in Blytheville", for a bit before heading on to Clarksdale.

We hit Clarksdale,Ms. about 3:30 p.m. and found out there was an event already underway at the old Greyhound Station a couple blocks away. When we walked in there was a press conference under way & they were introducing the authors when we were shocked to find out that Morgan Freeman was there. This hadn't been advertised and was a welcome surprise. Mr. Freeman told the crowd he didn't do autographs but he certainly did pictures. He was patient, kind and gracious to all in attendance. I think my mother however, may have been the most excited person in the place.

The book launch moved over to Mr. Freeman's, "Ground Zero Blues Club" and offered up some wonderful food and the promise of good music & good times for all. The evening got going about 6 pm when the authors took the stage and offered up some pretty good blues music. Nathan Singer sang lead vocals on most of the tunes & hit a home run on a couple of Robert Johnson tunes. My favorite song of the evening was the Robert Johnson tune, "Come on in my kitchen". Singer was backed up by an impressive group of ladies & including Sookie Stackhouse, vampire author Charlaine Harris, Carolyn Haines, Alice Jackson, Lynne Barrett,Suzann Ellingsworth. The authors had fun & the crowd had fun. About 8 o'clock the authors all assembled in the back to sign copies of "Delta Blues" and Tyrus Books donated one dollar from the sale of each book to the Delta Literacy program. Jamie & Ben of Turn Row Books provided books for sale. I had the pleasure of sitting with a delightful couple from England, Roger & Kass who were vacationing in New Orleans and just happen to stumble on this event. Between the conversation at our table and the one I had with author Michael Lister and his lovely friend, I almost didn't mind that my UK Wildcats were getting beat by West Virginia (almost). We headed back to Oxford around 9 p.m. ( a 60 mile drive ).

It was a gorgeous evening in Oxford and we took a leisurely stroll through downtown and stopped in at the always satisfying "Square Pizza" to cap off the evening.

We started our morning on Sunday at the best coffee shop in Oxford ( don't take my word for it, it's won that honor 5 years in a row) and it was a beautiful day. The tulip trees & azaleas were in full bloom...some 2 or 3 weeks ahead of us. We hit my favorite book store "Square Books" around 11 a.m. and the first person I run into is Michael Lister and the second is Roger & Kass our friends from the evening before. We had a grand time talking with them both. After a couple of hours of searching the shelves for treasures ( there are many ) we sat down in the upstairs patio area for tea when Oxfords own humorist Jack Pendarvis walks in. If you've never met Jack, I'll just say that he's a super nice guy, a gentleman, and one of those people who can be funny without even trying. Ask him about a chicken on a stick the next time your in Oxford. Upon hearing we had just read his story in the Oxford American, he offered his apologies. On our way out, it was great to run into Cody Morrison, who helps keep Square Books running tip top. Cody & his wife Katie are expecting a daughter in May and we know this child will be very fortunate to have these two as parents. They don't come any nicer than this couple. The only bad thing I can say about Cody is he's a Cubs fans..but no ones perfect. Running into Cody made our trip seem complete. We made one final stop at Abners, the famous home of the best chicken tenders in Oxford. Then it was time to leave.

It happens every time I go there, I get all melancholy towards the end because I know its time to go, and I don't want to go. I love this place, its people, its way of life. When I get to heaven ..I hope its like Oxford,Ms.

DOUBLE EXPOSURE by Michael Lister

I have a challenge for all those who read this page. My favorite read of 2009 was Michael Lister's, "DOUBLE EXPOSURE".
I told everyone who would listen back then to pick up a copy and give it a read. I got alot of thanks from those who did.
Just this Sunday I got a text from a friend in Nashville, who said "Double Exposure"..what a good book!"
So my challenge to you is this,( if you've read it and loved it, pass the word on to one other friend who hasn't.)
And if you haven't read it, go pick it up & read it right away and I am so certain that you'll enjoy it, I'll make you a deal.
If your not satisfied, you can send me your copy of "Double Exposure" and I'll send you another book of your liking in return.
The books author, Michael Lister is an amazing man and has a new book coming out in April entitled "Thunder Beach".
Please... help me spread the word on this incredible book, " DOUBLE EXPOSURE".
Check back from time to time as I'll have an interview with Michael posted here in the months to come.

"The Stoning of Soraya M."

