22 May 2018

Noir at the Opportunity Bar

by Michael Bracken

Eeek!
In late March 2003 I lost my job. Well, I didn’t actually lose it, to steal a Bobcat Goldthwait joke, I knew exactly where it was, but when I went back there, someone else was doing it. Within a week, I was offered, and I accepted, a freelance editing gig that provided me with an income foundation sufficient to jumpstart my third attempt at full-time freelancing.

In January 2018, a few months shy of 15 years together, that client and I parted ways. Our parting was amicable, leaving open the possibility of working together again in the future, but the immediate impact was an income loss exceeding $13,000/year.

NEW OPPORTUNITIES

Losing that client also freed up 10-plus work hours each week, and I’ve been surprised at how many opportunities have arisen since January, most of them related to writing crime fiction, and many of them opportunities I might have turned down for lack of time had they come only a few months earlier.

One of them was an invitation to participate in Noir at the Bar Dallas on April 18.
Michael Pool and Michael Bracken

Michael Pool—novelist, short story writer, and editor/publisher of the recently deceased Crime Syndicate Magazine—extended the invitation, and accepting meant nearly 10 hours away from home and an unknown amount of time prepping for the event.

Of course, I accepted.

Although I attended an in-hotel Noir at the Bar at the New Orleans Bouchercon and part of the Noir at the Bar Bouchercon at the Rivoli in Toronto, I’ve never participated in one. I have, however, done readings at science fiction/fantasy conventions, only one of which—a midnight, adults-only reading of erotic science fiction to a packed room at Archon many years ago—turned out well.

The other readings—all half-hour solo acts—drew audiences of one, two, and half-a-dozen.

PRACTICE MAKES NEAR-PERFECT

I chose to read “Texas Sundown” from Down & Out: The Magazine #3, an 1,800-word noir story written in first person. The first time I read the story aloud it fit within the seven-to-nine minutes authors were expected to fill. During each subsequent read-through, though, the story grew longer and longer, until I realized I had stopped rushing through it and was adding dramatic pauses.

To wrangle the story back into my allotted time, Temple helped me excise words, phrases, and entire sentences that read well on the page but which were unnecessary when the story was read aloud.

SHOWTIME

Temple and I left home early, knowing a less-than-two-hour trip would likely take far longer given traffic on IH35. Sure enough, we encountered near standstill traffic as we neared Dallas. We exited the highway, navigated side streets, and arrived a few minutes early for our 5:30 dinner reservation at Smoke.

After a leisurely dinner, we made our way to The Wild Detectives, where Noir at the Bar Dallas was scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. The Wild Detectives is an older home in the Oak Cliff neighborhood converted into a bookstore/bar, with an eclectic selection of reading material and seating both inside and outside.

Temple and I arrived early. We claimed one end of a picnic table near the outside stage in what had been the home’s backyard, and I goofed around onstage before any other presenters arrived. Soon, Temple’s daughter Emily, who knows I’m a writer but who had never read any of my work, joined us, as did the other presenters, their family, their friends, and audience members attracted to the event.

Texas weather is quite fickle, often inappropriate for outside events where sweating is discouraged. That evening, it was perfect: dry, cool, and comfortable, an uncommon combination. The backyard was packed, the audience was appreciative, and all of the authors brought their A game.

Michael Pool was both the host and a presenter for the evening. Tim Bryant, Eryk Pruitt, Clay Reynolds, Carlos Salas, LynDee Walker, and I were presenters. The first three authors read their work while the sun was dipping low in the sky. After a break, and after the sun had set, the last four authors read. Background sounds throughout the evening included sirens of all kinds—appropriate for a reading by crime fiction writers—and in the alley behind the fence blue lights flashed as if a patrol car or emergency vehicle had parked back there. Afterward, we talked with each other and with audience members.

Reading “Texas Sundown”
Unlike some of the authors, I brought nothing with me to sell because I don’t usually tote books around. I did have and did distribute a flyer prepared by Lance Wright at Down & Out Books that promoted, on the top half, Coast to Coast: Private Eyes From Sea to Shining Sea, Passport to Murder, and Down & Out: The Magazine #3, all of which contain my short stories. The bottom half of the flyer was devoted to Michael Pool’s first novel, Texas Two-Step.

FINDING BALANCE

Will I participate in another Noir at the Bar if invited? Absolutely!

