31 January 2013

Role Models

by Eve Fisher



           "...the magnificent Spade, with whom, after reading 'The Maltese Falcon', I went
           mooning about in a daze of love such as I had not known for any character in
           literature since I encountered Sir Launcelot at the age of nine.  (Launcelot and
           Spade - they're pretty far apart, yet I played Elaine to both of them, and in that
           lies a life-story.)"  Dorothy Parker, The New Yorker, April 25, 1931, p. 92

Me and Dorothy have a lot in common.  I, too have mooned after Sam Spade, Simon Templar, Nick Charles, James Bond (I'm a Sean Connery gal), Lord Peter Wimsey, Sir Gawain, Prince Valiant, Rhett Butler, and Thomas Hewlitt Edward Cat.  See Robert Loggia below - I loved that show.  I watched every episode for its two year run.  Besides the fact that I thought Mr. Loggia was pretty darned hot, it was set mostly at night, with lots of cool jazz music - he owned his own jazz bar - and references to gypsies and jewel thieves, and I thought that was pretty much the kind of life I wanted to lead.  Note to Netflix:  get this show on DVD!

But none of these were role models.  For that I needed women, and strong, interesting women were hard to find back in the 1960's, when Donna Reed et al were still vacuuming wearing high heels and pearls.  Here are some of the women whom I admired and modeled myself after when I was a child:

Elizabeth I.  The original great leader, sharp and witty, supremely well educated, steely, manipulative, able to get and keep her throne in an age of beheadings, able to keep her country out of almost all wars, dignified, bawdy, athletic, musical, and poetic.  Do not even get me started on her antithesis, Mary, Queen of Scots.  Anyone stupid enough to marry the chief suspect in her husband's murder deserves whatever she gets.  Elizabeth had the good sense to stay single, both because it was to her taste and because she knew that no husband would ever please her countrymen.  "I would rather be a beggar woman and single than to be a Queen and married." (But I personally don't believe she was a virgin...)

Anyway, she managed to keep her country free, her ministers subordinate, and live pretty much as she wanted to live for almost 50 years.  On top of that, she was one of the first to realize that religion was a lousy excuse for burning a man, and pursued the first "don't ask, don't tell" policy (re religion) in history.  "I have no desire to make windows into men's souls."  (Eventually she did have to send some people to the fire, but they did keep trying to kill her.)  Yes, she was overdressed.  Yes, she was vain.  Yes, she was an autocrat.  But she also said, and I believe she meant it, "There will never Queen sit in my seat with more zeal to my country, care to my subjects and that will sooner with willingness venture her life for your good and safety than myself. For it is my desire to live nor reign no longer than my life and reign shall be for your good. And though you have had, and may have, many princes more mighty and wise sitting in this seat, yet you never had nor shall have, any that will be more careful and loving."  She made GREAT speeches. 

Okay, on to pop culture.

Emma Peel.  In an age when most women were running screaming from villains and tripping at the first available opportunity, or huddling in fear, waiting to be rescued, Mrs. Peel was the first woman I ever saw who rescued the guy.  She was beautiful, well-educated, athletic, musical, stylish, witty, and could kick some serious butt.  And she had class.  Whatever happened between her and Steed or her and anyone else was private.  The double-entendres were subtle (and oh, how I miss those days!). I admit that the plots of "The Avengers" ranged from clever to just plain stupid, but I never missed an episode.


Harriet Vane.  I hear that some people feel about her the way I feel about Susan Silverman although I don't understand why.  To me, Harriet was an intelligent, well-educated, witty, musical, athletic woman who could solve a murder just as well as her would-be lover and future husband, Lord Peter Wimsey.  I also liked that she wasn't physically beautiful - not all of us are - and it didn't matter, to Peter or to herself.  She had a wonderful voice, could look striking, was passionate and intellectual and liked a good wine.  And she had a successful writing career, supporting herself so that she was dependent on no one but herself.  I liked all of it.

Nora Charles.  (Note to Dorothy, I changed my mind:  I'll take Nick over Sam any day.)  Fun.  Smart.  Witty.  Great marriage.  Good times.  Can't ask for much more than that...



NOTE:  During the next 3-4 weeks, my husband and I will be moving to the bottom floor of an old school in Madison - lots of room, so we're not downsizing too much.  Anyway, this means chaos, heartburn, aching backs, and not too much writing.  I've logged ahead my blog posts for the month, but I may not be checking in as much as usual.  Forgive me, and I will say hi when I can!

30 January 2013

A story about a story in a story

by Robert Lopresti

'Tis a time for great joy and merry-making, at least around my house, because the April issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine has arrived, bringing with it "Shanks' Ride."  This is my twentieth story in AHMM, and  the eighth published tale about Leopold Longshanks, a curmudgeonly mystery writer who occasionally finds himself reluctantly thrust into the position of crime-solver.

What makes this particular story special to me (although I love all the little darlings equally, of course) is that it belongs to a specific subgenre:  one character relates a story containing a puzzle and another character solves it.  It is the first Shanks story of that type I have gotten published, though not for lack of trying.

Here is the opening scene:


            “I don’t think my alcohol level is over the legal limit,” said Leopold Longshanks.  “I could probably drive home all right.  But I figure there’s no point in taking chances.”

            “I know,” said the taxi driver.    “You’ve told me that three times.”

            “Oh.”  Shanks considered.  “Then maybe I do need a ride.”

            “Hop in.”


You can probably guess that the taxi driver is the one with the story to tell.

The earliest example of this story type of which I am aware is "The Tuesday Night Club," (1927) by Agatha Christie.  It is also the first appearance of one of literature's great detectives, Miss Jane Marple.  In this story a group of friends gather and discuss a genuine crime.  To everyone's surprise the elderly spinster solves the crime.  Christie published a series of stories about this club, published as The Thirteen Problems and The Tuesday Club Murders.

Another great example is (are?) the Black Widower stories of Isaac Asimov.  He acknowledged Christie as his inspiration for them, by  the way.  These short tales featured a group of men whose meetings were enlivened each month by a guest who, inevitably, had a puzzle in need of solving.  After all the clever and sophisticated members had picked the problem to pieces Henry, the waiter, would provide the solution.

You'll notice that both of these series are not only stories-within-stories, but examples of the least-likely-detective syndrome, since Miss Marple and Henry would appear to be the least qualified members of their groups to solve a mystery.

My friend Shanks doesn't qualify for that, of course.  He is a reluctant, but highly logical choice for detective. He is so logical, in fact, that he complains the concept is ridiculous: no one could possibly get enough information from a tale-teller to figure out whodunit.  Alas, I am cooking the books so he has no choice but to succeed.

 And I think I will leave it there.  If you want to know more, you know where to find the rest of the tale.

29 January 2013

The Art of Detection

by Dale C. Andrews

    When I was in high school, back in the 1960s, I stumbled onto a paperback book entitled Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street.  The book, which was published in 1962, was not written by Arthur Conan Doyle.  The author of this “biography" of Holmes was W.S. Baring-Gould.  As a mystery fan I immediately purchased and then devoured the volume.

