02 September 2014

How To Handle The Naked Suspect

By David Dean


Not Your Typical Naked Suspect
The subject of this blog was suggested by a Facebook posting of our SleuthSayers brother, Rob Lopresti, in which he published a quote regarding the difficulty of arresting a naked woman.  I responded that I could testify to the truth of this statement; various witticisms were exchanged as you might imagine.  However, as a result, I warned Rob that he had planted the germ of an idea in my near-arid brain for an upcoming article.  I can picture his rather distinguished brows rising in alarm when he sees this title; Rob's thinking running along the lines of, "No...he didn't...he's not really going to write about...poor, needy bastard, so desperate for readers that he stoops to this--a literary sidewalk barker for imaginary lap dancers.  Pitiful!"

Sadly, Rob would be correct if these were his thoughts, at least the part about being desperate for readers.  Of course I'm desperate, Rob!  For God's sake I'm a writer!  However, I wish to set everyone's minds to rest about the following content: I have rated it R for mature, though in some sections it is I for the opposite.

There comes into the life of every police officer (sooner or later; rarely or often) the naked suspect.  This is not a subject extensively covered (stop snickering), if at all, in the police academies of our nation.  Mostly, they arrive unannounced and unexpected, much like Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition, "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!"  Well, the police rarely expect the naked suspect.  You may wonder how professional police officers, like myself, know when a naked person is a suspect.  The answer to this is generally straightforward--when they are naked.  Once a naked person is spotted in a public venue, the police go on high alert--this is not normal behavior.  There are many motives, causes, and M.O.'s, ranging from youthful hi-jinks and drunkenness, to drug-induced euphoria and psychosis.  On a much more serious note, sometimes they are not suspects at all, but victims, but I will not be addressing this aspect in what I intend to be more light-hearted blog.     

I can offer several personal examples of encounters with the naked suspect: It would sometimes happen during a busy summer night at the Jersey Shore, that a naked person, like the proverbial deer, would appear suddenly in the headlights of our marked unit.  Sometime a herd of them.  It was equally possible, though much more rare, for it to occur during daylight hours, as well. 

Making a sweep of the beach in the wee hours before dawn might also reveal people who, through a series of events seemingly beyond their control, had also divested themselves of all clothing.  It appears that, for some, the salubrious sea air loosened the shackles of convention, rendering clothing irrelevant.

Typically, our reaction to such phenomenon was not as enthusiastic as one might expect.  Think about it--is there any dignity left to the officer who arrests the naked suspect?  I think you may know the answer to that if you think about it.  You've only to picture yourself tackling a naked dude, or gal, in view of dozens, if not hundreds, of on-lookers.  And then what?  Do you normally carry around a casual-wear wardrobe in the trunk of your car?  Note: We did carry blankets in the trunks of our patrol units, though not specifically for the purpose of clothing the naked.  May I also direct your attention to the question of why, when carefully considered, you would wish to handle a sweaty, naked stranger when you have no idea where he/she has been?  And though Hollywood would have it otherwise, naked folk are not always attractive--at least to others.  They often find themselves quite lovely, hence the paucity of clothing.  In one long-running affair, we had a senior citizen who felt his nakedness on the beach, or while swimming, was something no reasonable person could object to.  He was no Jack Lalane, nor was he destined for a leading role in adult cinema.  Oddly, many beachgoers did object, especially small-minded mothers and fathers with young children.  As I once pointed out to him, "This is not France, buddy."

In another instance, when responding to a complaint of a noisy party in the wee hours, we were confronted with an array of naked suspects.  It appeared that an all-female pool party was in progress, sans swim-wear.  After a lengthy surveillance to ensure that no actual crime was in progress, we revealed our presence and quickly restored order--one of the less painful encounters of the naked sort, that I had so far endured.  Caution rookie officer: this was an exception, not the norm for the naked encounter!  Most will make you cry out, "Oh dear God, no!  My eyes...my eyes!"  At the very least, you can expect to question the wisdom of your last meal.

The aforementioned blanket may, in fact, be your best defense against the naked suspect.  Here is a technique you may wish to remember: Summoned to a domestic, my partner and I were confronted with a fully clothed husband, and a completely naked wife.  She was a very angry naked wife.  She was also very drunk and drugged-out, and using their bed as a trampoline while hurling all available objects at us, screaming, "Don't touch me!"  The EMT's took one look and said, "We'll wait outside with the ambulance."  My partner and I looked at one another and shared a single thought--blanket! 

With panther-like grace, he leapt onto the still-quaking bed, seizing her hand in a reverse-wrist take-down and bringing her face-down onto the mattress.  There we proceeded to quickly roll her into the top cover like a cocktail sausage.  It was not dignified, but it was effective, and resulted in the least amount of handling possible in the circumstances.

