Les Standiford, director of the creative writing program at Florida Atlantic University, is also a novelist. And his Miami crime thrillers have fans, namely best-selling crime author James Ellroy, declaring him, "the unassailable new kingpin of the South Florida crime novel... inheritor of the [Elmore] Leonard mantle." Readers get a chance to judge for themselves with Standiford's latest, Presidential Deal, in which Miami building contractor John Deal, Standiford's stock protagonist, is in yet another mess. During a reelection campaign stop in Miami, Pres. Frank Sheldon is supposed to award Deal the National Medal of Valor for plucking Cuban refugees out of the ocean. But the Prez gets tied up, so the First Lady steps in to do the bestowing, and during the ceremony terrorists disguised as Miami cops kidnap her and Deal. So where was the Secret Service? Read the book, or ask Standiford, who speaks about his novel tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Liberties Fine Books, 888 Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Admission is free. Call 954-522-6789.
She's sort of like Bonnie Raitt, but with more 'tude. Joanna Connor, a Texas-style blues guitarist with a lightning-quick slide technique and throaty voice, has been working on her act for a while. The 35-year-old grew up in Massachusetts listening to her mom's Taj Mahal and Jimi Hendrix albums, got her first guitar at age 7, and went professional in 1981, gigging at New England colleges and clubs. After her searing debut album, Believe It!, garnered rave reviews in 1989, Grammy Award-winning producer Jim Gaines (Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana) signed on to produce her sophomore effort. With Fight and, later, Big Girl Blues, the critical praise kept coming. Connor continues to ride high with her latest, Slide Time, and she'll perform at 9:30 p.m. tonight in the Back Room, 16 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach. Tickets cost $6. Call 561-243-9110.
You may have seen them on TV, sloshing out of the water with numbers printed on their arms in black marker, sprinting to a staging area to don shoes and a helmet, then hopping on bicycles for another grueling test of endurance. Those insane men and women are professional triathletes, people who yearn to run, swim, and bike -- one after another -- until they drop. During the Publix Family Fitness Weekend, today through Sunday in Fort Lauderdale, a scaled-down triathlon will be offered to those who aren't professionals. The three events: a one-and-a-half-mile run, a quarter-mile swim, and a six-mile bike ride. Separate swimming, inline skating, mountain biking, and beach soccer competitions will also take place. Registration fees range from $15 to $75, depending on the event. The site is Birch State Park, east Sunrise Boulevard just west of Atlantic Boulevard. Call 561-241-3801, extension 104. See "Sports & Recreation" listings for days and times of events.
Celia Bryce will soon suffer no more -- that's because she'll be dead. In Natural Causes, a farce written by acclaimed British playwright Eric Chappell, Celia's husband, Walter, compassionate guy that he is, tries to put his depressed spouse out of her misery. The way he sees it, he'll not only be helping out his wife, he'll be free to spend more time with his secretary, Angie. But instead of contacting Dr. Kevorkian, Walter puts out a contract on Celia. Enter the bumbling hit man, Vincent, and the meddling Good Samaritan, Withers, and you've got plenty of slapstick and mayhem. Natural Causes runs through August 30 at the Hollywood Boulevard Theatre, 1938 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Curtain is 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost $18. Call 954-929-5400.
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Sure the Florida Marlins are sucking wind. So would any team that's lost so much of its lifeblood -- er, roster. But fans who drag the kids along to Pro Player Stadium today are assured to get at least something for their money. It's Bat Day, and kids age 12 and under get a souvenir-size baseball bat when they show up to watch the Marlins take on the Cincinnati Reds. Like the Marlins, the Reds are in last place in their division, so maybe fans will get a win, too. Pro Player Stadium is located at 2267 NW 199th St., Miami. The game starts at 4:35 p.m. Ticket prices range from $2 to $45. Call 305-623-6100.
Artist Alexandria Chaple is only 14 years old, but she knows what she likes. She likes stuff that looks "neat," and that's exactly what she puts in her collages. She scours magazines for an image that strikes her, then creates a "scene" by adding other images that play off the first one. Judging by a sampling of her work, she's particularly fond of architecture and romance at the moment. In most of her collages, images of men and women are juxtaposed with pictures of castles and industrial buildings. Each piece is a disjointed, dreamlike tableau. "You see [the scene], and you're not sure quite what's going on," says the Lake Worth artist, whose dad is painter Paul Chaple. In fact, Galerie 624 owner Jackie Gorrisen saw Alexandria's work while putting together a show for Paul and added his daughter's pieces to the exhibit. A solo exhibit of Alexandria's work, "Isolated Lives," is on view through September 18 at the Carefree Theatre, 2000 S. Dixie Hwy., West Palm Beach. Admission is free. Call 561-833-7305.
In the early '80s, long before the terms "techno" and "electronica" were coined, Belgium's Front 242 was making the kind of synth-pop Depeche Mode is now famous for. But, as the years went by, Front 242's music became more and more aggressive. In fact, the band was a pioneer of what eventually became known as industrial music, using synthesizers instead of guitars. But while critics associated Front 242 with top industrial acts Ministry and Skinny Puppy, by the early '90s, when the genre was moving into the mainstream, the Front failed to find commercial success. The band was not forgotten, however. In 1995, top techno groups the Prodigy, Underworld, and the Orb remixed Front 242 tunes for the album Mut@ge.Mix@ge, and a new Front 242 CD, Re-Boot: Live '98, was released earlier this year. Front 242 plays tonight at the Button South, 100 Ansin Blvd., Hallandale. Tickets cost $15. Doors open at 7 p.m. Call 954-454-3301.
While shopping for Christmas gifts more than 20 years ago, lyricist Martin Charnin picked up the book Arf: The Life and Hard Times of Little Orphan Annie. Based on the famous "Little Orphan Annie" comic strip, the book was supposed to be given to a friend. But before he could get around to wrapping it, Charnin took a peek inside and was inspired by what he saw. He envisioned the tale of the orphan, her dog, Sandy, and her benefactor, Daddy Warbucks, as a musical and penned the songs "It's the Hard-Knock Life" and "Tomorrow," among others. The original Broadway production of Annie opened in 1977 and won seven Tony Awards. The latest version opens at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Broward Center For the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. It runs through August 9. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and 2 p.m. Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. Ticket prices range from $36.75 to $49.25. Call 954-462-0222.