30 June 2015

Family Tradition

by Susan Rogers Cooper

This is my first time writing an article for SleuthSayers and I thought I'd start with something a little personal.

I once wrote a short story with the title "Family Tradition," but it wasn't a particularly nice family tradition.  Today I want to talk about a good one -- like three generations of writers.  I started writing when I was about eleven years old, but didn't try to get published until I was in my mid-thirties.  Since that time I've been managed to pump out twenty-something books, several short stories, and been nominated for an Edgar award.  But although we writers like to think we write totally in a vacuum, in my case that's not necessarily true.  When I started my E.J. Pugh series, my late husband Don had already come up with the characters and the first horrific scene (which began a new sub-genre, I was told -- the grizzly cozy), and when I got to a point where I actually needed a plot, Don, my daughter Evin and I sat on our king-sized bed and my teenager gave me the McGuffin.  And also one of the best lines in the book.

Evin started writing as a teenager -- mostly romances  -- but now, in her mid-thirties, she's an accomplished blogger (FOOD GOOD, LAUNDRY BAD) and has been called an "influencial" blogger (she's now driving a Cadillac Escalade as a result of that -- just for a week, but still....)  She's got lots of followers and is heading this year's Austin Blogathon, which is a very big deal.

Today, however, I went to the bookstore and bought my ten year old grandson two chapter books.  He's a voracious reader and I'll do whatever I can to feed that.  When he got to my house to pick them up, he said, "Grandma, I have an idea."  Then went on to tell me of a story he thought of about a boy and his parents on an airplane, the airplane crashes, and the boy is the only survivor.  Or is he?  "I'll write the survival stuff,," he said, "and you put the mystery stuff in, okay?"  And I answered, "You betja."  Now's the time to encourage this, to sew that seed, to get the ball rolling.  Yes, I mixed my metaphors, but what's a grandma to do?

Maybe we'll write this book together, or maybe just start it before something shiny catches our collective short attention span, but the spark is there and I will be the bellows.

On Being Someone Else

by Jim Winter

Today is my final Sleuthsayers post. It's been a blast, but I've decided to hang up my crime writing shoes and go do something else. It's been 15 years, long enough to see if the lab experiment will succeed.

About 15 years ago, I started writing crime fiction under the name Jim Winter. That is not the name that graces my driver's license. So why did I do it?

Privacy was a big concern. Mind you, most of us are privacy conscious. And in an age where employers will look at your social media and Internet footprint to see what you're up to, it's a huge concern. But back in 2000, we didn't have Facebook and MySpace. We had AOL and Yahoo. Essentially the same thing, 'cept different.

But I also had an ego. I was going to be the next Dennis Lehane. And of course, making friends with some heavy hitters only stoked that delusion. If I were to create the next Mystic River, I opined, did I want to get hassled at Kroger?

I don't think I've ever been hassled at Kroger, except for maybe an annoying cashier once.

But by the time I realized this wasn't really an issue, even if I somehow became hugely successful, I was already established as Jim Winter. If I were to change, I'd have to start over again.

And when I did decide to start over again, I switched genres. I do science fiction now, and under my legal name, TS Hottle. But are there good reasons to do pen names besides privacy?

Branding is a good one. Joe Smith may write cop novels, but Joseph E. Smith may write dystopian YA fiction. Might get a bit confusing. And then maybe JE Smith may decide to cash in on his success and do writing books.

In some cases, privacy is an issue. Write erotica, and your employer may have issues with that. There may be nothing illegal about you doing that, but it can go horribly south if it makes someone in marketing or HR squick to find out you write that sort of thing. "Smut queen Lisa Jones works in our IT Department? What if our clients find out?" A pen name covers both you and them.

And then there are the hard-to-pronounce names. For instance, I know two writers whose names are hard to pronounce if you haven't heard them before. One writes under her maiden name, another writes under a rather science fictiony name that is easy to pronounce and remember.

Ultimately, I do wish I had not called myself "Jim Winter" in the beginning. It just became more and more unwieldy to explain it or cover it up as time went on.

Now it's no longer a problem.

29 June 2015

Dear Dad

by Melissa Yi

Dear Dad,

As you may know, last time I wrote about how Mom reads my books now. It only seems fair to talk to you this week, even though we haven’t spoken since 2008. So, how’s it going?
I’ve been concentrating on mysteries lately. I find them satisfying because you can describe the ugliness in the world and bring a bad guy to justice. Since I work in an emergency room, I see a lot of illness, and not a lot of justice. Nice people get cancer. Sometimes nice people die. Meanwhile, a patient punched one of our nurses in the face and another patient attacked a different nurse with a high-heeled shoe. I’m having trouble finding the links, though, because there was an even more dramatic story about a patient hit a third nurse with a metal bar while uttering death threats.
Don’t worry, though. I feel pretty safe. We do have security guards, and I see at least one concrete change: we now have posters on the wall saying that we have a zero tolerance attitude toward violence. I hope the criminals can read.
It’s funny. I know you and mom always approved of me going into medicine because it’s considered a safe career. Much safer than writing, which is considered pretty much equivalent to committing hara-kiri. But now that I think about it, medicine is far more dangerous. You spend years abusing your brain and body, inhaling as much information and working as many hours as possible, exposing yourself to flesh-eating disease and felons, whereas a writer…sits in a room and makes stuff up.
True, writers earn less money on average, and poor people tend to get sick. This article even mentions that almost half of poor children have witnessed a killing.
Still, I remember reading articles saying that most doctors discouraged their children from becoming physicians. The articles slid right off of me as a medical student. I was young. I was excited. I was going to be a doctor!
But now, when my four-year-old daughter says, “I want to be a doctor,” I’m thinking of the deregulated medical school tuition and fees alone that cost up to $24,000 per year. I’m thinking of how much she loves babies (already, she walked around Sears, choosing which carriage and crib her baby should have), and how hard it is to balance children and medicine. And I understand why this survey showed that nine out of ten physicians discourage anyone from entering medicine.
I guess that’s why my other moniker is The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World.
Anyway, I’m not sure what you think of my writing. The most reaction I got out of you was when I brought you and mom to the joint book launch for Island Dreams: Montreal Writers of the Fantastic and Open Space: New Canadian Fantastic Fiction, and you were astonished by the free food and drinks. “Who’s paying for this?” you asked afterward.
I wasn’t sure myself. That’s a mystery, too.
But not as much of a mystery as what you’re up to now, after fighting a high-grade glioma for 18 months before succumbing in May 2008. I’m agnostic, but part of me wants to believe that somehow, you know you now have four adorable grandchildren and that I still love you.

