28 February 2013

A Quarrelsome Lot...

by Eve Fisher

As I said before, we're in process of moving, and I am currently off-line until the 1st.  So I thought share with you some notes from a cruise my husband and I took in 2005.  It was called "Voyage of the Vikings" and we took it specifically because it took us to Norway via Greenland and Iceland.  How else, we figured, would we get there?  And let me tell you, both were spectacular.  So much so that I was disappointed in Norway.

Nuuk, Greenland
Nobody warned us about Greenland – how beautiful, how spectacular it was.  Stark mountains, with no trees, little runnels of snow in the crevices.  We went ashore and walked through the town and up a mountain – the rock was bare, grey, rough, lichen-patched, and in between the rocks was moss, so thick it sprang underfoot.  The view was breathtaking – one of the few times I wished I had a camera (in fact I bought one when I got back on ship), especially one mountain that was twin-peaked, and rippling between the peaks was a great curtain of granite.  I could swear I’ve seen it before, and probably have, in a photo or another lifetime.  I wish I could have done more hiking – the rock was so firm and rough underfoot, easy to cling to, and then the lichen…  But we only had until noon to explore.

Nuuk, with Whale
A very nice Danish man took us, for free, on a tour of the town.  Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, about 14,000 population, mostly in cinderblock apartments, many of which have a view of the sea.  It would be a hard place to live in, but also a hard place to leave, too, if you were from there.  So much space, so much hiking and fishing and hunting, all in amazing privacy and, undoubtedly, intimacy, at the top of the world.

Prince Christian Sound, Greenland
And then there was Prince Christian Sound, a fjord along the southwestern coast of Greenland – miles and miles of sharp-tipped mountains, tipped with arrows and points and flames of rock, hundreds of feet high, thin waterfalls falling down from crumbling blue glaciers.  Ice-bergs, white, carved in curves, with neon blue cracks, floated in the water.  The whole thing took about 4-6 hours to go through.  At one point there was a fishing village, of maybe 20 houses, tucked into one of the mini-fjords rivuleting off the main fjord.  So isolated:  to live there would be like living on another planet.


Gullfoss, Iceland
Iceland was amazing, too, and I really hope to go back there some day.  We went on the “Golden Circle” tour, which was all day.  Saw the geysers – Geiser itself, which rarely spouts after an earthquake in the 90’s, and its sister, which spouts every few minutes.  Geiser is THE geyser, from which we get the name. Then to Gullfoss, the Golden Falls – a spectacular glacier-melt waterfall that sent up tremendous veils and clouds of mist, thick as smoke, that fed a huge carpet of thick wet green moss.  And there’s a permanent rainbow – sometimes two – arcing over that green moss, shimmering in the spray.  Iceland’s a fairly dry country (especially when compared to Ireland), and you could tell how dry it is by how rich the moss, grass, ferns, and flowers were along the run and spray of Gullfoss, compared to the brown dry hillocks all around – old lava flows, cooled and crumbling to earth under the deceptive cover of moss and lichen.

Thingfeller (but it really doesn't do it justice)
We also went to Thingvellir National Park; and that landscape was all sweeping mountains, much like western Montana or Wyoming, only drier, barer, darker, sterner.  Snow patches in the heights and, in the distance, a great glacier that stretched for miles between two mountain peaks.  At first you thought it was clouds, but no cloud stays so white, so flat, so still, so perfectly held between two peaks.  And Thingvellir itself – well, it’s pretty obvious why the old Icelanders met there to do their lawgiving.  Great black basalt blocks stacked into pillars, in a long curved natural amphitheater (following one of the major geologic fault lines of the earth, between the European and American plates).  And from Thingvellir you look up at these pillars, and then out, away, at a blue, blue, blue lake, and the long sweep from valley to the tall dark mountains on all sides.  It would take a lot of something – honor, pride, hubris, holiness, justice, certainty – to speak out from there, but if you could summon your voice, I think you’d be listened to.

The old Icelanders were a quarrelsome lot – most humans are – full of blood feuds and exiles and sudden death.  So, in truth, was old Ireland, but it gets less play.  For one thing, the Icelanders wrote theirs down in the sagas, like Burnt Njal, which had their fanciful aspects, but were mostly fairly accurate accounts of who, what, where, how, and why.  Njal was a farmer who, with his wife, really was burnt to death, and his farmstead (not the house, of course) still exists.  The entire tale has no superheroes, and only a little sorcery, and even less deus ex machina.   (It's very good - but get the modern translation, which captures the dry wit.  "Is he home?"  "I don't know, but his axe certainly is," he replied, falling down dead.)

What's interesting is that the Irish have a lot of the same blood as the Icelanders, but in Ireland, the old stories have been transmogrified into myth to a point where it’s almost impossible to disentangle truth from hero-worship.  Cuchulain – who undoubtedly lived as a strong, young warrior of great renown in his own day – was turned into a demi-god of war in epic poems like the Cattle Raid of Cooley, and then transformed even further into Sir Gawain in the original Arthurian Tales, and transformed again, until today old Ireland is thought of as a gentle land of bards and poets, saints and maidens, as opposed to old Iceland, that grim and warring place.

Yet the grimness and fierceness of old Ireland can be seen in the tales of the early Christian Irish monks, with their tremendous asceticism, standing in icy water up to their armpits as they recited the whole Psalter, the war St. Columba started (over a book of the Gospels!) in which hundreds were killed, in the self-imposed exiles to forbidding rocks like Skellig Michael, in St. Bridget, “who never washed her face or her hands.”  

 The Celt is the Celt is the Celt. But it’s all in the telling. Isn't it always?

27 February 2013

BRUCE LOCKHART: Memoirs of a British Agent

by David Edgerley Gates

Where do you start? This is the guy who smuggled Kerensky out of Russia after the Bolsheviks came to power. He was intimate with Leon Trotsky. He met Stalin, once, and Lenin more than once. He was present at the creation of the modern world, the 20th century in all its wickedness. He lived, in other words, in interesting times, and he perhaps changed history. He was, of course, a spy.

Sun Tzu remarks that war is deceit. And our intelligence services, to borrow a phrase from John LeCarre, reflect our different national characters. Le Carre also noted the odd attraction of the Scots to the secret world, John Buchan an obvious example. Bruce Lockhart, as it happens, was a Scot.
Lockhart

He was sent to the British consulate in Moscow by the Foreign Office in 1912. He was twenty-four years old, and by his own admission, no sophisticate. He set out to learn the language, the customs and courtesies of the country, and Moscow itself, but above all, to cultivate social and political connections. This led, inevitably, to late nights filled with vodka and Gypsy balalaikas, sleigh rides to outlying dachas, and some dubious associations. It led also to an adulterous affair (Lockhart's wife had come with him to Russia), a scandal that got him sacked.

But he'd spent almost five years in Moscow, and the insular young sport had toughened considerably. He'd experienced the popular uprising firsthand, the abdication of the Tsar, the rise of Kerensky and the Social Democrats. As well, he'd witnessed the rough beast slouching toward war. Great Britain and Russia were now allies against Germany, and in London, the primary political concern was keeping Russia in the fight. Six weeks after Lockhart's return to England, in October of 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution overthrew the Provisional Government and established the groundwork for a Soviet state. Capitulation to Germany was widely rumored.

There were, in the corridors of power Whitehall, two, if not three, competing schools of thought. The first was to strangle the new enterprise at birth. The second was to treat with the Bolsheviks, to encourage their continued resistance to German advances on the Eastern Front. The third was to deploy both the carrot and the stick, and to this end, David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, and Lord Milner, heading up the war cabinet, decided Lockhart was the man for the job. They sent him back, in January, 1918. This time, however, he served two masters, the Foreign Office, which gave him diplomatic cover, and the Secret Intelligence Service. SIS had a rather different mission in mind for him, to set up a clandestine espionage network, and penetrate the upper Soviet apparat.