   Baring-Gould, as I later found out, was a Baker’s Street Irregular who had devoted much of his life to the study of Sherlock Holmes.  Among the things that interested me about the book were “facts” set down by Baring-Gould concerning the life of Holmes that were not elsewhere reflected in the Arthur Conan Doyle canon.  To wit, Holmes, according to Baring-Gould, was born on January 6, he lived to the ripe age of 108, and in his 108th year he completed an omnibus retrospective on his own life and work, The Art of Deduction

    As I have discussed at some length previously, I am a big fan of hidden alignments that seem to pop up in the world around us, facts that square up in ways that break the boundaries of coincidence and thereby hint at an underlying order.  And we now have yet another example of exactly such an alignment. 

    According to Ellery Queen’s 1957 novel The Finishing Stroke, Queen was born in 1905, the same year that his creators Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee were born.  So this year, 2013, would be Ellery’s 108th year.  And commemorating that event Professor Francis M. Nevins, the world’s preeminent Queen scholar (and a man whose own birthday, January 6, is the same as Holmes’) has published a true magnum opus on Ellery, entitled Ellery Queen:  The Art of Detection.  

     I shared a cup of coffee with Mike Nevins in St. Louis over Christmas (well, actually he drank soda) and he laughed off all of the Holmes/Queen alignments set forth in the previous paragraphs as mere coincidence.  The most he will get from me on this is a wink and a smile.  Unwitting or not, to my mind it is kismet that is playing with us here.

    Of course, the comparisons between Holmes at 108 and Queen at the same age, and between the works of Baring-Gould and Nevins, are not perfect.  For one thing, while Holmes’ The Art of Deduction never in fact existed, Nevins’ The Art of Detection, by contrast, is wonderfully real, all 351 pages of it.  But before getting to this encyclopedic tribute to all things Queen, let’s tarry just a moment and talk about Mike. 

Mike in St. Louis, December 23, 2012
    Mike Nevins  is Professor Emeritus at St. Louis University Law School, and is a magna cum laude graduate of St. Peters College and a cum laude graduate of New York University School of Law.  For many years he taught law, specializing in copyright law, in St. Louis.  But as all Queen aficionados know, Mike’s interests run well wide of legal matters.  He has written definitive literary analyses on subjects as disparate as Cornell Woolrich and Hopalong Cassidy.  Mike has also published six novels, two collections of short stories, several books of non-fiction and has also edited more than 15 mystery anthologies and collections.  More importantly, and, luckily for us, he is, without question, one of the world’s leading authorities on Ellery Queen and the collaborative team that was Queen:  Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee.  Mike has twice won  Edgar Allan Poe Awards for critical works, once for an earlier study of Ellery Queen and once for his volume on Cornell Woolrich.  Mike is also the author of one of the finest Ellery Queen pastiches ever written, Open Letter to Survivors. Who better to offer the reading public the definitive analysis of the works of Ellery Queen?

    As noted above, Mike’s 1974 Royal Bloodlines has already garnered an Edgar for its treatment of the Dannay and Lee writing team.  In the introduction to The Art of Detection the basis for his new second take on the same subject is explained by Mike as follows:
I think I just heard a question.  “Hey, didn’t you do that book already, back in the Watergate era?  Well, sort of.  But as I got older I became convinced that I hadn’t done all that good a job.  Fred Dannay was the public face of Ellery Queen, and in the years after we met he became the closest to a grandfather I’ve ever known, but I never really got to know the much more private Manny Lee.  He and I had exchanged a few letters, and we met briefly at the Edgars dinner in 1970, but he died before we could meet again.  Because of his untimely death, Royal Bloodlines . . .  inadvertently gave the impression that “Ellery Queen” meant 90% Fred Dannay.  One of the most important items on my personal bucket list was to do justice to Manny.
    That concern (notwithstanding that prior Edgar award) is completely addressed and fully remedied in The Art of Detection, which painstakingly traces the lives, times and collaboration of the two cousins who invented Ellery the detective and Ellery the writer and editor.  No matter how familiar you are with Queen, you will take away new knowledge when you finish reading The Art of Detection.  

    Like Joe Goodrich’s excellent volume from earlier this year, Blood Relations, which focused on the drafting of three of the best Queen novels in the late 1940s, much of the background material in The Art of Detection, notably including the legendary feuding between Dannay and Lee, is premised on the words of Dannay and Lee themselves, as forth in their letters, which are extensively quoted throughout the new Nevins work.  Also included are correspondence between Nevins himself and Dannay, and between Lee and legendary critic and writer Anthony Boucher, who famously opined that "Ellery Queen is the American detective story," and who contributed plotting to the Ellery Queen radio shows during times that family illnesses kept Dannay from performing that task.  The resulting narrative of the lives of these two writers, much of it in their own words, and of Queen, is a wonderfully detailed portrait.

    As already noted, The Art of Detection is encyclopedic in its coverage.  Beyond biography, the reader finds detailed discussions of all of the Queen books, as well as the various ventures into other media, including  the various radio shows featuring Ellery, the (often unsatisfying) Ellery Queen movies of the 1940s, the early television series, and the 1975 NBC series featuring Jim Hutton.  Mike has even offered detailed analyses of the infamous “ghosted”  Queen paperbacks, farmed out to other authors and then edited by Lee, which were commonplace on the paperback shelves of the 1960s.  In short, there is basically nothing about Ellery that is not addressed and answered by this fine work. 

    As any Ellery Queen fan is well aware, the Queen library, at least in the U.S., has teetered on the edge of extinction over the last few years.  Near the end of his book Mike comments on this as follows:
When the author dies, the work dies.  That is almost always the reality, and certainly it’s the rule in genre fiction.  There are always a few exceptions, like Agatha Christie and Louis L’Amour, but those authors are rarae aves.  I took it for granted that Ellery Queen was one (or two) of them.  I never thought I’d live to see the falling off into near oblivion of what had been a household name for more than a decade before I was born and for at least the first thirty years of my life.
    It is certainly true that it takes an historical perspective such as that provided by The Art of Detection to fully appreciate how much a part of mystery fiction Ellery was in the past, and how diminished his role is today.  But hopefully there is still time and space for resurgence.  Certainly excellent works such as The Art of Detection and Blood Relations, each of which has been offered to the reading public in the course of the past year, and Jeffrey Marks’ projected biography of Dannay and Lee, which should be out in 2015, contribute toward resurrecting the works of Queen.

    And speaking of kismet, another real indication of renewed interest in the works of Ellery Queen is evident on the very day this article is being posted.  Today, January 29, Calamity Town, a new play written by Joe Goodrich and based on the 1942 Queen novel that first introduced the upper New York State town of Wrightsville, has a "first reading" performance at the New Dramatists playhouse on West 44th Street in New York City.  Let's hope this is just the beginning for this latest Queen opus by Joe.

   There is also a new Ellery Queen pastiche (modesty compels me to not include the author in the foregoing list) coming out in EQMM sometime in the coming year.  And particularly eagerly awaited is the imminent re-issuance of 23 original titles in the Ellery Queen library, as reported by Janet Hutchings, editor of EQMM, in her editorial note following publication of Mike Nevin’s article End Time for Ellery? In the January 2013 issue of EQMM.  As Janet observed there, thanks to efforts such as Mike’s “Ellery Queen may soon enjoy a renaissance.”