Love,
Mel

28 June 2015

Magic?

by Dale C. Andrews

Rationality, that was it. No esoteric mumbo jumbo could fool that fellow. Lord, no! His two feet were planted solidly on God's good earth. 
                                                           Ellery Queen 
                                                          The Lamp of God
[W]hen you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
                                                          Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle) 
                                                          The Sign of the Four
Oh, oh, oh it’s magic, You know -- Never believe it’s not so!
                                                          Pilot 

       There's an unavoidable tension between logic and magic -- both in the real world and in fiction. In the realm of Science Fiction novels tend to fall on either side of a great divide -- fantasy (where magic reigns) and classic sci/fi, where logic and science rule. The same riven appears on the mystery side of the ledger -- magic and the inexplicable may be the rule in ghost stories and tales of the paranormal, but in the area of classic mysteries there is an unspoken compact between the author and the reader -- all must, in the end, be explained in logical terms. And for the hard-core mystery reader, the joy of the story is derived in large measure from attempting to discern the answer, the logic behind the madness, the man behind the curtain, before the author reveals not only whodunit, but how. If the room is locked, we expect to know how the crime was accomplished; if there was a dying message, well, it better be explained in the end. 

       Sometimes, however, there are occurrences in real life, let alone fiction, that defy logical analysis. And often that is what we brand as magic -- a conundrum that has yet to be cracked by science. So viewed, magic is a place-holder, utilized while we figure out what is actually going on. And, as Arthur C. Clarke wrote, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” 

       In one of Ellery Queen’s eeriest and most atmospheric stories, the novella The Lamp of God, a house in the forest disappears overnight.  Of all of the Ellery Queen mysteries, with the possible exception of And on the Eighth Day, Lamp of God is, in my view, the strangest.  The setting is other-worldly, the characters a bit surreal and the mystery itself seemingly inexplicable,  Right up until the end the reader suspects that there may be something supernatural going on.  But since this is an Ellery Queen story, we also know going in that a logical solution, “however improbable,” will eventually be served up.

       Other writers have crafted logic-based mysteries that also deal with the inexplicable and that sometime leave those aspects of the mystery, well . . . unexplained. In Tana French’s recent novel The Secret Place, the chief mystery is logically solved, but an underlying supernatural sub theme is explored but never resolved. In Sue Gruen’s latest At the Water’s Edge, we again have a mystery that is solved but we are still left to grapple with the possibility of of a real-life Loch Ness monster.   And just who, or what, is "the little stranger" in Sarah Water's book of that title?

      So, what about those troubling aspects of the world that we can’t quite explain? Well, in the "real"world that’s where the argument between logic and the paranormal escalates. Take for example Extra Sensory Perception. In a “How Stuff Works” article author Tom Harris frames the ESP debate succinctly:  
When all is said and done, we simply don't know whether ESP exists. Given what we do understand about the way physics operates in the universe, ESP doesn't make any sense, but this is not a valid reason to rule it out. In the history of mankind, thinkers have reevaluated their model of the universe many times in response to new evidence. The scientific process is never about deciding what can't be; it's always about figuring out what is.
Joseph Banks Rhine testing for ESP at Duke University
        But applying scientific principles and logic to determine whether ESP exists -- and how it works -- has proven to be a daunting task. Back in the 1930s a Duke University Professor, Joseph Banks Rhine, teamed with Zenith Radio Corporation in one of the earliest large scale tests of ESP ever conducted. Zenith assembled a panel of individuals who had arguably demonstrated some degree of psychic ability, and directed those "experts" to agree on a sequence of five Xs and Os that they would then collectively attempt to mentally transmit to the radio audience. The audience was then instructed to write down what they thought the sequence was and to send their answers to Zenith.

       Amazingly (or so it seemed) the largest block of listener responses identified one of the precise sequences agreed upon in advance by the Zenith panel. Based upon this Zenith issued a press release trumpeting that it had proven that ESP exists since the number of correct responses was far greater than that which could be attributed to coincidence. 

       So -- it’s magic! Ahh, but not so fast. It is at this stage that the story’s detective makes his entrance. Not Sherlock Holmes, nor Ellery Queen, but instead a young psychologist named Louis Goodfellow. Not content with leaving the answer “inexplicable,” Goodfellow undertook his own study aimed at determining whether there might be a logical explanation for the results of the Zenith experiment. And, as it turned out, there was a credible scientific explanation for the those results. 

       The string of Xs and Os sent out “telepathically” by the Zenist panelists that was most successfully “identified” by the radio audience was “X-X-O-X-O”.  But when Goodfellow tested responses from the general public he found that when asked to provide a random array of five Xs and Os over 30% responded with precisely that sequence. (Indeed, fully 78% of responses always picked “X” as the first choice in the string).  So the sequence identified had nothing to do with the sequence "transmitted."  From this Goodfellow surmised that the largest number of respondents picked the sequence for reasons that had nothing to do with ESP. Rather, the results simply reflect a universal inability of humans to generate truly random responses, a fact that has led to the formulation of a number of theories aimed at explaining the otherwise inexplicable. One such theory is The Law of Small Numbers, which posits that in our quest for randomness we incorrectly are driven by the supposition that small sets of numbers will be as random as larger sets. This leads us to expect an array that is shuffled. 

       As an example, it is a safe bet that in a test such as that administered by Louis Goodfellow virtually no one, when asked to choose a random sequence will select “O-O-O-O-O” or “X-X-X-X-X,” even though these possibilities are as randomly-likely as any others.  Instead, we approach the question with pre-determined prejudices, and therefore simply find it hard to believe that such a sequence will occur randomly even though, as Goodfellow pointed out, the likelihood that five seriatim coin tosses would all be heads is only 1 in 32.  In other words, statistically it would not be all that unusual, and should in fact occur roughly once every 32 times such a sequence of tosses is attempted.  In short, a large number of people will always gravitate to the sequence X-X-O-X-O because that sequence “feels” random. 

       So logic prevailed -- the response by the audience to the Zenith experiment varied not on the ESP abilities of the listeners, nor on the psychic abilities of the panel, but rather based upon whether the specific sequence chosen by the panel matched one that most people were likely to choose as “random” on their own.  And since the bias of both the panel and the recipients, all of whom were human, are shared, it is only logical that the same percentage of each group would pick sequences that feel random.

