30 July 2015

Of Mice and Men, Again

by Eve Fisher

A few weeks ago I did another weekend-long Alternatives to Violence (AVP) workshop at the pen.  As always, I came back dragging.  Three days is a long time, and it's a hard time, but then again, I wouldn't miss it for the world.  There are infinitely worse ways of spending my time.  (I know; I've done it.)

The workshop was crowded:  21 of us jammed into a 10 x 12 room.  All ages, races, religions, crimes.  Quite a mix.  There are always those who drive you crazy, those who give you hope, those who you want to never see again, and those who break your heart.  I'll never forget the very young man who said that maybe meth wasn't all bad:  at least when he did meth with his dad, his dad talked to him...

This time the heartbreaker was a mentally handicapped young man, whom I will call Lennie.  He had a great time at the workshop.  As I said later on, "AVP is one of the few places where adults will play nicely with him."  And where he won't get made fun of, or insulted, or shoved around, or robbed, or beaten up, or raped, or killed.  We generally have a Lennie in every workshop:  They might not understand AVP, but they know it's safe.  And there aren't that many safe places in prison for the weak, the elderly, the physically or mentally ill, the physically or mentally handicapped.

First, some statistics:  according to Kaiser Health News, 73% of women and 55% of men in state prisons have at least one mental health problem; it's 61% of women and 44% of men in federal prisons; and 75% of women and 63% of men in local jails.
http://kaiserhealthnews.org/news/by-the-numbers-mental-illness-jail/

Those are pretty horrendous statistics. And when we come to addiction:  well, 65% of all inmates meet the criteria for addiction, and alcohol and other drugs are "significant factors in all crimes, including 78 percent of violent crimes, 83 percent of property crimes and 77 percent of public order, immigration or weapons offenses as well as probation and parole violations." http://thenationshealth.aphapublications.org/content/40/3/E11.full

As Alex Briscoe, the health director for Alameda County in northern California, said “We’ve, frankly, criminalized the mentally ill, and used local jails as de facto mental health institutions."

"Prison crowded" by California Department of Corrections - http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/News/background_info.html. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Prison_crowded.jpg#/media/File:Prison_crowded.jpg
Briscoe's right.  We've criminalized the mentally ill.  Even worse, we've criminalized the mentally handicapped, lumping them in with the mentally ill, which they're not.  For one thing, there is no pill or therapy that will ever "cure" or "treat" the mentally handicapped or make them "normal".  Look at Lennie.  About 10 years old, mentally.  Laughing his head off at every joke that he could understand, and most that he couldn't.  Having the time of his life whenever we did a Light & Lively exercise (silly games, but one of the ways we loosen people up and get the blood flowing; plus - hint! - laughing people learn more than bored people).  Lennie was constantly trying to be helpful, from handing out pencils, to reminding me to turn on the coffeepot, to picking up the trash, and so happy when you thanked him.

Yes, Lennie's been convicted of a crime, but he swore he didn't do it.  He might be right.  He might have made an easy scapegoat for someone else.  (It's been known to happen.)  He also might not have understood what he did, or what he was actually convicted of.  I've run into that before, too.  I've also met Lennies who had no idea at all why they were there - just that something bad had happened, and they were locked up.

I don't know which of these is worse.  What I do know is that putting a Lennie in prison doesn't do any kind of good, unless the idea really is for them to be repeatedly assaulted, robbed, humiliated, raped, and/or killed.  Again, there are no medications that will make Lennie more than 10 years old. He will never get "better".  He will never "learn his lesson," "pay his debt to society" or "grow up" because he can't, and there isn't a damn thing that can ever be done to make that happen.

OfMiceAndMen.jpgSo what do you do with Lennie?  In my perfect world, Lennie would be in a group home, where he can be given care in a safe, structured, respectful environment where adults will let him play games.  But putting Lennie in prison is as cruel as taking your 10 year old child, or grandchild - no matter what they did - and putting that child in prison and saying, "Well, that's the way the justice system works".  Or, "Yes, a group home would be better, but we just don't have the resources for it."  If that's our justice system, it sucks so much swamp water, we've got alligators. And if we don't have the resources - i.e., money - for such things, again I ask, what is money for?

To be honest, if this is the best we can do, and if there isn't going to be any change...   What is right?  What is just?  What is cruel and unusual?  What do you do when the situation is hopeless?