Edvard Munch's "The Scream"
Some naked suspects, as you can see from the previous example, want to fight.  As the person is clearly not armed in most cases, the option of deadly force is rendered moot.  Pepper spray is not, however.  A naked guy who feels like his face is on fire should rank highly among things you don't want to experience in this, or any other, lifetime.  Picture Edvard Munch's "The Scream," (helpfully provided) and you have some idea of the result.  Yet, the naked perp has even more to fear from the officer who's aim has been thrown off by his assault.  Should the pepper spray find other exposed areas, the suspect may feel he has been transported to a realm far beyond the understanding of mortal man, a place reserved exclusively for those condemned to the seventh ring of hell; the final stop for the violent.  There, his previous understanding of agony will become transcendental, achieving a kind of satanic ecstasy.  Do not envy him this knowledge.

So there you have it, dear readers--a smattering of knowledge and ideas on handling the naked suspect--ideas and knowledge that I pray you never have to use, or have used on you.  Nakedness is a wonderful thing if you're centerfold material, or still south of three years old, but for the vast majority of us clothing remains the most appropriate option.  Take it from someone who's seen far more than he ever wanted to, a clothed world is a prettier world.  So until next time--keep your pants on and your hands to yourself.  Still good advice in an uncertain world.



                                

01 September 2014

Meet My Character Blog Tour

Jan Grape
by Jan Grape

I've been tagged and invited by my friend, Paul D. Marks, Shamus Award winning author of White Heat, to join the Meet My Character Blog Tour. Each author who is asked writes about their character answering questions on their blog, then tagging one to five other authors to join. Not only do you find out about interesting or intriguing characters you also learn a little about an author. One you might not know anything at all about, you also promote your work and their work on your blog and then they promote it on their blog site. It sounds like fun so I agreed to be tagged. I think it would be best if you contact the person you plan to invite to see if they will agree. Also you can only invite one person if that's what works best, but it's going to be more fun if you at least invite two or more.

Paul recently posted his and you should check it out: www.pauldmarks.blogspot.com
Paul's website is: www.pauldmarks.com

Here goes:

1. What is the name of your character? Is he or she fictional or a historic person?

My Austin Policewoman is named Zoe Barrow. Barrow is my maiden name and I chose it to honor my late father. She is fictional but a little of several female police officers that I met while attending the Austin Citizen's Police Academy. Austin was one of the first cities to have an academy for citizens to learn about the police department and understand  a bit of how they worked and the problems they faced. Most of the people who attended were folks who were going to be watch captains in their Neighborhood Watch Programs and were held back then out at the Police Academy. The classes were held once a week for ten weeks, each program was one and a half long with a break, then another one and a half hour and taught by either the head of the department or the second in charge We had classes in Bunko-fraud, Firearms, Robbery-Homicide, Fingerprints & Ballistics, Sexual Crimes, SWAT, Victim Services, District Attorney, etc. We took a field trip to police headquarters to see all the division offices and to learn about Fingerprints from their AFIS computer, automated fingerprint identification. We saw how weapons and firearms and bombs were handled. We saw how the K-9 unit worked, watching the dogs work, outside on their training grounds. One of the final classes before we got to ride with a patrol car for a full eight hour shift was the Firearms Training Simulator aka FATS. These were "Shoot, Don't Shoot" scenarios, a video of a person plays on the screen and you have a laser gun. The person can be a good guy or a bad guy and when the action starts you must shoot or don't shoot by whatever the action is. I did quit well until my last scenario and I shot a guy in the butt. The patrol ride was especially enlightening as the officer never know when getting as call what can or will happen. We went to an abandoned Winnebago type trailer on a neighborhood street. A dog was tied up outside. The officer I was with made me stay in the patrol car while he checked the place out. No one was in the trailer but there could have been and someone could have come out shooting. My officer had given me instructions on how to operate the vehicle's radio if he got shot and needed help. Many of my readers have asked if I ever was a police officer after reading AUSTIN CITY BLUE the first in the series. I never have been, but besides the Citizen's Academy training, one of my officer friends read and vetted my manuscript.

2. When and where is the story set?

Guess I pretty much answered this in the previous answer. Austin, Texas in the present day.

3. What should we know about him/her?

Zoe is dedicated to her job and to helping people. She works with other officers who are also dedicated and their main object is to keep their city safe. Austin is a great place to live but I have to admit since I first wrote these two books, ACB and DARK BLUE DEATH, Austin had grown by leaps and bounds. The police department has undergone many changes. I hope most of them are to help the citizens and police to work to keep crime and the bad guys out of our city and that we have a safe city that is as safe as possible. I have a huge respect for our law enforcement officers and I do understand a tiny portion of what they deal with every day, every hour.