       Science fiction writer William Poundstone, in his book Rock Breaks Scissors explores some of the ramifications of Goodfellow’s findings: “It basically demonstrated that a lot of the little everyday decisions we make are incredibly predictable, provided you've got a little bit of data to work from.” A real life example from Poundstone’s book -- if you are playing “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” and your opponent is a male, try choosing “paper.” Why? Well more times than not men have been shown to choose “rock.”

       Magic? Nope. Just observable, predictable and documented, human behavior. According to Poundstone “it's not so easy for a person to make up a random sequence. . . . When people try to do that they fall into certain unconscious patterns, and these patterns are really very similar for everyone." Anyone who watches the pop-up ads on their laptop knows there are some sophisticated deductions being made about what each of us might be interested in purchasing.  As Poundstone also observed, Goodfellow’s conclusions on predictability have “become a very big business today, needless to say.”

     Here is another predictability trick, one that I first encountered 50 years ago when I was in junior high. On a piece of paper write the following: “Why did you choose carrot?” Fold the paper so that the writing cannot be seen and then hand the paper to someone, telling them not to unfold it. Then do the following: 

       First pause, then slowly say “Listen to me carefully, do not ask questions.” Pause again and then ask “What is 5 plus 1?” Wait for the answer. Then ask “What is 4 plus 2,” “What is 3 plus 3,” “What is 2 plus 4,” and “What is 1 plus 5.” Each time wait for the answer and then immediately proceed with the next question. 

      Then immediately ask your subject to say the number “6” 10 times, as rapidly as they can. 

       After they have said “six” for the tenth time immediately ask them to “Name any vegetable.” 

       Nine out of ten times your subject will say “carrot.” When (if!) they do, tell them to unfold the paper in their hand and read it. 

       Magic? Likely not. There is some predictable and shared mental attribute that triggers the same response in a large number of us. Okay, (the mystery reader asks) but how does it work? Apparently no one is really sure. A check on the internet reveals a lot of pondering spread over the 50 years since I first encountered this trick, but no reliable theories. It has been speculated, for example, that perhaps the answer “carrot” is prompted by the fact that the word contains six letters. But apparently the vegetable that is picked the second most is broccoli, so go figure. 

       Swinging back to where we started, how does all of this relate to magic versus science in mysteries? Perhaps it comes down to this: In our choice of fiction are we looking for certainty or the inexplicable?  Do we read fantasy, or do we read science fiction?  When we read Stephen King do we like The Stand, The Shining, or It, where the paranormal reigns, or do we like Mr. Mercedes or Finders Keepers, where none of that resides.

       The Zenith ESP experiment is explainable enough that it fits into the closed world that usually comprises the mystery genre. One can picture Ellery, Sherlock or Hercule offering up the Louis Goodfellow explanation, even though that explanation also leaves some questions unanswered. 

       But I’m not sure about that carrot. I’m still sitting here, years later, waiting for a credible explanation for why that one works. 

       Abrakadabra!

                                  *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

       The foregoing text was intended to be my entire article for today.

       I usually avoid wading into the political arena, but after the events on Friday, played out in rainbow hues throughout Washington, D.C., I am going to succumb to temptation.  Hence, this postscript.

       Those keeping track of my articles over the years may have noted my penchant for beginning many with set-up quotes. (See, e.g., above!) This time I’d like to also end with two quotes. 

       The theme today has been the distinction between magic and reason, and the phenomenon that often that which is beyond our abilities to explain is labeled “magic” as an expedient for the fact that we can’t otherwise explain what is happening in the world around us. Sometimes things are inexplicable even when we exert diligent analytic efforts. But sometimes we just allow things to be inexplicable out of sheer laziness, or because we would rather not take the time to figure out what is really going on. So, in honor of that latter group, those who self-contentedly label something “magic” and then move on without further inquiry, I offer the following quote
I have to admit that I’m one of those people that [sic] still thinks the dishwasher is a miracle. What a device! And I have to admit that because I think that way, I like to load it. I like to look in and see how the dishes were magically cleaned.
      Thank you, Justice Clarence Thomas, for explaining so clearly the intellectually myopic wherewithal you bring to the task of analyzing the world around you.  And here is the latest example of Justice Thomas' reasoning, taken from his dissent in the gay marriage case:
[H]uman dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.
       What????

       This is what you get when someone who thinks dishwashers are magic is given the job of determining the Constitutional protections that are to be accorded to all others.  I am always heartened when the views of Justice Thomas (or Scalia or Alito, for that matter) concerning the reach of the Constitution are consigned to dissenting opinions.

Colin Black Andrews and Kyle Hartwig
At the White House -- June 26, 2015




27 June 2015

Fee or Free?



by John M. Floyd



I was talking to a beginning writer the other day (a writer of short stories, since most of what I do is the short stuff), and she said to me, "Yeah, I want to get published--but the main thing is, I want to get paid."

Hard to argue with that. All writers--including me--want to be paid for what we produce. And while I didn't tell her that she shouldn't aim for that (I'm dumb but I'm not stupid, and neither is she), I did tell her that there are times when she might want to also consider publishing something for which she's not paid. At least not in dollars.

Here you go, buddy--no charge

Let's say you're an aspiring writer of short stories, and let's say I'm a teacher who's smarter than I really am. What I would tell you is, I believe it can be helpful to a shorts writer, especially when starting out, to occasionally submit something to a magazine or anthology that pays only "in copies"--which means they will send you a least one copy of the issue containing your story, sometimes called an "author copy" or a "contributor's copy." This gives you a couple of things besides just something to put on your coffeetable and brag to your friends about. It gives you (1) a publishing credit and (2) exposure.

Well, whoop-de-doo, right? Credentials and exposure won't pay the rent--they won't even buy you a burger and fries, or a stamp to put on your next snailmailed submission. But, hey, if you build up several respectable credits that you can use later in your cover letters and bios, or if a publisher or agent or another editor happens to see your story in, say, a non-paying university litmag, and likes it . . . well, that's not a bad use of your time and your effort.

The same thing goes for speaking engagements. Most writers are regularly asked to visit libraries, schools, senior centers, civic groups, book clubs, etc.--any venue that needs someone to come in and teach a quick workshop or fill a program slot. These places will sometimes reward you with a payment or cover your travel expenses or both, and when they do, that's great. But sometimes they don't, or can't. IF they don't, or can't, why should you do it? Well, if you're Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, maybe you shouldn't. But if you're me, and probably if you're you, there are times when doing these events can be a good move. For one thing--as mentioned earlier--it's exposure. It lets you get your name and your work out there in front of more readers and potential customers. Once again, this kind of goodwill gesture won't pay the light bill--but it can pay off in the long run. And free events often lead to fee events.

