17 August 2017

Goat Glands, Radium, and Dr. Blood

by Eve Fisher

I was watching cable TV the other night, and they were running the usual ads for losing weight, avoiding erectile dysfunctions, the occasional mysterious ailment and the latest patent medicine cures.  I will quote none of them, for none of them were memorable enough.  Whoever's writing these ads, they don't have the ring of
"Amazing Blue Star Ointment!  Cures jock itch, ringworm, tetter, psoriasis!  Ask for it by name!"  (See the original ad HERE).

But Blue Star Ointment still doesn't cure erectile dysfunction and, amazingly, doesn't even claim to. Not so with three of my favorite patent medicine doctors of all time, if you exclude James Thurber's "Doc Marlowe".   

Brinkley-KSHS.jpg
Doc Brinkley
Let's start off with J. R. Brinkley (1885-1942), a/k/a the Goat Gland Doctor.  Doc Brinkley claimed to be a licensed physician, but he bought his degree from a diploma mill called the Kansas City Eclectic Medical University.
NOTE:  Can you imagine the school song for this one?
Eclectic!
Cathartic!
We could sell ice in the arctic!
Sorry.  (Not really)  Anyway, Doc Brinkley's first go at being a professional something-or-other was in Greenville, SC, with a partner who called himself J. W. Burks (one can't help but think he just misspelled "Burke").  They promised to restore men's manly vigor by injecting colored water (which they called "electric medicine from Germany") into their veins for $25 a shot.  (To give you an idea of pricing, an average worker made between $200 and $400 a year back then.)  Well, sooner or later the chumps catch up, and our physicians had to move on.


Doc shed his partner, and went back to Kansas City, while Brinkley took a job as the doctor for the Swift and Company meat plant, patching minor wounds and studying animal physiology. When he learned that goats were the healthiest animals slaughtered there, he did a little study, then set up a clinic, and started implanting the testicular glands of goats in his male patients for $750.00 per operation.  The surprising thing is the number of men willing to undergo such a process.  Even more surprising is that some men claimed it worked wonders. When the wife of his first goat-gland transplant case had a healthy boy... Well, the ad's on your left. What's less surprising is that there were a number of patients who got infected, and some died.  Brinkley would be sued over a dozen times for wrongful death between 1930-41.

Meanwhile, he made a lot of money and built his own radio station, KFKB ("Kansas First, Kansas Best" or sometimes "Kansas Folks Know Best").  Brinkley was KFKB's lead DJ, speaking for hours about his treatments (for which a lot of goats gave up their testicular glands: As a contemporaneous joke put it, What's the fastest thing on four legs? A: A goat passing Dr. Brinkley's hospital!") and giving medical advice (which were always to undergo his treatments and take his medicines). He also featured other entertainment: French lessons, astrology, storytelling and music ranging from military bands to gospel and early country. And the customers came.  In 1924, a San Francisco grand jury handed down indictments for fake medical degrees and doctors operating with them, including Brinkley (he'd illegally applied for a California medical license).  But when agents from California came to arrest Brinkley, the governor of Kansas refused to extradite him because he made the state too much money.

But in 1930, the pressure was on for cutting back on fake medical degrees, and Brinkley lost both his medical and broadcasting licenses.  So he did the logical thing and ran for governor of Kansas.  He damn near won.  He got over 29% of the vote on a write-in campaign.  (He lost to Harry Hines Woodring, who was later FDR's Secretary of War.)  Four years later, he ran again, and won over 30% of the vote.  This time he lost to Alf Landon, future GOP Presidential candidate.

But, debts and irate patients were hounding him, so Brinkley moved to Del Rio, Texas, just across the bridge from Ciudad Acuna, Mexico. He set up a clinic and a "broadcast blaster", radio XER-AM. the "Sunshine Station Between the Nations".

He sold airtime to other advertisers (at $1,700 an hour), who sold stuff like "Crazy Water Crystals", "genuine simulated" diamonds, life insurance, and all sorts of religious paraphernalia and beliefs.  

Image result for Dr. Mel-Roy book of dreamsNOTE 1:  Among them was Dr. Mel-Roy, Ps.D and Ms.D, the "Apostle of Mental Science," who, with his Book of Dreams and his cape and turban, explained the secrets of the sub-conscious world. Sam Morris, a 1940s "Radio Temperance Lecturer" told Americans about the evils of alcohol and explained the true reasons why nations fell from positions of prominence and power...  Rev. George W. Cooper, a former moonshine runner from North Carolina, cowboy evangelist Dallas Turner and Rev. Frederick Eikenreenkoetter II (better known as Rev. Ike preaching "get out of the ghet-to and get into the get-mo!") who called himself unreal and incredible to those with limited consciousness all made rounds on XERF and the rest. Dr. Gerald Winrod pushed cancer cures, scripture and attacks on communism, and Brother Mack Watson and Brother David Epley sold holy oil, prayer cloths and even "the hem of His garment."  
"If there was a sick person between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains who wasn't listening in to Doc, it was because he had no radio set." Furthermore, "the new radio powerhouse had enough juice to blanket any United States or Canadian station operating within fifty kilocycles of its wavelength."  (History of XER-AM)  
NOTE 2:  All I can say is that Reverend Ike must have been a child when he was on XER-AM, because he was just getting started, metaphorically, in the 1970s, when I caught a broadcast of him on Atlanta's own Ted Turner channel TBS, sitting on a golden throne, draped in ermine, while telling his listeners to "send me your money today."  I had to hand it to him; at least he was honest about it.
Image result for reverend ike 

Doc Brinkley also gave a start to up-and-coming country and roots singers, including Patsy Montana, Red Foley, Gene Autry, Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, the Pickard Family, and more.  (See Wikipedia).  Del Rio became known as "Hillbilly Hollywood".  

"We can all thank Doctor B.
Who stepped across the line.
With lots of watts he took control,
The first one of its kind.
So listen to your radio
Most each and every night
'cause if you don't I'm sure you won't
Get to feeling right."

Finally, under pressure from the US, Mexico revoked Brinkley's broadcast license in 1934.  But he still practiced "medicine":  the traditional goat gland transplant, as well as "slightly modified vasectomies" (I don't even want to know...) and prostate "rejuvenations".  But eventually the times - and the regulations - caught up with him.  In 1941 he was sued for being a charlatan, lost, and got hit by a multiple malpractice lawsuits that stripped him of every penny he had.  He died the next year, penniless. 

I'm happy to announce that Penny Lane has made a documentary about Doc Brinkley called "Nuts!" Here's the official website:  http://www.nutsthefilm.com/#film.  And here's the Trailer! (WARNING: Definitely rated "R")



And a little Mexican Radio, just because...



Next blog post!  Radium and Dr. Blood!!!!!



16 August 2017

Sartre, Camus, and Me

by Robert Lopresti

Hey folks, before we get started, maybe you can help us with a technical question.  A reader recently asked how can she be informed when we put up a new piece at SleuthSayers?  Well, a short answer is we try to put up a new masterpiece every day at midnight eastern time. But do you have a system that reminds you that there is fresh wisdom waiting for you here?  If so let me know about it in the comments or email me at rob AT roblopresti.com  Thanks!

I am writing this on Tuesday, August 15. Normally I write well in advance but in response to the events of the last few days and Barb Goffman's column, I decided to write about existentialism.  Or my understanding of it, anyway.  Let's see if I can make that seem like it is reasonably connected.