This wasn't quite the impossible task it now seems, in retrospect. Everything was up for grabs. The new Russian government's grasp on power was unsteady, and the Terror hadn't yet begun. For the moment, they were just trying to keep the trains running, and most of the people Lockhart met in Moscow and St. Petersburg were fatalistic about their chances. Lockhart suggested to Trotsky that he could allow Japanese troops onto Russian soil, to help fight the Germans, or an expeditionary force, perhaps British, but Trotsky wasn't having any. He knew an imperialist plot when he saw one. Lockhart was of course halfhearted in this endeavor, since he knew any intervention would have to be in strength, and the War Office wouldn't sign off on it. At best, it would only be a token number of troops, which was worse than nothing. He was also hamstrung by vitiation in London: they were still arguing which course to follow. In the event, Trotsky went to Brest-Litovsk, and negotiated a humiliating peace. German envoys arrived as conquerors.

Lockhart was in a vise. His sponsors back in London were fighting a rear-guard action---he himself was seen as an obstacle, if not already co-opted by the Commies, and the Russians didn't trust him worth a damn, either. He was hanging on by his fingernails, trying to follow conflicting instructions from home, and keeping the confidence of his hosts. Two events blew him out of the water. A bomb attack in Kiev killed the German commanding general who was a guest of the Kremlin. This was in late July. On the last day of August, a young Social Revolutionary named Dora Kaplan put two bullets into Lenin himself, at point-blank range. One of them hit his lung. "His chances of living," Lockhart reports, "were at a discount."
Sidney Reilly
Now the rubber hits the road. Lockhart and his chief agent, Sidney Reily (yes, that Sidney Reilly---Lockhart's son Robin later wrote ACE OF SPIES), were implicated in the assassination attempt. Their operation came unraveled. Was our man in fact involved? Unlikely. He seems to have been taken completely by surprise. On the other hand, what about Reilly? I wouldn't put it past him. He was a slippery character, with a shadowy past, and an uncertain future, but that's a story for another day. He slips through the net. Lockhart is arrested and jailed by the Cheka. He's taken to the dreaded Lubyanka prison, dreaded for good reason.

Dark corridors, unyielding guards, the stone cells clammy with tears. At the end of a long hallway, a man waiting in an interrogation room, lit only by a lamp on the writing table, a revolver by his hand. "You can go," he tells the guards. A long silence follows. He looks at Lockhart, his face still. "Where is Reilly?" is his first question. An eternity goes by, Lockhart playing dumb, but in point of fact, he doesn't know. There is, he tells us, no attempt to bully him. The threat is implicit. He asks, finally, if he can use the bathroom.

Two gunmen take him there. I suddenly felt in my breast pocket a notebook, he writes. It was compromising material. There was no toilet paper in the stall. As calmly as I could, I took out my notebook, tore out the offending pages and used them in the manner in which the circumstances dictated. I pulled the plug. It worked, and I was saved.

Furious cables are exchanged, the Brits trying to spring their guy. In the end, Lockhart is released, and even at the last minute, the story of his escape is full of suspense. He's traded for the Russian diplomat Litvinov, but sentenced to death in absentia, later on, by the Soviet courts. He never goes back to Russia.

Lockhart lived into the fullness of his years, and died in 1970, at the age of eighty-two. During the Second World War, he coordinated the British propaganda effort against the Axis. He was knighted, too, Well deserved. A man who put duty first, if his dick on occasion led him astray.

Lockhart published MEMOIRS OF A BRITISH AGENT in 1932. It was a worldwide sensation. Why the British government didn't suppress it is an interesting question, but it was the story of an extraordinary success. The final section of his book is titled 'History from the Inside,' and indeed it is, the record of a man who was in the thick of it. He leaves a lot out, for sure, particularly the spook stuff. His son says he scoured through his father's remaining notes and diaries, after Lockhart's death, and turned it all over to the Foreign Office. Was it too revealing? We can read between the lines. Lockhart knew where the bodies were buried.

26 February 2013

Constrained Writing

by Dale C. Andrews
[C]onstrained writing designates a form of literary production in which the writer submits his or her text to specific formal (and to a lesser extent also thematic) constraints. On the one hand, such constraints function as boundaries that explicitly limit the possible realizations of a text in some respects. On the other hand, those constraints are not primarily intended as strict limitations but rather as creative stimuli for the artistic process; they reduce the endless possibilities—the common, rather naive association of literature with boundless freedom and complete originality—and thus contribute to a stronger focus on the mechanisms on which genuine literature should be based: formal control and a maximal artistic concentration within an appropriate frame of constraints.
                                        Constrained Writing, Creative Writing, copyright De Geest and Goric,
                                         PoetryToday 31:1 (Spring 2010)

    Although we may not consciously be aware of it, everyone who writes as a vocation or an avocation does so subject to constraints.  Most fundamental are the constraints imposed by language, accepted style, and grammar.  We all learn certain rules and are taught to adhere to them.  We are expected to know when to use “which” and when to use “that.”   If we vary the rules in a given instance, it is supposed to be only with foreknowledge of the rule and with a good reason for varying it, such as to avoid contextual awkwardness.  (Remember Winston Churchill’s famous observation that “ending a sentence in a preposition is something up with which I shall not put?”)

    The types of constrained writing referenced in the above quote, however, go further.  Beyond the universal constraints, which apply to us all, authors also may find themselves subject to genre, or thematic constraints.  As the article referenced above notes, such is the case with romance novels, which tend to follow a fairly established formula.  So, too, the “fair play” mystery, which is expected to rigorously adhere to the rule that all clues must be fairly presented to the reader in advance of the solution.  And, as discussed in previous columns, anyone writing pastiches – stories in which another author’s character is used – practices even a higher degree of constrained writing, attempting to capture the characters, the style, and the approach of the original author.

    So, like all limiting principles, constrained writing is a spectrum.  At its outer limits are writing forms that go beyond the generally applicable constraints involved in fashioning a work that is consistent with the norms of the reading public and instead impose more artificial constraints devised by the author.  An excellent example of this is the book Green Eggs and Ham, written by Dr. Seuss.  The book was written on a dare from publisher Bennett Cerf that Seuss could not write a bestseller using only 50 words.  Obviously the good doctor prevailed and, one would hope, collected. 

     Other literary constraints are used often by mystery writers (myself included), as devices to hide clues.  These include anagrams, in which the letters of a word are phrase can be re-arranged into a different word or phrase, and the acrostic, a favorite of Lewis Carroll, in which the first letter of successive lines of text, usually a poem, can be read vertically to reveal a hidden message.  Another device is to restrict a portion of the text to only certain letters – an Ellery Queen mystery (nameless here; no spoilers!) does this in a message that is drafted in its entirety without utilizing one rather popular letter. As a general rule, particularly when the device is used to hide a clue, the goal is to apply the constraint in a manner in which it is undetected, at least initially, by the reader.  The constrained prose or poem should read as though it was freely drafted, in other words, as though it was written without the constraint. 

    The self-imposed constraints discussed above are fun for the mystery writer.  They allow the writer to stretch his or her wings, and can provide means to hide the obvious; they challenge the writer’s skill to pull off the ruse.  But as I said, constrained writing is a spectrum.  Let’s take a deep breath and then explore what lies several turns down the trail.

    Several months ago a friend gave me a book, Never Again by author and poet Doug Nufer, that takes constrained writing to an extreme.  Mr Nufer’s task?  He has written a novel that, in just over 200 pages, never uses the same word twice.  To fully comprehend what a Sisyphusian writing task this must have been, contemplate the first sentence in the book:
                When the racetrack closed forever I had to get a job.  
There goes “when,” “the,” “I,” “had,” “to,” “get,” and “a” all before breaking free of  the second line of the novel.

