21 October 2016

Reflections on Bouchercon New Orleans

by O'Neil De Noux

I've been listening to audiobooks during my commute to work. On a recent morning, I had so strong an emotional response to a story, I almost had to pull over on the interstate. I felt my throat tighten and my eyes beginning to water because a young woman died in the story. Nothing sinister. A fever. There I was, getting choked up about a woman who never existed. Such is the power of good fiction. For years I've been saying the reason we write fiction is to get that kind of reaction. It certainly isn't for money. I've never made much money as a writer. It isn't for the awards, although being awarded by my peers and by readers has sustained me during the dark times when I doubted myself and my writing. American writers are saddled by 'success'. Only the successful writer is important.

How much money did you make? When are they going to make a movie out of one of your books? Why have I never heard of you? (OK, that last one's funny).

Photo of Katrina destruction © 2005 John Datri (used by permission)

Around the time of Hurricane Katrina, when I was at the nadir of my career (before I became an Indie writer and broke away from traditonal publishers who printed my books, opened their back doors and tossed them into the wind to see if they'd fly off bookshelves, then let the books go out of print) I remember looking at my books and the magazines I had stories in and telling myself - at least I wrote "The Heart Has Reasons," which won the SHAMUS Award for Best Private Eye Short Story. At least I wrote that story. It gave me strength.

On the morning I got choked up, I turned off the audiobook as the traffic became heavy and began to reflect on Boucherson. It was my first Bouchercon and the first writer's convention I'd been to since 1992. I don't like to travel. I thought of the highlights of the convention for me - meeting writers I've long admired, meeting the wives and husbands of writers who are the coolest people, meeting editors who have given me guidance and have published my stories, the honor of speaking about New Orleans at the opening ceremony, presenting the DERRINGER AWARDS and attending my first PWA SHAMUS Award ceremony.

Yet, one moment stood out. A brief conversation with Linda Landrigan, editor of ALFRED HITCHCOCK MYSTERY MAGAZINE. She reflected on a story of mine she's published in 2011. She told me she still thinks about "The Gorilla Murders" because of the emotional response she had to the story. That is the highest compliment given to me by an editor, that quiet remark.

Why? Because we write to elicit a response in the reader - emotional or intellectual (even anger). Robert Frost was correct when he said, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader."

So, to my fellow writers, I say there is so much more out there. More stories. More characters. More fevers. We just have to bear down and write the stories. Hopefully, they'll get read. But if they don't - they don't. It's worth every tear.

The audiobook I was listened to is the novel NEW YORK by Edward Rutherford ©2009


20 October 2016

Plus Ça Change Plus C'est la Même Chose....

by Brian Thornton

Full disclosure: this post discusses politics, and might cause some of our dear readers to either clutch their pearls and bemoan the loss of civility, or seek out a Safe Space in which they can curl into the fetal position. If this describes you, feel free to skip it.
Not THIS kind of horse race

Quick show of hands: how many of you have ever heard an election referred to as a "horse race"?

Me too.

Now, how many of you have heard it coming either from a political correspondent or a political columnist, or worse yet, from the lips of one of those paid political "consultants" who litter the landscape of such politics-driven "news" channels as Fox News/MSNBC/CNN?
Not THIS kind of theater

Okay, stay with me, here.

Now, how many of you have heard the term, "political theater"? And this also spoken or written by someone who makes their living shilling for a "political product"?

Yep, yep, me too.

Now for the pay-off.

How many of you are beyond fed-up with hearing nonsense like the above, or suggestions that we "get out the popcorn" for one of a seemingly never-ending string of political debates, during this, the seemingly never-ending campaign season? Or hearing/reading political correspondents talking about how much "fun" it was to cover this or that political candidate?

And then there are the screaming matches-ermmmm-I mean, "political roundtables" all over the above-mentioned channels. The ones where people paid by both sides of any given political issue talk over each other with all the grace and dignity of a middle school food fight (for more of my thoughts on this variety of political animal, click here.).


