New true crime book is out…Pump Arnold The Original Battle Creek King of Crime

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The Original Battle Creek Crime King: Adam “Pump” Arnold’s Vile Reign is finally out.  My daughter Victoria Hester and I penned this book and it is a neat Victorian-era look at a small city boss – Pump Arnold.

The idea for the book came to us from the folks at Heritage Battle Creek.  Mary Butler and Elizabeth Neumeyere suggested that Pump Arnold was worth looking into.  They were right.  Arnold was far from being a criminal mastermind…if anything he was very public and downright flaunting of his criminal escapades.  For several years it was rare that he was not in the newspapers for either going to court or being arrested.  His criminal enterprise was diverse – everything from illegal liquor sales, to arson, to bank fraud, to prostitution.  He ran a bar/casino in the “bad lands” of Battle Creek Michigan – clashing with the mayor, the press, law enforcement, and even his own lawyers. 

Ironically, the biggest seller of illegal hooch in the city was married to a member of the Women’s Christen Temperance Union (WCTU).  Arnold’s life was chock full of strange twists and irony.  His son, George, was essentially the town drunk, a very public drunk – like a violent version of Otis from the Andy Griffith Show.  Like Otis, George even showed up at the jail to check himself in!  The Arnold Clan’s clashes with the law all have a Keystone Cops feeling about it, set in the “wild west” era of Michigan’s history.  Arnold was so crafty that upon his death, he tricked the WCTU to erect his tombstone.  A man that wily practically demanded that a book be written about him.    

And while parts of this book are humorous, others are quite serious.  Pump Arnold murdered his own son George.  There is a Greek tragedy tone to their relationship and the fact that the father was the purveyor of what turned his son against them.  Their clashes were public; played out in the streets and in the press.  When George’s body was plucked from the frozen Battle Creek river all eyes turned to Pump as the perpetrator.  The trial was the “biggest in the history of Battle Creek.”  Citizens packed the street just to catch a glimpse of Arnold getting a shave. I have to admit the man was a true character.    

This is more of a traditional fare for true crime readers.  For me it was a break from writing about cold cases which tend to be emotionally and mentally exhausting.  The real challenge was to paint a picture of the setting for readers.  This is not the Battle Creek of “Cereal City” fame.  This was the era before Kellogg’s and Post when BC was more of a frontier town.  It’s a period that rarely gets written about. 

In writing this we had to delve into some interesting side journey’s as well.  For example:  I spent one entire week researching prostitution in early Michigan.  I got to work with historical societies in New York as well while on the trail of Pump’s earlier life.  As with any good story, you have to go where the research takes you.  Sometimes those places can be pretty strange.

The title – well, that’s the marketing staff weighing in.  I like having the word “vile” in there – you don’t see that on many books. I’m more of a fan of three word title books…but these allegedly know more about book marketing than me…  

It is always a treat to write a book with my daughter Victoria.  We kind of enjoy our status of being the only father-daughter duo writing true crime.  She tackled the hardest part of this project – Pump’s trial for murdering his son George.  We easily could have written another 15k words about the twists and turns of this almost comical trial.  I think my favorite part is that they brought a couch into the courtroom for Arnold to rest on, and that he verbally clashed with witnesses and his own defense team.    

Many of you probably think I have something against my hometown given the number of true crime books I’ve writing about mid-Michigan (Secret Witness, Murder in Battle Creek, The Murder of Maggie Hume, this book).  That’s not true.  In fact our next true crime book is not in Michigan but in my birth state – Virginia.  More on this in another blog post I promise!   

We are planning to go to Battle Creek mid-October for a few book signing events and lectures. 

Obviously I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Original Battle Creek Crime King: Adam “Pump” Arnold’s Vile Reign. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did writing it. 

