22 February 2017

Walking the Plank

David Edgerley Gates


I'd like to preface this post by saying it's not meant to be partisan. I'm not taking sides. Everybody's got an axe to grind, but let's check our grudges at the door.


The recent resignation of Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor is what started me thinking. More than one train of thought, as it happens. Let's review the bidding, in case you don't know what happened. Flynn was in Trump's kitchen cabinet, and it was no secret he was in line for a red hat. What laid him low, before the paint was even dry, is that he'd had inappropriate contacts with the Russians while Obama's crew, although they were hanging up their cleats, still had the duty watch. They were in fact announcing sanctions against Moscow at the same time that Flynn, through a back channel to the Russian ambassador, was saying they were shooting blanks - once his guy was in office, any sanctions would be rolled back.

Now, first off, this runs counter to good manners, common sense, and longstanding convention, when a new team is relieving an old one. It's also a violation of federal law, the Logan Act. Unauthorized civilians don't make U.S. foreign policy. Period. Another curious thing is that Flynn apparently did it on his own, without telling anybody else. You might find this hard to credit, but you have to look at Flynn's back story. This isn't someone with a modest opinion of himself. On the other hand, there are a fair share of people who didn't think he walked on water, no. The best guess is that he was showboating, or a little too persuaded of his own self-importance.

Here's where I'm coming from. An intelligence professional's job is to give the best possible advice, based on the available evidence. Are your sources credible? What's the collateral? Does the narrative add up? You don't cut and paste the facts to fit a convenient fiction. Bush 43 was ill-served by his Director of Central Intelligence because George Tenet massaged the message. You have to be ready to contradict the received wisdom, or fixed ideas. The problem being, if you keep blowing your nose on the curtains, pretty soon they'll stop inviting you for drinks and dinner.

There's a further corollary. When things go south, which they do more often than not, a good soldier falls on his sword. It's attached to the pay grade. Jack Kennedy famously said to his DCI Allen Dulles, after Bay of Pigs, that if we had a parliamentary system, then he, Kennedy, would have to resign, but the way things were, it was Dulles whose head was going to roll. Presidents don't like being caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

It's important to remember that when you take a job close to the president, you only have the one client. What's called in the intelligence world a consumer. In this case, and I've said this before, you can't be distracted. You have no other constituency. It doesn't matter that State, or Defense, or Homeland Security, or whoever, may have competing interests. You keep your ear to the ground, for sure, but you don't dilute your brand. You are owned. You protect your principal, at whatever cost to yourself.

The other thing I want to say about this episode is that people sign on to government service for any number of reasons, including preferment, connections, expediency, and money, but sometimes they simply choose to serve. Michael Flynn was career military, 33 years. Whatever his politics or his personal ambition, he understood duty. Duty not as an abstract, or background noise, but duty defined as an obligation to something outside ourselves, something larger than our own parochial concerns. I'm probably beating a dead horse here, but this is where my real disappointment kicks in. Michael Flynn had a responsibility, to something larger than his private benefit, and he dropped the ball. Not to mention, I'm kind of taking it personally. The guy wanted to feather his own nest, okay, there's enough of that going around. But why did he have to give the rest of us a bad name? Flynn sold his honor cheap.

21 February 2017

A Rose, um, a Script by Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet

by Paul D. Marks

Apparently Shakespeare was wrong here. Or maybe it works for roses, but not for scripts because when the name was changed on a couple of different stories, well…so did the response.

This here’s the story of a writer named Chuck Ross who wrote a couple of very well-known tales (sort of). One a screenplay, the other a novel. Well, maybe “wrote” isn’t quite the right word—typed might be more appropriate for as Mark Twain said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

But before I get to Mr. Ross…

Haven’t we all felt that if we had Mr./Ms. Big Name writer’s byline on our manuscript it would receive more serious attention than it does when we submit it under our humble names. And haven’t we also felt that if their sometimes mediocre manuscripts had our names on them they wouldn’t get the attention of Big Agent, Big Editor and Big Publisher (or Producer)? But with their names the mediocrity doesn’t matter, whether it’s a novel, a non-blind short story submission or a spec script. Lawrence Kasdan, writer or co-writer of things like Raiders of the Lost Ark, various Star Wars entries and the writer-director of The Big Chill, once said something like “Until they know you, everything you do is shit. Once they know you, everything you do is great no matter how shitty it is.”

