Root Down, wheels up at DIA — and Jack the Ripper

Fittingly, my travel day to South By Southwest Interactive began with a Skype interview with tech-savyy murder author Patricia Cornwell

A cup of good coffee and Medium on my laptop after an early lunch at DIA

Root Down Restaurant, Terminal C, Denver International Airport

I just had a amazing cobb salad here at my favorite eatery at DIA. I leave soon for South By Southwest in Austin.

That salad had everything: fresh lettuce, hard-boiled eggs, bacon, fried tofu, blue cheese, tomatoes, avocado, and dates. Dates! A little cluster of them — sweet, chewy, delicious. And, thank you, no crumby croutons!

It takes a long time to eat a salad with that many little pieces to it, but I arrived at the restaurant with an hour before boarding.

I lucked out by getting one of the singleton tables that has room underneath for your back and knapsack. The butcher-block wood is like a high-quality desk. I’m looking out at purple-red-and-yellow Southwest planes and matching provisions trucks. One says, “Everybody loves free snacks” on the side.

Since I’m still following my No Net Till Noon practice, I picked up where I left off last night in “Jerry (from Accounting)” a novella by Timothy DeLizza in the current issue of Day One, Amazon’s weekly online literary magazine. It’s the weirdly wonderful story of a guy trapped in a Kafka-like museum of office furniture.

Just before leaving the apartment at 9 a.m., I did a Skype-to-phone interview with Patricia Cornwell about her new book, Ripper: The Secret Life of Walter Sickert. Patricia is convinced that Sickert, a renowned English painter who once gave lessons to Winston Churchill, was also Jack the Ripper. She will be my guest on Friday’s Kindle Chronicles.

I worry sometimes when I land an interview with an author who is in the middle of a high-profile book tour. Cornwell’s book was released last week by Amazon Publishing, and she has already been interviewed by Parade, NBC, BBC and — now — The Kindle Chronicles.

How often can an author tell the story of why she wrote her book and still sound fresh? That’s where I began, but I had done a lot of research, so my questions got more interesting after that.


Aboard Southwest 4236 Denver to Austin

A window seat on a sunny day. Snow on the Rockies, brown ground on the plains. It’s a safe bet that a lot of my fellow passengers are also traveling to South By Southwest. Via Instagram, I saw that Steve Garfield and his wife Carol are taking JetBlue from Boston today, probably in the air now.

I bet Patricia Cornwell would have a ball at South By. She told me she has always been interested in technology, and not just the kind used in solving murders.

Her first book about the Ripper, published in 2002, did not free her from obsession with the unsolved serial-murder case. New information kept making its way to her, and she continued to gather evidence about Walter Sickert.

For her major update to the Sickert story, Cornwell wanted something more than words and maybe a few photos on paper. She dreamed of a digital version that could place new evidence before readers in a more compelling manner, so they could make up their own minds about Sickert.

Her friend Billie Jean King introduced Cornwell to Jeff Belle, head of Amazon Publishing, and he set the Amazon team to work creating an innovative enhanced eBook version of Ripper, in addition to a handsome doorstop of a hardcover book.

I’d love to see Cornwell, Belle, and a designer or two at Amazon Publishing do a panel discussion next year at South by Southwest. The title might be “How Patricia Cornwell and Amazon Solved the Mystery of Deadly Dull Enhanced eBooks.”

The term “enhanced eBook” used to get my jets going. It seemed obvious to me that digital technology would one day make possible an entirely new means of storytelling, one still anchored in the joy of immersive reading.

Instead, what I’ve seen so far has mainly been traditional-looking eBooks in which the flow of the words gets interrupted by some lame video dropped in just to liven things up. My eyes glaze over at such enhancements.

The latest Ripper from Amazon Publishing makes a dramatic breakthrough by use of subtlety.

On a color tablet or smartphone, most of book’s chapters open with an animation panel at the top of the page. The scenes don’t scream “Look at me! I’m enhanced!” In fact, they seem at first to be static illustrations, showing a candle or maybe a lighthouse. Then the candle flickers, and seagulls fly past the lighthouse. It’s eerie.

These chapter animations do not interrupt the immersive flow of the story. It’s actually just the opposite. They deepen the mood and draw the reader in, to find out how each chapter will keep the story going.

Our shiny new Boeing 737 has just dipped down toward the clouds, and I have finished my free snack (approximately seven peanuts) and a soft drink.

I hope all goes well for Patricia Cornwell today in London, where there are plenty of fierce critics of her Sickert the Ripper investigation.

Maybe next year — in Austin!