Gaming is More Popular Than Ever – Courtesy of the Old School Gamers (You’re welcome)

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Back in my day, we had to paint our own numbers on our dice.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking wargaming, roleplaying games, board games, or miniatures – gaming is experiencing a boom.  Not like when the industry first emerged, but certainly more than in the previous decade.  Of course, as someone who is in the gaming business, I am pleased with the increase in popularity.  As a gamer, I’m even happier.  One must wonder why gaming has become more accepted.  Like many things, there is no one answer to that.  Here is where I believe the trend emerges from:

It’s about people.  We live in a society of texting, Snapchats, and whimsical updates about our cats on Facebook.  Our technology has driven down our attention span and the opportunities for us to interact face-to-face with real people.  Gaming is contrary to that.  It forces/allows us to sit across the table from other humans.  It is not driven by technology as much as simple rules and how well we interact with others.  Gaming, by its very nature is about engaging with others – regardless of the kind of game you’re playing.  In short, it is refreshing to play a good game with other people and have non-cynical/non-internet based fun.

New games are bringing in people. Regardless of your opinion of the games themselves, games like Settlers of Catan have brought in new gamers to our ranks.  People that might not have giving gaming a second thought now are branching out and trying new games and meeting new gamers.  In that respect, games like Settlers of Catan are gateway drugs to a much broader and more appealing segment of the gaming industry.

It forces different kinds of thinking.  Our day jobs can be routine at times.  Gaming often requires strategic thinking, planning, cooperation, and puzzle solving.  It is a social release – much like Facebook or Twitter only far more entertaining (compared to looking at meme’s of people’s cats).  Much like work, there is a bit of luck involved (in the form of dice for gamers), and games require looking at things from different perspective.  Often times our jobs simply don’t affront us that kind of opportunity to activate these brain cells.

It is about being a big-damned hero.  The real world is sometimes downright mundane.  There’s nothing heroic about sitting in traffic for two hours to get home so you can mow the lawn.  Take up a good RPG however, and you can be the kind of hero that saves the day and does things that would be impossible or inconceivable in real life.  That escapism is not only seductive but a core element to the fun that games provide.

It’s all about your imagination.  During a typical day our imaginations rarely get a chance to be set free for a wild romp.  Play a miniatures or RPG however and it is all about reliving a battle or some epic quest.  Role playing games in particular don’t require much more to play than imagination and some dice. It is storytelling that where you are part of the story.  I daresay that most good adventures would make good readings as a novel – and gaming is the medium that puts you into that story and helps guide it.

Old school role playing is back in vogue.  When gaming first got started there were not reams of books and tables and charts needed to play.  Most of the rules were a mere framework and the emphasis was more on players actually playing the roles of their characters.  During the boom years, people wanted a table for everything and the game became less character driven and more rules centric.  In recent years, the pendulum has swung back.  Many of the new systems really emphasize character personalities, quirks and all.  This has allowed those of us who were around in those early years more welcoming of the systems.

Kickstarter has played a role too.  Kickstarter has allowed titles that have not been available for decades to come back and be brought new life.  Sure the rewards are delivered late (if at all) but a number of systems that people enjoyed in their youth can be purchased new now as a result.

It’s accepted – now it’s mainstream.  Shows like The Big Bang Theory have exposed gaming to a massive audience.  At the same time you can now buy some games at Target.  It used to be that if you wanted to purchase a game you had to go a store that was, at times, a little weird for outsiders.  The Big Bang Theory has desensitized people to this kind of shopping experience.  Thanks to the internet however, you can buy a game and avoid a gaming store altogether (though I don’t recommend it – gaming stores rock).  There’s no longer a social stigma or embarrassment associated with buying a game.  You can walk into a Barnes & Noble and walk out with hundreds of dollars’ worth of gaming supplies and no one will think lesser of you.

In fact, you might just make some new friends…

Review of Lost Girls – An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker

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I remember when the bodies were first found on Long Island, the numerous bodies of young women buried in the sand.  There was a serial killer or killers on the prowl and his/their dumping grounds had been discovered.  The media swarmed the story for a few weeks, doing what the media does best, generating fear and postulating numerous (often misleading) theories.

