The Winter Sister by Megan Collins. Not a Review.

A few random thoughts about The Winter Sister by Megan Collins (Atria Books, 2019).

I have a great affection for dysfunctional protagonists who are forced to return to their hometowns. Though maybe because I am one.

The fog that Sylvie is in rang very true to me. Also the ways that this fog can lift, be penetrated, in ways that are not directly tied to good things happening. It was a solid portrait of depression.

It’s set in a small Connecticut town, and while the dynamics of a very divided and heavily class and status conscious town rang true, in other ways the town as Sylvie lived and experienced it felt a little too small and not claustrophobic enough. Meaning that she keeps meeting people related to the murder case but in a small town wouldn’t a lot of people know her, know her mother, and wouldn’t she feel those eyes watching and judging her at all times? Or maybe I’m projecting…

There’s a former detective who sits down with Sylvie to talk about the case and the whole scene, while it was important as to the structure of the book, it was also frustrating. The whole “there’s too much red tape and not enough stock put into hunches and gut feelings” nonsense. No surprise that these cops were unable to solve a murder

I’m unsure about Annie. The portrait of the mother as this fragile and deeply damaged person feels a bit too one dimensional for the large and central role she plays in the book. Of course Sylvie is the central character and the book is about her, but the book conveyed too little sense of who the mother was. Maybe some of that is simply POV, but it felt unsatisfying.

In broad strokes, though, I found the mother-daughter dynamic worked. Maybe some of that is because we never really know our parents. Though of course it’s one thing for Sylvie to not understand her mother, it’s another thing for the reader not to.

In some regards, I had a similar response to the identity of the murderer. The book takes place in a small town and there is a limited cast of characters who could have been responsible. The killer wasn’t just going to be a random stranger we had never met before or something like that.

But in some ways that is the problem with writing small town murder cases. Most murders are committed by people they know. Most murders are committed because of a handful of reasons. And so there were only a few possibilities. Well, there was only one really, even if it wasn’t immediately clear.

The optimistically inclined ending works (is that a phrase? I’m using it) because I know what it feels like to come out of that fog of depression and exhaustion. And Collins doesn’t fall into the trap that things will improve, that everything is looking up, or even that the guilty party will ultimately be held accountable. The journey of the book is more emotional than it is about solving the crime. Which I like.

Overall, a good book. A good first book. And I want to see what Collins does next.

Post-Oscar Thoughts

  • The Green Book. Ugh. A white director who admits to inappropriate behavior in the past, a screenwriter who is a conspiracy mongering Islamophobe, a producer who sends obnoxious e-mails to people who write negative articles about the film, a story that the family of the African-American protagonist says is inaccurate and disrespectful. And looking at the stage when it won, and the almost all white cast and crew ...

  • I love Alfonso Cuaron. I was not rooting for him to win, but I have no problem with him winning. Also, two Best Director wins for him in less than a decade, for two very different films, which is something.

  • Rami Malek. It feels like it was only a few years ago he came out of nowhere to star in Mr. Robot and here he is, delivering an incredible performance that made that film and winning an Oscar. (Also, over the years Malik has made two films with Spike Lee, can we see these two Oscar winners team up on some amazing kickass new movie?)

  • I don’t know how it is that Glenn Close still doesn’t have an Oscar. I just don’t get it.

  • Olivia Colman though is amazing. And she gave a great speech. I keep thinking about all the things I’ve seen her in. On TV she was amazing in very different roles in a series of shows including Broadchurch, Flowers, Green Wing, The Night Manager, and Rev. On a show like Twenty Twelve which was light and honestly wasn’t that great, she had such presence and really stood out. On film there was The Lobster and Murder on the Orient Express recently, but she was amazing in Tyrannosaur. She’s taking over the lead in The Crown this year, so she may add an Emmy award this year to her mantle.

  • Mahershala Ali is the only good thing about Green Book. But I still would have given the Oscar to either Richard E. Grant or Sam Elliott.

  • Regina King! If Beale Street Could talk should have received more awards, but this is a good one. She’s had an amazing decade. On TV she went from Southland (where she played one of the best female cops in the history of television...prove me wrong!) to American Crime where she played three characters in each of the show’s three seasons to The Leftovers to Seven Seconds. Of course she was also the voices of Huey and Riley in The Boondocks. She was on 227 way back when. There was Boyz n the Hood and Poetic Justice and Higher Learning. There was Friday and Down to Earth and Jerry Maguire.