All I can think of is the ending in Of Mice and Men:
The crash of the shot rolled up the hills and rolled down again...  Slim came directly to George and sat down beside him, sat very close to him.  "Never you mind," said Slim. "A guy got to sometimes."   - John Steinbeck, "Of Mice and Men."



29 July 2015

Be Yourself, Or Someone Just Like You




by Robert Lopresti

First, about that title.  Stephen Stimson lives in Bellingham, as do I.  (In fact, he coined our unofficial municipal slogan: the City of Subdued Excitement.)  Mr Stimson used to run a store called Lone Wolf Antiques, and one day I strolled by and saw the entire front window of the shop covered by a piece of brown paper bearing the remarkable words of today's title.  And that's all the explanation you are going to get from me.

Now for the main topic. Lawrence Block was recently interviewed by Tripwire Magazine and I recommend you go to his site and read the whole thing.     It's all great, but there was one piece that caught my attention in particular.

The interviewers brought up the Leo Haig novels, Block's pastiche of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books.  Then they asked if he had read Robert Goldsborough's novels, authorized continuations of the Nero Wolfe series.  Here is his reply:

I read two early on and didn’t care for them. I gather he’s improved some, and makes a good job of writing like Stout. But, you see, there’s the thing in a nutshell; Stout didn’t try to write like Stout.

As I recall I stomped my feet and shouted: "Exactly!"

I'm not here to pick on Mr. Goldsborough, or Ace Atkins,  Ann Hillerman,  Felix Francis, or anyone else who has inherited a franchise. What I am reaching for is this: I get uncomfortable when a young writer is advised to try copying someone else's style.  I can understand doing it as an exercise, or for a pastiche, but keep it up too long and it can only stunt your growth.  Rex Stout was trying to find his own voice, not copy someone else's.

I recently read a book by Elmore Leonard called Charlie Martz and Other Stories.  They are previously unpublished, and you can understand why Leonard chose to keep them that way.  Most of them are interesting primarily as a peek into the laboratory, a chance to watch Leonard looking for his voice.  (Compare them to the tales in When The Women Came Out To Dance, stories he wrote when he was at the top of his form.)  You can see a glimpse here and a touch there of Leonard, but he wasn't quite there yet.

I would be happy to hear what you have to say about this subject but before we get to the comments, there is one more detail.  When I told my wife about Block's remarks she smiled and said "Zusya."

Zusya was a Hasidic rabbi in the nineteenth century.  He was apparently a "wise fool," like Nasrudin, Diogenes, or Saint Francis, a spiritual leader or philosopher who (deliberately?) behaved eccentrically in order to get his lessons across.  What follows is the most famous story about him. There are many versions, but this is the one I heard first.

One day Zusya's followers came into his study and found him hiding under the desk, weeping and shaking with fear.  "I have just learned the question I will be asked by the angel of death when I die.  And I am terribly frightened because I cannot answer it!"

"Rabbi," said the followers, "you are good man, and a wise man.  What could death ask you that is so terrifying?"

"I thought he might ask: 'Zusya, why were you not Moses, to lead your people to the promised land?' I could have answered that!  Or he could ask 'Zusya, why were you not David, to fight your people?'  I could answer that.  But, no!  What he is will ask is: 'Zusya,  why were you not Zusya?'"
    

28 July 2015

The Book Report: Tapping the Source and The Last Good Kiss

by Paul D. Marks

Today I want to talk about a couple of books that you may or may not know. A lot of people do seem to know them. On the other hand, they’re still obscure to many.

Nunn-Crumley Collage D1The books are “Tapping the Source” by Kem Nunn and “The Last Good Kiss” by James Crumley. Several decades ago a friend of mine in the WGAw turned me onto these books, telling me how terrific they were. Thank you, Elliot.

He told me about both at the same time. Both sounded good, so I rushed out to get them (this was in the olden days when you had to actually go somewhere to buy a book). And I read them right away.
I was blown away by “Tapping the Source”. And I liked “The Last Good Kiss,” a lot, but maybe because I so fell in love with Tapping, Kiss paled by comparison. I know this is sacrilege to some. But hey, that’s what makes horse races.

