Quebec City's 2012 Crime and Mystery Literary Festival

It has taken me a few days, but I've finally found the time to put a little pictorial together on the Quebec Crime Festival that took place October 25th - 27th, 2012.
This doesn't come close to capturing the atmosphere of the event and all the wonderful people I met. 

A little prop plane from Montreal to Quebec. Coincidentally  I sat beside a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff who was on leave and visiting a friend. Needless to say, I gave him a copy of my book.

Left to right 1st row - Archer Mayer, Linwood Barclay, Michael Robotham, John Connolly, Brian Freeman, Peggy Blair, Giles Blunt and Mons Kallentoft. Left to right 2nd row - Chris Holm, Owen Laukkanen, Mark Billingham, Laura Lippman, David Swinson and Wayne Arthurson. Not pictured here - Robert Pobi.
Organizers Jacques Filippi and Guy Dubois introducing the first panel.                                                
Touring Old Quebec (Wayne Arthurson, Mons Kallentoft, David Swinson)
Later with Rob Pobi, who actually was a fan of Roadside Prophets, the 1991 film I co-produced. Go figure.

Hypersonic Brainstorming

Yesterday evening during dinner, my wife C and I were talking to our daughter V, about what she learned that day in Kindergarten.

“About opposites,” she said and then, “The opposite of 6 is 9.”

We agreed.

That’s creative thinking. A visual mind.

I asked her, “What’s the opposite of zero?”

She thought for a moment and then said, “O.” As in the letter.
Again, a visually-minded creative thinker.

C said, “Actually, the opposite of zero is nothing. But zero is also the center of an infinite amount of numbers, both plus and minus , but you were also right because an opposite can be something that is very different from something else.”

After V was put to bed, I went to my desk in an effort to write. But after about an hour of staring at the screen, I decided I might do better to just find a comfortable position on the bed, notepad and pen on the nightstand, and do a bit of brainstorming.

It was almost 10 pm.

I thought a lot about the book and the next scene with detective Simeon and his new partner. I knew where I wanted to go, but for some reason “zero” kept popping into my head. The more I tried to keep my mind off of it the more vivid the image of zero became. I couldn't let it go.

I smiled when I thought about the dinner conversation and how V’s five year old mind worked. However, my mind wanted to grasp an image and wrestle with it. Trust me, I’m not a mathematician. I somehow managed to muddle my way through college level mathematics. Fortunately, my major, which was communications and film only called for a passing grade.

Despite my severe dislike for math and the fact that it was disrupting my writing process, I couldn't let it go.

The whole idea of it!

Zero is nothing, nil, zilch, but it still has to have a value. After all, it is the center of the infinite numerical universe. 

I thought about googling something as silly as, “What is zero?” It’d be easy. Everything I needed to know was out there. I didn't though, because for some reason I needed to sort this out myself. 

Maybe I was avoiding something?

I didn’t want to be influenced by anything on the web. As stupid as what I’ll probably come up with without the web’s assistance, I had to resolve it with what little I knew about mathematics. 

The value of zero?

It has a center role, but if you combine all the negative numbers with their positive counterparts then you’d have zero. Nothing. Zero sucks them all up. Also, when you add zeros to decimals, the numbers get smaller. And then, if you add it to the value of another number you make that number greater – 10, 20, 30… 

Zero is like superglue. It holds all the numbers in line, from left to right – infinity and beyond. It’s also something that is not a part of anything until it’s needed and when it is needed it makes the whole number greater. Without it there is only counting numbers one to nine and then you always come back to one. It seems to me that zero has a greater value than all the numbers. What else can be both nothing and something at the same time?

This went on for a very long time. My brain wouldn’t stop. Before I knew it, it was 6am. I had been up all night. All night, and without the assistance of anything like caffeine or whatever other substance might “legally” give you a serious boost.

All because of nothing.
It all worked out for the best, though. My brain got a serious workout and all the nonsense that had been stored in there is now gone.

It’s time to go back and stare at the screen on my laptop, hope for the best and stay clear of any conversation that might create silly, unnecessary clutter.   

