05 September 2015

Fresh Starts

by Art Taylor

As many of you know, Art Taylor is a busy and talented guy. He has won two Agatha Awards, a Macavity, and three consecutive Derringers, and has twice been a finalist for an Anthony. His work has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Washington Post, Mystery Scene, and many other publications, and one of his short stories (along with stories by our own Rob Lopresti and David Edgerley Gates) was named in the “Other Distinguished Mystery Stories” list in the upcoming Best American Mystery Stories 2015. His novel On the Road With Del & Louise will be released in September. This guest post is his first column for SleuthSayers, and he’ll come on board permanently next month. Please join me in welcoming him! —John Floyd
 

First of all, thanks to John for the introduction here and the invitation to join SleuthSayers—and to everyone here for the warm welcome!

The title above—"Fresh Starts"—gives a nod toward this post being a debut and not simply a guest outing, though there's more to it than that, drawing on thoughts sparked both by where I'm at right now (more on that in a minute) and by my forthcoming book On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, which was the occasion of being invited for a guest post here in the first place. In the process, maybe there are some useful reflections ahead on the novel in stories as a form or on craft generally.

As I'm drafting this post (always draft, always revise), it's the first week of the semester at George Mason University where I teach—and these first weeks of school have always held a magical sense of new beginnings, not just as a professor now but hearkening back to my own earliest school days, new classes, new teachers, new subjects—usually new clothes too, trading out well-worn shorts for a couple of pairs of stiff Levi's. January 1 may be the time for resolutions, but to me, late August and early September have always felt like the true start of a new year. And though the soon-to-be-falling leaves might suggest for some a turn toward dying and death, autumn itself always fills me with a sense of possibility and of anticipation.

As a writer, I tend to think generally in terms of narrative, I guess—possibilities, plot points, the arc of a storyline—even as I reflect on my own life. So memories for me are grounded not necessarily by calendar year or birthdays ("I was eight when....") but by school year: This happened in kindergarten, this in fifth grade, this my junior year of high school, this my freshman year of college.

Maybe other folks are somehow dominated by seasons too with their stories, whether autumn or others: holiday tales and traditions; sordid spring break or spring fling stories; or those summer romances that generally fade with the return to school. How many freshmen college students have just recently had tough talks with their high school sweethearts? And if they haven't already, many of them surely will soon. More adventures to be had ahead, more thrills, more heartbreak, more everything.

I've been thinking of "fresh starts" too with my book coming out in a little less than two weeks—and not just because it's my debut (of sorts; I've been writing a long, long time, after all) or because the title characters, small time crooks trying to go straight, talk time and again (and again) about the need to make a fresh start themselves. More to the point, it's because the novel is structured as six short stories, each with its own beginning, middle, and end—a concept that's already caused some trouble. Isn't it a collection then? because a novel is....

Short response to question/confusion: Each short story does offers its own fresh start, sometimes timed with the fresh starts that the characters are trying to make, and its own independent resolution, but together the six stories tell an overarching, evolving story of this couple's search for stability and for each other and for a sense of family and a place to call home—longer, stretchier narrative threads.

But even with that short response, I recognize that there are more possibilities for readers to stumble (one early Goodreads review complained about my "chapters" being so long) and there are aspects of such a structure that all us writers should consider as well with such a project: pacing, of course; the overlap between an individual story's narrative arc and the large story's broader arc; and—to keep circling back—the trouble of the "fresh start" for each component story.

Years ago, a friend of mine sent a manuscript for me to review—a terrific story overall, characters in crises both internal and externals, plenty of conflict, no lack of drama, but I was concerned about how the chapters always ended on a note of resolution, relief, calm. Some writers try too hard to close each chapter on a cliffhanger (need to get the readers to turn the page!), but this was the extreme opposite, and I suggested very simply that she just break up the chapters differently, slide those chapter breaks back a little on the interweaving narrative arcs of plots and subplots—makes those breaks somewhere in the rising action rather than always after the falling action.