4. What is the conflict? What messes up his or her life.

At the beginning of the book, Zoe has had to shoot a suspect. She didn't know it at the time but he is the gang-banger who accidentally shot her SWAT officer husband, Byron Barrow, in a drive-by shooting. Byron took the bullet in the head. It didn't kill him but left him in a vegetative state. He resides in a nursing home. She has to try and deal with the Internal Affairs Division who sound as if she knew this suspect and killed him out of revenge. Then she has to deal with the guilt of killing a young man.

Her personal conflict, is in dealing with her husband and the semi-coma state that he is in. How she visits him almost daily, talking to him, but he doesn't answer back. (This relationship was my tip of the hat to my friend Jeremiah Healy, who's private eye character, John Cuddy goes out to the cemetery and talks to his dead wife.) Besides dealing with her work and her husband Zoe meets a man who is a private investigator that she's somewhat attracted to but she still feels married although everyone including the doctors tell her that for all practical purposes her husband Byron is dead.

5. What is the personal goal of this character?

Besides trying to resolve her guilt and deal with her husband.  A friend of her father-in-law asks her help because he thinks his wife is trying to have him killed.  Dealing with the pressures of her job each day she's just trying to survive it all.

6. Can we read about this character yet?

Both of the Zoe books have been published, AUSTIN CITY BLUE and DARK BLUE DEATH are
in hardcover from Five Star/Cengage. They both were published in audio form from Audiobooks. They're available in libraries and in some mystery bookstores. I'm trying to get them formatted to e-books so more people can read them since they are out of print. ACB was also published in paperback and you might find copies in a used book store. I'm hoping one day to finish the third in the series, BROKEN BLUE BADGE. After my husband passed away, I had a number of health problems and am only now getting back to writing again. I'd like to finish that Zoe book and sorta wrap things up for Zoe Barrow, Austin Policewoman.

7. A stand alone mystery that I had published, also from Five Star/Cengage is WHAT DOESN'T KILL YOU. The main character is Cory Purvis.  A sixteen year old girl who lives with her uncle in a very small town in west Texas. (think not far from Big Bend.) She and her friend who is half-white and half Native American find the body of a young woman who had been a classmate of the two. The dead girl is in an old abandoned mansion which is supposedly a haunted house. The dead girl is naked and tied up. Almost immediately Cory discovers her friend, TyTy had a brief sexual with Vickee the dead girl and he is put in jail for the murder. Cory doesn't believe TyTy killed the girl and she goes against her uncle and the county sheriff and tries to find out who did kill Vickee.  Although the heroine is only sixteen, this is an adult book, not for very young people due to explicit language and scenes.

This book may be available in mystery bookstores also.

(A note regarding the FATS system you can look online and find short videos on YouTube showing some of the training the officers get.)


My plan now is to invite Fran Rizer, Bill Crider, Alafair Burke, Jinx Schwartz, Kaye George. I haven't had a chance to get in touch with any of these authors so please excuse me if it doesn't work exactly. But I will include them in my next blog time.

31 August 2014

An Homage To Poe

by Louis Willis

After struggling with the article on the colon, I once again turned my attention to the stories in the anthology The Dead Witness and selected “Arrested on Suspicion” by Andrew Forrester because the author pays homage to Poe. The narrator explains, “Of course I do not wish to hide from the reader that I was trying to copy Edgar Poe’s style of reasoning in this matter; for confessedly I am making this statement to show how a writer of fiction can aid officers of the law.”
In his brief introduction to the story the editor discusses the public’s attitude to detective stories, and the publication of the stories in “yellowbacks,” cheap magazines similar to the penny dreadfuls. Naturally, I had to see what the “yellowbacks” looked like. To Google once more I went. 