“Tapping the Source” is Nunn’s first novel and with it he pretty much invented his own genre: surf noir. I guess I’m not the only one who likes it since it was a finalist for the National Book Award.

nunnIt’s the story of a pretty na├»ve and innocent kid from Bakersfield, California—Buck Owens country—who travels to Huntington Beach, CA, the surf capital of the world, in search of his sister. There, he gets involved with a bunch of mysterious and maybe evil bikers and sees the dark side of “surf city”. This definitely ain’t the Beach Boys world of surf, sun and California Girls.

I liked this book so much that I wanted to option the film rights for it. I had them checked out, but they had already been optioned/bought. That had to be at least 25 years ago, probably more, a lot more. But to this day there is still no movie version of this story. It is, however, said that “Point Break,” with Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves was, uh, inspired by “Tapping the Source”. The story is different and imho not nearly as good.

Nunn went on to write several other books, including a couple that fall into the surf noir category. He also did the Hollywood thing, writing/producing for “Deadwood” and “Sons of Anarchy,” and creating the series “John from Cincinnati,” set in Imperial Beach down near the Mexican border.

***

Crumley’s hardboiled “The Last Good Kiss” starts out heading in one direction and quickly makes a U-turn, slamming around a dark, noir corner. PI C.W. Sughrue is hired to find Abraham Trahearne before he drinks himself to death.

And he finds him, on the first page of the book:

“When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.”
―James Crumley, “The Last Good Kiss”

So there wouldn’t be much of a story if there weren’t complications, would there? So: Trahearne gets shot in the ass in the bar. And while waiting for him to recuperate, Sughrue is hired to look into the ten year old disappearance of the bar owner’s daughter.

6a00d8341d1add53ef010534c5f1a1970b-800wi
The novel weaves through the darkest corners of some of the darkest streets in America. A hard drinking, tough Viet Nam vet, a man with a moral code, Sughrue is a PI for the 1970s. And maybe, just maybe for the 21st century as well.

“Stories are like snapshots, pictures snatched out of time, with clean hard edges. But this was life, and life always begins and ends in a bloody muddle, womb to tomb, just one big mess, a can of worms left to rot in the sun.”
―James Crumley, “The Last Good Kiss”

Men’s Journal named “The Last Good Kiss” #12 on its list of Top 15 Thrillers of All Time and George Pelacanos put it at #3 on his list of Five Most Important Crime novels.

***

If Nunn is known for surf noir, Crumley is the granddaddy of post Viet-Nam hardboiled PI’s. He influenced many current writers, but, like Nunn, never had the big breakthrough that brought him a wide mainstream audience. They’re both like that little band that you love, but only you and a small cult of other loyal followers or groupies love or know about. And in some ways if that band or those authors, in this case Nunn and Crumley, were to get discovered by the masses you would feel a loss. Crumley died in 2008, but he’s left behind an impressive collection of novels and short stories worth checking out.

So, if you haven’t read these books or aren’t familiar with these authors maybe you’d want to check them out. If you are familiar with them, maybe it’s time to revisit them. I’d love to hear your opinions.

***

A couple items of BSP:

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00019]Vortex: My new Mystery-Thriller coming September 1st.
...a nonstop staccato action noir... Vortex lives up to its name, quickly creating a maelstrom of action and purpose to draw readers into a whirlpool of intrigue and mystery... but be forewarned: once picked up, it's nearly impossible to put down before the end. 
      —D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
Akashic Fade Out Annoucement D1a-ab -- w full date


Fade Out: flash fiction story coming on Akashic’s Mondays Are Murder, Monday (big surprise, huh?), August 17th. Here’s the link, but my story won’t be live till 8/17:  http://www.akashicbooks.com/tag/mondays-are-murder/

***

Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks  and  Twitter: @PaulDMarks
And check out my updated website www.PaulDMarks.com  
Click here to subscribe to my Newsletter: Subscribe to my Newsletter

*Crumley B/W photo is free to share and use per Bing.com useage rights.
###

27 July 2015

The Last Camel Collapsed at Noon

by Susan Rogers Cooper

Several years ago I was invited to give a lecture at a Rice University summer workshop for writers. I was given the assignment of discussing hooks or opening lines – which led to one of the more enjoyable research studies I've ever done. My research consisted almost primarily of pulling out every mystery on my bookshelves (and believe me there were a lot then and even more now) and reading the opening line or paragraph. Then trying to figure out why it worked. If it did. Sometimes it didn't. Hook me, that is. And that was the entire reason for my lecture. How do you hook a reader, how do you keep them reading your book beyond that first line, paragraph, page or chapter? There's got to be a hook.