Stole this from the internet; my own arcs would be more like a mountain range.


Del and Louise get in plenty of trouble—both with one another and with others: a series of house break-ins against a recession-addled real-estate market; plans for a wine heist; a hold-up in a Las Vegas wedding chapel, etc., along with their continuing struggles to connect, stay connected. But with each story, I was trying to draw some resolution to the tale at hand (real estate robberies, wine heist, etc.) before making those fresh starts in new directions, even as longer, larger conflicts persist.

I hope that I paced it out OK. I can't help but wonder about the potential side effects of the breaks that result by these being stories. They could look like chapters, couldn't they? And how would that work?

I can't help but think of real life, of course, as I'm maneuvering through the fictional troubles of my characters. A friend of mine told me not long ago that he needed a break from everything: job troubles, relationship troubles, other troubles—and that was the word he kept coming back to: "break." So I asked him whether he meant "break" in terms of a "taking a break" (a vacation, for example) or in terms of "making a break"? ...meaning making a break with some bad choices, bad plans, bad circumstances. There was, I pointed out, a difference.

A renewed you and a new you are two different things as well. As Louise in my book says about another character, "He couldn’t get away from who he was, I thought—then realized maybe none of us could."

New Year's resolutions, the optimism and anticipation of a fall semester's first week, the opening paragraphs of the next in a set of linked stories—even that friend's sense that catching his breath might help recharge him to deal with lingering troubles.... I keep wondering if "fresh starts" are generally illusory, arbitrary—just a matter of shifting that "section break" to a different place in the ongoing narrative.

In real life, we hope not, of course! Unlike Louise's doubts, I remain optimistic about the possibilities for change: those resolutions, that renewal...even redemption. And I hope all that for my friend, always.

But in fiction, of course, it's the conflicts we crave—continual almost, a heap of grief. For Del and Louise, each new opening fortunately leads to the next round of conflicts—life as an escalating set of troubles.

Circling back, circling back again...and having said all that, I've got high hopes for my own new beginnings here at SleuthSayers, of course! May all my essays and reflections here go smoothly—saving any challenges and conflicts for my fictional creations, out there on other pages.

Looking forward to chatting and interacting with my fellow blog mates and our readers on future posts!



04 September 2015

Creativity: The Dark Side

by R.T. Lawton

Webster's Universal Encyclopedic Dictionary (2002)
     creativity: the ability to create
     creative: 1~ marked by the power or ability to create
     create:  4~ to produce through imaginative skill

For a writer, creativity is a good trait to have. It helps him write a short story, a novel, a poem. With imagination and the ability to create, almost any author has the potential to become published. Blessed with enough creativity, a writer can distinguish himself from the pack and climb to the top of the pyramid. He or she can become a best-selling author.

But with criminals, there is an additional definition from that same dictionary which they find useful for their purposes.
     creative: 3~ managed so as to get around legal or conventional limits

For some criminals, it is this third definition that makes them into successful law breakers, while others get so caught up in their supposed genius ideas that they fail to realize some of the flaws in their thinking and thus end up spending time in a grey-bar hotel. A poster boy for this latter group is the person mentioned by Eve Fisher a couple of months back in her blog about prison conditions. Eve referred to a prisoner who stated that whenever he walked into a room, he knew he was the smartest guy in the room. Eve's comment in reply was that the bar wasn't set very high.

Based on the above two paragraphs, it appears that the good trait of creativity also has a dark side. To look into this situation, various researchers set up studies to evaluate the subject of creativity. While examining the relationship between creativity and personality, researchers Silvia, Haufman, Palmon and Wiggert found that those with lower levels of honesty and humility reported more creative accomplishments and also reported engaging in more creative activities. Who knew? At this point, more research was called for.

one sample of Visual Perception Task
Researchers Gino and Ariely then tested to see if creativity increases dishonesty. Turns out it did. They constructed and ran five different tests. Using a visual perception task, the study participants were asked to count the dots contained on both sides of a line which divided a square into two equal triangles. The number of dots could vary in different samples.