 Since the anthology was compiled in 2012, I assumed the editor also had access to Google. I therefore was somewhat skeptical of his claim that he couldn’t verify the  author’s birth and death. He also claims, “Andrew Forrester was a pseudonym employed by an important early writer whose real name is lost.” I looked up Andrew Forrester on Wikipedia. His actual identity was unknown until recently when a story of his, “A Child Found Dead: Murder or No Murder?” was discovered, reprinted, and published as “The Road Murder” under the name J. Redding Ware (1832-1909). He was a writer, novelist, and playwright, and created one of the first female detectives. He was apparently one of those writers whose works didn’t survive into the twentieth century, for I couldn’t find any of his books on the Project Gutenberg site. I did find on Google Play a book of stories, The Female Detective, that he edited.  
“Arrested On Suspicion” is a puzzle story with echoes of “The Purloined Letter” and Poe’s essay on ratiocination in the beginning of “Murder in the Rue Morgue.” John Pendrath, the narrator/protagonist, must free his sister Annie who has been arrested on suspicion of shoplifting a blue-stone ring. He employs Poe’s method of ratiocination to identify and catch the real thief or thieves. John refuses to give the reader his profession, but he apparently has some pull with the local police because he requests and is given an officer to help him catch the real thieves. Could he be a “writer of fiction?”
The arrest is a case of mistaken identity. Shortly after Mrs. Mountjoy moved in the apartment above John and Annie, he saw a blue-stone ring on Annie’s finger. Annie couldn’t afford to buy such a ring and certainly wouldn’t steal it. Mrs. Mountjoy’s  daughter, Mrs. Lemmins, sometimes visits her and looks enough like Annie to be her sister. Because of their strange behavior, John suspected Mrs. Mountjoy and her daughter were criminals from the day they moved in. He suspects Mrs. Lemmins stole the ring, and Mrs. Mountjoy gave it to Annie.
The puzzle has two parts. In the first part, John must find the piece of paper containing the message that Mrs. Lemmins sent to Mrs. Mountjoy in a laundry basket. John doesn't help the officer search the room because  he needs to hunt “with his brains.” To get into Mrs. Mountjoy’s mind, he sits in the same chair she occupied when she heard the officer coming up the steps.
In the second part, he decodes the message, which is written in criminal slang, to determine the criminal duo’s next move. With charts inviting the reader to try his or her hand at what, for John, is a simple code, the decoding takes up most of the story. Since I don’t normally like puzzle stories because I’m not very good at solving puzzles, I didn’t accept the invitation.
 “Arrested on Suspicion” is a nice example of an early writer following Poe’s rules. For me, not knowing how the theft was committed was a little disappointing.

30 August 2014

Why Writers Drink

By Melodie Campbell

“Recent studies show that approximately 40% of writers are manic depressive. The rest of us just drink.” (I sold this to a comedian during my comedy writing years.)

THE ARTFUL GODDAUGHTER launches this Monday on Amazon, Kobo and in bookstores.
This is the third book in the Derringer and Arthur Ellis Award-winning comedy series about a reluctant mob Goddaughter who can’t seem to leave the family business.

As it happens, I also finished writing the 4th book of the trilogy <sic> this week.  I am now in that stage of euphoria mixed with abject fear.  Here’s why:

Below are the 8 stages of birthing a novel, and why fiction writers drink.

THE STAGE OF:
1.  JOY – You are finished your manuscript.  Damn, it’s good!  The best thing you’ve written, and it’s ALL DONE and on deadline!  Time to open the Glenlivet.

2.  ANGST -  You submit manuscript to your publisher.  Yes, even though they’ve already published 5 of your novels, you still don’t know if they will publish this one.  Will they like it?  Is it as funny as you think it is?  Is it garbage?  Glenlivet is required to get through the next few days/weeks.

3.  RELIEF - They send you a contract – YAY!  You are not a has-been!  Your baby, which was a year in the making (not merely 9 months) will have a life!
Glenlivet is required to celebrate.

4.  ASTONISHMENT – The first round of edits come back.  What do they mean you have substantive changes to make?  That story was PERFECT, dammit!  They got the 15th draft, not the 1st.  Commiserate with other writers over Glenlivet in the bar at The Drake. 

5.  CRIPPLING SELF-DOUBT – The changes they require are impossible.  You’ll never be able to keep it funny/full of high tension, by taking out or changing that scene.  What about the integrity?  Motivation? And what’s so darn bad about being ‘too slapstick,’ anyway?  This is comedy! 
Can’t sleep.  Look for Glenlivet.

6.  ACCEPTANCE – Okay, you’re rewriting, and somehow it’s working.  Figured out how to write around their concerns.  New scene is not bad.  Not as good as the original, of course (why couldn’t they see that) but still a good scene.  Phew.  You’re still a professional. 
Professionals drink Glenlivet, right?

7.  JOY – They accept all your changes!  YAY!  All systems go. This baby will have a life. 
Celebrate the pending birth with a wee dram of Glenlivet.

8.  ANGST -  Are they kidding?  THAT’S the cover? 

Melodie Campbell drinks Glenlivet just south of Toronto, and lurks at www.melodiecampbell.com.  To be clear, she loves the cover of The Artful Goddaughter (Orca Books).  




29 August 2014

Quen's Comic Caper

By Dixon Hill

Here on SleuthSayers we've often discussed the difficulty of getting published, particularly when it comes to a novel or book manuscript.  So, I thought it might be nice to mention a venue that's helping young, or "new" writers sell their work.

The idea for this article occurred to me while reading Leigh's post, on Sunday.  I realized, then, that I ought to tell you about something my youngest son, Quentin, recently accomplished.

