Wednesday, March 31, 2010

the end zone

The newest Body Farm novel has been a topic of conversation almost everywhere I've been over the past week. At last night's Einstein Simplified show, a guy named Moose told me that his father had been at the Oak Ridge book signing. Moose was amused that I had signed page 359 of his dad's copy of "The Bone Thief." One of the errors caught by my proofreading got mentioned by Jon Jefferson in a great interview with Chapter 16:
Chapter 16: Do you ever have trouble keeping the two separate when you're writing?

Jefferson: In this latest book, The Bone Thief, there was one place in the manuscript, when I was writing along, that I actually wrote Dr. Bass instead of Dr. Brockton. And it wasn't until before it went to press that anybody caught that. So mostly it's not hard to keep the fictional Dr. Brockton separate from the real Dr. Bass, but occasionally it gets a little blurry in the wee small hours when I have been writing a long time.
My friend Brian Egan and his wife Jen were visiting from the D.C. area yesterday. We met at Patrick Sullivan's before the improv show. Jen was excited to hear about the books and plans to give them as gifts to a family member. Somebody, maybe it was Brian, shouted out "body farm" as a suggestion for one of our improv games.

While chatting about the Body Farm with some folks on Monday, I was reminded of something I heard Dr. Bill Bass say on Thursday. I did a little impromptu emceeing at the Oak Ridge event, by helping with the Q&A session. I asked the assembled crowd to indicate if they wanted to be buried, cremated or skeletonized at the Farm. One man approached Dr. Bass later to say that his mother had donated her remains to the facility upon her death last year. Dr. Bass said that the man could call the anthropology department and make an appointment to visit his mother's bones, once they had been cleaned and stored in Neyland Stadium. It was another fascinating fact that was new to me.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

bony baloney

The invitation from Susan and Mary Jo of the Bone Zones crew was enticing. They would set up some seats for me to fill with listeners who wanted to meet Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass at their book-signing event in Oak Ridge last night. I could use the opportunity to get copies of "The Bone Thief" autographed both for myself and for the Star 102.1 Radiothon to benefit East Tennessee Children's Hospital.

A long line of fans wrapped around the bookshelves at Books-A-Million. I offered to help by taking pictures of the event with Susan Seals' camera. I snapped a few of my own photos too. It was decided that Jefferson and Bass would sign books first and then take questions from the readers afterward.

A woman at the front of the line thought it would be fun if I signed the page on which I was acknowledged as a proofreader. Apparently Susan and Mary Jo had the same idea. They wanted me to sit at the table with the authors and sign page 359 for anybody else who cared to have it. I recalled that on the river cruise in December they had Dr. Al Hazari sign the page of "Death's Acre" where he was mentioned.

I felt a little awkward at first but the kind reactions of the readers put me at ease. The requests varied as some customers asked to have their books personalized and others did not. Many copies were bought as gifts. I remember writing "surprise" on one. My favorite was the one purchased nine months in advance as a Christmas gift. Jefferson and Bass wrote "merry Christmas" on the title page. I wrote "and a happy new year" on page 359.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

obscure little research facility

Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass autographed each of their first four Body Farm novels when I interviewed them about the books. Because our interview for "The Bone Thief" was recorded before the finished products were back from the printer, my copy is not yet signed. Neither is the extra copy that HarperCollins sent me as a donation for the silent auction at the Star 102.1 Radiothon to benefit East Tennessee Children's Hospital. I will get both signed on Thursday night at Books-A-Million in Oak Ridge.

Fans of the Body Farm are happy that "The Bone Thief" got a nice mention in the current Entertainment Weekly. The magazine gave it a solid B.

While I was clicking around on the WBIR website, I found an extended interview with Dr. Bass that was fun to watch. He says a lot of the same type of stuff that we talk about in our radio conversations, which seemed to surprise the off-camera interviewer. You can hear Jim Matheny say that the joke about putting road kill under your computer would be web-only content.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

popular science

Next week literally thousands of Tennesseans will line up at bookstores (and a Sam's Club) to get autographed copies of "The Bone Thief." If Dr. Bill Bass stayed up that late, the Knoxville stores could probably draw big crowds to midnight book release parties like they used to for Harry Potter. The Bone Zones team has set a goal of reaching The New York Times bestseller list with the newest Body Farm novel.

Susan Seals from Bone Zones informed me that Dr. Bass will be attending most but not all of the signings. Jon Jefferson will do some of them solo. If your heart is set on meeting the famed anthropologist, double check Susan's schedule against the HarperCollins schedule before standing in line. Susan is working on a special on-air opportunity for me to give to a few lucky fans who will be going to the Books-A-Million event in Oak Ridge on Thursday, March 25.