This topic was on my mind because last week I had the privilege of hearing from some readers.  A book club had decided to examine my story "Street of the Dead House," and the organizer was kind enough to summarize the discussion for me.  Their reflections were full of insights, including things that had never occurred to me.  But I suggested that one element they missed, or at least did not mention, was the existentialist frame of the story.

The story is a retelling of  Edgar Allan Poe's "Murders on the Rue Morgue," from the viewpoint of the orang-outang.  In my version the ape has been experimented on by a mad scientist, giving him the power to think and, eventually to communicate via sign language.  The first sentence of the story is "What am I?"  and that is the question my character has to wrestle with.  He chooses to make the decision for himself. and carry it out through his own actions. More in line with Sartre and Camus than Dupin, I think.

So, here is my feeble understanding of existentialism, or the part that matters to me right now.  Consider this sentence.  I know you have heard similar ones:

I do bad things, but I am really a good person.

To which the existentialist says: no.  There isn't some hidden reserve, some secret part of you that is separate and unsullied by the things you do. You are what you choose to do.

Now move to a different sentence, one we have heard variations of in the last few days:

Yes, I went to protest the removal of a monument to the Confederacy, and I marched beside Nazis and Ku Klux Klanners, but that doesn't make me a racist.

And our existentialist might frown at labels like racist, but they would say, you showed your allegiance, you demonstrated which side you are on, and who you are comfortable with.  You can't claim that that isn't what you meant, because it is what you DID.

But on the bright side, implicit in existentialism is the idea of choice.  If you are what you do, you can always choose to be something different, by doing something different. 

Anne Frank, of all people, put it this way: How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

So that marcher who says he isn't what his actions say he is can start to improve the world this moment  by choosing different actions.  He can apologize, renounce old associations, and make up for past mistakes. But talk is not enough: people will continue to judge  him by his actions, especially if they contradict his words.

I thought about ending this with something Kurt Vonnegut said in one of my all-time favorite novels:

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be. 

But the last few days have even made me rethink that.  It turns out that Vonnegut's thinking only works if you pretend convincingly.

For example, let's say you are a public figure, and in a moment of crisis when people are counting on you, you say something that was weak and offensive.  After heavy criticism you finally say something better, and that's a good thing.

But you have to say it like you mean it.  Ideally you should apologize for your first statement.  You should not immediately send out messages whining about how badly you have been treated, as if having your actions criticized was worse than people being killed or hospitalized.  You could even stop associating with people who advised you to say stupid things in the first place.

Because if it is obvious you are just pretending to be something, people are likely to realize what you really are.

For all the SleuthSayer readers out there: be a little extra kind to yourself this week.  You deserve it.

 
 

15 August 2017

Thoughts on Cowardice

This is Robert Lopresti, butting in where I don't belong with some bad news that should not wait.  We just learned that our beloved fellow blogger B.K. Stevens has passed away.  Art Taylor will be writing at length about her in this space on Friday, but I wanted to let you know.  She will be missed more than I can say.  I apologize to Barb for stepping into her space.  - RL 

Barb here: Before we get to what I wrote earlier about cowardice, let me express my shock and sadness upon Bonnie's death. I've known her for more than a decade, and she was always such a warm and welcoming presence in the mystery short-story world. To Dennis and Bonnie's family: I'm so, so sorry. And now, I guess, onto my regularly scheduled post.

by Barb Goffman

Am I a coward?

I've been sitting this morning, thinking about it. Thinking about what happened this weekend in Charlottesville.

I'm a Jewish woman. I'm not religious, but I am Jewish. And when I read some of the signs of the neo-Nazi protestors in Charlottesville, especially those condemning Jews with vile, hateful words, I cringed. I was saddened. And I was angered. And I was scared.

It reminded me of one set of my maternal great-grandparents, who were killed by the Nazis in Poland. It reminded me of my paternal grandfather, who fled the Cossacks in Russia. He escaped to America but never truly became free--I understand they haunted him in his dreams all his life.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with a boyfriend back in college, nearly thirty years ago. He asked me--if we were ever put in a position to have to hide or fight from the Nazis--would I deny who I am, pretend to be otherwise to survive? I said yes. I considered myself pragmatic. He thought it cowardly. He surely would have fought, and I expect wherever he is today, he's doing his part.

Am I cowardly?

I work as a crime-fiction editor. I often tell my clients to avoid hot-button issues. Unless your character is actively involved in politics for plot purposes, why give the character political views? You'll end up turning off some potential readers. There's no upside.

That's a phrase I use a lot. There's no upside. It's why I rarely post about politics on Facebook, my preferred social-media platform. The people who agree with me on political issues don't need me to weigh in. I'd be singing to the chorus. And the people who disagree with me--I'm not going to change their minds. And since I can't stand arguing with people, I refrain.

It's gone so far that I have a short story coming out soon with a character named Don. He was named after a friend's husband, but this weekend I worried about it and emailed the editor to see if there's time to change his name to Dan. I didn't want people distracted from the story by the other Don. I didn't want to invite any comments that tied me to him.

Perhaps I am cowardly.

Perhaps I've been wrong about there being no upside to addressing political issues in fiction and in real life. Bigotry grows in darkness. It festers in corners when no one is looking and tries to infect those around it. And then, when it feels it has some strength, some backing from those in power, like now, it slithers out, surprising the rest of us who thought that way of thinking was long gone except for a very few outlying people.

So maybe I've been wrong not to post about politics more often. Maybe shining light, even among those who agree with me, will push the evil that has taken root in our country to die off, bit by bit. Maybe it would be a good idea for authors to create plots or subplots involving hot-button issues such as racism, anti-Semitism, women's rights, and gay rights. It amazes me that these are even issues in the twenty-first century, but they are. So instead of backing away from these topics, perhaps crime fiction characters should tackle them head on. Will authors who take on these issues lose some readers? Maybe. But maybe they'll gain new ones. Maybe they'll make a difference in the thinking of some of the ones they already have.

Maybe that would be worth it.

Maybe the way to not be a coward is to take just one step that's scary or risky, or both, because it's the right thing to do.

This is what I'm thinking about today. Mystery readers and writers, I welcome your thoughts.





14 August 2017

The Land of Shady Habits

by Steve Liskow

I set my first mystery in Saginaw, Michigan, about 80 miles north of Detroit. While I shopped that around, I also worked on a series set in Hartford, CT, where I now live, and many people asked why my stories didn't take place in New York, Chicago, LA, or Boston. I told them there were already enough private eyes there to keep things under control. Twenty years ago, Robert Parker, Linda Barnes and Dennis Lehane all worked Boston. It's a wonder there was even a parking violation.

Rosemary Harris uses a fictionalized Southwest Connecticut and a couple of other writers have set an occasional mystery in the state (Thomas Tryon, a Hartford native, created a version of Old Wethersfield in The Other), but I don't know why we don't see more of them. The state has an energetic multi-cultural background--Irish, Italian, Polish, African, Hispanic--not even counting the original occupants. Manufacturing and the insurance industry flourished here, and the history offers truckloads of material.

So does crime. The two towns that still argue over which is the oldest one in Connecticut both have seen major foul play.

Wethersfield, on Hartford's southern border, still has a section called "Old Wethersfield," with colonial architecture, tall trees, and a cove that leads to the Connecticut River. Thomas Beadle, a merchant who contributed to the revolutionary war effort, lived along the cove with his wife and four children. When the Continental Congress devalued Connecticut scrip to 1/40 the face value to help finace the war, Beadle faced bankruptcy and disgrace. In December 1782, after months of planning and delay, he struck his wife in the head twice with an ax and cut her throat in their bedroom. He did the same to the children in their rooms, then wrote a suicide note, sat in his favorite chair with a pistol in each hand, and shot himself through the head. His act was the first mass murder in the American colonies.