The first printing of his new comic book series sold-out, last week.

Now, don't get the idea that my eleven-year-old writes for DC Comics, or something.  Or that he sold hundreds of copies.  He created his comic book using a pencil on printer paper, then ran off five copies, which he stapled together in book format, gluing a strip of paper over the staples to protect his readers' fingers.  But, he also convinced a local comic book store to carry them on a trial basis, pricing the books at $1.00 each.  And, as of last Saturday, all five had been sold!

Frankly, I was surprised, but not by the fact that he sold some comic books.

This wasn't the first time Quen has written and sold comic books, after all.  It is, however, the first time he's sold them through a store.  In the past, he sold his books to his friends, and sometimes to neighbors (door-to-door).  Primarily, though, he relied on my wife to sell them at her office.  There, company execs, eager to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit in a young kid, insisted on paying $5 to $20 for each copy.

My wife and I were happy to see Quen's excitement, the first time this happened.  And we were grateful to those executives.  We also assumed that if our son continued trying to move his comics through my wife's office, those execs would soon tire of the game and quit buying them.

Quen, meanwhile, seeing the much greater profitability of using my wife as his sales agent, wrote more comics for her to sell at work.

Madeleine took them down, she and I both thinking our son would probably get a useful lesson in the economics of "diminishing returns."  But those execs surprised us.  Instead of thumbing their noses at buying more comics, they began to offer double-the-money if Quen would sign the comic books they bought.  When my wife balked at the idea, one man told her: "Hey, I think it's worth it.  I mean, if he's doing this at nine, he might be the next Warren Buffet by the time he's forty.  If that happens, a signed copy of one of the first items he made and sold would be worth a fortune! Might not happen, but let me take that risk."

As time went on, though the asking price remained flat, the purchase prices -- set by execs who refused to by them for less -- skyrocketed.  Quen was doing Cheeta flips!

We, on the other hand, were a bit worried.  The payment received for one comic book had been $50.00.  Where would it all end?  And what was our son learning?

Until that point, I'd been giving Quen printer paper from my computer without charge, and letting him use pencils we purchased for his school work.  Consequently, his gross basically equaled his net, meaning there was no incentive for saving or reinvesting in his operation.  He spent the money on Legos about as fast as he made it.

Now Legos aren't a bad investment for an eleven-year-old, but -- as long as he was in business -- I wanted him to learn a few business lessons.  At the same time, my wife grew concerned about a potential boomerang effect at work, due to my son's comic book sales there.

So, being the cruel ogres that we are, we announced: (A) Quen would have to purchase his own comic book supplies in the future, and therefor needed to hang onto some of his income from previous sales if he intended to continue in the business, and (B) My wife would only sell comics for him, at work, twice a year, in order to alleviate her concerns about the potential for folks to get upset with her about constant sales.

Quen took it pretty well, all in all.  For an eleven-year-old who had already made over $300 on comic book sales, that is.  Twice a year, he created a new comic and had my wife sell copies at her office. And, the purchase prices held pretty steady.

Then, I took him to a comic book store near our new apartment.

Pop Culture Paradise, located across University Drive from Arizona State University, isn't much to look at from the outside.  And, inside, it's still not terribly prepossessing in my opinion.  The store sells comic books -- both new and vintage -- as well as sci-fi knick-knacks like Dr. Who lunch boxes or action figures, and role playing game paraphernalia:  Magic the Gathering cards, Dungeons and Dragons handbooks and action figures, a ton of multi-sided dice, that sort of stuff.

They hold game tournaments there, too, just about every evening, often lasting into the early morning hours.  My sons played Magic the Gathering there once or twice a week, over the summer, and Quen got to know the shop fairly well. So did I, as I idled away time waiting for him to be sure a game was being held on some particular evening, or waiting for him to finish playing before I drove him home.

And we both noticed something.

The shop has a section of shelves devoted to original manga and comic-style artworks painted or drawn by local college artists, as well as comic books made by similar folks.  Many of the comics are printed on glossy paper, using services available through the internet: The artist pays a fee, emails the comic pages to the printer, and they print them up and ship them to his home.  Some of the artwork is original, while others are prints of the original; I have no idea how they produce the prints.

These locally produced artworks and comics sell for pretty good prices at Pop Culture Paradise.  A comic might go for $1.50 to $5.00, and a painting or print might be priced from $15 to $50, with a few art works going for much more.

Quen asked me if I thought they might carry his comics as well.

I told him I didn't know,and asked him why he wanted to sell them there.  I figured I knew, but wanted to see what he was really thinking.  He explained that he wanted to sell his comics in stores, and this might be a way to do that.  I reiterated that I wasn't sure they'd take his comics, but encouraged him to give it a shot.

