24 April 2015

A Different Type of Writer Program

By Dixon Hill

Harboring a secret (or maybe not-so-secret) desire to write for television?

Are you at least 21 years old?

Do you have an unsold short story or stage play manuscript lying around, or maybe an original TV pilot is burning a hole in your computer document library?

Think that, by May 1st, you could write (or polish-up) a spec script for one episode of a current (2014-15 season) prime-time cable or broadcast television series?

If you answered "Yes," to those four questions, CBS may be looking for YOU.

The Writers Mentoring Program at CBS has graduated 70 emerging writers over the past 11 years, and their website claims that 33 careers have been launched as a direct result.

Why would CBS do this?  According to their website: "As part of its ongoing commitment to create additional access for writers of diverse backgrounds CBS' Diversity Institute has launched a different kind of writers program... ."

The website adds: "The focus of this six month program is on opening doors: providing opportunities to build relationships with network executives and show runners; to support new and emerging writers in their efforts to improve their craft; and to develop the interpersonal skills necessary to break in and succeed."

Each writer who gets into the program will meet regularly with two different mentors: a CBS network or studio exec, and a senior-level writer on a current CBS drama or comedy series. While the executive provides creative feedback on the participant's work, as well as advice and support designed to help further the participant's career, the senior-level writer helps the participant formulate and meet career goals.

If you think about it, that's sort of like pairing an aspiring print-media writer with an editor or agent and a successful writer, the editor or agent providing editorial advice while the writer shares tips on selling work to publishers.

Other elements of the program include small workshop-style meetings with industry professionals such as CBS "show runners." According to the website, speakers would include:"executive producers, agents, managers, development and current executives ... (so that) participants ... gain a better understanding of how the business works from many different perspectives as well as creating the opportunity to make critical networking connections."

Participants will also get the chance to spend time observing a writing room in action, and get a look at CBS development departments.

If you think you might be interested, bear in mind that you'll need to be in the L.A. area for a MINIMUM of five days during the six month program. Being available in L.A. for the entire time, however, would probably prove more beneficial. And remember: this is not a paying job. Finally?Better get cracking! Because you have to have your application in (along with selected writing samples) by May 1st.

You can find details on the CBS webpage by clicking HERE.

If you decide to go for it: GOOD LUCK and BEST WISHES!!!


23 April 2015

The Better Angels of Our Nature?

by Eve Fisher

The Better Angels of Our Nature.jpgIn 2011 Steven Pinker wrote a book called "The Better Angels of Our Nature" which might put us crime-writers out of business.  Why?  Because the subtitle is "Why Violence Has Declined."  It's a huge book - over 700 pages - and chock-full of statistics and historical evidence for a dramatic decline in little things like murder and assault. And if you haven't read it, it's worth a read.  That, or check out my book report:

Basically, Pinker's argument is that violence has not only been in decline over the last five hundred years, but that the present is probably the most peaceful time in the history of the human species. The decline is enormous and widespread, including declines in war, homicide, genocide, torture, criminal injustice, as well as the treatment of animals, children, women, homosexuals, and racial and ethnic minorities.  He stresses that "The decline, to be sure, has not been smooth; it has not brought violence down to zero; and it is not guaranteed to continue."  In other words, enjoy it while it lasts, and work hard to keep it going.

Pinker admits that humans, like any animal, are always capable of violence, especially if there's a fight for survival.  But he says there have been some historical forces that have changed the dynamic to make us less violent:

Louis XIV of France.jpg
From "L'etat, c'est moi"
To Parliamentary rule
The Leviathan - It used to be, up until the 1600's, that justice was a local affair.  When "l'etat, c'est moi" was the rule, the only thing l'etat, i.e., the king, did for his people was make war, take their money, and occasionally "touch" them for scrofula.  There were no police, and only the wealthy had bodyguards or a hearing from the king.  For the rest of the population, well - the circuit court came once a year, and the rest of the time you were on your own.  The trouble was that, if the state provides no services, the state gets no loyalty, and the bodyguards were really private armies.  So, with the rise of the modern nation-state with parliamentary monarchies and rising democracies - and with the rise, let it be faced, of gunpowder and guns - states decided that only the state should have "a monopoly on the legitimate use of force".  In order to do this, though, the state had to actually provide justice on a regular basis, so that people would give up their need for private revenge, protection, justice, etc. and trust that the state would take care of that for them.

