As of This Writing

Posted by on Jan 17, 2016 | Comments Off on As of This Writing

It’s been four years since our last update, so I thought it was time to officially announce that the PopD experiment has ended.

Some of my fondest memories are of hanging out with Jen, watching movies and laughing with barking dogs jumping all over the place. I remember the live chats and the smart responses from our listeners. I remember getting to do something extraordinary with my best friend, and feeling so lucky that I got to spend time like that with one of the smartest people I’d ever known. I learned more about story from doing PopD with Jenny than I did writing all the books I’d written up until then, and I can say with certainty that if it weren’t for that experience, and that friendship, I would not be doing the work that I love today.

A little update for those who are interested. Jen and I eventually both left Ohio. She moved to New Jersey to live closer to her family, and I moved to Syracuse because it’s always been home for me. Now we’re four hours apart, but when I can get down to see her, we have a great time together. Every now and again, Krissie and I will visit at the same time, and we get our sister goddess time. It’s wonderful and restorative when we’re all together, and I wish we could do it more often.

At the time we recorded these podcasts, there were five (five!) dogs in the house, and two children. Out of the dogs–Wolfie, Veronica, Milton, Mona and Lyle–Jen has three left. Lyle passed in 2012, with me and Jen and Alastair petting him and loving him, as we had every night for the year or so that we spent giving him his daily saline infusions to keep his kidneys functioning as long as possible. Lyle didn’t live a long time, but he was loved easily as much in that time as most dogs are during a full run. The other four went with Jen in New Jersey, but Wolfie was very old and finally left us at 16.. Unlike Lyle, Wolfie had a long life, full of personality quirks and occasional assholery, but overall, he was fantastic dog, and I’m so honored that I got to spend time with and love him as I did. The first time I met him was when I read about his fictional counterpart Faking It, before I knew Jen personally. I fell in love with the little turd back then, and have never wavered in my adoration. He will be missed.

Lani and Lyle

Me and Lyle in 2011, sitting in the chair from which Jen recorded PopD.


Wolfie, backyard, 2010.

Sweetness and Light, who were 10 and 8 respectively when we started PopD, are now in high school. We moved to a small town outside of Syracuse where the schools are highly rated, and both girls have been on high honor roll every marking period. As of this writing, Sweetness wants to be a voice actor and live in the UK, and Light wants to go into robotic engineering and live in the southwest. They are bright, amazing girls, and are the best of friends. They are sitting downstairs right now, watching television and hooting with laughter over something, and they remind me a lot of me and Jen.

Jen Sweetness and Light

Sweetness and Light with Fake Aunt Jenny, 2010

Speaking of Jen, she’s living in the wilds of New Jersey, battling bears and yarn, working on something like ten books, most of which I’ve read parts of and all of which are brilliant. She has three beautiful grandchildren she sees regularly, and the most adorable little cottage on a lake. If you haven’t been keeping up with her on Argh, you need to get over there. Her blog entries are always sharp and insightful and funny, a lot like the woman herself.

Meanwhile, a little farther north, the kids and I are living the dream in Central New York. My latest book, For Love or Magic, came out in December, and I’ve got another one almost finished which will hopefully be hitting the virtual shelves this spring as I move from traditional to independent publishing. I’m teaching screenwriting at Syracuse University, which is the most fun I’ve ever had working for other people. My students are young and energetic and brilliant, and I’m incredibly lucky that I get to do what I do. Sure, I may have four jobs, but I love them all, and I credit everything I’m able to do now to the humble beginnings learning from Jenny while watching romantic comedies in that ridiculous house on the Ohio

Thank you for being part of this experience. Even if you come to it years later, and have just downloaded our response to It Happened One Night after watching it in your own living room wherever you are, know that you are listening to two women who had so much fun with their work and with each other that they just had to share it with the world. Even with the dogs barking and the sometimes questionable audio quality, this show is a time capsule for my time with Jenny, which was one of the happiest, craziest and most consequential periods of my life. I would not be where I am now if I wasn’t there, then, in that living room, with those dogs and my best friend.

Enjoy the podcasts. I’m glad they’re still here, and that people are still finding them. What an amazing ride.


Jen and Lani

Me and Jen in 2012, just before she moved to New Jersey, having a wonderful time at the mothership, aka, Michael’s.

Read More

Betcha Saw This Coming…

Posted by on Jun 5, 2012 | 4 comments

Things have gotten busy here at Squalor on the River, and Jenny and I have decided to put PopD on temporary hiatus. We’ll be back with news when we’ve got it!