Then the story died.

The media, drawn to other bright shiny objects, moved on; leaving only the victim’s families to struggle to keep the issue alive in the public’s mind. What was a huge story at the time became a lingering memory for some.

Robert Kolker didn’t let the story die.  He wrote Lost Girls and the book is outstanding.

Kolker doesn’t follow the usual true crime format (Horrific crime scene, the investigation, the capture, the conviction.)  He starts off with a bit of a mystery, a young woman running door-to-door in the night claiming someone is after her, only to disappear into the darkness.  No crime…just darkness and a suspicious disappearance.

The author then takes you on an exploration of the lives of the young women who we presume are going to be found later on the beach in Long Island.  Their stories are extremely well presented, offering a dark glimpse into the creepy world of Craig’s List sex-for-sale.  These victims all had lives that were difficult and sometimes I felt as if they even blended together.  As a reader you develop a lot of sympathy for these girls before you even know their fates.

The upside of this book structure is that it was compelling.  The downside is that it begins slower than most true crimes.  Around the 50% mark the book shifts from the stories of the victims to the crimes, the discoveries of the bodies, and the strangely twisted community and characters where all of this blends together.  The pace becomes fast and churning, I was wantonly devouring chapters in the second half of this book – it was that good.

The author himself is drawn into this – which is something I understand.  I write books on cold cases and inevitably you too are sucked into the cases whether you like it or not.  As a true crime author I appreciated Kolker’s telling of his own digging and interviews.  I know from experience what it is like to be drawn into the story itself, regardless of your efforts.  Even this last week a tip came into me on a cold case I had written about.

The cold case subgenre of true crime doesn’t get a lot of books in it.  Writing about cold cases is hard because readers want some degree of ending or closure – just like the families of the victims.  Lost Girls is a great book and Kolker does a very good job of finding a stopping point where, in the real world, one doesn’t exist.  These cases remain open.  The families still suffer and grieve without knowing the full stories of what happened to their loved ones.

This book stirs you because you feel that there were genuine opportunities to solve this case that were bumbled by law enforcement and members of the community.

My daughter Victoria and I are starting on similar journey as Mr. Kolker on a new project.  I have to say he has set the bar fairly high for what we have to accomplish.

I give this book five out of five stars. Put it on your reading list.  It is not your typical true crime faire and will draw you in as it did me.

Doc Savage

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Coming to a screen soon!

When I was in high school a classmate, Scott English, got me to read a Doc Savage paperback and I became hooked.  The books, reprinted in the 1970’s-80’s were reprints of the pulp magazine stories from the 1930’s – yet oddly they seemed to be entertaining to me.  The books were fast and easy to consume and noir settings and cast of characters made them really stand out.

If you don’t know who Doc Savage is; I’m not surprised.  The character was a super-human character that came into being in 1933.  Clark Savage Jr. was the pinnacle of human development, with a brilliant mind and a team of comrades that followed him on world-saving adventures.  The mix of characters that he had with him included an archeologist, a chemist, an electrical engineer, a lawyer, and a construction engineer – all exciting and expanding fields in the 1930’s.  Doc’s team were not some cardboard group of characters.  Some of them didn’t get along with each other (Ham and Monk sparred verbally often – with Monk have a pet pig named after “Ham” Brooks). Thomas “Long Tom” Roberts was an electrical engineer that was the equivalent of a tech-geek today.  They stood out on their own, yet were better when working together.

Savage and his “Fabulous Five” thwarted bad guys that were somewhere between old-school Lex Luthor and Scooby-Doo adversaries.  The evil plans were insidious yet believable in context.  There were fantastic sci-fi technology weapons and tools intertwined into the books, many of which were precursors to technology that would eventually be developed in the real world.  The books were thin paperbacks because they were reprinted pulp stories, really they were novellas in length.

