30 September 2016

Anthologies Everywhere

By Art Taylor

Today is the last day of the week-long Fall for the Book festival, based at George Mason University with events in Northern Virginia, DC, and Maryland. I've worked with Fall for the Book for many years in various positions, and my contributions this year were primarily focused on a few of the mystery and suspense programs throughout the week. Thursday night, for example, I moderated a panel of writers from the local Mid-Atlantic Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, including Maya Corrigan, Dan Fesperman, Shawn Reilly Simmons, and David Swinson—part of an evening that also included a talk by Lyndsay Faye, author of Jane Steele.

Earlier in the week, on the festival's official opening day, I moderated another panel with members of three regional chapters of Sisters in Crime: Donna Andrews, Diane Davidson (half of the team co-writing as Maddi Davidson), Maria Hudgins, and Heather Weidner. Our topic there was anthologies, since these three chapters are now behind two series of anthologies: the Chesapeake Crimes books, including most recently Storm Warning, from the Chesapeake Chapter, and two volumes of Virginia is for Mysteries from the Central Virginia Chapter and from Mystery by the Sea, the Southeastern Virginia Chapter.

That chat was terrific, I thought, and emphasized both the benefits of anthologies from various perspectives and the responsibilities inherent in producing those anthologies.

On the first point, maybe the benefits are obvious. From the reader perspective, anthologies offer the chance to sample a variety of authors in a single book—find which you like and pursue their works further. From a writer perspective, anthologies offer the reverse—the chance for exposure to more readers—but also the opportunity to work as part of a larger community of writers, often a wide-ranging community, from veterans to first-timers; and on that latter point, beginning authors get the chance to experience in microcosm the entire process of publication, from editorial feedback and revision, to the book launch, to the marketing beyond.

The behind-the-scenes on that process is where the responsibilities come in: from ensuring an objective and professional selection process (perhaps relying, as the Chesapeake Crimes series does, on different judges each book to select stories) to maintaining a solid editorial review of each entry (both at the global level and in terms of copy-editing) and then to overseeing the publication itself—and making sure the publisher stays properly on top of things.

Much of this is often on a volunteer basis, of course—with the Chesapeake Crimes series, neither the authors nor the editors receive monetary compensation, and proceeds benefit the chapter itself. But the other benefits maybe far outweigh the questions of royalties: in terms of a nice publication credit, good exposure, and a renewed sense of literary citizenship.

Thinking about the panel, I realized that over the last few weeks, I've been in the midst of a good bit of anthology news—and grateful for it.

Back at Bouchercon in mid-September, I was thrilled to accept the Anthony Award for Best Anthology on behalf of the contributors to Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015, including my fellow SleuthSayers Robert Lopresti and B.K. Stevens as well as 19 other contributors: J.L. Abramo, J.D. Allen, Lori Armstrong, Rob Brunet, P.A. De Voe, Sean Doolittle, Tom Franklin, Toni Goodyear, Kristin Kisska, Robert Mangeot, Margaret Maron, Kathleen Mix, Britni Patterson, Karen Pullen, Ron Rash, Karen E. Salyer, Sarah Shaber, Zoë Sharp, and Graham Wynd. (A good cause here too, with proceeds benefiting the Wake County Public Libraries in North Carolina, host of last year's Bouchercon.)

Then just this week, Malice Domestic announced the stories accepted for the upcoming anthology Murder Most Historical, and I was proud to have been a member of the selection committee there, along with Martin Edwards and Kathy Lynn Emerson. Contributors there include: John Betancourt, Susanna Calkins, Carla Coupe, Susan Daly, P.A. De Voe, Michael Dell, Carole Nelson Douglas, Martin Edwards, Kathy Lynn Emerson, Peter Hayes, Nancy Herriman, KB Inglee, Su Kopil, Vivian Lawry, Edith Maxwell, Catriona McPherson, Liz Milliron, Kathryn O'Sullivan, K.B. Owen, Valerie O Patterson, Keenan Powell, Mindy Quigley, Verena Rose, Shawn Reilly Simmons, Marcia Talley, Mark Thielman, Victoria Thompson, Charles Todd, Elaine Viets, and Georgia Wilson.

And early next week brings the publication of this year's Best American Mystery Stories anthology—a dream come true for me, since editors Elizabeth George and Otto Penzler have included in this latest edition my story "Rearview Mirror," the opening section of my book On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories. Fellow SleuthSayer Robert Lopresti also has a story there—"Street of the Dead House"—and we're both in find company, alongside the likes of Megan Abbott, Stephen King, and Elmore Leonard, among many others. Can't wait to see the book myself!

And all this doesn't even begin to mention the anthologies that I picked up and perused at Bouchercon itself, including the new Bouchercon anthology Blood on the Bayou, the ultra-lush collection In Sunlight or in Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper, and the just-released Sunshine Noir, in which "seventeen writers from around the globe tell of dark doings in sunny places."

Plenty to celebrate here, and plenty of good reading ahead too.



29 September 2016

Treason's True Bed

by Eve Fisher

I don't know how many of you have heard of Marissa Alexander, of Florida. She was sentenced to 20 years in 2012 after firing a single gunshot at the ceiling of her home in an attempt to scare her estranged husband, Rico Gray.  Right before she did this, Alexander had locked herself in the bathroom; Gray broke through, grabbed her by the neck, and shoved her into the broken door.  She tried to escape through the garage, but the garage door wouldn't open.  She grabbed her gun from the car and went back in the house.  When Gray saw Alexander with a gun, he “charged her ‘in a rage,’ saying, ‘Bitch, I'll kill you.’”  She shot the gun at the ceiling, he backed off, no one was harmed.

"Safe enough for babies" - I know, irrelevant,
but I couldn't resist.  
Now before this incident, Gray had previously tried to choke her, strangle her, regularly threatened to kill her, shoved her around, and hospitalized her.  She'd gotten a restraining order against him.  She was charged with 3 counts of aggravated assault, and claimed immunity under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" (SYG) law.  But judge denied her immunity, and a jury sentenced her to TWENTY YEARS IN PRISON.  She appealed and was granted a new trial due to erroneous jury instructions; she is currently freed; but throughout, the court reaffirmed that she couldn't claim SYG as a defense.

You may be wondering, what the hell????

Back in 2005, Florida became the first state to adopt a SYG law.  Based on British common law on self-defense, SYG eliminates the duty to retreat when using self-defense and expands the “Castle Doctrine.”  BUT SYG specifically denies people prosecutorial immunity under SYG if “[t]he person against whom the defensive force is used or threatened has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, [or] residence . . . such as an owner, lessee, or titleholder, and there is not an injunction for protection from domestic violence or a written pretrial supervision of no contact order against that person.”   (Much of this comes from the American Criminal Review.)

In case you're wondering, the NRA helped write Florida’s SYG law; and most SYG laws are based on Florida's.  (See - We Helped Draft It" here)  Now the NRA will tell you that SYG allows women to protect themselves from rapists, etc.  But that's only from rapists who are strangers.  If you know them - well, you're gonna have to figure something else out.  
NERD NOTE:  82% of women who have been raped were raped by someone they knew; only 18% by a stranger.  (See Rape Statistics here)
So, despite the fact that women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence than of stranger-danger, 82% v. 18%, those violent partners are the specific people women are not allowed to defend themselves against under SYG.  BTW, the NRA specifically helped write it this way.  

So, okay, you might say, all they have to do is get a protective order.  Yeah, well, only 28% of female victims get one.  Most victims of domestic violence are afraid, desperately afraid.  And rightly so. I've seen cases where the man waited until the woman came out of the courthouse and either killed her in the parking lot and/or followed her to her next destination and beat the crap out of her and/or killed her.  (Marissa Alexander HAD a protective order, and was STILL denied SYG.)