The folks at HarperCollins sent me some bullet points related to the story and a link to a short video that Jefferson & Bass had to go shoot the same day they recorded a radio interview with me. The video has lots of bones and a corpse or two.
  • Currently more than 100,000 people in the United Stares are on waiting lists for organ transplants
  • More than 100 of them die every week while waiting
  • Selling human organs and tissues on the black market to desperate buyers can be highly lucrative
  • Hand transplantation reflects a grim reality of war: these days, most U.S. hand amputees are soldiers, injured by improvised explosives in Iraq
  • Sadly, hand trauma’s other victims include thousands of children, maimed by land mines in war zones around the world

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

no bones about it

Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass start their publicity and book-signing tour for "The Bone Thief" in about a week. They fit me into their schedule one day last month to pre-record an interview that airs this week on the East Tennessee Report. You can download it as a podcast or listen to it by clicking on the "play" icon.

after recording the East Tennessee report on 2/24/10 The new book opens with the description of a dead news anchor. The fictional Maureen Gershwin worked at WBIR with a co-anchor named Randall Gibbons. From her physical description, I thought she might have been based on a real local anchor who planted a kiss on me at a charity function but I was wrong. She is mostly a figment of Jon Jefferson's imagination.

page 359 At the time we recorded the interview, Jefferson and Bass had not yet told WBIR's Russell Biven about the similarity between his name and that of the anchorman in the book. I saw John Becker the other day and told him that WBIR is featured in "The Bone Thief." I also didn't know until a couple of days ago that the authors had graciously mentioned my proofreading in the acknowledgments.

With the new novel about to come out, my Google alert for the Body Farm has been especially active lately. For example, one reviewer assumes, like most, that Dr. Bill Brockton is based on Dr. Bill Bass. I can tell you that Brockton is a lot more like Jefferson than Bass. Meanwhile, a local photographer posted a good picture on his blog of Dr. Bass during a slide show about the Big Bopper's exhumation.

In other decomposition news, Mesa State College has decided to not set up a temporary body farm near the intersection of 29 and D Roads. Instead they will continue searching for a more remote, permanent location. As one Colorado newspaper writer pointed out, the original Body Farm is within a mile of homes and within mere feet of the UT Medical Center parking lot.

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

aye, there's the rib

Thank goodness for the Internet. Without its streaming video, I would have missed seeing Dr. Bill Bass on "20/20." The founder of the Body Farm was interviewed about his testimony in a 2001 murder trial. Dr. Bass proved that the medical examiner was wrong and that a man accused of killing his cousin was innocent. Here's the segment in which Dr. Bass appears.

I saw Dr. Bass and his co-author Jon Jefferson recently. They came by to record our annual interview about their latest Body Farm novel. The newest one, "The Bone Thief," will be released on March 23. The radio program will air on March 14. As usual, Jefferson and Bass will be devoting a lot of time to book signing appearances where they are ably assisted by the devoted Bone Zones crew. A publicist from HarperCollins just sent me an updated list of appearances. The signings at Sam's Club and Kroger are not yet on their website.

Tuesday, March 23
7:00 PM
202 Morrell Road
Knoxville, TN 37919

Wednesday, March 24
7:00 PM
The Mall at Green Hills
2121 Green Hills Village Drive
Nashville, TN 37215

Thursday, March 25
7:00 PM
310 S Illinois Avenue
Oak Ridge, TN 37830

Friday, March 26
6:00 PM
5113A Kingston Pike
Knoxville, TN 37919

Saturday, March 27
12:00 PM
8435 Walbrook Drive
Knoxville, TN 37923

Saturday, March 27
3:00 PM
5201 North Broadway
Knoxville, TN 37918

Monday, April 05
6:00 PM
401 Broad Street
Chattanooga, TN 37402

Tuesday, April 06
7:00 PM
105 E Main Street
Woodstock, GA 30188

Thursday, April 08
7:00 PM
299 Atlantic Boulevard
Atlantic Beach, FL 32233

Friday, April 09
7:30 PM
3522 Wade Avenue
Raleigh, NC 27607

Saturday, April 10
7:00 PM
55 Haywood Street
Asheville, NC 28801

Sunday, April 11
7:00 PM
Johnson City Plaza
2116 N Roan Street
Johnson City, TN 37601

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

take a chance

The email from Fox urged me to visit a special website for the show "Human Target." I played along and entered my name, email address and phone number. Before long, a video started playing with my name cleverly inserted in the graphics and on a list of names. When the lead character made a call, my phone rang. It was the voice of Christopher Chance, urging me to open the case.

The case in question had arrived in the mail yesterday. It was one of the nicer promotional items I've seen. The briefcase contained a DVD of tonight's episode, a Christopher Chance ID badge, a copy of "The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook," a 1GB flash drive shaped like a bullet and a cigarette lighter. Huh?

The desired effect of the freebies was to get me to watch "Human Target" tonight, which is being recorded on my DVR as I type this. As a TV completist, I wanted to go back in time to see the pilot episode I missed on Sunday. Fortunately it is available online, both at the Fox site and at, which I can work into my next commercial for Comcast High-Speed Internet.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

jailhouse rock

Not everyone has a wife as understanding as mine. I briefly mentioned that one of the Christmas gifts she gave me was a book about killers called "Human Monsters" by David Everitt. One of the six evildoers whose pictures were chosen for the cover was Ed Gein, who is credited as being the inspiration for the character of Norman Bates in "Psycho." Each nutjob gets about two or three pages in the book. The brief chapter on Gein alludes to the psychological damage inflicted on him by his mother. However Gein's crimes were more reminiscent of Jame Gumb in "Silence of the Lambs."