Over a century later, Amy Archer-Gilligan
ran a nursing home in Windsor, which borders the northeast corner of Hartford, only about ten miles from Wethersfield. Although she was only tried and convicted for one death, she poisoned at lest five men.

In fact, between 1907 and 1917, sixty residents of her home died, mostly from stomach ailments.


Eventually, the court declared her insane and she spent years in an asylum, dying in 1962 at the age of 93. Her story inspired the popular play Arsenic and Old Lace. If it had become a TV movie, maybe they would have called it Gilligan's Trial.

The Nutmeg State boasts (?) other ground-breaking crimes, too (pun intended). In 1957, authorities captured George Metesky, AKA "The Mad Bomber," after he had planted over thirty bombs in the preceding decade. After years in prison, he died in Waterbury at the age of 90 (Crime in Connecticut appears to be connected to longevity). His arrest came about after one of the first uses of a psychological profiler, whose description proved remarkably accurate.

Wethersfield used to be the site of Connecticut's electric chair, where Joseph "Mad Dog" Taborsky was executed in 1960 after killing at least seven people in a series of liquor store robberies. His reign of terror caused package stores to close earlier in the evening than had been customary.



In September 1983, several Puerto Rican nationalists held up a West Hartford branch of Wells Fargo and escaped with over seven million dollars, the largest recorded haul in history at that time. By the time authorities tracked down the thieves, they'd spent most of the money on political activism.

A much darker first occurred in 1989. In Newtown, philandering airline pilot Richard Crafts went to prison for killing his wife Helle, the first time a Connecticut jury convicted a defendant for murder without the corpse being found. Prosecutors built a grisly chain of evidence about how Crafts destroyed the body, and the case is still notorious as the "Wood Chipper Murder." It may have inspired the scene in the Coen brothers film Fargo.

In 2005, Michael Ross became the first execution in Connecticut since Mad Dog Taborsky after a jury convicted him of raping and strangling at least eight women in Connecticut and New York. Ross, who looked slightly more dangerous than cotton candy, picked up most of his victims hitchhiking.







In central Connecticut, the Cheshire Home Invasion of July 2007 is still an open wound. Two career screw-up druggies battered Dr. William Petit in his home, forced his wife to withdraw money from a local bank as a ransom (The banks' surveillance video was evidence at the trial), then raped and killed Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters, aged 11 and 17. The injured Petit managed to escape and alert police, who captured the fugitives within blocks of the house, driving Petit's car. Their trial and ultimate convictions aroused a movement to bring back the death penalty, which Connecticut had rescinded after Ross's execution. The movement failed.

In August 2008, Omar Thronton, fired for stealing beer from the Hartford Distributors in Manchester, entered the building with two 9 mm semi-automatics and killed eight co-workers before turning his guns on himself.

It's disturbing to notice how these tragedies seem to come more and more quickly. The most horrific of many school shooting rampages took place in Newtown, the home of the Crafts couple I mentioned above. On December 14, 2012, mentally disturbed Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 six-year-old students, five teachers and the school's principal. He shot himself when police answered the frantic 911 call, and his mother--who bought him the guns, including an assault rifle--was found shot to death in her home. Local Senator Chris Murphe is one of Congress's strongest voices for gun control, and President Barack Obama's private visits to each of the victims' families are now local legend.

I'm closing this installment with the story that made the cover of Sports Illustrated. Even if you don't follow football, you might have heard of New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, a star athlete at Bristol Central high school (where one of my theater buddies used to teach English). Hernandez was convicted of murder in 2015. while in prison, he was tried for two more murders, but was acquitted. Five days after his acquittal, guards found him dead in his cell, apparently after hanging himself.

Yes, it's a grim list. But it gets even worse. Next time, I'll discuss a few more cases, all of which involved people I know. I even used a couple of them for stories...

13 August 2017

The Man Who Forgot, Part II

While the Billy Boils
with Leigh Lundin and B.K. Stevens

Yesterday, Bonnie brought you Part I of a classic Australian crime story published in 1896. It’s part of While the Billy Boils, a collection of 52 short stories by famed poet and short story writer Henry Lawson. At right is the frontispiece of the 1913 edition.

A 1921 film of the same title, now considered to be a lost classic, brought together several story threads into an overarching story line of drama and romance. Unfortunately, no copies are known to exist.

Now for Part II of…


The Man Who Forgot

from 1896’s

While the Billy Boils

by Henry Lawson

Part II
One Saturday morning, about a fortnight before cut-out, The Oracle came late to his stand, and apparently with something on his mind. Smith hadn’t turned up, and the next rouseabout was doing his work, to the mutual dissatisfaction of all parties immediately concerned.
“Did you see anything of Smith?” asked Mitchell of The Oracle. “Seems to have forgot to get up this morning.”
Tom looked disheartened and disappointed.
“He’s forgot again,” said he, slowly and impressively.
“Forgot what? We know he’s blessed well forgot to come to graft.”
“He’s forgot again,” repeated Tom. “He woke up this morning and wanted to know who he was and where he was.”
“Better give him best, Oracle,” said Mitchell, presently. “If he can’t find out who he is and where he is, the boss’ll soon find it out for him.”
“No,” said Tom, “when I take a thing in hand I see it through.”
This was also characteristic of the Boss-over-the board, though in another direction. He went down to the hut and enquired for Smith.
“Why ain’t you at work?”
“Who am I, sir? Where am I?” whined Smith. “Can you please tell me who I am and where I am?”
The boss drew a long breath and stared blankly at the Mystery; then he erupted.
“Now, look here!’ he howled, “I don’t know who the gory sheol you are, except that you’re a gory lunatic, and what’s more, I don’t care a damn. But I’ll soon show you where you are! You can call up at the store and get your cheque, and soon as you blessed well like; and then take a walk, and don’t forget to take your lovely swag with you.”
The matter was discussed at the dinner table. The Oracle swore that it was a cruel, mean way to treat a ‘pore afflicted chap,” and cursed the boss. Tom’s admirers cursed in sympathy, and trouble seemed threatening, when the voice of Mitchell was heard to rise in slow deliberate tones over the clatter of cutlery and tin plates.
“I wonder,” said the voice, “I wonder whether Smith forgot his cheque?”
It was ascertained that Smith hadn’t.
There was some eating and thinking done.
Soon Mitchell’s voice was heard again, directed at The Oracle. It said: “Do you keep any vallabels about your bunk, Oracle?”
Tom looked hard at Mitchell. “Why?”
“Oh, nothin’; only I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to look at your bunk and see whether Smith forgot.”
film poster
The chaps grew awfully interested. They fixed their eyes on Tom, and he looked with feeling from one face to another; then he pushed his plate back, and slowly extracted his long legs from between the stool and the table. He climbed to his bunk, and carefully reviewed the ingredients of his swag. Smith hadn’t forgot.
When the Oracle’s face came round again there was in it a strange expression which a close study would have revealed to be more of anger than of sorrow, but that was not all. It was an expression such as a man might wear who is undergoing a terrible operation, without chloroform, but is determined not to let a whimper escape him. Tom didn’t swear, and by that token they guessed how mad he was. “Twas a rough shed, with a free and lurid vocabulary, but had they all sworn in chorus, with One-Eyed Bogan as lead, it would not have done justice to Tom’s feelings and― they realised this.
The Oracle took down his bridle from its peg, and started for the door amid a respectful and sympathetic silence, which was only partly broken once by the voice of Mitchell, which asked in an awed whisper: “Going ter ketch yer horse, Tom?”
The Oracle nodded, and passed on; he spake no word―he was too full for words.
Five minutes passed, and then the voice of Mitchell was heard again, uninterrupted by the clatter of tin-ware. It said in impressive tones: “It would not be a bad idea for some of you chaps that camp in the bunks along there, to have a look at your things. Scotty’s bunk is next to Tom’s.”
Scotty shot out of his place as if a snake had hold of his leg, starting a plank in the table and upsetting three soup plates. He reached for his bunk like a drowning man clutching at a plank, and tore out the bedding. Again, Smith hadn’t forgot.
Then followed a general overhaul, and it was found that in most cases that Smith had remembered. The pent-up reservoir of blasphemy burst forth.
The Oracle came up with Smith that night at the nearest shanty, and found that he had forgotten again, and in several instances, and was forgetting some more under the influence of rum and of the flattering interest taken in his case by a drunken Bachelor of Arts who happened to be at the pub. Tom came in quietly from the rear, and crooked his finger at the shanty-keeper. They went apart from the rest, and talked together awhile very earnestly. Then they secretly examined Smith’s swag, the core of which was composed of Tom’s and his mate’s valuables.
Then The Oracle stirred up Smith’s recollection and departed.
Smith was about again in a couple of weeks. He was damaged somewhat physically, but his memory was no longer impaired.
Henry Lawson