    The once and future Queen?

28 January 2013

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

Jan Grape
by Jan Grape

My good friend, Taffy Cannon posted this the other day and it just tickled me so I requested and got permission to post it here.  Intriguing idea, don't you think?


The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

by Taffy Cannon

This is kind of a blog chain letter, wherein one writer answers a specific set of questions about a work-in-progress, and then tags five other writers to answer the same ten WIP questions on their blogs—and so on and so on until there aren’t any more writers left on the earth.

Of course I am a rebel by nature and so I have switched around the order of the questions to make them more to my liking. Also because this book is unlike anything I’ve written previously.

What is the working title of your book?
The Baby Boomer’s Guide to SibCare

Who or what inspired you to write this book? Where did the idea come from for the WIP?
Five years ago, my younger brother’s health, which had been problematic since a malignant brain tumor in 1994, took a serious nosedive. My sister and I were suddenly immersed in major issues and decisions related to his deteriorating health. She was in Seattle and I was in San Diego. Our brother, a former cop who lived alone with a minimal support system, was in Chicago and wanted to stay there.

We faced a lot of medical crises, bureaucracies, and financial messes. We made mistakes and followed false paths and spent a lot of time with our fingers in our ears, singing lalalalala very loudly. We learned to live by a maxim our mother, gone now for 41 years, used often: “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

We had some great help from friends and relatives and even bureaucrats. We also were blessed with a true deus ex machina that changed everything in the family equation fairly early on. But most of the time we were banging around in the dark, trying to figure out what to do next. My mantra became:
“Now what?”

I met other folks my age having similar sibling-related medical experiences and got some useful tips and advice from them. And I tried to find some kind of handbook about the particular joys and challenges of helping a sibling with a serious medical problem.

I came up empty.

My brother passed away last March. And I decided to write the book that I had looked for and couldn’t find.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
The baby boomers are getting old, and when your body turns on you and you don’t have a strong local support system, the default is likely to be family.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I wrote about what was happening quite a bit while it was going on, in narrative fashion. When I looked at this narrative, I realized there was a lot of practical material in there that could be very helpful to other people taking on medical bureaucracies, bill collectors, stubborn patients, unexpected crises, and sometimes other relatives as well. I decided to make it more accessible by putting it into handbook form.

Every family’s situation is different, and so is every sibling relationship, even within a single family. There are, however, common problems and challenges. My intention in The Baby Boomer’s Guide to SibCare is to point people in the right direction to find out more about how to meet their particular family needs.

I danced around getting started with the handbook itself for a while, writing bits and pieces here and there. I wrote outlines and arranged multi-colored Post-Its on pieces of foam board. I did some research and labeled a lot of file folders. In fact, I was researching studies of adult sibling relationships (Newsflash: there are precious few) when my brother went into his final decline.

Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?
Since my agent handles only fiction, I anticipate working with a former agent who represents nonfiction.

What genre does your book come under?
Self-help, I guess. Health. Caregiving. It’s a hybrid.

Let’s see. Maintaining equanimity in the face of uncertainty. Standing up to unforeseen challenges. Laughing at adversity. Have I missed any clich├ęs?

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Ain’t none. See above.

There are certain similarities to books about taking care of aging parents, but the sibling relationship is really quite different from that. There is also a limited literature about siblings disabled from birth, a group with many overlapping elements.

Here’s why it’s different: Your siblings are the people you’re likely to know for the longest time in your life.

Your parents are around for the first part and with luck you’ll have a family of some sort with you during the middle-to-last parts. But your siblings march in lockstep beside you throughout your entire family history.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Ten thousand baby boomers become eligible for Medicare every single day. That’s a whole lot of people getting old at a very rapid rate, people who genuinely believed they would remain forever young.

Nobody’s been talking too much about the boomers for a while, but there plenty of us and we share an important collective history. We were young in a period when it sometimes seemed as if everything was changing at once. We caused or participated in in a lot of important societal movements, events, and changes—sometimes from more than one side. Vietnam, of course, is the classic generation-splitter.

But despite many differences, the baby boomers share a lot of common ground and have left an important cultural legacy. It all kind of blended together over time:
Rock and roll. Vietnam. Protest. Civil Rights. The Women’s Movement. The Sexual Revolution. Exercise for adults. Environmental Awareness.
And did I mention rock and roll?

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
As a general rule self-help books don’t get made into movies, or even get development deals. And a lot of this material is drawn from personal experience, which means it’s about the Cannon family. It’s hard for me to picture us as anybody but us.

However, I would be satisfied to have Meryl Streep play me. She’s also a blonde baby boomer and I think she can get the accent.

27 January 2013

Chekhov Wrote Crime Stories?

by Louis Willis

From the preface of A Night in the Cemetery and Other Stories of Crime & Suspense:  “In the villages where he practiced, Chekhov accompanied local police on criminal investigations and performed autopsies.”

I never thought of Chekhov, one of my favorite short story writers, as a writer of crime or mystery stories. Of course, if writers use their experiences as material for stories, then it shouldn’t be a surprise that Chekhov tried his hand at writing crime stories. I decided to buy the book after reading the review by Otto Penzler in the New York paper The Sun back in 2008.

The name of the editor who selected the stories for the book is not shown. The name of the translator, Peter Sekirin, is, so I assume he was also the person who selected the stories. Why he included the essay “What You Usually Find In Novels” in which Chekhov lists the elements that go into a novel– character, setting, conflict– is a mystery. Why he chose some of the stories is also a mystery since they are not, properly speaking, crime stories. 

Anyway, for this article, I analyzed what I think are two crime stories and two mystery stories.

“Evildoer” captures the mind of the Russian peasant and Russian officials. Since the crime has already been committed, the story is more a court room drama told in short form. A fisherman is on trial for the crime of unscrewing the nuts that hold down the railroad tracks. He explains to the judge that he uses the nuts as weights for his fishing lines. His explanation baffles the judge who can't believe it and tries to explain to him that unscrewing the nuts causes train wrecks. The fisherman doesn't believe the judge’s explanation and doesn't understand why he is being sent to prison. I like this story because it shows a good story doesn’t always need a surprise ending, only a satisfactory one.

”Misfortune,” one of the best stories in the book, shows Chekhov’s storytelling genius. In a few words, he captures a disastrous moment in a man’s life due to his lack of understanding that signing reports makes him legally responsible for their accuracy. A merchant is a member of the town bank's auditing committee. After the director, accountant, his assistant, and two members of the board are sent to prison for embezzlement, a later investigation reveals the merchant signed the reports. He admits he didn't understand them. He also doesn't understand that signing the reports made him complicit in the embezzlement. Again, no surprise ending but a great story.

“The Swedish Match” is a true locked room mystery with a surprise ending. A retired police officer is missing from his room and believed to have been murdered, but the body cannot be found. It appears the killer entered the room through a window and that the dead man was taken from the room through the same window. Suspects are his sister, his mistress, his butler, and his manager who reported the murder. The surprise ending is not exactly starling but it works.  

