Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Double trouble in Marseille + signing in blood

Two twin brothers have been arrested for six rapes in France - because police don’t know how to prove which one committed the crimes.
The 25-year-old pair share virtually identical DNA, meaning it could take weeks for experts to identify which one was at the scene of the crimes.
One of the brothers - named only as Elwin and Yohan - is suspected of raping six women over three months in the hallway of a block of flats in Marseille last year.
The victims have identified photos of the twins, without being able to tell which one was their attacker.
One of the pair was also caught on a CCTV camera, but again both police and the victims can not tell which brother it is.
The twins, who are both unemployed delivery drivers, deny the offences committed between September and December 2012.
Marseille police chief Emmanual Kiehl said: ‘It is a highly unusual affair.
‘This pair have almost identical genetic codes. It is possible to tell them apart but it could take weeks and we do not have the facilities here in Marseille.'
File this under 'you can't make this stuff up.'

Meanwhile last week I signed 12,400 books in 2 and a half days, tore through  a dozen pens, 30 double espressos and narrowly escaped a Superbowl bar brawl along the way.

Somewhere in snowy Maryland our car pulled up at a chicken wings sports bar at half-time during the Super Bowl.
Inside roiled a sea of Black Raven’s fans swilling oceans of beer, five hundred flat screens showing every angle of the power outed stadium and me, the only 49er fan.
A basket of popcorn shrimp later the 49er’s were scoring touchdowns, Paul, the guru, and Rudy, the whiz, of Soho’s marketing team, pulled me out of the bar. “This could turn ugly if the niners win, we’re getting you out before you’re beat up.”

Needless to say 49ers didn’t as we watched the final seconds of the game in the safety of the hotel room.

The next morning at 8am the car battery is dead in the hotel parking lot. Foiled before we start? Thanks to Paul who finds jumper cables from a hotel guest, we are on the road a few minutes later, then arm ourselves with coffee and expresso and drive to the warehouse. Snow flurries hit us as we pull into the parking lot of an airplane hanger. No make that two jumbo jet airplane hangars.
Welcome to the Random House Sales and Distribution center in Westminster, MD. I discovered later on the tour seated on a yellow scooter car the warehouses comprise the area of about twelve football fields.
 My mission - which I had chosen to accept - was to autograph books. By that I mean write my signature in the special editions of Murder Below Montparnasse for the Paris bells and whistle edition with the sweepstakes coupon for a trip to Paris.
Er...we're going to make that 12,000 copies, ok? my publisher said. Gulp. Well in for a penny in for a pound as the old adage goes, why not?
 Then my breath caught when my editor suggested er, maybe you want to shoot for signing 70000 the first day in case you loose steam. Or your hand goes numb, or you bleed.
Both of which happened.
I signed in blood.
More on that later
Ok I had two full days and one half and honestly might have to stay three so it was time to rise to the task. My competitive streak surfaced after two Danish authors who I love, had signed - the two of them - several hundred copies. Lee Child, who’d visited had signed 9,000 copies. So could I outdo Jack Reacher?
Now, not only as a personal best but as a challenge, I determined to beat their time. Or lose my hand trying.

But had I done enough hand and arm exercise? How many Sharpies would this take? How many liters of expresso? Would the place be heated?
My eyes bulged when fifteen palletes of books were brought in by forklifts.
Turns out over one million square feet sit under the warehouse’s roof’s housing a facility that on average picks, packs, and ships 1,000,000 books a day.
1,000,000 books a day.
Phew, my measly fifteen palletes should be a piece of cake. Secretly I wondered if I’d go crazy. Was this a mega super punishment like after school when yes, in the day, we had to write I won’t stick gum under my desk or pass notes on the blackboard ad infiniteum after school. In my case it had been a line in French that I’d gotten the accents wrong. My memory has blocked that out.
But now I only had to write two words - my name - but it was for three days and my goal was 400 signatures an hour.
Could I rise to the task? Could I improve on the time of the Danish authors and what, make a new warehouse record?
I’d give it a try.