He considered it over time -- probably two or three months -- mentioning that his drawings probably weren't good enough.  I suspected they didn't measure up, but explained that I really didn't know; if he wanted an honest answer, he'd just have to ask the owner or a manager.

Frankly, I can't even draw stick figures.  So I thought Quen's comic books weren't bad, for an eleven-year-old.  However, I figured an employee would probably turn him down, pointing out his spelling errors, and a lack of quality in his drawings, hopefully while providing tips and suggestions my son might benefit from.  At the very least, I figured Quen would learn something from the experience.

Quen made five copies of a new comic and asked for my input.  I gave it my best shot, but explained that I really don't know much about comics, not having read any since I was a kid -- except for his, or those of my older son.  Quen also asked me whom he should approach at the shop, and how he should do it.  We discussed these and other issues, and role-played potential approaches and conversations so he could get a little practice.

When we got to the store, and finally stood before a manager, the man looked at me.  I turned to Quen.

Quen stared at me, unsure what to do and looking quite nervous.

"Explain what you're here for, Quentin.  You're on buddy."

Quen had practiced saying: "I've been a customer here for a while.  I buy comics and other stuff, and play Magic here too.  I saw that you sell comic books made by local artists.  I make comic books and have sold some to neighbors and at my mom's work, and I wanted to see if you would agree to carry some of my comics in your shop.  I made five copies of a new comic book I just invented, called Pie Man.  It's supposed to be sort of funny.  It's like Bat Man, but he doesn't dress like a bat; he dresses like a pie."

Unfortunately, after I said, "You're on buddy," Quen got as far as: "I'm your customer."

Then he stopped.  I suspect the enormity of what he was trying to do simply overwhelmed him.  His mouth hinged open and he began stammering, "Uh ... uh ... uh..."

"He's made some comic books," I said.

Quen recovered then, nodding his head.  "Yeah.  I made five copies.  It's called Pie Man.  It's brand new.  It's all my idea.  I thought maybe I might be able to sell them here, 'cause I saw that you sell comics made by local artists."

The manager's eyes lit up.  "Let's see them!"

The guy looked them over, then looked at Quen.  "I like what I'm looking at here."

He must have seen the look on my face, because he turned to me and said, "It's rough, but a lot of people like this sort of rough comic book art.  It looks like he just used a pencil -- Did you use a pencil? -- That's what I thought.  It's got a pretty good look, to me."

He turned to Quen.  "What we do, when we get a new comic artist who comes in and wants to sell his books here, is this:  we ask him or her to donate a few -- these five would work.  We take those five and put them on the shelves.  If they sell, then maybe we'll start buying from you."  He looked at the cover.  "Looks like you want to price them at a dollar each.  Is that right?"

"Yes."

"Well, if you're willing to donate this first batch of five, I'll put them on the shelf with our other local comics, and we'll see if they sell.  If they sell pretty fast, we'll probably start buying them from you.  Are you willing to take the risk?  You won't be paid for these first five.  Is that okay with you?"

Money had been mentioned!  Suddenly Quen was in business mode.  His ears pricked up and his face firmed.  His jaw sort of squared-off. "If they sell, then you'll start buying them from me?"

"If they move pretty quickly, yes.  If they sit around for months, probably not.  If I put them out tonight, and they're all gone in the morning, and your dad's not the only one who bought them, then we'll be happy to buy them from you in the future.  But, it's a new comic, so that's not going to happen.  People don't know it and they have to decide how much they want to read it.  We'll have to see if they sell, and how long it takes.  Then we'll talk.  Okay?"

He then went on to make suggestions about how Quen might improve his next issue, saying he should use a straight edge to create the boxes that housed his pictures, and write more clearly to help the reader follow the story more easily.  He broke out some professional comic books and pointed at what he was talking about, to illustrate his points as he spoke.  Quen leaned forward, peering closely, nodding from time to time.

And I was thrilled!  He was getting the input I'd hoped for, and they were going to put his comics on the shelves!  He wouldn't get paid, but the response had been much more positive than I'd been expecting.

The next afternoon, when Quen and I visited the shop and saw his comics sitting on sale beside others, I think we both had to pinch ourselves.  But, the real shocker came when we last visited, and saw that all five were gone.  They'd been sold!

Now, Quen is prepping for his potential sales discussion.  He's asked me questions about percentages and things like that.  I can't wait to see what happens next.  And I thought you guys might enjoy the story, and like learning that places such as Pop Culture Paradise still exist.