Marco Porcio Caton Major.jpg
Cato the Elder
Commerce - Increased trade led to (1) seeing at least some foreigners as human and (2) made people more important as customers than as slaves. Let's never forget the immortal words of Cato the Elder, 234-149 BCE, who said that it was better and cheaper to work slaves to death and buy more than to treat them decently.  These were words to live by for many a slave-holder and, later, many a serf-holder as well.  (There's more to the joke in Gogol's masterpiece Dead Souls than first meets the eye.)  And slavery, followed by serfdom, was the norm for many thousands of years.  But, finally, as slavery came to a slow end, and people had money, war as total conquest became inefficient.  (Actually, when Hitler said that he was only interested in other peoples as they became slaves for the German culture, besides being a megalomaniac, he was strongly out of touch with economic fact.)  In other words, rather than conquering a country militarily (which costs money) the idea was to conquer a country with trade goods (which made money).  At long last, people - as consumers, factory hands, and tax payers - were worth more alive than dead.

Fragonard - "A Young Girl Reading"
Feminization - Basically, random and/or extreme violence has always been mostly the preserve of men. Women have generally been the civilizing force in societies, because they want more than to hide in the basement while the houses burn.  Women want education and clean clothes, culture and good food, and safety for their children. All of these things flourish better during peace than war.  As societies show greater respect for "the interests and values of women" things get better, more peaceful, more prosperous, as a whole.  Ironically, we're currently trying to masculinize women both in business and entertainment, where the ideal woman is now presented as a slim, beautiful, brilliant, athletic ninja warrior.  Even though no one can achieve this (outside of the movies), this "ideal" may not a good thing.

Cosmopolitanism - Basically, it's easy to hate what you don't know, the foreign, the alien.  But, as literacy and mobility increased, and mass media rose to entertain and educate that literate mobile population, people's sympathy and empathy expanded to embrace different ideas.  There was a recent study that showed that the more fiction a person read, the more empathetic they were.  Because fiction (in any form) lures you into stepping into someone else's shoes - and the next thing you know, you no longer want to hurt, maim, torture, or kill people who are different from you.  It really works.

The Escalator of Reason - Calling on people to apply knowledge and reason to government, politics, economics, etc., can, "force people to recognize the futility of cycles of violence, to ramp down the privileging of their own interests over others', and to reframe violence as a problem to be solved rather than a contest to be won."  In other words, if you can get people to stop reacting emotionally and instead think rationally about how to handle conflicts, they usually step back from violence and start trying to negotiate their way.


The Pacification Process - Pinker describes this as the transition from "the anarchy" of hunter/gatherer/herder societies, which are largely honor societies, to the first agricultural civilizations, which are more apt to be based on law.  The trouble with honor societies is that they are "touchy" - easily led to duels and honor killings, which can travel down the generations in cycles of revenge.  (My rebuttal:  law-based societies can fight wars till the cows come home, too.)

The Civilizing Process of the Leviathan - see above.

The Humanitarian Revolution - During the 17th and 18th centuries, i.e., the Age of Reason and the European Enlightenment, came the "first organized movements to abolish slavery, dueling, judicial torture, superstitious killing, sadistic punishment, an cruelty to animals, together with the first stirrings of systematic pacifism."

The Long Peace - After WW2, the Western World (by and large), stopped waging war on each other. (My rebuttal:   At least directly.  Let's not forget proxy wars...)

The New Peace - Since the end of the Cold War in 1989, there has been a decline of organized conflicts everywhere.  (My rebuttal:  More terrorism, less outright war.)

The Rights Revolution - Post WW2 increase of human rights for all.