Australia and a bit of history… We trust this glimpse into a distant time and place demonstrates how much we have in common, no matter when and where we live.



Henry Lawson (1867-1922) became a fondly revered Australian writer and bush poet. Among the best-known Australian poets and authors of the colonial period, he is often considered Australia’s greatest short story writer.

12 August 2017

The Man Who Forgot, Part I

Bonnie Stevens
with B.K. Stevens and Leigh Lundin

I can’t mimic an Australian accent and Leigh’s sounds even worse than a Cockney Kiwi in Botswana, but we conspired to bring you a little crime story from out back. I mean out back in the shed where Rob keeps dusty tales in orange crates. Okay, all three of us conspired but Leigh and I are divvying up this folksy story, presenting half today and half tomorrow. Fix Australian accents in your head, mates (pronounce it ‘mites’), and let’s have at it…


The Man Who Forgot

from 1896’s

While the Billy Boils

by Henry Lawson

Part I
“Well, I dunno,” said Tom Marshall― known as ‘The Oracle’― “I’ve heerd o’ sich cases before: they aint commin, but― I’ve heerd o’ sich cases before,” and he screwed up the left side of his face whilst he reflectively scraped his capacious right ear with the large blade of a pocket knife.
They were sitting at the western end of the rouseabouts’ hut, enjoying the breeze that came up when the sun went down, and smoking and yarning. The ‘case’ in question was a wretchedly forlorn looking specimen of the swag-carrying clan whom a boundary rider had found wandering about the adjacent plain, and had brought into the station. He was a small, scraggy man, painfully fair, with a big, baby-like head, vacant watery eyes, long thin hairy hands, that felt like pieces of damp seaweed, and an apologetic cringe-and-look-up-at-you manner. He professed to have forgotten who he was and all about himself.
The Oracle was deeply interested in this case, as indeed he was in anything else that ‘looked curious’. He was a big, simple-minded shearer, with more heart than brains, more experience than sense, and more curiosity than either. It was a wonder that he had not profited, even indirectly, by the last characteristic. His heart was filled with a kind of reverential pity for anyone who was fortunate or unfortunate enough to possess an ‘affliction;’ and amongst his mates had been counted a deaf man, a blind man, a poet, and a man who ‘had rats’. Tom had dropped across them individually, when they were down in the world, and had befriended them, and studied them with great interest especially the poet; and they thought kindly of him, and were grateful― except the individual with the rats, who reckoned Tom had an axe to grind― that he, in fact, wanted to cut his (Rat’s) liver out as a bait for Darling cod― and so renounced the mateship.
It was natural, then, for The Oracle to take the present case under his wing. He used his influence with the boss to get the Mystery on ‘picking up’, and studied him in spare time, and did his best to assist the poor hushed memory, which nothing the men could say or do seemed able to push further back than the day on which the stranger ‘kind o’ woke up’ on the plain, and found a swag beside him. The swag had been prospected and fossicked for a clue, but yielded none. The chaps were sceptical at first, and inclined to make fun of the Mystery; but Tom interfered, and intimated that if they were skunks enough to chyack or try on any of their ‘funny business’ with a ‘pore afflicted chap,” he (Tom) would be obliged to ‘perform.’ Most of the men there had witnessed Tom’s performance, and no one seemed ambitious to take a leading part in it. They preferred to be in the audience.
“Yes,” reflected The Oracle, “it’s a curious case, and I dare say some of them big doctors, like Morell McKenzie, would be glad to give a thousand or two to get holt on a case like this.”
“Done,” cried Mitchell, the goat of the shed. “I’ll go halves!― or stay, let’s form a syndicate and work the Mystery.”
Some of the rouseabouts laughed, but the joke fell as flat with Tom as any other joke.
“The worst of it is,” said the Mystery himself, in the whine that was natural to him, and with a timid side look up at Tom― “the worst of it is I might be a lord or a duke, and don’t know anything about it. I might be a rich man, with a lot of houses and money. I might be a lord.”
The chaps guffawed.
“Wot’yer laughing at?” asked Mitchell. “I don’t see anything unreasonable about it; he might be a lord as far as looks go. I’ve seen two.”
“Yes,” reflected Tom, ignoring Mitchell, “there’s something in that; but then again, you see, you might be Jack the Ripper. Better let it slide, mate; let the dead past bury its dead. Start fresh with a clean sheet.”
“But I don’t even know my name, or whether I’m married or not,” whined the outcast. “I might have a good wife and little ones.”
“Better keep on forgetting, mate,” Mitchell said, “and as for a name, that’s nothing. I don’t know mine, and I’ve had eight. There’s plenty good names knocking round. I knew a man named Jim Smith that died. Take his name, it just suits you, and he ain’t likely to call round for it; if he does you can say you was born with it.”
So they called him Smith, and soon began to regard him as a harmless lunatic and to take no notice of his eccentricities.
Great interest was taken in the case for a time, and even Mitchell put in his oar and tried all sort of ways to assist the Mystery in his weak, helpless, and almost pitiful endeavours to recollect who he was. A similar case happened to appear in the papers at this time, and the thing caught on to such an extent that The Oracle was moved to impart some advice from his store of wisdom.
“I wouldn’t think too much over it if I was you,” said he to Mitchell. “Hundreds of sensible men went mad over that there Tichborne case who didn’t have anything to do with it, but just through thinking on it; and you’re ratty enough already, Jack. Let it alone and trust me to find out who’s Smith just as soon as ever we cut out.”
Meanwhile Smith ate, worked, and slept, and borrowed tobacco and forgot to return it which was made a note of. He talked freely about his case when asked, but if he addressed anyone, it was with the air of the timid but good young man, who is fully aware of the extent and power of this world’s wickedness, and stands somewhat in awe of it, but yet would beg you to favour a humble worker in the vineyard by kindly accepting a tract, and passing it on to friends after perusal.
to be continued…
Henry Lawson

Crime? What crime, you ask. As Little Orphan Annie said, tomorrow… tomorrow…



Henry Lawson (1867-1922) became a fondly revered Australian writer and bush poet. Among the best-known Australian poets and authors of the colonial period, he is often considered Australia’s greatest short story writer.

