An evening of mystery and suspense The first of several, in fact. A gaggle of well-known mystery writers are in town, signing books and reading and hanging out at the Sisters in Crime writers retreat at the Doubletree Post Oak (where there'll be a Murder, My Sweet Literacy Autographing Friday from 6:30-10 p.m.) This evening, Edna Buchanan, Carolyn Hart, Jay Brandon, Connie Shelton and Trish MacDonald Skillman are among the writers presented to the public. 7-9 p.m. BookTronics, 5370 Westheimer, 624-4000. Free.
Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You Once again, we see the effect of Catholicism on contemporary popular culture. Much like The Blues Brothers, Sister Mary Ignatius is about a later-in-life meeting between a teaching nun and some former students. Christopher Durang's Obie Award-winning satire doesn't include a lengthy car chase, and the Theatre LaB production doesn't have cameo appearances by Aretha Franklin and Cab Calloway, but the show is still a genuine hoot and has a nun with a gun. Moreover, tonight's show is a Houston Press Romance Event. All the theater seats are free, and all attendees will receive a free 50-word romance ad -- in fact, attendees must turn in their ads at the door in exchange for admission. Theatre LaB has a bar, and a softly lit sidewalk outside for intermission mingling. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. for this event, the show continues through September 30. Theatre LaB, 1706 Alamo (off the 2100 block of Houston Avenue). The theater is disabled accessible, with secure, lighted parking. For more information on the Romance Event, call 624-1414. For more information on Sister Mary Ignatius, call 868-7516. Free.
SAM Fest (Summer Acoustic Music Festival) Hustle up, acoustic fans, this is your chance to witness a lever harp competition and not one, but two dulcimer competitions -- one for players of hammer dulcimers, the other for aficionados of the Appalachian dulcimer variety. There will also be a Texas State Championship Autoharp contest, the winner of which will receive a fancy new Oscar Schmidt autoharp and paid entry to the national autoharp competition in Kansas this September. You can simply enjoy the concerts or learn to play folksy instruments from tin whistles to bowed psalteries. Such instruments will also be sold at the festival. Tie-dyes and buckskins will be worn. SAM begins with a workshop at 8:30 a.m. and continues through Saturday evening. St. Mark's Lutheran Church, 1515 Hillendahl (near I-10 and Wirt). For more information, call 583-1090. $15-$25, depending on how many (if any) workshops one attends.
Days of mystery and suspense Even a non-sleuth could figure out that with a gaggle of mystery writers in town, Murder by the Book is hopping. Basically, all the writers in town for the Sisters in Crime convention will stop by sometime this week, and today is the second in a four-day Author Extravaganza, with more than 25 authors in the store and signing copies of their books. Frankie Y. Bailey, Eleanor Taylor Bland, E.W. Count and Barbara D'Amato will be in the store and signing. The real mystery is, how can Murder by the Book hold 25 authors and their fans? And where will people park? Oh well, love (love of the genre) will find a way. It all begins at 10:15 a.m. Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonnet, 524-8597. Free.
Member of the Club: Reflections on Life in a Racially Polarized World Author Lawrence Otis Graham, a Princeton grad and Wall Street lawyer, quit his upscale job and became a busboy -- a busboy with eyes and ears open -- at an all-white country club in Greenwich, Connecticut. What he saw and heard led to a memorable New York magazine story (and considerable embarrassment for the club members), and now has resulted in a book of essays about Graham's experiences not only in Greenwich, but in America in general. Graham will be reading from and signing his book this evening, and maybe he'll have time to relate a few stories about how the Greenwich club's members had fits, just fits, when they found out about Graham's expose. 6-8 p.m. Nia Gallery and Bookshop, 7725 West Bellfort, 729-8400. Free; the book is $25.
Keep watching the skies With the kind of heat we're having, one needs to keep quiescent during the day and find a hobby that works at night. Drinking has its drawbacks -- expenses, health risks -- but astronomy is healthful and relatively cheap. The members of the Houston Astronomical Society, just ordinary folk like you and me, offer a series of seminars sharing their passion with the public. The society will explain how to peer at Jupiter and Saturn, and how to locate deep space objects such as the Whirlpool Galaxy. The society will also give little talks about telescope buying; how to figure out which scope has the right strength and price for each individual's space-viewing needs. And all are invited to attend the society's meeting (meetings follow the seminars). 7 p.m. University of Houston, Science and Research Building, entrance no. 14 off Cullen. For more information, call 529-2549 or 568-9340. Free.
ViennaFest Is that Bob Lanier in lederhosen? Who knows? Anything and everything can happen at the ViennaFest, including a yodeling contest for the entertainment of tender children. Two wacky, wonderful days with food, fun and theme foods (sauerbraten, sauerkraut and Austrian beers and wines). Polka bands and dancers entertain prior to the concerts. Fun begins at 6:30 p.m. Symphony concert at 8 p.m. today and tomorrow. The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbins Drive, The Woodlands, 363-3300. $7-$10.