On the other hand . . .

Show me the money!

There is a second school of thought--and the longer I write, I find myself inching more and more into that camp--that says "If I'm creating a product and providing a service, I expect to be paid for it." Those who take this approach insist that it's not only sensible but time-saving. It involves less research and fewer submissions. You just concentrate on the publications that pay, and avoid all the others.

While there aren't a ton of paying markets these days, there are some, including  AHMMEQMMThe Strand Magazine, Over My Dead Body, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, and Woman's World. And a good many more if you consider anthologies, and the so-called literary markets that are sometimes receptive to mystery/suspense stories: Zoetrope, The Sun, Thema, The Missouri Review, Harper's, The Saturday Evening Post, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train Stores, Pleiades, Tin House, and so on. We've talked many times at this blog about what it takes to make a story "literary," and the fact that crime fiction sometimes fits into that category. My friend and fellow Mississippian Tom Franklin's short story "Poachers," which won an Edgar Award and appeared in The Best American Mystery Stories 1999, was originally published not in AH or EQ but in The Texas Review.

Questions: 

If you're a writer of short fiction, what's your opinion on this kind of thing? Are you ever willing to send your work to a non-paying publication? If so, which ones do you prefer? If not, under what conditions might you be willing?

Also, what paying mags and anthologies do you submit stories to? At which of these have you been successful, and which ones might you recommend? What do you think about fee vs. free speaking/teaching engagements?


This little piggy went to market . . .

In closing, here are some Web resources I've used in the past, to find possible homes for my work:

Ralan's Webstravaganza -- This isn't just for SF/fantasy stories (even though it says it is). The big mystery magazines, for example, are included. It also lists anthologies.

My Little Corner 

The Short Mystery Fiction Society Blog 

Mystery Readers International

Writer-On-Line

Fiction Factor 


Those last two sites might be a bit dated, but there are still some good listings and good tips to be found there.

Another place--and a great print reference--that lists pay and no-pay markets is Novel & Short Story Writers Market (WD Books). A new edition is printed every year, and it features a "genre index" section that lists those places that consider mystery submissions. And sometimes the best approach is the simplest: Forget the market listings altogether and just key something like "short mystery markets" into Google and check out the resulting links.

Wherever you go and however you do it . . . good hunting! Or, to paraphrase one of my boyhood heroes: Write long and prosper.






26 June 2015

If You're Going to Do a Kidnapping

by R.T. Lawton

If you're going to do a kidnapping, you need to think the plan all the way through, right down to every last detail. Because, if you don't, then things may go terribly wrong. Witness one kidnapping in Kansas City many years ago.

We had an informant who for the purposes of this story, we will call Rat. This particular lowlife was providing information about a local motorcycle gang, a one-percent criminal organization which shall remain nameless. The two patch holders in this nameless club who were involved as story participants, we will refer to as Big Nose George and Little Duffy.

At some point in their motorcycle gang relationship, Big Nose George became suspicious of our boy, Rat. Suspicions led to paranoia, which led to George and Little Duffy putting their heads together to discuss the situation. Coming from a background of limited brain power combined with street cunning and vast amounts of violence, they soon hatched a plot to kidnap the Rat and take him someplace secure and quiet in order to properly interrogate him about their suspicions. To do so, they quickly realized that they couldn't use their customary mode of transportation, Harley choppers, to pull off this particular caper. No, trying to do so with a tied-up and gagged individual who was bungie-corded down behind the driver would be way too obvious that a crime was in progress, especially since some of the travel to the secure interrogation site would require driving on the Interstate through the middle of Kansas City. Their dilemma was apparently solved when Little Duffy suggested they borrow his girlfriend's old Chevrolet Corvair for use as the transportation vehicle. Now ready, the two potential kidnappers set off for the residence where Rat hung his hat.

They pulled up into the driveway and found Rat in the garage, which they considered as an excellent situation for their purposes because it would then be a short trip from the garage and into the trunk of the Corvair. Shorter distance made for less chance of an eye witness observing the abduction and then calling the police. It also made sense in case they had to carry the abductee out to the car.

Approaching the intended victim as if they were merely there for a friendly chat and maybe a couple of beers, they gradually surrounded the Rat. George then knocked the Rat down and both bikers jumped on top of him. One quickly tied his feet together and then his hands behind his back, while the other biker gagged Rat's mouth to ensure his silence. Finished, they then realized that as a result of their enthusiastic restraining of the victim, they really would have to carry Rat out to the trunk after all. Should've just pulled a gun on him and made him walk.

Photo by Greg Gjerdinern
Since the Chevrolet Corvair turned out to be one of those rear engine cars with the trunk in the front, it was an even shorter distance from the garage to the trunk than it would be with a regular car. The two kidnappers congratulated themselves on their foresight in having a plan come together.

Helping themselves to a couple of beers from Rat's refrigerator, the kidnapping party hit the road and merged onto the Interstate. At a nice 65 mph, they enjoyed cruising along on a nice summer day with the windows rolled down to catch a breeze. Toasting their success with purloined cans of Rat's beer, the two kidnappers were feeling good about their clandestine operation.

Meanwhile, under the trunk lid (or hood, depending upon how you see a rear engine car with storage space in the front) Rat had managed to untie his feet. Positioned with his back to the trunk/hood latch, he used one hand to work the release mechanism.

Back inside the Corvair, Little Duffy, in the driver's seat with beer can in hand, suddenly found himself blinded when the trunk/hood lid flew up against the windshield. At 65 mph, the trunk/hood lid compressed across the glass until Duffy could no longer see the road in order to steer between the white lines. Duffy hit the brakes and slid to a stop.

With the decrease in forward motion, Rat rolled out of the front storage space and took off running for the shoulder of the interstate and down a grassy slope toward safety. His hands were still tied behind his back.

Seeing their quarry escape, Big Nose George and Little Duffy opened their doors to give chase and nearly lost both doors to passing motorists. Bleating car horns and the sound of locked-up brakes filled the air. Deciding that all these aggravated witnesses around was not a good thing, George slammed down the storage space lid and they prepared to vacate the premises seeing as how Duffy could now clearly view the road again. Sadly, the Corvair lid would never be the same.