And it's not just Marissa Alexander.  Take a gander at this blog from Patheos listing dozens of horrendous but true examples of women trying to defend themselves and/or their families, and ending up in prison:  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2016/08/why-is-the-nra-ignoring-this-14-year-old-girl-jailed-for-shooting-her-abusive-father.html

What in the holy hell is going on?  Well, for one thing, the NRA has consistently opposed revoking a person's 2nd Amendment Rights (i.e., the right to own a gun) just because they have been convicted of domestic violence, no matter how heinous and disturbing.  And most people who have been convicted of domestic violence and/or have protection orders against them are, sadly, male.  
Clarence Thomas official SCOTUS portrait.jpg
SCJ Clarence Thomas
NOTE 1:  To be fair, the NRA is beginning to walk back a tiny, tiny, tiny bit on the issue of convicted domestic abusers, mostly because (1) Women have been raising holy hell about it; and   (2) women vote; and (3) a high-profile executive of the NRA was in a high-profile domestic abuse case, and the publicity fall-out was bad.  BUT - it's still only a little walking back - the NRA still opposes expanded background checks, opposes including things like stalking under "domestic abuse", and opposes giving abused women SYG rights.  (It also depends on the state) 
NOTE 2: It also depends on the judge:  In February, 2016, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas spoke for the first time in 10 years from the bench - to protest against making a “misdemeanor violation of domestic conduct... result in a lifetime ban on possession of a gun, which, at least as of now, is still a constitutional right.”  (See here)  
So what is going on?  Why don't women have the same rights to SYG when their lives are threatened, even if it is a domestic partner?  

I think it all goes back to the olden days, when British common law said that acts of petty treason were: 
  • a wife killing her husband, (no matter what the reason)
  • a clergyman killing his prelate (i.e., superior)
  • a servant killing his master or mistress, or his master's wife
And notice this little detail:

A man (clergyman/servant) convicted of petty treason was punished with hanging.
A woman convicted of petty treason was punished by being burned at the stake.

A significant difference in punishment level even back then, wouldn't you agree?

This significant difference in punishment level still holds true:

"The average prison sentence for men who kill their intimate partners is 2 to 6 years. Women who kill their partners are sentenced, on average, to 15 years." (University of Michigan study here)  

Stand your ground?  If only they could...  





28 September 2016

JUGGERNAUT - the Physical Effect

David Edgerley Gates


I think it was the screenwriter William Goldman who said people love seeing how things are done. He meant in particular, how to pull off some dangerous and possibly illegal maneuver. The classic example is RIFIFI, the heist sequence - 30 minutes without dialogue.

JUGGERNAUT is about defusing a set of booby-trapped bombs aboard a cruise ship at sea, and it manages to ratchet the tension up nicely, thank you. Released in 1974, and directed by Richard Lester, the picture headlined Richard Harris and Omar Sharif. It was shot on board an actual ship, in the North Sea, and in bad weather. They used FX for explosions and stuff, but this is before CGI, so the pyrotechnics are happening during the shoot, not after the fact. The first big set piece is the bomb disposal crew, Brit Special Services, parachuting out of an orbiting C-130 Hercules into the open ocean and scrambling up the side of the ship on rope ladders. They lose a guy in the drink. Then our sodden heroes go belowdecks, to try and figure out how not to blow themselves out of the water.

One of the main reasons I like this movie so much is that I tried to do something similar in a story called "Cover of Darkness," which was likewise about saddling up for a dangerous job, but more to the point, the story was about the nuts and bolts. It was carried by physical action, not dialogue, and it was very hard to pull off. A lot of it took place underwater, in scuba gear, so there wasn't any talking. This is the kind of thing movies can do really well, but it's nowhere near as easy to do in narrative prose. You're using the equivalent of movie vocabulary, without anything to break up those long descriptive paragraphs. Somebody hits their thumb with a hammer, you don't even get to hear them curse about it. Trust me, this is work. Rolling the stone away from the door.



Those physical details in JUGGERNAUT, though, are seamless. Close watertight doors. Check. The gears engage, the tumblers lock. Go to infrared. Check. The visible light spectrum shuts down. Isolate the power source. Check. Richard Harris threads an alligator clip carefully past a trembling switch and shorts out the electrical contacts. His team listens in on headsets, and follows the route he maps out, step by step. There are half a dozen devices to disarm, and Harris is breaking trail for the others. If he puts a foot wrong, it's his last mistake.

Now, you had me at cut the red wire. I'm a sucker for all the generic tropes of demolition stories, going back to THE WAGES OF FEAR. But for reasons I don't understand, this picture was a dud at the box office. Maybe it was too cerebral, the suspense generated by things not going off, when any minute they could. And it seems so economical, no wasted motion, no down time, all meat and potatoes.

Then, besides, Richard Harris and Omar Sharif, you've got Anthony Hopkins and David Hemmings, Shirley Knight, Ian Holm, cameos by Freddie Jones and Roshan Seth and Jack Watson, Cyril Cusack and Michael Hordern. And to top it off, two enormously affecting performances by Roy Kinnear and Clifton James, who all too often play caricature. It baffles me, I kid you not. Richard Lester didn't always bring home the bacon, though. HARD DAY'S NIGHT, and HELP, A FUNNY THING and THE THREE MUSKETEERS, and then a truly astonishing, transcendent picture like ROBIN AND MARIAN goes straight in the toilet. You can't account for it, the intangibles.

Dick Lester shooting JUGGERNAUT

This doesn't change the essential thing, which was my starting point. JUGGERNAUT is about the accumulation of small incident, the trembling switch, the red wire, the single detail. Skip one little piece of the puzzle, and you're a smear of atomized remains on the bulkhead. That's existential, all right. No room for conversation.

I admire how coherent JUGGERNAUT is. It takes a technical problem, and lays out its component parts. Whether it's in fact
Clifton James
presenting an accurate picture is beside the point. You buy into it completely, at least for the duration. I understand that there are always going to be hardware guys, like me, who look for solution to target. And then there are people who look through or beyond the schematic, to the emotional context. As it happens, I think JUGGERNAUT has that, too. Clifton James, confessing his infidelity to his wife. Shirley Knight, after Omar Sharif throws her under the bus. And again, Roy Kinnear, who shows such grace, and a touching largeness of heart.


But let's be honest. Even though the characters are terrific, the picture isn't character-driven. It's compelling because it takes you through a process, and it's all of a piece. The clock just keeps ticking.

27 September 2016

A Convention for the Rest of Us

By Barb Goffman


There's a famous Seinfeld episode set during the December holiday season in which we learn that George's father, Frank, doesn't celebrate Christmas. It's too commercial for him. Wanting a different kind of holiday for his family, he came up with his own and named it Festivus. And Frank didn't just name this holiday. He gave it teeth. Instead of a tree, there's a plain aluminum pole. Instead of presents, Festivus has the feats of strength, in which someone at dinner must wrestle and pin Frank. And instead of singing carols, Festivus requires the airing of grievances. "I've got a lot of problems with you people," Frank said during that episode, and my heart swelled. But the best part of Festivus is its inclusive nature. As Frank described the holiday, set on December 23rd of each year, it's a Festivus for the Rest of Us.

I wasn't thinking about Festivus when I came up with my own mystery convention two weeks ago. I was sitting on my couch with my dog, Jingle, reading Facebook posts from friends who had already headed down to New Orleans for Bouchercon--the world's largest annual mystery convention. Determined not to feel left out, even though I couldn't attend Bouchercon this year, I decided that Jingle and I would convene at home, and I would share our activities on Facebook. And Jinglecon was born.

With a focus on animal mysteries, Jinglecon had book bags, a book room, the New Dogs Breakfast, an interview of convention namesake Jingle by Scooby Doo, an animal fashion parade, Jingle Go Round (in which mystery/crime authors posted about their books, some offering giveaways), and panels. Many, many panels, including Fifty Shades of Bay(ing): Racy Animal Mysteries; Squirrels and Foxes and Cats, Oh My: All About Antagonists; Dogs Gone By: Historical Animal Mysteries; Dogbumps: Spooky Animal Mysteries for Kids; and my personal favorite, The Bitch is Back, about female dogs who return to their hometowns to take over the family business and become amateur sleuths on the side.