A friend of mine, Dave Gergeni, brought a NewsBusters story to my attention that he had ran across on this film. I had told Dave that I was troubled by watching this film. The story itself was very interesting and quite disturbing, all at the same time. The movie is set in an Iranian village in 1986 and is based on true events. A beautiful, innocent women is betrayed by her husband & he falsely accuses her of adultery, so that he will be free to take a young child as his new wife. The penalty for adultery in Iran for women, is death by stoning. The village is ran by the male power structure that hides behind it's religion. The poor woman has only one friend who can help, a wise older women, played by Shohreh Aghdashloo, ( who was wonderful in "HOUSE OF SAND and FOG") and is equally outstanding here. Her friend first tries to plead with the city powers to be, and then after losing that fight, risks her own life, by telling her story to a journalist who has stopped in town due to car trouble. The journalist, (Jim Caviezel, of "The Passion of Christ") smuggles her story out of Iran and tells the world. It sounds like a great story right? I normally would have given this film a 4 out of 5. The reason I didn't, was it's pretty hard to stomach much of the film. I was furious at the towns leaders and the husband was just pure evil. He gloats at the way he is able to manipulate their laws which are pretty archiac. Women are truly nothing but property to do with as they wish and may dispose of them on a whim. Animals are truly treated better in our country. However, the part I couldn't stomach was the actual scene were the poor girl is stoned to death. It seems to last forever ! Her father, her sons, her husband, her neighbors all join in throwing stones at her. The scene literally turned my stomach and all I could think of was that NO ONE deserves to die this way, it's barbaric. If you don't hate the husband as much as you've ever hated anyone after this event.... then I worry about you and us all. Now, having said this, I plead with you, to rent it and watch it one time. If you didnt like "The Passion of The Christ" because of the flogging scene, then you won't like this either. But, this film as hard as it is to watch at times, its story deserves to be told and discussed. In a quote from the article my friend handed me, it says "It addresses misogyny, injustice, human rights abuses and narrow religiosity. It is anti-violence and deeply pro-life, in the broadest sense of the term".In short, Stephen F. Hayes wrote "it is an important film" and it should have recieved attention from the people who like to think of films as important. But the people who control Hollywood's most presigious awards ignored it.The film ran afoul of some elite sensiblities. Hollywood reviewers & human rights activist both condemded the film for its "crude story telling" and its stark delineation of good and evil. One of those same reviewers who criticizes both this film & Passion, praises Quentin Tarantino's bloody, "Reservoir Dogs" as a "critic's choice". The film was screened at several film festivals to enthusiastic audiences. The film won the "Justice" award at the Berlin Film Festival, the "Critics Choice Award" from the Broadcast Critics Film Association, was runner-up as the "Audience Favorite" at the Toronto Film Festival, and won the "Audience Choice Award" at the L.A. Film Festival. The USA Today called it "emotionally explosive" and The Wall Street Journal praised it as well. Peter Brunette of The Hollywood Reporter, says "It's a powerful piece, "and the denunciation of a system in which an accused woman has to prove her own innocence ( while in the case of a man, his guilt has to be proven by others), is strong and clear and unforgettable." So...with all that critical acclaim it surely won some major awards right, WRONG ! The article states that some have responded with "we can't judge other cultures" and says "the film portrays all men as villanous". Say what ? These people "Whomever they may be" don't seem to want you to see this picture. I would love to hear from you what you thought of this film. Please, encourage others to gut it out and then pass on their comments.

K2 Update !! " Big Brother's Gaining on You"

I promised everyone that I would keep you posted on this one. If you missed my original post on 2/4/10, go back and check it out so that this one makes sense to you. The Missouri House and Senate have given their approval of legislation that will ban the sale and use of K2, which will make it a controlled substance. The bill has not yet landed on the desk of Missouri governor Jay Nixon as the House & Senate are still working out some minor differences. K2 as you may remember is a synthetic chemical that resembles marijuana & imitates its affect on the brain. Lawmakers have likened K2's spread to a epidemic and have said they must act quickly to eliminate it, and that "K2 is more dangerous than the description of "fake pot" implies". If the House & Senates bills do pass it would make K2 a level 1 controlled substance. Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, says "They're selling out of this stuff as fast as they can put it on the shelves". The bill once signed into law would make K2 illegal in all of Missouri, however some counties including St. Charles county have already banned the substance. Kansas was the first state to ban K2 and soon Missouri will become the second. Currently, K2, for now, remains on the shelves locally in St. Louis, Mo. and Ill. However, Illinois lawmakers have also passed a bill in recent days, in the House and it is on its way to the Senate. It looks like K2's days are numbered!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


If your'e looking for a new mystery writer to pick up, I'd highly recommend Mr.Tom Schreck. His "Duffy Dombrowski" mystery series, just fly's off the pages. They are funny, but not to the point of being silly, and can be funny one moment and deathly serious the next. Reed Farrel Coleman recommended him to me right after "On The Ropes" came out. I am grateful. Tom is also a super nice guy and an even better person. He has 3 books out to date, "On The Ropes", "TKO" and "Out Cold". They are all in the Duffy Dombrowski series and in the order above. It is with much pleasure that I share with you a recent interview that Tom gave us here at "Signs & Wonders". Enjoy !!

1)You recently posted a terrific short story entitled "Planters Punch", on
your blog-site. You co-wrote it with J.A. Konrath, (of the Jack Daniels
mystery series). What were your initial thoughts when the idea was first
presented to you?

Joe Konrath has been incredibly nice to me as a writer. Having said that,..
the guy's nuts. I mean certifiably nuts.
Joe contacted me at a time last year when I was really, really busy, but I
didn't want to miss the opportunity, so I dropped everything to do the
story. It was a hell of a lot of fun.
He's also a hell of a craftsman. We wrote segments of the story, emailed them
back and forth, and smoothed them over.
Clearly... letting Joe write with me has revived his sorry career.

2)There are alot of similarities between you and Duffy. I'm talking about
your personal background,(boxing, karate, social work, dogs, etc.) Is it
a case of "Know what you write, write what you know"?

Duffy is a comic book version of me.
I box, I'm a social worker, and I used to do karate. I have not one, but three
hound dogs, and I drive a two-ton Lincoln that's 10 years old. Cadillac's
have gotten way too small.

3)Duffy is not above fighting dirty (within good measure) or planting
evidence to assure a bad guy gets what he deserves. Do you feel the end
justifies the means?

Exactly ! I didn't want an anticeptic character. I wanted a guy who would
say "Screw it" and do what he had to do for what he deemed the greater
I wanted him flawed, a little neurotic, and a sensitive, almost liberal guy
who could kick ass. Duff isn't a simple liberal, and he's not a conservative.
He's a guy that works with real people on a daily basis.

4)Your background gives a added level of authenticity to your work. Could
you have written these same books without first experiencing it yourself?

Nah, the education you get from running an inner city drug clinic doesn't
come in books. You can't write about being punched or being in the ring in
the same ways without experience.
I try to tap into the emotions I experience while I do the things I end up
writing about.

5) You have some really cool "Duffy Dombrowski" clothing apparel for sale
on your website. Where did you come up with the marketing idea for that &
why don't more mystery series writers do that? I love my Duffy T-shirt
by the way !