I met several writers new to me, heard great stories and poetry presented in an entertaining fashion, and learned that I can—with appropriate practice—read in public without embarrassing myself.

Did I have to lose a major client in order to participate? Probably not, but it would have been much more difficult to take advantage of this opportunity—and the many others that have recently come my way—if I had to shoehorn it into an already packed schedule.

Being a freelancer means learning to balance opportunity and revenue in a meaningful way. Sometimes the work we most enjoy is the least remunerative.

Seeking nothing but dollar signs can have us no better off than we were as wage slaves, doing work we don’t enjoy just to put bread on the table. Doing only the things we enjoy, however, can mean having no bread on the table at all.

I’ve been lucky. I like my clients and I enjoy most of what I do, but I’m even more enjoying some things—such as Noir at the Bar Dallas—I’ve been able to do with the extra 10 hours I have each week.

(And don’t cry for me. Nearly half the lost income has already been replaced thanks to existing clients.)

Richard Krauss interviewed me for the June 2018 issue of The Digest Enthusiast. The wide-ranging interview fills 17 pages, reveals my pseudonyms, and touches on work written in a variety of genres. And, yes, that's me on the cover.

My private eye story “Itsy Bitsy Spider” was the story of the week at Tough, April 23, 2018.

21 May 2018

Sticking It Out

Guest starring Brendan DuBois
Jan Grape invited a guest whom we are honored to have with us today. Brendan DuBois is the award-winning author of more than twenty novels and nearly 160 short stories. His latest mystery novel, HARD AGROUND, was published this past April by Pegasus Books. His next novel, THE NEGOTIATOR, is set to be published this August by Midnight Ink. He's currently working on a series of works with bestselling novelist James Patterson, with publications set for early 2019.

Brendan's short fiction has appeared in Playboy, The Saturday Evening Post, Analog, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and numerous anthologies including THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES OF THE CENTURY, published in 2000, as well as THE BEST AMERICAN NOIR OF THE CENTURY, published in 2010.
His stories have thrice won him the Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America, two Barry Awards, a Derringer Award, and have also earned him three Edgar Allan Poe Award nominations from the Mystery Writers of America.

Brendan is also a Jeopardy! game show champion.
— Jan Grape and Rob Lopresti


Sticking It Out
by Brendan DuBois


Last month I had the fun and privilege of going to Manhattan for the Edgar Allan Poe Awards ---- or as we call them in our house, Passover (hah-hah-hah) --- and had a fabulous time. The best part of Edgars week is catching up with old friends and making new ones, hobnobbing with agents and editors and other writers, and reinvigorating ones sense of being part a great writing community.

On one afternoon, I attended a wonderful reception at Dell Magazines --- publishers of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine --- and among the attendees were two old friends of mine, writers Doug Allyn and S.J. Rozan.

As we talked, laughed and gossiped with editors Janet Hutchings and Linda Landrigan, assistant editor Jackie Sherbow, and authors Jeffrey Deaver and Peter Lovesey, it was a just reminder of how far I’ve come in publishing. When I was just a kid, writing short fiction at the age of twelve, I dreamed about coming to Manhattan and hanging out in publishing offices.

At some point, some of us realized that three of us --- Doug, S.J., and myself --- had all gotten published by either Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock within a year or so of each other back in 1986. I think the three of us looked at each other and all thought the same thing: thirty years! And look how good we all looked! And we are still getting published in both magazines, as well as novels and other works.

Later that week, I joined up with S.J. and Doug at the Dell Magazines table during the Edgars banquet, and as part of the ceremony, there’s a slide show depicting past Edgar winners, and when it came to the 1980s and 1990s, the three of us commented on fellow short story authors who had won Edgars, had published for a few years, and then… disappeared.


What happened?

The three of us discussed this a bit, talking about these past friends and co-authors, and while a couple of them had died over this time period, what of the others?

I don’t know about Doug or S.J., but I felt a slight shudder pass through me. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and to be a published author back in 1986 was one of my greatest accomplishments. How could someone just… stop? Give up? Never return again to writing?

And what could someone do to prevent this from happening?

What are the keys to having a lengthy writing career?