As I write this, my wife is at a Knoxville Choral Society rehearsal. She also sings with the choir at All Saints Church. In high school, she played Laurey in the student production of "Oklahoma!" I bring up her interest in music because of a news story out of Menasha, Wisconsin. The small town was the location of the debut screenings of "Ed Gein: The Musical." According to the follow-up article, the songs are parodies of well-known tunes. For example, "All Cooked Up" is a spoof of "All Shook Up."

I wonder if there are some Elvis songs they could use in a sequel. It would be great to hear "Love Me Tenderized," "Good Luck Arm" and "You: Suede Shoes."

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Sunday, January 03, 2010

well played, sir

Only two chapters in to "SuperFreakonomics," I had to put the book -- and the rest of my newly acquired reading pile -- aside. Once again, something else cut to the front of the line. Let me back up a bit.

A few years ago, Dr. Bill Bass partnered with writer Jon Jefferson to create a series of novels about the Body Farm and its fictional director, Dr. Bill Brockton. I have had the good fortune of interviewing the pair when each new book was released. In one of the stories -- I think it was the second one -- Dr. Brockton's truck was impounded and he had to use a different car. In a later chapter, he was driving the truck again. Off the air, I asked Jon about what I perceived as a discrepancy. He gave me a look that said "oh no!" and acknowledged that I had caught a mistake. He had gone back to add the plot point of the impounding but failed to change every single reference to Brockton's vehicle that followed. For the sake of humor (and accuracy), I had him make and initial a handwritten notation in my copy. In subsequent interviews and social meetings, Jon has always brought up my "eagle eye" attention to the detail in his book.

Dr. Bass recently held a lecture aboard the Volunteer Princess as a fundraiser for the William M. Bass III Forensic Anthropology Building. After the presentation, Dr. and Mrs. Bass and I made plans to go to lunch with my family during the week between Christmas and New Year's. We talked about science and about some additional ideas to raise money for the building fund. They were both very excited about the next book, "The Bone Thief," which will be published in March.

Coincidentally, my family and I had also been invited to a potluck party at Jon Jefferson's house this past week to celebrate his new marriage. When he and his wife met my children, he brought up the story of me finding the error in "Flesh and Bone." This time, however, he added that he had a proposition. How would I like to proofread the new book? The catch was that I would have to read fast. Any corrections would be due by Monday, January 4th. I quickly accepted the offer and Jon gave me a large envelope stuffed with 362 sheets of copy paper. As I read the excellent book-to-be, I realized what Jon had done. If a small continuity error slips by and gets published in "The Bone Thief," it will be my fault!

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

monster of the midway

The Christmas gifts from my daughter made me proud of her ingenuity and thoughtfulness. She gave me a stack of books she knew I would like and paid nothing for them by using PaperBackSwap. When she heard that I had seen a simply wrapped package arrive in the mail last week from a PBS member in Saucier, Mississippi, she sent me the following email:
So, I was just going through your blog, your Facebook, your Twitter and your Amazon wish list. Even if I had never met you in person, I would know a lot about you and your personal tastes. If you love someone and actually take an interest in their life, wouldn't you be willing to take 5 minutes on the Internet to find a simple and cheap gift that they would love?

I know that you were good and did not open the gift that arrived for you, but you will be proud to know that I paid $0 for it. That's right, I paid nothing for the gift, I paid nothing for the shipping and I only had to research for about 5 minutes to figure out that you would enjoy it.
The books from PaperBackSwap turned out the be "Give Me a Break" by John Stossel and "The Last Days of Dead Celebrities" by Mitchell Fink. I had put them on my Amazon wish list when they were new but never got around to buying them.

The book pile grew even higher because my daughter gave me her own gently used copy of "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson. She had mentioned it to me when we visited a bookstore together on Labor Day. My wife also recalled my curiosity about H.H. Holmes that day and gave me a copy of "Human Monsters" by David Everitt, which is billed as an "encyclopedia of the world's most vicious murderers."

In addition to all the free books, my daughter gave me a 2½ ounce bag of Starbucks House Blend. A non-coffee-drinking friend of hers had received it in a gift basket at work. It's a re-gift I look forward to opening and brewing the next time I have a day off from work, so probably Friday during the Tournament of Roses Parade.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

bass boat

One of the most frequent requests in my email on a regular basis is "please let me know when Dr. Bill Bass will make a public appearance near me." The founder of the Body Farm and co-author of several best-selling mystery novels is arguably the most famous person in Knoxville.

A team of enthusiastic volunteers organizes the crowd whenever Dr. Bass has a book-signing event. They even have their own website at The group is helping to raise $900,000 for the construction of the Dr. William M. Bass III Forensic Anthropology Building with an upcoming event.

For $46.95 plus tax, you can cruise past the Body Farm on the Volunteer Princess with Dr. Bass on Monday, December 7 at 6:00 p.m. He will speak about his career and answer questions from the audience. The admission price includes a boxed dinner. True fans will show that they can eat while watching the decomposition slide show. If you bring cash or a check to buy a book, you can get it signed while on board. You can bring the Jefferson Bass books you already own and get them signed too.