"Murder in the House" -
Jakub Schikaneder
All of that's great news, but Pinker is no fool about the dark side of human nature.  He says that humans have five inner demons.  These come from a lot of psychological and sociological studies that basically say that violence comes in certain specific forms with certain specific triggers.  BTW, I totally believe this; just as I think we should be studying successful marriages rather than divorce (which is always depressingly the same), I think we should be studying peaceful societies and peaceful periods rather than violent societies and wars.  Anyway, here's the list:

Predatory or Practical Violence - Because it's there and you want it.  Greed, gluttony, lust.

Dominance - the "urge for authority, prestige, glory and power"; at any level, even the most minor.
Revenge - self-explanatory.
Sadism - thankfully, far rarer than our societal obsession with serial killers would lead one to expect.
Ideology - "a shared belief system, usually involving a vision of utopia, that justifies unlimited violence in pursuit of unlimited good."  Or, as Peter Finley Dunne put it back in the early 1900s, "A fanatic is a man that does what he thinks the Lord would do if He knew the facts of the case."  Like behead people.


But lest we be too discouraged, there are "four better angels" that "can orient us away from violence and towards cooperation and altruism":

Empathy -  Read more fiction.
Self-Control -  There have been scientific studies of nursery school children - offered 1 marshmallow now or 2  if they could wait 15 minutes - that those who were able to wait showed later in life significantly "better life outcomes" of all kinds.
The Moral Sense - Pinker admits these can cut both ways, either to govern a culture extremely well OR lead to increased violence when a set of moral norms are designed to keep people unified through fear.
Reason - Pinker is very big on reason.  I am, too, but then, I'm Greek.

Sanzio 01.jpg

Anyway, while we SleuthSayers are never likely to be put out of business, it's still nice to know that education, cooperation, and societal change have made - and hopefully, will continue to make the world a more peaceful place.

22 April 2015


by David Edgerley Gates

Okay, so it's a Brad Pitt picture, but forget about that Quentin Tarantino nonsense, and it ain't TROY. Brad Pitt's actually a good actor, not just a pretty boy. He himself once remarked that Hollywood is full of pretty boys, and whether or not you get noticed is by and large blind luck. In other words, don't take it for granted, and show up on time for the audition.

If you've read the Max Hastings book ARMAGEDDON, you get a convincing and frightening overview of the last year of the European war, from D-Day to the fall of Berlin. It was a savage, gruesome fight, with very little quarter given, on any side. FURY, like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, is about a small engagement. It's
a platoon movie, in effect, a bunch of guys in a tight, claustrophobic space - a Sherman tank, this time around - hoping to make it through the war alive. Shermans were outgunned by the German Tigers, which had better armor and heavier weapons, and a direct hit could turn the American tanks into flaming coffins. Tanks are in fact ungainly and vulnerable, steel boxes with only a few exits, and FURY puts this across in clenched interior shots, most of which seem to be from underneath a guy's cramped knees. You don't get much in the way of omniscient viewpoint, or a sense of any larger battlefield strategy.

Are there generic conventions? I'm not sure war movies can avoid them. The hardened NCO, the green recruit who turns stone killer. The story arc with this kind of picture is usually about initiation, the learning curve, the so-called warrior mindset. I don't have a quarrel with it, but it's a narrative device. Although it rings true, it's still a contrivance, and over-familiar. And then there are things in the movie I wasn't right with. They execute a German prisoner in cold blood. Yes, no, maybe? We know there were incidents like this, even if they didn't make it into the record, or it was reported as shot trying to escape, but the way it was presented, as an object lesson, made me hesitate. Another thing that bothered me was seeing the tanks take point, with infantry creeping along behind. It seems like sound tactics - why expose yourself to enemy fire? - but I always had the impression armor and infantry leapfrogged each other on patrol, feeling out a hostile environment. Maybe somebody here with more hands-on can steer me right. Having said this, otherwise the movie felt honest. I didn't find it exaggerated or false.