Some thoughts:

You have to possess something more than just talent. You need drive. Something inside of you pushing you. Many years ago, when I was in college, a good friend of mine had submitted a short story to The New Yorker magazine. It was rejected, but it was a personal rejection, a typewritten note from an editor, encouraging her to submit again. And what did she do? Nothing! She just shrugged and went on with her life, finding joy and satisfaction in something else.

I’m still gobsmacked that she had done that. But you know what? Her life, her decision.

You have to have a thick skin. Rhinoceros skin? Try two rhino skins. Writing is a hard, tough, and lonely business. Here’s a news flash: nobody cares if you write or not. Nobody. It’s all up to you… and you have to realize that in the outset, you’re going to get rejected. Lots of times. Rejected in creative ways you never knew possible.

And some of those rejections will be harsh and deeply personal. And you have to smile, shrug it off, and keep on writing.

Then… you get published! Yay!

And then you really need a thick skin… maybe three rhino skins. The reviews will come in, and some will be great, and some will be awful. And as humans do, you’ll tend to ignore the good reviews and obsess on the negative ones.

Don’t.

As someone once said, opinions (and reviews) are like certain bodily orifices. Everybody has one. There are a number of fine, dedicated and thoughtful reviewers out there, but alas, it’s the mean ones that stick in your mind.


My trick is this: good reviews come from reviewers who know exactly what I was trying to do in a piece of writing. And bad reviews come from ignoramuses who missed the whole point of my story.

Still, again, you need a thick skin. Maybe even four rhino skins!

You have to be willing to stretch yourself, try different things, different approaches. My first published short stories were of a kind, following certain tropes and approaches. But as months and years went by, I decided to experiment.

You can’t keep plowing and re-plowing the old fictional fields. Editors and readers then get bored. So I wrote first person. Third person. Even a couple of second persons. Then I wrote from the point of a view of a woman. A young boy. A… dog! Yes, a dog.

You need to be trying new things, new ways of telling a story. Sure, there’ll be rejections, but in the end, you’ll be your stretching your talent.

You have to seek out new markets, new opportunities. Back in the days when I first started writing short stories, I used a typewriter. Found my markets via Writer’s Digest Guide to Markets. Sent out my stories in a nine-by-twelve manila envelope, with an SASE contained within. And I’d walk up to my mailbox, shooing away the baby dinosaurs as I did so.

Now it’s all electronic. And there are lots of new markets out there, lots of new publishing opportunities. When I first started out, self-publishing was considered icky, the sign of a loser. Now? I self publish novels that I’ve retained the rights to, and have self-published a number of original anthologies of my own short fiction.

Opportunities had changed, and so had I.

And, lastly, you still have to love it.

Not to mention that there aren’t setbacks, or disappointments, or career plans that founder on the shoals of reality and publishing.

But still, I can’t go without a day without writing.

More than it’s what I do, it’s what I am.

My friend Doug mentioned this at another ceremony during Edgars Week, where Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine gave out the Reader’s Choice Award. He said something to the effect that decades later, he still loved being in the writing game, that he still loved it.

And so do I.

20 May 2018

Crime Song

by Leigh Lundin

My brother Glen never met a music genre he didn’t like. He came by it honestly, learning brass and reeds as a kid while he tinkered with a marimba. Glen went on to learn guitar and keyboards as I messed with percussion. We’ve attended rock concerts, symphonies, and baroque chamber orchestras. We’ve enjoyed progressive rock, hard rock, fusion, and blues. He’s gone on to embrace electronica, trance, industrial, rap, and world music.

Recently he sent me a link to a familiar early 60s Mersey band, The Hollies, one of the few British Invasion bands still performing. As well as they were received in the US with The Air that I Breathe, Bus Stop, He Ain’t Heavy (He’s My Brother), and numerous other songs, The Hollies grew even more wildly popular overseas.

One of my favorite tunes was the echoic Long Cool Woman, but I’d never listened closely to it. Glen’s link contained lyrics and I suddenly realized it’s a crime song. I found it easy to imagine RT Lawton penning a ballad like this.

Take a listen. Here’s Long Cool Woman:


… and here find the lyrics:

19 May 2018

Hints and Shortcuts


by John M. Floyd





This post is a followup to a column I did two weeks ago called "Manuscript Mechanics." (By the way, Leigh Lundin did an excellent followup already, in his SS post Manuscript Mechanics II the day after mine--check it out also.) As in my first post, much of what I'll say today is pretty basic and should be familiar to you, but I've been surprised at how many writers either don't know these things or have forgotten them.