    The story that unfolds recounts the exploits of a gambler who, like the constrained author, has vowed to never do, or say, anything that he has said or done before.  The book is clearly a tour de force. But, unlike the more manageable constraints discussed above, this is hardly one that the author can pull off without the ruse becoming self-evident.  And suffice it to say that this also is a book that requires focused attention by the reader and should not be undertaken by a mind already mellowed by a few drinks! 

    The Nufer book reminded me of another example of extreme constrained writing that I encountered years ago, Gadsby by Ernest Vincent Wright.  This 1939 novel of over 50,000 words tells the story of a down-on-its luck town that is reinvigorated thanks to the help of the novel’s hero, John Gadsby.  The story, now in the public domain,  is a lipogram:  it is told without using any word containing a banned letter, here, the most prevalent letter in the English language – “e”. Wright’s mechanical technique in writing the novel is explained in the introduction as follows:
The entire manuscript of this story was written with the E type-bar of the typewriter tied down; thus making it impossible for that letter to be printed. This was done so that none of that vowel might slip in, accidentally; and many did try to do so!   
    The burden of the technique, while broodingly present in the construction of any single sentence, presented overarching narrative problems as well.  Again, the words of the author from his introduction:
In writing such a story, -- purposely avoiding all words containing the vowel E, there are a great many difficulties. The greatest of these is met in the past tense of verbs, almost all of which end with “—ed.” Therefore substitutes must be found; and they are very few. This will cause, at times, a somewhat monotonous use of such words as “said;” for neither “replied,” “answered” nor “asked” can  be used. Another difficulty comes with the elimination of the common couplet “of course,” and its very common connective, “consequently;” which will’ unavoidably cause “bumpy spots.” The numerals also cause plenty of trouble, for none between six and thirty are available. When introducing young ladies into the story, this is a real barrier; for what young woman wants to have it known that she is over thirty? And this restriction on numbers, of course taboos all mention of dates.
Many abbreviations also must be avoided; the most common of all, “Mr.” and “Mrs.” being particularly troublesome; for those words, if read aloud, plainly indicate the E in their orthography.
As the vowel E is used more than five times oftener than any other letter, this story was written, not through any attempt to attain literary merit, but due to a somewhat balky nature, caused by hearing it so constantly claimed that “it can’t be done; for you cannot say anything at all without using E, and make smooth continuity, with perfectly grammatical construction—” so ‘twas said.
    If the labors of Mr. Wright were not enough to shame those of us who at times profess writers’ block as an excuse to avoid lesser tasks, it should be borne in mind that there is also a French equivalent to Gadsby – La Disparation by Georges Perec, which also was written without using the letter “e,” and which was subsequently translated into English in 1995 as A Void.  The translator, Gilbert Adair, accomplished the translation also without using that banished letter.  Marvel at the feat of the author, but stand in awe of the constraints borne by the translator!

    As Wright noted, with severe literary constraints writing style invariably suffers.  That is not to say, however, that pathos cannot be found in all of this.  Think of the sad plight of that which has been left behind in constrained writing – the letters, or words, or phrases that are shunned, exiled from the story through no intrinsic fault of their own.  Think of the poor little “e’s.”  Mr. Wright, in his constrained zeal, did not ignore their sad plight.
People, as a rule, will not stop to realize what a task such an attempt actually is. As I wrote along, in long-hand at first, a whole army of little E’s gathered around my desk, all eagerly expecting to be called upon. But gradually as they saw me writing on and on, without even noticing them, they grew uneasy; and, with excited whisperings amongst themselves, began hopping up and riding on my pen, looking down constantly for a chance to drop off into some word; for all the world like sea-birds perched, watching for a passing fish! But when they saw that I had covered 138 pages of typewriter size paper, they slid off onto the floor, walking sadly away, arm in arm . . . .

25 February 2013

Ripped From The Headlines

Jan Grapeby Jan Grape

People always ask writers: "Where do you get ideas?" Gosh, I dunno, maybe the news of the day, just ripped from the headlines. Two items that caught my attention this week:

Body in hotel tank: Cause may take weeks


An autopsy on a woman whose body was found in a hotel water tank in Los Angeles is complete, but the cause of death is deferred pending further examination, the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office said Thursday.
That may take six to eight weeks, according to Ed Winter, the assistant chief of the coroner's office.
The decomposing body of Elisa Lam, 21, of Canada, was found floating inside a water tank on the roof of the Cecil Hotel on Tuesday. The body was in the tank for as long as 19 days while guests brushed their teeth, bathed and drank with water from it, officials say.

One lady is reported to have thought the water tasted "funny" but finally chalked it up to the LA area having strange tasting water. (Taken from a CNN News Report)



Don't think about this too much, but maybe for the next few weeks or months people will carry bottled water with them. That won't help with bathing; at least what you drink will likely be pure.

My first thought when reading this was I wonder how many thriller/mystery books will come out next year with this idea as the premise? Someone on Facebook stated that one of the CSI-type shows had this as a story line a few years ago.

Maybe this next item should be in the "Stupid Crooks" column except this guy wasn't a crook. At least nothing was said about his rap sheet.

Woman 'shot' by exploding bullets in oven


A Florida woman is lucky to be alive after being 'shot' when a loaded handgun magazine exploded in an oven.
Aalaya Walker, 18, was visiting a friend when she turned on the oven to heat up some waffles, not realising he had hidden the magazine there earlier, the Tampa Bay Times reports.
When she went to investigate the resulting explosion, she was struck in the chest and leg by bullet fragments.

Ms Walker was able to remove the shrapnel before taking herself to hospital to be assessed. Her friend, Javarski Sandy, told police he had placed the magazine from his licenced Glock weapon in the oven with four rounds still in it.

"He stated that he does not have a temperature gauge on the oven so he estimates the temperature based on how far the knob is turned," the police report read. "I observed that the inside of the oven was damaged."

If being an idiot were an arrestable offense, Mr. Sandy would be in handcuffs by now but no charges have yet been laid. (Taken from a CNN News Report & Tampa Bay Times)



As most writers know truth is often stranger than fiction. I know writers who have written true stories in their manuscripts and an editor rejected them by saying "No one would believe that."

I've often said and think maybe have even mentioned in a column before that ideas are everywhere. I even have a strange feeling they're in the air and when you need one, you just reach for one. There have been times I've had an idea come to me and a short time later I would read or hear something about that same idea. Or would come across a book written by someone else using that same idea.

But I've also heard stories of authors already working on a book when the major premise of their book actually happened in the real world. Both times the author had to stop and give up on the idea because it was too close to the real events. The first was a writer friend who told of how he was writing a book about a famous athlete (not a football player) killing his wife and he was about three-fourths of the way to the ending of his book, when O.J. Simpson was accused of killing his wife. In my friend's book the athlete is caught burying the wife. The author gave up his book because by the time it came out everyone would think he had just "ripped" his story from the headlines.

The second, was current best-selling author Michael Connelly and he reports in his newsletter that he had a book almost complete that he had to give up because it dealt with school children being killed in an elementary school. But it's got to hurt an author to spend so much time developing the story and characters and then have to dump it. Michael had to do that, Newtown CT was too emotional.

I do know that many television shows of today are based on true stories or events of the day. One television show has used that idea to their successful advantage for many years.

So the next time someone asks you where you get your ideas, you know what to say: "Ripped From The Headlines."

24 February 2013

I Was Just Wondering

by Louis Willis

I’ve been wondering about character creation. Not so much how you fictionists, or is it fictioneers (I’m not sure of the difference but that is a subject for another post), create characters, but I was just wondering how you manage to stay sane while doing so. Specifically, how you give each character a personality that distinguishes him or her from other characters, even minor ones.
Actors take what the playwright or screen writer has written and make the character their own, becoming the character. You fictionists, on the other hand, have to create several characters in one story, sometimes in paragraph or even one sentence. I was just wondering if you become each character in order to create him or her, to give them personalities, including the various emotions each must have to be believable. 