Participants were told they would earn a certain amount of money for choosing the left side triangle as having the most dots, but would earn ten times the amount for choosing the right side triangle as having the most dots. Clearly, the left side triangle had the most dots in fifty of the one hundred samples. In the other fifty samples, some of the dots were clustered closer to the line in order to make the count more ambiguous as to which side contained the most dots. In the ambiguous samples, the participants could more easily "misconceive" the number of dots contained in the right side triangle and thus earn more money. And, those participants who had been tested earlier and found to have more creativity were also found to have a higher level of "misconceiving" the number of dots on the right side.

The result of Gino and Ariely's second study showed that creativity is a better predictor of dishonesty than was intelligence. Thus, I guess, just because you're smart doesn't mean you are also creative, and conversely just because you're lower on the IQ scale doesn't mean you don't have a creative ability.

Their third study showed that people who enter a creative mindset were motivated to think outside the box and this is what led to increased levels of dishonesty. Their fourth study went a step further and showed that the creative mindset led to a justification for their cheating which led to their increased levels of dishonesty. Their fifth study went out into the real world with surveys to employees across seventeen departments. In those departments requiring more creativity in their jobs, the participants disclosed they were more apt to respond to proposed scenarios in an unethical way in order to benefit themselves.

Bottom line: It looks like creativity tends to help people work out original ideas to get around rules by letting them interpret information in a way to benefit themselves while rationalizing their actions. Sounds like most of the characters in my stories, not to mention the criminals I met while working the streets.

Anyway, getting back to authors, I'm going to assume all you writers out there are those creative people on the honest side. As for myself, well, several years ago Rob Lopresti did me a computer software favor and I promised to buy him a beer. Now, here we are three Bouchercons down the road and I still haven't bought him that beer. I could justify my lack of action by saying that I heard Rob doesn't drink, and somewhere in the back of my mind I do think I heard him say something to that effect, but then maybe I'm merely being creatively dishonest. Therefore, to slip into a more creatively CYA mindset, I will now go on record as offering to buy Rob the beverage of his choice at the Raleigh Bouchercon. This offer does not include Dom Perignon. I can't really slide that one past my tax accountant, seeing as how he seems to get a little funny at tax time when he looks at my expense receipts.

So remember my motto: Given enough time, I can explain anything. They just need to give me enough time.

03 September 2015

Serial Offenders

by Janice Law

Like most mystery fans, I have my favorites, characters I willingly read about time and again. Indeed, what lover of the genre wouldn’t like just one more Sherlock Holmes story or another vintage appearance from Lord Peter Whimsy or Adam Dalgliesh? Familiarity breeds contentment for the reader. The writer is another breed of cat.


Writers enjoy variety, new challenges, new plots, new directions, and perhaps for that reason even wildly successful mystery writers have sometimes had complicated feelings about their heroes and heroines. Demands for another helping of the same can arouse a homicidal streak – of the literary sort. Thus Conan Doyle sent Holmes over the Reichenback Falls and Henning Mankell gave Wallander not one, but two deadly illnesses. Agatha Christie wrote – then stored– Curtain, Poirot’s exit, at the height of her powers, while Dorothy Sayers, faced with either killing off or marrying off Lord Peter, mercifully opted for the latter. He was never the same in any case.


first POD for Anna. My design
During my career, now longer than I like to mention, I’ve twice created serial characters, each begun as a one off. Anna Peters was never projected to live beyond The Big Payoff and my second novel used other characters entirely. Alas, Houghton Mifflin, my publisher at the time, was not enthralled, and the new novel was destined to be unlucky. Bought by Macmillan – or so I thought – the deal fell through when the entire mystery division was folded.