I wanted a line of "Old School" stuff that looked like the hotel t-shirts
you'd see Sonny Liston training in.
The basset hound people love the "Float Like a Basset Hound, Sting Like a
Bee" shirts.

6)You share so many of Duffy's qualities, a background in boxing, karate,
social work, dogs, can we assume you only date psychotic
women who will soon be in therapy?

Mrs. Schreck would probably object to me dating anyone other than her
these days.
(that's a pretty clever way of ducking that question, don't you think?)

7) You & Duffy both seem to want to help people or animals that are
vulnerable. Where does that desire come from?

Well, I like it when the underdog wins. I think we all connect to having
the odds against us.
You know, I do fundraisers with lots of basset rescue people. I get a lot
of credit for being this swell guy who sells books and gives money to the
rescue groups.
The heroes are the men and women that get in a truck and drive for three
days and nights to Arkansas, so some scumbag who's getting out of the puppy
mill business doesn't shoot his left over hounds.
These folks round up the hounds, get them to vets, and then find homes for
all of them. They're up night and day for neglected and abused animals.
How can you not get behind that?
And, there's a special place in hell for people who run puppy mills.

8)You do volunteer work I believe on a suicide hot-line. How did you get
involved with that and what kind of training do you have to get to do

I got a masters degree in counseling and I worked as a therapist for 18
years. It keeps me in that profession. The place I work at now had special
training on their mission and techniques.
Why'd I get involved? It gets me out of walking the hounds that day.

9) At some point can we expect to see Duffy stop being "her emotional
tampon", and find a nice gal & settle down. Maybe with Jack Daniels?

I see you like "emotional tampon." I stole that from Sam Kinison, you know.
Duffy winds up staying in a legal brothel for a month in the next book.
I'm sure he'll meet someone nice there.

10) Is A.J's Grill based on a real bar in your area?

Yep. I was there three days last week.

11) What is it about the YMCA? I was in one about 10 years ago, and I walk
into the locker room and there sits 4 guys completely naked ( 1 had on a
Cubs hat ) in lawn chairs drinking beer & watching a ballgame. Are they
all like that?

It's not just the Y's. I was the towel boy in the Albany Jewish Community
Center in college. Those guys came in, got naked, took a schvitz (a steam)
and then played naked bridge for five hours. Occasionally one would ask me
for a Q-tip and I'd throw up.
Ask Coleman about it sometime.

12) The Fearsome Foursome at AJ's are great. They kinda remind you of Ken
Bruens sentinels in the Jack Taylor novels. Are they based on real people
or just composites? And, did you take the name from that famed LA Rams
line of Deacon Jones & Merlin Olsen?

Yep, God rest Merlin's soul.
Any time you want to compare me to Ken Bruen I'll listen. I love that man.

13) I believe you've said 95% of their conversations (Fearsome Foursome)
comes from conversations you've overheard in bars yourself. Is that

I believe I said that but it's now up to 97.3%

14) We know your a big ELVIS fan, but who else do you enjoy listening too?
Will Duffy ever grow musically..or Elvis it for him?

Grow? After Elvis?
You're starting to piss me off, you know.

15)Will we see Duffy grow or stretch in his personal favorites as the
series continues, or is Duffy simply a guy who knows what he likes and
thats it ? Don't fix what ain't broke.

I think Duffy is a guy who likes what he likes and doesn't feel like
changing just because of his environment. Hence, the '77 Eldorado

16) Lets talk boxing for a minute, Duffy's favorite is Willie Pepp. Who
are some of your all- time favorites?

Willie Pep
Hector Macho Camacho
Pernell Whitaker
Manny Pacquaio
Roberto Duran
Oscar Delahoya

I love crafty, defensive fighters. It's the highest form of the art.

17) Whats the best fight you've ever officiated & have you ever
accidentally got tagged?

I judge, I don't ref, but in the last world title fight I did, Yurikis
Gamboa stepped on my pinky.
I've judged about 15 world title fights. I did Miguel Cotto versus Zab Judah, in
a sold out Madison Square Garden. That was pretty cool.
I did Manny Pacquaio and Marco Antonio Barerra, in Vegas and that was cool.
I judged the heavyweight title twice in the Garden...that was cool, too.

18) Pound for pound, who's the greatest fighter ever?

Willie Pep. 220 wins, went down in a plane crash and was told he wouldn't
walk again. Six months later, he won the title back.

19) We've had in the past 35 years so many great fighters, ( Ali, Holmes,
Foreman, Frazier, Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Spinks Bros, Hearns, Tyson)
to name a few. Whats the current state of Boxing today and can we ever
regain the magic of those earlier years?

We're in one of the best periods ever. It's just not at the heavyweight
Pacquaio, Mayweather, Mosley, Cotto and others from 140-154 are
terrific right now.
The problem is the fights are on pay TV, so the average fan doesn't realize
how good things are.

20) Who wins Duffy Dombrowski or Gerry Cooney?

I've met Gerry and he's a heck of a nice guy. In the fiction world, Cooney
at his prime is better than Duffy in his prime. Duffy would be an
opponent for Gerry.

21)You do alot of work for animal rescue shelters, what first got you
interested in this?

My first dog, Buddy was a rescue. Someone named him Buddy and then left
him at a shelter.
Buddy became a therapy dog and visited kids with autism and old folks in
nursing homes. He was really cool. I miss him all the time. He died too
I think of Buddy and my current rescue Riley. Riley was on death row twice
and someone saved him.
We found him on the internet after Buddy died.
That old lady who had him locked him in a cage for 24 hours a day until he
was rescued.
The lady called him "Rotten Riley."
Well, Rotten Riley is a therapy dog and has worked on the mental health
unit at our VA, in nursing homes and with autistic kids.
That old lady doesn't deserve to be called a "son of a bitch".