I hadn't planned on Jinglecon becoming so involved. I had originally thought it would involve one or two funny posts each day with some photos. But then I started hearing from friends, readers and writers who couldn't go to Bouchercon, who were checking into Facebook repeatedly each day, looking for new posts. They were thrilled that this year they didn't have to feel left out because now there was a convention for them. Jinglecon had become the equivalent of the Festivus for the Rest of Us.

Social media is wonderful because it can allow the world to feel smaller. It can allow readers and writers to connect through things like Facebook and Twitter and this very blog. But it can also result in people feeling left out. Before social media, non-attendees might have heard some talk about how Bouchercon was after it ended, but they didn't have access to hundreds of posts as the convention went on, talking about all the great panels, the parades, the fun at the bar. Now we have that access. And it's wonderful, but it can also make people who can't attend feel left out.

(c) Becky Muth.
So I was so pleased that my stay-at-home virtual convention enabled people who couldn't travel to New Orleans to feel that they, too, were participating in something fun. We talked about books we love. We gave books away. We had a lot of laughs. As a convention goes, I'd call it a success. Others clearly felt that way too because I had people ask me to open early registration for next year. So Jinglecon 2 will happen next fall. I'm planning to attend Bouchercon myself in 2017, but I also plan to run Jinglecon at the same time.  I loved enabling people who couldn't attend the in-person convention this year to feel that they were part of the fun, too. And with a year to plan, next year's virtual convention should be even better.

So look for #Jinglecon posts on Facebook next fall while Bouchercon is running in Toronto. Jinglecon is open to anyone who loves mysteries, no matter where they are. (Indeed, this year we had a bunch of people attending Bouchercon checking in on the posts.) But Jinglecon is especially aimed at those readers and writers who want to connect but aren't able to get to Bouchercon. Jinglecon--it's the Festivus for the Rest of Us.
(c) Becky Muth. Thanks, Becky.













26 September 2016

Bouchercon 47 Blood on the Bayou


Down in New Orleans

by Jan Grape

    If you have never attended a Bouchercon before,please listen to me and plan to attend one in the next few years. The one in New Orleans was number 47, Number 48 will be in Toronto, Canada, Number 49 will be in St Petersburg, FL and Number 50 will be in Dallas, TX. Just remember all of these events are run totally by Volunteers.

   If you want to register for Toronto, the cost is $175, cost will go up on Jan 1st. Dates are October 12-15. At Sheraton Center Toronto Hotel. PASSPORT  TO MURDER Guests of Honor: Canadian: Louise Penny, American: Megan Abbott, International: Christopher Brookmyre, BCon for Kids: Chris Grabenstein, Fan: Margaret Cannon, Ghost of Honor: John Buchanan, Toastmasters: Twist Phelan & Gary Phillips.

     If you want to register for Dallas, Bouchercon 2019, DENIM, DIAMONDS, DEATH. 50th year anniversary. From now through Dec. 2016, $135: From Jan 2017-Dec 2018: $150, Jan 1, 2019 (till What are you waiting for?)  $175 at the Hyatt Regency-Dallas.

   If you've never heard of Bouchercon until recently, it is a World Mystery convention in honor of Anthony Boucher, the distinguished mystery fiction critic, editor, and author whose real name was William Anthony Parker White. It brings together all parts of the mystery and crime fiction community attended by Authors, editors, agents, publishers, booksellers and fans. There are about 2000-2200 attendees. I know in the past 2500 have attended and yet in the early days there were 100-150 attendees.

   I hate to tell you who the Guests of Honor in New Orleans were because it's over and I'm sorry you missed it, however just want you to know you missed. That way you will see all the wonderful people you didn't get to see and perhaps entice you to sign up for one of the upcoming BCons. This year: American Guest of Honor: Harlan Coben, Lifetime Achievement: David Morrell, BCon 4 Kids Guest of Honor: R.L. Stine, International Rising Star Guest of Honor: Craig Robertson, Local Legend: Julie Smith, Toastmasters: Harley Jane Kozak & Alexandra Sokoloff, Fan Guests of Honor: Ron & Ruth Jordan.

    One of the major happenings is panels every day pretty much every day. Mostly authors are on these panels but there are special panels with editors and booksellers, etc. There is even a special event for first time authors and there were 25 new authors listed in my pocket program. After each panel and there are 5 or 6 people on each panel, there is a mass book signing for each panel member. And there are 5 or 6 tracks of panels going on at the same time. Which gets to be frustrating because almost every time the panel you really want to hear is running at the same time of that other panel you want to hear. Soon it comes down to you will sit in the bar area, hoping to meet an author you really wanted to meet. You don't have to drink alcohol to sit in the bar, you can drink tea or soda. Usually you can even order food, Most of the guests of honor will come into the bar once or twice a day to meet people. Of course you can always meet them at their signing time.

    The Anthony Awards are given out and other awards are also presented like the Mccavity, the Barry, the Derringer and probably others I have not mentioned. The Shamus award given by the Private Eye Writers of America at the PWA Banquet. There is a charge to attend this and it usually is at a different location from the host hotel.

    There is a hospitality suite where you can go and get a snack and a drink often at no cost. Often sponsored by publishers or a group like Sisters in Crime. There are also parties hosted by publishers in the evening that attendees are invited to attend. There are a few events that are by invitation only but those are listed.

    There are also free books....FREE BOOKS. Donated by publishers hoping to gain readers of their authors. The attendees of Bouchercon this year were each able to pick up 6 free books each. They gave out 6 raffle like tickets with your registration goodies which also this year included a free book bag, a T-shirt, your big program book and a pocket program booklet, your name that is placed in a nice little lanyard pocket holder.

   One important event is a silent auction that benefits things like adult literacy and children's programs. Each host Bouchercon will have their charity partner listed.

    The most fun thing to me is to stroll down the street and find little nooks or diners or hole in the wall cafes that serve the most amazing food, And naturally great sight seeing in whatever city you are spending time in. I used to always try to go a day or two early in order to see the city. New Orleans was great for that and there are also tours to special places in each city. I personally had a bit of trouble walking the first day in New Orleans due to my old bones but by the second day was better. Next time I will do some walking at home first to get my hiking legs up to speed.

    Okay, I hope this gets you in the mood to attend a Bouchercon in the next three years. I am already signed up for Dallas in 2019. Hope to see you there.

By the way on August 31 in a general note to everyone replying to Leigh's Calendar and SS list I wrote a note correcting Leigh that Susan and I were attending BCon in New Orleans not Toronto and suggesting that all SS members who were going to be in NOLA plan a little get together while there so we could meet fave to face. In that note I said we were staying at Courtyard by Marriott but at the last day...actually after I arrived in NOLA I was able to book us in at the BIG Marriot where the convention was being held.

It didn't matter because I NEVER heard from anyone. No one let me know anything. I just assumed you didn't want to get together or maybe you just didn't want to meet me.  But it seems like no one happened to read that note. In fact, John Floyd wrote me that he was really sorry not to have met Susan or I. I told him about my invitation and he said he never got a note. I suppose my mistake was in just adding it on the note about the SS calendar. But I didn't think that far ahead. At any rate I'm sorry we didn't get to have a little meet and greet while in NOLA. I doubt that I will go to BCon again until Dallas.

I did see and talk with Deborah Elliott-Upton. She found me and came over and said, "hello." I had only met her once years ago but since I always wear "GRAPE" earrings that's probably how she found me.  

DON'T FORGET EVERYONE INVOLVED IN BCON ARE VOLUNTEERS. NO ONE IS PAID.






25 September 2016

There's Always Hope

by R.T. Lawton

Nine or ten years ago when I was a member of the board of directors for the Mystery Writers of America, I was in Manhattan for the annual Edgars Awards Banquet. At the time, all board members in attendance were supposed to show up at the Nominees' Champagne Reception and be wearing their name tag. The idea was to greet the nominees, engage them in small talk and make them feel comfortable before the banquet and the awards ceremony.