I began thinking about how fictionists create characters while reading A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly in which she, a white writer, created the black male amateur detective Benjamin January. I decided to write a post about creating characters after reading the short story “Pansy Place” by Dan Warthman (AHMM January-February 2012) that Rob mentions in his January 16 post. The protagonist, Jones, is white and Akin, the young man who goes along with him to confront the bad guys, is black. He reminds Jones of himself when he was young--a tough, no nonsense kind of guy. In addition, Warthman created a believable damsel in distress, L’Vonte, Jones’s cleaning lady, and Konnie Kondrasin who was Jones’s agent when he was taking on dangerous jobs. In all, including the three bad guys and L’Vonte’s boyfriend, there are eight characters he has to give different personalities with different emotions, though he gives the bad guys a collective personality.

In these two examples, the characters are of different races. Even when you create characters of the same race but different gender, you may have to be a woman and a man in the same story, and that has to do something to your mind. In the delightful story “Acting on A Tip” (EQMM July 2012), which Rob also mentions, the female author, Barbara Arno Modrack, creates Marty, a very believable male protagonist. He is an ex-alcoholic, ex-journalist who has moved with his long suffering wife Jenny and their youngest son to a small town where he helps catch a serial killer. Modrack has to first think like a man (assuming men and women think differently), switch bodies and be his wife, switch again, and be the teenage son, and finally switch and be the killer. She doesn’t give us the interior thinking of each character. We see the action from Marty’s perspective, but certainly, Modrack had to give each character a little personality to make them, even the minor characters, convincing.

In creating characters, you base some on relatives, some on friends, and even some on strangers, but mostly they come from your imagination. No matter, you still must give them different personalities with the accompanying emotions, and creating those various emotions, my friends, must take a toll on your minds, doesn’t it?

I was just wondering how you do it and still maintain your sanity.
To all of you a big

23 February 2013

An Anniversary


by Elizabeth Zelvin

If my parents were alive, today would be their seventy-eighth wedding anniversary. My father would be almost 114 years old. My mother would be 110. Both had long lives, but not quite that long, my dad dying at 91 and my mother at 96. And today, I want to celebrate them.

Not everybody has good parents. As a kid, I took mine for granted. As an adult, both working as a psychotherapist and in the addictions field and as a mystery writer, paying attention to crime as part of the job description, I learned that dysfunctional families are the norm and some parents the stuff of nightmares: addicts, batterers, child molesters.
Then there are the families in which the parents cannot cope—whether the cause is alcoholism, mental illness, or the emotional immaturity that can result from not having had competent adult role models when they were kids themselves. In those cases, children have to take on adult roles at far too young an age. One of my first psychotherapy clients remembered being charged with responsibility for her baby brother when she was so young she remembers that her legs were too short to dangle but stuck straight out in the chair; at eleven, she was making a living as a model on which the family finances depended.

When I started telling some of these stories to my mother, she was invariably shocked and disbelieving. “No mother would do that!” she would say. I’m not saying that my parents or my family as a whole was perfect. But my parents parented: they loved their children, treated us like kids when we were kids, nurtured, provided, and protected us, and in many ways were inspiring role models.

My parents were both first generation immigrants: my mother from Hungary at age four, my dad from Ekaterinaslav (Dnieprpetrovsk during the Soviet era) in the Ukraine at age six. Both were encouraged to assimilate, to become Americans, as quickly as possible. Both spoke English without an accent, and both got started on the American dream by entering law school in 1921. That's where they met. By the time they graduated, three years later, my father had already proposed—and been rejected. The family story went that Dad, who was honest, hardworking, and unambitious his whole life, made the mistake of telling Mom, “Judy, I’ll never be rich.” What young girl would go for that so early in life?

But they remained friends. They even learned to drive together, so far back in the mists of time that an eight-dollar bribe to the examiner got them through the road test. (Mom, who was normally a speed demon, drove too slow; Dad, usually overcautious, drove too fast.) And in 1935, they married. Their first post-honeymoon home was in Greenwich Village, and we always regretted that they considered it not the right place to bring up children. In later years—in her eighties or nineties—my mother admitted that in retrospect, she was sorry she took so long to say yes.

My dad’s whole legal career took place at a salaried, low-pressure job. My mother, more ambitious, had to deal with the gender barrier of the time. She ended up writing and editing legal books, got a doctorate in political science at sixty-nine, and taught Constitutional law as an adjunct professor in her seventies. They loved to travel. In their eighties, they were still jumping around on glaciers on a trip to Alaska. My father did the New York Times crossword puzzle in ink every Sunday. My mother was an indefatigable swimmer who could never resist a chance to go in any body of water in her vicinity—in her underwear on the rare occasion when she hadn’t brought a bathing suit. She swam in the ocean till ninety and in the bay till ninety-five.

There are many stories I could tell, but for now, let me say:
Happy anniversary, Mom & Dad!

22 February 2013

Snow Day

 by Dixon Hill

A snow day where you live might be a day when kids don’t have to go to school because a heavy snowfall made the roads too treacherous for safe driving.

We don’t get those kinds of snow days here.

In The Valley of the Sun, where I live, a snow day is one of those rare days when white stuff actually falls out of the sky overhead -- something that’s happened only about seven times since 1917. Yesterday would make it eight times.

Some local TV weathercasters, however, tell us that most of what fell on The Valley, yesterday. wasn’t really snow; it was “Graupel” (sounds like: graw - pull)

These TV weather actors (They’re certainly NOT meteorologists!) are from what folks around here call ‘Back East’. So, they don’t understand a basic tenet of desert life: Here in The Valley, graupel counts as snow!

The word “Graupel” does not appear in my rather antiquated unabridged dictionary, I’m afraid, which makes me want to claim that it isn’t a real word. But, unfortunately, it is. And, no, graupel is not the past perfect tense of the word grapple -- which is a shame. Instead, graupel is a word of German origin, meaning “soft hail” or “snow pellets,” according to my online research.

Erbe, Poole: USDA, ARS, EMU
Further research indicates that graupel is created when falling snowflakes come into contact with super-cooled water droplets on the way down. These droplets freeze around the snowflake, forming a sort of icy crust, or sometimes a ball of rime. On the left, you can see a magnified photo of graupel -- courtesy of the US Department of Agriculture, via Wikipedia Commons -- in which said water droplets froze on the ends of a column-shaped snowflake crystal.



Which illustrates why I claim the TV weather actors are wrong.

See, if it can be called “snow pellets,” then we call that “snow” here in a place where it almost never snows. I mean, this is a desert valley where a paper-thin coating of white, which melts within hours, makes front page headlines with multiple color photos.

Add to this: the fact that, by it’s very definition of formation, graupel contains a snowflake at the approximate center of each “snow pellet.” Then, cross index the snow in the center of that pellet, with the fact that we seldom get snow in the center of anything around here, and I think you’ll see why I think Phoenicians have earned the right to call graupel “snow.”

Maybe graupel isn’t snow in New York, Maine or Vermont (not to mention places such as Alaska), where the real white stuff can pile up in deep drifts and banks. But, these are places where they get enough precipitation that folks find it handy to categorize the types.

In Scottsdale, however, we don’t get enough precipitation to categorize. In fact, when we get any at all, my kids run out to experience the rare phenomenon of water (frozen or thawed, it doesn’t matter) falling from the sky. This is an arid land, where what usually comes down from the sky are rays of burning sunlight that spear down to cook your skin lobstershell red (not that we have any lobsters around here, outside of a seafood restaurant).

So, Graupel be damned! If there’s a snowflake in there somewhere, we call it SNOW around here.

And, while we don’t get Snow Days, when I was a kid we used to get something else.

Rain Days

To explain what this means, I’ll have to give you a quick rundown on some of the local geography, so you can understand why Rain Days occurred.

