Michael Connelly's Madison Connection
Looking Back At Some December Author Events
By Doug Moe
When The Crossing, Michael Connelly’s 18th novel featuring Los Angeles investigator Harry Bosch, came out in November, it quickly ascended bestseller lists. Mystery to Me stocked the new hardcover, of course, along with paperback editions of earlier Bosch titles, including the series opener, The Black Echo.
It led me to wonder how many local readers know of a small but significant Madison connection to the Bosch novels. I first heard about it a few years ago. I am a big fan of Michael Connelly – I rank the Bosch series second only to John D. MacDonald’s great Travis McGee books – and in 2012 I read a New York Times story about a documentary film Connelly was trying to produce.
The subject of the proposed film was a jazz saxophone player named Frank Morgan. Fans of Connelly’s Bosch books may recognize Morgan’s name. In Lost Light, the ninth book in the series, Bosch talks about how much he admires Morgan’s rendition of a song called Lullaby.
"The song wasn’t even a minute and a half long,” Bosch observes, “but to me it said all that ever needed to be said about being alone in the world.” Elsewhere, Bosch’s creator, Connelly, wrote this about Frank Morgan’s Lullaby: “The song pierced my heart. I knew I had found Bosch’s anthem.”
The 2012 New York Times story said Connelly was among a group trying to raise money to fund a documentary about Morgan. By a happy coincidence, I had dinner with Madison jazz great Ben Sidran just a night or two after the Times story on the Morgan film appeared. Ben and his wife, Judy, live in the Mystery to Me Monroe Street neighborhood.
I asked Ben, “Do you know anything about a jazz sax player named Frank Morgan?”
It was a foolish question. Along with being a celebrated jazz artist, Sidran is an eminent jazz historian. For years he hosted a jazz interview series on National Public Radio. Of course he knew Morgan.
Frank Morgan, Ben said, grew up in Milwaukee, and returned to that city after being released from prison in 1985. It was a drug sentence – heroin, the demon of more than one jazz musician.
Morgan’s addiction sidetracked a highly promising musical career. His release was celebrated by jazz fans. Sidran interviewed him on his national radio show. Morgan said he’d enjoyed listening to the program while he was in prison.
After that interview, Sidran invited Morgan to Madison, where the two played together at Mr. P’s, Café Montmartre, and the Union Terrace. Morgan can be heard on Sidran’s album, “Mr. P’s Shuffle.”
Morgan considered moving to Madison. “He was looking for some roots here,” Ben said, but it didn’t happen. The music department at UW-Madison wasn’t interested. Morgan – “a sweet and vulnerable man,” in Sidran’s estimation – left Wisconsin again, and continued to pursue his musical comeback. He died in 2007.
In December, “Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story” – produced by Michael Connelly and directed by N. C. Heiken – had its theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles. Here’s hoping the film finds its way to Madison. In the meantime, consider spending some time with Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels. They’re terrific – especially with Frank Morgan playing in the background.
Madison Writers’ Studio Reading at Mystery to Me
by Doug Moe
Anyone who had tried knows that it takes courage to sit down and face an empty page with the intention of beginning a novel or memoir. It is especially true for writers just starting out. Even if one succeeds in getting the words on paper, the idea of actually giving them to someone else to read, or, scarier still, reading them aloud oneself, is even more daunting.
All of which made the December 16th gathering of writers from the Madison Writers' Studio at Mystery to Me extraordinary. Nine writers took their turn at the lectern reading from their novels and memoirs in progress. The stories were funny and heartfelt by turn. The audience of some 50 people listened attentively and offered generous applause
We’ll hope to see some of those writers back at Mystery to Me for author events once their books are published. It was a special night.
By Doug Moe
There many things to recommend about author events at Mystery to Me, and one of them is that even if you have to miss an actual event, the authors generally sign enough books that it’s still possible to get an autographed copy at the store.
That holds true for four author events I hosted in December. The books were vastly different in subject matter, but all the conversations were lively.
I spoke with Madison physician Kristin Seaborg about her memoir, The Sacred Disease, which details Kristin’s life with epilepsy and her determination to succeed – both personally and professionally – regardless. I also chatted with former Wisconsin State Senator Tim Cullen about his new political memoir, Ringside Seat, which had already gone into a second printing by the time we sat down in December.