Back to Miss Peters, as she was then. Nine more books followed. They got good reviews and foreign translations and sold modestly well, although not ultimately well enough for the modern publishing conglomerate. I did learn one thing I’ll pass on to those contemplating a mystery series: don’t age your character.

Sure, aging a character keeps the writer from getting bored, but in five years, not to mention ten or twenty years down the road, you’re getting long in the tooth and so is your detective. Poor Anna got back trouble and was getting too old for derring do. I was faced with killing her, retiring her, or turning her into Miss Marple.

I chose to have her sell Executive Security, Inc. and retire ( some of her adventures are still available from Wildside Press). I imagined her sitting in on interesting college courses and wondered about a campus mystery. But I was teaching college courses myself at the time, and a campus setting sounded too much like my day job.

Wildside edition,
last Anna Peters
For at least a decade (actually, I suspect two) I stayed away from series characters. I published some contemporary novels with strong mystery elements and lots of short stories. I liked those because I didn’t need to love the assorted obsessives and malcontents that populated them. I just needed to like them enough for 10-14 pages worth.

Then came Madame Selina, a nineteenth century New York City medium, whose adventures were narrated by her assistant, a boy straight out of the Orphan Home named Nip Tompkins. Once again, I figured a one off, but a suggestion from fellow Sleuthsayer Rob Lopresti that she’d make a good series character led me write one more – pretty much just to see if he was wrong.

That proved lucky, as she has inspired in nine or ten stories, all of which have appeared or will appear in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Thank you, Rob. However, there is a season for all things, and having explored many of the key issues of the nineteenth century with Madame Selina and Nip, I am beginning to tire of mysteries that can be wrapped up with a seance. That, by the way, gets harder each time out.

What to do? I’m not so ruthless as to kill off a woman who’s worked hard for me. But as she’s observed herself, times are changing and the Civil War, so horrible but so conducive to her profession, is now a decade past. As you see, I learned nothing from my experience with Anna Peters, as both Madame and Nip have continued to age.

I don’t think I’ll marry her off, either, although she knows a rich financier who might fill the bill. Instead, I think I’ll let her sell her townhouse and retire, perhaps to one of the resorts she favors, Saratoga or, better because I know the area, Newport, where she will take up gardening and grow prize roses or dahlias.

As for Nip, I’ve already picked his profession. Snooping for Madame Selina has given him every skill he needs to be a newspaperman in the great age of Yellow Journalism. Will the now teenaged Nip show up in print again?

We’ll see.

02 September 2015

Alien Fires

by Robert Lopresti

Two weeks ago my family cruised across Washington state to Spokane to attend Sasquan, the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention.  It was quite an experience, not least because it was the first such con to be held in the middle of a federal declared natural disaster.  On the way out through what has never been more accurately described as the Dryside of the Evergreen State we were listening to NPR.  The announcer came on and, quite out of the usual calm public radio persona, announced "The towns of Winthrop and Twisp are being evacuated.  If you are in Winthrop or Twisp head south immediately." We were already one hundred miles south.  That was the day three brave firefighters died.

The night before this I realized that I was coming down with a cold so, hoping to spare my car-mates my germs, I picked up a box of paper masks like the one above.  Little did I know that I had scored the most popular fashion accessory in Spokane that weekend. All the members of my group were wearing them and people were asking where they been acquired because the city was sold out.

This is what the view from the Conference Center is supposed to look like:

And here is how it looked on Thursday afternoon just after I left a panel on climate change:

My first thought was, jeez, the panel was convincing enough without the visual aid.

But this is supposed to be a blog about crime fiction, so I want to concentrate on the difference between the mystery fan world and the science fiction fandom, which is larger and has been around longer.  You will notice that some of these differences relate to each other (especially to the first)..