Once the Allies pushed across the Rhine - and the Russians crossed the Oder from the East - Germany was finished. The question people ask is why they kept fighting. One answer is of course Hitler's insanity. Another is simply that the Wehrmacht was under discipline, even that late. And yet another is that they were hoping they could hold out for a negotiated peace in the West. Germans were terrified of what the Soviet armies would do to them, as conquerors, and their worst fears were realized, when the Russians did get there. If the Germans could hold the Eastern Front and buy time to make a deal with the U.S. and Britain, they might save themselves. It was a long shot, and never came to pass. In the end, Germany suffered total defeat, and the Russians sacked Berlin. Fury, indeed. More than enough to go around.

War pictures aren't necessarily everybody's cup of tea. The famous early ones, like ALL QUIET, are famous in large part as anti-war stories. And guys like Wellman and Ford - who weren't shrinking violets - made some ambiguous pictures between the wars. 'Between' the operative word. The movies that came out of American studios during WWII were flag-wavers, how not? Then a little doubt begins to creep in. There's a story I heard that somebody, and it might have been Wellman, told Lewis Milestone he thought A WALK IN THE SUN was fake from beginning to end, which is pretty strong. Point being, is authenticity the sell? And say it is, are you obligated in any way to watch these movies?

BAND OF BROTHERS more or less sets the bar, for my money. I own the boxed set, and I've done the whole thing three or four times. Then again, I had a girlfriend a few years back, who was a screenwriter, and she hated war pictures. Hated. I told her the screenplay for PATTON was a model of movie architecture, but she couldn't bring herself to sit down and plug in the DVD. I get it. The single most effective sequence in PATTON, to my mind, is the war prayer, the voice-over. It also happens to be the only scene where you see men stumble and die, the snow around them lit up with artillery impacts, and you count the cost. Where to draw the line? I haven't fully made up my mind.

We're saturated with images, some real, some imagined, and all of them manipulated for effect. They make us uneasy, or uncomfortable. There's a squirm factor. Robert Capa's famous photograph of a Spanish Civil War solder in the moment of his death, or the Saigon police chief, putting a bullet in the head of a
VC suspect. Do we need another one? FURY reminds us, I think, that war is a bitter business. Good men die. Sometimes they die for dumb-ass reasons, bad generalship, unnecessary objectives, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's not about the irony. It's that we seem to be hard-wired for the warrior gene. Which is still too convenient an answer, that the fault lies in our stars. Perhaps we're drawn, by instinct and muscle memory, to the elemental. To the point of no return, a place where choice determines nothing. We're in the hands of God, or mischance, and death is only the final accident of life.

The dead speak to us from a place we can't know, but we can hear their voices, if we listen for them. The lessons of war can be heard in the voices of the dead. They become interpreters. In this narrow sense, then, war stories have something to tell us. Of course, it's a mixed message.


21 April 2015

Publisher Changes Titles, Author Doesn't Mind! The World Turns...

by Elizabeth Zelvin

I completed the first draft of my first potentially publishable mystery in October 2002. (The less said the better about three manuscripts in the 1970s, although an agent who's eminent today tried to sell them.) Since 1993, I'd been running around saying, "Some day I'm going to write a mystery titled Death Will Get You Sober." I finally did it after I left my last day job directing an alcohol treatment program down on the Bowery, which was slowly morphing from New York's Skid Row to the gentrified neighborhood it is today. My protagonist, Bruce Kohler, was a recovering alcoholic with a New York attitude, a smart mouth, and an ill-concealed heart of gold.

Everybody who heard the title loved it except my first agent, who specialized in romance and cozies. She thought she'd have less difficulty selling a series with punchy one-word titles like Carol Higgins Clark's, which include Decked, Snagged, and Iced. (Not to be snarky about the Clark women, who are lovely, she'd have sold it a lot more easily if I'd been Mary Higgins Clark's daughter.) I remember pacing back and forth in my living room, phone to ear (quite a feat, since this was long before I had a cell phone), begging her not to make me change my title. Not only was Death Will Get You Sober clever and memorable, it told the reader exactly what the book was about. I had a long string of unwritten sequels lined up that did the same: Death Will Improve Your Relationship, Death Will Help You Leave Him, Death Will Extend Your Vacation, Death Will Forgive Your Debts. I won the argument, but she failed to sell the book. After many rejections, Death Will Get You Sober ended up, by a fluke and sans agent, with legendary editor Ruth Cavin at St. Martin's, who fortunately loved the title. The book was published in 2008, just before publishing began to change in the vast paradigm shift in technology, books, and the nature of reading and writing that we all know about.

