Remember “Mola Ram,” the villain in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? He was the one who tore a man’s beating heart of out his body. Well, once again real life has trumped fiction, and someone has (allegedly) actually done it. Mixed Martial Arts cage fighter, Jarrod Wyatt, 27, has been charged in Del Norte County, CA, with the murder and torture of his friend and sparring partner, Taylor Powell, 21. The bros were tripping on hallucinogenic mushroom tea when Wyatt came to believe that a catastrophic tidal wave was coming, and he had to battle Satan in a good versus evil smackdown. Unfortunately for Taylor, he became the living embodiment of Satan in Wyatt’s mind, so to vanquish the demon king, Wyatt tore out Taylor’s heart while he was still alive, cut out his tongue, and ripped off portions of his face.

This is a tragedy–no two ways about it–and as outlandish and horrific as this killing is, it’s nothing to make light of. But what I find interesting about this story is the snowballing coverage of the event. When I first learned of it over a year ago, I was sure the Internet loudmouths would have a field day pillorying MMA for sanctioning ultra-violent, blood-thirty mutants who are just dying to do stuff like this. I read a few finger-wagging pieces along those lines, but surprisingly not that many. Equally surprising, almost no one blamed the young men’s drug use. Instead–and this blows my mind–the coverage has turned to zombies. Wyatt’s case has been aggregated with recent crime stories about flesh eaters–most notably a homeless guy in Florida who was caught chewing off his buddy’s face–as clear evidence of the coming Zombie Apocalypse! (Cue: scary music.)

OK, I am now speechless. Zombies? Really? I guess I should just be grateful they’re leaving the martial arts alone.

But I’m wondering how the prosecution will portray Wyatt when his case goes to trial. Will he be called a violent cage fighter? A violent drug user? Both? And will Wyatt’s attorney try to present a zombie defense? I’m assuming even in the far reaches of northern California, a judge won’t let that pass. But who knows? We are talking the Golden State. Stay tuned. Wyatt’s trial is scheduled to begin in September.

Iceman, the song

Check it out.  “Iceman,” the song!  Keith Cole, the lead singer in Legato Vibe, was kind enough to share this with me.  He wrote it along with band members Keith Davis (drums), John Neilds (guitar), and Jude Elion (bass).  Andy Zimmerman plays keyboards in the band.  It’s a great tune, and I think they really capture the spirit of the Iceman here. Good job, guys!

More Skeletons in the Vatican Closet

The Catholic Church doesn’t have enough closets for all the skeletons they have–literally! This week investigators in Rome opened up the tomb of notorious mobster Enrico DePedis on a tip that they’d find the remains of Emanuela Orlandi, a fifteen-year-old who disappeard in 1983. (Why, one wonders, was a Mafia chieftain buried on Vatican property? He couldn’t have been that devout. Or did he make the Pope an offer he couldn’t refuse?) But investigators found more than a  set of bones in the tomb; they found a dozen boxes of bones. Police are now doing tests to figure out whose bones these might be. Just when you think the scandals with the church can’t get any worse, they do. I write fiction, but, man, you can’t make this stuff up.  Read the whole story here.

Who’s the Ebook Monster?

Speaking of crimes, the US Department of Justice recently filed an anti-trust suit against Apple and five of the Big Six book publishers for allegedly colluding to fix ebook prices. I’m not going to get into the details of the case here; you can Google that. What’s got me scratching my head is the belly-aching from authors, author groups, and book lovers, decrying Amazon and weeping bitter tears for traditional (or legacy, if you prefer) publishers and big-box bricks-and-mortar stores (which is now mainly Barnes and Noble).  The loudest complainer for this group is bestselling author and Authors Guild president, Scott Turow, who sternly warns of the dangers of evil trampling publishers and chain bookstores.

Really? Have these people forgotten the days when Barnes and Noble, not Amazon, was the 800-pound gorilla that called the shots in book publishing? Starting in the mid-1990s, legacy publishers rejected many of my manuscripts and proposals. Why? Some editors confessed that publishers routinely consulted with Barnes and Noble, and if B&N decided they wouldn’t stock a new book by me because my past sales didn’t meet their expectations, then the publisher declined to make an offer. This was generally a sight-unseen rejection–I was judged not on the quality of the work but on past performance. A lot of writers were ghettoized thanks to the big chain stores and unfairly branded “mid-list authors” (a nice way of saying “losers”).

I don’t understand these people who pine for the good ole days of paper books and neighborhood bookstores (the ones killed off by the chains, by the way) and who blame Amazon for stomping over the publishing landscape. Can I assume that this group prefers snail mail to email? Multiplex cinemas to digital downloads? Typewriters to word-processing software? Well, if so, good for them. It’s their right to feel any way they want. But as history has shown, when the times they are a changin’, get on board or get the hell out of the way.