11 August 2017

A Review Can Be a Plum, or It Can Be the Pits...

Thomas Pluck
by Thomas Pluck

I just ate a flavor grenade.

At least that's what it's branded. It's a pluot. What's a pluot, you may ask? A hybrid of a plum and an apricot, of course. I would say the "flavor" part is a bit of false advertising. It wasn't a fragmentation or thermite explosion of flavor. But thankfully, it didn't taste like a grenade. It was good. But good isn't good enough, is it?

We need a flavor grenade, not a plum.

I like plums.

William Carlos Williams, the poet who elegized Paterson and lived in Rutherford, where he told us of the importance of the red wheelbarrow and the white chickens, also wrote of plums with a beautiful simplicity. He did not say "I'm sorry I ate the flavor grenade that were in the ice box and you were probably saving for later, they were delicious and so cold." Plum was enough.

What does this have to do with anything? Hyperbole is the standard response on the internet, on social media especially. You must love or hate everything, with a razor thin line of "meh" in between. It's okay to simply like something, especially a book. Though I've seen authors have meltdowns when someone, heaven help us if it's another author, give their book a 3 star review. That's still a passing grade, but to some it feels like a knife to the heart.

Personally I don't see a need to let someone know if I disliked a book enough to leave less than a 3. I rarely leave a rant. If it's a book that won't be hurt by my review and I feel strongly about it, I'll say why. But if it's just another author trying to get by, I don't see the need to fling my monkey excretions. I'm not a critic, and I don't want to be one. I want to write my stories. I get to write them, which makes me happy, and when a reader says they enjoyed it, I am even happier. This isn't a business for me, and I am tickled a thousand shades of fuchsia that this is the case.

Not everyone has the luxury of a day job. I have great respect for the full-time career writers, whether their spouse works or not. It ups the stakes. And my less than honest review policy--which boils down to, "if you don't have anything good to say, say nothing at all," is my acknowledgement of those stakes. Now, you do what you like. I'm not judging others, nor suggesting that my way is right or wrong. I'm sure someone will tell me.

This comes up because two of my favorite writers are going out of print. Ones I look up to, who when I was cutting my teeth on flash fiction, were the writers I hoped to be in ten years. After careful study of "overnight successes," I saw that on average, they put in seven to fourteen years in the granola mines toiling away before they were declared an "overnight success." So I gave myself ten years as a goal. I've been pecking away for nearly seven, so I'm on my way. But back to the writers who have been dropped, or whose books are going out of print for the crime of selling five to seven thousand copies. It's a tough row to hoe out there. I'm not going to make it tougher. I wish I could buy every novel my crime writing pals write, but I can't. I use the library, and I review on Goodreads and Big A when I like the book. And if it's not my cup of joe, I keep my mouth shut.

I won't write a dishonest review, so my sin for not leaving 1 and 2 star reviews is one of omission. As a former Catholic, I know those count, but aren't venal. I'm already doing a five to ten in purgatory when Grimmy comes calling, so add it to my jacket. I can do that time standing on my head. I won't say I've never written a bad review, I'm human. If you're on the gravy train and write a book that I think insults the reader by not being your best, I might leave my two cents. The champs can take a punch, get up, and keep swinging. The chumps whine to their "minions" online about it.

Which comes to the other side of hyperbole. A bad review isn't the end of the world. I've had a few that sting, from the kid who said my idea of blue collar comes from Bruce Springsteen--can I help that my dad was a construction worker and my ma was a hairdresser in New Jersey, buddy? or the one who thought the book with a sword on the cover is "awful bloody." Their opinions are theirs, and just as valid as mine. And as far as Bezos is concerned, their 2 or 3 stars are as good as any toward that magical 50, 100, 1000 count that supposedly brings angels singing from on high holding big royalty checks.

I try not to read reviews, really. But you have to take the good with the bad. If I'm gonna crow that Scott Montgomery called my book "James Lee Burke slammed into old-school Dennis Lehane... with a voice all its own" I have to acknowledge the blogger who was upset that Bad Boy Boogie wasn't short and sweet like Stark. The book wasn't for him, but it was for Mr M. (Thanks, Scott).

I know the two writers whose books are going out of print will find new homes at publishers who love their work like I do. They are pros, they write great books, and readers will find them. Who are they? You'll know when their next book comes out and I say how much I loved it. Because there's one duty we do have, as readers and writers, and that's to crow about what we love. If we don't, we have only ourselves to blame if it disappears.

It reminds me of the restaurant biz, where I used to be a food blogger. Whenever a great place shut down, people would say, "I loved that place! We used to go there all the time. Why'd they close?" Then I'd ask them for the last time they ate there. "Oh, uh, six months ago, maybe?"

Why'd they close? There's your answer.

10 August 2017

Independent Editor Stacy Robinson on the Novella

by Stacy Robinson

(As part of my on-going exploration of the novella as art form and resurgent commercial enterprise, I tapped the great independent editor Stacy Robinson (I admit I'm biased. She's also MY editor, poor thing!) to add a few thoughts from the perspective of, you guessed it: the editor! Stacy is the owner/operator of The Next Chapter Editing Services, and can be reached via her Facebook page here and directly via email here.) - Brian Thornton

Stacy Robinson of "The Next Chapter"
A college professor of mine once said, “The way you tell a story largely depends on the time you have to tell it.” To be clear, this particular prof was teaching Film Theory to a bunch of over-indulged university brats at the time, so what he was specifically referring to was the difference between a ninety-minute RomCom and a three-hour Fantasy film such as “Lord of the Rings,” but I would argue that the maxim remains true for prose-based storytelling as well. In a world where so many of us are digesting bite-sized pieces of information (140 characters, are you serious?) via web-based sources as our primary method of daily intelligence–gathering, recognizing that our audiences might not always have the time (or attention span) to delve head-first into a 100,000 word epic might be the difference between success and failure at garnering a following. While it may be true that the majority of readers won’t be scrapping novel-length fiction as their preferred method of literary recreation anytime soon, it is also true that short stories and novella-length fiction have enjoyed a dramatic up-tick in interest over the last few years, particularly those in the mystery, crime and historical genres. Flash-fiction (stories between five and 1,000 words, depending on who you’re asking) is also gaining traction amongst purveyors of “alternative” fiction and, if you want to get published (and quickly), is not something to dismiss out of hand. Both trends are something to capitalize on, if you have the knowledge and will to make it work.


As an editor, my approach to a novella-length manuscript is vastly different than the one I would employ for a much longer piece. Other than the basics, there is really only one primary aspect that I focus on throughout the editorial process, and that is, “Does the story get told in its entirety or does it leave the reader unsatisfied and longing for more?” Writing a piece of fiction, regardless of length, is rather like a dance. Or, if you prefer, a wrestling match. Once you’ve wrangled your partner (or opponent) into position, it’s up to you to bring it home, whether it be a gravity-defying dip or undeniable submission. With a novel, the writer has the time and space to achieve these types of “word acrobatics.” With a novella, the dance (or match) is performed at a considerably faster pace. Scenes need to be set, characters developed and plot played out at break-neck speed. And it needs to be done with as much attention to detail as would be employed in a more traditional framework. Sound impossible? The trick is to minimize as much as you can, eliminating the superfluous and delivering your words in such a way that the reader absorbs the pertinent and forgets that much more could be said.