We obtain badges at the entrance, wind down corridors and up stairs past the cafeteria in the first warehouse. Inside we find a warm room piled with palletes of books and ten people unloading cartons, attaching stickers, flapping books and armed with sharpies.
The signing began assembly line style.
Reality steps in at hour 1.
My wrist is tired.
Hour 2
My back’s on fire from sitting
Hour 3 Paul our marketing guru starts to hum Highway to Hell.
Hour 4 Someone sneezes.
I declare a rest.
So over the course of the next two and a half days whenever someone sneezed it was break time.
Hour 5
Lunch with the crew in another part of the complex and the sales reps joined us. Shrimp salad sandwiches...
Hour 6
I want to stand up
Hour 7
Rudy our marketing whiz is smiling. He likes the sound of the fork lifts driving away with the signed paletes.
We’ve got it down assembly-line style. Flap, place then sign. Whoosh into the boxes.
Hour 8 worn out two Sharpies. One pile down and another fork-lift comes into view, only 12 more pallets to go.
Day 1 - 5,000 books signed
My editor emails ‘don’t let them work you too hard’
So I enjoy lobster tail that night with lemon and butter. Delicious. The day fades thanks to Ibuprofen and falling asleep with an ice pack on my arm.

Day 2
No battery problems and we make an expresso Stop en route to the warehouse
Hour 1 A signature every 4 seconds..
Hour 2 Paul shows me how to write my signature without lifting my hand. However, wracked by guilt at my scribble - in elementary school I’d gotten an A in penmanship but seeing it now, the nuns would turn in their graves.
Hour 3 A signature every 3 seconds. My record improves as my intake of expresso mounts. Ice pack application
Hour 4  Pink reddish spots appear on the title page. My pinkie’s bleeding.
I’m signing in blood.
STOP  First aid break. Icing of the wrist and hand. Ibuprofen. Lots of the crew join me and get sympathy paper cuts.
Lunch with the crew tomato soup and veggie wraps.
Hour 5 Country music playing. We’re down to a signature every four seconds.
Hour 6 Sneeze break
Hour 7 Paul hums Sweet Home Alabama.
Hour 8 the sound of the forklift bringing more cartons. Rudy smiles. Only four more paletes to go.
Hour 9 Rudy and Paul leave to drive back in the snow to NYC. I make them promise to text when they arrive back safely. Sarah my old friend in the childrens department at Random House takes me for Maryland Crabcakes. I do my best to eat with a fork then switch to a spoon in my left hand.
At the hotel the day fades thanks to Ibuprofen. Again fall asleep with an ice pack on my arm.
Day 3
The car drops me at the warehouse.
Hour 1 Ibuprofen downed with an expresso helps again.
Hour 2 the last palete comes in
Hour 3 the 12, 400th book is signed with my signature, if you can call it that anymore. It's a bumpy slur of a name but hey, I challenge anyone to forge my signature on a check.
And if you're ever asked to sign at the warehouse, say yes because the Random House crew are a dedicated, hard working bunch who sing along to rock music, provide hand massages, bandaids, Ibuprofen, Ice packs and as much encouragement and expresso as needed. So Joyce, Gwon, Barry, Lane, Jillian, Crystal, Donovan, Omar, Barbara, Debbie, Cheryl, Matt you ROCK! And so do Paul and Rudy, Soho’s marketing team.

Some of the Random House Crew Extraordinaire


The last book signed
Cara - Tuesday


  1. Part One of your post looks like a law school examination question. Part Two looks like a call for an orthopedic examination! But Part Two also brings back memories of my very first task as a lawyer. Fresh out of law school I went to work as a "Wall Street Lawyer," and my firm decided to take advantage of my prodigious legal skills by having one of its clients (a to remain nameless South American country) appoint me, and another newbie associate, assistant finance ministers. The purpose? So that we could trapse down to the American Bank Note company and sign 100,000 government bonds. The country's law required original signatures.

    I, however, had it a lot easier than you and still couldn't lift my arm for a day or two. Easier I say, because ABN had machines where as you signed one bond, twenty-four other pens signed two dozen others! It was fascinating to watch at first, but got very tiring very soon. My hat's off to you, Cara. So's the cap on the Advil.

  2. A most interesting look behind the scenes; makes me think a bit differently about 'signed copies' now. . .I used to think they were quite personal, but I see, like all things mass produced -- if even by hand -- is the way of the world.

  3. Jackie and Joel, Actually my signature wasn't mass produced I held and signed each book personally I just had to sign a lot. It felt different of course than a book signing where I meet and talk with each person and personalize their book. But if people come to a book signing I've left room at the top to personalize each one. Thanks, Cara

  4. Whew! Maybe "Book Signing" should become a new Olympic sport???

  5. OMG. I did 1000 and that was intimidating enough! I can't imagine doing 12K +! Kudos! All that crab and lobster was well-deserved!!

  6. What a cool site...just stumbled upon it!
    Love the twin story. I once heard an urban legend along the same lines, twins who couldn't be convicted of a crime because both "admitted" to it. And that was before the conundrum of genotyping identical DNA.