I thoroughly enjoyed them.

Doc Savage (Clark) bore a lot of resemblance to Superman who also emerged later in 1933.  They had above average strength.  Savage had a Fortress of Solitude long before the Man of Steel.  Where Superman was alone, what made Doc Savage work was that he had a team – a Justice League before there was a Justice League.  One must wonder how much of Clark Kent was lifted from Clark Savage Jr.

Doc lived on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, at the time the tallest building in the world.  He used an autogyro, a zeppelin, and a Batmobile-like car to get around.  He was fabulously wealthy and had a hot cousin, Pat Savage, who also became part of the mix of characters.  Doc was a pulp superhero before all of that existed.

There were a ton of books, pulp magazines, radio shows, comic books, and even a movie made about Doc Savage in 1975 that is best left forgotten.  A new Doc Savage comic books is out now too, so the legend continues.

Ironically, Lester Dent (under the name Kenneth Robeson), who penned most of the stories about Doc and his team considered his work anything but enduring.  For him it was just something he made money at.  Oddly enough, his was some of the only pulp fiction to continue on in book format reprinted decades later.

I saw this week that Dwayne Johnson has been cast to play Doc Savage in an upcoming film adaptation of the Man of Bronze (Doc’s nickname thanks to his George Hamilton tan).  I have to say I’m a little bit excited.  Doc Savage consumed a chunk of my allowance as a kid.  Yes, the stories were as formulaic as a Dukes of Hazzard episode, but there was always a twist or two that caught you off guard.  What made the books work was the mix of distinct characters which Lester Dent combined and shuffled to make for unique adventures.   Doc Savage is part Indiana Jones, part superhero, and a touch of pre-war nostalgia all wrapped in one neat bundle.

In fairness, I haven’t gone back to the books to see if the stories still captivate me the way they did back in my youth.  A part of me doesn’t want to know.  I have the memories and that is enough for me.

I have always been surprised that no one published a Doc Savage RPG.  The wealth of source material out there would make it a natural.

I know the naysayers out there will blast the project before the ink is dry on the script.  Most will decry that Doc doesn’t have a place in our fast-paced world – that he is too cartoony for us to enjoy.  The one thing the internet has done is made us a nation of bitter cynics who delight in tearing things apart even if we haven’t seen it.  I have no illusions that Dwayne Johnson is some academy award winning actor – but that doesn’t mean he can’t and won’t capture some the essence of the character.  I know one thing, I will be going to catch the film when it opens and I am sure it will conjure up some fantastic memories.

When I heard the movie was coming, the first thing I said was, “I’ll be superamalgamated,” one of Doc’s team (William Harper “Johnny” Littlejohn’s) favorite sayings.  Yeah, I’m geeky and I’m comfortable with that.  Bring your A Game Dwayne Johnson, those of us that like Doc Savage are expecting a lot.

BattleTech Article in SciFiNow

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The cover of the new issue…

The latest issue of SciFiNow has an article on the BattleTech franchise…one that I wrote.  I like the piece but that’s me. When you work on something like this it is challenging, there’s a LOT that make up the IP (Intellectual Property) of BattleTech.

The editor wanted a Top Ten products list.  That was challenging since BattleTech crosses multiple mediums.  What I did to help narrow this down was to use social media, Facebook, to let actual fans make suggestions.  I ended up with a list of 23 potentials, and I took it upon myself to narrow that list down to the Top Ten.

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Mmm…BattleMechs…

I also did the Top Ten novels/series.  Also not an easy task.  This one I relied more on my own gut feel than anything else.

What was really fun was reengaging with folks like Sam Lewis for quotes.  I forgot how much I enjoyed Sam over the years.

I’m sure this will spawn debate and ridicule – but in the end, it’s good for the game to get it back out there in a major magazine.  It was published in the UK last month and is just now available in the US (so far I’ve only found it at Barnes and Noble bookstores).  I suggest picking it up!