The detective story “The Drama At The Hunt: From Notes of A Police Detective” is an abridged version of what seems to be a novella that has a good surprise ending. It has all the ingredients of a good murder mystery: a promiscuous woman, three men who are involved with her, and jealousy: a 19-year-old woman is hit on the head and stabbed several times. Her husband is tried and convicted for the murder.

In the last chapter, which is somewhat confusing, the narrator changes from the investigating detective to a book editor to whom he has submitted the manuscript of a novel based on what he claims is a true story. The abridgment of the novella makes it choppy and at time confusing. Nevertheless, it is the best story in the book, if only it hadn’t been abridged.

I liked some of the stories, but I was disappointed overall in the selection of tales. I’m no linguist and certainly can’t read Russian, but at times I felt the translation wasn’t quite right. Still, I enjoyed those few good stories.

26 January 2013

Boy Books and Girl Books


by Elizabeth Zelvin

Some time ago, I heard an eminent editor admit that in his publishing house, people refer without irony to “boy books” and “girl books.”


Since I became active in the mystery community, I have heard many discussions of the fact or belief that, by and large, men will not read books, or at least novels, by women. That’s why many female writers even now conceal their gender behind initials (although. like the initials in phone book listings, the use of initials in authorship has become a signal that the person thus identified is probably a woman).

Men may object to this generalization, which oversimplifies as generalizations always do. It might be illuminating to ask what books by women they read. Are they “boy books” written by women?
Are they crossover books? Noir is very fashionable these days, and women as well as men are writing noir. Megan Abbott comes to mind—a woman who had already written a scholarly examination of the tough guy in American fiction before her first novel was published. Or how about women whose prose style is “tough” and would have been called “masculine” before the women’s movement? I think of SJ Rozan, a writer I admire greatly and a former architect, of whom and even to whom I’ve said that her prose is built like a brick s***house. Not a wasted word, not a dangling clause, not an adverb. It doesn’t hang together—it grips.

A hundred years ago, when I was a college English major, there were two kinds of writer, or rather, two prose styles: Hemingway and Henry James. Hemingway’s the guy who put the kibosh on polysyllabic words of Latin derivation and made action verbs king of the sentence. Back then, it was possible to say, “I don’t warm up to that Hemingway style. I don’t know that I want to write that way.” I know, because I said it, and no one lynched me. Today, that choice has become an absolute. The highly respected Stephen King, a Grand Master of Mystery Writers of America, boils down the how-to of writing to this: “Read, read, read. Write, write, write. And lose the adverbs.”

Actually, adverbs aren’t lost. They have migrated to the other side of the aisle, where the girl books sit. A prolific and talented short story writer (not one of SleuthSayers’s bloggers) once told me that Woman’s World likes adverbial writing. Woman’s World, as we know, is a tough market to crack and pays well. My informant, who’s also published in EQMM and other presigious markets, said that when he writes for WW, he makes sure he puts those adverbs in.

Am I saying women don’t write nice tight sentences with action verbs? No, of course not. I can delete an adverb with the best of them. I think it’s subject matter, focus, and sensibility, to use an old-fashioned word, rather than prose style that separates the boy books from the girl books.

Relational psychology offers a convincing approach to human psychological development that explains how and why men mature through separation and women through connection.
The feminist psychologists who thought up relational theory were probably not thinking about boy books and girl books, but it works pretty well. Separation and autonomy—the tough-guy loner PI—boy books. Connection and relationship—traditional character-driven mysteries—girl books. Another psychological model uses the gender-related concepts of instrumental and expressive traits. Instrumental—technothrillers—boy books. Expressive—character-driven mysteries—girl books.

Am I exaggerating? Oversimplifying? Of course. But like the eminent editor, I’m making the point that there are boy books and girl books. Let’s tackle the distinction from another angle. Let’s look at the Great American Novel. Suppose we lived in a less patriarchal society.
Suppose we had always acknowledged that there are boy books and girl books that have to be judged separately on their merits within their own categories, the same way there’s a male winner and a female winner in the New York Marathon. Here are my picks. Great American Novel, boy book division: Huckleberry Finn. Great American Novel, girl book division: Little Women.

How many men have read this wonderful book? Its author created characters so real that it’s still in print almost 140 years after publication, still read for pleasure—and with pleasure—by millions of readers, and still capable of moving readers to tears on an umpteenth rereading, as well as inspiring some of us to become writers like its protagonist. My husband has. I’m proud to say he’s read almost all of Louisa May Alcott, motivated by an interest in the vivid and accessible picture of life in 19th century New England in the context of Transcendentalism, whose theorists included Emerson, Thoreau, and Bronson Alcott, Louisa’s father. He (my husband, not Bronson Alcott) also wanted to know what was in those battered books that I was crying over every time I read them. I’d like to hear from any other man who has. And if so, did you come to it on your own, or did a woman (or girl) make you read it?

25 January 2013

Cross the T's and Roll the "I's"



by Dixon Hill

I’m afraid I’ve been out of the net a lot, lately, which is why you haven’t seen many comments from me over the past few weeks. The reason for this, however, has nothing to do with my office power problem, which I’m happy to say is now fixed.

Instead, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in various doctors’ offices with my dad, who’s combating some ongoing ailments. 

During this time, I’ve noticed that doctors seem to enjoy making people wait for long periods in uncomfortable chairs. The good news is, this gave me a lot of time to read while my dad napped beside me.
Philip K. Dick

I’ve enjoyed all three books of the Hunger Games series (Had a hard time putting them down, in fact; much better than the film, though lacking in description [imho]), several EXCELLENT books by Alan Furst (recommended by one of my SS compatriots a few weeks back), re-reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Philip K. Dick), and discovering the short stories of Philip K. Dick in two wonderful anthologies of his work. 

Though Dick tended to write Science Fiction,I believe his short story The Eyes Have It is clearly worth posting on our SS site. And, when you read it, I’m pretty sure you’ll rapidly understand why I think so (assuming you haven’t already read it, and are now nodding rapidly).  

Thanks to Project Gutenberg, I was able to upload this comedic gem for your reading pleasure. I hope you enjoy!


The Eyes Have It 
by PHILIP K. DICK 

IT WAS quite by accident I discovered this incredible invasion of Earth by lifeforms from another planet. As yet, I haven’t done anything about it; I can’t think of anything to do. I wrote to the Government, and they sent back a pamphlet on the repair and maintenance of frame houses. Anyhow, the whole thing is known; I’m not the first to discover it. Maybe it’s even under control.

I was sitting in my easy-chair, idly turning the pages of a paperbacked book someone had left on the bus, when I came across the reference that first put me on the trail. For a moment I didn’t respond. It took some time for the full import to sink in. After I’d comprehended, it seemed odd I hadn’t noticed it right away.