Next I spoke with Margaret Goss about her novel, The Uncommitted, a story about a woman whose paranormal gifts wind up threatening her family’s safety. Then syndicated columnist Alan Guebert and his daughter, Mary Grace Foxwell, stopped by the store to discuss their book, The Land of Milk and Uncle Honey, an altogether charming collection of Alan’s pieces about growing up on a Southern Illinois dairy farm and the characters on two legs and four he encountered during that time.
Writers aren’t always great talkers – these were. If you haven’t been to an event at Mystery to Me, please consider attending soon. It’s fun.
2015 Bestsellers at Mystery to Me
Our readers love mystery (no doubt) and they also love literary fiction, and most anything by our wonderfully talented pool of local authors. Here's the list (in order of sales) of our top 20 bestsellers.
1. Death on the Prairie by Kathleen Ernst
2. Winsome Murder by James DeVita
3. Ringside Seat by Senator Tim Cullen
4. All the Light You Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
5. Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Mitchell
6. On Fourth Lake - A Social History of Lake Mendota by Don Sanford
7. Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
8. Once in A Great City by David Maraniss
9. Wherever You Go by Pat Zietlow Miller (children's picture book)
10. Dry Bones by Craig Johnson
11. From Bad To Wurst by Maddy Hunter
12. Euphoria by Lily King
13. Cherry Harvest by Lucy Sanna
14. Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger
15. Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee
16. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
17. Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
18. Cold Dish by Craig Johnson
19. Waiting by Kevin Henkes (children's picture bool)
20. Between the World and Me by Ta Nahesi Coates
Staff favorites along with a list of some books we're looking forward to reading in 2016 will be featured in our February issue. In the meantime, snuggle up with a good book. See you soon.
Friday, January 8
Whodunnit? Translation Night with Margie Franzen and Ryan Freligh
Margie Franzen interviews Ryan Freligh, a recent UW-Madison German Department graduate student whose work is quite varied -- from transcription / translation of interviews with WW2 survivors to the translation of opinion articles about the U.S.A. in foreign news outlets. Tonight’s event will focus on the news!
Saturday, January 9
Rebecca Scherm is the author of Unbecoming, a highly praised debut novel of psychological suspense about a daring art heist, a cat-and-mouse waiting game, and a small-town girl’s mesmerizing transformation. Rebecca will be here to celebrate the release of the book in paperback.
“Startlingly inventive.” —The New York Times Book Review
Rebecca Scherm is a graduate of New York University and the Helen Zell Writers Program at the University of Michigan, where she currently teaches English. Her work has appeared in Subtropics, the Hairpin, Hobart, and Fiction Writers Review.
Wednesday, January 13
Nicholas Petrie's debut novel, The Drifter, offers a trenchant exploration of the shattered lives of returning veterans, wrapped in the cloak of a riveting thriller. This literary page-turner pits Peter Ash, a damaged veteran of the wars Afghanistan and Iraq, against a criminal web in contemporary Milwaukee. Waging a different kind of battle within, Peter tries to put his own tenuous life together. In an attempt to tune out the noise in his own head, he offers help to the widow of his best friend from the battlefield—an act of expiation that turns deadly.
Nicholas Petrie received his MFA in fiction from the University of Washington. He won a Hopwood Award for short fiction while an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, and his story “At the Laundromat” won the 2006 Short Story Contest in the Seattle Review. A husband and father, he runs a home appraisal business in Milwaukee.
This event is being co-hosted with the Madison Book Festival.
Thursday, January 28
Poetry with Richard Merelman and Marilyn Annucci
Friday, January 29
Flash Fiction Friday
Writers from Angela Rydell’s flash fiction workshop read from their work. Readers include Shoshauna Shy, Marilyn Taylor, Chris Wodicka and Melanie Meyer
Be sure to check the website (or keep up with us on Facebook) for updates about our event schedule. Spring visits already include Andrea Thalasinos, Brian Freeman, Steven Coss, Libby Hellman, Betsy Draine & Michael Hinden and Neal Griffin.