After testifying in federal grand jury as to his harrowing experience, Rat retired from such a risky occupation and moved to a city, far, far away. George and Duffy were subsequently provided with a long opportunity to contemplate how their great plan went awry.

Ah, I loved Kansas City. Never a dull moment.

25 June 2015

The Challenges of Writing Historicals

by Brian Thornton

Just finished reading David Edgerley Gates' excellent post "The Past is Prologue", which directly precedes this one here on the Sleuthsayers blog. And while I like the post and agree with his main points regarding his preference for writing historicals (a preference I by and large share), I couldn't help but think of a few of the drawbacks inherent in writing what we write.

And since I'm writing this from a deck chair overlooking a wonderful beach fronting on the Pacific Ocean, I'll restrict myself to a few bullet points in no particular order:

There's a certain amount of "World Building" involved in writing historicals.

As is the case with the writing of our brethren in the speculative fiction (fantasy and science fiction) end of the fiction spectrum, writers of historicals are often introducing their readers to a thoroughly alien landscape while setting the scene, be it in 17th century France, 1950s Berlin, Han Dynasty China, or Periclean Athens.

So of course this means a LOT of research. No worries, I have an MA in history, and I love this kind of stuff.

That said, it can be time-consuming. And not just the research end of it, the scene-setting can pose a challenge as well.

After all, if you have a character in a modern thriller walking down a street in a Boston suburb, you can afford to write what I call "thumbnail description." Something along the lines of:

"Susan strolled along the sidewalk behind her Fox Terrier Rufus, plastic bag at the ready. Rufus skittered from tree to tree, along manicured lawns, even pausing to sniff at an appealing looking sprinkler."

Now, because of the age in which we live, most people can easily employ visual memory short-hand and fill in that sort of image pretty quickly. After all, who hasn't seen someone fitting the general description of the character above (you know, female), out on a walk with her dog, waiting for him to poop in the last week? The last month?

But if you're writing a series set in 1840s America, as I do, this scene wouldn't work as is for any number of reasons, including, but not limited to: 1. Ladies of a certain age and social standing rarely went about unescorted, and they certainly didn't follow their dogs around doing their business. 2. Sidewalks were far less common in this era, and if they existed at all, they were likely made of wood, not of concrete. 3. The "lawn" as those of us either residing in, or refugees from, the suburbs, understand the notion, did not, by and large, exist in the walking suburbs of the nation's cities during the 1840s. You had something called a "dooryard," which was about as close as you could get (unless you owned a significant estate. They had lawns. BIG ones.). Dooryards tended to be some iteration of dirt or mud (depending on the weather), and were where visitors left their horses/carriages/phaetons, etc.

So describing the mundanity of daily life gets complicated. After all, even though human beings haven't changed all that much in their basic nature over the last few millennia, the same cannot be said about human society/technology.

And how to shoe-horn all of that research into a narrative?

The rule of thumb is that between 60 and 80% of what you dredge up in your research about your era is going to inform your writing indirectly. In other words, you're not going to share most of what you learn while researching the Texas annexation crisis. While riveting to you, the politics surrounding the quest to make Texas a state would likely bore the bejeezus out of most of your readers. So we pick and choose and cherry-pick.

And no matter how hard you work on your book, someone will come out of the woodwork to tell you how you got it wrong!

This one is a virtual certainty. And if anything, with the easy availability of any amount of disinformation on the Internet, this sort of thing has only gotten worse over the last couple of decades. Nearly every writer of historicals I know personally has at least one good story about a reader who contacted them to lay out a detailed list of ways in which they "got their facts wrong."

(And David, if you've got one, I'd LOVE to hear it!)

You can probably guess how productive engaging with someone with that sort of an axe in need of grinding, and any sort of time on their hands, will be for you.

• And then there's the whole "anachronistic characters" thing.

A double-edged sword if ever there was one.

There's quite a bit more to be said on this subject. And since it's a fairly thorny topic, I'll be picking it up in two weeks, when I'll be home from vacation.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a spouse waiting, and a beach in need of walking.

See you all in two weeks!

24 June 2015

The Past Is Prologue

David Edgerley Gates


My pal Michael Davidson, who's a thriller writer - and, as it happens, a 30-year career CIA vet - said one of the things he likes about my Cold War stories is that they take him back to another place and time.  Berlin, and the Wall.

It got me thinking about why we like historicals, and why I like writing them.

I'm not talking so much about Mary Renault, say, and the Peloponnesian War, or Bernard Cornwell and Waterloo, as much as I like those writers and their books, but more recent history. In my case, the Placido Geist bounty hunter stories take place in the years just before America's entry into the First World War, and the Mickey Counihan stories just after WWII, the late 1940's. These are turning points. It's not in dispute that the Great War changed both the world and our worldview. Everything that comes after, in the 20th century, is foreshadowed by it. Total mechanized warfare, chemical weapons, targeting civilian populations. Mass trauma, in other words. And the late 1940's see the atom bomb, jazz, Jackie Robinson in the Dodgers' dug-out, television, the Red Scare.

First off, we have the lure of historical irony. Major league baseball has been integrated for sixty years, the Soviet empire collapsed (sort of, anyway), and nobody smokes Chesterfields anymore. Back then, all of this was just around the corner. But the future, as John Crowley says, is at right angles to the present. In the moment, or at the time, none of it was even a glow on the horizon. 

Secondly, and related to the first, if you can immerse yourself in an era, not just the period detail, but a state of mind or a habit of thinking - because the past, in many ways, is a different country - it's liberating. This might seem counter-intuitive, since you can't avoid historical incident (the Titanic does, in fact, sink), but it actually gives you a lot of latitude. You have to work your way into it, you have to inhabit the landscape. It's like learning a foreign language. Once you've got the grammar down, you begin to pick up the idiom. And when it becomes familiar enough, you can think in that language, instead of stumbling through an awkward mental translation.

Third, and this comes back to Davidson's original remark, when I revisit Berlin, in that time, the landscape is entirely vivid, in my mind's eye. More importantly, I transport myself into an era - not simply a physical place, but a place with a specific density. Berlin, in the here and now, is only a template. I'm walking the streets of memory. But that place is so complete that I can stop worrying about the landmarks. I don't need to look at a map. It's all there in my peripheral vision, and the imagined city is more immediate to me than anywhere in the present day. You could call it my comfort zone. I'm not saying it was a simpler time, or that the world was any less dangerous, but it's almost like a parallel life, one I did in fact experience, only now I'm just a visitor.