The reference was clearly to a nonhuman species of incredible properties, not indigenous to Earth. A species, I hasten to point out, customarily masquerading as ordinary human beings. Their disguise, however, became transparent in the face of the following observations by the author. It was at once obvious the author knew everything. Knew everything — and was taking it in his stride. The line (and I tremble remembering it even now) read:

… his eyes slowly roved about the room.

Vague chills assailed me. I tried to picture the eyes. Did they roll like dimes? The passage indicated not; they seemed to move through the air, not over the surface. Rather rapidly, apparently. No one in the story was surprised. That’s what tipped me off. No sign of amazement at such an outrageous thing. Later the matter was amplified

. … his eyes moved from person to person.

There it was in a nutshell. The eyes had clearly come apart from the rest of him and were on their own. My heart pounded and my breath choked in my windpipe. I had stumbled on an accidental mention  of a totally unfamiliar race. Obviously non-Terrestrial. Yet, to the characters in the book, it was perfectly natural — which suggested they belonged to the same species.

And the author? A slow suspicion burned in my mind. The author was taking it rather too easily in his stride. Evidently, he felt this was quite a usual thing. He made absolutely no attempt to conceal this knowledge. The story continued:

 … presently his eyes fastened on Julia.

Julia, being a lady, had at least the breeding to feel indignant. She is described as blushing and knitting her brows angrily. At this, I sighed with relief. They weren’t all non-Terrestrials. The narrative continues:

 … slowly, calmly, his eyes examined every inch of her. 

Great Scott! But here the girl turned and stomped off and the matter ended. I lay back in my chair gasping with horror. My wife and family regarded me in wonder.

“What’s wrong, dear?” my wife asked.

I couldn’t tell her. Knowledge like this was too much for the ordinary run-of-the-mill person. I had to keep it to myself. “Nothing,” I gasped. I leaped up, snatched the book, and hurried out of the room.

 IN THE garage, I continued reading. There was more. Trembling, I read the next revealing passage:

 … he put his arm around Julia.

Presently she asked him if he would remove his arm. He immediately did so, with a smile. It’s not said what was done with the arm after the fellow had removed it. Maybe it was left standing upright in the corner. Maybe it was thrown away. I don’t care. In any case, the full meaning was there, staring me right in the face.

Here was a race of creatures capable of removing portions of their anatomy at will. Eyes, arms — and maybe more. Without batting an eyelash. My knowledge of biology came in handy, at this point. Obviously they were simple beings, uni-cellular, some sort of primitive single-celled things. Beings no more developed than starfish. Starfish can do the same thing, you know.

I read on. And came to this incredible revelation, tossed off coolly by the author without the faintest tremor:

 … outside the movie theater we split up. Part of us went inside, part over to the cafe for dinner. 

Binary fission, obviously. Splitting in half and forming two entities.  Probably each lower half went to the cafe, it being farther, and the upper halves to the movies. I read on, hands shaking. I had really stumbled onto something here. My mind reeled as I made out this passage:

 … I’m afraid there’s no doubt about it. Poor Bibney has lost his head again.

 Which was followed by:

 … and Bob says he has utterly no guts. 

Yet Bibney got around as well as the next person. The next person, however, was just as strange. He was soon described as:

 … totally lacking in brains. 


THERE was no doubt of the thing in the next passage. Julia, whom I had thought to be the one normal person, reveals herself as also being an alien life form, similar to the rest:

 … quite deliberately, Julia had given her heart to the young man.

It didn’t relate what the final disposition of the organ was, but I didn’t really care. It was evident Julia had gone right on living in her usual manner, like all the others in the book. Without heart, arms, eyes, brains, viscera, dividing up in two when the occasion demanded. Without a qualm.

 … thereupon she gave him her hand. 

I sickened. The rascal now had her hand, as well as her heart. I shudder to think what he’s done with them, by this time.

 … he took her arm. 

Not content to wait, he had to start dismantling her on his own. Flushing crimson, I slammed the book shut and leaped to my feet. But not in time to escape one last reference to those carefree bits of anatomy whose travels had originally thrown me on the track:

 … her eyes followed him all the way down the road and across the meadow.

I rushed from the garage and back inside the warm house, as if the accursed things were following me. My wife and children were playing Monopoly in the kitchen. I joined them and played with frantic fervor, brow feverish, teeth chattering.

I had had enough of the thing. I want to hear no more about it. Let them come on. Let them invade Earth. I don’t want to get mixed up in it. I have absolutely no stomach for it.

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net 

See you in two weeks, 
Dixon

24 January 2013

Debut Novelist Alert

Splintered
by Deborah Elliott-Upton

Since I began this twisting and turning journey in becoming a writer, I have had opportunity to get to know some exceptional authors. Anita Grace Howard is one of them. Her debut novel, Splintered, is available as of January 1st and should be one of the first books you buy this year.

This book is as exceptional as its author in more ways than one. An author's first published book is rarely a hardcover version, but this one is -- it rarely has such compelling cover art, but this one does -- it rarely packs such a punch to deserve to hit the top of the best-seller list, but I'm going out on a limb and predicting: This one will! (In fact, I will go even further and say this will be the new Hunger Games, Twilight, Harry Potter kind of book.

The premise all but forces a reader to want to dive into this book. The protagonist, Alyssa, hears whispers of bugs and flowers. These are the things her mother had experienced and due to them had been placed into a mental facility. Alyssa's family stories relate a perpetuating curse via her ancestor, Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. Alyssa's own adventures prove Wonderland is terrifying.

The story of Anita being wooed by her agent who actually flew to our small city to meet the author and sign her as a client is unheard of, but then, so is this book. It started winning praises about as fast as it could be read by those in the publishing world.

Of all the writers I've met, Anita is probably the most sincere nice person out there in the publishing world. She deserves everything she is getting with this book's obvious success. It doesn't hurt that she's beautiful, too.


Now that I've shared this wonderful news author and her legacy about to explode, let me assure you, there are plenty of new, struggling writers out there worthy of our time to discover and enjoy. I often ask book store managers who has a debut novel on the stands and they are always happy to lead me to them. When I worked as a book reviewer, I saw many good books by authors who would probably get "lost" simply because they are sandwiched in between established authors with a known sales marketability  and celebrity books that are bought because their name and/or image is already a brand the public recognizes. I ask that you seek those that didn't get as much push from their publisher due to advertising budgets being slashed for new authors.

As the economy suffers, it's been proven people look for entertainment in which to escape the woes of the world. As I was watching Ken Burns' "The Dust Bowl," I kept remembering my grandparents saying, "We went to the movies every week and read, read, read. It was all we could do."

I'm suggesting we delve into books, sharing the good ones with each other, especially those of new-to-us authors. Right now, it may be all we can do to keep our sanity. Let's escape together into another world. Begin the New Year by reading Splintered and be sure and let me know what you think.


23 January 2013

Rosemary & Thyme


David Edgerley Gates

Those of you who know me, or have some sense of my taste in books and writers, could easily imagine I'm not that crazy about cozies.  I'm a big fan of JUSTIFIED, for example, with its crazed hillbillies strung out on Oxycodone, and ready access to high-cap mags.  I like the dark corners of Dutch Leonard and Ian Rankin and Dennis Lehane.  Psychotics and losers and bent cops, high octane and graphic exit wounds.  It might then come as a surprise that I'm absolutely queer for a Brit mystery series that's set in the world of, wait for it, gardening.  Oh, my stars and whiskers.  What's next?  Pass the Earl Grey.  The old boy's gone gone into the deep end over DOWNTON ABBEY.