I mean, I am all for loving what you do, but when political correspondents/pundits begin to talk about how entertaining it is to watch as a democratic republic goes through the laborious task of selecting its next round of leaders, I get nauseous.

Because guess what? This is not a "horse race."

It is not "theater."

It is the admittedly flawed process by which we choose the leadership of the most powerful nation on the planet. And in one particular case, it is how we select the person who will wield the most power any human being has ever wielded. Nukes do that.

If nothing else, the current *UGLY* election season has beaten the notion that this is somehow supposed to be "entertainment" right out of the heads of most sensible people. And go figure, all it took was the nomination of an "entertainer," a reality TV star, by one of the country's two major political parties to forcefully drive this point home to the nation's chattering class.

Nice to get that out of the way.

On the other hand, for those of you bemoaning how terrible this election season is, how unprecedented the coarseness of the candidates, the viciousness of the campaigns, etc., I have one word.


Does Donald Trump, by both deed and word, horrify me? The word ain't strong enough. If he actually had a chance of winning, I'd be truly frightened for our country. I find him despicable, low-brow, class-conscious, image-obsessed, misogynistic, racist, elitist, and even more of an incurious cretin than George W. Bush (Sorry Dubya. Think you're a nice guy and all, but come on...).

But this is America. We don't do anything by half-measures.

And not only has our country nominated candidates equal to Trump's low example in the past, they've been elected and held office!

Don't believe me? Fine. Although examples of campaign dirty tricks and outright fraud (Chicago's Daley machine stealing the 1960 election from Richard Nixon, anyone?) are rife, in American history ("Ma! Ma! Where's my pa? Gone to Washington, Ha! Ha! Ha!" – campaign slogan coined by opponents of Grover Cleveland, referencing his previous acknowledgement of siring a child out of wedlock.). And America has had its share of just plain gross office holders (Another quick example: Cleveland, once in office, married the much younger daughter of his deceased law partner. Said partner named Cleveland himself as her guardian in his will! Yuck.), still, we've managed to transcend them and wind up a better, stronger, more enlightened nation in spite of them.

President Warren G. Harding and the daughter he never knew.
Take Warren G. Harding, who carried on an affair with one of his secretaries, meeting for heated trysts in the White House telephone room, right under the nose of his very jealous, domineering wife. This, when he wasn't busy losing the White House china in back-room poker games!

And when the inevitable happened, and Harding knocked his secretary up, his political handlers bribed her with $100,000 dollars stolen from Harding's campaign fund and sent her on a year-long cruise around the world.

There are other examples, like Thomas Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemmings, and Andrew Jackson's dueling (to say nothing of the running gun-fight he had through the streets of Saint Louis with future Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton, the Trail of Tears fiasco, and so much more. Glad they're finally rethinking having King Andrew–as his opponents dubbed him because of his perceived autocratic tendencies–on the twenty dollar bill. And let's not get started on Mt. Rushmore.). Or how about then congressman Dan Sickels' murder of his wife's lover in broad daylight across the street from the White House, use of the "temporary insanity" defense (the first successful one ever) to beat a murder charge in his subsequent jury trial, only to go on to lose a leg in battle at Gettysburg, and steal the money raised to fund a monument to him on the spot where he lost it?

I could go on and on. But there's one guy in particular who comes to mind as an even more despicable, low-life creep than The Donald, and our country survived his coming and going.

After all, this is the country that once nominated for the office of vice-president a slave-owner who took as his common-law wife one of the slaves willed to him in his father's estate. When she died he took another of his slaves as his "slave mistress" (as if the poor woman had a choice) and when that slave tried to run away, he had her sold at auction and took her sister in her place.

I'm speaking, of course, of Richard Johnson.

Not THIS Richard Johnson-he was a British actor who turned down the role of James Bond that later went to Sean Connery.
THIS Richard Johnson. Vice-President of the United States, 1837-1841
Johnson was so louche, such a nut and such a wild-card, that when his boss, President Martin Van Buren ran for reelection in 1840, he dropped Johnson from the ticket and ran without a running mate.