Read More

No PopD This Week!

Posted by on May 20, 2012 | Comments Off on No PopD This Week!

Due to an unexpected but blessed event (a surprise visit from Krissie) we ran out of time to do a PopD this week. We’ll be back next Monday with Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. See you then!

Read More

Beverly Hills Cop

Posted by on May 14, 2012 | 7 comments

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download Episode | Subscribe via iTunes | Subscribe via RSS

Story: A Detroit cop head to Beverly Hills to investigate the death of one of his buddies.

Detective: Axel Foley

Release Date:  December 5, 1984

Writer: Danilo Back, Daniel Petrie, Jr.

Source: original screenplay

Mystery Analysis:
Detective as protagonist?

Alastair: Yes, there’s no doubt this is Axel’s story.
Lani: Yes, always clear from the start who the protagonist is, although the trouble doesn’t start until a little while in.

Murderer as antagonist?
Alastair: Yes, albeit by proxy.
Lani: Yes, although not the guy who actually pulled the trigger, it’s Victor Maitland who’s behind everything from the start.

Conflict created by mystery/murder?
Alastair: Yes, although this is an interesting case of a murder that builds into a larger mystery.
Lani: Yes; without the murder, Axel would have no interest in Maitland.

Fair play with all the clues given?
Alastair: It’s not that kind of mystery, I think, although the meaning of each clue — except perhaps the coffee — is transparent enough that we can keep up.
Lani: Not really; although we do see the clues, we don’t know what they might mean, and we’re not given the opportunity to play along the way a good mystery does.

Solved using deduction, not luck?
Alastair: Yes, although the problems aren’t necessarily approached in the smartest way.
Lani: Yes. Even if we don’t understand what’s going on, Axel does, and he puts it all together.

All threads pull together in the end?
Alastair: Yes, if a little too early. The mystery is done by the end of the second act, and then we get twenty-five minutes of shoot-out.
Lani: Yes.

Story Analysis & Ratings:

Alastair says: 4 Pops
Mystery: 3, Craft: 3, Suspense: 2, Romance: N/A, Comedy: 5

Lani says: 4 Pops
Mystery: 3, Craft: 4, Suspense: 2, Romance: n/a, Comedy: 5


Read More


Posted by on May 7, 2012 | 8 comments

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download Episode | Subscribe via iTunes | Subscribe via RSS

Story: A journalist covering the drug scene on a Los Angeles beach soon finds himself embroiled in a bigger mystery involving a bigamist and his beautiful wife.

Detective: Irwin M. Fletcher

Release Date:  May 31, 1985

Writer: Andrew Bergman

Source: Fletch by Gregory McDonald

Mystery Analysis:
Detective as protagonist?

Jenny: Yep, right off the bat.  Good start.
Lani: Yes, and he’s right into the trouble as soon as the movie fades in. Well done.

Murderer as antagonist?
Jenny: Yep, right off the bat.  Plus Tim Matheson.  Excellent start.
Lani: Yes, and he’s there from the start. You could argue that Karlin is also an antagonist, and you’d be right, but he’s also there at the start; although we don’t see him until later, his influence is right there, causing trouble on the beach when Gummy’s getting beat up. So no matter who you think the main antagonist is – it’s Matheson – both antagonists are active in the opening scene.

Conflict created by mystery/murder?
Jenny: Yes, by the request for murder.
Lani: Yes.

Fair play with all the clues given?
Jenny: Yep, we see them as Fletch finds them.
Lani: Yes; we see everything as Fletch finds it. We don’t get his deduction; he says he figured it out when Gail said he was about the same size as her husband, and he doesn’t tell us that. He doesn’t have to. We get the clue, and we can make the deduction from that as well. I kind of liked that he had it figured, but we still had to do our own work.

Solved using deduction, not luck?
Jenny: Yes.  Except for the glaring coincidence at the beginning which is allowable since it’s the first move in the plot, every is discovered using logical deduction.
Lani: Yes; Fletch (well, Smart Fletch) figures it all out on his own. Stupid Fletch sticks straws up his nose.

Story Analysis & Ratings:

Jenny says: 3 Pops  (They had a good book and they put garbage in it.)
Mystery: 5, Craft: 2, Suspense: 2, Romance: N/A, Comedy: 3

Lani says: 4 Pops
Mystery: 5, Craft: 4, Suspense: 2, Romance: n/a, Comedy: 3



I recommended the Fletch books on the podcast, and then afterward sat down to read the first book for the first time in about twenty years.  In this book, he sleeps with a fifteen-year-old, a detail I evidently missed the first time around.  I no longer recommend the Fletch books.  Try the Flynn books.  Francis Xavier Flynn is a good guy.