I entitled this essay “The Last Camel Collapsed at Noon” because, to me at least, Ken Follett's opening line in THE KEY TO REBECCA is one of the greatest. Why? Because you learn so much from those six simple words: You get a vague place – not a lot of camels on the streets of Manhattan – one is to assume this is a desert area, and one can also only assume that these people are in very deep doo-doo. 
 
But I found so many more wonderful opening lines, and all of them so different that it led me to do my own classification of openers: Slap in the Face, Character, Travel Log, and Puzzler, among others. Here's the short list, honed down from a much, much larger one, that fits perfectly in these categories.

Slap in the Face: PRIMARY JUSTICE, William Bernardt – “'Once again,' the man said, pulling the little girl along by the leash tied to his wrist and hers. 'Tell me your name.'” DEAD BOLT, Jay Brandon – “His child was on the ledge.” And one of my all time favorites, SHOTGUN SATURDAY NIGHT, Bill Crider – “Sheriff Dan Rhodes knew it was going to be a bad day when Bert Ramsey brought in the arm and laid it on the desk.” In all three of these examples, I dare the reader not to read on! These opening lines grab your attention and keep you riveted.

For a really good example of a character opening I go way back to one of my favorite writers, Raymond Chandler, who wrote these opening lines for TROUBLE IS MY BUSINESS: “Anna Halsey was about two hundred and forty pounds of middle-aged putty faced woman in a black tailor-made suit. Her eyes were shiny black shoe buttons, her cheeks were as soft as suet and about the same color. She was sitting behind a black glass desk that looked like Napoleon's tomb and was smoking a cigarette in a black holder that was not quite as long as a rolled umbrella. She said, 'I need a man.'”

Sharyn McCrumb once honored me by using my book, CHASING AWAY THE DEVIL, in a class she was teaching as an example of how to hook the reader. When she told me that, I had to go back to the book and read that opening paragraph to figure out why. I knew I didn't kill anybody in that first paragraph, knew there wasn't any great action. So why did she single out this opening?

The third week in November is Pioneer Week in my home, Prophesy County, Oklahoma. There's nothing in this goddam world I hate more than Pioneer Week. They make us deputies dress up for it. In chaps. And cowboy hats. And boots. And spurs. And real-live six-guns on our hips. It's goddam ridiculous.” I had to read this a couple of times before I realized that this, like Chandler's opening paragraph above (although unfortunately not nearly as classic) is a character opening. Milt Kovak's personality is smeared all over those few sentences. The reader knows, right off the bat, what kind of person he/she's going to be sharing the next several hundred pages with.

Travel Log: THE JUDAS GOAT, Robert B. Parker – “Hugh Dixon's home sat on a hill in Weston and looked out over the low Massachusetts hills as if asphalt had not been invented yet.” Marcia Muller often opens her books with vivid descriptions of northern California. But her opening lines for PENNIES ON A DEAD WOMAN'S EYES – “At first they were going to kill me. Then they changed their minds and only took away thirty-six years of my life” – is a good example of the Puzzler category. Others are Joseph Wambaugh's opening line in the THE ONION FIELD, “The gardener was a thief,” Barbara Michaels' opener for THE DARK ON THE OTHER SIDE,The house talked,” and Jonathan Kellerman's first line of OVER THE EDGE, It was my first middle-of-the-night crisis call in three years.”

A book does not necessarily start at the beginning of the story. A writer can always go back and pick up the chronological beginning of the story – a beginning that may not be overly dramatic. Of course the beginning of the story needs to be there – but not necessarily on page one. Page one should be reserved for the hook.


While writing FAT TUESDAY, Earl Emerson wrote these words on page 127, chapter eight: “I was trapped in a house with a lawyer, a bare-breasted woman, and a dead man. The rattlesnake in the paper sack only complicated matters.” He said it took him weeks to junk the book, re-plot the story,and regain the momentum of the narrative, but he was able to move those lines to page one, chapter one. Now that's a hook.

In journalism they teach that the lead (or hook) must grab a reader by the lapels, must punch him in the nose to make him read the story. Seize his attention and don't let go. The hook in a good mystery should punch the reader in the nose while at the same time seducing him. The hook shouldn't answer any questions, but ask them. A good mystery opener should seduce the reader into believing that the answers to those questions are worth the wait.