The Mysterious Bookshop
As I was standing in the Nominees Room with a glass of champagne in hand, an attractive, young lady walked up to me and said, "You're R.T. Lawton." I thought nothing of it because clearly, I was wearing a name tag that displayed that information on the face of the tag. She then went on to puff  my ego by telling me that she was a reader for Otto Penzler and that my stories had come close to making it into his (annual) Best American Mystery Stories anthology.That little tidbit of conversation kept me motivated for the next year with hope, and well, a lot more hope. I didn't know how close I'd come to getting a story into his anthology, but I did know none of my stories had made it into any of Otto's anthologies so far, plus I had never found my name listed in the Honorable Mention column of any of Otto's books.Verbally close, but no cigar. None the less, hope sprang anew, year after year.

In 2013, I was in lower Manhattan at The Mysterious Bookshop for a signing of The Mystery Box, MWA's anthology for that year. Since the third time's the charm, I'd finally gotten a short story into one of MWA's annual anthologies, and this was the one. Also, since Otto Penzler owns The Mysterious Bookshop where the book signing was, I got to meet the man, shake his hand and exchange a few quick words. Figured that just might be as close as I ever got to having any business dealings with the man.

Then in June of this year, an unexpected e-mail slipped out of the ether and landed on my computer. My wife read it first (she generally gets up earlier in the summer) and called it to my attention. In short, Otto had sent an e-contract and was asking permission to include "Boudin Noir," one of the stories in my 1660's Paris Underworld series in his The Big Book of Rogues and Villains anthology scheduled for publication in 2017. Several years earlier, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine had paid me $480 to publish "Boudin Noir" in their December 2009 issue, and now here was Otto sending me a check in the amount of $250 for reprint rights. That made a total of $730 for just that one story. Amazing. Call it manna from heaven, found money, secondary market, or call it what you will, it was another ego booster.

Two items of business soon came to mind. One, how could I take advantage of this type of secondary market for other stories? Since the author has very little, if any, control over this type of market, I couldn't figure an angle. If you've got one, be sure to let me know. I'll buy you a drink at the next writers conference. And two, one of these years, I still might get a short story into Otto's annual Best American Mystery Stories anthology.

There's always hope.

24 September 2016

Things that drive Crime Writers CRAAAZY

by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

I’m a crime writer. Hell, I’ll put on my other hat (the one with the pointy top) and say it. I’m even a fantasy writer (my corvette reminds me every day, as those are the books that bought it.)


So I know about suspension of disbelief. I’m willing to admit that as an audience, we might agree to ‘suspend belief’ for a little while.

But enough is enough. Television, you go too far. CSI Hoboken, or wherever you are, take note. Here are some things that drive otherwise fairly normal crime writers (oxymoron alert) crazy:


1. Crime scene people in high heels and raw cleavage.

Of all the !@#$%^&* things that television distorts, this is the one that bugs us the most. Ever been on a crime scene? Ever been in a LAB?

For six years, I was Director of Marketing for the Canadian Society of Medical Laboratory Science. I’ve been in a friggin’ lab or two. Take it from me: it ain’t a place for fuck-me shoes and long loose hair. You want my DNA messing with your crime results?

Network producers, stop treating us like ignorant adolescents who need to be sexually charged every single moment. Stop. Just stop. It’s insulting.

2. Gunshot victims who give their last speech and then die, Kerplunk.

Full disclosure: I was also a hospital director. People who get hit with a bullet to the heart die, kerplunk. They aren’t hanging around to give their last words. People who get hit in the gut may take many hours to die. It’s not a pretty sight. Take it from me. They usually aren’t thinking sentimental thoughts.

3. Where’s the blood spatter?

If you stab someone while they are still living and breathing, there is going to be blood spatter. Usually, that spatter will go all over the stabber. So sorry, producers: your bad guy is not going to walk away immaculate from a crime scene in which he just offed somebody with a stiletto. You won’t need Lassie to find him in a crowd, believe me.

4. Villains who do their ‘Fat Lady Sings’ pontification.

Why does every villain in boob-tube-town delay killing the good guy so he can tell the soon-to-be-dead schmuck his life story? I mean, the schmuck is going to be offed in two minutes, right? You’re going to plug him. So why is it important that he know why you hate your mother and the universe in general?

Someday, I am going to write a book/script where one guy gets cornered and before he can say a word, this happens:

<INT. A dark warehouse or some other cliché. >

BLAM.

The smoking gun fell to my side as Snidely dropped to the floor.

“Dudley!” gasped Nell. “You didn’t give him a chance to explain!”

I yawned. “Bor-ing. All these villains go to the same school. You heard one, you’ve heard them all.”

“Isn’t that against the law?” said Nell, stomping her little foot. “Don’t you have to let the bad guy have his final scene?”

BLAM.

The smoking gun fell to my side as Nell dropped to the floor.

Melodie Campbell writes silly stuff for newspapers and comedians, and usually they even pay her. You can catch more of her comedy on www.melodiecampbell.com, or better still, buy her books.

23 September 2016

Writing the Historical Mystery

      We at SleuthSayers are delighted to announce our newest regular member, O’Neil De Noux. He is a New Orleans writer with thirty-two books in print and more than three hundred short stories published in multiple genres. His fiction has received several awards, including the Shamus and Derringer and the 2011 Police Book of the Year. Two of his short stories have appeared in Otto Penzler’s Best American Mystery Stories anthology (2007 and 2013), and he is a past Vice President of the Private Eye Writers of America. Please join me in welcoming my old friend O’Neil De Noux.
— John Floyd

by O’Neil De Noux

Accuracy vs. Fiction

      Joseph Pulitzer wrote on his newsroom wall – “Accuracy, Accuracy, Accuracy.” Excellent advise for journalists but fiction writers are not journalists and we do not write history books. Historical accuracy is important in the historical mystery but is it more important than your story? I say no.

When we write historical fiction we are writing FICTION. I have a degree in European and Asian History and have had historical articles published in academic journals. I’ve also penned fifty historical fiction short stories among the 300-hundred plus short stories I’ve sold.

In writing academic historical articles, I strive to be as accurate as humanly possible. Nearly all history graduate students take a class in HISTORIOGRAPHY, the study of historical writing. They know unless you are an eye-witness to an historical event – and that’s one person’s subjective observation – then you must rely on first hand accounts of other contemporary witnesses or second hand accounts complied by other historians. So why worry if you get a minor detail wrong in your historical fiction as I did when I had a character wearing a Banlon shirt several years before Banlon was introduced? Oh, yes. Someone caught me and I had to miss recess that day.

Historians in critically-acclaimed history books also get things wrong. Ever read history books of the Napoleonic Wars? British Historians and French Historians paint nearly opposite histories of the same period. It’s almost funny.

Back to my first statement - when we write historical fiction we are writing FICTION – I have fudged on historical accuracy to write a better story because, in my opinion, historical fiction is like someone’s name. John Smith is a SMITH, part of the SMITH family, not the JOHN family. Historical Fiction is FICTION and fiction outranks history, otherwise you’re writing a history book.

Fiction writers make up stuff. We make up characters and events, sometimes with an historical backdrop.

Artistic license was taken when I wrote my historical-mystery THE FRENCH DETECTIVE, set in 1900 New Orleans. As a New Orleanian I know the term po-boy did not originate until the 1929 streetcar strike. The muffuletta sandwich was created at the Central Progress Grocery Store in 1906. I used the terms anyway. I’ll probably get a detention slip.

Additionally, I updated the arcane language and dialogue of whatever period I’m writing for a 21st Century audience. I could not have the characters speak as people spoke at the beginning of the 20th Century. Actually, a great number of the people in THE FRENCH DETECTIVE spoke French or Italian at the time. So I wrote the book for a 21st Century audience. There goes another recess in the playground.