Imagine I'm telling you an old joke. If you've heard it, feel free to roll your eyes and tune me out. (I'm used to that.) But if you haven't heard it, you might be as pleased as I've been with how much time and how many headaches these hints can save. And, unlike my previous post, the information here can apply to all kinds of writing.

Here goes. A guy walks into a bar . . .



1. Everyone knows about using the keyboard to copy/cut/paste (Ctrl-C, Ctrl-X, Ctrl-V)--but did you know that you can do a "select all" with the shortcut Ctrl-A? Also, if you make a mistake you can undo it without using the dropdown command menu. Just use Ctrl-Z. It'll even back you up more than one occurrence. Hit Ctrl-Z several times, and it'll take you back to whatever previous point you want, repairing missteps as you go. This saved me recently when I was trying to delete a word in a looooooong email I had saved as a draft, and when I hit the delete key my computer thought I was trying to delete the entire email. I wasn't, but it did. I almost panicked, and said some unkind words, and then realized I could hit Ctrl-Z and bring the email back from the ashes. (By the way, for Apple users, the Command key is used instead of Ctrl.)

2. How do you replace italicized text with underlined text, and vice versa? Some markets (AHMM is one of them) prefer underlining instead of italics, in their submissions--but I usually do all my drafts using italics. If you have a completed manuscript that includes italics, you can change italicized text to underlined text for the entire manuscript in one swoop: Open "Find and Replace," click in the "Find What" box, click on "Format" in the dropdown menu, then click "Font" and choose "Italic" and click OK. Then click in the "Replace With" box, and (under Format/Font) choose a single underline under "Underline Style" and click OK. Then click "Replace All," and it's done. To change it back again, reverse the operation.

3. How do you replace straight quotes with curly quotes? As anyone who's converted Courier to TNR knows, it's hard to find and change all the straight-up-and-down apostrophes and quotation marks in a manuscript to proper "curved" apostrophes and quotes. A quick way to do it is to just pull up "Find and Replace" and key a single quotation mark into both the "Find What" box and the "Replace With" box and click "Replace All." Then do the same with double quotation marks. When you're finished, all apostrophes, single quotes, and double quotes should now be corrected.

4. Highlight using the arrow keys. Sometimes it's difficult to highlight certain text with just the mouse. If ever you need to be exact, and (for example) highlight everything up to a particular character but not including that character, you can just hold down the Shift key while pressing the right- or left-arrow key. But here's the real time-saver: If the text to be highlighted (and then copied, changed, deleted, etc.) is a single word, there's no need to stripe it or use the arrow keys. Just double-click on the word, and presto, it's highlighted.

5. What's the best way to copy/paste a manuscript into the body of an email? If a market requires the submission of a manuscript as a part of the email rather than as an attachment, it can be hard to paste the story directly into the body of the email without gorking up the spacing and formatting. Here's a good way to do that without risk: save the manuscript first as a plain-text (.txt) file in your Word program, then close it and open it again, and then paste it into your email. It will now be formatted correctly. NOTE: As I mentioned in my post last week, saving a regular manuscript in plain-text will convert everything to Courier 10-point font whether you want it to or not, and will lose any special features like italics and underlining. Emphasized text can be indicated, however, by typing an underscore (_) immediately before and after any text (letter, word, phrase, whatever) that should've been italicized or underlined. If by chance you save it as .txt and it doesn't convert it to 10-point Courier (this sometimes happens, for some reason), you're still okay--just remember that your special characters are still lost, and you'll still need to substitute the underscores.

6. Turn off widows and orphans. Another way of saying this: Turn on widow/orphan suppression. Like #5, this is more of a safeguard than a shortcut. If widow/orphan control is left activated, you'll wind up with some manuscript pages that look far too short--some of them seem to end two-thirds of the way down the page. So I turn it off. It really doesn't matter to me, and I don't think it matters to editors either, whether there is a single ending line of a paragraph at the top of a page or a single beginning line of a paragraph at the bottom of a page. Consistency is more important.



Please let me know of any other handy tricks-of-the-trade you might've discovered, or even any pet-peeve issues you might have, with all this. Writing is hard enough work already, and I'd like to make it easy as I can, not only for myself but for the editors I send my stories to.