Bet Mike Pence wishes he could pull that off.

In closing, whichever candidate(s) you support, please DO vote. At times like these, we need to make our voices heard.

If History teaches us nothing else, it ought to teach us that.

And if you actually made it to the end of this post without throwing your hands up in despair and would like to learn more about the quality and scope of previous American adventures in political villainy, feel free to click here and check out my collection of these types of stories, The Book of Bastards: 101 Worst Scoundrels and Scandals from the World of Politics and Power.

19 October 2016

The Night the Old Nostalgia Burned Down

by Robert Lopresti

While working on my recent column on alternate history I was looking at my collection of science fiction and noticed a book that took me back through the decades.  Out of this World, edited by Julius Fast, was published in 1944 which means that, even as old as I am, it was a used book when I got my hands on it, in my father's personal collection.  I was probably around ten and it was already an antique.  The copy I have now is not the one I had then, by the way.  I found it in a used book store a few years ago.  (By the way, Fast edited the book while serving during World War II, using material he found in army base libraries.  He also won the very first Edgar Award for Best First Mystery Novel.)

I have fond memories of this collection of fantasy stories.   There are stories by Saki, Robert Arthur, H.G. Wells, Lord Dunsany, and Jack London to name a few.  But what really knocked me out was my first encounters with the late great John Collier.  Collier was one of the great short story authors, a master of a certain kind of fantasy and mystery. His story "Witch's Money" (not in this collection) is on my list of top fifty crime stories of all time.  There are no witches in it: it's about the disaster that hits an Italian village when a comparatively wealthy American artist moves in.

Running across that book a few days ago inspired me to go looking for another one I found in my Dad's collection when I was at that same impressionable age.  I bought a copy over the web, and the shipping cost more than the book. 

The Pocket Mystery Reader was also published during the war, and in fact, this copy was owned by Sergeant Lawrence E. Hough of the U.S. Army in 1943.  (And I can tell you Sergeant Hough took much better care of his paperbacks than I  do.)

I remember reading my father's copy mostly because I recall Rex Stout's parody of Sherlockian scholarship, his famous speech to the Baker Street Irregulars entitled "Watson Was A Woman."  It's still funny.  So are the essays by P.G. Wodehouse and Stephen Leacock.

This book was my first exposure to Dashiell Hammett and his Continental Op.  ("The Farewell Murder," not one of his masterpieces.)  In fact, while there are tales by Gardner, Sayers, and Woolrich, the only one I remembered from fifty years ago was "The Price of the Head,"by John Russell, which I recalled as being brilliant.  However, I experienced one of the downsides of revisitng a favorite old book: On rereading I discovered it was racist trash.  Apparently my memory wrote a completely different story and attached it to Russell's brilliant ending.

There is a ton of casual racism in this book which reminds me that it was published around the time Rex Stout produced a one-night extravaganza on Broadway just for writers, directors and producers, with the theme "We can't fight racism in Europe and appease it at home."

I was even younger when I ran across the Arrow Book of Ghost Stories.  I thought I read the copy belonging to my sister Diane Chamberlain but she swears she never heard of it.  What I can't forget is "The Wonderful Cat of Cobbie Bean," a lovely tale by Barbee Oliver Carleton.  Cobbie gets a talking cat, which might not be so disastrous except Cobbie lives in Salem at the time of the witch trials...

Another book I dug up because of childhood memories was The Bulls and the Bees, by Roger Eddy.  It's a novel (memoir?) in a series of short stories, narrated by the astonishingly solemn voice of a child growing up in the twenties.  His father is a stockbroker and the boy's hobby is buying a single share of stock from different companies.  He has no idea he is "investing."  He thinks he's just buying interestingly engraved paper.  This leads to a crisis after the Crash in 1929.

This has gone on too long.  Maybe next time I will talk about childhood favorites I bought my daughter when she was a kid.

But what books call to you from your childhood?  And if you reread them was it a joy or a disappointment?