In other Jefferson Bass news, Susan from tells me that the next novel, "The Bone Thief" will be released on March 23, 2010. Their site has the first image of the book's cover that I've seen. I asked Susan if I could submit a photo of my own for inclusion on

British comedian Stephen Fry visited the Body Farm while filming an episode of a series for the BBC. He appeared on the "Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" to promote his book about his exploration of the U.S.A. and talked about the Body Farm. posted the funny clip yesterday, which is how I found out about it.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

a real s'mouthful

The thought of Labor Day cookouts reminded me of a book I saw a few weeks ago at a silent auction. "S'mores" by Lisa Adams is full of mouth-watering photographs and recipes for gourmet marshmallow treats. The auction was part of the American Cancer Society benefit that brought Gilles Marini to town.

A Google Preview of the book shows s'mores made with pieces of fruit for a supposedly healthier snack. Other suggestions include using Milky Way Minis or Andes Mints instead of plain old Hershey's Bars.

The copy of the book I saw had a flyer for Plush Puffs Marshmallows inside the front cover. I didn't win the book at the auction but I did add it to my Amazon Wish List. The same publisher also has a book on homemade "Marshmallows" that looks good but would involve a lot more work than a s'more.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

youngest one in curls

Susan Olsen has co-authored a new book about an oft-overlooked aspect of her "Brady Bunch" years. The skeleton in the Brady closet is "The Brady Bunch Variety Hour." The nine episodes they filmed were, in effect, a spin-off of the "Donny & Marie" show.

"Love to Love You Bradys" is all about the disco-era incarnation of the famous TV family. Susan is making the rounds to publicize the book. She will be on the "Today Show" Monday morning and on "Fox & Friends" Tuesday morning.

Yesterday I recorded an hour long interview with my friend Susan. She and I worked together at the Comedy World Radio Network and have kept in touch ever since. We talked about her Brady siblings, Asperger's Syndrome, kitten rescue, Marshmallow Fluff and more.

You can right click here to download the podcast or click on the play button below to let it stream in your browser. Because I know that not everyone will have time to listen to the full hour, let me tell you exactly where to find the parts that will interest you most.
  • 02:02 - the book and the show
  • 08:34 - what about Ann B. Davis?
  • 10:22 - Fake Jan and Paris Hilton's mother (good stuff)
  • 16:55 - more about the Variety Hour
  • 24:35 - her ex-boyfriend, Pooperman
  • 27:06 - Susan's son Michael and Asperger's
  • 32:19 - what about her Brady siblings?
  • 37:49 - why Maureen and Eve aren't close (don't miss this!)
  • 44:02 - Susan's work with kitten rescues
  • 52:12 - our mutual love of Marshmallow Fluff

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Monday, August 10, 2009

focus on the family

The recognizable voice of John Waters was on NPR this afternoon when I got in my car. I knew that I knew the voice but it still took me a minute to identify it. When I tune in to the middle of an interview, I like to play "guess the guest," a game made possible because so many of us in radio are bad about identifying interviewees once the conversation has begun.

In today's case, it was a trifle more challenging because Waters was not talking about himself but about the Tate/LaBianca murders. Apparently he has befriended Leslie Van Houten, a member of the Manson family who was convicted of the murders of Mr. and Mrs. LaBianca. Waters says that Van Houten has been rehabilitated in prison and should be paroled.

The broadcast was timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the murders, which took place August 9 and 10, 1969, a mere three weeks after a much happier event. While looking online for another link, I found a blog that commemorates the murders. It has a lot of recent entries because of the anniversary but was actually started over four years ago.

I remember reading "Helter Skelter" while in grammar school. Years later when I met Vincent Bugliosi at KLOS, I told him that I still had a vivid memory of a crime scene photo in the book. In it, Leno LaBianca's body was whited out but a fork was still visible protruding from his abdomen.

My friend Lisa Burks, who writes "Adventures in Grave Hunting" among other blogs, sent me a DVD titled "The Six Degrees of Helter Skelter." It is hosted by her friend Scott Michaels of Dearly Departed Tours and Scott serves as tour guide and takes the viewer to the crime scenes, the homes of the other victims and more significant locations. The most effective parts of the film are when he retraces the steps of the murderers.

I found Scott's trip to Barker Ranch in Death Valley to be especially creepy. I was also surprised to learn that Sharon Tate and her friends ate their last meal at El Coyote, one of my favorite Mexican restaurants during the time I lived in California. It wasn't until I moved to Tennessee and started watching "The Beverly Hillbillies" reruns that I appreciated Sharon Tate's talent as an actress.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

do you believe in magic?

To get ready for Harry Potter Day, my wife and son planned ahead. On our road trip two years ago, it didn't occur to us to buy a CD copy of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" until we got to a small town in Illinois. This year they went to the Knox County Public Library and reserved an audio copy of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."

We listened to Jim Dale's narration as we drove to Maine and back. I have the same complaint with the sixth book as I did with the seventh about the way Dale voices female characters, especially Ginny, Luna and Hermione. The only woman's voice he gets right is Professor McGonagall. As I heard the climactic scene, I couldn't help but think of the fake ending I wrote four years ago.

The detailed plot was fresh in my mind as we watched the excellent movie adaptation this afternoon. I was okay with the stuff they had to leave out. Both Harry and Hermione are dealing with their changing feelings toward a Weasley. It was fairly true to the book although there are brief scenes I might not have understood had I not read the novel. Specifically, I thought they did not do a good job of explaining the Room of Requirement. Of course most of the moviegoers will have seen "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," which explained the Room fully.