Best of luck to all of you who type and submit manuscripts of any kind. Keep me posted!








18 May 2018

Face the Music: Public Readings and How to Survive Them

by Thomas Pluck

Thomas Pluck



There are few terrors greater than being faced with reading your work in front of an audience, particularly when they are strangers, or not even fans of the genre. Public speaking is a skill, and I don't want to hear writers whinging that they are introverts and just want to stay at home with their cats. No one forced you to write your book. If you were so private, it would be sitting on a closet shelf like Emily Dickinson's poems. Cut the humble shy wallflower act. Being nervous about what people will think of your book doesn't mean you are a selfless monk devoid of ego in the temple just waiting for enlightenment to strike.

It's natural to be nervous about it. However, you are doing yourself, your readers, and your colleagues a disservice if you do not practice reading aloud when you're home alone with your bored cats, whimpering dogs, and headphone-wearing partners and children. We can tell when you show up having never read this story aloud before, unless you are very well practiced at reading in public in general. Some have the knack, the gift of gab, the desire to have an audience, willing or not. And good for them. I remember the first time I read poetry in front of the Rutgers-Newark English department. I gripped that podium so tightly I thought it would shatter into timbers. Before that, remember reading a presentation in 5th grade on deer, where I was shaking like a sizzling slice of bacon in a pan, having to say "urine" with a straight face in front of my classmates. I got a little hammy after that, the class clown act in middle school and high school, doing silly spoofs of Shakespeare. That confidence faded the moment I had to read something I had written in front of people who read books for a living.

Practice does help. "Noir at the Bar" readings, where you can socially lubricate if necessary, can be a good start as long as you don't let the drink in your hand become a crutch. Invite your friends, they'll mimic their rapt attention, or look at their phones and say they were posting a photo of you to Instagram to boost your social media presence. Join a writer's association like the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and so on, and you can ask to be a reader at their events, surrounded by friendly writers who know what it's like to be up there. I did all of that. I even hosted Noir at the Bar in Manhattan for the longest year of my life-- that's another column, but if you host one of those events, you suddenly become every writer's unpaid publicist-- and all those accomplishments helped:

Now I can say "urine" in front of a crowd of strangers and not even snicker.

I had a stealth strategy, helped along by some of my pub family. They like karaoke. Some of them even insist on pronouncing it like they're in Tokyo, where it's done differently, in a private room among friends. You can do this in Koreatown in Manhattan as well, and I'm sure in other cities with such neighborhoods, if you prefer privacy, but to me that misses the point. It helps to have grown up in and around bars. My uncle ran bars for the Jewish mob in Manhattan for thirty years. I never visited one, to my chagrin--I wanted to be a bouncer, like Sascha the Slovenian, who busted knees with his club and smashed The Infamous Urinal Pooper's face on a car hood--but it was not to be. I did sit on a stool at Grandinetti's next to my grandfather and drink a Coca-Cola before Sunday dinner, while he nursed a Pabst. And I've been to every tavern in northeastern New Jersey so my father could drink while we kids had burgers and fries. Bar patrons often have the blues, and when you have the blues, you want to sing about it.

So, American karaoke is more about flipping through a binder full of songs until you find the one that reflects your soul, and belting it out in front of a bunch of people who just want to drink and not hear your caterwauling. And what better way to get a thick skin about reading in public? So what if you can't sing, few can. Even the good ones can maybe belt out one song or singer, and know not to step out of their wheelhouse. Or should. I don't. I'm a tenor. I've sang everything from Elvis to Guns 'n Roses, growled out John Fogerty, flopped terribly trying to keep up with the Ramones, serenaded my wife with a gender-bent version of the DiVinyls "I Touch Myself", and done duets of "Love Shack" by the B-52's that brought down the house, and been hugged by strangers on their birthdays for my emotional rendition of "You Oughtta Know" by Alanis Morrissette.

Comedians know. Sometimes you kill, sometimes you bomb. More often, you face a storm front of indifference. That's the ugly truth. Even if you silence a room with your reading, it doesn't mean that they are waiting with bated breath for the climax. It's a better sign than the audience talking amongst themselves, but don't get cocky. Unless it's a book event for you, they may not even be there to hear you. Even if it is your event, they may only be there to ask how they can get their epic about their Uncle Oogie and his funny-looking foot made into a movie with Tom Hanks. Hey, you write the script, use my idea, we'll both be billionaires. But it's more likely for people to show up to your events if you are a practiced reader who respects the audience.