Read More

Hot Fuzz

Posted by on Apr 30, 2012 | 6 comments

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download Episode | Subscribe via iTunes | Subscribe via RSS

A city cop tries to bring professionalism to a sleepy little town that turns out to be not that sleepy.  Graphic violence ensues.  The tagline says it all: “They’re bad boys. They’re die hards. They’re lethal weapons. They are…HOT FUZZ.”

Detective: Nicholas Angel (and his partner Danny)

Release Date: February 2007

Writers: Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg

Source:  Original screenplay.

Mystery Analysis:
Detective as protagonist?

Jenny: Yes, introduced right off the bat, his POV all the way through the movie except for the murderer’s skulking scenes.
Lani: Yes, and he’s active from the beginning, god bless ‘im.

Murderer as antagonist?
Jenny:  Yes.  It’s Murder on the Orient Express, the Whack-Job Countryside versionl
Lani: Yes. All fifty-four of them.

Conflict created by mystery/murder?
Jenny:  Yes.
Lani: Yes, not that we know it until 40 minutes in.

Fair play with all the clues given?
Jenny: Yes.  The movie is absolutely larded with clues disguised as jokes.
Lani: Yes, we’re given everything the detective is, and only one or two things more – witnessing the crimes – but that’s okay.

Solved using deduction, not luck?
Jenny: Yes.  We know what Nick knows and we’re stunned when Nick is stunned.
Lani: Yes; Nick comes to everything on his own, using clues given.

Everything pulls together in the end?
Jenny:  Yes.  There are no loose ends in this movie.
Lani: Does it ever. They may have been self-indulgent in this movie, but one thing you can count on Simon Pegg to do is tie up all the loose ends.

Story Analysis & Ratings:

Jenny says: 5 Pops
Mystery: 5, Craft: 4, Suspense: 5, Romance: 5, Comedy: 5

Lani says: 5 Pops
Mystery: 5, Craft: 4, Suspense: 5, Romance: 5, Comedy: 5

Read More

The Big Lebowski

Posted by on Apr 23, 2012 | 3 comments

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download Episode | Subscribe via iTunes | Subscribe via RSS

Story: While trying to get restitution for a ruined rug, the Dude takes on a kidnapping courier job that enmeshes him and his friends in a lethal mystery.  Or something.

Detective:  The Dude (aka Jeffrey Lebowski)

Release Date: March 6, 1988

Writer: Ethan and Joel Cohen

Source:  VERY loosely based on The Big Sleep.


Mystery Analysis:
Detective as protagonist?

Jenny: Yes
Lani: Sure.

Murderer as antagonist?
Jenny: No murderer and not a clear antagonist, although that’s what we get for trying to do classic analysis on the Coens.
Lani: There’s no murderer, and there are many antagonists, not all of them related. This is a little murky.

Conflict created by murder?
Jenny: Substitute kidnapping for murder, and yes.
Lani: Conflict is created by the mystery, yes.

Fair play with all the clues given?
Jenny: Well, we know what the Dude knows, but since the Dude is stoned through the whole thing, he’s not exactly looking for clues.
Lani: We know more than the Dude knows – we’re told that she’s fine and she has her pinky toe when we see her car shoot down the freeway. So we’re given some answers which are just handed to us, rather than worked for.

Solved using deduction, not luck?
Jenny: The Dude has an insight at the end because of a clue Maude gives him.
Lani: The Dude figures it out, but at that point, there’s nothing at stake really but justice, letting the Big Lebowski know that the Dude knows and does not approve.

All threads pull together at the end?
Jenny: Yes.
Lani: Yes.

Story Analysis & Ratings:

Jenny says: ? Pops
Mystery: 3, Craft: 4, Suspense: 4, Romance: N/A, Comedy: 5
This is a Coen Bros. movie so running a classic analysis on it is a waste of time, you really just have to bask in the absurdity.  They’ve done better stories (see Fargo and Raising Arizona), but the Dude is an iconic character (not to mention Walter) so they get props for that.

Lani says: 4 Pops
Mystery: 2, Craft: 4, Suspense: 2, Romance: n/a, Comedy: 5

This is a fun movie. It’s structurally a mess, but it works on its own terms, and for that, it’s fun. I’m not sure there’s a real lesson to be learned here about mystery, which is why we’re here, but as a fun, offbeat, non-traditional story, it’s definitely worth viewing.

Read More