A listener called to challenge something I said on the air this morning. I mentioned that there were two more Harry Potter movies to come. She said there was only one film left. I tried to get her to understand that one book was being divided into two movies but she kept insisting that it was one movie divided into two parts. I finally won the argument when I asked her if she thought she could see both parts with one ticket or if they would make her buy tickets to two movies.

I saw an awkward live segment at the end of the late local news Tuesday night. The reporter interviewed fans who could not get tickets to one of the sold-out midnight shows at the Regal Pinnacle Stadium 18. Most were young and dressed in costume and one guy was dressed as Dumbledore. The awkward part came when the reporter didn't know how to react to a girl who said she didn't even like Harry Potter. Meanwhile, I heard that some local girls got ready for the movie by buying used neckties from Sacred Heart Cathedral School, which has the same colors as Gryffindor House.

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Monday, June 08, 2009

pink ribbons

The silent auction items are starting to arrive for the charity event my friend Maureen is co-chairing. She owns Fox Chase Farm in Middleburg, Virginia, which will host the Ride for the Cure Virginia to benefit Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

The media sponsor for the October event is WJLA-TV in nearby Washington, DC. Maureen is thrilled that Greta Kreuz and Suzanne Kennedy are planning to ride horses at the function.

Susan Olsen has promised to send an autographed copy of her upcoming book "Love to Love You Bradys: The Bizarre Story of The Brady Bunch Variety Hour." Maureen sent me photos of two autographed items that have already arrived. Melissa Etheridge sent a copy of her greatest hits CD. My pal Jimmy Kimmel sent a personalized basketball jersey.

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Saturday, June 06, 2009

as the fire popped and crackled...

The combination of words demanded my attention. I saw "free book" followed by "crime scene." Dozens and dozens of copies of the same title were arranged on a table just inside West Town Mall last night.

The freebies were from Harlequin Books, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary. "Crime Scene at Cardwell Ranch" is part of the Harlequin Intrigue series. The author, B.J. Daniels, has at least five more books being published this year.

I don't know if there were more books at any of the mall's other entrances or if I stumbled upon the whole supply. The inside cover of "Crime Scene at Cardwell Ranch" says that sixteen free books are available for download at

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

stabba-slabba do

When the lovely Carol Bass invited us to lunch, I thought it might be fun to go someplace that had bones on the menu. Her husband is, of course, the renowned forensic anthropologist Dr. Bill Bass. My wife, our son and I met Dr. and Mrs. Bass at Calhoun's on Bearden Hill. We had a great visit, mostly talking about mutual friends and about my son's experience at college so far.

The talk of college led Dr. Bass to ask if I had seen the Washington Post's favorable review of "Bones of Betrayal." The column was written by a professor at my alma mater, George Mason University. I told him that Jon Jefferson had emailed me a link to it. Jon is the co-author of several books with Dr. Bass.

The mention of Jon's name reminded me of the anecdote that had prompted me to suggest Calhoun's in the first place. Dr. Bass was happy to use the bones from my son's order of ribs to demonstrate how a knife leaves marks during a stabbing.

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

body snatchers

Why would anyone steal a skull from the Body Farm? Or as the Orlando Homicide Report asks, "what kind of weirdo steals human skulls?" Especially since it's so easy to find a realistic plastic skull. A fallen tree may have made the theft possible. It landed on the two fences surrounding the facility. The bad guys probably crawled along the tree and into the enclosure where they grabbed the body parts. According to the News Sentinel, anthropology researchers at first assumed that an animal had carried the remains away. They got that right.

My ongoing search for Body Farm news resulted in three new items being added to my Amazon Wish List today. British author Simon Beckett has written three novels about a fictional forensic anthropologist named David Hunter who had trained at the famous Body Farm. The third book in the series, "Whispers of the Dead," finds Hunter traveling from his London home back to the Body Farm in Knoxville. While there, he is asked to help investigate a murder in Gatlinburg. I made the mistake of starting Patricia Cornwell's Scarpetta novels with "The Body Farm," the fifth book in the series. I'll be sure to read Simon Beckett's books in order, starting with "The Chemistry of Death" and continuing with "Written in Bone." Beckett got the idea for his novels when he came to Knoxville to write an article about the National Forensic Academy for the Daily Telegraph Magazine.

This one last piece of Body Farm news shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. There is a Facebook group for fans of the place. As of tonight, it has 776 members.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

fact check

When Dolly Parton was on the cover of the Metro Pulse last year, I grabbed an extra copy to mail to my friend Bean. Today I scooped up a few copies of the new issue to share with any out-of-town friends who might be interested in "The Cult of Dr. Bass." The table of contents asks: "How is it that a forensic anthropologist has trumped rock stars and college athletes to become, arguably, the most famous living Knoxvillian?"

Dr. Bill Bass "never set out to be a celebrity." As proof to their claim that he is one, the Metro Pulse story opens with a description of the overflow crowd at the cremation lecture I attended in January. The article includes interviews with Carol Bass and the members of the Jefferson Bass book signing team. They maintain a website called The paper also has a sidebar about Jon Jefferson.