  • Queen’s performance...eh.

  • Swallow. Wow.

  • I wanted Never Look Away to win Best Foreign Language film. I know that Roma won because it wasn’t going to win Best Picture, but I think Never Look Away is just a mindblowingly amazing work.

  • I also wanted Never Look Away to win Best Cinematography for Caleb Deschanel. (Yes, Zooey’s dad). He’s never won an Oscar. This is the man who shot The Black Stallion and Being There, The Right Stuff and The Natural, Fly Away Home and Ask the Dust, and so many others. One of the best cinematographers alive today.

  • Bao winning best animated short is so well deserved. There are feature length films that don’t have that level of artistry and emotion.

  • Ruth E. Carter definitely deserved to win for Black Panther. Long overdue!

  • Glad that BlacKkKlansman won for best adapted screenplay, which means that Spike Lee now has an Oscar. And he managed to be excited about winning, and also give a speech that was serious and solemn and heartfelt. His ability to do both, says a lot about why I continue to love Spike even if every film doesn’t always succeed.

  • The Green Book won for best original screenplay and I just the lack words to describe my feelings about this. I find it hateful for many reasons, including the fact that Paul Schrader was nominated for an Oscar for the very first time this year for writing First Reformed.

    Schrader has won a lot of awards over the years but was never previously even nominated for an Oscar. This is the man who wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, who adapted The Last Temptation of Christ and The Mosquito Coast. He made films like Blue Collar and Hardcore, Mishima and Affliction, American Gigolo and Cat People. And First Reformed isn’t simply an accident that this was his first nomination, but in a very long and acclaimed career, First Reformed is arguably his best work. And instead people chose...

Articles Published the Week of 18 February 2019

Comics veteran Stuart Moore discusses his work for Ahoy Comics, Captain Ginger, the upcoming Bronze Age Boogie and more.

It seems strange that I’ve never interviewed Moore over the years. He’s been a writer and editor working in comics for decades and had an impressive career and right now he’s working as a writer and an editor at Ahoy Comics and I talked with him about his current projects

W.T. Frick, the creator of Ipsum Lorum discusses her issue of Ley Lines, which focuses on the writing of Ursula Le Guin.

The Ley Lines series has been one of the best projects in comics in recent years, a showcase for a wide range of artists. The new issue is from W.T. Frick and it’s a great issue, and a great introduction to her work.

Fiction Friday: Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: The Wadsworth Theft Matter

February 18, 1949 was the debut of the radio drama Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. The Hartford, CT-based insurance investigator traveled all over the country and the globe looking into crimes large and small, and padding his expense account along the way. The show lasted until September 1962, which is considered the end of the golden age of radio. There were two attempts to turn into a TV show - including one written and directed by the late, great Blake Edwards - but it never transferred to other media the way a lot of popular radio shows did.

A little while back a friend proposed making a new version of the show and I wrote a few scripts. It hasn’t happened for a few reasons. Though I remain hopeful. But here’s one script of the new adventures of Johnny Dollar, for the 70th anniversary.

Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: The Wadsworth Theft Matter

Narrator: From Hartford, Connecticut, welcome to the new transcribed adventures of the man with the action-packed expense account. America’s fabulous freelance insurance investigator

Johnny Dollar: Yours truly, Johnny Dollar

Sound effect: Phone ringing

Insurance Guy: Johnny, how are you? It’s Evan Wright from Hartford Consolidated.

Johnny Dollar: [groaning, not quite awake] I’m good, but jetlagged. How are you, Evan?

Insurance Guy: I know you just flew in a few hours ago, Johnny, but I have a job for you.

Johnny Dollar: It can’t wait a day? Or at least a few hours. I’m jetlagged and half asleep.

Insurance Guy: A few hours ago the Wadsworth Atheneum was robbed. [pause] You’re only two blocks away, Johnny. We need to get on top of this. And fast.

[pause]

Johnny Dollar: Tell them I’ll be there within the hour.