Cavin rejected Death Will Improve Your Relationship but took Death Will Help You Leave Him, which appeared under the Minotaur imprint in October 2009. At that very moment, the economy tanked, and Minotaur, disappointed by advance sales and evidently blaming the author rather than the changing market, dropped me a week before the book came out. Death Will Extend Your Vacation finally sold to a smaller publisher known for picking up abandoned series. I'm grateful for that. For their decision to bring the book out as a $25.95 hardcover in 2012, when the e-book revolution was in full swing and their target market, libraries, reeling from huge budget cuts--not so much. Assuming the series was dead apart from short stories, I turned to other projects.

Enter Julie Smith, Edgar-winning author of the Skip Langdon mysteries set in New Orleans, who had recently started a small e-press, BooksBNimble. I'd known Julie since I interviewed her for the Poe's Deadly Daughters blog years before, and she'd been kind enough to blurb Death Will Get You Sober. Julie loved Bruce and his sidekicks Barbara and Jimmy and wanted to bring out the series as e-books. I tried to get her to give me final say on the titles in the contract, but she wouldn't do it. Luckily, she was happy with the titles of the three novels that had appeared in print. By this time, I had cut Death Will Improve Your Relationship by 50,000 words, and with Julie's skillful edit, turned it into a 20,000-word novella about the murder of an obnoxious relationship guru, author of a bestseller called How to Improve Your Relationship. I was not happy when she insisted on changing the title to Death Will Save Your Life. It was reasonably apt, since the denouement involved a lake, a canoe, and a Klepper kayak. But it wasn't as transparent as my title, with which I'd been living for ten years. On the other hand, it fit better on the postage-stamp-sized cover of an e-book.

Julie's done a great job of promoting the series, which would have been long dead by now in the era of traditional publishing only. But she thinks the books could do better. She's had success at boosting sales by changing the titles and covers of other authors' books (and some of her own backlist) to attract a different readership. So in the fall of 2014 she proposed that we give Bruce a new look and the books new titles. We both knew she'd win, but I think she was surprised that I didn't put up a fight.

Like every writer of fiction except James Patterson, Janet Evanovich, and a handful of others, I've had to revise my fantasy of success, ie, my expectations, as the rollercoaster that publishing has become swoops and twists around. So when my mystery e-publisher is willing to invest in transforming my modest midlist novels and put her full energy into promoting them seven years after the first hardcover came out, I don't think, Oh, no! If she changes the titles, the books will be ruined! I think, Wow! I am so lucky!

So now the e-book versions of the Bruce Kohler mysteries are Dead Sober, Dead Wrong, Dead in the Hamptons, and Dead Guru. (The short stories in the series have kept their original "Death Will" titles.) And now there's a new novel: Dead Broke, in which Bruce and Jimmy need a twelve-step program to help them deal with their money issues. The new covers feature an animé version of a sardonic, sexy Bruce. Now, there's something I'd never have come up with on my own. So far, people seem to like Bruce's new look, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Elizabeth Zelvin is a former SleuthSayers regular and author of the historical novel Voyage of Strangers as well as the Bruce Kohler mystery series. Her short stories have been nominated for the Derringer and three times for the Agatha Award for Best Short Story. Most recently, Otto Penzler included her story, "A Breach of Trust," in the list of "Other Distinguished American Mysteries" for 2014. Dead Broke, the first Bruce Kohler novel since 2012, is available for preorder now and will launch on May 1. Liz is also a psychotherapist based in New York, an established poet, and a singer-songwriter with an album titled Outrageous Older Woman.