We see the past through a lens, from the perspective of this day and age, and we think of it as a distant reflection of our own time, as if Beowulf, or Genghis Khan, had the same mindset we do, and accepted out agreed reality. Which is backwards. We're the reflection. We mirror the past, not the other way around. Beowulf is about as far removed from Shakespeare as he is from us, but the Elizabethan playwrights are still accessible to us, while Old English might as well be written in runes. (It more or less is, as I remember.) BEOWULF is still a rousing yarn, and so is
MACBETH. However. You can make out a shape, a continuity, in the literature, BEOWULF to Chaucer to Shakespeare, and it's a window into an older age of man. Of course, we see it with our own eyes. How not? The witches in MACBETH, for example, might in the modern reading be imagined as a projection of Macbeth's own ambition, preaching to the converted, but to an Elizabethan audience, they were simply evil spirits, manipulating a weak man, and they were real. Grendel's mom, to our mind, might be some earth-mother, the female principle made flesh, a threat to the male warrior mentality, just emerging into the Iron Age. But to a bunch of people in bearskins, sitting in a smoky room inside a stone barricade, somewhere up by Hadrian's Wall, she was a cannibal monster. The meta-drama doesn't play. The subtext is hindsight. These people understood a different reality. They were beset by genuine monsters, predators, Viking raiders, early death in childbirth, disease. To reduce their struggle, against a hostile environment, is to betray their trust, and our legacy.

History is just one damn thing after another. I forget who said that. Might have been Homer, for all I know.


http://www.davidedgerleygates.com/

23 June 2015

Scoundrel

By David Dean





William Augustus Bowles

 
He's a handsome devil, isn't he?  I encountered this gentleman in Mobile, Alabama during a very engaging tour of the historic Conde-Charlotte House.  Dashing Billy's portrait hung on the wall of the second floor  hallway.  My brother, Danny, and I were spending a few days in this beautiful old city that began life as a French fort and trading post, and were taking in a few of the sights.  Our guide, a lovely lady who treated us as welcomed guests, escorted us from room to room explaining the various periods illustrated by the furniture, paintings, silverware, and creature comforts, each room representing a particular period in the long history of the city.  Though Mobile had begun life as a French enclave (and retains much of that flavor to this day), it would, in turn, become an English possession, a Spanish conquest, part of the fledgling nation of the United States; secede with the state of Alabama to join the Confederacy, and finally, return to the fold at the close of the Civil War.
As it happened, we were just finishing our tour and preparing to go back downstairs when the painting caught my eye.  It had not been remarked upon prior.  "Who's this?" I asked, genuinely intrigued by the striking subject in the Native American turban.  Our guide grew instantly more animated, raising an eyebrow and saying, "Mostly it's the ladies who notice Mr. Bowles."  I quickly assured her that it was my interest in Native American history that drew him to my attention.  Brother Danny snorted.  "Well," she went on to explain with a smile, "Mr. Bowles was not an Indian, but he was quite a rogue, and at one time, declared himself chief of the Lower Creeks." 

Declared himself...?  I was hooked...and I think you will be, too. 

What follows is the very large story of William Bowles condensed for the sake of narrative brevity.  There is much left unreported and I beg your understanding.  My thanks to Rhen Druhan at the Conde-Charlotte Museum for her invaluable aid.  Much of the information here was drawn from a wonderful piece on his life in issue 103 of Alabama Heritage Magazine, as well as other sources.


The word scoundrel has many permutations in the English language: When speaking of corrupt politicians we generally intend it as a pejorative.  But there's another category of scoundrel that when we apply the word to them, it's always accompanied by a slight, involuntary smile.  Yes, we know that they're not very good people, maybe even pretty awful ones, yet...we find them charming, entertaining, larger than life, living more fully than we dare, taking risks that most of us never would.  These are the same folks we also use the word roguish to describe, or perhaps, adventurer.  We often write about such people and it's easy to think that they're mostly fictional characters.  Mostly they are.  Then there's William Augustus Bowles.

William began life in 1763 as the sixth child of an English family making its home in the colony of Maryland.  He was remarkable from the start.  Described as an aggressive, vigorous boy with an olive complexion, he excelled at many pursuits.  He leaned to speak French, play the flute and violin, painted, was well-versed in mathematics, history, and literature; was, in fact, an avid reader.  Besides these artistic and academic qualities, he was a good horseman and all-round outdoorsman.  In short, he was gifted with good looks, health, intelligence, and sensitivity.  He was also very headstrong as events would prove.

His family being fervent Tories during the Revolutionary War convinced young William to join the cause of Britain at sixteen years of age.  But after being garrisoned in Philadelphia he found himself cooling his heels for the next several years growing ever more impatient to see action.  Hearing that a military ship was looking for volunteers for duty in Jamaica and Florida, William hastened to join.  He was commissioned as an ensign and set sail.  What happened once the crew went ashore in Florida remains unclear.  What is clear, however, is that young William deserted the ranks (he described it as resigning his commission) and made good his escape in the vicinity of Pensacola.  Think of it, dear reader, our young hero afoot in the palmetto jungle and swamplands of northern Florida; hundreds of miles from home.  He can neither return to Maryland nor go back to Pensacola.  He would surely swing either way. 

But as often seems the case in the life of the daring, the unexpected happens--a party of Creek warriors come upon him and, like many that would follow, are impressed.  So impressed by his personality and verve that rather than harm him, they take him along to their village.
Chief Tomochichi and Nephew

Within a short while he is adopted into the tribe, a tribe that holds sway over much of Alabama, Georgia, and northern Florida, becomes fluent in the Muscogee language of the Creeks, and takes a wife.  Always one to live large, William also manages to wed a second lass, a Cherokee, thus uniting two peoples often at odds with one another.  Presumably, being William, he also learns the Iroquoian tongue spoken by his second bride.  Retaining considerable energies, even with two young wives in his household, he begins his first grand adventure.  Learning that the Spanish are attacking British forts along the Gulf Coast, he convinces a number of Creek warriors to join him in the defense of Pensacola.  It is certainly a measure of his remarkable character that he is able to lead braves into battle after having lived amongst them for so short a while.  In any event, the garrison is lost when a Spanish shell blows up the powder magazine and the fort along with it.  Ever a survivor, William flees into the forest with his adopted tribesmen and makes good his escape--a talent of his that would be utilized many more times during his life.