On the whole, the article is rather good. Dr. Bass retells some of the Body Farm anecdotes that he has shared in our radio interviews over the years. I could imagine hearing his voice as I read them. However there was one passage I have to challenge. I think the the writer may have misunderstood Mrs. Bass. She is quoted as saying: "'Bones of Betrayal' is the last of the Dr. Brockton novels in the series, but there are three more series HarperCollins wants them to do."

In fact, Jefferson and Bass are thinking about a sequel to "Bones of Betrayal" that would follow the same characters. They told me so in our most recent interview. Just to be sure, I asked Jon Jefferson via email. He replied: "I'm not quite sure how that particular slip of the tongue or the pen occurred, but your understanding -- that the next three novels are part of the Body Farm series (and are therefore Dr. Brockton novels) is correct. As you know, I know firsthand how easy it is for errors to slip into print!"

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

long walks on the beach in the rain

Rather than exploring the Internet tonight, I chose to finish reading "Meeting Mr. Wrong," a book written by blogger turned author Stephanie Snowe. She is one of the bloggers I met at the Knoxville Symphony last month. At the time I only knew her online name, "That Chick Over There," and her website, "Jason. For the Love of God..."

"Meeting Mr. Wrong" is getting some press and favorable reviews. The book is a funny series of anecdotes about the losers Stephanie dated before meeting her husband Jason. Her first husband was another loser who left while she was pregnant with their twins. I am always amazed at the way jerks can get dates while nice guys are stuck home alone. I was also astounded at the supreme selfishness and stupidity of the men Stephanie met along the way. Fortunately, she is able to convey the humor of those situations. If the book were a sitcom, it might be called "How I Met Your Stepfather." Each guy gets his own episode chapter. It won't ruin anything for me to tell you that the ending sets up another book all about Jason. Lucky him!

Stephanie came by for an enjoyable radio interview last week. Her publisher posted the audio online in case you missed it.

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Monday, February 09, 2009

not Sonic or Fiona

It took years for me to figure out that I was a hare who needed to learn the ways of the tortoise. Fortunately my children heeded the lesson and made it a habit to start working on their school assignments right away rather than procrastinate like I did at their age.

Today I read about another animal analogy that has me pondering whether I am a fox or a hedgehog. The concept comes from a quote attributed to ancient Greek poet Archilochus: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."

Jim Collins writes about the positive aspects of "The Hedgehog Concept." The fox is cunning but the hedgehog is focused and able to ignore what is not essential. Most of the articles I've seen today conclude that recent Republican presidents are hedgehogs while recent Democrats are foxes.

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

extended dance mix

When Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson come in for an interview to promote their Body Farm books, I don't want the conversation to end. As the show we taped on Tuesday neared the half-hour mark, I decided to just keep going, knowing I could edit it later. The program that aired this morning was exactly thirty minutes long however the version I'm posting here is fifty-five forensic-filled minutes of fun.

The focus of the first half-hour is the science behind the new book "Bones of Betrayal." We talked about DMORT disaster drills, radiation sickness and Big Ed's Pizza. We also discussed Dr. Arpad Vass and his decomposition sniffer, which I called an electronic cadaver dog. Vass was featured in a very interesting News Sentinel article in mid-December.

When the conversation turns to the Incorruptibles, you'll know that you are hearing web-only content. A recap of the Big Bopper case led to talk of exhumation. If there is any question about the circumstances of my death, I want my body to be exhumed as many times as necessary, unlike the recent case of a former district attorney general, whose exhumation was denied. When we talked about dismembered hands, I related the story of my search for the relic of Fr. Damien of Molokai who will soon be canonized as a saint.

Jefferson and Bass begin a month-long promotional tour on Tuesday with a benefit event at the Y-12 New Hope Center. Tickets are $25 in advance or $35 at the door. Advance sale tickets can be purchased by calling Knox Heritage at 865-523-8008 or by sending an email to They'll make the rounds of local retailers too. You can get a book signed at Borders Books on Wednesday, Sam's Club and Hastings Books on Saturday, Books-A-Million in Oak Ridge on Sunday and Hargreaves Books next Monday.

As usual, you can right click here and save the mp3 file to your computer or click the play button below.

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Saturday, January 31, 2009

spring forward

Late night expert Bill Carter literally wrote the book on David Letterman and Jay Leno. In the years since the publication of "The Late Shift," Carter has written many, many articles for the New York Times about Letterman and Leno. This past week Carter deviated from the norm to write about Jimmy Kimmel, which he's done at least once before as Jimmy prepared for his first show six years ago.

The good news for Jimmy is that Carter's sources say ABC is considering moving "Jimmy Kimmel Live" from 12:05 a.m. to 11:35 p.m. They see an opportunity to compete head-to-head with NBC when Conan O'Brien takes over "The Tonight Show."

If such a move happened, it could mean the end of "Nightline." Or the news program could be moved to 12:35 a.m. One TV Squad commenter suggested that ABC move "Nightline" to 10:00 p.m. where it can continue to go head-to-head with Jay Leno.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

the best medicine

The Christmas gift that my friend Bean gave me is the companion book to the PBS miniseries "Make 'Em Laugh." The first two segments aired last Wednesday but I didn't get to them until the other day. Make sure you set your DVR to catch the rest of the episodes.