26 July 2015

Copyright? Elementary, My Dear Watson.

by Dale C. Andrews

Arthur Conan Doyle published his first Sherlock Holmes story in 1887 and his last in 1927. There were 56 stories in all, plus 4 novels. The final stories were published between 1923 and 1927. As a result of statutory extensions of copyright protection culminating in the 1988 Copyright Term Extension Act, the American copyrights on those final stories . . . will not expire until 95 years after the date of original publication -- between 2018 and 2022 . . . . The copyright on the 46 stories and the 4 novels, all being works published before 1923, [has] expired.
                                                 Klinger v. Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd.
                                                 755 F. 3d 496, 497 (7th Cir. 2014)
                                                 per Judge Richard Posner
Is there anything left to say about Sherlock Holmes? The fame of Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic detective has now stretched across three centuries, with no expiration date in sight. . . . Recent books and graphic novels find the detective trading bon mots with Henry James, escaping the island of Doctor Moreau and squaring off against a zombie horde. One can also pick up Sherlock-themed tarot decks, rubber duckies, crew socks and — for undercover work — a “sexy detective” outfit featuring a deerstalker and pipe. And, needless to say, the digital landscape is ablaze with blogs, fanfic, Twitter feeds, podcasts and innumerable tributes to the cheekbones of Benedict Cumberbatch. What’s left? As Professor Moriarty once remarked, “All that I have to say has already crossed your mind.” 
                                                Daniel Stashower
                                                The Washington Post, July 12, 2015
                                                Reviewing The Amazing Rise and Immortal Lives of Sherlock Holmes                                                  by Zach Dundas

Sir Ian McKellen in Mr. Holmes
       This week’s summer movie roll-outs included Mr. Holmes, which features Sir Ian McKellen’s highly anticipated take on Sherlock Holmes at 93 —  battling age and dementia as he tries to unravel one last case. The movie, based on the 2005 Holmes pastiche A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, actually offers the viewer two takes on Holmes, since the cinema version of the story features a “movie within a movie” in which Nicholas Rowe, who earlier portrayed the detective in Young Sherlock Holmes, once again assumes the role in Watson’s version of the mystery that confounds the elderly Holmes.  (Holmes views the movie version, based on Watson's account, in an attempt to jump start his failing memories of the case.)  The fact that the movie offers a new take on Holmes —  indeed, two new takes, and that the same week yet another Holmes retrospective hit the bookstores —   Zach Dumas' The Amazing Rise and Immortal Lives of Sherlock Holmes — is hardly surprising. For 130 years Sherlock Holmes has been, well, ubiquitous.

       Ellery Queen had this to say in his (err, “their”) introduction to The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes:   "more has been written about Sherlock Holmes than about any other character in fiction. It is further true that more has been written about Holmes by others than by Doyle himself."  We will return to that Ellery Queen anthology, but for now the important point is that no other detective  —  not Miss Marple, nor Hercule Poirot, nor Ellery himself  —  has so tempted other authors to lift their pens in imitation and tribute.  And all of this begs a legal question:  How, pray tell, have these new takes on Sherlock Holmes been reconciled with the copyright protection originally secured for the character by Arthur Conan Doyle?

     A Proviso before going forward here: While I am a lawyer, I am NOT a copyright and intellectual properties lawyer. So, a caveat  when I discuss copyright rules it may be a little like asking your family doctor to perform brain surgery.  But with that in mind, the simple rule is that in the United States under the terms of the 1998 Copyright Terms Extension Act the author has copyright protection for 95 years following the publication of the author’s work. So if you are inclined to dabble in pastiches (and I plead guilty on that one), well, you need to do this only with the permission of the original author (or their estate) if the character you are using was created less than 95 years ago.

       How easy is it to run afoul of copyright rules? Well, as promised above, lets return again to our old friend Ellery Queen for the answer to that question. In 1944 Queen published an anthology collecting most of the Holmes pastiches and parodies then in existence, The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes. Of all Ellery Queen volumes this one is likely the rarest. If you want to secure a copy on Amazon it will probably set you back around $150.00.  Why? Well, the anthology, it turns out, was published without first securing a license from the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle. As a result, it was quickly pulled from publication when the estate threatened to sue, and only a limited number of volumes ever reached book stores.   (As an aside, notwithstanding all of the above, a rough version of The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes is, as of this writing, rather mysteriously available for downloading on the internet!  Just click here.)