Spanish Troops Capture Pensacola--U.S. Military Museum
In a sudden reversal of fortune, the British army restores him to the rank of ensign as a reward for his service and valor at Pensacola, and William joins a regiment in New York.  Then, in a move that remains unclear, bonny William appears in the Bahamas where he whiles away the balmy days as a portraitist and comedian!  It appears his talents know no bounds, though what brings about this sudden change of career, like the move to Nassau itself, is obscure.  However, duty calls him yet again; this time in the august personage of the governor of the Bahamas, Lord Dunmore.  Having learned of his reputation among the savage races of the Americas, he dispatches William back to the Creek Nation to establish a trading post.  Returning to his, no doubt, pining wives, he swiftly sets up shop proclaiming himself Director-General of the Muscogee Nation!  Perhaps a bit overblown, but young William is never one for half-measures.  There are obstacles.

The Spanish, having taken advantage of Britain's long war with its colonies, now controls Florida and the Gulf coast, and with it the trade monopoly with the Creeks and Seminoles.  The Director-General, undaunted, meets the challenge with vigor--he declares war on Spain!  His Creek allies are somewhat divided on this issue.  They have grown comfortable with Panton, Leslie, and Company, the firm that the Spanish have commissioned as their trade emissaries.  Besides, the British are losing the American war and their defeat is imminent.  Details!  Young William decides that Panton and friends must go.

Again using his powers of persuasion, he is able to convince the more brash among the young men to support him in a strategy of intimidation and violence against his competitors.  Within a short while he has succeeded in making himself the target of His Most Catholic Majesty's ire.  In order to bolster his position, William ups the ante once more, telling the Creeks that if they would only recognize him as Chief of All the Creeks, he would see to it that the British Crown recognize them as a legitimate nation and establish an exclusive trade agreement.  The people, uneasy with Bounding Billy's vaulting ambition, grow ever more divided and fractious.  Yet, he has his supporters; the idea of a separate Indian Nation appeals to many and William's daring is infectious.  Traveling to England he makes his bold claims.  But for all his trouble and bluster, the government remains unimpressed.  There will be no treaty and no recognition of the, so-called, State of Muscogee.  He may, however, act as their sole trade representative to the natives.  Something he is already doing.  This is not what William relates to the people upon his return.

Declaring the negotiations a triumph on all fronts, the leader of the mythical State of Muscogee sets in motion the full machinery of war.  The Director-General proceeds to outfit two schooners as his navy and organize an army of four hundred Creeks warriors, frontiersmen, and former slaves as his soldiers and sailors.  In short order he begins to stock the coffers with the plundered riches and goods of Spain.  The store is now open and the British once again competitors in the contested region.  The year is 1800.
Charles IV of Spain by Goya

Branding the young upstart a pirate, Spain places a huge bounty on his head and it is not long before he is captured and transported to Spain to face justice.  As seems ever the case, the Spanish find William as irresistible as all before them and Charles IV himself(!) attempts to win him over to the Spanish cause.  Our Billy's not having it.  Whatever he may be--scoundrel, liar, pirate, con-man, adventurer--he is English, by God!  Disappointed, no doubt, the emperor has him shut away in prison.  By now you must know what happens next--he makes good another escape, commandeers a ship, probably in much the same manner as hailing a taxi, and returns to Florida. 

 But several years have gone by and William finds much changed in his absence: His rivals once more hold sway and British influence has all but vanished.  Worse yet, important leaders among the Creek peoples have closed their hearts to him, fearing both his ambitions and judgment.  Hearing of an important meeting between both Upper and Lower Creeks William decides to go all in.  Gathering his dwindling supporters around him, he crashes the party and does what Brash Billy does best, demands that he be recognized as "Chief of all Indians present"!  His enemies, knowing William as they did, are prepared for such a move and promptly take him prisoner, handing him over to the Spanish once again.  The Spanish having also taken the measure of our hero, on this occasion transport him to the infamous Moro Castle in Cuba to languish.  This time, however, there is no escape.  Whether he is mistreated, poisoned, or simply dies of neglect we shall never know, but by 1805 Dashing William is seen no more.  He is 42 at the time of his death, having spent 26 years living on the edge; his dream of an independent country for his adopted Creeks dying with him.  I hope that his two wives, at least, mourned his absence, but history remains silent on this question.  Having dared much, he lost it all in the end, and though there is much to be complained of in William Augustus Bowles' character, certainly two things can be said in his defense: He remained loyal to Britain until the end, and he certainly did not lack courage.  Loyalty and Valor do not a bad epitaph make.

The Capture Of Havana (Moro Castle)




   
                   





     

       

22 June 2015

The Marine and the Game Warden

by Robert Lopresti 

You could say this column is a sequel to a piece I wrote called "The Ranger And The Sheriff's Wife."  That was a report on two non-fiction books that seemed to be chock full of ideas for crime stories.  So is this.

Thieves of Baghdad, by Matthew Bogdanos, Bloomsbury Books, 2005.

Matthew Bogdanos planned to go into his family's restaurant business but one day, on a whim, he decided to enlist in the Marines.  The recruiter took one look at his test scores and said he was doing no such thing.  He was going to enlist in college and then the Marines would accept him for officer's school.

So Bogdanos became the first person in his family to attend college, and on 9/11 he was a federal prosecutor in New York City, and a member of the Marine Reserves.

After the famous looting of the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad, Bogdanos was able to convince his superiors that he was the perfect person to head the squad assigned to search for the missing antiquities. After all, how many Marine officers could there be with law degrees and knowledge of classical art and literature?

As you can imagine, the job was extremely complicated.  For example, consider the difficulty of simply reporting accurately how much was stolen.  If thieves took five pieces  of an old jar, did they take one item or five?

More importantly he discovered that a lot of the material hadn't been stolen at all; but was placed in safe-keeping to protect it from the U.S. troops who were no doubt planning to confiscate the art and take it back home.  So Bogdanos and his men had a diplomatic task to do, convincing people that all they wanted  was to get the art safely back into the museum.  Inevitably this involved drinking many cups of tea with interested parties.

Which is not to say the marines didn't deal with actual thieves or terrorists.  Both were encountered in big numbers.  I highly recommend this book.


  Shell Games, by Craig Welch, William Morrow Books, 2010. 

It was like a Walt Disney movie that turned into Stephen King. 

So says one of the main characters in this book, summarizing his career.  But the protagonist is Ed Volz, a cop with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.  HIs job was to catch people like the Disney-to-King gentleman above.