Johnny Dollar (Voiceover): I made some espresso and got dressed. Expense Account Item One: twelve dollars for coffee from Blue State Coffee for the uniformed officers standing out in the cold in front of the museum. After passing out the cups and giving them my name, I was ushered inside through the Main Street entrance. The museum’s director was inside the atrium. She was frazzled and needed sleep more than I did. She was also glad to see me, which was not a good sign.

sound effect: double kiss on the cheeks

Museum director: When the company said they would send over an investigator I hoped it would be you.

Johnny Dollar: Nice to see you, too. How are you holding up?

Museum director: Better than Marguerite. Will is going ballistic. Emma fainted. We’re all a mess.

Johnny Dollar: What did the thieves make off with?

Museum director: Seven pieces. Here’s the list.

sound effect: paper being passed to him.

Johnny Dollar: Hmm. This is a strange collection of artwork.

Museum director: I know. I want you to get those pieces back. I just keep thinking of Marguerite. She was in Boston at the Gardner Museum before she came here.

JD (v.o.): Everyone in the art world knows the 1990 heist at the Isabel Gardner Museum in Boston. Thieves made off with paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Degas. It wasn’t just the biggest art theft in American history, but the biggest theft of any kind.

Museum director: Seven paintings were stolen at the Gardner as well.

Johnny Dollar: The thieves at the Gardner had better taste.

sound effect: snort.

Museum director: No comment.

Johnny Dollar: I’ll find them.

[beat]

Museum director: I could say a lot of things about you, Johnny. And I have. But you’ve never lied to me. Don’t start now.

Johnny Dollar: I’ll find them.

JD (v.o.): She looked me in the eye and nodded. For the first time in years, she wished me well. At the far end of the hall in the next gallery, two detectives I knew well were talking with a uniform. I walked over to make good on my promise.

Espada: Well look who the cat dragged in.

Keaton: I thought you were in Europe.

Johnny Dollar: Flew in last night and I just got a phone call saying you guys can’t manage without me.

Espada: What’s this I hear about some guy bringing coffee for all the cops stuck out in the cold?

Johnny Dollar: Mommy Dollar taught me manners.

Keaton: So where’s our coffee?

Johnny Dollar: I brought you donuts too but the boys said you weren’t allowed near them.

Espada: He’s on that gluten free nonsense.

Keaton: Yeah, just rub it in. He goes to Europe, you get to eat real food. One of these people isn’t as happy as the others.

Espada: Well you may have just arrived but we’ve been here for hours. What do you say we get lunch and we’ll fill you in on what we’ve learned.

Keaton: You’re buying of course

Johnny Dollar: I expect nothing less from you freeloaders. And if you behave yourself, we won’t tell your wife what you ate.

Espada: We’ve got some time while the staff gathers. Let’s duck out and grab something.

JD (v.o.): Expense Account Item Two: twenty dollars for lunch with Detectives Espada and Keaton at the Lucky Taco food truck in Bushnell Park.

Johnny Dollar: Okay, walk me through this. How did these crooks manage to pull this off?

Espada: They grabbed all small paintings and drawings. Nothing large in size and nothing especially notable. It’s as if they were less concerned about grabbing the most expensive ones and had an eye on their escape.

Johnny Dollar: Do you think there was anything to them stealing seven pieces?

Espada: As opposed to six or eight, you mean? No idea.

Keaton: They broke in through the emergency exit that looks out onto City Hall.

sound effect of a door being pried open

Johnny Dollar: I hate that stegosaurus.

Espada: You’re not a fan?

Johnny Dollar: Not even remotely. But go on.

Espada: They seemed to know the layout of the museum just fine, though it’s hard to say how well they knew the artwork. They pretty much entered the museum and traveled in a fairly straight line, grabbing pieces off the wall as they went.

Keaton: Then they escaped out the emergency exit that looks out on Prospect.

sound effects: underneath the detectives’ explanation of how it was committed, sounds of the crooks prying open the door and grabbing artwork off the walls, the alarms going off and them running out of the museum through the emergency exit.

Johnny Dollar: And Prospect is empty after dark.

Keaton: Not last night. They hit just after the game at the Civic Center let out.