18 October 2016

Not Just Words

by Barb Goffman

The now infamous tape of Donald Trump bragging about how, as a celebrity, he can get away with anything in regard to women has resulted in thousands of articles and social media posts about sexual assault and sexual harassment. One article I read recently has stuck with me. It addressed how men often think sexual harassment isn't such a big deal because they don't realize how often it happens, and that's at least partly because, from a young age, girls are taught to de-escalate situations. Downplay things. Laugh them off. Ignore them. Harassment is so common, we don't talk about it until things get really bad. Until we are physically assaulted. Until we are raped.

The article suggested that women should talk about the harassment that happens to them regularly so it won't be hidden in the shadows and good men will see what we put up with. That is what I'm going to do now. This is a list of every incident of sexual harassment (or worse) I can remember in my life, and my memory isn't that good. You may think that everything on this list isn't sexual harassment, that's it's minor stuff, no big deal. At the time of some of these incidents, I would have agreed with you. But now, looking back, I think they are. They all add up to rape culture.
  • At age 6, a boy offered me twenty-five cents to look up my skirt. 
  • At age 9, my sister's boyfriend exposed himself to me. (Me and a bunch of other people. This happened at camp, and my sister wasn't there). The guy was 18 or so, and the rest of the group members were around his age. I don't know if he was thinking about me when he did it, but I was there, and I did see his penis, and I was nine years old.
  • In the fourth grade (age 9 or 10), the boys in my class regularly rated the girls on a 1-10 scale. The day I was listed as a zero, I wanted to crawl through the floor and die, though I pretended I didn't care.
  • Also in the fourth grade, I'd just rode my bike home from a friend's house and was on the driveway, walking toward our garage. A man drove up to the edge of our driveway and called out the window to me. He'd found a puppy and was looking for the owner. Did I know anyone who had lost a puppy? I said no, sorry, and walked inside the house. When I told my mom about the lost puppy, she ran outside, but the predator was gone. I didn't believe her back then when she said the man had been hoping I'd come to his car window to see the puppy so he could snatch me. I believe her now.
  • In my first year of junior high (age 12), we girls learned to always wear shorts under our skirts because you couldn't walk down a hallway at school without a boy lifting up your skirt.
  • When I was 14, I was traveling alone on a plane. A man sat next to me and said, "So, you're my sex buddy for the trip." His wildly inappropriate talk continued throughout the flight. I tried my best to ignore him. I wanted to tell the flight attendant, to make him go away, to change seats myself, to simply make it stop, but I didn't because I feared I wouldn't be believed. He was a grown-up, and I was just a kid.
  • When I was 16, I participated in debate club activities. One weekend at an event at another school, my boyfriend showed up for the Saturday night activities. He got angry with me when I wanted to spend time with him because he wanted to flirt with other girls. But then when I cried (literally) on another boy's shoulder, someone saw, and for days (weeks?) thereafter his friends taunted me at school, accusing me of being a slut.  
  • When I was 16, I went on a double date. My boyfriend and I split off from the other couple (one of his friends and one of mine), and we ended up in the backseat of the car. Things got a little steamy, but no clothing below the waist was removed. Yet his friend proceeded to lie and tell everyone at school that the car was literally rocking and I was a whore. I protested the lie, but I figure people believed what they wanted to believe. My boyfriend was no help with this matter.
  • When I was 16, my boyfriend's friends bet him that they could all get me to have sex with them. Instead of standing up for me with them, he got angry with me, beginning one of several periods where he put distance between us, making me feel as if I'd done something wrong, even though I'd done nothing.
  • When I was 17, my boyfriend said I looked like a slut every time I wore a particular sweater (and it wasn't even revealing). I never understood why he hated that top, but he got upset each time I wore it. Eventually I put the sweater away. (And yes, it was the same guy in all these incidents. Why I put up with all that crap is an entirely different column.)
  • When I was 18, I worked as a proofreader at a local newspaper. It was summertime and hot, and I was young and naive. I wore shorts to work one day, and I had to walk through the press room to get to my desk. So many men ogled me that I stayed at my desk the rest of the day so I wouldn't have to pass them again. I had learned my dress-code lesson.
  • The summer I was 19, a house down the street was being renovated. I had to walk past the construction crew multiple times. The foreman paid me compliments. The first time it felt nice, but each time thereafter it felt creepy. One day after the renovation was over, I spotted the foreman sitting in his van outside my house, staring at the front door. I hid inside, waiting for him to leave. After a while, I called a male friend, told him my situation, and asked if he'd come over, thinking it would make the guy in the van leave. But my friend refused, telling me I was being a drama queen. But in my gut I knew if I went outside, I'd be in danger. The construction guy sat in his van outside my house for hours.
  • When I was 22, I walked past four clearly drunk guys. They called rude comments after me. I was afraid and humiliated. I didn't turn around. Didn't say anything. I just walked faster and faster until I got home and locked the door and ran to my room and closed that door and closed the curtains. Then I curled in a fetal position on my bed.
  • When I was 27, a man in an outdoor coffee shop exposed himself to me. I gave him a dirty look, and he left. I wish I'd screamed or made a snide remark or something, but there was a little part of me that was afraid he might hit me or something. I also feared that I wouldn't be believed. (There have been several other stranger-exposure incidents over the years, but I'm blanking on the details right now.)
  • That same year a guy in my law school class told me I had "the biggest breasts he'd ever seen." I felt so conspicuous and self-conscious and humiliated. I told a good male friend about it. He said I was getting upset over nothing.
  • When I was in my early 30s, a cable-repair guy groped me in my apartment. I had an issue with the small TV sitting on top of a dresser. He told me he needed me to hold the TV while he stood behind me, adjusting ... something ... to ensure the TV wouldn't fall. As I was doing that, he felt me up and ground his pelvis into my backside. It happened so fast. I was so surprised and humiliated that I jumped away but let him finish the work. I'm still not sure why. I guess I was in shock and didn't quite believe what had happened. A couple of years later, the cable company called me to see if I'd ever experienced any issues with this particular guy. They must have received many complaints from many different women. Probably a lawsuit. I told the caller that nothing had ever happened. She told me it was okay, that I could tell her if something had happened, but I lied and said it hadn't. I was an attorney. I was a grown woman. I knew I'd done nothing wrong and should have told the truth. But I was humiliated that it had happened and that I hadn't reported it immediately, so I pretended I hadn't been groped.
  • When I was 40 or so, while walking outside my local supermarket, a car drove past and a teenage boy leaned out the window and called me a whore. 