So in that sense it’s all in a name and not necessarily what’s on the page. Which brings us back to Chuck Ross, typist:

Once upon a time, there was an unproduced play called Everybody Comes to Rick’s by two unknown writers. In the 1930s, it was sold to Warner Brothers for 20K, around $345,000 today, give or take a few pennies, and an amazing price considering the time and the fact that it couldn’t find a producer. The property was developed and given the green light. It became a movie called Casablanca. You might have heard of it…if you’re not a millennial who won’t watch anything in black and white. It had a modicum of success and is considered to be one of the greatest American movies, usually coming in just behind (and sometimes ahead of) Citizen Kane in polls of best/favorite American movies.

Enter Chuck Ross. Mr. Ross typed up a copy of the screenplay for Casablanca in script format, slapped the original title, Everybody Comes to Rick’s, on it, and sent it out to 217 agencies under the name of Erik Demos. The results and responses were interesting to say the least. Several of the scripts were lost in the mail. About 90 were returned unread to Ross with the standard reasons: the agencies weren’t taking on new clients or wouldn’t read unsolicited manuscripts, etc.

However, almost three dozen agencies recognized the script which led to some interesting and even fun responses, such as “Unfortunately I’ve seen this picture before: 147 times to be exact.” Another said something to the effect that he’d like to do it but most of the people he’d cast in it were dead.

Several of the agencies found a similarity to Casablanca without realizing it was Casablanca. And thirty-eight said they’d read it but rejected it. Which meant that they didn’t recognize it and didn’t think it was good enough to represent, so much for them knowing their own Hollywood history. Some of their comments included:

“I think the dialogue could have been sharper and I think the plot had a tendency to ramble. It could’ve been tighter and there could have been a cleaner line to it.” Which is especially funny since if Casablanca is known for one thing it’s its sharp dialogue.

Another said, “Story line is thin. Too much dialogue for amount of action. Not enough highs and lows in the script.”

And there were more along these lines.

Now granted, times had changed and what people look for in scripts and movies has changed. For example, Rick, the Bogart character, isn’t introduced in the movie until about twelve minutes in, if I recall correctly. At least not in the form a flesh and blood actor. That said, we know Rick quite well before Bogart comes on-screen.

And Casablanca wasn’t the first time Ross had tried something like this. In 1975, concerned that the publishing industry looked poorly on unknown writers, he typed up twenty-one pages of Jerzy Kosinski’s 1969 National Book Award winner and best seller, Steps. He sent it to four publishers, including the book’s original publisher. You guessed it, his batting average was 1000. Four rejections.

After being criticized for his process, he decided to try again in 1979. This time typing up the entire book in manuscript form and sending it to fourteen publishers, including the original four again. This time he went under the name Erik Demos instead of his own. Guess what happened?

Unanimous rejection.

Here’s part of one response: “Several of us read your untitled novel here with admiration for writing and style. Jerzy Kosinski comes to mind as a point of comparison when reading the stark, chilly episodic incidents you have set down. The drawback to the manuscript, as it stands, is that it doesn’t add up to a satisfactory whole. It has some very impressive moments, but gives the impression of sketchiness and incompleteness.”

“Evidently, Kosinski is not as good as Kosinski when Demos is the name on the envelope,” was Ross’ response to all those rejections.

No quitter, he started stuffing more envelopes and licking more stamps. This time he sent queries to twenty-six literary agents. I think you know the response. Zero. Zed. Nada. To that Ross said, “[N]o one, neither publishers nor agents, recognized Kosinski’s already published book. Even more disappointing was the fact that no one thought it deserved to see print.”

And to be fair, there was some criticism of his choice of Steps as the book he chose for his experiment. But I’ll leave that for another time.

My point pretty much follows on Ross’s. And to paraphrase from Casablanca: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that publishers or producers prefer name writers to unknowns.” So keep the faith, baby. Not all rejections are equal. And remember how fleeting glory is.

###

And now for the usual BSP:

Episode 2 of Writer Types from Eric Beetner and Steve W. Lauden is here, with a bunch of great stuff. Interviews and reviews with Reed Farrell Coleman, Joe Lansdale Jess Lourey, agent Amy Moore-Benson, Kris E Calvin, Danny Gardner, Kate Hackbarth Malmon, Dan Malmon, Erik Arneson, Dana Kaye and……….me. Be there or be y'know. 