Espada: We’ve been looking at the traffic cams a few blocks away, but I don’t think it’s going to tell us anything. The alarm on the emergency exit didn’t go off when they left. We’re not sure if it’s been tampered with or it was just a lucky break. The techs are looking at it now.

Johnny Dollar: No one saw anything? Even with the traffic jammed up?

Keaton: It was moving just enough. It wasn’t an accident they picked that night.

Johnny Dollar: Then they’re close enough to the highway that they’re gone before anyone’s the wiser. It’s not a bad plan.

Espada: As long as the traffic cooperates it’s a great plan.

Keaton: You know art even better than we do. Anything stand out for you about these works? Other than the fact that they were small and in those galleries, we can’t spot anything connecting them.

Johnny Dollar: None are especially valuable. None especially well known. It suggests they were amateurs. They found a way in and a way out of the museum, and didn’t want anything specific.

Espada: Hopefully we’ll get something from the staff.

Johnny Dollar: Can I sit in on the interviews?

Keaton: Of course. As long as you sit there and stay quiet.

Espada: Unless you catch something we missed.

Keaton: Yeah we’re more than happy to take credit for your success.

JD (v.o.): Back at the museum, we stopped at the cafe. Expense Account Item Three: twenty-seven dollars for three double espressos and a sugar cookie decorated to look like the figure from Edward Munch’s Scream for our gluten-free detective. We took over the director’s office, a corner room with a view of downtown. No matter what Hollywood tells you, most museum thefts and art crimes are not committed by bored millionaires, but by employees. We met with the staff one at a time starting with those who were working last night.

JD (v.o.): The problem with police interviews is that people respond to pressure in different ways. Some people do not handle stress well. In my experience, art historians and curators are not the toughest, most hardened individuals. I’d worked property cases with Espada and Keaton before and they had their own approach to interviewing suspects.

Espada: (shouts) Did you steal those paintings?

[beat]

Sound effect: hysterical sobbing

JD (v.o.): That curator didn’t actually steal it, but had let her boyfriend in to see the restoration room last week because he was a Frederic Church fan and now she felt guilty about it.

JD (v.o.): Most of the staff was just as helpful.

sound effect: a swiping sound as we move from one suspect to the next.

Curator #2: [Note: the words “drawings” and “watercolors” should be spoke with the kind of disgust and disdain reserved for only the most vile things imaginable] Believe me, I did not steal them. The very fact that the Atheneum is having an exhibition, no matter how small of drawings and watercolors just turns me stomach. Wasting wall space on such work instead of showcasing real art – that’s the real crime here!

sound effect: swipe

Sound effect: sobbing

Curator #3: How could you even ask a question like that. I could never have anything to do with stealing such work. Those drawings were my life. I would never have let anything happen to them. It’s bad enough I have to deal with the other curators who look down on such things, but now there are thieves. This theft is the worst thing that ever happened to me.

Sound effect: hysterical sobbing.

Sound effect: swipe

Docent: Last night I went out with a few girlfriends. We met for dinner at Ichiban and then had drinks at Tisane. I went home alone. What about you, Dollar? Where were you last night?

[pause]

Johnny Dollar: I, uh, flew in from Europe with just enough time to arrive here without sleep.

Docent: I bet we can both make tonight a lot more fun.

[beat]

Keaton: I think we’re done here.

Sound effect: swipe

Janitor: I-I wasn’t here last night.

Espada: Yes, we know.

Janitor: I couldn’t have stolen the paintings cause I wasn’t here last night.

Espada: Yes, but I’m asking about the day before and anything else you may have seen when you’re at work.

Janitor: But I wasn’t here last night.

Sound effect: deep sigh.

Sound effect: swipe

Keaton: No matter how many art cases I’ve worked I can never quite get used to all this

Espada: What do you mean?

Keaton: Half of them love the art like their own children and the other half think the world would be a better place if we tossed them in a bonfire.

Espada: You think they’re different from anyone else?

Keaton: I think they might pretend to act civilized now and again. But what do I know? I think Russ Heath was a great artist and Roy Lichtenstein was a talentless schmuck.

Johnny Dollar: It doesn’t change the fact that we don’t have anything solid.

Espada: I thought we had it when that one starting bawling her eyes out.