20 April 2015

The Writer's Dilemma: Risk vs. Reward

by Melissa Yi

I’m at a writing crossroads.
I’m a finalist for the Roswell Award for Short Science Fiction. I know, it’s a different genre, but bear with me. What to do next is a mystery that you could help me solve.

Dear Ms. Yuan-Innes [my real name; I use Melissa Yi for my mysteries],
On behalf of SCI-FEST LA, I'm excited to announce that your story, "Cardiopulmonary Arrest," is a finalist for The Roswell Award for Short Science Fiction. 

Oh, good. One editor told me that story was “too weird.” Which is true. I am weird. And occasionally disturbing.

Your story is one of just six finalists chosen from over 300 submissions received from around the world. Your story will be presented in an Awards & Staged Reading event featuring our celebrity guest readers on Saturday, May 23 at 7:00pm at the Acme Theatre in Hollywood.


At the reading, each of our finalists will be officially recognized and the award for the best short science fiction story will be presented.

Our judges who will determine the competition winner include:

* Jack Kenny (Executive Producer, WAREHOUSE 13 & FALLING SKIES)
* Jordan Roberts (Screenwriter, BIG HERO SIX)
* Mike Werb (Screenwriter, FACEOFF & Writer on EXTANT)
And others soon to be announced!

We hope that you will join us! However, you do not need to be present to win the competition. If you plan to join us, please let me know as soon as possible. Unfortunately, we are not able to pay for travel expenses to Los Angeles.

Aye. There’s the rub.
My first instinct is to say, my odds of winning are one in six. I live on the other side of the continent. Even if I did win, it might cost me more than $1000 to get there. I’ve got emergency shifts to fill. I’ve got two kids. I’m not flying to L.A.
I could just go to CanCon in Ottawa, see?

But my second instinct? Hang on.
I checked my schedule. I’m working the day before, but not the day of. I have four days where yes, it is indeed possible for me to travel to and from Hollywood.
My husband Matt is away on a motorcycle course on May 23rd, so I would either have to get a babysitter or bring my children with me to an awards event that starts on the opposite coast at 10 p.m. EDT. Not a good mix. My eight-year-old could tough it out, but my four-year-old could not.
Still. Not impossible. I’d have to get a babysitter.
The money-conserving, risk averse part of me—the part that has dominated my life up until now, as I detailed on my blog—orders me to stay home. If I win, I’m $1000 richer. And if I lose, I’ve lost nothing.
Except an opportunity. And you know how opportunities can build. In an interview with the Seeker, I explained how winning the Cornwall writing contests led me to my Terminally Ill book launch, which earned an article in the Standard Freeholder, which got me an interview on CBC’s Ontario morning, which hauled me on to the Kobo Top 50 bestseller list, which probably tipped Mark Leslie Lefebvre toward choosing me for their international Going Going Gone contest promotion last fall.
Me resuscitating 'Elvis' (Kobo's Mark Leslie Lefebvre)
while his skeleton, Barnaby, keeps a watchful eye.

In March, David Farland told us, “Take these opportunities thrown in your face.” He once met a woman who could’ve gotten him a ride into space, but Dave was newly married and couldn’t easily afford to get to the launch site, so he let it go by. Now, he says, “I could have been the only science fiction writer who’s gone into space!”
This isn’t space, but it’s an opportunity to geek out with people who love science fiction. It’s a chance to meet Hollywood actors, executive producers, and screenwriters. It’s an excuse to take my kids to Hollywood.
I’d like to see my stories made into movies. It’s not my main dream, but hey, like I pointed out in my last post, film is a different and dominant medium for storytelling and therefore useful in my quest for world domination.

What say you, SleuthSayers? Should I go to L.A.?

19 April 2015

Juror 17

by Leigh Lundin

Imagine you’re a juror, the lone holdout in an infamous, deadlocked capital murder case. A person’s life is at stake. While not a legal expert, you have some idea of your rights and obligations: You take the job seriously, keep an open mind, don’t discuss the trial outside the jury room, and avoid news coverage of the case. While abiding by the rules, your privacy is respected by the court, your opinion is sacrosanct, you are protected from pressure outside the jury room, and you don’t have to explain yourself.