Also, I’m over at the ITW Big Thrill—Thriller Roundtable this week talking about “How long does it take you to write a book? Why do some stories flow so much faster than others?” along with Karen Harper, Jean Harrington, David Alexander, Heidi Renee Mason, Winter Austin, Adrian Magson, Susan Fleet, A.J. Kerns and Ronnie Allen. – Please come and join in the discussion.

Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea is available at Amazon.com and Down & Out Books.


20 February 2017

Romancing the Crime

by Steve Liskow

Happy belated Valentine's Day to everyone. In keeping with the spirit, let's talk about love.


When I started writing mysteries, I read several other writers who eventually wrote themselves into a problem. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that it was a problem until I made the same mistake, and now I'm finally working my way out of it.

Robert Parker, Michael Connelly, Tess Gerritsen, Linda Barnes and Robert Crais all had their protagonists pursue relationships with lovers they met during various novels, and those couplings eventually caused the same problem: how do you give a lover who no longer influence the plot something worthwhile to do in your story?

Parker had Spenser meet Susan Silverman when she was involved in an early case, and their romance waxed and waned through the rest of the series. Susan left for training on the West Coast at one point and needed Spenser and Hawk to get her out of a jam in the following book, but for several books, her only link to the story is her psychiatric training that allowed her to help Spenser with varying degrees of success. If it weren't for the expert consulting angle, she could have disappeared.

Michael Connelly commented on his website that he doesn't plan very far ahead and that he wishes he had thought more carefully about some character choices. I suspect that Eleanor Wish heads his list of do-overs. She and Harry Bosch met in Connelly's first book and reunited several novels later. But after they married, she became less and less important except as the distaff side of a failing marriage. Now she's out of the picture and Harry is raising a teen-aged daughter alone.

Tess Gerritsen straddles that same line. Jane Rizzoli married Gabriel Dean, an FBI agent she met on a case, and now we see him for about five paragraphs per book, less than the average baby-daddy. At least he shares child-raising chores with Jane, but I wonder how long that will last. And Maura Isles, Jane's co-protagonist medical examiner, finally ended her own rocky romance.

I don't remember if Linda Barnes showed PI Carlotta Carlyle meeting Sam Gianelli, the son of a Mafia family, in an early book or whether they were already a couple when the series started. Either way, Sam has gained age and influence with his peer group and Carlotta, an ex-cop, is too much of an entangling alliance. The star-crossed lovers have gone their separate ways and Carlotta is looking more favorably on Mooney, the cop she's known from the very beginning.

Robert Crais introduced Lucy Chenier in the fifth Elvis Cole novel. Again, Lucy the lawyer was crucial for that story. Crais solved part of his problem by have Lucy, a divorcee with a young son, live in New Orleans while Cole worked in LA, so they talked on the phone but had little personal contact for the following books.

Then Lucy decided to move to LA, partly for a job, but mostly to be with Elvis. Unfortuantely, she could only give him so much legal advice without possible conflict of interest, and Crais finally ended their relationship in one of his best books, The Last Detective, where' Lucy's son is kidnapped while Elvis is taking care of him. There's lots of painful emotional fallout, and Lucy pulls the plug. She still gets cameo roles in later books, but Crais figured out that a romance doesn't fly unless both characters are on the plane.

I've learned that the hard way, too. Beth Shepard, AKA "Taliesyn Holroyd," was a client in Who Wrote the Book of Death? and she and Zach Barnes became lovers before that book ended.
I planned the book as a stand-alone, but reviewers and readers visited my website to ask when Zach and Beth were coming back. Oops. It's hard when the lover is a reporter, cop, or lawyer, but Beth is half of a pseudonymous romance writing team. Her expertise doesn't include chasing bad guys.

So far, that intended one-off has grown to five books, but Beth has increasingly little to do. She does provide a major clue in my WIP when a character is reading a book she's written under her own name, but she never shows up in person in that story. I'm considering having her do research that leads to a crime and plot in a future book, but I don't know the topic...yet.

Dennis Lehane seems to be the only one who did it right, and I'm not sure he knew that at the time. Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro were working together as private investigators in Lehane's first book, and they already had a history, even though Patrick was divorced from Angie's sister and Angie's own marriage was beginning to trail smoke. Angie divorced in the second book and her relationship with Patrick has had more ups and downs than the Dow Jones average. The fourth and fifth books (my favorites) were especially painful. In Moonlight Mile, written over a decade later, Lehane gives the married couple closure.

Unless both halves of the team are actively involved in a case, there's a good chance the outsider is going to become excess baggage.