Keaton: No, it’s never the sobbers. They feel guilty about something but you need tougher stones to pull something like this off.

Johnny Dollar: What about that janitor?

Espada: But he wasn’t here last night.

sound effect: laughter

Keaton: He was off.

Espada: I don’t think he’s smart enough to pull off a heist. Let alone plan something like this.

Johnny Dollar: There was something about him.

Keaton: Maybe we should let them go. No reason to keep them stewing here while we try to figure it all out.

Espada: I’ll tell the uniforms everyone’s free to go but they have to check with us before leaving town.

Keaton: Just make sure you say in that bad cop tone you enjoy.

Johnny Dollar: Well if you’re letting everyone go, maybe I should duck out.

Espada: Oh really?

Keaton: You don’t want to hash out the case with us? Over dinner, maybe?

Espada: Your treat, of course.

Johnny Dollar: Of course.

Keaton: You are the man with an expense account.

Espada: You know that once the HPD gives us an expense account, you’ll be our first call. But until then...

Johnny Dollar: I think I’ll go now. No offense to you guys, but I’ll take a rain check on supper.

Keaton: We can’t compare to that docent.

Espada: Hell, if we weren’t in the room, I’m sure they could’ve gotten started already.

Johnny Dollar: Nice, guys. What makes you think I’m not going home to get some shut eye.

Keaton: Are you going home to get some shut eye?

[beat]

Johnny Dollar: How about we touch base later tonight. Let me know if anything occurs to you.

Keaton: Only if you do the same.

Johnny Dollar: Cross my heart and hope to die.

JD (v.o.): I wasn’t going to get some shut eye, but neither was I going after that docent. Business before pleasure. The person I was keeping an eye on was the janitor.

sound effect: engine turning over

JD (v.o.): I tailed my suspect to a Cape Cod style house in the Elmwood neighborhood of West Hartford. He pulled into the driveway and left just a few minutes later. He took I-84 to an East Hartford exit, turning into a warehouse just off Prospect Street. I drove past and parked on a side street. He had parked in the lot behind the building and from a distance I could tell that he was nervous as he made his way from his car to the back entrance of the building. The building seemed to be divided into smaller work spaces. I kept my binoculars trained on the windows waiting for his head to appear in one of the rarely cleaned windows. There was at least one other man in there with him.

sound effect: phone ringing

Johnny Dollar: (loud whisper) This is Dollar.

Espada: I know. I’m the one who called you, remember. Where are you?

Johnny Dollar: I tailed our janitor.

Espada: Don’t tell me that.

[long pause]

Espada: He at home?

JD: He got on the highway and is now in a warehouse space in East Hartford meeting with at least one other man.

Espada: Give me the address.

JD (v.o.): By the time the pair showed up, nothing had changed.

Keaton: He still inside?

Johnny Dollar: Along with at least one other person. How are we going to play this?

Keaton: What’s this “we” kemosabee?

Espada: You carrying a gun now?

Johnny Dollar: I hate guns, you know that.

Espada: You don’t have a gun, so what do you plan to do?

Johnny Dollar: You don’t have a search warrant. And even if you did, this is East Hartford and you don’t have jurisdiction, so what do you plan to do?

[beat]

Keaton: You got an idea, we’re listening.

[beat]

Johnny Dollar: Hold my hat for me and call for backup. Real backup.

[pause]

sound effect: three hard raps against a metal door.

sound effect: door creakily swings open

Museum Janitor: Hello?

Johnny Dollar: I was hoping we could talk.

sound effect: door creaking and then pushed open

JD (v.o.): He tried to close the door, but I put on a sturdy pair of boots this morning and pushed the door open. It was a typical warehouse space turned artist loft space, though this space wasn’t for creating art.

Andre: Who’s this guy?

JD (v.o.): Two other men were in the room and they were even less happy to see me.

Not Andre: Answer the man. Who are you?

Johnny Dollar: I’m Johnny Dollar. Who are you?

Andre: What kind of name is that?

Johnny Dollar: It’s mine. Like yours is better?

Not Andre: Don’t tell him our names, Andre

JD (v.o.): Everyone turned and stared at him for a long, cold second. No one pointed out just how stupid he’d been.

Museum Janitor: He was with the cops at the museum.