See you in two weeks!
--Dixon

28 August 2014

Jalepeno Culture

by Eve Fisher

So I was watching the morning news and there was a commercial where two guys walk into a fast food joint and see the sign for a Double Jalepeno burger.  With, of course, lots of cheese.  And they smile at each other, order one each, and life is bliss.  My husband, who has an Irish stomach, winced.  Myself, I was thinking, that's American cuisine today:  you want flavor with that?  Here's some cheese and hot peppers. What more do you want?

Not the burger, but
I don't want to get sued.
That's what we're known for.  Cheese and hot peppers.  Slathered all over everything.  The cheese runs thick on the tongue, smothering most of the taste buds.  The hot peppers add shock value.  Cheap, filling, and one hell of a lot less trouble than actually, say, making a mole sauce, or a bechamel.  Although nowadays what you'll be given for bechamel sauce is generally Alfredo sauce, thick and pasty with flour and, you guessed it, cheese.  In other words, tarting it up with cheese and hot peppers is easier than getting involved in the time-consuming artistic complexity of producing flavor.

It's the same in entertainment.  Sex and violence.  If things get slow, throw in a naked woman.  Or an explosion.  Or a riff of automatic weapons.  (Speaking of which, I'm sure you heard about the 9-year-old girl at a shooting range outside Las Vegas who accidentally killed the instructor with the Uzi he was showing her how to use.  9 year olds and Uzis, what could possibly go wrong? We don't even let 9 year olds drive, even here in South Dakota, where 14 years old get learner's permits, so what the hell was he thinking... Okay, enough rant on that...)

Back to sex and violence.  Much safer.  Now I understand that sex and violence are what titillates the masses, including you and me, but sometimes I want something more:  plot; wit; character; nuance. By the way, I watched an interesting review of "Outlander", the new series based on the Diana Gabaldon time-traveling fantasy series, in which the sole woman on the panel pointed out that, while this show was obviously being marketed to heterosexual women (hot men in kilts and all that), when it came down to it, there were a heck of a lot of naked women in it and no naked men. Now what's that about?  Couldn't it even occur to the producers (6 out of 8 male) that (most) women prefer naked men?  

Okay, back to character.  I've been binge-watching Michael Gambon's 1990's Maigret, and enjoying it heartily.  (I love reading Maigret, too - it's one of the main reasons and ways that I've learned to read French.) And I noticed something that hadn't really struck me before:  Jules Maigret is normal.  He's a good, decent, bourgeois man who drinks/eats/smokes a little more than he should but not too much, who loves his wife, and who really likes his co-workers (except for the examining magistrates).  He likes people generally, including most of the petty criminals he deals with.  And yet he's absolutely real, grounded in details and mannerisms and nuances that are very subtle.  In other words, he's an old-fashioned hero.  It's very refreshing.

But I think too many "heroes" have been run through our jalepeno culture.  I've seen too damned many lead characters who are damaged addicts (alcohol/drugs/gambling/sex), and/or whose significant other was brutally murdered by a mysterious serial killer, and/or who are promiscuous to hide their longing for love or their lack of ability to love, and/or who has significant PTSD and/or traumatic childhood experiences and/or mental illness and/or OCD/bi-polar/etc., and almost ALL of them are obnoxious to everyone around them (and yet are mysteriously loved despite of it)...  Folks, that isn't character, that's a laundry list.  What started out as an exception - with the ability to shock, startle, amaze, entertain - has become the norm, which means... well, cheese and jalapenos on everything.

Hollywood meth-makers
Real meth-maker
And it's often taken to the point where there's no one to root for. Everyone is lousy, including their kids.  Everyone is crooked. Everyone will do anything, anywhere, any time to get ahead.  Nobody even tries to be pleasant, much less good. And don't even get me started on "Breaking Bad":  I do not, repeat, DO NOT watch shows or read books where serial killers and/or drug manufacturer killers are the heroes. I'm an old-fashioned girl at heart.  Besides, the villains are even more alike than the defective detectives: always brilliant, always brutal, always cold, always with superhuman timing, and the only difference is how they do it and whether or not they eat their kill.  Boring...

At the same time, I can enjoy a good noir with the rest of them, and God knows in Dashiell Hammett's and Raymond Chandler's world, everyone is crooked as they come, and that's fine with me.  Because Spade and Marlowe longed for heroism and decency, like thirsty men for water, and tried to be knights errant, even if their armor was more tarnished than shining.  That's what I want in my hero, at the very minimum.  I want them to recognize honor when they see it, like Silver-Wig in "The Big Sleep", and to be able - at least some times - to resist treachery and temptation, like Brigid O'Shaughnessy in "The Maltese Falcon."  I want them to know the difference between good and evil, in the world and in themselves.  I want them to care about the difference between good and evil, in the world and in themselves.  I want them to want to be a hero, even when they fail.