My "Woody" Guthrie books have learned from Zach and Beth. Megan Traine, Chris/Woody's girlfriend, is a computer wonk for the Detroit PD. She can contribute to the story and still bat her baby browns at the good guy.

How about you? Is a series romance turning into a serious problem?

19 February 2017

Florida News — Ebb Tide

by Leigh Lundin

Florida postcard The weather’s gorgeous. The temperature remains balmy while much of North America is recovering from snow and ice. Alligators are in love, kingfishers and heron trawl the waters, and nearby, Russian warships and airships frolic upon the ocean waves.

Pardon me for not discussing the Winter White House, foreign security sessions in public dining rooms, or Ivanka fashion. That’s outside our purview. The only related [fake] news is that my friend Thrush proposed turning our street into a sanctuary city for the lovely Marla Maples. I’m sure I don’t know what he means by that, other than he’s single.

The One-Day Work Week

Tampa, FL   I will touch on one point of political karma before moving on to recent news. Tampa area State Attorney Mark Ober has run unopposed in the past. According to records, he was so lackadaisical that he showed up for work about five days a month.

Maybe that’s okay if you have nothing pressing, but WalMart, a political donor, brought a $29 shoplifting charge against a 57-year-old wheelchair-bound lady. Ober sprang into action, threw on a bathrobe over his pajamas, found his office phone number in his smoking jacket pocket, and phoned in.

It’s not clear whether Ober’s (a)pathetic work ethic or WalMart donations encouraged him to pursue the case, but prosecute he did at considerable cost to Hillsborough County.

The main obstacle was the lady didn’t do it as proved by WalMart’s own video surveillance. Instead, first-day-on-the-job security guard Arismendy Rosario framed the lady apparently to show what a good little guard he was.

The jury took less than one minute to acquit. Jurors criticized the prosecutor for wasting time and money.

As for the election, Ober lost to US Department of Justice fraud prosecutor, Andrew Warren. At least Ober doesn’t have to get out of his jammies.

Target: Maybe Not the Best Name for a Store


Ocala, FL   The brilliant brain of financial genius Mark Barnett exploded with ideas how to manipulate Target Corporation’s price [TGT] by blowing the floor out of the market… and stores themselves.

According to reports, he didn’t bother leveraging options or short-selling like a really smart, evil guy, but merely planned to purchase stock after it plummeted following the detonation of bombs in a number of East Coast stores. Barnett invested $10 000 in hiring a felon to plant ten of the bombs.

Said felon turned Barnett in. The short-fused Barnett is now sitting firm on rock-solid Florida holdings.

© Orlando Sentinel
Dead Certain

Alachua, FL   Florida troopers came across a single-car accident, a car in a ditch. Inside, they found a woman. Apparently in hope of dodging a ticket, she insisted she wasn’t injured, merely dead.

When asked if she was wearing a seat belt, she replied, “Do I look stupid?” As she tried to buckle her belt, cops kindly refrained from answering.

Alcohol, as you might imagine, was involved.

Ball’s in Their Court

Gainesville, FL   Police officer Bobby White set out single-handedly to ruin my column critical of Florida officials. He defied logic, tradition, and the collective wisdom of his betters by applying gentle common sense on the job.

Answering a demand to deal with kids ‘disrupting’ a neighborhood by playing basketball at 17:00 hours or, to ordinary people, 5pm. Officer White raced to the scene of the alleged crime, leaped from his patrol car… and played a game of pick-up with the offenders.

I’m torn. He deserves a promotion where he might influence incoming rookies and entrenched authorities with his humanity, but doing so might take him off the streets, where he’d loved and respected.

Righteous, Brothers


Hermosa Beach, Ca   This addendum has nothing to do with Florida. Using a criticized DNA data mining technique, police identified the killer in an infamous four-decades-old murder case.

If you’re of an (un)certain age, you’re probably well aware of a talented music duo, the Righteous Brothers. Their ‘blue-eyed soul’ transcended genres and cultures, race and radio waves.

The singers couldn’t contrast more. Bill Medley was tall, dark, slender, and sang booming bass and baritone. Partner Bobby Hatfield was the opposite– shorter, pudgier, blond, and delivered a soaring counter-tenor.

You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling, Ebb Tide, Soul and Inspiration, Unchained Melody, White Cliffs of Dover… you know the songs.

Medley married– and divorced– Karen Klaas. Forty-one years ago, an unknown perpetrator raped and murdered her in her own home. Using mass sampling of familial DNA, police were able to isolate a suspect, a man killed in a 1982 prison escape and shootout with police.