Some readers and writers turn up their noses and say that the proliferation of ebooks, particularly low-priced, self-published ebooks, signals the end of worthwhile culture. These low-down ebooks, they believe, litter the marketplace with badly edited crap. Not that traditional publishers have ever put out badly edited crap. Oh no, never.

Sure, there’s a lot of sub-standard material being offered online these days, but no one’s forcing you to read or buy it. Amazon has spearheaded the self-published ebook movement, which has allowed writers–both old hands and newbies–to bring their work to the marketplace without having to go through the traditional tastemakers. It’s rather democratic of Amazon. Hardly the kind of behavior you’d associate with an evil creature from Seattle.

Which is not to say that Amazon might not someday become an evil monster. But right now, at least from my point of view, it’s a pretty good monster. I make more money per sale with my ebooks than I ever made on my traditionally published books, and at prices much lower than the legacy publishers are willing to offer (hence the anti-trust suit). Also, I have access to sales information that traditional publishers have never willingly shared with authors. If you’ve ever seen a royalty statement, you know what I’m talking about. Masterpieces of obfuscation.

Bestselling authors like Turow are doing just fine, and I don’t begrudge them their success. Just don’t tell the rest of us who are benefiting from what Amazon has done that we’re helping this supposed monster destroy civilization. If anything, Amazon is promoting a freer flow of ideas and increasing the variety of voices on the book scene. Is that such a bad thing?

The Iceman Speaks

These videos contain audio clips from an interview I did with mass-murderer Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski in 1992 at Trenton State Prison in New Jersey. In the first he gives his philosophy of life. In the second he discusses mobster Roy DeMeo of the Gambino family who used him as a hitman. In the third he talks about one of his favorite weapons, the Derringer. We were locked into the “lawyer’s room,” just the two of us, no barrier between us, no guards in sight. The tapping you hear is him drumming his fingers on the table. The banging is the sound of doors slamming out in the hallway. We were together for five and a half hours without a break. Initially he was jovial, but throughout he was cautious and often evasive. There were several intense moments when I asked him about things he didn’t want to discuss, which elicited what investigators called his “shark look.” His face froze, and his eyes rolled back in his head the way a shark’s does before it bites. It lasted only a moment, but it was terrifying. These clips will give you a taste of what it was like to be with a man who claimed to have killed over 100 people and felt no remorse whatsoever.

So What’s the Deal with Florida?

I follow several crime news sites, including CNN Justice, which I visit several times a week.  No matter what the headline stories are, my eye is always drawn to the section that reports local crime stories on the East Coast. Why? Because I have to see what happened in Florida. The Sunshine State never disappoints when it comes to outlandish criminal activity. Don’t get me wrong–bad stuff happens all around the country, and there are some wonderful areas in that state.  But let’s face it–Florida seems to be the epicenter of the weird, heinous, and tragic.

I’m not just talking about the recent murder of Travon Martin and brouhaha surrounding it.  Think about it. The tragic slayings of little Caylee Anthony and Jessica Lunsford happened in Florida. Supposed female serial killer Aileen Wuornos committed her crimes in Florida. The insanely convoluted home-invasion murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings happened in Pensacola. Serial murderer David Alan Gore, who hunted, raped, and killed women with his older cousin, was just executed at Florida State Prison. Infamous coed-killer Ted Bundy migrated all the way from the Pacific Northwest to northern Florida for his final rampage. And these represent just a very small piece of the putrid Key Lime pie.  It seems that every single day someone is shooting, stabbing, strangling, beating, burning, dismembering, poisoning, drowning, Crazy Gluing, or burying alive someone else down there. No wonder so many mystery novels are set in that state.

You think I’m exaggerating? Take the Pepsi challenge and follow the Florida police blotter for a week and see if I’m wrong.

I have no idea why Florida excels at this kind of craziness. Who knows? Maybe there’s something in the water down there.

Casey’s Second Act

I hate to open this toxic can of worms again, but Casey Anthony is back in the news (as if we haven’t had enough of her). She’s planning to get baptized soon  “to ensure her own salvation so that she’ll see her daughter again someday,” Naturally the snarkies have their knives out, still tarring her with the guilty verdict they think the jury of her peers should have given her. Those who had her pegged as a murdering mom from day one seem unwilling to believe that her current desire for redemption is sincere. Now I’m not at all a religious person, but come on, shouldn’t Casey be allowed to make herself right with God? Maybe she deserves the benefit of the doubt on this one. I mean, when it comes to an individual’s relationship with the Lord she believes in, who are we to judge? I know I’m gonna get some brickbats hurled at me for this one, but I’m just saying.