Discovery Channel’s Killing Fields

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Someone out there knows the truth…they always do.

I write true crime…sometimes covering cold cases.  So when I heard that the Discovery Channel was going to take a crack at a cold case, filmed as the investigation unfolded, I was intrigued.  I came away excited.  This was television that I could identify with.

Set in Louisiana, it is focused on the cold case of Eugenie Boisfontaine who perished in 1997.  Her remains were found, horribly decomposed, months after her disappearance.  The Killing Fields is not her story as much as the semi-retired investigator Rodie Sanchez, the detective that never let go of her case.  We get him and a younger detective, and the two are cut from completely different cloths.

Having been burned numerous times by The History Channel, I was expecting a story that didn’t go anywhere (like The Mystery of Oak Island.) No.  Discovery delivers.  This story does move along.  Discovery serves us up a heaping scoop of sinister cold-case murder.

There are elements here which tugged at me…namely a convicted serial killer whose victims were only three houses from Miss Boisfontaine’s.  For some investigators the lure of this killer is strong.  I’ve seen that before in my own research.

This show is not fast paced, but was a hell of a lot better than HBO’s True Detective.  I actually cringed when the police interviewed the woman that found the victim and she described the smell of the decomposing body as “sweet.”  Then there’s the incredibly shady Alligator Bar whose owner made me squirm slightly (and drew the attention of the younger detective.)

The pace of investigations, even those I do, is slow.  Discovery has held back a lot of details to the case which I’m sure they will unfold as the series goes along.

This is a great show.  The characters are marvelous, quirky, yet oddly appealing.  There is a twist at the end of the first episode, which was great and takes the case off in a new direction.  As a true crime author, I highly recommend this series.  Please take the time to check it out.  This is the kind of show I think we need more of.  Anything to pry open these cold cases is a good thing.

My BattleTech Stuff

Okay, here we go.  My wife thought it would be good to put the books and articles I’ve written on display, a shrine to my ego of sorts, so here it is.  When I saw that Hairbrained was looking for BattleTech collections to help hype their awesome Kickstarter, I thought I’d offer up mine. The really good stuff is at the bottom of this post.

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The BattleTech works I wrote/contributed to include:

Novels:

Highlander Gambit, Penguin Books, ROC, 1995 (ISBN 0451-45489-8)

Contributed to Star Lord, Penguin Books, ROC 1995 (ISBN 0-451-45386-7)

Impetus of War, Penguin Books, ROC 1996 (ISBN 0-451-4529-0)

Exodus Road, Penguin Books, ROC 1997 (ISBN 0-451-45634-3)

Roar of Honor, Penguin Books, ROC, 1999 (ISBN 0-451-45761-7)

Co-authored By Blood Betrayed, Penguin Books, ROC, 1999 (ISBN 0-451-45769-2)

Measure of a Hero, Penguin Books, ROC, 2000 (ISBN 0-451-45798-6)

The Call of Duty, Penguin Books, ROC 2001 (ISBN 0-451-45856-7)

Operation Audacity, Penguin Books, ROC, 2002 (ISBN 0-451-45885-0)

Target of Opportunity, Penguin Books, ROC, 2005

Surrender Your Dreams (MechWarrior) December 2006

Fire at Will (MechWarrior) September 2007

Sourcebooks:

The BattleTech Technical Readout 3025., FASA Corporation 1986.

Cranston Snord’s Irregulars., FASA Corporation 1986

Sorenson’s Sabers., FASA Corporation 1987.