It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.



† Look for a future article about familial DNA.

18 February 2017

As the Credits Go By


by John M. Floyd


In a column I posted at SleuthSayers several months ago, called "Crime (and Other) Scenes," I listed a hundred or so of my favorite movie moments, and the first category was my pick for the ten "best opening sequences." What I didn't mention, there, was that the music accompanying the opening credits can be as important as the images. Examples: The Magnificent SevenStar WarsThe Big CountryTop GunThe Pink PantherA Fistful of DollarsSuperman, and many others. And while that opening music piece often has the same title as the movie, like "Jaws Theme," "Goldfinger," "The Great Escape March," "Theme From A Summer Place," etc., sometimes the director uses a song with its own name, and occasionally one that wasn't originally written for the film.

Which brings us to today's post, and my challenge to you. Can you name the movies whose opening credits used the following fifty pieces of music? The first half are fairly easy; the rest of them, not so much.
(Warning: No Googling allowed. The Shadow knows.)


Here are the songs. Their movies are included below. Good luck!

1. "The Sound of Silence" -- Simon and Garfunkel
2. "Stayin' Alive" -- The Bee Gees
3. "Up Where We Belong" -- Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes
4. "Gonna Fly Now," -- Bill Conti
5. "Suicide Is Painless," -- Johnny Mandel
6. "When You Wish Upon a Star" -- Cliff Edwards
7. "The James Bond Theme" -- John Barry
8. "Born to Be Wild," -- Steppenwolf
9. "Everybody's Talkin'" -- Harry Nilsson
10. "Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darlin'" -- Frankie Laine
11. "The Circle of Life" -- Elton John
12. "The Windmills of Your Mind" -- Michel Legrand
13. "Nobody Does It Better" -- Carly Simon
14. "The Deadwood Stage" -- Ray Heindorf
15. "One Tin Soldier" -- Coven
16. "Holiday Road" -- Lindsey Buckingham
17. "Real Gone" -- Sheryl Crow
18. "Moon River" -- Henry Mancini
19. "Little Green Bag" -- The George Baker Selection
20. "Also Sprach Zarathustra" -- Richard Strauss
21. "The Rainbow Connection" -- Kermit the Frog
22. "All-Time High" -- Rita Coolidge
23. "You've Got a Friend in Me" -- Randy Newman
24. "Seventy-Six Trombones" -- Ray Heindorf
25. "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" -- Marvin Gaye
26. "The End" -- The Doors
27. "As Time Goes By" -- Jimmy Durante
28. "I Can See Clearly Now" -- Johnny Nash
29. "Way Out There" -- Carter Burwell
30. "Misirlou" -- Dick Dale and the Del-Tones
31. "Come Softly to Me" -- The Fleetwoods
32. "Best of My Love" -- The Emotions
33. "The Times They Are A-Changing" -- Bob Dylan
34. "Rock Around the Clock" -- Buddy Holly
35. "Hound Dog" -- Elvis Presley
36. "What'll I Do?" -- William Atherton
37. "Tomorrow Is the Song I Sing" -- Richard Gillis
38. "Wish Me a Rainbow" -- Gunter Kallman Chorus
39. "I'm All Right" -- Kenny Loggins
40. "Sixteen Tons" -- Eric Burdon
41. "The Man Comes Around" -- Johnny Cash
42. "Across 110th Street" -- Bobby Womack
43. "For What It's Worth" -- Buffalo Springfield
44. "The Heat Is On" -- Glenn Frey
45. "The Immigrant Song" -- Led Zeppelin
46. "The Puppy Song" -- Harry Nilsson
47. "Summer in the City" -- Joe Cocker
48. "Dies Irae" -- Renny Harlin
49. "Gimme Shelter" -- The Rolling Stones
50. "It Had to Be You" -- Harry Connick, Jr.


Okay, that's it. Please put your pencils down and step away from your desks.