Now imagine a lawyer not only takes umbrage at your jury vote, he takes you to task. He singles you out, violates your privacy, digs into your past, reveals your facebook page to the press, all with the intent of forcing you to change your mind or forcing you off the jury altogether.

A Deadly Mother

During the Casey Anthony trial, I followed the testimony closely, listened to courtroom arguments not permitted the jurors, looked at the evidence presented in the courtroom and saw items they did not, listened to the news reports and followed on-line discussions through the eyes of Velma and her friend Sammy.

From my technical background, I knew the computer forensics was dead wrong and my considerably dated chemistry suggested the prosecution probably erred with their chloroform hypothesis: A spectroscopic blip of element chlorine could have come from either chloroform or easily obtained pool chlorine and the latter was in the family’s shed.

It’s highly probable both the prosecution and defense got the case wrong. Once anger toward Casey is set aside, the evidence makes a convincing case Caylee wasn’t murdered at all, but drowned in the family pool and Casey, already accused of carelessness by her mother, panicked. If that’s true, even if the jury reasoned incorrectly, the panel of twelve got the outcome right.

Jodi Arias on facebook
Jodi Arias on facebook
A Deadly Lover

In contrast, I have not followed the Jodi Arias trial. Unlike the Anthony trial, it wasn’t local and no compelling mystery arose about who committed the murder. I have no reason to disbelieve the verdict, although a small but vocal number of ‘burning bed’ male and female supporters argue Arias didn’t kill out of a jealous rage, but– if she killed at all– justifiably rid the world of a pervert, pedophiliac, and domestic abuser, a theory denied by family, friends, and most importantly, other girlfriends.

Instead, another issue troubles me, that of jury intimidation, or rather intimidation toward one juror, a lone holdout, Juror 17. A backlash welled up from a number of sources: the prosecutor and his fans, death penalty supporters, bloggers sympathetic toward the victim, and the other jurors. Indeed, both the prosecutor and the other eleven asked the judge to replace one juror so they could reach a verdict.

Jurisprudence Without the Prudence

Consider that, ladies and gentlemen of the jury: a court being asked to ditch a juror to obtain a unanimous verdict, a kind of litigator do-over.

Jodi Arias on trial
Jodi Arias on trial
The state attorney argued because the woman had seen part of a TV movie about Jodi Arias and since her husband had been convicted of a felony, that she was prejudiced “with an agenda.” But the jury candidate had admitted all this at time of selection. Indeed she appeared to have been quite open.

In his frustration, the prosecutor went several steps further, singling out Juror 17 for investigation and presenting the woman’s facebook page in court because she'd 'liked' ABC News. Arguing this hinted at violating the rules, the state attorney petitioned the court to remove the juror. After the judge refused the prosecutor’s demands, an ‘unknown party’ released the woman’s name and facebook page to the press and public, and shortly after her home address and phone number. Following death threats, Phoenix police are protecting her while investigating.

The details of leaked documents suggest a source within the court system. The court clerk's office insisted it wasn’t responsible. The prosecutor also denied releasing documents and instead attempted to blame the defense (which made no sense at all) and admitted they were contemplating filing charges against the juror… once they figured out a legal angle. Such action would likely have a chilling effect upon jurors who might disagree with a prosecuting attorney in the future.

A Dire Decision

Legal scholars say the juror not only had done nothing wrong, she apparently did everything right: She answered the questionnaire and voir dire accurately, she was earnest and honest, and she refused to be intimidated. The lady said she regularly prayed about her decision and felt harassed by angry fellow jurors, furious that she couldn’t be swayed.

Legal reaction has been mixed to negative: Retroactively investigating a juror toward a stated goal of bumping her from the jury technically isn’t illegal, but violating privacy and attempting to intimidate could well be. Experts agree that in threatening her, prosecutors threaten the entire jury system.

You, the Jury

What is your opinion either generally about the Jodi Arias case or more specifically regarding going after a juror who doesn’t fall in line with a lawyer’s expectations?