22) I like the way you take up the common man's causes & social wrongs,
such as the fate of migrant workers. But, you do it subtly without really
getting to political. Is this what you intended, making a statement but
not a judgment?

I hate being hit over the head with social issues. When you work with
really vulnerable people you learn real quick that all the bullshit talk
by politicians and pundits doesn't mean shit. They are real live people
with complex problems.
To pretend that they don't cause a lot of their own problems is stupid. To
pretend that they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps is equally
as stupid.
The vast majority of people have no idea what life is like for some
people. I mean liberals and conservative.
It's part of the reason I don't vote. There's too much bullshit.

23) Your dogs Muslim, your Boards president is Jewish, Duffy's polish, his
fan base Irish, and his trainers black. Was this point intended? I mean
to bring all these different ethnicity's together as friends, living side
by side in harmony.

In real life we rub against all sorts of people. Some are good people and
some are tedious assholes. They come in all shapes and sizes and no ethnic
group has a corner on "good-guy' status. I like the idea of really
messing with cliches and stereotypes.

24) I really believe we should take up a collection and buy Duffy a steel
cup & a shin protector. How much abuse can this guy take ? And, do basset
hounds really hit people in the nuts all the time? Ha

The original title of "On the Ropes", was "Duffy's Nuts".
Picture the size of a basset. Now... see them excited to see their human at
the end of the day. Okay? Good.
Now when they jump up, where are they going to land?
Uh-huh...about three times a day for me, my friend.

25) Is Crawford, N.Y. really the windiest city in America?

No, there is no Crawford NY.

26)In your opinion, what writers today are coming close to John D.
McDonald & Robert Parker in turning out terrific mystery series?

Today we got Konrath, Sakey, Chercover, Bruen, Krueger, RF. Coleman, Doolittle, I could go on forever

Final Question: What does Tom Schreck like to do for fun & relaxation?

I box, I walk the dogs, I listen to Elvis, I write, I watch the Yankees, I
go to Vegas, I shop at Flea Markets, I read and i spend time with my wife
who I'm crazy about.

Tom Schreck
OUT COLD,A Duffy Mystery 12/09 Additional Questions:

1) Tom, I gotta ask how far are your Irish goin in the big Dance?

Notre Dame, is, of course, God's school and they will win it all...just
like they've done in football recently !!

2) Who's gonna
win it all and what's up with Reed Farrel Coleman calling you his favorite
opponent? You weren't being nice to the big guy were you? You got some
explaing to do?

No, no, no Coleman's got some game. He's clearly the cream of the mystery
writers hoop crop. 'Course that's akin to being the smartest Spice Girl.
At the annual Bouchercon game he smoked me. In my prime I would've dusted him. In
fact, I would've dusted him last fall but I needed a blurb for "Out Cold" .
He didn't offer to box with me at the end of the game, either.

4) How many title fights have you done and when you first started
out did anyone ever approach you to fix a fight?

I've done about 15 title fights...maybe more or less, depending on what you
count as a title...
I've honestly never been approached with a bag of money or even heard of
that happening to anyone I know. Frankie Carbo is out of the sport.
What's kind of funny is when you're a judge the fight promoter is who pays
you. You get a weird look at the bank when you deposit a check signed by
Don King.

Monday, March 15, 2010

CHRIS CLEAVE Interview: N.Y. Times Best-Selling Author of "Little Bee"

I caught up with N.Y. Times best selling author, Chris Cleave, on his U.S. book tour in St. Louis, Mo. The book reading and signing, were held at the wonderful St. Louis County Library. It was truly an amazing night. Chris read from his book and then took an extended amount of time to answer questions in the Q & A session. He was was funny, insightful, warm, caring, and down to earth. It was during this Q & A session that I decided to approach Chris about doing an interview for "Signs & Wonders". His response was an immediate "consider it done". I am grateful to Mr. Cleave for taking the time out of what I know is a very busy schedule to answer the following questions. Thank goodness he had a long flight from Dubai to contemplate answers to the following questions. Here goes with Mr. Chris Cleave !

1) Now that "Little Bee" is a #1 paperback bestseller, do you see an upgrade to your shed in the near future?

No way – I like my leaky writing shed. Like in the Beatles song, the hole where the rain gets in stops my mind from wandering…

2) If you were to write in a masculine voice in a future novel, would you be able to still shrink yourself down†enough to be able to leave yourself out of the story?

Writing male voices is harder for me, because my own character keeps leaking into them. The novel I’m currently writing has one male main character, and I have to keep surgically extracting parts of myself from his poor fictitious body.

3) In St. Louis you said "the only honest ending is an open ending", which is like life itself. Do you feel most readers are comfortable with that on a regular basis,or do they have to have closure?

I think we are moving into a new era of the novel, where writers are going to have to think harder about the kind of closure they provide in a novel. We do live in a world where stories never honestly end; where shared events are continually recalled, reassessed and revised in the collective memory. So for a writer like me, who is interested in shared human experiences, it’s all about finding a storytelling device that provides the closure we all naturally need as humans, whilst staying true to my conviction that the best stories can never be said to be over.

4)In the U.S. it's easy to see where the global economy has its good and bad points. However, artistically it's a good thing don't you think?

I’m not sure about that. Try telling the guy who just lost his job and has to go and tell his wife and kids that they’ll have to move into a smaller apartment that the recession is good news for art.

5) The world is a much smaller place today thanks to the Internet, face book, twitter, etc... do you think that it can hurt the local sense of culture in some places? In music for example.

Great question. Actually I think that globalized communication tools like Twitter and Face book can really benefit a local arts / lit / music scene, and I’ve seen people use them to great effect to organize successful local events. What I worry about is Internet retail consolidation in the music and books business. It’s very hard now for a new rock band, for example, to start small and local and gradually widen their following from local to regional to national to global, because right off the bat they’re competing with these huge global mega-bands that everyone has instant access to.