Wolf Clan Sourcebook, FASA Corporation, 1991

Solaris – The Reaches, FASA Corporation, 1991

Clantroops, FASA Corporation, 1991

Mercenary’s Handbook 3055, FASA Corporation, 1993

Fourth Succession War Military Atlas Volume 2, FASA Corporation, 1989

Bloodright, FASA Corporation 1992

MechWarrior RPG, Version 2, FASA Corporation, 1991

Rhonda’s Irregulars, FASA Corporation, 1991

BattleTech Compendium, FASA Corporation, 1991

Unbound, FASA Corporation, 1991

Fourth Succession War Scenario Pack, FASA Corporation, 1989

BattleTech Technical Readout 3055, FASA Corporation, 1992

BattleTech Technical Readout 2750, FASA Corporation, 1989

BattleTech Technical Readout 3058, FASA Corporation, 1995

ComStar Sourcebook, FASA Corporation 1992

BattleTech Rules of Warfare, FASA Corporation, 1994

Living Legends, FASA Corporation, 1996

MechWarrior Companion, FASA Corporation 1996

Computer Books:
BattleTech The Official Strategy Guide, Brady Games, 1994 (ISBN 1-56686-208-6)
MechWarrior 2 CD ROM Strategy Guide, Brady Books, 1995 (ISBN 1-56686-191-8)
On-Line Publications:

The Longest Road (BattleCorps) December 2004Great Gaffa’s Ghost (BattleCorps) September 2005

Betrayal of Ideals (on-line novel) (BattleCorps) Parts 1-4 October 2006-January 2007

The Heart of Dixie (BattleCorps) 2005

Old Pus Eye (BattleCorps) August 2008

Desertion (BattleCorps) 2008

Abandonment (BattleCorps) 2008

Son of Blake (BattleCorps) 2009

The Loyal Son (BattleCorps) 2010

Desperate Measures (BattleCorps) 2011

Defiant Stand (BattleCrops) 2012

Articles:

Infantry Against BattleMechs, ”Stardate, Vol. 3 No. 4, Sept. 1987.  Pages 256 and 259

New Avalon Institute of Science, Training Manual Part 1.,Stardate Vol. 3 No. 4, Sept. 1987.  Pages 277-282.

Protomatter.  ”Stardate Vol. 3 No. 4, Sept. 1987.  Pages 284-285.

New Avalon Institute of Science, Training Manual Part 2.,” Stardate Vol. 3 No. 5, Oct. 1987. Pages 320-325

New Avalon Institute of Science, Training Manual Part 3.,” Stardate Vol. 3 No. 6, Nov/Dec. 1987. Pages 439-444

Mech, Lone Shark Saga Part III, Volume II, Issue V, Pages 4-8

Mech, Lone Shark Saga Part II, Volume I Issue IV, 1991, Pages 2-3

Mech, Long Shark Saga Part I, Volume I, Issue III, 1991, Pages 2-4

Mech, Lone Shark Saga Part IV, Volume II, Issue VI 1992 Pages 2-9

Mech, Lone Shark Saga Conclusion, Volume II, Issue VII 1992 Pages 4-7

Not to mention credit in a number of other sourcebooks and material.

One of my favorite items – my original sourcebook material from the write-ups of the early BattleTech universe:

I keep this in a binder.  Just to whet your appetites – here’s some sample shots.  Photocopies of the original artwork from the 3025 Tech Readout with THE ORIGINAL DESIGN SPECS done in hand at FASA (and few by yours truly).

IMG_0828Check out the red ink hand drawn borders of the Inner Sphere.  It doesn’t get any more old school than that!
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Look at the back of the map!

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Original Catapult Designs.  Oops!  65.1 tons!?

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The Maps of the Inner Sphere.  Photocopied on the back of Traveller Deck Plans by Jordan – showing the original hand map of the Inner Sphere.  Things were on a shoestring back in those days.  No – I have not gone through this to see if I can find The Hidden Worlds – but they may very well be on there!

Printouts of original material (dot matrix) for Tech readouts and Snord’s Irregulars.  Also in included a shot of the original regimental lists!  This book is a treasure trove of original BattleTech documents and designs.  It’s always a treat to go through it.


IMG_0844I have a lot more – but I thought this would be a good start and a bit of history.

#myBTstuff  #BATTLETECH