In my 1950 novel HOLD ME, BABE, I have a scene where a father gives his daughter a hula hoop and the scene works well. The hula hoop didn’t come about until 1958. I noted it at the beginning of the book to save some smart-mouth from emailing me how I’m wrong.

At the opening of my short story “Death on Denial” which appeared in FLESH & BLOOD: DARK DESIRES Anthology, Mysterious Press (2002) and was chosen for the BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2003 Anthology, Houghton-Mifflin, I put the following quote to set up the story: “The Mississippi. The Father of Waters. The Nile of North America. And I found it.” Hernando de Soto, 1541. de Soto never said that. I made it up because it’s a story. IT’S FICTION.

In my short story “General Order No. 28”, which appeared in ELLERY QUEEN MYSTERY MAGAZINE (May 2004 Issue), I quoted the order penned by Gen. Benjamin Butler. I was fortunate to have a photograph of the printed order and therefore quoted it verbatim. I didn’t have to make it up. I did, however, make up just about everything else in the story. Bottom line – do not be restrained by historical accuracy.

One more example and I’ll shut up. After his success with “A Streetcar Named Desire” on Broadway, Tennessee Williams had occasion to return to New Orleans where he was accosted by an uptown dilettante who chided him for his description of the streetcar lines. She told him if Blanche DuBois took the streetcars as described in his play, she wouldn’t end up on Elysian Fields Avenue. “They simply don’t run that way,” said the dilettante.

Williams replied, “Well, they should.”


PS: Y’all do know Hitler and Goebbels were not burned alive in a movie theater as depicted in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS.

I have to sign off now. I’m due in the principal’s office.

O’Neil De Noux

22 September 2016

Rich, Engaging, Storied Digests

Richard Krauss
by Joe Wehrle, Jr.
The first time I met Richard Krauss was at Left Coast Crime in Portland a couple of years ago. He gave me a copy of the first issue of his magazine, The Digest Enthusiast. I liked it a lot. I liked the second issue even better because I was interviewed in it.

This month I got the idea of inviting him to tell us why digest magazines fascinate him - and maybe you too. Take it away, Richard!
—Robert Lopresti


by Richard Krauss

In February 1922 an innovative new reading experience emerged: Reader’s Digest. The first edition was 64 pages and measured about 5.5” x 7.5,” a magazine small enough for readers to carry in a pocket or purse.

In that era, the word digest referred to previously published content in a condensed or abridged form; but as the years went by the word also came to define a publishing format.

By the 1940s—and particularly 1950s—these smaller-sized magazines were more economical to produce than the pulp magazines that dominated popular fiction on newsstands before WWII. In the mid-twentieth century there were hundreds of digest magazine titles targeting every popular market—mystery, western, romance, adventure, science fiction, etc. Many lasted only a few issues, but others went far beyond, racking up impressive runs over a dozen years or more.

Fate magazine brought readers “true reports of the strange and unknown” beginning in 1948, and continues its unique mission through over 700 issues spanning nearly 70 years in print.

Lawrence Spivak, who first published Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in the fall of 1941 also launched a companion digest magazine devoted to fantasy in 1949 called The Magazine of Fantasy, under the editorial guidance of Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas. By the second edition it expanded its purview to Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF), and like EQMM is still delivering the goods—it recently published its 727th issue.

 In 1953, Manhunt exploded onto newsstands with a brand new, serialized novel by Mickey Spillane, concurrent with the height of his popularity. Manhunt #1 sold half a million copies and launched the beginning of the magazine’s phenomenal 114-issue run, inspiring dozens of similar titles like Verdict, Murder!, Pursuit, Guilty, Menace, Conflict, Trapped, etc.

Westerns fared better in regular-sized magazines, but a few digests like Zane Grey’s Western Magazine, Gunsmoke, Western Digest, Western Magazine and others, appeared on newsstands before the public’s interest in the genre shrank.

The proliferation of detective and mystery digests was eclipsed only by science fiction. Analog holds the distinction of the longest running science fiction magazine, reaching issue 1000 in June 2015, and is still going strong every month. It began its life as the pulp magazine Astounding Stories in 1938, changing its title to Analog in 1960, and its format to digest-size in November 1943.

In many ways the storied past and present of digest magazines is yet to be recorded. There is far more to tell than it may seem at first glance. In fact, the relative lack of information about the titles and history of these “lost” gems inspired me, along with a small band of like-minded fanatics to begin recording their story.

What titles do you remember? Which were your favorites, and which would you like to read more about?

Thanks to Robert Lopresti for the invitation to share a few covers and thoughts here at SleuthSayers. The Digest Magazine Blog provides daily news on current digests, old favorites, opening story lines, and lots of killer covers. Our magazine, The Digest Enthusiast, covers similar territory in greater depth.

21 September 2016

Dance Him Outside

by Robert Lopresti

 This year of 2016 keeps stealing celebrities at a record pace, doesn't it?  On the same day last week two famous authors passed away.  The better-known was playwright Edward Albee, but the one who mattered more to me was Canadian writer W.P. Kinsella.

Even if you haven't read his stuff, you probably  saw Field of Dreams, which was based on his novel Shoeless Joe, which in turn was based on a short story.  That  piece was not a one-off.  He wrote a lot of novels and short stories about baseball and they were almost examples of magic realism.  My favorite was a short story in which the manager of the Boston Red Sox receives a vision from God which informs him that that beleaguered team will win a World Series some day - but it will be the last one before the end of the world.  How would that affect your coaching decisions?


But my first encounter with the man, and still my favorite were his Ermineskin stories, and frankly they have always been controversial.  They should be.

The stories are set on the  Reserve of the Ermineskin First Nation in Alberta.  In the U.S. we would call it a Reservation of an Indian Tribe or Native Nation.  The problem is that Kinsella is not a member of any First Nation and, if I recall correctly, said that when he wrote the first story, his only experience of that people was having some as customers when he was driving a cab.

Which brings up the subject of cultural appropriation.  Now, you could argue that Tony Hillerman did the same thing with his Navajo characters, but they were clearly the heroes and as far as I know, his books were popular with members of the tribe.  (They gave him an award, after all.)

But Kinsella was not so respectful.  His stories were often funny, sometimes at the expense of his First Nation characters.  As the books went on they got worse in that regard, in my opinion. One reviewer complained: "[I]magination does not absolve racialism; humor is no excuse to exploit negative preconceptions about tribal people. The author plays Indian for a white audience."

So why do I bring these works at all?  Because some of them are so damned good.

The hero is Silas Ermineskin, a sensitive young man, who practices his writing skills by telling these stories, which also feature  his family, his friend Frank Fencepost, a snarky and sneaky Lothario, and the shrewd medicine woman Mad Etta.  (At least two lines from Mad Etta have found their way into my quotations list: "Gifts make slaves like whips make dogs." and "The law is like rope...useful, necessary, strong, but it can be bent and twisted into all kinds of shapes depending on the occasion.")

Most of the stories are not mysteries in any sense but a few are and one is on my list of favorite crime stories.  The title tale of the first collection, Dance Me Outside, concerns the murder of a young First Nations woman by a young White man who is let off with a slap on the wrist.  When justice fails, a type of vengence is exacted. (This story and a few others were the basis for a pretty good movie of the same name, which then spun off a not-so-good CBC series called The Rez.)

But my favorite is "Pius Blindman is coming Home," which appears in The Moccasin Telegraph, probably the best of the books.  An elderly woman is dying in a hospital and her westernized children, against Mad Etta's advice, assure her that her son is coming to her side.  They just want to comfort her dying hours but, expecting her son, the woman simply refuses to die. The ending is one of the most stunning I have ever read in a short story.

So there you have it.  I wish I didn't feel so ambivalent about the stories. .  Kinsella's world may have nothing to do with the real life of the people on that Reserve, but, for good or bad, he makes me believe it and feel compassion for them, even if he and I are a million miles off from understanding who they are.  Such is the complexity of fiction.