Answers:

1. The Graduate
2. Saturday Night Fever
3. An Officer and a Gentleman
4. Rocky
5. M*A*S*H
6. Pinocchio
7. Dr. No
8. Easy Rider
9. Midnight Cowboy
10. High Noon
11. The Lion King
12. The Thomas Crown Affair (1968 version)
13. The Spy Who Loved Me
14. Calamity Jane
15. Billy Jack
16. National Lampoon's Vacation
17. Cars
18. Breakfast at Tiffany's
19. Reservoir Dogs
20. 2001
21. The Muppet Movie
22. Octopussy
23. Toy Story
24. The Music Man
25. The Big Chill
26. Apocalypse Now
27. Sleepless in Seattle
28. Grosse Point Blank
29. Raising Arizona
30. Pulp Fiction
31. Crossing Delancey
32. Boogie Nights
33. Watchmen
34. Blackboard Jungle (and, later, American Graffiti)
35. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
36. The Great Gatsby (1974 version)
37. The Ballad of Cable Hogue
38. This Property Is Condemned
39. Caddyshack
40. Joe Versus the Volcano
41. Dawn of the Dead
42. Jackie Brown
43. Full Metal Jacket (and, later, Lord of War)
44. Beverly Hills Cop
45. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
46. You've Got Mail
47. Die Hard With a Vengeance
48. The Shining
49. The Departed
50. When Harry Met Sally


Please grade your papers. And remember what happened to #6 when he didn't tell the truth.

Here's the deal. If you failed to answer any of the questions correctly, you need to get out more. My mother's almost 91, she probably hasn't watched an entire movie since The Sound of Music, and I think even she could've answered one or two. If you got 10 correct, that's pretty good, but you're still not up where you belong. If you got 20 right, I'm impressed. (All I had to do was pose the questions--I'd hate to see how few I could've answered without the cheat-sheet.) A score of 30 correct is excellent in anybody's book, and if you got 40 right, please send me your email address so I can get some movie recommendations. And if you correctly answered all 50, you are a certified, card-carrying cinema fanatic, and I'm seriously worried about you. To paraphrase the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld, no more Netflix for you, one year! Get thee instead to a psychiatric ward.

A final question: Can you think of other opening songs for the list? And how about songs that play over the ending credits--I didn't even get into those. Or the openings for TV shows. ("Those Were the Days," "Where Everybody Knows Your Name," "Movin' On Up," "Runaway," "Harlem Nocturne," etc.) Quizzes for another day, maybe.


This kind of discussion makes me want to pop something like Escape From New York into the DVD player, put on my wireless headphones, crank up the volume, prop up my feet, and escape from more than just New York. Love that movie music.

No sounds of silence for me.






17 February 2017

Guest Post: Harley Mazuk, author of White with Fish, Red with Murder

By Art Taylor

It's my great pleasure to welcome to SleuthSayers today Harley Mazuk, a good friend and fine short story writer who's making his debut as a novelist at the end of February with White with Fish, Red with Murder. I've been a big fan of Harley's work since his first appearance in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine back in January 2011—his first publication period—with the story "The Tall Blonde with the Hot Boiler," featuring PI Frank Swiver. Swiver became a series character with other EQMM stories and is the protagonist of the new novel as well—a great character springing from Harley's own love for and keen attention to the history of detective fiction.

I asked Harley to give us a glimpse at the genesis for his debut novel and at the origins of the character himself. I'll turn it over to him here—along with a recommendation to check out the book itself, due February 28.


Writing the Book I'd Like to Read

 

By Harley Mazuk

“Write what you like” is common advice to beginning writers. When I realized that I had read all of Raymond Chandler’s novels, and most of his short stories, that I’d finished the Dashiell Hammett canon too, I was at a loss for what to read next. I decided to write the next private eye tale that I’d like to read.

I’m not deluded enough to think I could keep up with Phillip Marlowe or Sam Spade. I didn’t want to write fan fiction either, but rather, something new, hopefully original, in the mode of Chandler, in the style of Hammett, a continuation of the work of these masters. I created a new private eye, Frank Swiver, a wino and a womanizer, and I set out to write stories inspired by pulp fiction, the Black Mask tradition.

I never intended to mimic Chandler’s style, with his wonderful over-the-top similes. To do so would be a sucker’s game, or a bad parody. I wanted to think like Chandler, but write like Harley. (This required copious applications of alcohol.) I wanted to create something of my own yet something that would curl into the reader’s subconscious and feel vaguely familiar.

I read The Notebooks of Raymond Chandler, a dandy little book with “Twelve Notes on the Mystery Story,” not to mention the addenda of 13 more including the pearl of wisdom: “The most effective way to conceal a simple mystery is behind another mystery. Make the reader solve the wrong problem.”

I bought a volume of Chandler’s letters, and learned he was rather an opinionated gent. And I read in “The Simple Art of Murder” of his admiration for Dashiell Hammett.

