Sunday, July 3, 2011

You Cannot Make This Stuff Up






Someone asked me once, what's the perfect guest blog? I said...well, come to think of it, it was Thomas Kaufman who asked. And he certainly listened to my answer.



(And doesn't he look like Paul Newman here? Just saying.)


His new book is STEAL THE SHOW, and it's smart, compelling, fast-paced and oh-so-original. And today we're givng away a copy to a lucky commenter!



So put it this way. How often have you said, whoa, you cannot make this stuff up? Tom has the proof.

***************************************

TOM KAUFMAN: Hank, thanks for letting me come over, I'll leave my shoes by the door.

Like Hank, I work in the film and video business, but unlike Hank, I free lance. So I work on lots of different types of projects. I like this because I have to be good at everything, from hand-held, fly-on-the-wall documentary shooting, to lighting tabletop products shots, to shooting fiction films.

I've also shot and directed a lot of cop shows, and made friends with police, FBI, and DEA agents. Most of these guys are born storytellers. You can bet that the stories I heard and the crime scenes I visited have helped my writing.

Now, I have to tell you, that a lot of the criminals in these cases did not fit into the super-genius category. For instance, one guy killed his girlfriend, then got rid of the body by placing it in a 55 gallon metal drum. He burned her remains over a number of days, then emptied what was left into a nearby stream. Pretty smart, right?

Except he still had to get rid of the metal drum. So he waits until night, finds a construction site, and places his drum alongside two dozen others.

Problem was, the next morning the supervisor comes in and notices there's one green drum among two dozen blue ones. (In the dark, the killer couldn't see the color difference.)

The bottom of the drum contained bone fragments (which the killer neglected to hose out). A forensic anthropologist was able to match the fragments to the missing woman's height, weight, and age.

But what's worse, the killer, once he finished, went to a bar and told the dead woman's brother-in-law that he had killed her. Did that last fact make it into the show? No. Why not? Because, as the producer explained to me, for the show to work, these criminals need to be perceived as smart, even though they often weren't.

Hey, it's TV. Reality can take a backseat.

Before I went on location to shoot and direct these shows, the production company's researcher would send me scripts, treatments, police reports, all about the crime. One show was about identity theft, and I came across something extraordinary:

A wealthy man, let's call him Klemson, meets a handyman, who we'll call Blake. Blake does a few odd jobs for Klemson, meanwhile casing the guy. Blake discovers that Klemson, an older guy, lives alone, and his children are far away. Klemson has money. And he trusts Blake.

So Blake has an idea – kill Klemson, hide the body, but keep Klemson's checkbook. That way "Klemson" can write checks to Blake. Maybe not the most original crime in the world, but it works. For a while.

Then Klemson's family begins to wonder where he is – he hasn't answered his phone in a week, and he always lets them know when he's going away. The family calls the cops. Going through Klemson's canceled checks, the cops find some of them are to a mortgage company. But Klemson's mortgage was paid in full. The mortgage company tells the cops that the check went to a property owned by Blake.

So now the cops question Blake, who says that he did odd jobs for Klemson, and asked that Klemson write checks directly to Blake's mortgage company. The cops show Blake a photo of Klemson. Is this the guy?

Now, Blake thinks he's being clever and says no, that's not him. It was a different guy. This way, Blake hopes to throw the cops off the trail. The cops hand Blake over to a police sketch artist, and after an hour or so, the sketch artist shows the cops the picture.

And it's a picture of Blake! No kidding, this guy describes the perp to the sketch artist, and unconsciously, comes up with a sketch of himself.

I'm reading this, and grab the phone to call the researcher. Is this for real? Absolutely, the researcher assures me. Then I call the producer. This has got to be in the show, I say. Why? Because it's fantastic, yet at the same time rings true. I can believe it, but it's still amazing.

No, the producer says, that could never be in the show. Once we depict these criminals as stupid, the show falls flat. Forget about it.

But I can't -- details like this are what makes these stories so interesting. I'll be using this piece in my writing someday, when I find the right place for it.



How about you? Have you ever come across an incident that you're dying to put in a story?