Quebec City's Crime and Mystery Literary Festival

On October 25th, 26th and 27th, I'll be In Quebec City for their annual Crime Festival, organized by Guy Dubois, owner of La Maison Anglaise, and Jacques Filippi, of The House of Crime and Mystery.

I'll be joining several other authors including, John CONNOLLY, Brian FREEMAN, Chris F. HOLM, Peter KIRBY and Robert POBI for an Anglophone Reading & Book signing which will be held on the 26th - and on the 27th, “Living the Double Life: to Work and to Write.” with, Wayne ARTHURSON, Peggy BLAIR, Peter KIRBY, Robert POBI and Brad SMITH for a panel and book signing.

I'm really looking forward to the event and hope to see some of my Canadian friends there as well.

For more information about tickets, a complete list of authors and a detailed schedule visit the QuebeCrime website.

Your Boss is Insane, an Infographic by Sarah Wenger

I don't normally post stuff like this, but I've been working hard on the second Detective Simeon book and his  new supervising LT has serious issues. In fact, he might fall into the first category seen on this well done, and well researched graphic.

I've also had some bad supervisors during my time as an officer and a detective on the police department, but let me get this straight right away. This new character IS NOT based on any one of them. He is fiction!

In light of all this, but absolutely coincidental, Sara Wenger, at Learn sent me the following infographic that she recently developed. I can say that I have personally experienced a lot of this. They know who they are.

Thanks for letting me post this, Sarah.

Your Boss Is Insane

Great Questions

Mystery writer and blogger, Dorothy James recently interviewed me. Very well thought out questions. You can check it out at her blog, My Place for Mystery. It's a blog worth exploring.

Her book, A Place to Die is also worth checking out. I'm currently reading it. Even if I had not discovered this book through Dorothy James and knew nothing about the author, I would have immediately been taken in and bought it based solely on the first two lines. I usually don't like reading any books while writing, but I made an exception with this one.

Beyond the Man in the Iron Mask, Part 2

“Vidster” Vidocq, an older gentleman, loves to crack his brain over the impossible. He likes to read about historical mysteries and unsolved homicides. He writes down his musing on the blog “Defrosting Cold Cases.”

Part 1 was posted on Gary Lee Walter’s blog Stretlaw in the weekend of April 14-15, 2012.

Case Jackets is hosting Part Two in this three part series and mini blog tour by Vidster.

Suzie Ivy will be hosting Part Three on her blog, The Bad Luck Detective

Beyond the Man in the Iron Mask, Part Two:

First, consider the unknown prisoner’s transportation:

When Saint-Mars and his unknown prisoner went from Pignerolo to Exiles, they had a closed litter and an escort. From Exiles to Saint-Marguerite, they had an open sedan-chair covered with oil cloth and an escort. From Saint-Marguerite to the Bastille, they had an open litter and no escort. You see the security measures going down, right?

According to prison documents, Saint-Mars had his unknown prisoner in special high-security cells at Pignerolo, Exiles and Saint-Marguerite but in an ordinary cell at the Bastille. Saint-Mars and his unknown prisoner were clearly not top priority anymore!

So what changed? The Minister of War changed and here we see our lines materialize.

In 1691, when the unknown prisoner was at Saint-Marguerite, Francois Michel le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois died. He was succeeded by his son as Minster of War. And here we have the crucial point where any re-investigation should start.

From 1669-1691: the Minister of War was Francois Michel le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois (further “Louvois”) and the unknown prisoner was at Pignerolo and Exiles.

From 1691-1701: the Minister of War was Louis Francois Marie le Tellier, Marquis de Barbezieux (further “Barbezieux”) and the unknown prisoner was at Saint-Marguerite and the Bastille.

After Louvois’ death, the security measures declined. Clearly, Barbezieux was less worried than his father ever was about this unknown prisoner and what he might represent or know.

This open up the possibility that the security threat was less on state level but more on a personal level. Louvois had access to blank warrants neatly signed in advance by Louis XIV. He could easily have used those to settle personal scores. 