6)Since "Little Bee's" success, have you been approached about becoming "a voice" in regards to the refugee problems in your country, and would you be comfortable with that?

I do often get asked to do exactly that, and I often say yes if I feel that my presence would be of net benefit to the cause. When I say no, it’s usually because I feel that the people who campaign full-time on refugee issues are better informed and more of an asset to the particular platform than I would be. For example I was on a panel in London last month with three other people: two were campaigners for refugee rights and one was a representative of the UK Border Agency. Halfway through the evening, I realized that my contributions, which tend to be emotive and slightly showboating, were actually distracting from the more patient, more data-driven contributions of the two refugee rights campaigners. I realized that sometimes the best thing I can do for the causes I believe in is to write my books and then shut up.

7) You are a very humble and generous man who enjoys being out amongst your readers. Do you worry at all about your success and the impact it can have on your life and the changes that might come with it?

Thanks, but in fact none of this changes me at all because I don’t feel any more of a success than I did on the first day I became a writer. In 2003 I was still unpublished and I quit my job to write, because I’d finally managed to save up about 18 months’ worth of money to live on. I wrote two novels in that 18 months, the second of which got published. And so far I’m still a full-time writer. Quitting my job back then is still the thing I’m most proud of as a writer, and I still see being a writer as a temporary state of grace that surely can’t last forever. Eventually every writer will either run out of money, or run out of health and energy, or run out of ideas. Every day where none of those three things happens is a wonderful day. It doesn’t matter if you have a book that doesn’t go big, or if you have a book that is the New York Times Number One Bestseller – and you can believe me on this point because I’ve experienced both. In the honest core of your being, the highs and the lows leave you largely unmoved. The only thing you are ever really aware of as a writer is the constant excitement of turning sentences, and the constant desire to tell your readers a story that will mean something to them emotionally, and the constant engagement to produce work that is ever better. A writer measures success only by how good they feel about the book they’re working on right now.

8) Are you involved in any charity work or causes? Not necessarily financial but things that you see that are wrong and would like to see righted?

Yes I do some charity work – probably no more than anyone else.

9)You mentioned that you are very happy writing in the twenty year gap of contemporary reality. Can you see yourself writing something out of that realm? Oh, say something like a period piece?

I don’t know how I’ll feel about this in the future, but right now I’m fully engaged with telling stories in the contested space between the point where journalists leave off a story and the point where historians take it up. I want my eventual body of work to serve as a record of how it felt to be living through these times.

10) You seem to have "a voice" for social injustices, and crimes against humanity in general. Can we continue to look for you in the future to be confronting these same issues in your books?

Well what I do is to pose general moral questions in my novels, but to make them specific to the lives of my characters, and to do so in such a way that the reader might plausibly ask themselves the question: “what would I do?”. I think I ask questions about human nature in an entertaining way, rather than confronting issues.

11) You love children, that's obvious. Could you see yourself writing a children's book at some point?

Yes! I’d love to. That’s definitely on the near horizon for me.

12) In the U.K. a refugee may be detained from 2 weeks to 2 years or up to 7 years in some cases. The people making those life altering decisions have had as little as 5 weeks training in some circumstances. How can those people be qualified to make decisions that will have a huge impact on another persons life for years and maybe their entire life?

Well, that’s a rhetorical question and I admire where you’re coming from with the answer you’re implying.

13) Could these refugees detainment's be classified as Human Rights violations in some cases?

Good question, and I’m not a lawyer and I don’t really know. All I would say is that I personally believe that refugees from conflict zones deserve more than the treatment we currently give them, whatever the legal ins and outs of the matter. I believe this is especially true when the refugees have been displaced in the first instance by conflicts in which we have been instrumental – for example, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. We can’t continue to use military intervention as a foreign policy tool without making any provision for the flood of refugees that war inevitably produces.

14) I believe you said you grew up in, The Republic of Cameroon, in Africa, which borders with Nigeria. What was your childhood like growing up there?

It was wonderful. But then, we had wonderful parents.

15) Your debut novel, "Incendiary" was well received and was made into a film with Ewan McGregor and Michelle Williams. Were you pleased with the adaptation from your book to film?

I think Ewan McGregor and Michelle Williams are amazing in it!

16) Has "Little Bee" been optioned yet? It would make an incredible film in the right hands?

Yes, Little Bee is being made into a film by BBC Films, and I believe Nicole Kidman is going to be Sarah. I am very excited about this film – the producer and the screenwriter are excellent, and there is every chance it will be a stunning movie.

17) You write a very funny column on your kids for the newspaper, "The Guardian". Is that a nice release from the grind of writing novels?

Actually I’ve just written the last episode of that column, having done it for two years without a week off, and yes, I loved every moment of it. It was wonderful to be able to write something that was simply funny every week, just to make people laugh & make them happy. You can check out all the episodes at

18) On your website, you list Cormac McCarthy and John Steinbeck as two of your favorite writers. I can see some similarities in their writing and yours.In their time,both of them have done an incredible job of exploring social issues, inequalities, and still having believable characters that can just see, don’t you think?


19)You are two-thirds of the way through your first U.S. tour. Has it been an enjoyable time and what have been some of the highlights?

It has been the best tour I’ve ever experienced. I love talking with audiences in the US because they are invariably good-humored and hospitable, and because the Q&A sessions tend to be so energetic. I try to put on a real show when I do live events – rather than to just read from my work and mumble at my shoes – and when the audience gets into the spirit of the thing, I think we all have fun and learn something from each other. I like to talk about other books as well as my own, and I like it when the audience lifts the discussion to a higher level. Literary events are so much more interactive than theatre or music or comedy gigs – it’s really a whole different art form where the audience is the co-star. Highlights on this tour were a person who came in a Batman costume, a woman who stood up in tears and announced that her parents were refugees from Nigeria, and that having read my book they had been able to talk about their experiences as a family for the first time, and a six-year-old boy with no front teeth who gravely shook my hand and told me this was his first book event. These are memories that stay with you as a writer.