Some advice:
Keep it short. This is another reason you practice reading at home. A "short" story of 2500 words can take 15-20 minutes to read, which is an eternity. Read excerpts. Read the good parts. Give a short introduction and start where stuff happens.

Be entertaining. If you want to read a nuanced and powerful piece, by all means do so, but read the room. If you're not alone, and the writer before you just read about a puppy who died defusing an atom bomb, you might want to chat a little bit about your book or what inspired the story so they can finish wiping their eyes and put away their tissues. Bring a backup story. I didn't do that for my only reading at Noir at the Bar D.C., where Josh Padgett brought in a great crowd. An older crowd. I had read host Ed Aymar's stories, Nik Korpon was there, they both are a little raunchy. So I brought my story "Gunplay," a hilarious poke at gun fetishism. (It went really well when Hilary Davidson read it at Shade in Manhattan, for our story swap.) I'm no Hilary Davidson. I read it to be funny, but the groans from the audience told me that a couple who cosplays as Union soldier and Scarlett O'Hara with live ammunition in the bedroom wasn't their cup of sweet tea!

I finished anyway, took a bow, and lost the audience favorite in the voting. But they will remember my name. It's not always so bad, I've had many readers come up and tell me how much they liked a story at a reading. It's a great way to introduce yourself to a new audience. It's part of the job. Even if you never do readings, chances are you will be on a panel, flanked by witty and seasoned writers, and you will have to hold your own. Or worse, you'll be next to That Guy who hogs the mike and bullies the moderator into making it a one-man show, and you will need the chutzpah to interrupt and grab the wheel of the bus so you and your fellow writers can get a word in edgewise. To some people this comes naturally. For the rest of us, practice makes passable. Read to your cat. Sing to your dog.

And be thankful for the printing press, or we'd all be reciting our stories like Homer. Maybe we'd be so good the king would pluck our eyes out so we couldn't wander off.

17 May 2018

This Is The Way We Avoid Writing...Avoid Writing...

The guy it all started with...THIS time.
by Brian Thornton

This time it all started with Ezra Meeker

A pioneer Northwesterner, an Oregon Trail settler who became famous for enriching himself by cornering the world's hop market during the late 19th century, Meeker, was an early and enthusiastic booster of Washington, first as a growing territory, and later as a new state.

I have a project set around the time that Washington became a state (1889) which involves an "Immigrant Inspector" assigned to the Puget Sound area by the INS. As such he has run-ins with illegal immigrants (mostly at this point Chinese), sex slave trafficking rings, drug (mostly opium) smugglers, railroad labor wranglers, railroad labor agitators, and a whole host of others.

With Meeker playing such a prominent role in the early history of the region, I decided that I wanted to dedicate a portion of this on-going project to the South Sound region, and doing research on Meeker and his large extended family seemed like a great starting place for historical evidence that might be used to dress up my germ of a story.

Several rounds of ever-expanding Google searches about Meeker and his extended clan helped lead me to Asa Mercer.


Asa Mercer after he'd left Washington for Wyoming

Poking around in the back yard of the Meekers brought me around to a ton of information on another prominent Washington family: the Mercers, specifically the younger of the original two Mercer brothers, the restless, energetic Asa Mercer.

Now, I write historical mystery. I have a Master's degree in history, and I am a native of the Pacific Northwest, so I've had research-based encounters with both the Meeker and the Mercer families before. This is not new ground for me.

This time, however, I was doing historical research for a fiction-based purpose. So tidbits I might have not bothered pursuing previously, when I was still writing predominantly nonfiction, struck me as worth pursuing, this time around.

This included Asa Mercer's connection with the nascent University of Washington (as a young man he helped build the school's original building, and also served as both its first president, and its first teacher), and his subsequent much more pop-culture friendly association with the so-called "Mercer Girls."
Young Asa Mercer: Check out that pompadour!

For those unfamiliar with the Mercer Girls, here's the short version of the story:

Mercer recognized that the majority of settlers in Washington Territory were young, single (and overwhelmingly white) men. Recognizing an opportunity, Mercer headed east to New England, where, during the height of the Civil War, he convinced a significant number of young, unmarried women to travel to the Puget Sound area, luring them with the promise of "honest work" such as teaching jobs, and the greater likelihood of them finding eligible bachelors who could make good husbands.

