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Lost and Found: Why Novelists Are Always Searching

I can find things. Over the years, I’ve found seven wayward wedding rings, dozens of missing earrings, uncountable keys and cell phones, several thousand dollars in cash on the street (including two major wads of drug money), and a lost hamster named April who was hiding inside the wall of my daughter’s bedroom. It’s not a skill I’m particularly proud of. In fact, it’s not really a skill. It’s just something I can do, in much the same way that some people always know which way is north.

I never know where north is.

I’m not bragging about being a finder. There are plenty of much more useful skills that I don’t have. Like being on time. Or investing money so that it turns into more money, recognizing faces, or repairing broken things. Those skills seem just as mysterious to me as finding things might seem to someone who tends to lose things. Everyone’s got a secret skill, whether they know it or not.

When I was writing Third Rail, my debut mystery novel, I decided to give my main character – Eddy Harkness a Boston narcotics detective – the ability to find things. Why not? Being a finder has served me well. And might help a detective even more:

At a sidewalk shooting in Dorchester or a drug dealer’s triple-decker in Mission Hill, Harkness could find the drugs, guns, money, shell casings, and tossed cell phones. It wasn’t supernatural. Harkness didn’t need any help from the spirit world. . . Lost things don’t want to stay lost. Money wants a warm wallet and street drugs crave a narrow pocket. Rings call out for a finger, cell phones want a hand, and bullets need a gun. Harkness didn’t do anything special to find them. They just called out on subtle frequencies and he listened.

Detectives pay close attention, of course. But I wanted to go beyond that, to the level of intuition, dousing, and Ouija boards. To show what I mean, let me tell you about my favorite find.

The Case of the Missing Ring

When a neighbor lost an irreplaceable family heirloom, her great-great-grandmother’s wedding ring, my wife volunteered my skills to find it. The ring might be in her house or her office, the neighbor wasn’t sure. It seemed unlikely that anyone would ever find the ring, much less a reluctant finder enlisted long after it was lost. But as I thought about it, a notion came to me (psychics call this claircognizance or clear-knowing) – and I knew that the ring was in a sunny room near the outside of her house.

When the day came to put my skills to the test, I waited on the porch, giving into a moment of threshold anxiety. What if I couldn’t find the ring? It would be beyond embarrassing. I would look like a fake, a dope, a non-finder prowling around my neighbor’s house. I stood in the foyer, talking awkwardly with the ring-loser, her face a mix of hope and disbelief. Behind her, a ray of sun fell on the stairs.

I began my work, following the sunlight up to a bright upstairs bedroom. I sat in a chair directly in the sun, which pointed my gaze at a dresser. Just looking at it made the hair on my arms stand up. I opened the third drawer, reached way in the back, and felt a cool circle of silver and diamonds on my fingertips.

In all, finding the ring took less than five minutes.

I was relieved and our neighbor was thoroughly spooked. To this day, she treats me with a little hesitance, the way you treat a man with a dark secret. But it’s neither dark nor a secret. The way I think about it, nothing’s ever lost. It’s just waiting to be found. Access those subtle frequencies and you know where they are. This skill is by no means singular; I’ve met plenty of people who can find things. An inordinate number of them are writers.

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Author Kim Newman on his new Anno Dracula novel, Johnny Alucard (plus excerpt)

Johnny Alucard is the fourth book in the Anno Dracula series; the earlier novels are Anno Dracula,The Bloody Red Baron and Dracula Cha Cha Cha -- and the definitive Titan editions include the long novellas ‘Vampire Romance’ and ‘Aquarius’.

The premise is that in 1885 Count Dracula came to Britain, as Bram Stoker describes in his novel … but rather than being defeated by Van Helsing, he rose to power, becoming Queen Victoria’s second husband and popularising vampirism as a lifestyle choice at the heart of the British Empire. He also imported all the other surviving vampires of fiction as his retinue of hangers-on and toadies.

All this is in the first book -- which revolves around Stoker’s Dr. Seward, who has become a vampire-slaying Jack the Ripper. The subsequent volumes cover the next hundred years and have a global reach, with Dracula moving from country to country and era to era … and manifesting the ills of the century even when seemingly dead again. In Johnny Alucard, the story moves from Europe to America, and we follow the rise of a Romanian orphan who becomes Dracula’s heir apparent as he conquers such American fields of endeavour as drug-dealing, movie production, serial murder, and covert military intervention in other countries.

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How pregnancy is like climate change denialism

Hillary Rosner is a fantastic environmental reporter — the sort that digs facts and stories more than outrage-bait and blind activism. She's currently pregnant and, like all pregnant ladies, is finding herself subject to a deluge of warnings and "helpful" advice. When you're pregnant, there is always somebody who wants to let you know what you're doing wrong, why you're being irresponsible, and how you've totally ruined your kid's life already.

But in the midst of this, Rosner noticed something really fascinating: When it feels like the world is conspiring to make you terrified and guilty, it's sometimes easier to just tune out the world rather than investigate which claims are true and which aren't.

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Growing up in the future

When Veronique Greenwood went to college in 2004, she took a laptop with her ... and a videophone. In an engaging essay at Aeon Magazine, Greenwood writes about what it was like to grow up with a Futurist for a mom, particularly a futurist who, in retrospect, seemed to be more interested in premature technologies than in the sleek, widely adopted versions that eventually succeeded in the marketplace. Greenwood's mother loved the videophone. When Skype came along, free of dedicated hardware, she lost interest.