* The median age at a Worldcon is much younger than at Bouchercon.
*  There is much less emphasis on books.  I would estimate that at last year's B-con seventy percent of the energy (panels, special events, etc.) went into fiction with ten percent going to true crime including forensics), the same amount to media (film and TV), and ten percent to other.  At Worldcon I would estimate forty percent was about fiction.  The rest was scattered among real science, media, gaming, art, costuming, etc.
* Speaking of costuming… At B-con you will see a few trenchcoats and fedoras, some deerstalker hats, and occasionally a woman dressed for tea in St. Mary Mead.  But at any given moment at Worldcon at least twenty percent of the crowd was in costumes ranging from full Boba Fett armor to fairy princess complete with wings to a simple set of wolf ears poking out of one's hair.
* Free food is much more plentiful at Worldcon.  In orbit around the main hospitality suite were rooms for gluten-free/vegan, nutfree, kosher, and simply overflow (That's where the hot dogs were turning on rollers.)
* They have tech problems just like us!  I walked out on one panel because there were no microphones and I couldn't hear a thing.
* The swag bags are much better at B-con.  There you expect to find free magazines and half a dozen books you can swap at the multiplying freebies tables.  Nothing like that at Worldcon.
* A few times a year (like B-con and Edgars Week) the mystery writers and readers turn into a community.  But science fiction fandom is a culture, all year round.  There were actually workshops on the history of fandom, to help newbies get on board, and separate discussions of what should be collected now so that fen (SF people like their deliberate alien-y misspellings) in the future will have a record of fandom in the dim distant past of 2015.

And speaking of culture, every family has its feuds and this year a big one broke out.  Next time I will talk about that, and some of the panels as well.

01 September 2015

Introducing Sleuth Magazine

by Melissa Yi



There’s a new mystery magazine in town. Comes from that country with just two seasons, winter and mosquitoes.  Got some scorching hot writers who already won some awards, like them Derringers, Arthur Ellis Awards, Hugos and Nebulas. Thought I’d go check it out.

First I caught the editor. 

What made you decide to start Sleuth Magazine?

Editor Constantine Kaoukakis: I am a mystery fan, and I realized there isn't a mystery magazine published in Canada.

Publisher Diane Walton (President of the Copper Pig Writer's Society): Canada needed a magazine that could showcase home-grown writing talent.

Constantine:  However, our magazine accepts and publishes stories from any country as long as it is in English.


What kind of stories are you looking for? How did you choose the authors and stories for the first issue?
Constantine: I am looking for interesting stories that are original yet have some sort of mystery element.

Diane:  For the first issue, we invited authors that we knew could deliver a good story, but if and when we open to new submissions, it will be to anyone who wants to send us something.
Basic need is for a compelling tale of mystery or suspense, with engaging characters.

Do you have any funny/challenging stories about putting together the first issue?

Constantine: It was more work than I imagined, but I love it. I am proud of the first issue. I would like to thank our sister magazine On Spec for help.

Diane: We were fortunate to have a great designer to put the final product together in time for our launch.

Subeditor Barb Galler-Smith: I was very impressed with the two stories I helped to edit. Made me think I should try reading and writing some mysteries, which I haven't read since I was a callow youngster! It was a joy!

How will future issues be different?

Constantine: We could be including artwork. Hopefully, we will have a print version of the magazine depending on sales. At this point, I am hoping that there will be future issues. 

Diane: We want Sleuth to be self-supporting--without depending on grant funding. So we'll need revenues from subscribers, advertisers, and generous benefactors to make this happen.

How can we help Sleuth Magazine and other mystery markets thrive?

Constantine: We need to get the word out. We need more exposure. The more people buy and read our magazine, the better chance we have to continue publishing.

Diane: Word of mouth is our best friend, so when you read something you like, simply tell all the like-minded people in your network.

Constantine: Our first issue is in digital form, only $2.99 and filled with mystery short fiction by mystery writers. Please go to sleuthmagazine.ca to buy a copy of the magazine in pdf, mobi or ePub.