20 September 2016

Breaking Up is Hard To Do

by Paul D. Marks

I have been divorced. It was a messy divorce. Dividing-the-baby-in-half kind of divorce. Calling-the-lawyers-in kind of divorce.

Oh, you think I’m talking about getting divorced from Amy or one of my nine previous wives. Nope. I’m talking about breaking up with my writing partner, at least one of them.





Backstory:

In Hollywood, I had two or three writing partners, maybe even four, at various times, as well as going solo. And with all but one we pretty much just came to a parting of the ways. But with one it truly was like a very messy divorce.


Conflict:

So, as Spandau Ballet said, to cut a long story short, I lost my mind—well that too. X and I had been friends for a long time and then decided to write together. We worked up a bunch of projects and eventually got an agent at one of the major agencies and even had some things optioned (sort of like someone takes a lease out on your property). But we weren’t getting rich and X’s wife wanted him to have a more steady income. So we decided to break it up, but it was a messy break up. Since we had no written contract or collaboration agreement, we ended up in “divorce court,” or at least in a lawyer’s office, dividing our babies (our work product) up, based on who came up with which idea. The lawyer acting like Solomon, split the babies—and everything else.

And like many divorcing couples we were barely speaking to one another and it wasn’t pleasant when we did. So X went his way, I went mine. I went on to find another agent and I did a lot of rewrite work/script doctoring (no credit-no glory) and optioned a lot of things that never got produced. And after a time, X and I began to be civil and even friendly again. Though not close like we once were.


Act II

So how about some tips on how to work with a partner even though it seems like there’s more solo flyers in the prose world than in Hollywood. Nonetheless, there are writing teams out there and in case you might ever consider working with a partner here goes:

First out of the gate, have a prenup: a written contract that spells everything out ahead of time. Every little detail. You can work it up yourself if you’re good at that kind of thing but before signing I’d run it by an entertainment lawyer to make sure all the Is are dotted and Ts crossed. At the very least the prenup should lay out splits, who will do what and maybe what the writing process might be, how often you’ll write. Credits: whose name comes first? Do you do it alphabetically or like my partner and I did so that whoever came up with the idea and did the first draft got the top billing?


The WGA (Writers Guild of America, which is for screenwriters) has a collaboration agreement which you might be able to adapt to prose writing partnerships: http://www.wga.org/uploadedFiles/writers_resources/contracts/collaboration.pdf , though I’m really not sure about that. There might be more suitable templates online.

Also include:

Decide who will do what. Will you each do 50% of everything? Or is one better at dialogue and another better at plot? How will you work? Sitting across the table from one another or long distance (even if you’re in the same town) via the internet? Will one write a full first draft and then pass it to the other? Will you work it scene by scene, chapter by chapter, etc.?

How will you decide what project/s to work on?

Since you want to write with a consistent voice, one should be the polisher-in-chief to make sure that happens. Who will that be and how will you decide?

How will you handle your partner’s critique of your work? You need to have a thick skin, but you also need to critique constructively.

How will you pay for expenses?

Who will contact editors, agents, etc.? Will one person be on point? Is one better at this?

Splitting income. Will it be 50-50? If not why and how will you do it.

Bad things happen to good people and even the best of friends. Don’t let things fester. Deal with them as they come up. Sometimes it won’t be pleasant, but hit the nail on the head, diplomatically hopefully. When you disagree about things how will you resolve them—you might even want to include this in the contract? Everyone has an ego and we all want our little babies included.

I’m sure there’s many other things that can and should be considered. And this is not a complete list by any means, but at least something to think about and get started with. My partner and I learned the hard way. Hopefully you won’t have to.

***

Climax:

The moral of this tale is sort of like the Boy Scouts’ motto: Be prepared. Have that prenup. Spell everything out ahead of time. Have a lawyer check it over if you’ve written it yourself. Then, if things go bad—or even if they don’t—go out and buy a bottle of Johnny Walker Black and get blotto.

***

Please check out my story Deserted Cities of the Heart in Akashic’s recently released St. Louis Noir.




###



19 September 2016

Unconventional Convention —
Susan Cooper, Unbarred

*hic* You may be wondering why my name is attached to this post instead of Susan’s. See… we went out drinking… Well, not drinking exactly but imbibing slightly. Okay, we were drowning in our cups, flippin’ inebriated. And at the bar Susan says “There’s Brad Pitt,” and I say no, it can’t be, we’re too blitzed to see straight. “It’s Brad Pitt, I tell you. He’s drinking mimosas and flirting with me,” except she pronounced it “mirmoshash.” It’s not, I say staring into my empty glass and then she says “He tastes like Brad Pitt.” I’m not sure what happened or if Suze has a 2-foot Tex Avery tongue, but I grabbed her and we ran before the cops arrived. We raced to SleuthSayers Corporate Headquarters to post her article when she says, “Oh, no. I slipped Brad Pitt the wrong key.” So without her office key, the Crider Building security guard, who was already irritated by Leigh’s stupid article a couple of weeks ago, wouldn’t let Susan in. While she happily napped snored in the lobby, I rattled up the elevator by myself and posted her freakin’ article. So there. *hic*

Velma

by Susan Rogers Cooper

In honor of Bouchercon week, I thought I would tell tales from previous conventions. The Statute of Limitations has expired, so any admissions made in this post cannot reflect adversely on those involved. That said, let’s talk about ClueFest.

Many of you may never have heard of this particular convention, mainly because it was very small, held in Dallas, Texas, and only lasted about four years. The mystery fans who started and ran this convention did so with gusto and grace. The tales to be told revolve more around the hotel of choice than the convention itself. It is only apt that I tell these tales now as I plan on traveling to New Orleans with my dear friend Joan Hess (a co-conspirator) and rooming with my other dear friend Jan Grape (at times an instigator).

My first inkling that the location of the convention was not at a Five Star hotel was when I took my shoes off in my room and my feet stuck to the floor. Never a good sign. Then we, my roomie Jan Grape and I, discovered that the hotel bar closed at ten p.m. For a mystery convention? Were they out of their minds? Did they not want to make the big bucks? Had they never heard the rumors about writers? This brought about the great wine opening fiasco. They – the hotel staff – wouldn’t allow us into the closed bar to find a corkscrew, nor would they send someone up to the room with one, due to the fact that there was only one staff member on duty. In the entire hotel. The fact that we also did not have any pillows in our room only intensified the situation. That was the first day. And it was only half a day.

The first full day of the convention the air conditioning in a room that was to be used as a panel/discussion room failed – this convention was held in July, in Dallas, where temps often reach and steady at 100 degrees or more. This caused them, the staff of the hotel, to relocate the panel/discussion to, you guessed it, the lobby. Yes, the lobby. Joan Hess and I, both smokers at the time (this was the ’90s, get over it) had moved to the lobby to smoke as the bar was, again, closed. They, the staff of the hotel, made us leave. Seeing as it was over 100 degrees outside, we, Joan and I, decided to sneak into the bar to smoke. I mean, come on, we could see into the bar and there were ashtrays everywhere! A clear invitation.

The bar was a section of the hotel lobby area bordered by a half wall. Joan, in pants, jumped over. I, in a dress, managed to keep my ladylike demeanor intact by carefully maneuvering my way over the wall. We were halfway to an ashtray when the alarm went off. Let’s just say I wasn’t as ladylike as I lept over the wall to safety. Walking carefully to the front of the hotel, one could clearly hear Joan Hess say, “Is it a fire? Must be. Maybe we should leave.” I could not respond. I was giggling too hard. And I’m not much of a giggler, but then the situation clearly called for nothing less.

It was that evening that we discovered that the hotel next door to ours (with, we assumed, clean floors and an open bar) was hosting a sci-fi convention. Joan, Jan and I looked at each other and, of course, Joan said, “Well, duh. Let’s go.” So we did. On the escalator to the lobby we saw a man dressed in a full “Cats” the musical costume. He was gorgeous.