20)The little boy in "Little Bee" is based on your own 6 year old son. Is your son a Batman fan?

You bet. I couldn’t have done it without him. He was my consultant editor for the Gotham City jurisdiction.

21) When and where did you first meet your wife?

London, 1999, in a nightclub south of the Thames. Technically speaking I suppose we were, in fact, partying like it was 1999.

21) Fatherhood is something that is obviously very important to you on many levels. Are your 3 children your greatest accomplishment?

Well, they and my wife are the best things in my life and they are far more important than my writing. But I don’t see them as my accomplishment. They are their own people – I just help look after them.

22) As news around the world becomes more and more instantly accessible , do you think we will be stirred to action when we see these atrocities, or we will continue to watch the 5 o'clock news, say that's terrible, and then go back to our dinner and ballgames?

I think we become hardened to atrocity through repeated exposure to reporting, although I don’t think it’s a phenomenon which is unique to our times. I think throughout history it has been part of the role of artists to make horror real for us again – to put it onto some canvas in a compact way that we can wrap our minds and our emotions around. That’s why paintings like Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ or Primo Levi’s ‘If This is a Man’ are important.

Final Question: When can we expect to see the next Chris Cleave novel in bookstores?

Spring, 2011. I’m already excited about it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Duffy Dombrowski, a boxer with a heart !

A couple years ago a friend recommended a new writer by the name of Tom Schreck, who's debut novel, "On the Ropes" had just came out. It features a character named Duffy Dombrowski, a boxer and social worker. Duffy lives in a blue Air Stream trailer, drives a burnt orange Cadillac El Dorado, and only listens to Elvis music. He drinks in a bar called AJ's, which is mostly empty except for a group called the "Fearsome Foursome", who carry on all kinds of bizarre conversations. Every girl he dates is neurotic & the relationship usually doesn't last long. Oh and he inherits a basset hound named Al who has issues of his own. I just finished the second Duffy novel, "TKO", and it was every bit as good as the first. Tom's books are funny, but don't take them lightly as their also full of hard hitting crimes, mystery and intrigue. Be sure to stay tuned to "Signs & Wonders", as we've got a wonderful interview with Tom coming soon. He also has a terrific short story, "Planters Punch", co-written with J.A. Konrath of the "Jack Daniels" mystery series, posted on his blog site. The 3rd Duffy Dombrowski novel,"Out Cold" is now available.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sparks Should stick to what he knows stories.

The great thing about writing on your own website is you get to choose what you write each day. I write about things that catch my eye pertaining to film, books, music, and underground Americana. Some days I see something out there that really fires me up. Today was one of those. Afterall, since when did Nicholas Sparks become James Patterson?

Nicholas Sparks, is a best selling author of over 61 million books, with the #1 & #2,current best sellers on USA Today's best seller list. I met Mr. Sparks several years ago in St. Louis after "The Notebook" had came out and I found him to be a gracious man who was kind & patient with everyone in attendance that evening. His books have found a receptive audience in Hollywood as well. Films based on his books include, "A Walk to Remember", "Message in A Bottle", "The Notebook"," Nights in Rodanthe", "Dear John" and soon to be released "Last Song", featuring Miley Cyrus.

Up until today, I'd never wished him any ill will. He doesn't really write my kinda books, but I know alot of friends and family members who've enjoyed his books (mostly women & kids) over the years.

However, that all changed today after reading a story in the USA Today. The story was ok up until the point where Sparks is looking at the shelves at Book Soup in L.A., and pulls Hemingway's "A Farewell To Arms" off the shelf and says, "Good Stuff. That's what I write", he says putting it back,"That's what I write". Cormac McCarthy? "Horrible," he says, looking at Blood Meridian. "This is probably the most pulpy, overwrought, melodramatic cowboy vs. Indians story ever written." ... SAY WHAT, BLASPHEMY !!!! Then it got even worse...when Miley Cyrus says her favorite book is, "Catcher in the Rye", J.D. Salinger's classic. Then Sparks is asked his favorite tale of youth? He responds, " I think "A WALK TO REMEMBER", citing his own novel. "That's my version of a coming-of-age." He pauses and adds: "You have to say TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is an all-time classic. Then he was asked of any he thinks are overrated? "I don't like to say bad things about others". "Except McCarthy? "He deserves it" Sparks says with a laugh. Then when he was asked what he likes in his own genre, he replies: "There are no authors in my genre". "No one is doing what I do". When others (James Patterson ?) are suggested to him, he keeps his lips pursed.

Well it was nice knowing you Mr. Sparks, because I certainly won't be reading you any longer. When it comes to critqueing books, maybe you ought to stick to what you know, (those love stories or romance novels) as some would call them. After all, you don't need people like me when you are already your own favorite writer quite obviously. To be egotistical is one thing, but to put down one of the finest writers of our time in Cormac McCarthy, is heresey. I think you and James Patterson would enjoy each others company afterall.

Monday, March 8, 2010

INDEPENDENTS, the best thing going !