18 April 2015

Stranded Yet Again

by John M. Floyd

I consider myself a lucky man. I'm married to a great lady, my children (thank God) inherited her looks and brainpower and not mine, and although I'm no billionaire I'm not homeless either, at least not at the moment. And, with regard to my so-called writing career, these past few months have been especially kind to me.

Much of my recent run of good fortune seems to be linked to the folks at The Strand Magazine. (I've written about that publication in two previous SleuthSayers columns: "Stranded" in November 2011 and "Stranded Again" in July 2014. Which led to the brilliantly original title of this piece.)

Rewind to the morning of January 21, 2015. I was scheduled for a signing that day at a library about 100 miles north of here, so after stumbling out of bed and shoveling down my breakfast I loaded some books into the car and checked Google Maps to see exactly where I was going. I was still squinting at the satellite view of the Montgomery County Library when I heard the DING of an incoming message. I yawned, rubbed my eyes, clicked over to e-mail, and saw a note from my (former) SleuthSayers colleague Janice Law. Before I could open it, two more DINGs, from friends Terrie Moran and Bonnie (B.K.) Stevens. All three of them said, more or less, the same thing: Congrats on your Edgar nomination!

Believe me, there are few things that can wake a person up faster than that. One of my informants (Janice, I think) included a link to the announcement in the Los Angeles Times. Shellshocked, I hopped over there and was reading the article when my cell phone rang--the caller was Andrew Gulli, editor of the Strand. He didn't bother to identify himself--he just said "Have you heard the news?" He went on to tell me that one of my stories, "200 Feet," which appeared in the February-May 2014 issue of the Strand, was chosen as a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Short Story.

How in the world did one of my stories get nominated? I had, and have, no idea. But I assure you that that news made my road trip that day a lot more fun. If the folks in that Friends of the Library group wondered why I had a dopey (or maybe the word is dopier) grin on my face during my signing, they were nice enough not to mention it.

A few days after that, on January 26, I received more good news: the Strand sent me word that it would publish the latest story I'd submitted to them, called "Driver." It has since appeared in their current issue, February-May 2015, and its acceptance was especially pleasant--and surprising--because the story is fairly long, around 10,000 words. I think the magazine's guidelines say they prefer "between 2000 and 6000," and most of my Strand stories have been right in the middle of that range--around 4K. (I like to be as dateworthy a blind date as possible, when trying to woo editors.) I'm not sure why this particular story ran so long. Maybe because it's about a scandal in D.C., and features a limousineload of crooked politicians and their hired help. The crimes and attempted crimes include extortion, robbery, blackmail, and murder, and in this case it just took a lot of words and pages to get everything I wanted into the story.

The third good thing happened almost a month later, on February 19. I received an e-mail from Otto Penzler in New York, informing me that he and guest editor James Patterson had selected one of my stories, "Molly's Plan," for inclusion in The Best American Mystery Stories 2015, to be published this October. (That story was also from the Strand--their June-September 2014 issue.) I've been buying and reading the annual BAMS anthology for years, and although I've been fortunate enough to be shortlisted several times I'd never before made it into the book.

As I recently mentioned to another SleuthSayer, David Dean, this kind of occurrence is proof positive that many things in this writing business are unpredictable. We try to write a story as well as we can, mail (or e-mail) it off, and cross our fingers that it might achieve some level of success. That's all we can do.

Even though I continue to remain pitifully clueless as to which stories will be victorious when I send them out into the world--many of them die slow and painful deaths--I also continue to believe that if you try long enough and hard enough, some will be accepted, published, and occasionally recognized in a way that gives them new life afterward. If there is a key to all this, it's that we have to keep writing and keep submitting. In my case, as one of my old IBM buddies used to say, even a blind hog can root up an acorn now and then.

Will the rest of this year be as kind to me as these past several months have been? I hope so. But I can't help wondering if I have already found and used up all the four-leaf clovers in my 2015 lawn.

Even so, I'm seriously considering the purchase of a lottery ticket.

There might never be a better time.