The series runs for six hours. There's another half hour available online, appropriately titled "Teh Internets." They also link to five classic viral videos. If you haven't already seen all five, you should have your Internet access revoked.

Last week on TV, they did an hour on "Nerds, Jerks & Oddballs" followed by an hour of "Breadwinners and Homemakers." This week's topics are "The Knockabouts" and "The Groundbreakers," which are about slapstick and freedom of speech respectively. The TV episodes are arranged in a different order than the chapters of the book. Some excerpts from the book can be found online, including most of the section on early radio comedy.

For someone like me, the show is fun piece of nostalgia. As a kid, I watched a lot of famous comedians from well before my time, so I was already familiar with Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton and the like. "Make 'Em Laugh" shows clips that remind me of the movies and shows I've seen throughout my life. I'm not sure that I would be as entertained if I didn't know the source material. I find it interesting when they dissect the humor, but like frogs, the jokes get killed in the process.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent

One of the perks of interviewing Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass about their Body Farm books is that the publisher sends me an advance copy. The past few times I got an uncorrected galley proof, so that I had even more time to read it before the interview. I didn't need much at all. Last weekend, I read half of "Bones of Betrayal" in the car on the way to Missouri and finished it the next day on the way home to Tennessee.

I told Jon on Wednesday night that I liked the new book better than the last one. He said he liked it better too. "The Devil's Bones" had three parallel story lines that didn't connect in as satisfying a manor as the story lines in "Bones of Betrayal." The new novel has deaths in present day Oak Ridge that are linked to a previously unknown murder during the Manhattan Project days. There couldn't be a better nickname for the scene of the crimes than The Secret City.

The action in "Bones of Betrayal" takes place in mid-January 2009. Somehow the authors predicted our current cold snap when they were writing last year. One of my favorite things about all the Jefferson Bass books is the way they describe East Tennessee in such detail. No Oak Ridge story would be complete without a visit to Big Ed's Pizza. They put you right at their table as they write about the tiny paper plates and flimsy plastic forks at Big Ed's.

In another section of the book, the fictional Dr. Bill Brockton goes to the real Thompson Photo in Knoxville. He's a regular there whereas my wife and I made our first visit to the place before Christmas. Jere found an old photo at her late Aunt Dee's apartment in St. Louis. It was badly yellowed but was otherwise in good condition. She thought that copies of it would make great Christmas gifts for her mother and siblings. Jere arrived at Thompson's store in West Knoxville only to find out it had been shuttered (pardon the pun) the day before. At our next earliest opportunity, we took the photo to Thompson's main location in the Mechanicsville area, where Dr. Brockton takes some film that turns up as evidence.

The folks at Thompson did a good job of making copies that restored the image to glorious black and white. The picture is a portrait of Aunt Dee and her siblings as children. The other three are my mother-in-law, Fr. George and Uncle Barney. The original is from Schweig Studio, which closed in 2002. The Schweigs exhibited the work of local artists at a gallery in the basement of their studio.

Our best guess is that this great photo was taken in 1932 or thereabouts.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

unto dust thou shalt return

A recent post on a UT football message board suggested that instead of naming more streets after players and coaches, the University should honor famed forensic anthropologist Dr. William Bass. As I drove onto the campus tonight, it might have been easier for me to find my way if I could have just followed Bill Bass Boulevard to where I needed to go. I turned right one street too soon and then couldn't get into the parking garage without going back out to Cumberland Avenue.

I was part of a huge crowd that showed up to hear Dr. Bass speak at a Lifelong Learning event. Two ladies who rode up in the elevator with me kept looking at me like they knew me. I turned to them and said "you didn't think I would miss this, did you?" At that point, one of them said she sent me an email about the lecture. Several people had, for which I am thankful. I was early enough to get a seat inside the University Center Auditorium. Once that room filled, people were sent to an overflow room, where they could watch on closed-circuit television.

The topic of tonight's talk and slide show was cremation, which played into the plot of last year's Jefferson Bass novel, "The Devil's Bones." Most people don't realize that a recognizable skeleton remains after cremation. After any metallic parts (i.e. artificial knees or hips) are removed from the pile, the bones must be pulverized to create the "ashes."

When Dr. Bass finished his presentation, Jon Jefferson briefly took the podium to preview their next book, "Bones of Betrayal." As mentioned previously, the story is set in Oak Ridge and deals with radiation and murder most foul. Afterward the authors signed copies of their books for a long line of fans.

Jefferson and Bass will launch "Bones of Betrayal" at a fundraising benefit for the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association. Tickets are $25 and are available from Knox Heritage, even though Oak Ridge is in Anderson County. After that, they will sign books at several stores in the region. Be sure to get a copy. I've already read a galley proof and it's fantastic. More about that in the days ahead.

Instead of heading straight home, I made plans to grab some dinner with Jon at the Downtown Grill and Brewery. I almost didn't make it because of the incredibly long time it took to get out of the University Center parking garage. Once I got to Gay Street, I found Jon and several of the bar's regulars. They refer to their weekly gathering as "Wednesday Night Prayer Service."

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

gifts received

The Christmas gift from my friend Bean is perfect for me. The book "Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America" by Laurence Maslon and Michael Kantor is filled with chapter after chapter of my favorite comedians. The first random page I opened to had a picture of the Marx Brothers on it. A second flip fell open to a photo of my radio idols, Bob & Ray. My luck held when the third page I saw had Jerry Seinfeld's picture. Thanks Bean! I'll continue to enjoy this for a long time to come.