We all do it I know, but still. Do what exactly,..go to a Borders or Barnes & Noble and all those other chain bookstores out there. I'm not saying their is anything wrong with it, I admit to doing it myself from time to time. However, when given the time and opportunity to go anywhere I like, I head out to the independents. I had a friend recently ask me what's an independent? Well it's simply a bookstore or record shop that is independently owned, and not a part of a larger chain of stores. Over the years I've had several favorites that have unfortunately gone by the wayside. Two of those, Wabash River Books in Terre Haute,In. and Raintree Books in New Harmony,In. were very special to me. I spent many a day lost in their shelves. Wabash River had a great selection & Raintree did as well, and also hosted folk singers and was housed in a building from the 1800's with the old wood floors & cabinets. When they closed, it was like a bit of myself died with them. What makes an independent so special is the kind of services they provide. Most of the ones I go to, have friendly and knowledgeable staffs, good selection, and host author readings and signing events. Another important thing is that the money you spend there stays there. It helps those in that community and it allows those bookstores to be involved in helping with community events. When you shop the chains your money goes back to corporate and doesn't stay in that community. My favorite is Square Books in Oxford,Ms... hands down! Rich Howorth runs a top notch store and it hosts a ton of signing events across many genres. If your lucky you might even run into authors like Ace Atkins, Tom Franklin or Jack Pendarvis while your there. If your in the St. Louis area, be sure to check out Left Bank Books, at 309 N. Euclid, there since 1969. Then head down to street to 239 N. Euclid to Big Sleep Books, a mecca for area mystery fans. One of the owners, Helen Simpson, was actually a character in a Robert Randisi mystery. Some other of my St.Louis favorites are, Subterranean Books, Patten Books, The Book House, and also give Vintage Vinyl Records a look see. In Decatur, Il. there are three pretty good ones in Novel Ideas, Underhill Books, and Cheryl's Old Book Barn. If your heading to Champaign,Il., stop in at Janes Adams Books near The Virginia Theatre and then stop in at the Old Main Bookshoppe. A couple others out there that I really like and that you might enjoy if you get out on the road, are Alabama Booksmith in Birmingham,Al., Turn Row Books in Greenville,Ms.,Anderson's in Naperville,Il.,Landmark Books in Franklin,Tn., Lemuria Books in Jackson,Ms., Mysteries To Die For in Thousand Oaks,Ca., Booked Up in Archer City, Tx, (Larry McMurtry's store), and Murder by The Book in Houston, Tx. There are a whole lot more out there and if your heading somewhere and need a suggestion, just drop me a line. These places are special because they care about you & me. Your important to them. It's just as easy to pick up your phone and call one of these wonderful shops as it is to go online and order off Amazon, or Barnes and Noble. My only criticism of the independent stores is once I get inside I don't want to come out!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

ALICE IN WONDERLAND " worth a view"

My wife & I went and saw "ALICE IN WONDERLAND" in 3D this afternoon, and I was actually surprised at how good it was. I have to admit I've never read Lewis Carroll's books, or seen any of the earlier Alice films, so I had nothing to compare it to. I thought the film had several strong acting performances, including Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter and Mia Wasikowska as the 19 year old Alice. However, I felt the real scene stealer was Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen. I also thought Anne Hatheway was dreadful as the White Queen.A very unispiring performance for her. I had always heard how creepy the books were but I didn't really feel that way here. I actually thought Tim Burton did a nice job of not getting to far out there ,as it was rather subdued for him. If you enjoyed Johnny Depp in Willy Wonka and The Choclate Factory, you'll like this one. The cinematography was outstanding and it was a beautiful film to watch. While definetly not the best film I've seen this year, it is worth your time to give it a look.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Saturday March 6th, at the Cactus Cafe...Tom Russell

The one and only Tom Russell, will be appearing at The Cactus Cafe in Austin,Tx. this Saturday evening, March 6th, and a percentage of CD sales will go to help save the Cactus Cafe. Tom has been passionate in his efforts to keep this longtime Austin icon up and running. If you know someone in the area or you'll be nearby, do yourself a favor and get on out to the show on Saturday, and help keep this wonderful musical hot spot open.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Oxfords own, BARRY HANNAH , passes away at 67

I was saddened this evening to learn of the death of Oxford,Ms. author, Barry Hannah, at the age of 67. Mr. Hannah died at his home on Monday of natural causes. I wasn't fortunate enough to have met him in person, however I was a huge fan of his work as a writer. He was funny, witty, and had a gift of creating wonderful southern characters. Many of those characters were hard drinking southerners. Barry taught writing at the University of Mississippi for over 25 years and had made his home in Oxford. I have mentioned my love of Oxford,Ms. on this site in the past. The writers who live in Oxford are truly special and caring people. I was just there in July,and had left all of my Barry Hannah collection with my friend Cody Morrison to be signed when Barry came in to the store the next time. The year came and went, but in late January Cody contacted me to let me know that Barry had been in and signed them, and that they would ship them to me right away. I can still remember my excitement the day that they came, and as I opened them up, I felt a little bond to this wonderful author. Now,only a little over a month since that day, Mr. Hannah is gone. Tonight in Oxford, those same Oxford writers (Tom Franklin, Ace Atkins, Jack Pendarvis & several others) will gather at a local watering hole and raise a glass in memory of Barry Hannah. Here, I too will raise a glass in his honor, but in spirit, I will be some 6 hours away.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Future of the Auto Industry?

We can put a man on the moon, but the best we can do is 28-32 mpg. when it comes to automobiles. Are you kidding me? Is it any wonder that the auto industry is in huge financial trouble these days. Then I see that the Germans are close to putting out a VW that gets 258 mpg.. Their Volkswagen single seater car is supposedly ready to hit the market in Shanghai, China in 2010. The vehicle has gone from conception to production in only 3 years. It's being billed as the most economical car in the world, and will retail for $600 U.S. dollars. The vehicles fuel tank capacity is only 1.7 gallons and would get you 404 miles on a full tank. The car travels at a top speed of 74.6 mph., and the company's headquarters is in Hamburg, Germany. On a website I visited, it states that you could go to Shanghai on vacation, buy 2 of these cars for your wife and yourself, buy one for each of your kids, have them shipped home and still spend less money than if you bought a car at home. If this is for real, it really makes you wonder what we're doing over here. It could be bad news for "Big Oil".