One man played a huge role in Louvois’ decisions and that man was Nicolas Fouquet 

Nicolas Fouquet was former Superintendent General of Finance. He was arrested in September 1661 for embezzlement of state funds and conspiracy to rebellion. He was sentenced to life in December 1664. He died at Pignerolo, then governed by Saint-Mars, on April 6, 1680. Fouquet was buried on March 23, 1681.

And here it is that line 2 appears!

Pignerolo was a fort upgraded to state prison to keep exactly one man incarcerated: Fouquet and that made Saint-Mars a famous prison governor. Fouquet was involved in the power struggle between Louvois and Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Minister of Finance from 1665-1683.

After Fouquet, famous prisoner #2 arrived at Pignerolo: Count Ercole Antonio Matthioli on May 2, 1679. Matthioli was a one time Secretary of State and Senator for the Duke of Mantua. He was suspected of selling state secrets to the Spanish. He was involved in negotiations between the Duke of Mantua and the Republic of Venice with France serving as intermediary between the Duke and the Republic.

Saint-Mars’ fame grew even more after famous prisoner #3 arrived at Pignerolo in November 1671: Antoine Nompar de Caumont, Marquis de Puyguilhem and Duc de Lauzun. Lauzun was at Pignerolo from 1671-1681.

There are notes from Louvois to Saint-Mars in which the first demanded from the latter that another prisoner, Eustache Dauger, was not allowed to be in any room with both Fouquet and Lauzun present. Dauger was only allowed to walk outside if accompanied by Fouquet and la Riviere, a valet. 

What does this tell me? 

That Fouquet and la Riviere had to keep an eye on Dauger. 


To avoid that a memory is triggered in Lauzun. 

Why else are these men allowed to mingle during their incarceration but when Dauger is around, they cannot. So the question is: what is it that Lauzun witnessed at one time that involved Louvois?

In the meantime, Saint-Mars kept bragging about his important prisoners to the Ministry of War to get more funding and of course, a better salary for himself. However, the Ministry changed. Louvois was succeeded by his son, Barbezieux.

Barbezieux could not undo all that his father had done while he was Minister of War or else, the public would get the message that the prisoners were no longer a threat and would eventually tie that to Louvois himself. Barbezieux would be undermining his predecessor’s authority, credibility and with that make a statement about the Monarchy. So the best Barbezieux could do was to keep the unknown prisoner incarcerated, maybe extend some of his privileges or, grant request for renewals of clothing. Anything else would tarnish his father’s image!

To recap: 

Line 1: during his life, Louvois considered someone such a personal threat that he needed to be incarcerated for life.

Line 2: during his life, Saint-Mars sought fame and his status increased with each new famous prisoner. 


To be continued on Suzie Ivy’s blog The Bad Luck Detective in the weekend of April 28-29, 2012.

Beyond the Man in the Iron Mask, a mini blog tour by Vidocq_cc

“Vidster” Vidocq, an older gentleman, loves to crack his brain over the impossible. He likes to read about historical mysteries and unsolved homicides. He writes down his musing on the blog “Defrosting Cold Cases.”

About Vidster, by Vidster:

"Vidocq is of course, my  pen name and I wish to remain in the shadows. Those who work with me do know who I am. I thank them for keeping my privacy.

As Vidocq, I created #cclivechat (Cold Case Live Chat) on Twitter. Every Friday from noon-1pm EST you can join the chat for updates on unsolved homicides worldwide. I also host guests during “themed” chats. A schedule of the themed chats can be found on the DCC’s home page. Guests discuss issues ranging from DNA to blogging, cyber-bullying to fiction, and from postmortem toxicology to forensic arson detection." 

You can follow Vidocq’s account on Twitter: @Vidocq_CC.

Part one of Beyond the Man in the Iron Mask, is being hosted by Gary Lee Walters, currently posted on his website,  

Case Jackets will be hosting part two, which I will post on the weekend of April 21st -22nd. Really a great read so check out part one at the above mentioned link.