Once in the lobby area we saw more women than we cared to see dressed in the skimpy Star Fleet women’s uniform, a man with a black wig and pointy ears, three or four red suits (we didn’t stand too close to them -- you know they’re always the first to die), and then the contingent of Star Wars characters: three Princess Lea’s, a couple of Han Solos, and one Chubaca. Which was all quite fascinating and instigated a discussion of why we mystery people didn’t dress up. Of course, for the guys it would be easy: a couple hundred Sherlock Holmeses, a few Hercule Peroits, a Sam Spade or two. But for us, the women, who did we have besides Miss Marple and a few dames in red dresses? We decided to let that idea stay on the back burner. Eventually we found ourselves in the basement level in a room occupied by fantasy gamers (always the basement, the poor guys), with nothing very exciting going on. So we headed back to our dingy, mostly barless hotel.

The one really good thing about those conventions are the stories that can be told. When everything goes right, there are no stories. It’s the mess-ups and derailments that made a con memorable. If I could remember the name of that hotel, believe me I’d post it here. Hell, I’d post it anywhere, although I’m pretty sure it died a natural death years ago.

Looking forward to new adventures in New Orleans, where I’m sure the bar will always be open.

P.S. Whatever Velma might have told you isn't true.

— Susan Rogers Cooper

18 September 2016

Flights of Fancy

by Leigh Lundin

Psssst. At least half the staff of SleuthSayers is attending New Orleans Bouchercon where they likely suffer from hangovers, our offices are virtually empty, my computer’s keyboard is dying a deplorable death, and I have neither criminal nor literary news to report. So… let’s sneak out to the movies, something about the life of a writer.


How is your Bouchercon weekend?

17 September 2016

Namedropping

by John M. Floyd

Something I've always enjoyed, when reading novels and short stories, is finding things in the story that are familiar to me. Things like street names, restaurants, movies, quotes from movies, quirks of regional dialect, etc. When authors insert those into stories, it seems that it can establish an instant connection between writer and reader.

Because of that, I suppose it shouldn't have been surprising to me to find, after I'd published a number of stories, that readers sometimes approached me (usually friends, and often jokingly) with the suggestion that I should someday use them in a story. Or at least use their names.

You know, that's not a bad idea …

My reaction to that was Why not? We writers dream up names all the time for our characters; it would be easy to stick a real name in, now and then. Especially if you know that those folks already like what you write and would enjoy seeing themselves as a part of it.

I don't do it all the time, of course--most of my character names continue to come from the same place my plots do: my overactive and usually scary imagination. But when the situation's right and it fits the character and I can remember to do it, I try to plug in a familiar name.

Examples:

- Teresa Garver, an old friend and avid Woman's World reader who lives in Georgia, made an appearance a couple years ago as a high-school English teacher in one of my WW mini-mysteries.

- Chuck Thomas, one of my customers during my IBM days (and one of the smartest programmers I've ever known) showed up as one of three schoolkids who captured a python that had escaped from the zoo in a story called "Not One Word." It first appeared in the now-defunct Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine in 2002 and has been reprinted several times since.

- Charlotte Hudson, a former student in my writing classes, has been featured in two of my Woman's World mysteries. In one of them, she and her real-life husband Bill were farmers who owned a pond where the main character liked to fish.

- Cheryl Grubbs, a dear friend from my high school days, will be the deputy of Sheriff Ray Douglas in a story called "Trail's End," coming up soon in AHMM. She's also on hand in the next installment of that series, which I sent to AH a few months ago. Whether they decide to buy it is (pun intended) another story …

- Charles Heisley, an old Air Force buddy who lives in Honolulu (I visited him there once, back when I was globetrotting with IBM), became a Louisiana state cop in my story "The Blue Delta," which is included in the Bouchercon 2016 anthology Blood on the Bayou. (Note to all readers: Invite me to Hawaii and you get featured in any story you want.)

Sometimes the mention of a name can be oblique, and subtle. In honor of my friend and fellow Mississippi writer Larry Chavis, my lead characters in a Strand Magazine story a few years ago were passengers on the Chavis Island Ferry--in fact the whole story took place on that boat. And a lady in one of my many stories for Futures was Janet Bailey, a combination of the names of two of my writer friends, Janet Brown and Carole Bailey. I have also often used the last names of friends in stories, when those names were interesting and/or unusual: Denbroeder, Prestridge, Cash, Bishop, Wingo, Higa, Liggett, Valkenberg, Pennebaker, Zeller, Bassett, McClellan, Fenwick, Boatner, Fountain, Parrott, Stovall, Stegall, Blackledge, LaPinto, Tullos, Crowson, Burnside, Moon, Speed, Fetterman, Lindamood, etc.

Other writers, other approaches

All this is, of course, nothing new. Fiction writers use real names for fictional characters a lot, and it might be worth noting that Nelson DeMille--one of my all-time favorite authors--has taken that practice a step farther. In the Acknowledgments section of most of his novels, DeMille mentions those people who have made generous contributions to charities in return for his using their names as characters in the book.

My favorite memory of this kind of thing is of something my SleuthSayers colleague Rob Lopresti once did in "Shanks Commences," a story which appeared in (and on the cover of) the May 2012 issue of AHMM. At the time that Rob created that story, he and I were among seven writers who did weekly columns for the Criminal Brief mystery blog, and he chose to put all of us into the story. I still remember how much fun it was to read it--and how pleased I was to find that I didn't turn out to be the murderer. Rob talks about that story here.

How about you?

The obvious question is, have any of you tried using real people's names in your stories or novels, either as themselves or as characters? I know some writers are afraid that might backfire, but I think the chances are slim. As with statements about real places or real companies or real products, you'll get into trouble only if you say bad things about them, and if the mentioned characters are friends of yours, they'll almost certainly be pleased. If they're not pleased--well, maybe that's a good way to find out who your friends really are.

According to one of my writing buddies, part of the fun of being a fiction writer is being able to look at someone and say, "Be nice to me. If you're not I'll put you in a story and kill you off."

Fair warning …

16 September 2016

Bouchercon Word Find

By Art Taylor

My column this week is scheduled right in the middle of Bouchercon, and while my goal originally was to post something direct from New Orleans—breaking news! fun photos! insider anecdotes about the mystery world's stars!—I realized quickly that I probably wouldn't get to the computer often or easily or....

So instead, posted in advance, here's a fun little game in honor of the event: an old-fashioned word find!

Featured here are the guests of honor, the various awards given out throughout the weekend, and a sprinkling of other mystery terms—including the name of one of the best blogs in the business. Do know that the clues appear vertically, horizontally, diagonally, and both forwards and backwards.

Whether you're in New Orleans or not, I hope you'll enjoy!


15 September 2016

Kirk O'Field, or How To Blow Up a King

by Eve Fisher

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587).  How you view her depends on if you see her as a romantic, beautiful young woman who had the tragic luck to be rebelled against by her own subjects and executed by the jealous, paranoid Elizabeth I; or if you see her as a beautiful young woman who was stupid enough to marry an unvetted idiot, then marry that idiot's murderer and then flee to England rather than France.  Guess which school of thought I belong to?

FrancoisII.jpg
Francis - looks a
bit sulky, doesn't he?
Mary at 13
Mary, Queen of Scots spent very little time in Scotland until she was 18.  She was shipped over to France at the age of 5 to marry Francis, heir to the French throne.  Her father in law, Henry II, and her mother in law, Catherine de Medici, both found her charming.  Her fiance/husband, probably not so much:  For one thing, Mary was at least 5'11" tall, beautiful, healthy, active, and eloquent, while Francis was "abnormally short", stuttered, and always ailing.  They married in 1558.  (The marriage was probably never consummated, but the debate continues.)  The next year, Henry II died in a jousting accident when a lance splintered and a splinter went up into his helmet and into his eye.