The city of Scottsdale sits just north of Tempe, the town that houses Arizona State University. A long, wide (up to a half-mile in width!) dry wash bed runs from the north to the south, right through the middle of Scottsdale, and empties into the Salt River, which used to separate Scottsdale from Tempe.

The Salt River was dammed up, east of The Valley, early in the 20th Century, to create the reservoir system of the Salt River Project (SRP), a water/power project similar to the Tennessee Valley Authority, which resulted in the Salt River running dry before it ever hit town.

Up until the 1980’s, the Salt River was normally crossed between Scottsdale and Tempe by driving along one of the many roads that ran across the dry river bottom. Only one bridge existed, back then, across the Salt River bed. This bridge, located on Tempe’s Mill Avenue, was known as the (you guessed it) Mill Avenue Bridge.

But, remember: This is the desert, a place of flash floods, where dry washes suddenly run with water five, ten, twenty feet deep -- or even deeper. And, if those reservoirs east of town got too full, SRP had to open the flood gates and let water run down through the old Salt River, in order to reduce the stress on the dams. 

Being a desert, of course, this didn’t normally cause problems, because it doesn’t usually rain very often most years. Some years, however, we get torrential downpours. And, these wet years tend to come along every three to seven years.

I grew up, and attended school, in Scottsdale. But, most of our teachers lived in the lower-rent college town of Tempe. So, when it rained for a couple of days straight, or when the snows melted up north, that big wash ran deep with water through the middle of Scottsdale, and SRP tended to open the flood gates on the Salt River, reducing traffic between the two cities to the single umbilical of the Mill Avenue Bridge, resulting in miles long traffic snarls. Consequently, most of the teachers called in to report that they couldn’t get to school on time. At which point, the Scottsdale Unified School District would call a “Rain Day,” canceling all classes.

And, my friends and I would rejoice!

Teen Fun

In high school, a friend and I used to take his truck out to one of the local washes and tow in stranded motorists. Our pay scale for the work was simple:

 (A) If the person graciously thanked us verbally, there was no bill. My buddy, who was also a mechanic, would even help motorists get their cars running if an engine had stalled.

 (B) Those who thanked us, but complained that there needed to be better signage warning people about the hazard, had to pay the bill of listening to a quick, gentle and kindly education of the many natural signs present in the area, which the driver had overlooked, in hopes s/he would see them next time and avoid a repeat occurrence.

In the belief that someone ignorant of the dangers inherent in desert washes was also ignorant of the dangers of dehydration following a breakdown in the desert, we’d usually also make sure the driver knew to carry a couple of gallons of water in the trunk, along with a jack and some 2x4’s in case they ever got stuck in the middle of nowhere -- the thought here being that we’d save a snowbird, in two cases, with one explanation.

 (C) People who seemed to take our assistance for granted, and railed against a backward place where they let wealthy motorists drive expensive cars into such deep water, were told that our towing fee was twenty bucks.

On two occasions, the driver refused to pay, at which point we explained we would then be happy to push his car back to where we’d found it, and he could hike to the nearest gas station to call a tow truck, after which he could pay a towing bill that would probably cost significantly more than twenty bucks. (In both cases, we got the twenty bucks, so I never really discovered if my buddy and I could have brought ourselves to push somebody’s car back into the water.)

Today

Sadly, for my kids, Rain Days came to an inglorious end in the late 80’s, after a rash of bridge-building broke out, and several substantial bridges spanned the Salt River bed. This, combined with the Scottsdale Greenbelt project, which turned that long, wide wash into an interlinked series of parks and golf courses with bridges across it on all major roads, made it possible for teachers to get to school -- even on the rainiest day.

My ten-year-old son finds this all very unfair. And, to add insult to injury, yesterday, when it snowed just a few blocks away, he was spending his third day home from school, sick. So, this kid who’s never seen snow, didn’t get the chance to go play in the white stuff.

The boy who has never seen snow.
To tell you the truth, I would have let him go anyway. After all, this is the desert! But, he was just about well, and I needed to be sure he’d be well enough to go to school today, because I knew I had to take my dad (who is undergoing radiation treatment, and can’t really be around sick kids right now) to two different doctor appointments.

I made the decision, to keep my son from getting his first look at snow (even if it was just graupel), so my dad could keep his appointment with the doctor who was scheduled to remove two areas of skin cancer from his back.

So, maybe you can understand why I miss the simple joys of the old Rain Day.

On a more positive note: I told my son I thought there are still enough unmarked washes around that he and his friends can go tow people out during floods, when they’re in high school.

See you in two weeks,
--Dix

21 February 2013

I owe it all to Rilke

It is my pleasure to introduce our new blogger, Brian Thornton.  As you will learn, he is the author of several books, but I thought of him for this spot mostly because of his short stories, which include two of the best I have read in recent years: "Paper Son" in SEATTLE NOIR, and "Suicide Blonde" in AHMM.  I hope that in months to come he will write about the art of writing historical mysteries, among other topics.  And now, a big SleuthSayers welcome for the man of the hour!
-Robert Lopresti 

by Brian Thornton

First things first, I'd like to thank my new colleagues here among the Sleuthsayers for their exceedingly warm welcome. It's nice to be invited to contribute, and an honor to be asked to do so here of all places. So, thanks all!

For my inaugural contribution to this blog I thought I'd talk about the power of networking. Oh sure, it's hardly a revolutionary concept that if you hope to succeed in the Brave New World of 21st century publishing you're shooting yourself in the foot if you don't get out there and meet people, make contacts, get yourself some name recognition, etc.

And over the past few years I have watched a plethora of writers work this angle with the sort of single-mindedness usually reserved for I.R.S. auditors and bomb squad technicians; all with varying degrees of success. First I hear it's about name recognition, then about platforming, then about leveraging your contacts, and then of course, the networking magic bullet du jour seems to be creating something known as a "street team."

But hey, keep checking back. I'm sure it'll be something different, some other angle, some other hook, in a month's time.

Look, I get it. With the current on-going technological revolution, publishing is undergoing a centuries-overdue market correction, and, to steal a line from Daryl Hall talking about the music industry's not dissimilar growing pains of a few years back, "There are no more gatekeepers."

So this begs the question: how do emerging authors shout loud enough to be heard among the myriad other voices in publishing's ever larger, ever louder gymnasium?

I don't have a magic bullet. What I do have is some experience, a track record, and a working theory. And since this blog is all about writing, and the craft, and (at least in part) the whole publishing game, I thought I'd share it with our readers.

So here goes: get out there, go to writing events, whether they be signings, conventions, or workshops. Once there, meet people, and be yourself.

Rinse and repeat as necessary.

That's it.

 Simple, right?

But wait, you say, I live nowhere near the big cities where these sorts of things happen, or I can't afford to go to one of the big conventions, etc., etc., etc., and so on, and so forth.

Point taken.

If you can't get out there literally, then get out there figuratively, using the tool you're currently using to read this post.

After all, that's what I did. And it lead to my first book deal. What's more, I couldn't have done it without the assistance of Rainer Maria Rilke. More on him in a bit.

Here's how it worked:

Just about a decade ago I had finally finished my first novel: an amateur sleuth piece set in a law school in the Pacific Northwest. I was quite excited to have it complete and ready for...what, I had no idea.

A friend of mine who worked in marketing told me that I needed to market my book. "I'm the author," I scoffed. "It's someone else's job to market the book."

I was, of course, incredibly naive.

A bit of research revealed a summer writers' conference, as well as several national writing groups with local presences in my area (I live in Seattle). When I signed up for that first writers' conference I was between jobs, the entrance fee wasn't cheap.

But that's another story, for another post.

Since I had written a mystery novel, I decided to join the Mystery Writers of America. Luckily they held meetings in my area, and I began attending them. I met people and was myself. I made friends. I had a good time. I networked.