       But, in any event, Ellery's stumble over the copyright rules was way back in 1944, right? Back then the first Sherlock Holmes stories were not even 60 years old. What about today? In 2015 almost 130 years separates us from the first Holmes adventure, A Study in Scarlet. So Sherlock should have squared his tweed-draped shoulders and marched into the public domain almost 35 years ago, right?  Well, not so fast. The Doyle estate has historically taken a different (and predictable) approach when it comes to counting those intervening years.

       As the quote at the top of the article points out, the “last bows” of the Sherlock Holmes stories were the ten final mysteries written by Arthur Conan Doyle between 1923 and 1927.  And, counting it up, the 95 year copyright on those stories has yet to expire  and won’t begin to for another three years. The Doyle estate has argued that a “fully rounded” (their words) Holmes and Watson arose only upon completion of the entire Doyle canon.   Thus, the estate argues, copyright protection continues until 2022, i.e., 95 years after the last story was published in 1927.  Pause and think about this:  The Copyright laws speak of a protection period running for 95 years from the first appearance of a character, but the Doyle estate argues that this in fact means 95 years from the last appearance of the character.  The argument sounds more like George Orwell than it does Sherlock Holmes!

       The Doyle estate implemented their concededly expansive view of copyright protection in a rather clever manner. The estate decided to charge $5,000 in licensing fees for every use of Holmes and Watson, reasoning that the amount, while substantial, was far less than the cost of subjecting the “fully rounded” theory to a test in litigation. So their assumption was that those wishing to write about Homes and Watson might grumble, but they would pay.  All went well with this approach until Leslie Klinger came along.

       Klinger co-edited an anthology of Sherlock Holmes pastiches and parodies in 2011 titled A Study in Sherlock: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon. Klinger dutifully paid the $5,000 demanded by the Doyle estate before publishing that collection. But when he and his co-editors decided to proceed with a sequel, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, they also decided that enough was enough and refused to pay for a license. The Doyle estate escalated the dispute, threatening to sue if publication occurred without a license. Klinger responded by suing the estate, claiming that Holmes and Watson were in the public domain and had been since 1982, that is, 95 years after A Study in Scarlet was published. As a result, Klinger argued, no license was required.

       A federal district court, and ultimately the Seventh Circuit United States Court of Appeals, eventually settled the matter. In May of 2014 the Seventh Circuit agreed with the district court’s decision and held that the Doyle estate’s argument was wrong. The court instead agreed, as Klinger had argued, that Sherlock Holmes entered the public domain, and became “fair game” for other writers, 95 years following the publication of the first Holmes story.

       But how does one handle the refinements to Holmes and Watson that occurred in those later stories, that is, the “rounding” of the characters on which the estate had relied? Well, the court answered that question by concluding that only Holmes and Watson as portrayed in the original series of stories by Doyle are currently in the public domain; that is, the characters as portrayed prior to 1923. And any subsequent nuances to the character  those “well rounded” attributes on which the estate’s arguments were based  remain protected by the copyright laws.

       How does this work in practice? Well, as Barack Obama, among others, has observed “a good compromise leaves everyone unhappy.” The estate doesn't get its $5,000, but the author of a pastiche nonetheless writes at his or her peril since the use of attributes only arising in the last 10 Holmes mysteries infringes the continuing copyright on those stories.

       The Seventh Circuit’s opinion only identifies a scant few areas in which Doyle’s characters became "more rounded” in the later Holmes stories that are still copyright protected: First, Holmes (apparently) likes dogs; Second, Watson was married twice. (On that latter point, I think W.S. Baring-Gould set the number of marriages at three, but I won’t argue the point  particularly without a license!)  So the “rounding” of Sherlock Holmes and Watson may be limited, but what does this rule mean for other characters who appeared in a series of works over the years?  Let us take, for example, my old friend Ellery Queen.

       Ellery’s earliest appearance was in The Roman Hat Mystery, which was published in 1929. Thus, all of the Queen canon is still copyright protected. But what happens in 2024, when the first appearance of Ellery reaches its 95th birthday and the canon begins its seriatim march into the public domain? Arguably under the Seventh Circuit’s reasoning Ellery can be used freely by other authors as of that date.  But beware:  Ellery better be wearing pince-nez glasses, and he might be advised to only employ a Duesenberg for transportation.  He should also have retired, with a wife and son, to Italy. All of those early aspects of Ellery disappeared by the middle of the Queen canon as Ellery Queen and the Inspector were "rounded" by Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee.  In fact the first evidence of the Ellery of the latter half of the canon did not appear until about 1936, with the publication of Halfway House. So unlike Sherlock, there are unmistakable differences between early and late Ellery!