NOTE:  This was foretold by Nostradamus in the following memorable quatrain which is the source for all of Nostradamus' future fame and reputation:
"The young lion shall overcome the older one,
on the field of combat in single battle,
He shall pierce his eyes in a golden cage,
Two forces one, then he shall die a cruel death." 
Anyway, Francis was 15 when he became king.  He immediately turned the management of France over to his mother, Catherine, who turned it over to the House of Guise, who promptly ran amok on power.  Barely 2 years later, he died, of anything from meningitis to an ear infection.

And Mary, Dowager Queen in a kingdom that already had one of those (Catherine de Medici was no shrinking violet), was out - sent back to Scotland, which she barely remembered.  And promptly disliked.  Compared to France, Scotland was crude, rough, cold, and besides she was practically met at the boat by John Knox, ultra-Presbyterian, whose whole attitude towards "The Monstrous Regiment of Women" was summed up in his pamphlet of the same name.  (He walked back on this to Elizabeth I, when he realized she was the only Protestant ruler around, explaining that he really didn't include her. She was not amused.)

And of course, everyone wanted her to marry again, fast, because she was only 18, and Scotland needed an heir to beat back the English.  Preferably Scots.

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.jpgInstead, over the border came a young, handsome, TALL young man, of both English and Scots noble blood, Henry Stuart, Duke of Albany, Lord Darnley.  Six foot three inches, TALLER than Mary, one of her nobles described the meeting:  "Her Majesty took well with him, and said that he was the lustiest and best proportioned long man that she had seen."  They were married in 3 months.  She got pregnant almost immediately.  Great rejoicing.

Except that she had married an arrogant, vain, power-hungry man who had no intention of "just" being King Consort - he wanted the Crown Matrimonial, i.e., to be KING, with Mary as his subordinate queen.  She refused.  Darnley was also not the most cultured of men, and she spent more and more time with her secretary and lute-player, David Rizzio.  Now the Scots lairds all already hated Rizzio (Catholic, Italian, plays a lute, what's not to hate?), and since she was spending so much time with him rather than her husband, rumors flew that she was pregnant by him.  (And stuck for a very long time:  Years later, when one man called Mary's son, James VI of Scotland, "the Scottish Solomon", another quipped, "Aye, for he is the son of David".)

Anyway, Darnley joined in the hatred, and joined with the lairds to murder him.  And they did:  lairds and King came storming into Mary's supper chamber and stabbed him 56 times in front of her.  I have to hand it to her:  she was tough.  She was 7 months pregnant, and didn't miscarry.  She managed to, after the murder, to persuade Darnley that the lairds would murder him next, and got him to help her escape.  They fled on horseback, and again, she didn't miscarry.  Some of the lairds fled to England, which did them little good.  (Elizabeth I wasn't thrilled by lords rebelling against their queen.)  Mary had a bonny baby boy, for which all rejoiced.  

So, everyone was great, everything was fine - except that Darnley had developed a bad case of the pox.  Arguments still abound whether it was smallpox or syphilis, but at the time, it was assumed to be syphilis.  (He'd never been known for his faithfulness or sobriety.)

And four months after the birth of James, Mary and her lairds held a meeting to discuss the "problem of Darnley".  Divorce was discussed, but somewhere - and, hopefully, when Mary was not in the room, the nobles agreed that :"It was thought expedient and most profitable for the common wealth ... that such a young fool and proud tyrant should not reign or bear rule over them; ... that he should be put off by one way or another; and whosoever should take the deed in hand or do it, they should defend."[114]

Darnley wasn't entirely stupid - he went to stay on his father's estates in Glasgow, but in January, Mary persuaded him to come back to Edinburgh.  (The rumor was that she promised to bed him again.)  He was staying in a house belonging to the brother of Sir James Balfour at Kirk o'Field. Mary visited him daily.  On the night of February 9, 1567, Mary visited him and then went to a wedding at the palace.  In the late night/early morning hours, a massive explosion blew up the house - later it was proved that the basement had been packed full of gunpowder, and not by accident.  However, Darnley managed to get out before the explosion:  he was found dead in the garden.  There were no marks of violence on the body, or so they said.  (We have no autopsy or photographs, of course.)  It was assumed, however, that he was smothered to death:  and that Mary had ordered it.  And that an old friend and strong ally, James Hepburn, the 4th Earl of Bothwell, was deeply involved.

Elizabeth I wrote her:  "I should ill fulfil the office of a faithful cousin or an affectionate friend if I did not ... tell you what all the world is thinking. Men say that, instead of seizing the murderers, you are looking through your fingers while they escape; that you will not seek revenge on those who have done you so much pleasure, as though the deed would never have taken place had not the doers of it been assured of impunity. For myself, I beg you to believe that I would not harbour such a thought."[124]
NOTE:  And indeed she did not:  when Elizabeth's favorite, Robert Dudley, was suspect of murdering his wife, Amy - who'd fallen down a flight of stairs while he was at court, breaking her neck - Elizabeth sent him away from the court, and ordered a trial.  He was acquitted, and Elizabeth did receive him at court again.  But she never married him, and never would.  In fact, at one point she offered Mary a signed document, guaranteeing her succession to the English throne, if Mary would marry Robert Dudley, which was pretty insulting.  Mary married Darnley almost immediately afterwards.  

James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, c 1535 - 1578. Third husband of Mary Queen of Scots - Google Art Project.jpg
Lord Bothwell
But, back to the murder.  Lennox, Darnley's father, demanded Bothwell be put on trial.  He was, on April 12, 1567.  Seven hours later, he was acquitted.

Now here's where it gets tricky.  12 days later, Mary was "abducted" by Lord Bothwell, and taken to Dunbar Castle.  Was she raped, or did she consent?  (I confess, that I have always wondered why, if he did rape her, she didn't have him executed. I mean, fine, agree to marry him, go with him back to Edinburgh, and then call in the palace guards.  By God that's what Elizabeth I would have done...) Either way, something happened, because they returned to Edinburgh and she married him on May 15.  (And she had a miscarriage in July that was far enough along so that they knew there were twins.)

Nobody was happy with the marriage other than (perhaps) Mary and Bothwell.  Everyone was shocked that she had married the man accused and tried of murdering her husband.  Twenty-six Scots peers raised a rebellion against them, and by June 15, Mary was their prisoner.   On July 24, she was forced to abdicated in favor of her son, James, who was 1 year old.  Bothwell was driven into exile. (He fled to Denmark, where he died, insane, in 1578.)

Mary had a knack for persuasion, though: She managed to get the brother of the owner of Loch Leven Castle (where she was imprisoned) to help her escape on May 2, 1568.  She managed to raise an army of 6,000 men, but lost to the forces of the Earl of Moray.  She fled south, and crossed the Solway Firth into England in a fishing boat.  On May 18, she was in "protective custody" at Carlisle Castle.

A really good question is why she didn't try to get to France.  France and Scotland had always had a strong alliance against the English.  The House of Guise was still powerful, and would have helped her one way or another. If nothing else, she would have been a valuable dynastic pawn.  But she somehow thought that Elizabeth would help her get back her throne, which (imho) is ultimate proof of how stupid she was.  After all, Elizabeth I's position as Queen of England was infinitely safer with an infant King of Scotland than with this loose romantic cannon, still reeking of strong scandal.  Mary spent the rest of her life in England, a prisoner, plotting to regain her throne and, eventually, plotting to have Elizabeth I dethroned and murdered.  After a trial, that was more or less rigged, she was convicted.  And on February 8, 1587, at Fotheringay, Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded...

Elizabeth I never had any children.  James VI of Scotland became James I of England after Elizabeth's death in 1603.  It's almost impossible to know what James really thought about his mother, but two points leap out at me:  
(1) James never tried to get his mother released, never wrote to her, and never spoke of her to anyone during the years before her death.  
(2) After he became King of England, it took him 9 years (in 1612) to have her body transferred from Peterborough Cathedral in Cambridgeshire to Westminster Abbey in London.  
Make of that what you will.