Though it may sound as if the novella is the harder beast to tame, there are many upsides to the structure. The primary (and therefore, more obvious) benefit is that it’s a hell of a lot quicker to bang one out. Rather than taking years to complete, some novellas can be accomplished in a matter of months, leaving you, the author, to pursue other, more time-intensive pursuits while enjoying the satisfaction of publication.  Also, the limited word count means that you can end with a dramatic cliff-hanger, one that leaves the audience panting for the next installment, should you chose to deliver one. Another major advantage is that there are a plethora of publications that only publish works of novella-length, offering a specific market for your work. 


Times are tough. Life is short. If you have a story brewing inside that needs to be told, but in a limited way, give the novella a shot. You’ll find out soon enough if you can do it in 50,000 words or less, and if not . . . You’ve always got the novel. 
Happy writing to you all!

Check back in two weeks when I tie it all together with a final roundtable where my gang of novella experts answers a final round of questions and adds a few last thoughts on the future of the novella, and of those adventurous souls who take the plunge and try their luck with them. See you in two weeks! – Brian
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09 August 2017

Going Away

David Edgerley Gates

Clancy Sigal died last month. He was a friend of friends, I didn't know him, although we had a flurry of Facebook posts and private e-mails back and forth in the last couple of years, and I relished them.

Clancy wasn't a household name, but that of course depends on your household. For those of us of a certain age, and a certain political persuasion, he was something of a heroic figure. He was an old-time Lefty, and proud of it, but I'm thinking of his 1961 novel, Going Away.

Going Away is a road novel. Subtitled 'a Report, a Memoir,' it reverses the usual convention, the westward journey, and travels West to East. At the end of the book, even, the narrator takes ship for Europe, the Old World. It's also generational, a voyage of recovery - not the twelve steps, but the recovery of memory, of history, and the ever-retreating past. It had an enormous influence on me. More than Catcher in the Rye or On the Road, or Bill Goldman's first novel, The Temple of Gold, all of which I'd devoured and attached myself to. What they had in common, both with each other and with Going Away, was a sense of yearning, a place just over the horizon. And larger than this, Going Away suggested that a life of engagement was not only possible, or worth seeking out, but necessary. In other words, that moral energy is nourishing.


Going Away is really about a legacy, and Clancy uses the word, or its first cousin. "We are the residual legatees," he says, of something good and even noble in American politics. The fight for social justice is no mean thing. We can argue about whether the Left was hijacked by the Communists, or how Organized Labor lost its way, and unions got mobbed up, but you have to admit that once upon a time there was maybe an ideal to live up to. Maybe that's in fact the problem, that the ideal is impossible to live up to, that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Going Away is a chronicle of disillusion, and loss. Our hopes held in trust, only to be sold off, a dime on the dollar.

There's a halfway famous remark Isaac Asimov once made, which I may have quoted before. He's asked, "When was the Golden Age of science fiction?" and he says, "Fifteen." You know where I'm going with this. We all too often have some terrific enthusiasm, at whatever age, and then we outgrow it. This is very true of books. Some of them just don't bear re-reading. There's a writer you couldn't get enough of, then, and now they leave you cold. It could be that we get more sophisticated, because the opposite happens - I could never have appreciated Trollope, for example, when I was in my teens or twenties, I had a hard enough time with Dickens. So with regard to Clancy, and Going Away, it's terrifically heartening for me to report that fifty years on, the book stands up just fine. It's still as much of a gas to read. I'd actually forgotten how funny it is. Clancy never took himself too seriously.

There's also a larger point to be made here, I think, about influences. I can say I never realized how much influence Kipling had on me, not until I read Puck of Pook's Hill years later. (My dad had read it aloud to me when I was five or six.) I could say the same about Walt Kelly and Pogo, or Carl Barks and the Disney duck comics. Then there are the conscious influences. Steinbeck, say. Hemingway. No apologies. Eudora Welty. John O'Hara. Mary Renault. You read more. You get older. You do get more supple, and more sophisticated. You pick up more tricks. Here's the thing. Clancy Sigal didn't influence me in terms of style, or method, a way of telling a story, or certainly not the way O'Hara did. Clancy influenced my life. He wrote a book that fundamentally changed the way I looked out at the world. He made me a participant.

08 August 2017

The Writer Unplugged

by Paul D. Marks

MTV and Palladia often do “unplugged” shows of various bands, where they go acoustic instead of electric. And it’s fun to see acoustic versions of songs we know and love. In fact, sacrilege as it might be, I prefer Eric Clapton’s unplugged version of Layla more than the electric version. So I’m not opposed to going unplugged.


However – and you knew there had to be a ‘but’ coming, didn’t you? – we went unplugged a couple of weeks ago, not by choice, and it wasn’t any fun. Of course it’s not the first or only time this has happened. But it did make me think of some things that I’d like to share here.

There was a fire relatively near us, though not near enough that we were concerned about evacuating, which we’ve had to do two or three times in the past, so I guess that was a plus. But this fire caused both our internet and cell service to go out. We did still have satellite TV and our landline. And luckily we had electricity – nothing’s worse than having that or water go out. So we weren’t totally unplugged. But we were largely disconnected from the world. It’s like in the unplugged concerts when they still have the bass plugged in but everything else is acoustic.

So, we couldn’t check on the fire to see if it was coming our way. TV and radio news don’t give you a lot of info. And when there are fires near us we mostly rely on the internet to know what’s going on. But since we had no internet (via cable) and since the cell service was out too, we really felt “blind” and disconnected. And couldn’t get updates on the fire. That wasn’t a good feeling.

But since we did have electricity we could continue to work on computers or do other things. And here’s how this connects to writers and writing: I was working on rewriting a story. Normally when I do that I’m flying all over the internet, researching this and checking that as I write. And playing hooky from writing, pretending that the “extra” research I’m doing is really necessary. But I couldn’t do that that weekend. No internet research – no playing hooky on the net. And that was beyond frustrating. I have a pretty good reference library but you get spoiled with the ease of finding things without having to leave your desk. So, while I could continue to work on the story I had to leave a lot of things blank to be filled in later, once the net came back on. This disrupts the flow and the “zen” space of writing and can get very frustrating. It also shows just how dependent we’ve become on all of these modern conveniences.

On top of that, our microwave “blew up” around the same time. And we’ve now been without a microwave for a while. And that’s been very frustrating too. How do you quickly reheat that cup of coffee that keeps you up all hours while doing those rewrites? How do you warm up leftovers? And a million other things?

In ye olden days, of course, we did things differently and in a pinch we can go back to them, but it isn’t the same once you’ve tasted the “good life” of the modern world. When I began as a writer I was on a typewriter. And when PCs first came out I thought who the hell needs this? I was happy working on the latest incarnation of a typewriter, the Selectric that had a ball that you could actually change fonts with. Wowser! And moving a paragraph from page 3 to page 93 was simple. All you had to do was get out a scissors, snip snip snip, move the paragraph, Scotch tape it to the new page, white out the lines, Xerox it and hope the lines where it was taped didn’t show too badly. So who needed a computer to write? Then, my then-writing partner got one of the very early PCs and I went over to his house one day and saw him magically move that paragraph from page 3 to 93 and I was hooked. I was the second person I knew to get a computer, one of those fancy shmancy things with two floppy drives, no hard drive, a thimble full of memory. But it was, indeed, Magic. No literal cutting and pasting. No Liquid Paper (“white out”) – and supporting Mike Nesmith and his mother 😉. It was liberating. You felt more creative because now you could move something and just try it out. You could cut and paste and re-cut and re-paste to your heart’s content. You could change a character’s name on a whim and not worry about it. It really freed the imagination. Hard to believe now how we made things work before. Before you would be hesitant to make changes because it was so hard to make them. Time consuming and impossible to do.