The Mongoliad: Book Three: Sword fighting, gallows humor, and the binge drinking of the Mongolian khan

Cooper Moo and Erik Bear, two of the authors of the final book of the Mongoliad trilogy from Neal Stephenson and company, The Mongoliad: Book Three, wrote this exclusive essay for Boing Boing.

About The Mongoliad: Book Three:

The shadow of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II hangs over the shattered Holy Roman Church as the cardinals remain deadlocked, unable to choose a new pope. Only the Binders and a mad priest have a hope of uniting the Church against the invading Mongols. An untested band of young warriors stands against the dissolute Khan, Onghwe, fighting for glory and freedom in the Khan's sadistic circus of swords, and the brave band of Shield-Brethren who set out to stop the Mongol threat single-handedly race against their nemesis before he can raise the entire empire against them. Veteran knight Feronantus, haunted by his life in exile, leads the dwindling company of Shield-Brethren to their final battle, molding them into a team that will outlast him. No good hero lives forever...or fights alone.

In this third and final book of the Mongoliad trilogy from Neal Stephenson and company, the gripping personal stories of medieval freedom fighters form an epic, imaginative recounting of a moment in history when a world in peril relied solely on the courage of its people.

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Tales from Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made? essay and exclusive excerpt

Destination: Development Hell

David Hughes, longtime Empire contributor and author of the new book Tales from Development Hell, reveals the secrets of the darkest place in Hollywood

Tales 1These days, Hollywood studios don’t waste much time exploiting their intellectual properties: it seemed that no sooner had Sony finished counting the box office receipts from the last of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, a "re-boot" was announced, taking its most valuable film franchise in a new direction, bringing it too a new generation, or – who knows? – perhaps simply making the suit, and perhaps the story, a shade darker. What Sony hasn’t done is wasted years in "development hell," figuring that a bird in the hand (a Spider-Man movie in cinemas) is better than two in the bush (another round of draft screenplays).

This wasn't always the case, however. Six years passed between Aliens and Alien³, eight between Batman & Robin and Batman Begins -- and an unthinkable eighteen fallow years between Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Superman Returns. So what was going on for all that time? My first book, The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made, set out what was taking Hollywood so long to bring popular properties such as The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Thunderbirds, Silver Surfer etc. to the big screen -- as well as exploring the various approaches to famous franchises (William Gibson’s Alien III, Tim Burton’s Superman, Philip Kaufman’s Star Trek, etc.) which were abandoned en route to the films we know. With my next book, Tales from Development Hell, I chose a variety of projects -- a few stillborn, others aborted, one or two with a particularly painful gestation -- which aimed to illustrate the kinds of problems which can beset a film, even when some of Hollywood’s heaviest hitters are involved.

Why were Oliver Stone’s and James Cameron’s thrilling takes on the Planet of the Apes property rejected in favor of Tim Burton’s unimaginative “re-imagining”? How come even the combined muscle of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Paul Verhoeven, at the height of their powers, couldn’t get Crusade off the ground? How did Outbreak get a green light when Ridley Scott’s The Hot Zone, set to star Robert Redford and Jodie Foster, did not? How many different directors, from Ridley Scott (again -- the man does seem to suffer more than his share of development hell) and Roland Emmerich, have jumped aboard the alien-on-a-train movie ISOBAR? Why have we still not seen a Sandman movie? Where’s the film of Smoke and Mirrors, a script so hot it sparked a feeding frenzy in the early 1990s, and was never heard from again? The answers to all these questions, and more, lie in one or the other circles of development hell. I should know. I wrote the book on it.

Tales from Development Hell is published by Titan Books.

Read an excerpt from Tales from Development Hell

The only good abortion is my abortion

As I write this, it is 1:17 am on Wednesday, June 20th, 2012.

I am lying awake in bed, trying to decide whether or not to have an abortion.

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Distrust That Particular Flavor, the audio edition

Having enjoyed the hell out of Distrust That Particular Flavor, William Gibson's long-overdue essay collection, I thought I'd try it on audiobook for a second pass (I really like to do this when I finish a book feeling like there's more there than I could absorb in a single reading). I was happy to see that Tantor Media had produced an unabridged, DRM-free MP3CD of the book, and they were kind enough to send me a review copy. I dragged the files off the CD and onto my phone and listened to the book for the next few days as I made my way from daycare to office to lunch to office to daycare (home to daycare/daycare to home were spent conversing with the kid, of course). At 5.3 hours, this is a pretty quick audiobook, and the narrator, Robertson Dean does a very good job on the essays, which are a treat to have as spoken word (especially the couple that are actually transcripts of speeches).

The MP3CD is advertised as "iPod-ready" and indeed, the single disc (shipped in a DVD-style bookshelf case) has an orderly, well-named set of MP3 files on it. This was awfully nice, though a little more care could have been taken with the filenames and metadata. Some files had curly-quotes in them that rendered in my OS as ’ and such; the reader's name had been put in the "artist" field of the ID3 tags, which meant that the files were misfiled; there was no cover-art in the ID3 tags. None of these are grave mistakes, and indeed, it's a treat to get an audiobook whose MP3s have any metadata or sensible filenames, but if you're going to go "iPod-ready" then it wouldn't hurt to iron out these small bugs.

Meanwhile, listening to these essays and experiencing them for a second time was quite exciting, as there were connections I'd missed, some of which will form the basis for some upcoming columns (I have two due this week!). A thoroughly recommended experience.

Distrust That Particular Flavor [MP3 Audio, Unabridged]