These are the major incidents I recall. This list doesn't include any of the demeaning and humiliating things people have said in my earshot and directly to me all my life about my weight, including a mean comment from an adult man--a stranger--straight to my face when I was 11 years old. This list also doesn't include things that have happened in business settings (condescending interruptions and things of that nature). And the list excludes an uncomfortable incident that happened at a mystery convention a few years back--something that wasn't sexual or violent, but it was physical in nature. I don't want to go into the details of that incident except to say I don't think it would have happened to me if I were a man. I would guess my female friends all have had many experiences like mine. I would bet my male friends largely have not.

I know that many people have experienced far worse things than I have. Rape. Beatings. Other forms of violence. I'm grateful I haven't experienced direct harassment at work as so many women have, being asked to expose themselves in job interviews or being told that sleeping with the interviewer or boss was required to get or keep the job.

In a way I'm quite fortunate that my list is short and tame. It makes me uncomfortable to even mention some of these things because they probably sound like no big deal. But that would be de-escalation, which is what I'm trying not to do here. (To read the article that sparked this column, click here.)

This is the world we live in as women. This is why it's disheartening and degrading to hear anyone characterize Donald Trump's remarks on that bus as "just words." Those words are a part of a culture in which some men feel entitled to grope women, to expose themselves, and to do far worse things. It's a culture in which women often feel scared and humiliated and violated.