       And if all of this were not confusing enough, let’s throw into our copyright primer the fact that parodies of copyrighted materials, unlike pastiches, fall completely outside of the protection of copyright without worrying at all about the passage of time.  This exception to copyright protection is established and was famously re-invigorated in 2001 when the Eleventh Circuit held that The Wind Done Gone, a re-telling of Gone With the Wind from the perspective of the enslaved residents of Tara, did not infringe Margaret Mitchell’s copyright of the original story.

       So let us return again to Queen and see how that rule would work.  Well, apparently the great Jon L. Breen could have freely published his humorous short story mystery “The Lithuanian Eraser Mystery,” (EQMM March, 1969), in which “E. Larry Cune” solves a New York City theatre murder.  That story is a parody, no question.  Tongue is firmly planted in cheek.   But, by contrast, Breen needed a license in order to publish “The Gilbert and Sullivan Clue,” (EQMM Sept. 1999) since Ellery himself solves that theatrical-based mystery. And what about Francis Nevins famous pastiche “Open Letter to Survivors” (EQMM May, 1972), a story that, while clearly featuring Ellery, never in fact names him as the young detective? I asked Mike Nevins, a copyright professor himself, whether he secured a license for that story and his reply was that Frederic Dannay, then the editor-in-chief of EQMM, never brought up the matter one way or the other when the story was accepted by EQMM for publication.

       But back to Sherlock  when you see that new movie, Mr. Holmes, you might reflect on all of this, and what it can take to breathe new life into another author's character.   And think about the "rounding" of Holmes that had nothing to do with Arthur Conan Doyle  particularly Sherlock Holmes as portrayed in the movie and in Mitch Cullin's original pastiche.  As Holmes explains in each, part of his task in telling this story on his own, without Watson as narrator, is setting the record straight, removing the "excesses" of the Watson versions of his stories.  As an example, you will note that Sir Ian McKellen’s Holmes prefers cigars to a pipe. That “rounding” of the famous detective’s character has absolutely no precedent in the Arthur Conan Doyle canon, either before or after 1923. So at least when Sherlock enjoys his cigar we needn't go back to the Holmes canon looking for references that might prove significant for those pesky copyright laws.

       Come to think of it, a similar observation might be made concerning the title of this article.  Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes never once used the phrase "elementary my dear Watson!"

25 July 2015

No Sex Please – We’re Crime Writers!

by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

I write short.  This stems from my comedy writing roots, where each word must be carefully chosen for impact.  So my publishers don’t delete a lot of scenes from my books.  In fact, they usually tell me where to add more words.

With one exception.

There seems to be a convention that crime books shouldn’t contain sex.  Oh, they can refer to sex. Sex can be a powerful motivator for all those violent scenes we are allowed to describe in painstaking detail. (Irony alert here.)

So you can refer to sex. But Lord help you if you – ahem – ‘Show-not-Tell.’

Okay, so I show a bit.  But just a little bit.  I don’t write X-rated, honest.  In fact, I write with the sort of silliness that might be associated with old Benny Hill skits.  So we’re not talking Fifty Shades of Naughty here. (otherwise known as Fifty Shades of Boredom.  But I digress…)

Still, my naughty bits get censored. No sex please, we’re crime writers!

It’s a crime <sic>.  Heck, it’s enough to make a poor gal swap genres. Have you read any steamy romance books lately?  Those novels can be practically pornographic.

When did romance books become more adult than crime books?

I explained to one of my publishers why a certain sexy blackmail scene was essential to the story. It provided motivation that was completely necessary.  So here was their admittedly canny solution:
Leave the dialogue in, but take out the other senses – the sounds, the visuals, the - let’s leave it there.

Yes, it still works.  You get what’s going on by what is being said.

Does it lose impact?  Well, yes.  I work hard to include all the senses in my writing.

But does it work for the plot?  Yes, it does.  It might even be funnier without the senses.

You be the judge.