But not only have we become uber dependent on computers, we’re also dependent on “mini computers,” like cell phones with Skype and Uber and that can search the net and TVs that are largely running on computer chips. I just downloaded a pedometer to my phone and can track the number of steps I take every day.

My wife and I can communicate at almost any time, especially in an emergency. She takes the train from work and just the other day got stuck in a flash flood. If it weren’t for e-mail, texting and voice calls on the cell phone we would never have been able to communicate.

So, while we can still do things the way our parents and grandparents did, and even we did in the olden days, we’ve become accustomed to the plugged in conveniences of modern life. We might still like to read a paper book or love to eat a slow cooked meal when we get tired of microwaved food. And we still need to unplug sometimes, turn off the cell phone, log out of Facebook and even take a break from writing and let our minds drift. But we want to do it at our convenience. Let me tell you it was no fun when we lost most of our communication with the outside world.

As writers, and in general, we’ve become so dependent on these devices that it becomes very difficult when we don’t have access to them. Of course our pioneer forbearers would laugh at what we find inconvenient, but a hundred years from now our great grandchildren will think about how primitive we are.

###

And now for the usual BSP.

My short story “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” from the December 2016 Ellery Queen is nominated for a Macavity Award. If you’d like to read it, and the stories of all the nominated authors, please check them out at the links below. If you like my story I hope you’ll want to vote for it. And thank you to everyone who voted for it and got it this far:

Lawrence Block, “Autumn at the Automat”: http://amzn.to/2vsnyBP
Craig Faustus Buck, “Blank Shot”: http://tinyurl.com/BlankShot-Buck
Greg Herren, “Survivor’s Guilt”: https://gregwritesblog.com/2017/07/21/cant-stop-the-world/
Paul D. Marks, “Ghosts of Bunker Hill” http://pauldmarks.com/Ghosts-of-Bunker-Hill
Joyce Carol Oates, “The Crawl Space”: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01N6INC6I
Art Taylor, “Parallel Play”: http://www.arttaylorwriter.com/books/6715-2/

If you want to read a great article on the Macavity nominees, check out Greg Herren's blog: https://gregwritesblog.com/2017/07/24/beatnik-beach/

My story “Blood Moon” appears in “Day of the Dark, Stories of the Eclipse” from Wildside Press, edited by Kaye George. Stories about the eclipse – just in time for the real eclipse on August 21st. Twenty-four stories in all. Available on Amazon.



07 August 2017

Two Different Worlds

by Janice Law

We’ve had a lot of Sleuthsayers columns on different types of mystery writers: noir vs psychological, cozy vs hard boiled. And also considering different approaches: stories planned with outlines vs developed on the fly, even that big question to revise or not to revise.

I’d like to suggest a different division that encompasses a lot of these varieties, namely closed vs open plotting. By closed, I mean something like the traditional mystery which, despite its relative modernity, has classical antecedents. Back in the day, Aristotle talked up the unities of time, place, and action, basing his analysis on the Greek tragedies that favored a tightly focused action with a few protagonists in one locale. Contemporary short mystery stories, anyone?

The Greeks also liked to begin in media res, in the heart of the action, another favorite device of most modern mysteries, not to mention thrillers.

Beyond this, we see an interesting split. If the closed mystery may no longer be set in the country house or the isolated motel, it has a small universe of suspects and usually a fairly compact geographic area. This is particularly clear in the various UK mysteries that adorn PBS each season. Vera may be set out on the windswept moors and empty sands, but there are rarely more than five real suspects and, in this show at least, they are as apt to be related as in any Greek tragedy.

Midsomer Murders is also fond of a half dozen suspects, mostly unpleasant people who will never be missed. Ditto for Doctor Blake who, with all of Australia, sticks close to Ballarat and, yes, the handy five or so possibilities. Clearly, the attractions of this sort of story for the TV producers are the same attributes that pleased the Athenian town fathers: compact locations, smallish casts, one clear action. The emphasis is on the puzzle factors of mysteries, and at their best such works are admirably neat and logical.

The open mystery takes another tack, flirts with thriller territory, and likes to break out of confined spaces both geographic and psychological. If it has ancestors, they’re not the classically structured tragedies, but tall stories, quest narratives and, if we need a big name, Shakespeare, who loved shipwrecks and runaways and nights in the woods, as well as mixing comedy and tragedy and all things in between.

I’ve thinking about this divide for two reasons. First, I just finished what will be the last novel in the second Francis Bacon trilogy, Mornings in London. I really wanted a little bow to the great British tradition of the country house mystery, and I managed a country mansion – just the sort of place Francis hates – and a nice half dozen suspects. I had a victim nobody much liked and rather a nice crime scene, and I must confess that neither Francis nor I was really happy until I could get us both back to London and off to other places less claustrophobic.

Turns out what I had long suspected was true: I’m not cut out for tidy and classical and ingenious puzzles. And I don’t write that way, either. I like to meander from one idea to the next, a method of composition much more conducive to glorified chases and quests than to Murder at the Manor. Too bad.

The other reason I got thinking about closed vs open plots was a quick dip into a Carl Hiaasen novel, one of his orgies of invention that spins off in every possible direction without somehow losing a coherent plot. If Agatha Christie is still the godmother of every good puzzle mystery, Hiassen’s satiric crime romps have certainly taken chases, quests, bizarre personalities, and imaginative disasters about as far as they can go.

I wonder now if writing style is inevitably connected with a certain type of mystery. Perhaps those who compose traditional, classically inspired mysteries are the same clever folk who can plan the whole business from the start. And maybe those of us with less foresight are inevitably drawn to a chase structure with a looser time frame, wider real estate, and more characters.

06 August 2017

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

by Leigh Lundin

Any other time, the waterfall would have appeared beautiful, thundering down the Venezuelan mountainside where its waters swirled off into the jungle. Holstering my automatics, I raised handfuls of water to my mouth, keeping a watch out for Colonel DeSperado and his henchmen.

Only last week, I battled him in a Zimbabwean borogrove, then tracked his criminal crew to Athabasca where I rappelled down the glacier’s ice face. That night we tangled in an Edmonton warehouse where bullets tore through my parka, fortunately missing essential flesh. Escaping with little more than bruised knuckles and pride, I caught up with the mercenary outside Caracas.

He’d ridden the teleférico up the mountain. Only by luck did I discover he’d abandoned the cable car at the way station. While a helicopter chuttered over our heads, he slid down a rope before setting fire to it as I followed, the Colonel’s idea of a joke.

A sound crackled in the forest. I wiped sweat from my eyes and peered… something big moved among the trees. A snort… no, a sniffing… Of course my scent wafted in the dense, humid air.

It… No, two of them, three… crashed through the vines. Damn velociraptors and their keen sense of smell.

I tumbled down the cliff face surprising a tyrannosaurus as I crashed past him, barely avoiding his snapping jaws. Rolling, I lost my rifle at the worst possible moment. DeSperado and three of his goons fired their hijacked CIA AR-15s, volleys of slugs glancing off boulders. They gave chase as I dashed for shelter.

Unburdened by a rifle, I outdistanced them, but there in the middle of the trail stood a cart used to haul guns into the jungle and cocaine out. The telling ker-chuck of a grenade launcher sounded. With accelerated momentum, I leapt over the cart and…

Wham! I didn’t see it coming. Unexpectedly a table rose and smashed into my face, knocking me to the ground, rendering me dizzy.