You see, Puget Sound has a poaching problem.  The main target of these "clam rustlers" is the geoduck (gooeyduck), a bizarre-looking bivalve that can live well over one hundred years.

Because they take so long to develop they are considered the "old growth forest" of the sea and no one knows for sure how long it takes to replenish a field that has been harvested.  One of the nasty parts of the trade is that until you dig the clam out of the sand (sometimes two feet down) you can't tell if it is valuable or  relatively worthless..  Since pulling it out of the sand kills it, that counts as part of your fishing quota, whatever quality it turns out to be.


As you can guess, nasty poachers find all kinds of ways around the quotas, so both state and federal agents keep busy trying to keep people from stealing the things to sell, mostly to Asia.  One problem for the good guys is getting the legal system to take the crime seriously (clam rustling!), although the occasional arson or attempted murder helps with that.

This non-fiction book is full of remarkable, larger-than-life characters, like the Native American sculptor/fisher, a twice-convicted felon, who volunteered to go undercover to catch the poachers.  Or the alleged hit man who travelled with a teddy bear.  Or Seattle's legendary Ivar Haglund, "P.T. Barnum of the Sea," who, when a truck full of syrup spilled on the highway, showed up with a plate of pancakes and a fork.  Or, well, take this fellow, a real lateral thinker:

He'd been experimenting with planting geoducks much like shellfish companies farmed oysters and had leased forty-seven acres of public tidelands just off a county park near Purdy Spit.  Since the land was underwater and not suited for building, the county charged just twenty-five hundred dollars.  But in readying his farm for planting baby clams... [he] set about removing obstacles -- namely an entire colony of wild geoducks.  [He} dug up and sold $2 million worth of clams.

A wild story.






21 June 2015

Serial

Sarah Koenig
Sarah Koenig
by Leigh Lundin

Several months ago, a reader brought to my attention a new PBS series called Serial, an exploration of an old Baltimore murder case. In 1999, a high school girl was violently killed. A low-level drug dealer fingered her secret teenage boyfriend who was convicted of her homicide and sentenced to life plus thirty years.

The boy’s aunt, Rabia Chaudry, asked NPR journalist Sarah Koenig to take another look at the case. Koenig has shared with readers the results of her research as she compiled it, often editing until the moment of broadcast. In a voice that combines both girlishness and maturity, she bared her uncertainty in this confusing case. The Guardian called the journey “slow-drip storytelling.”

Timeline 1

Timeline 2
If you haven’t been following Serial, it comes highly recommended. High school senior Adnan Syed was accused and convicted of the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. Although a number of suspects cropped up, police focused on Adnan Syed based on an accusation from a cannabis dealer friend, Jay Wilds, who claimed he helped bury the body after Syed showed it to him in the trunk of his car.

While Jay’s multiple stories contained a number of inconsistencies and the timeline was thinner than a jailhouse sandwich, police felt his accusation was plausible. No one has accused the original investigators of incompetence, only Syed’s lawyer. At least one witness placed Syed elsewhere, but that person wasn’t allowed to testify.

While several suspects have surfaced, one thing strikes me. If Jay took part in burying the body and if we posit Adnan Syed is innocent, then my attention turns to Jay himself, the one person who admits to being at the scene of the crime… at least where the body was found. And the journalists turned up a connection with jewelry.

It’s a national shame, but the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act cuts short appeals and prevents evidence of actual innocence being considered for appeals. Maryland places an especially high burden upon the wrongly convicted. Thus it’s often journalists and the clamoring of private organizations that give a little hope to the wrongly convicted. In other words, justice is often in the hands of believing individuals, not that we have any certainty Syed didn’t kill Hae– we simply don’t know. What we do understand is that a teen probably didn’t receive a fair trial.

If you haven’t heard the original broadcast and Serial podcasts, now is a good time to catch up with this obsession. Thanks to Koenig, NPR, and the public, it appears Adnan Syed will finally get another trial. Time affects evidence, memories, and the number of witnesses that can still be found, so it’s unlikely we’ll learn of a smoking gun. The Syed family simply wants a fair trial for that long-ago boy accused of killing that long-ago girl.



Note: You can listen to podcasts through your browser, but you can also subscribe to podcasts through iTunes and other dedicated players for your tablet, iPod, smart phone, and ordinary computers. Look for a button or menu item regarding podcasts and subscribing. This article about iTunes and Juice is dated, but might help you get started.

20 June 2015

Killing People is what I Do


by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)
 

“Why would you ever want to write about murder?” said the horrified relative.  “Why not write a nice little romance?”

Why indeed?

As I quickly added another relative to kill in my next book (you would be shocked how often that happens….) it occurred to me that there were many reasons to write about murder.

1.. It’s the challenge of creating the clever puzzle.  Plotting a mystery is like playing a chess game.  You always have to think several moves ahead.  Your reader is begging you to challenge them, and is working to beat you – meaning to guess the killer before your detective does - to the end.

2.  Plot is paramount.  Murder mysteries start with action – usually a murder.  Yes, characterization is important, and particularly motivation.  But murder is by nature an action, and thus something happens in the book you are writing.  And quite often, it happens again and again.

3.  It’s important.  This is murder, after all.  We’re not talking about a simple threat or theft.  A lot is at stake.  Murder is the final act.  The worst that can happen.  The end of it all.
 
4.  It’s a place to put all your darkest fantasies.  There are a few people I’ve wanted to kill in my life.  They did me wrong.  And while I do have a bit of a reputation for recklessness, I value my freedom more.  So what I can’t do in reality, I relish doing in fiction.

5.  Finally – it’s fun. This is the part I don’t say in mixed company (meaning non-writers and relatives.)  I can’t explain exactly why it’s fun – you’ll have to trust me on this part.  But plotting to do away with characters in highly original ways is a real power trip.  I’m smiling just thinking about it.

Of course, I can understand where some of the relative angst comes from.  In A PURSE TO DIE FOR, a gathering of relatives for a funeral results in the death of one or two. 

In THE GODDAUGHTER’S REVENGE, a cousin of Gina’s does her wrong.  So she does him back, in a particularly crafty and oh-so-satisfying way.

It was entirely accidental, that use of relatives.  Honest.  I wasn’t thinking of anyone in particular.

 Not much I wasn’t.

(You can follow Melodie at www.melodiecampbell.com.  Better still, buy her Goddaughter books.  It's an offer you can't refuse. Especially since her maiden name was 'Offer' - not kidding.)



Available at all the usual retail locations, including Amazon