From THE GODDAUGHTER’S REVENGE, winner of the 2014 Derringer and Arthur Ellis awards:

“Now Carmine, move up front here and pay close attention to this video,” I said. “You might know the people.”

Everyone came closer. You could almost hear each individual breath. Except then I turned up the volume and you could only hear the heavy breathing and moans coming from the laptop.

“Oh Carmy! Do it – do it – ahhhhh”

“I’m doin’ it, babe – I’m doin’ it –“

“Faster, Carmy! Faster – don’t stop”

All eyes were glued to the screen.

“Oh, gross,” said Lou.

“Holy shit!” yelled Carmine. “How did you get that?”

“Carm, that ain’t your wife. Tracy’s not a blond.” Bertoni was confused.

“How the heck is she doing that?” Pete stared at the video with far too much interest.

Has your publisher ever dialed back a particularly sexy scene? Give us the dirt <sic> in the comments below.



THE GODDAUGHTER'S REVENGE (from Orca Books)
at Amazon
at Chapters

24 July 2015

Hunting Tips from the Mafia....with running commentary

by R.T. Lawton

Yeah folks, I know this is still summer time with 3 or 4 months left before regular hunting season, but if you're like the old Kansas City mafia then you know it's best to put some future planning into your hunting endeavors in order to see what the problems are so you can scheme towards a successful conclusion. Let's take a look at an old FBI Title III transcript to see how mob minds work.

Here's the scenario. An agent has surreptitiously planted a listening device in a north Kansas City building used by the local mafia hierarchy. Tape recorders are running. The time is late 1978, about six months after three mobsters (allegedly Nick Civella's henchmen) burst into the Virginian Tavern and shot the three surviving Spero brothers: Mike, Joe and Carl. Mike promptly expired, Joe got wounded and Carl, who fled through a side door when the shooting began, took a shotgun blast to the back and ultimately ended up in a wheelchair. The fourth brother, Nick Spero, had previously been found after taking up temporary residence in the trunk of his Cadillac convertible.

Nick Civella is the Kansas City godfather at the time of this event and his brother Corky is the family's underboss. These two and Tuffy DeLuca, one of the alleged gunmen at the Virginian Tavern shooting, are in the bugged building having a discussion as to what to do about Carl Spero, since he survived the shooting. Hey, planning is everything, unless of course the resulting actions leave some loose ends. In this case, Joe and Carl Spero are leftover loose ends which now require another round of planning.

In the following transcript, The Civellas are focusing their attention on Carl, whose residence is on a remote lot in Clay County, Missouri, where the brush and trees have been cleared away from the house for some distance.

Nick Civella: "Them guys (referring to some of his henchmen) been out to the house. That house is exposed for a mile. You get a car out there on the road. You start, do you say crawl and walk. The guys ain't in that kind of shape." Sounds like too much pasta and cannoli with not enough gym time. C'mon Nick, you're the boss, shape these guys up.

Corky Civella: "Willie's telling me (an apparent reference to a future KC godfather named Willie 'The Rat' Cammisano) he would go out there and sit and crawl and hit him from a f+++++g mile away. I don't see no sense in why the guy can't even try." Just in case kids are reading this post, I cleaned up some of Corky's language from the original transcript.

Nick: "He'd be moving. He's a moving target." Moving? C'mon Nick, the guy's in a wheelchair. How fast can he be moving?

Cork: "What's the difference, f+++++g deer's moving." Deer? Human? All the same to Cork, he figures you just stalk and shoot them.

Nick: "Oh, no, no, Cork. Deers are standing when they get hit." Huh!

The conversation then closes with the following words.

Nick: "Let me tell you something. We've got the best f+++++g bloodhounds in the United States and always did have." I had no idea the mafia used bloodhounds. But, having already equated human targets to deer, Nick has evidently taken the step of anthropomorphizing the abilities of bloodhounds onto his hitmen.

In the end, having concerns about the physical capabilities of their hitmen, plus their accuracy with a firearm over long distances, the Civellas opt to go with a wider range program where the concept of "close" still counts to get the job done. As mentioned in a previous blog, Joe gets blown away with a booby-trap in his storage shed, while Carl and his speedy wheelchair are subsequently ventilated with a nail-bomb shortly upon arriving at his cousin's car lot. Loose ends are now taken care of.

The hunt's over, the game has been bagged and tagged. And, that's hunting mafia style.