One of the best-kept secrets about membership in Mystery Writers of America is its email list, EMWA. In the years since I first joined the organization EMWA has been somewhat eclipsed as a networking tool by Facebook and other forms of social media, but for me it proved invaluable.

About a year after I joined MWA, I saw a post on EMWA by someone who, in the course of responding to someone else's email to the list, remarked how much she loved the work of a German poet you likely never heard of, named Rainer Maria Rilke.

This guy:

 Interestingly enough, I also happen to be a fan of the work of Rainer Maria Rilke (In translation, I don't speak or read German). So I did what you do when you meet someone who shares an uncommon interest with you.

I struck up a conversation, and made a friend.

This new friend turned out to be an acquisitions editor for an east coast press. She's still a friend (flew out from Boston a couple of years ago to attend my wedding), and she was the person who offered me my first book deal. And my next, and then introduced me to other editors at her press, who in turn offered me still more work.

It was all nonfiction, and at first it was work for hire. But it paid pretty well (better than most mid-listers bring in these days), and most of the work was writing about things that interested me. Eventually I even worked out royalty-based deals for original ideas of my own.

 As a direct result of that first friendship I am now the author or co-author of seven books, the ghostwriter of another one, and collection editor for two vastly different anthologies.And that first editor friend? She's now my agent.

I guess what I'm saying is that time spent searching for a "magic bullet" to get you published is time wasted. I made that friendship hoping to compare notes with someone else who enjoyed "Autumn Day" and the Orpheus sonnets, not angling to meet someone who could do something for me.

So the moral of the story: get yourself out there and let those connections happen. You never know where they'll take you!

20 February 2013

A Smelting With The Senator

by Robert Lopresti

Oh, you will laugh.  It is 4 hours before deadline and I just slipped in to make one tiny change to this blog, which I finished a week ago.   I apparently hit the wrong key because the entire damned thing just disappeared.  So I am recreating it from what I laughingly call "memory."  Wish me luck.

Note: The illustrations are, in order, a buggy, a smelter, and  a senator.  Thank you.

Last month I finished the first draft of the novel I have been working on since July.  I spent the next two weeks running it through spellcheck.  That may seem excessive, so let me explain.

I am a very slow writer.  Therefore on a first draft I don't stop for nothin'.  I see typos, glitches, malaprops, and worse but I ignore them so as not to cut what flow there is.  That means there is plenty for spellcheck to catch later.

Worse, I wrote part of the draft on my iPad.  I hate writing on my iPad because the on-screen keyboard feels all wrong and I still don't know how the Pages program wants me to do certain things. For example, I still haven't learned to  turn off the autocorrect.  As a result of that I discovered one of my characters announcing that it would be no buggy to arrange a smelting with the senator.

I think he actually meant to say it would be no biggy to arrange a meeting with the senator.  But what do I know?  I'm just the author. 

And then there is the unforgettable scene in which my hero is chased by "two guys with nuns." 

But now I am doing a fast read-through of  the book and I have discovered I love  proofing on my  iPad.  For some reason it goes much faster than on my other computers.  Maybe because the machine is designed for reading text?

Soon I will be done with the read-through and then all I will need to do is edit.  And edit.  And edit...

19 February 2013

Readers Choice

by David Dean

In spite of earlier reports of my departure, which resulted in much joy and merry-making, I'm still here.  And, as I've warned those that have ears to listen (okay, eyes to read...but you get the point), I'm not leaving till I'm done--I need help and your going to give it to me, and even after you do, I've still got one more posting for you to get through on March 5th.  Sorry, but those are my terms.

Being a sucker for punishment, I intend to write another novel and would like to begin very soon.  I am not satisfied that I should write only one (how should I put this?) non-bestselling book, but am determined to produce another.  My theory is that I should continue to throw novels against the wall until one sticks--it's worked for others; why not me?  But that's where you come in--what should I write next?

Having outlined four different stories, I thought you might get a kick out of helping me pick one to get started on.  I like them all (though I have my favorites), but can't seem to settle on which one might be the best bet out of the chute.  So what follows are brief synopses (teasers really, as I'm withholding the conclusions) of my ideas for your consideration.  As I know we are all drawn to mystery first and foremost, I must ask you to remain open-minded about my offerings as they span four genres--consider also the commercial potential--this is a subject of which I've had very little experience.  Up until now, I've written whatever I felt like writing.  But, as I would also like for a few folks to actually read what I've written, I ask for your help.  To paraphrase Rod Serling, consider the following offerings:

Mystery Novel:  A fourteen year old girl, and her two younger siblings, arrive home from school one day just in time to save their father from hanging himself.  It is the anniversary of their mother's unsolved murder.  The eldest girl determines that she will get to the bottom of the mystery of her mother's death and enlists the aid of her eleven year old sister and nine year old brother in the cause--commands them really, as she has stepped into their mother's empty shoes.  Using the newspaper stories that covered the murder, which occurred only blocks away near the railroad track that runs by their home, as well as possible clues of a secret life that she gleans from her father's intended suicide note, she maps out an investigative strategy.  The suspects range from their father to their mother's employer, a doctor; a yet undiscovered lover (and potentially his wife), a nun who may have disapproved of mama's extracurricular activities, a violent tramp that was the police's original and favorite suspect, their grandma (dad's mom), and finally a completely unknown person.  It doesn't take long for the children to start rattling some cages, and soon, it appears that they have garnered some very unwelcome attention from a stalker with violent intentions.  But they can give as good as they get, and the culprit is eventually uncovered.

Horror Novel: A man is awakened in the middle of the night by a great sound, as if the world is cracking.  This is followed by screams, then silence.  Discovering that his wife and children are missing, he scours the house, then the neighborhood, but soon realizes that most people, and all children, have vanished.  In short order, he also discovers that those remaining are not alone; that something(s) is in the dark with them--killing them.  Over the next few days, as he struggles to survive in a world populated by demons, giants, phantoms, and monsters, he begins to understand that Judgement Day has come and gone, and that earth has been given over to hell to rule.  In a world where one can be endlessly terrified, tortured, and horribly killed, only to live again to suffer the same torments, he searches for salvation and release.  When he stumbles upon hell's only weakness, he begins to fight back, and little by little to regain his humanity, and his hope.

Speculative Fiction Novel: With a nod to Beowulf, this story centers on a young Norse Viking named Thorfinn Ratspiker.  So called because he lives in his father's barn where he excels at spearing rats with short javelins known as "darts"--a talent he picked up from their Irish slaves.  He is the illegitimate child of one of these captive women, and is small and slender, and thought to be slow-witted .  When his father, the Viking chieftain, warns him of his half-brother's impending return from raiding and his intention to remove Thorfinn from any chance of inheriting the throne, Thorfinn takes the hint and flees north.  After slaying a gigantic wolf that was terrorizing an impoverished village, he is told of a kingdom still farther north, whose king and populace are living in fear of a cannibal giant.  This bloodthirsty monster is only kept at bay by a steady sacrifice of slave children to sate his appetite.  Thorfinn, buoyed by his recent victory, and unable to return home, continues on to this kingdom to try his luck at freeing the people and to be hailed a great hero and richly rewarded.  What he discovers is that there is far more to the monster than meets the eye and that something even more sinister lies at the core of this kingdom.