HANK: I must say, nothing as hilarious as the too-dark-for-the-drums story. So how about you, Reds? And if you're rushing to get ready for your fourth of July celebrations, in honor of Steal the Show, you can just tell us your favorite summer movie to be entered to win Tom's wonderful book!




Tom's new book is STEAL THE SHOW--and what a great cover, huh?

****Not every private eye would try to adopt an abandoned baby, but Willis Gidney’s case is special – he was abandoned too. And having barely survived DC foster care, Willis can’t quite seem to let the system take over, especially with a child like Sarah. The DC authorities have a very different idea about fatherhood -- it does not include unmarried private eyes. That means Willis needs money for a lawyer, so he takes a job he shouldn’t—breaking into a film pirating center for a code-writing hacker named Rush Gemelli. Willis thinks this is a onetime venture, but Gemelli blackmails him into joining up with his father, Chuck Gemelli, the head of the motion picture lobby in Washington. When Chuck’s former partner is murdered, it seems like someone may be playing Gidney for the fall guy.



Add to that the unwanted attentions of a crazed actress, a foster care case worker from hell, and the Vietnamese and Salvadoran gangs out to kill him, and it’s all Gidney can do to keep from getting his movie ticket punched—permanently.



Thomas Kaufman is an Emmy-winning director/cameraman who also writes mysteries. His first book, DRINK THE TEA, won the PWA/St Martin's Press Competition for Best First Novel. His second book, STEAL THE SHOW, comes out this July. His blog tour continues this week at AllisonLeotta.com, International Thriller Writers, and Murderati .

38 comments:

Ellis Vidler said...

Great story about the blue and green drums. And the sketch of himself. Does that make the man a narcissist or something? Your books must be fun to read.
So far this summer my favorite movie is The Lincoln Lawyer (it's also the only one I've seen ;-).

E. B. Davis said...

We wish "reality" ended on TV! I can't watch that contrived stuff. Your stories of stupid killers are great fun (for writers at least!). Your plot is unique. I'd like to read your book, and I live in the DC area.

William Simon said...

There's an old LEO expression I've heard from local police officers, state investigators, and Federal agents: "Thank God They're Stupid!"

A recent incident: A guy robs a bank, and brags about it on Facebook! (I couldn't help it, and had to re-port with the comment, "John Robie would be so proud...."

In another, some bad guy takes a woman hostage in a motel room... and brags about it on Facebook! Friends of his were posting where the SWAT officers were hiding.

As they say, you just CANNOT make this shi* up. You just can't.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

OH, too funny, William!

My favorite summer movie so far is..oh, wait, I haven't seen any movies...

Elaine said...

Apparently summer movies start in May so my favourite movie this summer, so far, is "Super 8".

Mysti said...

I'm with Tom--the amazingly stupid move could be in the epilog. Oh well. Never realized there was a consistent story structure until this post--the cops=protagonist, the perp=antagonist, just like fiction. For me it's about the forensics :)

Thanks for the Sunday inspiration--going to write while it's still cool!

Thanks for hosting this fascinating writer!!!!

Maryann Mercer said...

You know, you could do a show entitled "Stupid Criminals" and then go interactive on Facebook or something to have "fans" guess just which action is going to trip him or her up (steal a page from the CBS crime program that has viewers do to a website and state their opinion...guilty? Not guilty? Not enough punishment? etc). You would find fans...look at the programs out there right now. If people rave about Hoarders...
My favorite summer movie? I'm way behind so it has to be The Adjustment Bureau. Love Matt Damon. All time summer fave? Grease!

Darlene Ryan said...

My bookstore list just got a little longer. How can I resist a story with adoption in it?

My favorite stupid criminal story happened last winter when a young man decided to rob and vandalize a couple of streets' worth of cars after a snow storm, on the theory that the police wouldn't come because the roads hadn't been plowed. Since he couldn't take his own car out on the unplowed streets he walked. Police followed his footprints through the snow from car to car and all the way back to where he lived.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Grease! Yes, marvelous! Time for a film festival...

Nancy said...

Wow. His book sounds like it has something new in every chapter. Can't wait to read it. I love reading about stupid criminals, too!

Roberta Isleib said...

What amazing stories Tom! Thanks for coming over to visit--and we appreciate you leaving your shoes at the door--such a thoughtful guest!