That took me to Hammett’s Moral Vision by Rhino Thompson. I added Hammett’s “24 Commandments” to Chandler’s “Twelve Notes,” (plus addenda). And I learned from an essay by Steven Marcus in The Continental Op that the P.I.’s job, when called out on a case, is to investigate the “reality” that anyone involved in the case will swear to, to deconstruct that account and construct a “reality” of his own, (a true fiction) of what really happened.

Harley Mazuk
What does the writer learn from Hammett? First, keep the prose simple. Use straightforward declarative sentences, like Hemingway might. Second, write in a voice like a private dick typing up his reports for the boss—give meticulous, objective descriptions of suspects, clothing, settings. Third, there’s value in setting your stories in situations where social institutions have broken down. And I added Hammett-like elements to my stories, such as troubled or unconventional romantic relationships, humor—preferably dry, understated wit—and a working class protagonist.

I learned to incorporate the tropes of pulp fiction I enjoy. What’s a novel without a curvy femme fatale with gorgeous gams and straight seams on her stockings? Throw in tough guys, a double cross, gunplay, murder, colorful slang, a sap to the back of the head, a crushed fedora, nefarious schemes, and . . . another double cross.

Where do I stray from the boundaries laid out by Chandler and Hammett? Well, Frank’s not a white knight like Marlowe. He’s a bit more noir-ish in that he’s lost and lonely, driven by lust as much as anything. But Frank Swiver has a moral code; it’s just not Marlowe’s moral code. Frank is non-violent, an observant (though straying) Roman Catholic, and a conscientious objector during times of military conscription. Can a pacifist make the grade as a P.I? After all, being a private dick can be a rough trade. Well, it has been a bit constraining in the types of cases Frank can take and the situations I can put him in—for instance, I don’t want to depend on a deus ex machina with a gun to burst in and save Frank. But so far (after two novels and seven or eight shorter works) putting Frank in jams and extricating him non-violently has been challenging and fun.

The other influence on Frank Swiver has been Ian Fleming’s James Bond. I chose Bond because of his totally inappropriate over-the-top drinking—a 2013 study of Fleming’s novels revealed that Bond averaged 92 drinks per week—and his ability to go into action thoroughly toasted. I also like Bond’s eye for the women, and his zest for sex, an angle I want in my stories, even if Marlowe was a bit puritanical in such matters.

P.I. Frank Swiver, of the Old Vine Detective Agency on Post Street in mid-20th century San Francisco, has turned into my “series” character. I’ve had a lot of luck with him. Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine bought my first professional effort—“The Tall Blonde with the Hot Boiler”—in 2010 and put it in their “Black Mask” section. See? If they put it in Black Mask, I must be doing something right, attaining that pulp feel I want. And though it was a long slog, through agents and finally non-agented submissions, Driven Press bought my first novel—White with Fish, Red with Murder. After a long incubation process, my book is finally coming out this month. So if you’ve been waiting for the next installment in the glorious tradition of classic P.I. novels, Frank Swiver may be the shamus for you.

16 February 2017

They're baaaack.... or, Further Updates from South Dakota

by Eve Fisher

Here in South Dakota, we never quite do things the easy way.  As you may or may not remember, last November, we South Dakota voters passed four voter initiatives:

  • Amendment R, which transfers control of tech schools from local school boards to a new... something
  • Initiated Measure 21, which caps payday loans at 36%
  • Amendment S, "Marsy's Law", "creating constitutionally protected rights for crime victims"
  • Initiated Measure 22, on campaign finance reform.

So far Amendment R and Amendment S have been left relatively untouched.  Except that crime victims have to opt-in for their rights under Marsy's Law (something nobody mentioned in the high-profile ads that were running non-stop before the vote), and names, addresses, etc., may continue to be given to news media, insurance companies, etc.

But IM 21 is under challenge, thanks to a House Bill 1090, which - while keeping 36% as the maximum interest a lender can charge, adds all sorts of new fees that a lender can charge, including "fees for optional maintenance agreements and extended service contracts, official fees and taxes, sales tax, title fees, lien registration fees, and dealer documentary fees. Late fees, return check fees, and attorneys' fees incurred upon a consumer default." No wiggle room there, eh?  (Why do I get the feeling that someone in the legislature was trying to text Chuck Brennan - "come back!  all is forgiven!")