It's a world that needs to change for all our sakes.

17 October 2016

The Big Shift

by Janice Law

I recently finished reading Jo Baker’s excellent Longbourn, a novel that focuses on the downstairs folk of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In the Baker novel, the great events of Pride and Prejudice, a crucial ball, the arrival of the oh-so-eligible Mr. Bingley, Mr. Collins’ visit, and Lydia’s elopement are but incidentals to the unseen workers of the Austen novel.

The Hills, Sarah and Polly and the soon-to-be added footman, James, have their own dramas and their own concerns, not to mention an enormous amount of work – pumping and carrying water, doing laundry, emptying chamber pots, building fires, making bread and soap, not to mention preparing and serving the daily meals and generally waiting attendance on their “betters”.

This is a novel long overdue and really enjoyable. Very nice, you say, but what does that have to do with mysteries? On reflection, a fair bit, because published exactly 200 years apart (1813, 2013) the novels neatly illustrate the evolution of story telling from a moral to a psychological focus, as well as a shift in focus from the gentry class to the world’s workers.

The downstairs characters in Longbourn are fully drawn in the modern sense with an emphasis on their psychological states and on their responses to a rigid social system. We get glimpses of their youth and childhood, and instances when sick or injured, their minds reach altered states. There is nothing comparable in Pride and Prejudice, where many of the same human passions are filtered through the author’s rational and satiric mind and served up in the most elegant terms for the dual purpose of comic effect and moral lesson.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Longbourn which does a fine job with the workers of the household, is much less successful with their employers. Mrs. Bennet is probably the most convincing. Her backstory of painful pregnancies and deliveries fits better with the grueling realities of domestic service before mod cons. Elizabeth Bennet, by contrast, is almost unrecognizable, most of her rebellion and spark having been gifted to the novel’s heroine, the overworked but indomitable Sarah.

Given the difficulties of merging the two worlds, Austen may have been clever to leave the domestics of the Bennet household well off stage. Events that could be treated as comedy– or retrieved with a good deal of money like Lydia’s elopement – would certainly end in tragedy down in the kitchen.
After many semesters of teaching Austen, much of this did not surprise me. What I did find unexpected was, that despite the modern style of Longbourn, the characters of the newer novel were ultimately no more complex than Austen’s. Yes, we get more of their emotions, we get their sexual lives, and a broader canvas altogether, but they are not necessarily more complete and multisided for all that.

This is particularly true of the male characters. James and Tol, Sarah’s two suitors, are both too good to be true, while Wickham, charming but dishonest and corrupt in Pride and Prejudice, is a potential child molester in Longbourn. The greater depth of characterization in this case has led to characters who are less morally complicated.

Characters, it turns out, can be complex and fascinating in ways quite different from our current style, and there is no better example than that the chief of all detectives, Sherlock Holmes, who is much closer to an Austen character than to a modern detective. He has a brother with whom he is not close. He is prone to depression and overly fond of the 7% solution of cocaine. He is rude to everyone but not without sympathies up and down the social scale, and he is obsessive about all manner of abstruse topics.

What he dreams, fears, desires, remembers – these are absent, along with any personal entanglements such as bedevil every proper modern sleuth. And yet, he is by far the most famous of fictional detectives, cited and quoted and imitated and parodied. One of his cases gave a title to the best selling – and theatrically successful, The Incident of the Dog in the Night, and one of his comments heads a chapter in The Emperor of All Maladies, a biography of cancer of all things. He shows no signs of going away, nor do Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple, who share some of his characteristics.

Will any of our many fine detective and mystery protagonists rise to a similar iconic status? Are there simply too many of them? Or is psychological completeness and complicated personal life somehow against them? Perhaps Sherlock was successful because he was like a great theatrical role, waiting to be inhabited by our imaginations, a child not of psychology and melodrama, but like the best of Austen’s young women, of the robust rationality of the Enlightenment.