Pat Marinelli said...

Tom your book sounds great!

Stupid criminals crack me up. I'd addicted to reading the local police blotter. Some broke in to a warehouse and stole 25 lbs of frozen lobster. What, too heavy, he couldn't carry more? Why not take a friend to help? Maybe he had a small freezer. Thier reasoning or lack of amazes me.

Or the state senator who left his car running while he went into get take-out coffee. Surprise, someone stole his car. Duh! Can you guess what my new candidate criteria is?

Pj Schott said...

Made me feel smart. Thank you.

AnnOxford said...

I, too, have just made my "to read" list longer. Thank you, Tom, for spending time with us. I appreciated the fresh look at how imperfection in characters can work to our advantage. Sorry, I've not seen any summer movies as yet. But my all-time favorite set in a sizzling New York City -- Rear Window!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Rear Window! Yes, SO fabulous. HOw gorgeous was Grace Kelly? In those clothes? And her little bag? I wish we could wear dresses like that...

Liz said...

D.C.'s WTOP runs weekly stories entitled "Knuckleheads in The News" about criminal antics.

http://www.wtop.com/?nid=858&sid=635506&pid=0&page=23

Thomas Kaufman said...

Hank, thanks again for letting me in the door. Paul Newman? I think I look more like his brother Melvin.

Thomas Kaufman said...

Ellis, I think that, in order to treat others so badly, the killer must've held himself in high regard. All evidence to the contrary.

Thomas Kaufman said...

E.B., I agree. "Reality TV" yet another oxymoron for the list. I'll be doing a book signing in DC at the end of July - maybe see you there?

Thomas Kaufman said...

William, I've often heard cops make that remark, and it's almost always true. Thanks for sharing your stories about genius criminals!

Thomas Kaufman said...

Hank, I've yet to see something summer -- at least nothing I can remember. Though it's not a block buster, the film CAVE OF DREAMS, directed by Verner Herzog shows us "the Chauvet caves of Southern France, capturing the oldest known pictorial creations of humankind in their astonishing natural setting." Worth seeing!

Thomas Kaufman said...

Elaine, I want to see SUPER 8, really liked what JJ Abrams did with STAR TREK!

Thomas Kaufman said...

Mysti, that's exactly right. In the show I was doing we were all about the forensics. That other stuff? Swept under the rug...

Thomas Kaufman said...

Maryann, you're onto something. Let's pitch "STUPID CRIMINALS" to Discovery!

Thomas Kaufman said...

Darlene, footprints in the snow? That's so funny it must be real! Thanks!

Thomas Kaufman said...

Nancy, most of the criminals in my book are actually pretty smart.

Notice that I said "most of"!

Thomas Kaufman said...

Roberta, you're welcome. Thanks again for having me!

I put your mail on the hall table, hope that's okay.

Thomas Kaufman said...

Hey, Pat, that's unfair. Once you introduce politicians in the mix, we're talking a whole new dimension of dumb.

Thomas Kaufman said...

PJ, I always come away from these stories thinking, shoot, I could've done that!

Thomas Kaufman said...

Ann and Hank, yes! REAR WINDOW is one of the great films of all time. What I love about this is at the end, when Jimmy Stewart has a conversation with the killer.

Thomas Kaufman said...

Liz, thanks for the link, I'll check it out!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Great post, Tom. I have several cop friends who all say the same thing--Thank God they're stupid! Your book sounds fascinating. Can't wait to read it.
No summer movies yet, but I'll cast another vote for Rear Window.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

If you guys are pitching Stupid Criminals, I'm totally in. YOu need a reporter, right?

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

John Robie the Cat, right? In To Catch a Thief ,another fabulous movie--and timely, given the current goings-on in Monaco...

Cathi Stoler said...

Love the drums story!

Sandie Herron said...

All of these seem to remind me of those crimes committed by the people who receive the Darwin Awards!

Thomas Kaufman said...

Sandi, I never thought of this in evolutionary terms! So what does it say about a society whose criminals are so stupid? A good thing or a bad thing?

Sandie Herron said...

Thomas, I'm not so sure but at least this way the dumb criminals are eliminating themselves from the gene pool so we can hope those of us left are smarter!