Part three will be hosted by, Suzie Ivy, on her blog, The Bad luck Detective in the weekend of April 28th - 29th.

Factual Fiction

    When I first started blogging Case Jackets, it was meant to be a creative release. It was first person, present tense. It was fiction, but based on my experiences as a detective with the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC.
It wasn’t until I wrote a blog about a funeral, that I realized several readers actually thought that what I was writing was based on actual events. I received a lot of emails – readers offering sincere comfort for what was a fictional loss. I felt awkward, and that’s when I wrote back and confessed that Case Jackets was fiction. But it was fiction based on real experience. One of those experiences was based on the funeral of a good friend. 
I remember clearly sitting on a pew squeezed between older people, maybe distant relatives. My tender sinus membranes tingled to the sharp commingling scent of pine and roses. His wife sat in a pew a couple of rows in front of me, her arms gently wrapped around her two boys, holding them against her on each side. A sizable wooden cross was centered on the wall behind the pulpit. White candles with curiously still flames, lined the edge of the stage. Large, colorful floral arrangements rose above in back. The Pastor was on the stage behind a podium above the casket, reading a passage out of a large Bible. I felt mentally off balance, and the words were lost to me.
It was crowded with family, friends, and officers dressed in their Class A uniforms. Everyone huddled together according to their tribe. I recognized a few of the officers and detectives from my old district, and some of the guys from homicide.
     I’ve gone to too many funerals when I was on the job. I remember well those lonely nights at home. The city, quiet for lack of sirens, horns, loud people and the sound of their bottles breaking in nearby dumpsters.
I remember sitting on the couch for most of the night. I felt the loss but not the pain. The dead grieving the dead. That was how I always felt and why I would always sit there most of the night, in an effort to find real tears.
Yes, I have been to several funerals. I’ve lost a lot of friends and co-workers in the line of duty. I really do hate funerals. I really have never understood the custom of viewing the dead.
Cremate my human remains and if there’s a need for any ritual just keep the ashes in a clean pickle jar on a shelf beside your favorite book. I won’t have anyone charged with such a burden as arranging burial. You can count on that.

A Reoccurring Theme.

    A comfortable clutter occupies my home office, all memories that have been recently placed with calculated effort to recapture an otherwise lost civilization. I am settled here. I find solace in this room, wall to wall shelves of books beside books upon books, plants, boxes of framed accomplishments, papers, notes, odd trinkets and mementos.
I should go to bed, but sleep is a painful process. It is not something I look forward to. Unexplainable pain throughout my body. Racing mind. I have to sleep on top of the covers with a thin blanket draped over me or I feel like a body wrapped in an ace bandage.
     I know there was a time I felt different, because I’ve got friends who tell me so. But I face the past like a bug faces the windshield of an oncoming car. I don’t really have the time to reflect before I’m hit with the notion that my past is either fiction or belongs to someone else. Maybe I'll just sit here for a while, stare at all the books on the shelves. There is a certain comfort in that. 

Washington City Paper Article

Arts Desk

In the Details: The Many Lives of Crime Novelist David Swinson

David Swinson wasn’t supposed to be a cop. Not for 15 years, anyway.
When Swinson joined the Metropolitan Police Department in 1994, it wasn’t for the paycheck, and it wasn’t out of civic duty. It was supposed to be more of a boho diversion, the latest stop in an eccentric life. He wanted to be a writer.
“At the time, I had this romantic notion that it’d be a great adventure. I’d get a bunch of material, and I’d leave in five years,” Swinson says. “I wasn’t prepared for the way it would get into my blood. I really, honestly, genuinely believed that I would leave after five years, but I ended up loving it. Next thing I knew, 10, 15 years had gone by.”
Swinson, now 52, retired from MPD in 2009, having closed more than 100 cases and earned an Officer of the Year award and numerous other commendations for his investigations as a burglary detective. Early in the 2000s, he made headlines for breaking the case of “the second-story man,” a heroin addict who scaled the walls of homes in Adams Morgan and Logan Circle.
But those police bona fides aren’t even the most colorful aspects of Swinson’s life on evidence in his debut crime novel, A Detailed Man. The book follows a detective named Ezra Simeon, who shares a few traits with his creator.
Most grabbingly, his face.
Simeon, like Swinson, suffers from Bell’s palsy, a condition that’s left half his face frozen in a leaden grimace. He wears a goatee, much like the author’s close-cropped one, to “conceal the part of [his] lip that droops because of the paralysis.” Simeon has an in-born knowledge of the criminal mind, a well-practiced spiel to explain his disability to gawkers, and a complex and tortured interior life. When the book opens, the character is pushing paper as part of a detail working through cold cases—his superiors don’t want him in the field because of his condition. But Simeon soon finds himself working the high-profile homicide of a young escort discovered on the banks of the Anacostia. The murder takes Simeon across the District’s strata, from pawn shops and street corners to posh townhouses.