Well, not quite.  The show's called ROSEMARY & THYME.  Too cute by far for a title, you might say.  And what of its conceit, two gals of a certain age, in the middle fifties, say, who club up together to run a landscaping shop.  Not high concept, particularly, not Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger as twins.  Who greenlighted this project?  Dead out of the starting gate.  (Oh, did I mention that Season Three picked up a bigger audience share than 24, in the same time-slot?)

Here's the premise.  Rosemary, the hottie, beats men away with a stick, but she's just lost her job.  Laura Thyme, a former cop, has been left by her husband of thirty years for a younger woman.  They pool their resources and start a business.  In amongst the pruning and spading and earth between their fingers, murdered bodies turn up in the shrubbery.  It follows as the night the day, that our two overly-curious heroines get sucked in, not that they're too averse, or how else would you have a show?

We should probably credit Masterpiece Theater and PBS for bringing Brit TV to the States., the most obvious example being UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS, but many others.  Then the raw market for product brought more, Benny Hill, and ARE YOU BEING SERVED, not all on PBS.  A&E syndicated a few, buying them direct.  Mysteries and cop shows were big, LOVEJOYINSPECTOR MORSE, adaptions of Dick Francis.  Some of them better than others, some didn't make it across the pond.  THE BILL, for instance, has never been broadcast here, for whatever reason---impenetrable London slang?  It was John Thaw's breakthrough part, you'd think it would have an audience, after MORSE. Who knows?  LOVEJOY was big in the States, and even now, the complete series on DVD will set you back a hundred and eighty bucks on Amazon.  I love Ian McShane as much as the next guy (and DEADWOOD made him a household name), but a hundred and eighty bucks?

Why, then, is ROSEMARY & THYME so engaging?  Or the better question, why do I find it so charming?  It doesn't have Boyd Crowder, or Raylan smacking Dickie Bennett around.  It doesn't have Ian McShane saying "fuck" every third or fourth frame.  It doesn't even have Morse, ridiculing the long-suffering Lewis.  And the mysteries themselves, it must be said, are somewhat lame, although occasionally one will catch you by surprise. The two-part opening episode of Season Two, "The Memory of Water," completely blindsided me, even though it owed overmuch to Ross Macdonald, but we all steal shamelessly from the masters.  The answer is that the engine behind ROSEMARY & THYME isn't the plotting, but the dynamic between the two lead characters, who are both familiar, and comforting, but who also have the capacity to startle you.  And not always in comfortable ways.

I should come clean about my passion for Felicity Kendal (voted 'best bum' in a Brit poll, when she starred in the series GOOD NEIGHBORS, another show that's never translated to America), who plays Rosemary. She was saddled with the adjective "cute," early on, with her performance in SHAKESPEARE WALLAH, and never quite shook it, for the simple reason that she is.  The nice thing about this show is that she gets to leaven the cuteness with a quick dose of the acerbic.  Pam Ferris, who plays Laura, is nothing if not acerbic, at least in character.  Her range of parts is mildly astonishing, police procedurals, gothics, Dickens, and most recently CALL THE MIDWIFE.  It must be her face, a sort of plastic Rosetta stone, malleable but encoded.

The relationship between the two characters is relaxed from the get-go, a couple of girls who know better, out in the wide world, but there's a sense in which their vulnerability, the trust issues, make them uneasy, even with each other.  They rely on their instincts, and their instincts are sometimes at odds.  The best moments often come when they doubt one another, and one isn't quite convinced.  Usually this results in the unconvinced party being at jeopardy from the villain.  I never said it wasn't generic.

Every once in a while, though, something happens that's off the radar.  An episode where Laura's son comes to see her.  She thinks he's been recruited by his dad to beg her to come back, because her ex is a chickenshit.  So he is, but the kid's only there to ask to sign over the title to the old house.  The ex has an offer on it, and wants to sell.  Quick disappointment shadows her face, and she just as quickly sucks it up.  And then she signs.  So, how is it with you? she asks her son, smiling.  You read her pain.  

Why do I like this show?  Because for all its contrivances and sometimes completely silly stuff---a guy gets shot with an arrow during a Medieval archery contest?---it often has the ring of homely human truth.  The crime isn't exotic, or out of the ordinary.  It's not the arrow, but the heart.

22 January 2013

Location, Location, Location

By David Dean

I was at a house-warming party a few days ago when I was confronted by someone who had read my book, "The Thirteenth Child".  He had had a few drinks and wanted to correct me on a bit of geography in a particular scene.  "You can't walk from the railroad tracks to the bay," he assured me.  "No street runs from the tracks all the way to the bay."

First of all, let me go on the record as being both surprised and pleased that this fellow had read my book.  "So this is the guy..." I thought.  I had been hoping to meet him and shake his hand.  But, he wasn't in the mood for handshaking, he wanted an explanation.  How could I be so stupid?

"Well," says I, "it's not this town, it's 'Wessex Township'--I made it up."

Now he gives me a look from under his eyebrows--oh yeah?  "Then how come the main street is called Mechanic Street just like here?"

I took another sip of my drink.  I was kind of enjoying this.  "It isn't," I corrected the Guy Who Had Read My Book, "It's Mercantile."  Hah! 

He kind of deflated a little at that.  "Oh...I guess I read that wrong."  He avoided me the rest of the evening. 

That'll teach him to read my book. 

But it didn't escape me that a fellow citizen had recognized what he thought was home in my book's setting.  In all fairness, the location of the book was very closely modeled on the town I (and he) live in.  In fact, I had a lot of fun recreating my little bit of heaven into a setting for dark and horrible things.  And it saddened me when my editor demanded I thin out the dense forest of words describing it.  Even so, my former fan had seen exactly what I wanted; after all, if he hadn't, I would have failed an important litmus test in creating the location.  The only reason I didn't make it my own town (as I explained to the disappointed man) was that I would have then been tied too tightly to the actual geography, and I didn't want that kind of restriction.  Though I was drawing heavily from reality, I was at the same time creating someplace completely unique.

Location certainly plays a huge role in literature.  Sometimes it's almost another character: a supporting actor without dialogue.  Read Janice Law's "Fires Of London" if you want an example.  Brilliantly done descriptions of London during the Blitz; never labored or lengthy (But this is only one example of brilliance in Janice's novel--there are many, many others.  If you haven't read it, you owe it to yourself to do so.).  Novel-length fiction allows writers a large canvas on which to paint their scenes and settings; short fiction generally requires a few deft strokes to evoke atmosphere and location.  Both disciplines are demanding.

I've always enjoyed certain authors for their ability to evoke time and place, Graham Greene being one of my favorites.  He traveled the world in his lifetime and spent a great deal of time in foreign lands; seldom as a tourist.  His novels certainly reflect this.  Had anyone written a major work on Haiti prior to "The Comedians"?  Who knew of Viet Nam before the "The Quiet American"?  I could go on, but you get the point.