Thriller Novel:  A young police officer finds out that his ne'er-do-well little sister and her sketchy boyfriend have vanished while sailing in the Bahamas.  Their boat has fetched up on a small cay in the Exuma chain without them or any clue as to what happened.  Taking a leave of absence, the officer charters a sailboat out of Miami, intending to recreate his sister's voyage based on what he knew of the couple's sail plan.  The captain, a tough old Haitian, agrees to his plan and they set off, only to discover that a large tiger shark follows in their wake--not a good omen according to the captain.  After meeting with the police in Nassau, and being assured that nothing new has been learned, they go to find the boat.  While doing so they pick up a new follower, a large black yacht, that neither draws closer nor stands farther off when they challenge.  His sister's derelict sailboat reveals nothing, but the locals assure them that it arrived on a northerly current and must have been abandoned to the south of their island.  Continuing on they stop over at a cay rumored to be a drop-off point for South American cocaine, prior to its being flown to the U.S.  Here they encounter not only only the crew of the black yacht, but a beautiful island girl in their company.  Having convinced them she is being held captive by drug-runners they help her to escape and flee southward with the yacht in pursuit.  But during the voyage, they grow suspicious that the girl may know something about the young man's missing sister, and is leading them to a similar fate on a deserted island known as Starvation Cay.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it--these are the horses in the race!  Make your pick and place your bet!  The winners will recieve an autographed copy of the book upon publication (if, and when, that ever happens)!  How can you go wrong?  But you can't win if you don't play, so think it over and let me know your thoughts in comments.  Thanks one and all!

18 February 2013

Fast Times

By Fran Rizer



In my youth (a hundred years ago), no young lady wanted to be labeled as "fast," and I wasn't.  Yet, looking back, I did seem to always be in a hurry.  I started school a year ahead, finished high school in three years and my first college degree in three years, which put me in a high school classroom teaching senior English at age nineteen.  The older I grow, the more I realize how truly little I knew back then.

For my newest "baby" to be delivered around October since it's a Christmas story, it needs to be completed by June.  This didn't scare me because books two and three were written and edited in six months each, but it did start me thinking about how long people spend writing a book.



Margaret Mitchell
Margaret Mitchell spent from 1926 to 1934 writing Gone With the Wind, working steadily except for brief periods of discouragement in 1927 and 1934.  Harper Lee devoted three years to producing To Kill a Mockingbird.  More recently, Heidi Durrow says she worked on The Girl Who Fell from the Sky for thirteen years.

Anthony Burgess
What's the other extreme?  Who are the writers who claim to have churned out best sellers in very little writing time? 





Anthony Burgess said that A Clockwork Orange was "knocked off for money in three weeks."  But more impressive than that is the backstory.

In 1959, Burgess was told that he had an inoperable brain turmor and would be dead within a year.  Hoping to provide for his wife after his death, Burgess wrote five novels in the next twelve months. A Clockwork Orange was published in 1962.  Burgess lived another thirty years (died in 1993) and left more than thirty novels.

Mickey Spillane wrote his best seller I the Jury in nine days.  It sold seven million copies in three years.

It's said that The Running Man  took Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman) only three nights.  There are some claims though that a lot of it was lifted from previous manucripts King wrote.
Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac's actual writing time for On the Road  is touted to have been three weeks, but he'd spent seven years traveling the USA and making notes.  Another interesting fact about On the Road is that Kerouac wrote it on a 119-foot long scroll of paper so that he didn't have to keep inserting sheets into his typewriter.  The scroll  has been exhibited in museums and libraries around the world.

On the end of the scroll is a note in Kerouac's handwriting.  He states that a cocker spaniel ate the last lines, so no one knows the original final words.  That sounds an awful lot like some Colonel Parker business to me, and if you believe it's the gospel truth, please let me know because I've got a bridge for sale in New York, and I'll give you a real deal on it!

Until we meet again, take care of . .  .you! 

17 February 2013

The Reappearance of Ellery Queen

by Leigh Lundin

Today we bring you announcements. Two fine writers are joining SleuthSayers: Terence Faherty and Brian Thornton. You'll be learning more about them in the coming weeks, but they are taking center stage as Deborah Elliott-Upton and David Dean take sabbaticals.

David has asked for time off to write another novel. If his first is a clue, it's going to be terrific. As you probably know, David stepped down as a Jersey Shore police chief to join our fabulously highly paid staff of authors. We've all benefitted from his experience and his kind and gentle professional manner.

Deborah has been with John, Rob, and me since the beginning, the early years of Criminal Brief. She's finally taking time off for classes, but rumor has it she's been seen around town driving a fancy sports car. We've enjoyed the lessons she's shared with us as a teacher, as a writer, and as a friend. We're going to miss Deborah and David, but expect them to return from time to time.

Ellery Queen

I've always preferred fair play mysteries. To me, all mysteries should be fair play. This brings me to Emma Pulitzer of Open Road IntegratedMedia who sent me a gracious note asking SleuthSayers to mention they are republishing Ellery Queen novels in eBook form. Says Emma:
According to Otto Penzler of the Mysterious Press, “Ellery Queen clearly is, after Edgar Allen Poe, the most important American in mystery fiction.”

The master of the “fair play” mystery, Ellery Queen’s classic whodunits, starring the mystery author/sleuth of the same name, made the character the most famous fictional detective of the 1930s and 1940s.

Written by two Brooklyn-born cousins, Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee, the stories were an instant hit and adapted into radio, television, film, comics, and games.

Open Road Media and MysteriousPress.com are pleased to announce the release of twelve of these important titles, including The Chinese Orange Mystery (1934), The American Gun Mystery (1933), and The Adventures of Ellery Queen (1940).

We have created an original mini-documentary about the crime-writing duo, featuring Dannay and Lee’s sons and Otto Penzler. The video can be viewed here and on YouTube. We hope you enjoy it!



Ellery Queen is the pen name of two cousins, Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee, as well as the name of their famous fictional detective. Legendary editor Otto Penzler of Mysterious Press believes, "After Poe, I think it's true that Ellery Queen was the most significant and important writer of mystery fiction in America." In this video, Penzler and the authors' sons, Richard Dannay and Rand Lee, speak about the lasting influence of the Ellery Queen "fair play" mysteries.
Ellery Queen novels republished thus far include:
  • The Chinese Orange Mystery
  • The American Gun Mystery
  • The Dutch Shoe Mystery
  • The Egyptian Cross Mystery
  • The Siamese Twin Mystery
  • The French Power Mystery
  • The Greek Coffin Mystery
  • The Spanish Cape Mystery
  • Cat of Many Tails
  • Ten Days’ Wonder
  • And on the Eighth Day
  • The Adventures of Ellery Queen
Bear in mind one of the advantage of digital books is that most are searchable. If you're preparing an article, dissertation or term paper on the subject, these eBooks are the way to go.

Warning

I like Ellery Queen but my friend, colleague, and Dannay/Lee expert Dale Andrews loves Ellery Queen. If you spot him whilst visiting the eBookstore, I recommend clearing a path. Happy reading!

16 February 2013

And the Beat Goes On

by John M. Floyd


As most of you know, author Robert B. Parker passed away in 2010. Parker was a prolific writer, turning out some 68 novels in two different genres--three, I suppose, if you count Young Adult (Edenville Owls). But the crime novel was his forte, and three of his four "series" were in the mystery genre. The protagonists of two of those three series--Spenser and Jesse Stone--successfully made the transition to TV, and the first installation of his Virgil Cole/Everett Hitch Western series was adapted into the critically-acclaimed feature film Appaloosa.  (Parker's third mystery series featured female P.I. Sunny Randall and included half a dozen novels, none of which has yet been adapted to either the big or small screen.)

The purpose of this column, though, is not to discuss Parker's work. At least not specifically. What I'd like to talk about today are three recent efforts to extend his work, and to keep alive most of the beloved-by-millions Parker characters.

To this date, three authors have been given permission to continue writing novels based on Parker's characters and settings: Ace Atkins for the Spenser series, Michael Brandman for Jesse Stone, and Robert Knott for Cole/Hitch. It would appear they are all well qualified for such a task. Atkins is a journalist and bestselling mystery/suspense author, Brandman co-wrote and co-produced (with Tom
Selleck) the Jesse Stone TV episodes, and Knott co-wrote and co-produced (with Ed Harris) Appaloosa. Since Parker's death, there have so far been four Parker-inspired novels published by the new authors, the first three of which were Lullaby (Atkins), Killing the Blues (Brandman), and Ironhorse (Knott).