But where most crime novels center on plot and heavy atmosphere, A Detailed Man places much of the action inside its protagonist’s head. “I really wanted a character that was flawed,” Swinson says. “I envisioned him being this very cool, likable character that’s not freaky. But when you see him, it’s something he’s so self-conscious about.”
The book, Swinson stresses, isn’t based on any actual casework. And Simeon’s personal life is much less tidy than that of his creator: Swinson has a wife, a kid, and a Northern Virginia backyard. (Never mind where: He doesn’t want the wrong guy to learn where he lives.) But Swinson is quick to say he’s poured a lot of himself into Simeon, including a punk-rock young adulthood and a detour through Hollywood’s margins. “If I were the type of author to just research and come up with characters not based on experience, that’d be great,” Swinson says. “But I can’t write otherwise. I can’t write about what I don’t know. It wouldn’t be natural for me.”
Technically, A Detailed Man isn’t Swinson’s first novel. He wrote one called The Apple Tree—“about Armageddon”—when he was 17, and submitted it to Little, Brown and Company, which sent him an equally apocalyptic rejection notice. He was “devastated,” he says, and didn’t work on fiction again until his junior year of college, when he began “writing cheesy screenplays, mostly class projects.” At the end of the 1970s, he transferred from Montreat-Anderson College in North Carolina to California State University, Long Beach.
He worked toward completing a film degree, but dropped out in the early ’80s and opened a record shop, which he says was eventually driven out of town by residents uncomfortable with “all the punks running down Main Street.”
Connections made in the store helped him promote a Social Distortion gig at a nearby venue. By 1987, he was the full-time booker at Bogart’s in Long Beach, bringing in names like Nick CaveRed Hot Chili PeppersDevoPixies, and Throwing Muses. For local nights, he invented a booking system called “the unlimited guest list” as an egalitarian alternative to the pay-to-play regime that dominated many California clubs at the time.
At Bogart’s, Swinson put on several “Evenings of Conversation,” a spoken-word series that featured Hunter S. ThompsonTimothy LearyJohn WatersJim Carroll, and other literary and film figures of that ilk. In 1990, the gang put out an album on Atlantic Records titled Sound Bites From the Counter Culture, culled from a few of those evenings.
Despite the notoriously drug-addled company he kept, Swinson stood out from the hard-partying corners of his scene. He says he was “straight-edge” save for a cigarette habit and the occasional boozy night out. “He didn’t seem punk at all, but he was huge in punk rock,” says Tim Grobaty, a columnist for theLong Beach Press-Telegram who’s known Swinson since his California days. “He wasn’t an anarchist. He didn’t seem to have any of the rage the scene had at the time. He was always more intelligent than you’d thought a punk promoter would be.”
By the end of the ’80s, Swinson was producing music videos with his friend Bill Henderson, a director. One night, while drinking at Leary’s house, they came up with the idea for a spiritual sequel to Easy Rider, a digressive road movie in which two bikers would roam the West, encounter a series of seerlike eccentrics, and grapple with the legacy of the 1960s’ counterculture. They called it Roadside Prophets.
Henderson wanted the two to co-direct the film on a shoestring budget with a small cast of friends, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1991. They brought in screenwriter Abbe Wool, who had co-written Sid and Nancy. But when Fine Line Features, a now-defunct division of New Line Cinema, bristled at working with two first-time directors, Wool took the helm with Swinson as a producer. Henderson was paid and removed from the project. “I bought a friend out,” Swinson says. “I should’ve stayed with Billy, but I turned Hollywood.”
Swinson managed to get some old pals into Roadside ProphetsJohn Doe, ofX, starred with Beastie Boys’ Adam Horowitz, and Thompson and Leary both made cameos. The film came out in 1992, and flopped. “We all had a very D.I.Y. sensibility, and in many ways, I still do,” Swinson says. “If we realized what we were doing, we would’ve seen the stumbling blocks and crashed into them. Nobody was around to say, ‘You can’t make a movie! Do you know how hard it is to make a movie?’ I think I was pretty na├»ve and pretty innocent about the whole thing, so I didn’t know how hard it was.”