Location is sometimes a destination, sometimes home.  Every character has to either live somewhere, or be someplace else.  Where he or she is located is often a key part of the plot.  Even the journey to arrive at someplace must become a setting in a story.

Even as I write this, a comment by Eve Fisher on a post by R.T. Lawton (also excellent at foreign and exotic locales) mentions Cecelia Holland, reminding me of another author gifted at creating a sense of place.  In her case, however, the places are seldom, if ever, within her lifetime, and therefore experience.  She is one of the best of those writers who pen the bewilderingly labeled "Historical Fictions".  Her novels have recreated settings in medieval Mongolia (thus providing the connection to R.T.'s blog about the Mongolian New Year observance), England on the fateful eve of the Battle of Hastings, and the Iceland of two feuding brothers at the close of the Viking era.  No easy feat these things.  Not only must she convince us of the verisimilitude of the land she has invited us into, but she must also convincingly portray a time, and a people, that she could only know through research.  When I think of the Man Who Read My Book's objection over the placement of a single street in a fictional town, I quail at the prospect of attempting what Cecelia Holland and Janice Law have both accomplished in their various works.  Even Graham Greene always wrote in contemporary terms.

Have any of you reading this ever placed a story in a locale that you have never visited or lived in?  Though I have been fortunate in my life to have traveled a great deal, I will admit to having practiced this in a story or two.  But, I won't say which ones.  So far, I've never been caught at it.  In my defense, I did do a heck of a lot of research prior to attempting them.  But in the overwhelming number of cases, my stories don't stray far from the towns, states, and countries of which I have, at least some, personal knowledge.

Robert Ghirardi, another favorite writer of mine adept at evocative description, said in an interview (and I'm taking the liberty to paraphrase here as I can't locate the article) that modern authors are too bound by what they have personally experienced.  He was referring to the strictures placed upon the imagination in this age of near-instant knowledge through the internet and its children.  Any deviation from what is generally known can be instantly fact-checked, making fiction writers cautious to stray too much from what they either personally know or can confirm.  The only safe way to do that is delve into the realm of fantasy, which it seems, more and more authors are doing.  It is also one of the fastest-growing genres in terms of readership, which might be a result of the dearth of truly "exotic" locales in our steadily shrinking world.

Be that as it may, location, exotic or prosaic, provides the canvas upon which we paint our stories, and our success at doing so is as important to our characters as it is to our readers.  Would we accept Hamlet as a gloomy Jamaican?  Wouldn't Sherlock Holmes have been a very different person as a product of 1880's Mexico?

Finally on the subject of location, I have an upcoming story in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine called, "Murder Town," that is set in the Yucatan.  I'm not going to tell you whether I've been there, or based the setting solely on research--I'll leave that up to you to decide.  Either way, I hope I got it right.        







 



 



   

21 January 2013

Return of the Epics

Fringeby Janice Law

The human brain seems to be hard wired not only to enjoy, but to crave, stories, and the only differences between one era and another seem to be attributable to fashion. Within living memory, short story writers were lavishly compensated in the big slicks and a bit later, mystery writers, in particular, could make money selling short stories to anthologies like Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

How times have changed. The short story as a profitable item is on its last legs, with the genre as a whole eroded by short shorts and flash fiction, and paying outlets undercut by free content on the web. In contrast, some mystery novels are physically bigger than ever - Elizabeth George's latest clocks in at 608 pages - amazing, considering that the readership skews older and older.

But if demography is not on the side of the novel, mega or otherwise, another even older genre is alive and well. I refer to what the lit crowd would call 'the romantic epic,' namely a concoction of adventure, suspense, mystery, amorous interludes, and sometimes supernatural elements. The romantic epic is big and open ended, and now that television has spared us from actually reading such a thing, its latest incarnations are making big money for networks and cable franchises.

From the mystery writer's point of view, these are interesting because they incorporate so many elements of mystery and suspense. Some like the recent and much admired Homeland start with a clear, dominant plot line. Others like the cult fave Fringe started out as a collection of weird events and have gradually developed into a classic quest narrative with mystery elements.
Brodie
Both Homeland and Fringe are marked by fine production values and excellent acting. Claire Danes just got a Golden Globe for her work, and surely both Damian Lewis and Mandy Patinkin should have been considered, as well. And Alfred Hitchcock never had such a budget. But the cleverly constructed episodes of Homeland would have done the master proud, even though this is not a who done it, but a will he do it, that is, will Sergeant Brodie, war hero P.O.W. turn out to be a violent Al-Qaeda operative?

Carrie MathisonThe answer to this is kept in suspense and many of the episodes are constructed as investigations, as Carrie Mathison attempts to prove her suspicion that Brodie has been 'turned' during captivity. Even when it is clear that Brodie is not what he seems, his complex character and his mix of restraint and violence prevent any easy answers.

Fringe has had a more complex evolution. It started out as a child of The X Files, with a similar mix of horror, pseudo-science, and, given the progress in special effects, truly bizarre maladies and deaths. Even Sherlock Holmes would shake his head at some of the disasters that face Fringe Division.

Over the years, however, the plotting has taken on an almost archetypal dimension with guilt and salvation and heroes on strange quests, thanks to the connections between our universe and the alternate universe next door. Junk science for sure, but the acting from John Noble, Anna Torv, and Joshua Jackson is fine, and the characters, particularly the partly mad scientist Walter Bishop– think of a cross between Vincent Price and King Lear with a good sense of humor– are distinguished.

The show is strongest when it concentrates on the relationships among the characters, between Walter and Peter, the boy he rescued from the 'other side' who took the place of his own dead son. Between Walter and Olivia, the little girl he experimented on with a super drug, and between Peter and Olivia. It is weakest when it relies on acres of painted rubber and plastic and fake bodily fluids, but in both types of story, the armature of the whole is clearly on a mystery template.

This pattern of overarching plot line and mysteries solvable within the hour shows up in other popular long running shows as well, particularly the NCIS franchises. In both the D.C. and L.A. versions, a consistent cast with overall story lines anchors the weekly or in some cases bi-weekly mysteries.

Alas for the actual writers of short mystery fiction, however; the return of the long-running epic has not provided the same opportunities as the old Alfred Hitchcock hours. These are specialized corporate epics with the overall narratives controlled by their producers. Freelance work is not going to be possible here.

Still, the public appetite for long form fiction is reassuring, particularly when such fiction has so many mystery elements. Who knows when fashion may again smile on the mystery wordsmith?

20 January 2013

Charged as an Adult

by Leigh Lundin

I write today's column as a matter of conscience. Friends who like labels find me hard to politically peg, but most issues boil down to common sense– What's right and what's wrong. A wrong that horrifies me is the practice of criminally charging children as adults.

Common wisdom says America's too soft on criminals. Common wisdom is wrong– the yoke of our punitive Puritans weighs heavily upon us. Although you may have read the US imprisons more of its population than the vast majority of nations, in the same category as Iran and North Korea, that's old news. The Guardian reports the US is now N° 1 when it comes to jailing its citizens. In more detail, according to The Economist, the USA has 5% of the world's population but incarcerates one fourth of all prisoners on the planet.