I hunted down a few of them writers. Not too hard. They like to talk.

Give me a few words about your story.
Melodie Campbell: I decided this was the perfect opportunity to introduce a concept for a humorous new series. To quote Del, the protagonist: "You've heard of The A Team? Vietnam vets turned vigilantes? They had a television show a while back. We're not them. We're The B Team. Maybe not your first choice, but dammit, we could be your best choice. We're women with a mission. We deal in justice, not the law. Sometimes the law lets you down. We try to rectify that."

Melissa Yi: Whenever I write a mystery, I’m always asking the question, Could I commit murder? And if so, why?
Edgar-nominated author Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith asked me to write a story about janitors as a class assignment. They were trying to shake me up because superficially, maintenance doesn’t have much in common with my day job of emergency medicine. But we’re alike under the skin. The title THE WAR OF THE JANITORS sprang to mind, and I immediately fleshed out a story about janitors trying to sabotage each other in a school seething with jealousy.

SG Wong: My short stories are all set in fictional Crescent City, and they always centre on a character other than Lola Starke (the protagonist of my novel series set in the same world). THE FIX takes place years before the action in DIE ON YOUR FEET (Lola’s debut) and revolves around her father, Butch Starke, and his beginning as a studio fixer.

Axel Howerton: It just so happened that I was looking for an excuse to try something with a new character, mixing true crime and hardboiled/noir elements in a short story set in early 50's L.A.—so I gave it my damnedest and GOODNIGHT IRENE is the result. I wanted to do something dark and nasty, in the noir mold. It's kind of an homage to James Ellroy.
My story’s main character, Moe Rossi, is the oft-mentioned grandfather in my book, HOT SINATRA. Moe is already dead by the events of the book. I really wanted to do something with him to flesh out his legend.

Tony Stark: In my tale, Watson must find his son's Afghani mother when the boy shows up on the doorstep of 221B Baker St. In the course of the story, Watson reveals in more detail the circumstances of his military service in Afghanistan. He and Holmes also crack a ring of antiquities smugglers and human traffickers to boot.

Would you recommend working with Sleuth Magazine?
Melodie: A new, paying market for mystery fiction? And it's Canadian? What's not to like? (grin) I'm delighted and honoured to be in the first issue.

SG: Full disclosure: I’m friends with many of the editors who work on Sleuth, as well as the publisher. Even so, I absolutely recommend working with Sleuth. They are intelligent, seasoned editors who have a real passion for mystery/crime writing, and work respectfully on accepted submissions. Also, they pay decent rates for stories and are unstinting cheerleaders for their authors. What’s not to love?

Melissa: I had a terrific experience with Sleuth Magazine. They paid promptly and worked hard to edit the story. I’m excited to join the inaugural issue with my fellow interviewees, as well as Mike Resnick, EC Bell, and Tyner Gillies. The cover is bang on its genre. I even like the POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS kind of font for the title and the page footers. I only wish I could’ve joined the launch in Calgary!

Tony: Yes, I would thoroughly recommend Sleuth magazine. The editors are first rate and everyone at the publication is dedicated to the art of mystery writing.

Axel: I loved the experience in working with Sleuth, especially with my amazing editor Barb Galler-Smith. In fact, I'm hoping to be able to help out a little more behind-the-scenes to help keep Sleuth alive and kicking. There are precious few venues left for Canadian crime fiction, or crime fiction in general, so something new like Sleuth needs to be protected and given space to grow and mature into its potential—and with people like Melissa Yi, Melodie Campbell, S.G. Wong, and Mike Resnick gracing the pages, it has tremendous potential indeed!


Huh. I get it.
Dark and nasty women.
Ghosts.
Holmes.
Grandpa.
Killer janitors.
But mostly dark and nasty women.
For just $2.99.
I better go track it down.