16 October 2016

The Girl on the Train

by Leigh Lundin

When weighing novels versus the movies made from them, books almost alway win. This wasn’t the case with Paula Hawkins’ recent The Girl on the Train. In an exceedingly rare decision, I liked the film slightly better than the book. Depending upon which reviews you read, I may be in the minority. IMDB gave the film 6.7 out of 10 whereas Rotten Tomatoes gave it a splattering 44/56 out of 100. Notice I didn’t say the movie was better, only that I liked it slightly more. I may have responded to the broader target audience of the movie– the original chicklit was unapologetically geared toward women.

Coming out of the theatre, I felt unusually conscious that the novel shaped my perception of the film. Knowing I couldn’t ‘unread’ the book, I wondered how newcomers to the story might view the film. A top review on the Internet Movie Database surprised me:
“… it seemed like an interesting mystery compounded by the black-out memories of the main character and I was anxious to solve it. As it progressed it became apparent that she was truly off kilter due to mainly drinking so it was very confusing. Without revealing the end, it should be noted that this is truly a sicko story filled with dysfunctional people all selfishly pursuing their libidinous desires. Each one cares not for the rights or feelings of others so multiple people get irrevocably hurt. I don't comprehend how anyone can come up with a story like this or would want to. … I remained till the end in the hopes of some redeeming quality…”
Yikes! Was this really how others saw it?

Flicklit v Chicklit

The Girl on the Train
My opinion derives from a masculine standpoint. As I remarked in my earlier commentary about the book, it contained enough internal dialogue to fill two Dr. Phil shows and most of an Oprah season. By omitting much of the introspection, the celluloid artists created a tighter, faster paced plot.

But don’t skip Paula Hawkins’s book; Rachel’s aching situation will break your heart, not to mention you’ll miss a virtual treatise on alcoholism. The final pages of the novel contain a shocking moment the film failed to pull off.

I had grumbled about the director resetting the story in New York for American audiences. An article in The Guardian complained a bit too, but not vociferously. Setting aside that quibble, the casting was well done– the women, their men, and even Detective Riley. She’s terrifying in a nun-with-a-ruler way, but someone you’d want on your side.

Taking Advantage

Movie makers enjoy advantages novelists can’t employ and you see some of that art in the film such as the jiggling, slightly out-of-focus camera when poor Rachel is inebriated. Like the book, the movie kept the train theme seen often in the background.

But theatres can have disadvantages too. Two biddies behind me (biddies in my mind– I didn’t turn around to strangle them) maintained a whispering commentary for those who might not know where the plot was heading. “She’s a blackout drunk, see, and that bitch, she’s actually having an affair, and oh my, that one had an affair too…”

This Film is Rated Я

Not only am I baffled by comparisons to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, I'm also flummoxed by the R rating. To be sure, there was a tiny bit of skin at one point, far less than anything seen in a Kardashian photo spread. It's possible the R was handed out for the modicum of blood-letting.

Frankly, it's pretty tame stuff and I hazard the average high school student could handle both the book and the film without fainting.

Improper Prop

A fragment of one scene jolted me and in discussing it, I'll avoid giving away a plot element. The novel mentions a wine bottle opener. In my mind, I pictured a combination knife/corkscrew sometimes called a waiter’s opener, fashioned like a pocketknife with a helical screw and a blade for cutting the seal.

That’s not what the prop department decided upon when they came up with the simpler and much less efficient corkscrew. I found the result jarringly awkward and not as realistic as it could have been.

Have you seen the film? Have you read the book? What is your take?

15 October 2016


by John M. Floyd

An-tho-pol-o-gy: The study of various aspects of writing stories for books that include the work of several different authors.

Okay, I made that up. There's no such word. But maybe there should be.

I like to tell my students that there are two primary markets for the short stories they write: magazines and anthologies. Personally, I tend to explore magazine markets first, because some anthologies are receptive to reprints, and I like to get double duty out of my creations--but anthos can be profitable also, in both payment and exposure. And recently I've found myself sending a fair number of my stories, original and reprints, to anthologies. (There are actually four markets out there for short stories: (1) mags, (2) anthos, (3) self-publishing, and (4) collections of your own stories. I've not yet self-pubbed anything, but I have had five collections published, plus a sixth that was released this past week.)