I, for one, was thrilled to learn that these wonderful characters had been granted a new lease on life. The question, of course, is Are the new novels any good? Well, I just finished Ironhorse last night, so I've now read all of those first three--and here are my humble opinions on each.



Lullaby

In this novel Spenser winds up helping a kid, which has worked well in the past--and it works here too. I won't dwell further on the plot; let me just say that Ace Atkins did what I thought was a great job with Parker's writing style. The almost-entirely-dialogue scenes, the spare and simple language, the action sequences, the fast-paced narration--all of this was well done. Spenser's strange relationship with Hawk rang true, his personal code of honor came into play on several occasions, and even though Susan Silverman was featured, she was--thank God--less nauseating than usual. This was a darn good book. I remember reading someplace that Atkins doesn't sound like someone copying Parker; he sounds like Parker.






Killing the Blues

While this one didn't impress me quite as much as Lullaby did, I enjoyed it nonetheless. The only things I found a bit jarring were that (1) it was a little more violent than most of the Stone novels, (2) it involved a lot less "thinking" on Jesse's part (which is one of the things he's really good at), and (3) Jesse didn't seem to carry around quite as much emotional baggage as he usually does. Jesse's faults--his brooding over his now-distant ex-wife, his drinking problem, etc.--aren't something I particularly like, but they do help make him what he is. Even so--as I said--I found the novel interesting and entertaining, and Brandman writes a smooth story. I will happily buy the next one in the series when it comes along.







I
ronhorse

I really liked this novel. I'm a sucker for Westerns anyway--I'd probably write more Western stories than mysteries if there were a market for them--and I thought this one was intelligent, authentic, and great fun to read. The terse conversations between Marshal Cole and Deputy Hitch were done extremely well, and the settings were so real I felt I was riding beside them, both on the trail and along the railroad tracks that run throughout this tale. The action scenes were understated but effective, and the keynote of the novel was--as in the others--the rock-solid friendship between the two leads. A good effort, I thought.



Question for you mystery (and Western) fans: are any of you Parker fans as well? Have you read any or all of these "additional" books? If so, did you enjoy them?

NOTE: While researching this column, I learned that the second of Michael Brandman's Jesse Stone novels, Fool Me Twice, is now available--and I understand the second of Ace Atkins's Spenser novels, Wonderland, will be out in May. I look forward to reading both. 

I still remember how sad I felt when I first heard about Parker's death, almost exactly three years ago. Part of that was purely selfish, since I figured his creations had died with him. Nobody's happier than I am that his characters are still around. 

I cannot, however, say that I envy any of the three authors who've agreed to carry on. Bob Parker left some big shoes to fill.





BY THE WAY . . . Here are the answers to my Mystery Trivia quiz, posted two weeks ago:


1. What was the full name of Sherlock Holmes's landlady?
Mrs. Martha Hudson

2. In what magazine did Dashiell Hammett's first Continental Op story appear?
Black Mask

3. What was Evan Hunter's best-known pseudonym?
Ed McBain

4. Who killed Richard Kimble's wife in TV's The Fugitive?
The one-armed man

5. What's the name of Bill Pronzini's famous detective?
The Nameless Detective (Okay, it was a trick question.)

6. Who played the gangster who carved up Jack Nicholson's nose in Chinatown?
Roman Polanski (a cameo by the director)

7. What fictional series character hitchhikes across America carrying only a toothbrush, an ATM card, and the clothes on his back?
Jack Reacher

8. Where did Nick and Nora Charles stay when they were in New York?
The Normandie Hotel

9. What mystery (and former Western) author wrote the novel Hombre and the short story "3:10 to Yuma"?
Elmore Leonard

10. What Poe story is considered to be the first "locked-room mystery"?
The Murders in the Rue Morgue

11. What was taken in John Godey's novel The Taking of Pelham One Two Three?
A New York subway train

12.  Who played a judge in the final episode of Perry Mason, telecast in 1966?
Erle Stanley Gardner

13. In what city was Spenser based?
Boston

14. How do you pronounce Ngaio Marsh's first name?
Ny-O (rhymes with Ohio)

15. In North by Northwest, what is Cary Grant's reply when Eva Marie Saint says, "Roger O. Thornhill. What does the O stand for?"
"Nothing."

16. Who shot J.R., on TV's Dallas?
Kristin Shepard (Sue Ellen Ewing's sister, played by Mary Crosby)

17. What was the basis of many of the titles of Martha Grimes's detective novels?
They were names of English pubs

18. What was Mike Hammer's secretary's name?
Velda

19. What did BullittVertigoThe Maltese Falcon, and Dirty Harry have in common?
San Francisco

20. Who lived on a houseboat called The Busted Flush?
Travis McGee

21. Edgar Box is the pseudonym of what writer?
Gore Vidal

22. Who always includes a number in the titles of her mystery novels?
Janet Evanovich

23. Who played the murderer in Rear Window?
Raymond Burr

24. In Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd--how did he die?
He was stabbed in the back

25. How did Nero Wolfe finish the following line: The only safe secrets are . . .
. . . those you have yourself forgotten

26. What TV character's name was taken from the British film industry expression "man-appeal" or "M-appeal" (which is what the series producers were looking for)?
Emma Peel

27. What was Robert B. Parker's middle name?
Brown

28. What was Dick Francis's only collection of short stories?
Field of Thirteen

29. Who was the voice of Charlie in TV's Charlie's Angels?
John Forsythe

30. How did Hitchcock manage to do his trademark cameo in the cramped setting of the movie Lifeboat?
He appeared in an ad for a fictional weight-loss drug, shown in a newspaper aboard the lifeboat

31. What's the name of the bog that borders the Baskerville estate?
Grimpen Mire

32. In Richard Diamond, Private Detective, who played Sam (RD's answering service)?
Mary Tyler Moore

33. What mystery writer is actually Dr. Robert William Arthur?
Robin Cook
(This was my mistake. The real name is Dr. Robert William Arthur Cook. Nice way to keep you from guessing the correct answer, right?)

34. In which of the Thin Man movies did James Stewart play a suspect?
After the Thin Man

35. Who had to turn down the role of Indiana Jones because he was tied up filming a P.I. series?
Tom Selleck

36. What's unique about the settings of Nevada Barr's mystery novels?
They're all set in National Parks

37. In The Maltese Falcon, what was Sam Spade's partner's name?
Miles Archer

38. Who were the two cousins who used the pen name Ellery Queen?
Frederick Dannay and Manfred B. Lee

39. What Ben Gazzara/Chuck Connors TV series had the following format: the first half was spent catching the crook and the last half was spent convicting him?
Arrest and Trial

40. What do P.D. James's first two initials stand for?
Phyllis Dorothy

41. Who writes mystery novels starring sports agent Myron Bolitar?
Harlan Coben

42. Who was the producer's first choice to play Lt. Columbo?
Bing Crosby

43. The movie Heavenly Creatures was based on a crime actually committed by what popular mystery writer, when she was in her teens?
Anne Perry

44. What musical instrument did Sherlock Holmes play?
The violin

45. What TV private detective frequented a bar called Mother's?
Peter Gunn

46. What was used to simulate blood in the Psycho shower scene?
Hershey's chocolate syrup

47. What do Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone series and Steve Hamilton's Alex McKnight series have in common?
The Stone series is set in Paradise, Massachusetts; the McKnight series is set in Paradise, Michigan

48. What did the dying man tell James Stewart in The Man Who Knew Too Much?
That someone would be assassinated 

49. What is romance author Nora Roberts's mystery-writer pseudonym?
J.D. Robb

50. Which Agatha Christie novel featured Alice Ascher, Betty Barnard, and Carmichael Clarke?
The ABC Murders