31 August 2015

Trouble with a Capital T

Jan Grapeby Jan Grape

I don't know why, but it gets more difficult for me to get to the SleuthSayers site or our Sandbox. What I get most of the time is a message that says that page is not available. or that site is not available. Or I get my name and it says I'm unknown, even though I'm signed in on google blog. It sometimes takes me 30 to 40 minutes just to figure out how to get here.

I'm still having to use my tablet as I couldn't  get on site at all with my laptop. I really got screwed up by downloading Windows 10. Do not do it until you have to unless you are a computer nerd or guru. This seems to be a more recent development. I used to have a hard time but finally found a easy path, but since you guys made it accessible to phones, etc. I've had this trouble. The first time I tried my regular way it wouldn't  work. Then I stumbled onto the secret. Then last night and today none of that worked. However, finally, a few minutes later I stumbled onto a new way. OK, enough whining. I don't even have any cheese to go with.

I suppose life is supposed to hand you lemons now and again. That somehow teaches us to learn how to make lemonade. But does it help in writing?  In many ways it does. I heard an author say once that he didn't trust a writer under forty-five. He did not think a writer had enough experience in living life to qualify as a good writer. 

Do you think that might be all wrong? Or does it make sense to you? I can agree in some way. Not only life experiences come into play, but I think your writing improves with age. That doesn't necessarily mean "your age."  I'm  also talking about writing maturity. I personally began to realize after I'd been writing for a few years that my writing changed about every six months or so. It got stronger, better as I learned the craft. As I learned how to develop stronger, more realistic characters. Also as I learned more natural sounding dialogue and how to create tension. You don't have to age chronologically, but your writing matures if you keep writing daily or at least every few days.

The chronological age can help also. Yet some people have life experiences at an age earlier than others. A loss of a parent or a sibling. A family's loss of a good job, changing the family 's economic standing. A young woman or young man dealing with abuse, emotional, physical or sexual can certainly make life experiences change. Sometimes the person has to grow up and learn to deal with life at an early age.

In that respect, I don't necessarily agree with the author who said, not to trust any writer under 45. I can also see a person's age can bring about a maturity of writing about life as in real life. 

In reality I don't  think you ever grow to full maturity with your writing. And some folks never grow up emotionally.  As a writer I think it is a lot of fun to keep growing and as an older adult I think being grown-up is much more trouble than it's  worth. I think I'll  just stay a kid a few more years.

30 August 2015

Rocky King: Murder, PhD

by Leigh Lundin

With this, the fifth and final in our Rocky King, Detective series, we’ve brought you the five examples available in the public domain. UCLA archives contain about two dozen more episodes salvaged before a disingenuous lawyer destroyed DuMont’s film library, virtually erasing collective memory of the pioneering broadcaster and its teleplays.

In this episode, you may wonder about the haunting blues harmonica that starts off as a nice touch but grows slightly tedious. It’s not used as filler in the ordinary sense. Besides giving organist Jack Ward a break, the jail cut-scene serves a purpose: a staged transition giving actors a chance to rush to their next location, sometimes on a different floor of the DuMont Tele-Centre in Manhattan. The harmonica/jail insert at the four-minute mark gives Roscoe Karns time to jog from the domestic setting of his house to meet Detective Sergeant Lane (Earl Hammond) in their office. Imagine writers and directors forced to not only plot a viable story, but to plan for actors reaching their scenes in time as designated cameras went live.

Mistakes were inevitable, although this episode is relatively free of errors. As we saw in an earlier episode when a picture fell off a wall, things sometimes went wrong during live presentations. Falling props and scenery were not uncommon. Not only did scenery problems afflict the early 1949 BBC broadcast of Miss Marple, the murdered victim rose and walked off the set in the middle of the broadcast.

Tip back your chair and watch how crime stories appeared in homes in the nascent days of television in this episode titled…

Murder, PhD
broadcast: 1953-Dec-13


in which a possibly innocent man is due to be executed in 180 minutes…