JD (v.o.): The word cops changed everything. They all took a step back, and Andre pulled a gun on me. I raised my arms.

Andre: Who are you?

Johnny Dollar: I told you, I’m Johnny Dollar. And right now I’m your best friend.

Not Andre: Our best friend?

Johnny Dollar: Because I’m not a cop. I’m an insurance investigator. That means my only goal is to get the paintings back

Andre: So you just walk in here and expect us to give you the paintings?

Johnny Dollar: Yes.

sound effect: laughter

Johnny Dollar: You give me the paintings and I walk out of here. You never hear from me again. Assuming that you quit your job at the museum immediately.

Andre: What makes you think I won’t shoot you?

Johnny Dollar: You won’t shoot me.

Andre: Why not?

Johnny Dollar: You’ve never fired a gun before. At least not this one. You’re holding it sideways cause it looks cool in the movies. But if you fire the gun holding it sideways like that, when the casing ejects, the brass will hit you in the eye.

[beat]

sound effects: physical struggle

JD (v.o.): After I explained the gun’s workings, he took his eyes off me and looked at the gun, which was a mistake. Not just because I’m prettier. It took four solid blows to disarm Andre, leaving him with a broken arm and me with his gun. I stepped back and trained the gun on them.

sound effect: heavy breathing

Museum Janitor: Okay, man. You got the gun. Why don’t you just take the paintings and go.

Johnny Dollar: I gave you that option. You turned me down.

sound effect: takes off the safety

Johnny Dollar: FYI. This is how you hold a gun.

sound effect: three shots

[beat]

Espada: Open up. Police.

JD (v.o.): Hearing the shots, which I’d fired into a stack of insulation piled in a corner gave Espada and Keaton probable cause to enter the room along with two East Hartford uniforms.

Espada: Gee, detective, here we are, two detectives just minding our business when we hear a gunshot. Giving us cause to enter the premises. And what do we have here, but individuals in possession of stolen merchandise.

Keaton: Yes it does. And one of them being a museum employee with whom we’d spoken just a couple hours back about the theft of this same stolen merchandise. What an unbelievable coincidence.

Espada: I guess we’re going to have to arrest them.

Not Andre: I thought you said you weren’t going to arrest us

Johnny Dollar: I’m not. They are. All the paintings seem to be here.

Espada: Dollar, you got a little something on your lapel.

JD (v.o.): Expense Account Item Four: $54 dollars for dry cleaning one Paul Smith charcoal suit and laundering one Thomas Pink white button down shirt due to my physical altercation with the suspects.

Keaton: Now we just need one of these guys to say, “and I woulda gotten away with it if weren’t for those cops and their danged insurance investigator.”

Andre: What are you talking about?

[pause]

Espada: That’s the problem with thieves today, no culture.

Keaton: Hollywood gets it wrong once again.

JD (v.o.): The three men were booked at the station and the artwork was returned to the Wadsworth. My bosses at Hartford Consolidated and the Wadsworth were thrilled the case was wrapped up so quickly. I was thrilled that I could earn my ten percent for recovering the paintings in a matter of hours. Expense Account Item Five: Three hundred dollars even for dinner for two at the Firebox Restaurant, consisting of a dozen oysters, two entrees, one side dish, five Broad Street Manhattans, five Billings-Forge Cocktails and one creme brulee, plus tip, courtesy of Hartford Consolidated, as an apology for enlisting me just hours after getting back. Total claimed expenses: $413 dollars.

JD (v.o.): And with that, the Wadsworth Theft Matter was closed. Yours truly, Johnny Dollar.

Articles Published the Week of 11 February 2019

Jerry Craft on New Kid. A conversation with the cartoonist about his new graphic novel

Polar: How an Indie Webcomic Made the Leap to a Netflix Original. A conversation with writer and artist Victor Santos about his webcomic turned film Polar.

A Conversation with Julie Sondra Decker. I spoke with the writer, best known for her nonfiction book The Invisible Orientation, about writing and drawing two very different weekly and monthly webcomics.

“I Was Terrified – And Therefore, I Accepted”: An Interview with José Hernández. I spoke with the Mexican cartoonist about his most recent work, Che, based on Jon Lee Anderson’s biography.