Image result for 2017 south dakota legislative session
Governor Daugaard, chastising the voters
And IM 22 - well, we've made the national news with that one. Governor Daugaard, who offered to veto it as soon as it passed, is still in a snit. “They were hoodwinked by scam artists who grossly misrepresented these proposed measures." To be fair, he has some reason to be upset and in a hurry to veto it:  "Gov. Dennis Daugaard has more than a million dollars in his campaign account which, if this law is killed by his legislators, he will be able to put into his own bank account. If IM 22 is able to stand, he will not be able to touch the money." (Argus Leader)

Meanwhile, our legislature is shocked, appalled, and offended that we think so little of them to have passed IM 22.  Some of those ads depicted lobbyists handing out cash!  As if they'd ever do that! After all, there is no corruption in this state.  EB-5, Gear-Up!, and that little sex scandal have all been taken care of.
NOTE:  Under the "you can't make this stuff up" column, our legislature rejected a bill to ban legislators from having sex or sexual contact with interns.  (My favorite defending quote, not to mention defender:  "I'm hesitant to pass something when we get into itemizing every potential wrongdoing that a legislator could commit, lest this become a criminal code rather than a code of ethics," Rep. David Lust, R-Rapid City.)  Seven days later, SD Representative Matt Wollman admitted to sexual contact with two interns and a few days later, resigned. But that doesn't mean we need any laws against that kind of thing...  
Anyway, the SD Legislature would like you to know that there is no corruption, no problems, IM 22 is unconstitutional, that's all (but they won't wait for a ruling from the SD Supreme Court), we voters were hoodwinked by out of town money (not that that's a problem when it's our legislators going to ALEC conferences on ALEC's dime, or when ads starring Kelsey Grammer and paid for by California billionaire Henry Nicholas are pushing Marsy's Law), and so they are pushing their anti-IM 22 legislation "emergency legislation". What's the emergency?  Well, under our constitution, emergency legislation is exempt from any referendum of, by and for the people (Article 3, Section 1).  So...  our SD Legislature's message seems to be pretty much, "sit down, shut up, you had your vote, you were wrong, and we say to hell with you."

IMG_0058
In a strikingly tone-deaf picture, four of our legislators -
who'd just voted to kill a commission to enforce
campaign finance regulations - posing with
make-believe “gold” watches that contained candy.
You really can't make this stuff up.
I understand that attitude has become a trend.  As this GOVERNING  headline says, "Don't Like the Ballot Measure Voters Approved? Just Ignore It, Some Lawmakers Say."  And the article says that we South Dakotans are not alone...

Anyway, on February 1st, our legislature struck down IM 22, taking time to lash back at the IM-22 campaign that painted them as corrupt, self-dealing politicians.  "I've not known anybody to accept a bribe, I've not known anybody to offer a bribe. In South Dakota, while we're not infallible, that has never been a concern," said Sen. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark. "There are no gold watches, there are no bags of cash."  (ARGUS LEADER) 

Really?  First of all take a look at the picture to the right, my friends.  Real classy, huh?

And, for Valentine's Day, South Dakota Senate killed a bill which would have set up a commission to enforce campaign finance law.

And then there are the idiots out there:  Rookie SD Rep. Neal Tapio (R-5/Watertown responded to a question about getting rid of Medicaid by saying (timestamp 54:35), “I want to kill it altogether.”
Three minutes and fifteen seconds later, in response to a follow-up question about how we proposes to take care of elderly, children, disabled, and other folks currently on Medicaid, Rep. Tapio said, “I’m not saying that we get rid of it.”

NOTE:  Rep. Neal Tapio was Presidential candidate Donald Trump's state campaign chairman...

Meanwhile, other times, other scandals...

joop.jpgAllow me to re-introduce you to Joop Bollen (a Dutch foreign national), who somehow was allowed by our own then-Governor Mike Rounds (currently our US Senator) and our current Attorney General Marty Jackley, to privatize EB-5 (cash for green cards, largely used by Chinese investors) and turn it over to himself via his own corporation (SDRC, Inc.).  Last April, AG Jackley finally indicted Bollen, for "misappropriating" funds - at the time counted at $1.2 million.  Yesterday, Mr. Bollen pleaded guilty to one felony count and got... 2 years probation.  ("Authorities" say he paid back most of the money, except for $167,000.)

This might not bother me so much if there still weren't $120 million missing from the EB-5 program, which had to have gone somewhere.

It also might not bother me if a woman in Sioux Falls wasn't facing 10 years for embezzling $57,000.00.  My bet is, she'll do time in prison, not probation.

Well, that's it for now.  More later, from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.