Swinson then tried to sell a film treatment of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegasalongside producer Laila Nabulsi—who would work on a different adaptation of the Thompson novel, with Johnny Depp, later in the ’90s. No studios bit, so a disillusioned Swinson gave up his short-lived Hollywood career.
Moving to D.C. made sense: Although Swinson spent parts of his childhood abroad—his father’s State Department career took the family to Beirut, Mexico City, Majorca, and Stockholm—he spent much of his childhood here, attended the former Western High School, and worked at a long-gone coffeeshop not far where he grew up in Dupont Circle. After completing his Cal State degree in 1993, he headed back east.
Despite Swinson and Simeon’s colorful backgrounds, these days there’s little of freewheeling California in Swinson’s brittle, decidely noirish prose. In one memorable, moving passage of A Detailed Man, he describes what kept his stand-in going despite personal setbacks. All those years working alongside detectives, officers, and assistant U.S. attorneys led to “a bond created by fraternity, years and years of sodality engrafted in us through the installation of some magical oath.”
“My writing style was always dark, with very broken characters,” he says. “Everything I wrote [in California] had to do with the ‘lost generation’ or fallen people. It was not until I became a cop that I truly understood what dark and broken really was.”
As a detective, Swinson and his colleagues fine-tuned a technique he calls “narco-fencing,” which detectives used to tie burglaries to larger criminal cases. “Most guys in law enforcement don’t have the type of background that encourages you to think differently,” says one ATF agent, who worked with Swinson on a long-term investigation, although he could just as easily be describing Simeon. “He didn’t do the typical bullshit. He tried to solve problems without going back to the same stuff over and over.”
Unlike Simeon, the consequences of Swinson’s palsy are mostly interior. “People say I look normal, but I don’t feel normal,” he says. “I’ve bitten through my lip several times. I twitch. I have some very obvious side effects that have affected my life. I mean, I can’t smile. I remember once, when my daughter was about three years old, she went, ‘Look, Daddy!’ and she smiles with the right side of her face, and says, ‘I’m smiling like you, Daddy!’ It was cute, but it was sort of sad.” The condition, which Swinson has had since 2003, kept him from some assignments and made some colleagues uneasy. But mostly, he continued his work much as he’d always done it.
Swinson married in 2000. But he began having crippling back problems, he says, and when he hit 15 years with the force, around when his daughter was born, “the decision was made.” It was time to retire.
Swinson had begun working on A Detailed Man in 2004, and in 2008 he landed with his current agent, Nat Sobel. They eventually found a perch with Dymaxicon, a new publishing house owned by a software firm that eschews advances for a 50/50 split with authors. Last month, the book hit No. 1 on Amazon’s noir fiction chart—though it probably helped that the Kindle version was free for a few days.
Two and a half weeks ago, Swinson celebrated the book’s release at Arlington’s One Page Books. You couldn’t imagine a scene more different from Swinson’s punk-rock youth: There were family, some friends, and several children sporting makeshift police badges. Former colleagues recalled how Swinson would end a 12-hour shift and immediately go home to write.
Swinson couldn’t stay put for more than a minute or two, dashing off to greet an old sergeant, and then a crowd of assistant U.S. attorneys huddled by the front door. Half of his face may be frozen, but he was definitely beaming. “I always knew that is what I would do in life, sooner than later,” he says. “It did not happen according to my timing, though. Maybe for the best.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery

The Shape of Things to Come, An Older Article, But Still Worth Reading

 A Shape of Things to Come
Posted: 8/11/11

HillaryJohnson in the 1980s was a writer so far ahead of her time practically no one understood what she was doing. 

The one novel she published in that period, Physical Culture, describes levels of self-mutilation that put it over the top at a time when "transgressive" fiction was supposedly in vogue. She has reason to think that "the way literature gets produced in our world seems positively medieval. Not to mention anti-creative. Publishers are gate-keepers, deciding who gets to be heard, and the process of putting a book out is glacially slow, linear, and hierarchical."
Johnson spent part of the 1990s "writing nightlife" for the L.A. Times, and put out a then-uncategorizable nonfiction book about her exploration of Los Angeles called Super Vixens' Dymaxion Lounge... "in homage to Buckminster Fuller" (who knew and admired Johnson's inventor father). "Everything he did," Johnson writes of Fuller, "seemed to fail through accidents of fate." "Dymaxion" is a neologism fused from "dynamic," "maximum," and "tension;" Fuller applied it to several of his quixotic projects: the car, the house, the map of the world.
She then applied a version of it to the name of her new publishing venture. Dymaxicon was created to publish a manual called The Elements of Scrum (nothing at all to do with rugby), which, if you are a not a computer geek, you will probably never know about. Johnson thought that while she was at it she might as well also publish a piece of literary fiction that she liked a lot but (at the time) nobody else did.
The Bad Mother, by Nancy Rommelmann, is a sort of devil's riposte to Sue Miller. For those of you who remember those irksome analogies on the SAT, Sue Miller is to Nancy Rommelman as Wordsworth might be to... Iggy Pop. That said, both novelists are, in different ways, unsparing. Miller's justly celebrated novel The Good Mother (1986) is a Tolstoyan study of a life if anything too meticulously examined. Miller's heroine, out of excessively delicate conscience, pulls on a thread that causes her whole domestic life to unravel. Her one false move is so grotesquely magnified that in the end a safe situation for her child can only be reconstructed by her sacrificing hope of any happiness beyond motherhood.
Rommelmann's characters are Hollywood street kids who not only have no sign of conscience but barely anything resembling consciousness. Her protagonist (a child herself) hardly seems to know how she became a mother. Of course she has no idea what to do next, how would she? It's not stupidity so much as abysmal ignorance that is doom for Rommelmann's cast--whose characters were not born into America's permanent underclass, but somehow blundered out of a middle-class world not so dissimilar to that of Miller's novel and can't find their way back. Lest you think the author is making it up, The Bad Mother is quite firmly based on reporting Rommelmann did previously on similar groups of stray kids in L.A.
In other words, this novel is news--bad news, but true; repellent, but somehow unforgettable. If you want to know where your children are, it shows you some possible locations. If its publication looked at first like a quixotic gesture, the book has caught on surprisingly well--through blogging, social networks, You-Tube and even a few remaining tatters of print media. Dymaxicon now has a handful of other literary novels forthcoming, among new technical offerings.
Proof's in the pudding: Dymaxicon has made a cult success of The Bad Mother, a worthwhile, maybe important book that would not otherwise have seen the light. And there are more to come.
At a moment when conventional publishing is faltering on the brink of extinction, the Dymaxicon venture puts Johnson, for once, in tune with her time. "Dymaxicon doesn't accept 'submissions,'" says she. "I'm not a particularly submissive person, and I have always resented that writers were always cast in a submissive role... no one should ever be in the position of accepting or rejecting." Instead, the company offers the writer a partnership--a place on an agile team that can use print-on-demand and digital resources to create books in the same nimble process by which new software is normally produced.
Oh, and--nobody makes any money unless somebody buys the product. That is a very novel idea for publishing (I myself find it rather painful), but it might be a way for publishing survive.