Fire Destroys Iconic Grocery in Elliottstown,Il.

It was sad to see this local landmark burn down a couple weeks ago. It had been a grocery store for over 40 years before being turned into an apartment complex. It held many fond memories for a close friend of mine (Steve Endebrock) who's grandparents had ran the grocery store all those years. Most kids today don't remember these types of grocery stores at all. The ones with all kinds of candy, cool advertising signs, and glass soda bottles filled with grape, orange, strawberry and chocolate. It was also a place you met and talked to your neighbors, a slower place in time, or some might say a better place in time. This place reminded me of a time period that I was into collecting antiques & bottles. Steve and I spent many a day bottle hunting & searching for those metal advertising signs. It brought back alot of good memories, like the time we carried a sign over our heads, in shin deep mud, about a half mile back to our vehicle. We found some pretty cool stuff in those days, original advertising signs for Sunbeam Bread, Dr. Pepper, Shell, Gargoyle and I'll never forget Steve's biggest treasure, a couple sets of hard plastic or ceramic coffee cups with a straw or bamboo weave design inside them. I laughed at the time, but I have to admit I still use the set he gave me some 10 years later. He said they reminded him of the cups he drank out of at his grandmother's house when he was a child. We should all be so sentimental and nostalgic. It's always sad to see another landmark destroyed...but the memories of the past are safe and sound in our hearts and can never be taken from us.


I have to start out by saying that for some reason I just did not want to see this picture. I don't really know why. I had loved Titanic, and everyone I knew who had seen Avatar, had liked it. I mean film buffs I respect like Tyler Renshaw. Maybe it was all the blue people, or all the sci-fi stuff (I'm not a sci-fi guy for the most part). Whatever the reason was, doesn't really matter. I finally gave in this Sunday afternoon and checked out the 3D version (3D is another aspect I'm not crazy about). All I could say was WOW !! It's a long film that didn't seem long and that is always a mark of a good film. The special effects are amazing, but what really got my attention was what the film had to say, and it said alot. I couldn't help but keep thinking of how there was no way this film could have gotten made in J.Edgar Hoovers time. It just wouldn't have been allowed and if it did, James Cameron would have ended up on a FBI watch list. The film is very much a knock on the war in Iraq, with lines something along the way of " If we want something they've got, we just call them the enemy and go take it". Does that sound like oil talk to you ? Another line was ..."we fight terrorism with terrorism". The movie is also about the environment and it's destruction. Yes, James Cameron is a "tree hugger", as some would say. Parallels have to made between the Skypeople and the U.S. Government. There is also a underlying spiritual or religious thing going on here. Avatar is alot of things to alot of people. However, I'd sadly say the majority who've seen it, saw it as nothing more than a great special effects film. I can't wait to here James Cameron's acceptance speech next Sunday. I'm thinking he'll have something significant to say. Finally, is it the best film of the year? I'd say vote still goes to THE HURT LOCKER, a film that shows us what our brave military men are dealing with on a daily basis. Huh, two war films battling it out for best picture...interesting.


Let me begin by saying that I'm 44 years old and most people would consider spending a day on the road with their mother (at that age) a pretty uncool thing to do. Perhaps, but then again, my mothers not the typical Mom. My wife had to work Saturday and my mother was in town to visit us for the weekend. No problem, we grabbed all my (Tom Russell, Slaid Cleaves, Jim White & Leonard Cohen CD's) and hit the road. We drove through some great towns along the way (Greenville, Hillsboro, Leitchfield) before we ended up in Girrard,Il. at the Deck Bros. soda shop and bookstore. We grabbed root beer and chocolate floats from the 50's soda shop and I picked up Woody Guthrie's, autobiography "Bound for Glory" at the bookstore. We had a very interesting conversation with the legendary Deck brothers, about the history of the area, books & the two buildings they own. From Girrard we were only 4 miles from Virden, Il. ( a town I wrote about only a couple weeks ago) and the SLY FOX and BOOKS ON THE SQUARE bookstores. We spent the afternoon in these two shops buying books and chatting with George at the SLY FOX & John and Jeannie Alexander at BOOKS ON THE SQUARE". I found some brand new mystery 1st editions still on the shelf from the late 90's of (Charlie Stella, Vicki Hendricks, Ace Atkins,Jason Starr and Ken Bruen)at the SLY FOX, and some wonderful vintage paperbacks of (Dashiell Hammett,Raymond Chandler,Rex Stout, Jim Thompson,Graham Greene,Dorothy B. Hughes, and William Faulkner) at BOOKS ON THE SQUARE. Funny... but both stores owners said we were the best customers of the day. That's probably why I'm always broke. If I could eat my books, I'd weigh a thousand pounds! Before we left town we stopped at the corner gourmet coffee shop and grabbed some terrific cappuccino's and a bag of Dutch Apple coffee beans for later. The latter part of the day didn't go as scripted. We left Girrard headed for Decatur, but we ended up in Springfield, looking for a restaurant that she had seen featured on one of her favorite cooking shows. The kicker is, she couldn't remember the name or address... but she did remember it looked like a Quonset hut. After 45 minutes of searching downtown Springfield to no avail, we gave up. We settled ( if you can call it that), for the Rt.# 66 icon, "THE COZY DOG". I've been several times, but it was her first time and was quite a treat. This is a must stop on any Rt. #66 trip and was the origin of the corn dog. Make sure you order the homemade fries as well. It was now getting dark, so we headed home through Decatur,Il. We did stop at Best Buy, Hickory Creek Mall, and a going out of business sale at Hollywood Video. It was there that I found a Leonard Cohen DVD. We made a pass by the Avon Theatre to see what was on, but decided to pass this time. We got back to the house about 9:30 pm ( or about 12 hours after we'd started). It was a great day and just proves it's not that unhip to spend time with Ma!