Maigret.  D. C. Foyle.  Miss Marple. Guido Brunetti.  Nancy Drew. Columbo.  V. I. Warshawski. Archie Goodwin.  Perry Mason.  Endeavour Morse.  And many others, rich in variety, style, wit, character... Excuse me, I have some more reading to do.  And tonight - another Maigret!

27 August 2014

The Law & Tommy Rodella

by David Edgerley Gates

I've written more than a few stories about the political climate in New Mexico, and in particular about Rio Arriba county. Rio Arriba translates to 'upriver,' just as Rio Abajo translates to 'downriver,' and back in the day of the Spanish conquest, that was all there was. These days, New Mexico comprises 33 counties, with Rio Arriba one of the largest in area, but lightest in population density, and it has a troubled history.

In living memory, there's the Tierra Amarilla courthouse siege, which I used in a Benny Salvador story. And there are other examples. Rio Arriba is a poster child, not for corruption, per se, but for a New Mexico habit of mind, the hand-in-glove, where Who You Know counts for everything.

Which brings us to Tommy Rodella, the current sheriff of Rio Arriba, and a disgrace to his office. I might have to tell this story back-asswards, so bear with me. It's an uneasy narrative, without a through-line. In other words, you have to fill in the gaps. Tommy's a slippery guy. His record shifts, like a prism, when you hold it up to the light, and it reflects the eye of the beholder. Whose ox is being gored? I don't have a dog in the fight, but Tommy Rodella's dirty. I don't have a problem saying that.

Okay. Tommy and his son just got busted by the FBI, in relation to a road-rage incident, and abuse of office. Ran a guy off the road, shoved a gun in his face, put him in handcuffs, and lied on the police report. Two sides to every story. Maybe the guy lipped off. He says he asked to see some ID, and Tommy punched him in the head with his badge. "Don't you know who I am?" Now, if it were me, I wouldn't give mouth to Tommy Rodella. I'd lose whatever teeth I had left. He's a loose cannon. Don't you know who I am? Kiss of death.

Sounds like some crazy-ass noir plot from the 1940's - cop with a hair across his ass busts a drifter climbing off a freight train - or FIRST BLOOD, drop some long-hair in the tank, and live to regret it. But unhappily for Tommy, this is the last in a long line.

Let's go back, as I said. BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK. No joke. Tommy Rodella's a once-upon-a-time state cop. Later, he gets appointed as a magistrate by former governor Bill Richardson. A pal of Tommy's gets busted for DWI. Tommy goes up to Tierra Amarilla - on a weekend, mind - and bonds the guy out. This raises some questions. Richardson, who has his own issues (pay-to-play crashes his hopes of a cabinet post with Obama), calls Tommy on it. Tommy figures he can bluff it out. The gov fires him, anyway. State supreme court backs the gov, rules Tommy is ineligible to hold office as a judge again, but then Tommy wins the primary, and gets elected sheriff. Nothing the governor can do about this, although it must chafe his ass. Richardson is trying to mend fences with the Clinton camp, and Obama. Tommy Rodella is the least of his problems. Is it even on his radar?

I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. North Cambridge, Tip O'Neill's old district. All politics is local, he famously said. Really? You look at Boston, or Baltimore. Chicago. Machine politics. THE LAST HURRAH. 

New Mexico is the back of beyond. It's a Third World country. Tommy Rodella's wife, Debbie Rodella, is a state legislator. Cheap shot, maybe, but it points up the intersection of family, and influence, and inertia.  We had a mayor, she appointed her brother to the post of city manager. The new guy on the city council called her on it, and she told him, "Oh, you just got off the bus."

It's not that it's only us. That's not what I'm saying. And it's nothing new, either. It's as old as the pyramids. You know those contractors padded their invoices. Old stone, fresh slaves. Tommy's small change. Every guy like this, every cheap asshole like him, whether it's Iraq or Rio Arriba, trades on lives. No joke. The illegals in Espanola, the cartels in Mexico, the migra - all that crap? You gonna tell me we have no responsibility. Right.

Every dirty cop. Not that it's common. Like a slippery priest, not that common, either. But it gives you pause, a guy like Tommy Rodella. You know what it is? No accountability. He imagines it slides off a duck's back. Typical of New Mexico. He's a dirty secret. The back side of the so-called Land of Enchantment. 

Pull up your big boy underpants. We're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. It's all about the shoes. I'm going to post this, and will Tommy Rodella come after me? He in fact might, the kind of guy who carries a grudge, if I even care. He can kiss my ass. 

There's a long game.

We win. They lose. Doesn't seem like it, I know. Feels as if the bastards wear us down, over time. In the end, it ain't true.

They sell despair, our percentage is hope. All those Tommy Rodellas? We'll beat the ticket.