My lovely wife was thinking of my desire to listen to more podcasts when she got a good bargain on a Sony Walkman. Not only does it hold plenty of audio, video and picture files but my friend Sandy will be interested to know that it has a built-in FM radio too. I listened to a podcast of last week's "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me" while eating dinner tonight.

My kids were thoughtful and generous with their gifts too. My son gave me Stephen Colbert's book, "I Am America (And So Can You!)," which looks like it will be a fun read. My daughter knew that the DVDs of the old "Mission: Impossible" TV series were on my wish list. She also knew that while I would probably be most interested in the episodes with Peter Graves as Jim Phelps, the completist in me would need to have season 1 with Steven Hill as Dan Briggs also. That's why she got me both the season one and season two sets. I'm watching a season two episode as I type this. I love that show. Too bad Tom Cruise defiled it with his movie version.

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

evenings came and mornings followed

As a former pastor, Michael Dowd is a great interviewee. As the interviewer, all I had to do was ask a few simple questions, reset who the guest was at regular intervals and make sure the show ended on time. Dowd, the author of "Thank God for Evolution", could have easily filled the half-hour without me.

To say that I was extremely enthusiastic about the topic would be an understatement. The idea of The Great Story, or Evolutionary Epic, fascinates me. I have long believed in both the concept of creation and the facts of evolution. Simply put, six of God's days equal about 14 billion of our years.

At the end of the interview that aired this morning, I felt that there was still plenty of ground to cover. I asked Michael if he could stay for another thirty-minute show, which will air next Sunday. I should have used this technique to extend my interviews with Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass, which always seem to end too soon. Since I enjoyed the conversation so much, I thought you might too. Here are both shows, for your podcasting pleasure.

Part 1: Part 2:

Michael Dowd was in town to speak at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church last Tuesday. He and his wife have no permanent address. They live on the road, traveling from one speaking engagement to the next. That's one way to get to all 50 states.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

stench fry

Fans of the Body Farm books will be glad to know that the writing team of Jon Jefferson & Dr. Bill Bass have finished their fourth novel and that the publisher has added two more books to their contract. A story in today's News Sentinel adds some detail to what we learned in the Oak Ridger article that I told you about in May. The story, set in the Secret City, will involve Dr. Arpad Vass and his work to identify the chemicals in the odor of human decomposition. The release date of "Bones of Betrayal" is February 3, 2009. Go ahead and add it to your Wish List now.

Last month I wrote about the Body Farm's appearance on the BBC series "Stephen Fry in America." I was disappointed I couldn't see the show on these shores. But thanks to YouTube, I don't have to travel to England to see the footage after all. The episode was divided into six segments and uploaded by a Fry fan. The Body Farm visit spans two of the six clips. The first part picks up during Stephen's haircut in London, Kentucky. Freshly shorn, he takes in some bluegrass music in Blount County before driving his cab to Knoxville and meeting up with Rebecca of Body-brook Farm, I mean Rebecca Wilson of the Forensic Anthropology Center. The remainder of his tour is in the next clip, which also contains the beginning of his balloon ride over North Carolina as he tries to forget what he smelled here.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

bids and squids

The March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction has become one of my favorite events to attend. My wife and I got to experience it on Sunday night. As I wrote last year, it's up there with Feast With the Beasts as a great night of food and fun.

While all the other guests headed to the various serving stations around the room for roast beef, lamb and seared tuna, I went straight to the Sugarbuzz Bakers table and grabbed a slice of their Chocolate Toffee Cake. Why not have dessert first? The Caramel Apple Cake looked good but I waited too long to get some. There were only crumbs left when I returned to the Sugarbuzz table later in the evening.

The cakes from Sugarbuzz got third place overall from the judges. The Crown & Goose came in second with a duck cake (think crab cake) with pickled fall root vegetables. Sapphire rightfully took first place with an outstanding Ika salad -- ginger marinated squid with Asian vegetables and a sweet eel sauce -- and Caribbean tuna nigiri -- sashimi tuna served with pineapple calypso sauce and topped with toasted coconut.

Although they didn't make the top three, my wife and I agreed that the chicken Marsala and lobster ravioli from Carrabba's Italian Grill were excellent. We eat a lot of chicken and know a delicious chicken breast when we taste one.

Chef Walter was one of the judges. I was very impressed by his successful weight loss. He's been following a dietary program through the UT Medical Center. We caught up with him as he was leaving with some takeout containers for his wife, Miss Anne.

My wife and I also had nice conversations with Maestro Lucas Richman and Russell Biven. We especially enjoyed talking with former WBIR reporter Jim Ragonese and his wife Jaime. She said that I really need to read a book about cadavers called "Stiff." I recalled that the same author had written a book with a one-word title about sex and that it wasn't called "Stiff."

In addition to the live auction for big-ticket items like an emerald and diamonds ring from Lamon Jewelers, there was a silent auction in the lobby before dinner was served. My wife bid on a basket full of Thanksgiving items but was outbid. I was temped to place a bid for a custom website package until I saw that they offer "professioanl graphic design."

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