These intrepid young women all went on to work in the region as schoolteachers. Nearly all of them would later marry, have children, and serve as the human roots of any number of current Northwest family trees.

Nearly a century after their arrival in Puget Sound the Mercer Girls went on to serve as the inspiration for a "comic western" television series produced between 1968 and 1970.

I'm talking about Here Come the Brides, of course.

A sappy TV show which has not aged well, Here Come the Brides featured three young actors, two of whom spent considerable time during the '60s and '70s as "teen heart-throbs": Bobby Sherman and David Soul.
These two.
Sherman would go on to a moderately successful career as a pop singer/songwriter, and Soul went on to play Hutch in Starsky & Hutch, then to England, where he was still acting as late as 2014.

And the third guy?

He's Robert Brown.

He's the guy on the right, Those are some sweeeeet gloves.

Here Come the Brides was pretty much the high-water mark of Robert Brown's career, name-recognition-wise. And of course when I came across his picture in the course of digging deeper down into this particular rabbit hole, I recognized him right away.

But not for his work on Here Come the Brides.

Nope.

There's a Star Trek connection.

Yep, I'm a Trekkie.

Nope, not a "Trekker." I don't dress up or go to conventions, or speak Klingon. I just LOVE Star Trek, and have since I was four (the year the original series was canceled).

So of course I recognized Robert Brown from his guest-starring role in the Star Trek episode "The Alternative Factor." As the time-traveler Lazarus, he played a dual role (same guy, two universes. In one he's sane. In the other, he's not.).

He was great.

And he gets to rock a fake beard that looks waaaay worse than either Ezra Meeker's or Asa Mercer's!
Now, I have a rule when it comes to researching for my writing. If I come across anything remotely relating to Star Trek, the writing of Ross MacDonald, the music of Miles Davis, Stevie Ray Vaughan, or Ryan Adams, or the poetry of William Butler Yeats, I am required to cease all research, get away from the computer, and go do something which might be remotely productive.

Because given the excuse, I will dig down that particular rabbit hole all the way to China!

So there you have it:

Ezra Meeker. Asa Mercer. Mercer Girls. Here Come The Brides. Robert Brown. Star Trek.

This is the way we avoid writing today.

(But tomorrow is another day!)

See you in two weeks!


16 May 2018

Five Red Herrings, Tenth School


by Robert Lopresti

1.  Derringer Days.  Yesterday the Short Mystery Fiction Society announced the winners of the Derringer Awards and I couldn't help but notice that I was one of them, specifically for Best Short.  "The Cop Who Liked Gilbert and Sullivan" appeared in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine #23.  You can read what I had to say about it here and here.  Congratulations to my fellow winners, Brendan Dubois, David H. Hendricksen, and Earl Staggs.  But let's have a big round of applause for the winner of this year's Edward D. Hoch Memorial Gold Derringer for Lifetime Achievement.  That went to our own John M. Floyd!  Well deserved, too.

2. Free pictures!  It's always nice to find a new source for public domain illustrations.  (We bloggers love them, anyway.)  The Library of Congress very kindly sorted out the pictures on their website that are free for the taking.  (See the one below.)  Enjoy.


3. Underpaid through the ages. The University of Missouri Libraries has done a great service for anyone writing historical fiction.  Prices and Wages by Decades links you to actual government publications from the 1700s forward reporting on how much things cost and how much people were paid.  

4. Man With The Axe.  Last time I did one of these gather-alls I mentioned Lowering the Bar, which talks about the odd side of the legal biz.   I have to point out the story above which informs us that in a single incident a man in New York was charged with:
driving while ability impaired by drugs, driving while ability impaired by the combined influence of drugs, no license plates, unregistered motor vehicle, uninspected motor vehicle, operating without insurance, no front windshield, and no safety glass.

But on the bright side for him,  it turned out there is no law in the Empire State against driving around with an axe embedded in the roof of your car.


5. Shanks does Japan. According to an automatic translation app, the title of the book at the right is Sunday Afternoon Tea With Mystery Writer.  Could be, but in English it's Shanks on Crime. First time I have ever appeared in Japanese.  I wish Shanks a long and happy visit there.