It had torn my eyelid. Blood obscured my vision, but I gathered myself. Unable to see, I felt around… floor… coffee table… sofa… What the hell?


  Little known Leigh factoid  
I act out dreams in my sleep.


Impactful Dreams

It started a few years earlier with action dramas during REM activity: I punch, elbow, kick, leap tall buildings in a single bound… all while I’m sleeping. It’s severe enough I started fearing I might hurt my girlfriend.

Acting out dreams is my own term for a type of hypnagogia unrelated to sleepwalking. Normally the brain paralyzes the body during REM sleep, a muscle inhibition called REM atonia. You may dream you’re running or swimming, but your body remains dormant. My suppression mechanism has developed a software problem.

After a wild phantasmagoria where I was running and jumping and landed beside the bed, I found it bemusing and perhaps amusing enough to look up the phenomenon. I discovered nothing funny about it at all. This type of hypnagogia can be a precursor to Parkinson’s disease or a common type of dementia… or nothing at all… but the thought is scary.

Now comes an interesting wrinkle.

The most popular antidepressants (SSRIs, SNRIs, TCAs) don’t work on me. Depression can be caused by a hundred different factors that require the right key to unlock. Your arm might hurt, but is it battered, bruised, bloodied, barbed, bitten, bullet-riddled, broken, or burnt? Treatment is specific to the cause.

Following research several years ago, I suspected a modified monoamine oxidase inhibitors might work. At the time, reverse MAOIs were available in Europe and the rest of the world, but not the US. The German manufacturer concluded US product testing was not cost-effective to carve out a market niche.

MAOIs were the original antidepressant, developed long before Prozac and the ‘modern’ drugs that followed. They were considered dangerous, even lethal, because they badly interact with many common foods, especially anything aged like cheeses, an enormous range of Japanese foods that I dearly love made with soy and soy sauces, a number of other sauces and marinades, sausages, sauerkraut and kimchi, yeast, spinach, raspberries, bananas, avocados– foods you seldom think about as dangerous– and of course a wide range of pharmaceuticals. SSRIs and those that followed were considered much safer… if they happened to work.

Trials and Tribulation

About ten years ago, I became involved with a clinical trial of a drug called selegiline, brand name Emsam. The chemical was originally developed for Parkinson’s disease, but once researchers realized it was a potent MAOI, they began testing it on depression. The great thing is that it’s not a pill but a patch applied daily. Because it enters the blood stream directly through the skin, it bypasses the liver and the problems associated with all those forbidden foods.

Emsam/selegiline worked well for me, the only side-effect being skin irritation. I ate normally, even drank wine. For a year and a half, it was wonderful and then the clinical trial ended. In the intervening time, I haven’t been able to find a physician willing to prescribe it– they’d see ‘MAOI’ and stop cold, not understanding how the new drug works.

Recently my insurance company helped me track down a local doctor minutes away who knew the drug and was using it on other patients. Although frightfully expensive, it works well at the maximum dosage. During that time, the acting out tapered off and then rarely happened at all. As a precaution, I barely touch red wine and Roquefort, but I eat most of the otherwise forbidden foods without worry.

Little Nemo in Slumberland (1908)
How my furniture behaves  🖱
Out of Mind, Out of Sight

In March, the dosage was reduced. The depression returned and so did the action dream sequences. Hollywood offered nothing compared to my inner world.

Then came the dastardly dream sketched above. I was chasing and being chased. In my path was a small cart and I sailed over it… and crashed into the corner of a low table, eye first. The thunk was so intense, it reverberated in the computer lab in the other end of the house.

Fortunately the table’s corner is beveled, so although the impact tore a gash in my eyelid and scratched my eyeball, the blunted corner saved my eye from further damage. My eyesight was badly blurred and the eye swelled nearly closed, but, as the ophthalmologist predicted, my vision has mostly returned.

Rapid Eye Research

One of the conditions of REM sleep is that monoamine neurotransmitter tanks of serotonin, norepinephrine, and histamine must read Empty. Anti-depressants, including MAOIs, short-circuit the REM mechanism by firing up those pumps.

The key take-away is that a MAOI drug does not fix muscle activity blocking in REM sleep, instead it disables REM itself. Normally that’s not a good thing, but apparently the physiological jury hasn’t ruled yet. Combine that with the factor that the selegiline drug was developed to treat Parkinson’s disease and REM atonia can be a precursor to Parkinson’s, we have a medical mystery with several suggestive clues.

MAOI withdrawal (or too great a reduction) causes an REM rebound effect. It’s true. A coffee table rebounded off my eye socket. Damn, that hurt.

The good news is that life is returning to what passes for normal in Florida. Within days, I’ll look as beautiful as ever.

The Eyes Have It


This article comes as a challenge from my friend Thrush. He’s not been the first to tell me that I rarely reveal truly personal things about myself. A corporate manager once remarked about my being closed-mouth about personal matters. “On rare occasions, Leigh lifts the lid and we get a peek inside.”

Although I’m private, I don’t think of myself being cryptic until it’s pointed out. At least I managed to lift the lid a little.



Little Nemo visits the Moon
Little Nemo visits the Moon (1905)
Little Nemo in Slumberland

The walking bed cartoon panel above is from famed cartoonist, Winsor McCay, who began writing Little Nemo in Slumberland in 1905. He dabbled in dreamscape fears such as architectural distortions, flying, falling, clowns, and the inability to control an outcome. He also wove in fantasy, such as Nemo’s friendship with a princess.

Little Nemo, who’s not very brave, often lands in trouble either in Slumberland or the real world with resulting consequences. Always in the last panel he wakes, sometimes fallen to the floor, other times with his parents either soothing or gently scolding him.

McCay was particularly known for the beauty and innovation of artwork. In the example below (unfortunately in Dutch, but see translation beneath), note the progression of the elephant.


Translation
panel Dutch English
1. Ik moet opschieten!
He! Heb je Jumbo al gevoerd?
Hier! Pak aan! Ik heb haast.
Oh! Hy is klaar!
Jongens! Kom! Opschieten!
Ga jy by Jumbo helpen?
We kommen te laat.
Kalm, kalm.
Hooghed, we doen wat we kunnen!
Word wakker.
Wat een bende.
I must hurry!
Hey! Have you been to Jumbo already?
Here! Take this! I'm in a hurry.
Oh! He's done!
Boys! Come on! Hurry up!
Are you going to help Jumbo?
We'll be late.
Calm, calm.
Highness, we do what we can!
Wake up.
What a gang.
2. Tjee, wat waren die opgewonden!
Ja, we zyn wat laat. Maar we zyn er nu vlug.
Cheers, they're excited!
Yes, we're late. But be quick now.
3. Oh! En Oooh!
Op zyn rug gaan we naar pappa.
Oh! And Oooh!
On elephant-back, we're going to Daddy.
4. Kom, hy is zo’n bkaaf beest. Niet bang zyn.
Ik wil niet gaan.
Come on, he's such a noisy beast. Don't be afraid.
I don't want to go.
5. Jawel! Kom nou mee, anders komen te laat Yes! Come on, otherwise we arrive too late.
6. Ik vind dit helemaal niet leuk!
Straks, boven, vind je 't heel leuk!
I do not like this at all!
Immediately, get up. You'll find it fun!
7. Kalm, maar, liefje. Er is niets aan de hand. Calm, my sweetheart. There is nothing going on.