Contributing to this is a phenomenon called 'over-sentencing', like a three-strikes life term for stealing a bicycle. Parole boards, fearful of being dubbed weak or soft on crime, are loath to release offenders. Likewise Congress enacts ever harsher, more punitive legislation, capped with laws making it difficult to prove post-conviction actual innocence. And prisons are profitable– not for taxpayers, but for the newly emerging prison corporations.

Eating Their Young

kids in prison
© Reuters; 20Minutes.fr
America is nearly unique charging children as adults. Until the Supreme Court finally ruled against capital punishment of children, states used to execute kids, both boys and girls.

Prosecutors offer rationalizations: "[She] deserves to be tried as an adult for making an adult decision." "The more adult the crime, the more deserving the killer is of adult justice." Certainly heinous acts arouse the fury of the public, especially killing of another child. It's not easy to like or feel sympathy for a creature that kills a parent or the very young, merging into a society that's willing to discard what it considers mistakes… even when the mistakes are our own fault.

The problem is that youngsters are not adults. Children are not even close to mature given the arbitrary age of majority of 18, 21, or– as insurance companies insist 25. If anything, child criminals may be less mature than others their age, but that doesn't stop persecutors from trying children as adults, often opting for life without parole.

Treating Their Young


The recent case of Jordyn Howe has turned a tragedy into a triple heartbreak. The 15-year-old Florida boy showed off one of his family's .40 calibre automatics on his school bus. The weapon discharged, killing 13-year-old Lourdes Guzman-DeJesus. Weeks later, her distraught father Armando committed suicide.

Miami-Dade Detective Roy Rutland concluded the shooting was an accident. Those who know the slender, clean-cut youth contend he is a decent boy. but that isn't stopping prosecutors from charging the child as an adult, despite early assurances that wouldn't happen.

Can prosecutors ever justify trying children as adults? If so, for what offenses, what circumstances? Can 'bad seed' be saved or is society right to throw away the key with the child? What do you think?

19 January 2013

A Heavy Dose of Light Verse


by John M. Floyd


As is often the case, I recently found myself inspired by one of my SleuthSayers colleagues.  This time it was Rob Lopresti and his "Hello, My Lovely" poem a few days ago.  I loved it!  While neither of us is well known for poetry, both Rob and I enjoy wordplay in thirty-one different flavors, and sometimes that's all that's required to turn out an occasional piece of light verse.  I have probably turned out more than I should have over my relatively short writing "career," but I truly like the sound and rhythm--and humor--of certain kinds of poetry.  And I often prefer poems that "tell a story."

Even though I confess my lack of serious poetic knowledge or talent, I would like to present a few of my mystery poems from the past several years.  I call them that because (1) they involve a crime, (2) they were published in mystery magazines, and (3) it's a mystery that they got published at all.  For the record, these first appeared in places like Mystery TimeMurderous IntentEllery Queen Mystery MagazineThe 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly, and Futures Mysterious Mystery Magazine.

NOTE: I'm recycling even further, here, because several of these ditties were featured in one of my Criminal Brief columns more than four years ago--but I'm hoping that those of you who might've read them there have fully recovered by now from any mental anguish or acid reflux they might have caused.

Here goes:



A WIFE IN THE COUNTRY

Turk McGee sipped his tea and contentedly sighed
As he lounged on the porch and observed his young bride;
She was working the fields, as she'd done every day
Since her father arranged for her marriage last May,
But what Dad hadn't known (and McGee hadn't said)
Was that Turk thought all girls became slaves when they wed.
Just today, for example, she'd plowed until three,
Stopping only two times to pour Turk some iced tea;
But at last she was done, and looked quite peaceful now
As she unhitched the mule and put up the old plow.
When she walked to the porch, McGee'd finished his glass
And was watching the mule as it rolled in the grass;
"I been wonderin'," he said, "how a woman abides
A dumb beast that's so mean and so lazy, besides."
"I been wonderin' that too," she remarked to old Turk,
And then sat down to wait for the poison to work.




IMMORTALITY

Philip Marlowe was a P.I.,
Kay Scarpetta an M.E.,
Ms. Warshawski was a V.I.,
Mr. Watson an M.D.

Clarice Starling was a pro,
Bernie Rhodenbarr a con,
Ranger Pigeon was an Anna,
Vito Corleone a Don.

Inspector Pitt was smart and cagey,
Spenser brash and bold,
Dave Robicheaux sleuthed in the heat,
Kate Shugak in the cold.

Some say these folks weren't real--they lived
In books and books alone;
I say they'll be alive long after
You and I are gone.




PURPA TRAITOR

When Purpa's flights were smuggling grapes
Its king escaped in vain;
The Purpals found His Majesty
Aboard a fruited plane.




TINSELTOWN

The new bartender was a guy
Dressed in a well-cut suit and tie.
Sue blinked. "Hey, aren't you Peter Gunn?"
"I used to be, in '61."
"What happened, there? I liked that show."
"The guy who played me had to go."
"So you're Craig Stevens?" she replied.
"No, I'm the character. Craig died."
"The character? For real?" asked Sue.
Gunn shrugged. "Don't I look real to you?"
"But you were once a superstar!"
"A fallen star, now tending bar."
"So all this time, you've been right here?"
"Long story. Want another beer?"
When refilled, Sue inquired again:
"So what all have you done since then?"
"Well, two producers died one night--"
"I heard. They both got poisoned, right?"
"--I was accused; I left L.A.,
And caught a boat and sailed away."
She sipped her brew and asked: "With who?"
"With Gilligan. The Skipper too."
"You hid out on another show?"
"I lived there forty years or so."
"You stayed on, after they were done?"
"An island beach, a naked Gunn."
"So now you're back. Still wanted, right?"
"And undetected, till tonight."
Sue said, with a malicious grin:
"Aren't you afraid I'll turn you in?"
Then, gagging, she fell to the floor.
Gunn smiled and said: "Not anymore."




CAN YOU SPELL "ESCAPE"?
(Come on, you knew I had to include a limerick . . .)

On the eve of Boone's hanging, Ann Price
Hid a nail-file in his bowl of rice.
No great genius, Boone
Hanged the next day at noon,
But his fingernails looked rather nice.





NEVER TOO LATE
"You're Al Capone?"
He said: "That's right."
"You're dead, I thought."
He said: "Not quite."
"Then you must be--"
"I'm 103."
"So you're retired?"
"That's not for me."
"But how do you--"
"Get by?" he said.
He pulled a gun.
"Hands on your head."



Enough silliness.  I will now close with a more serious poem, about the commonly held belief that we as fiction writers are sometimes a little weird.  I hope this will help dispel those rumors:


GHOSTWRITERS

They say creative people tend
To lose their marbles now and then.
Musicans? Artists? That may be--
But novelists? I disagree.
My fellow authors, young and old,
Are all quite sane; this I was told
By Faulkner, Poe, and Hemingway--
I spoke with them just yesterday.