Besides the fact that there are anthos that take reprints and those that don't, there's another distinction that should be made. (1) Some anthologies send out "calls for submission," where writers can submit stories for consideration in much the same way they would to a magazine market, and (2) some anthologies hand-pick and invite certain authors to contribute stories. A few anthos do a little of both: they invite a few specific authors and they also put out a call for unsolicited work.

As a writer, I've recently placed stories in anthologies that I "auditioned" for after being told they were seeking submissions (examples: the Blood on the Bayou Bouchercon antho, We've Been Trumped by Darkhouse Books, etc.) and I have other stories uncoming in books that I was asked to contribute to (examples: a Private Eye anthology by Down & Out Books and a horror antho by a Bram Stoker-winning editor I've worked with before). And sometimes even that can be a combination of processes. I submitted an unsolicited story to editor Tom Franklin for Mississippi Noir (Akashic Books) that didn't fit his guidelines (it was a reprint, which was stupid of me), so he asked me to send him an original story instead, which he accepted and included in the book. Writing and publishing, as I've said before, is a strange business.

NOTE 1: One advantage of anthologies that issue "calls for submission" is that there's always a deadline. The stories have to be sent in by such-and-such a date because the antho needs to be published by such-and-such a date. And that sometimes-narrow window of time automatically cuts out part of the competition, and ups the odds for acceptance/inclusion. Some writers won't even be aware that there is a call for submission until it's too late to send a story in, and even those who do see it and are interested might not have a story available (or enough time to be able to produce one) that fits the guidelines.

NOTE 2: I'm not talking here about annual "best-of" anthologies like Otto Penzler's Best American Mystery Stories. When your already-published story winds up being selected for and reprinted in one of those, that's great, but that's also pretty much out of your control. I'm talking more about anthologies that either request stories from certain writers or choose from the unsolicited submissions of others.

The best situation, obviously, is for the editor to contact you and ask you to submit a story. It's flattering, it involves no marketing effort, and when it happens you can be fairly certain that your "solicited" story will be included. But the funny thing is, even though I'm always honored to be asked to contribute to an anthology (who wouldn't be?), I'm also one of those odd folks who find it harder to conform to someone else's idea for a story than to dream up an idea of my own. So when the theme/mood/genre of an anthology is very (sometimes too) specific, I often find it more difficult to write a story that I'm satisfied with. Don't get me wrong: I do it. And I work on it until I am satisfied. But I still think it's easier to come up with my own ideas, make up stories from those ideas, then search for matching markets than to create stories with the pre-set themes and ideas of others.

What are some of your experiences and opinions on all this? Do you actively seek publication in anthologies? If so, how do you find them? Have you always been able to squeeze through the submission window in terms of time and story-theme? Are you often asked by an editor to contribute to an antho? Have you ever turned down such a request? Do you find it easy to write a story-on-demand? Have your published stories ever been selected for some of the "best-of's"?

On the subject of Best American Mystery Stories, let me again congratulate my SleuthSayers colleagues Rob Lopresti and Art Taylor on making the newly-released 2016 edition of B.A.M.S.--Good work, guys! (And I noticed that R.T. Lawton, David Edgerley Gates, and I managed to make the "close-but-no-cigar" list in the back of the book, this time. It's not the Top 20 of the year, but it's the Top 50; when I saw my story in the list, my head swelled until I had to adjust the strap on my baseball cap.)

Since I seem to be wallowing in self-congratulatory mode, I have another announcement: my latest collection of short mystery fiction was released on October 10, with a launch at Lemuria Books here in Jackson, Mississippi. It's hardcover, thirty stories, 352 pages, 90,000 words, and titled (appropriately) Dreamland.

And yes, a few of the included stories previously appeared in . . . anthologies.

I'm not an anthopologist for nothing.