26 June 2017

The Lie Detector

by Jan Grape

My Time magazine came yesterday. The man on the cover is Special Counsel and former FBI Director, Robert Mueller. Underneath his photo is the sub-title Someone's not telling the truth.

Wow. Can this man with his extensive education and background and work experience be able to sort out fiction from lies? Surely he can, but this is a new challenge for him. He's never had an investigation like this. But he does have plenty of money and a dream-team of legal eagles on his side. Personally, I think he will eventually cut through all the lies, deceits and cover-ups but it will take time.

As writers we are hoping to be as Lawrence Block (a belated happy birthday, Larry) titled his book, Telling Lies For Fun And Profit. We are liars of the first, second, third and last order. And, boy, do we have fun doing it.

Just a couple of things to remember. If we have a character who is a police officer and we interrogate people to find out who committed the crime, do we rely on the old stand-by like body language? Do we express that? How the suspect, slouched and seemed uninterested.

Does our amateur sleuth draw any conclusion from the person who will not look directly into the character's eyes. That is another basic "tell" of a liar.

Do we ask the right questions in order to catch the suspect in a lie? Of course, we do these things. And Class, be sure you set things up so that you either have an idea the suspect is lying. Or have your character acknowledge that he or she knows they need more proof.

Most parents have a built in bull-pucky meter in their head and know almost instinctively when their child is lying. If that's true then your character might even say or think that. It's doesn't guaranteed they know when a suspect is lying.

You know, as a writer you must make your story or book believable so be sure and check on the reality of your character either detecting a lie or missing it altogether. If your character misses it then be sure you set it up that way.

If all else fails, have your suspect take a lie detector test. I remember Very Special Agent Tony what's-his-name in the NCIS  TV series telling a suspect once that every time the man lied, his (meaning Tony's) ears would itch. Tony had proof of part and part he suspected, but scratched his ears at the right time and the suspect confessed. Makes me laugh every time I think about it. And I do know Tony's last name, I just am not sure of the spelling at the moment.

I realize most of you reading this are published writers. Most also have awards and honors for writing excellence. But gentle reminders of details are always welcome in my book. Just continue telling and detecting lies because that's what we do.

25 June 2017

Where'd We Bury That Guy?

by R.T. Lawton


Dominican Republic
attribution: alexrk2
Okay, so it's 1492 and some Italian guy named Cristoforo Colombo (Cristobal Colon in Spanish) has received the blessing of the King and Queen of Spain to sail across the Atlantic in search of a route to India. He missed it by several thousand miles, but did discover a bunch of islands in the Caribbean Sea. Of course, the Taino and Caribe people had already been living on these islands for a very long time and had no idea they were in need of being discovered. In any case, the arrivals of these alleged discoverers turned out to be disastrous for the native landholders. Thus, whether you perceive ol' Chris as a famous explorer who had the courage to cross a vast expanse of water in not much more than three over-sized rowboats with sails, or as an infamous destroyer of native culture in a brave new world, is a choice for you to make.

To continue with the Who's in the Grave search, it was on December 6, 1492 that Chris found a chunk of land in the Caribbean and dubbed the island as Hispaniola. To us modern folk, we know it as an island composed of two countries; the west one-third being Haiti and the eastern two-thirds being the Dominican Republic. Actually, Chris landed on the Haiti side, but to him, it was just one island. At the time, he had no idea of the wars, civil wars and division that was to come.

The Spanish used Hispaniola for their first seat of colonial rule in the New World. Because of wars in Europe among various countries, the ownership of islands in the Caribbean often changed hands. During a war when the French got involved, Spain ceded the western portion of Hispaniola to France. This part then became known as Haiti. Revolutions and civil wars finally decided languages, borders and governments for both new countries. On at least two occasions, the U.S. later stepped in to quiet things down.

The catafalque in Seville Cathedral
Back to Chris. In 1504, after his fourth voyage to the Caribbean, Columbus returned to Spain an ill and infirm man. He died in 1506 and was buried in the Spanish city of Valladolid. Dissatisfied with the burial site, his son Diego had Chris' remains dug up and transferred to a monastery in Seville where he rested until 1542 (or 1537, depending upon who you believe). The remains were then disinterred along with son Diego's bones and both put on a ship to Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic). The new Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor was to be his final resting place, but after a quarter of a century of peace, ol' Chris was destined to take up travel again.

In 1795, France took Hispaniola from Spain, so Chris' remains were removed to Havana, Cuba. Then during the Spanish-American War in 1898, Chris once again took ship. He landed in Andalusia and was interred in a tomb at Seville Cathedral.

And just when everyone thought the matter was settled, we have to back up to 1877 when a worker in the Cathedral de Santa Maria la Menor discovered a lead box of bones. The box was inscribed "The illustrious and excellent man, Don Colon, Admiral of the Ocean Sea." So, it's possible that some industrious Dominican had swapped in a different set of bones and the Spanish unknowingly took the wrong ones to Cuba in 1795. After all, Chris had stated before his death that he wanted to be interred in Hispaniola. One small problem with the inscription on the lead box, his son Diego was also known as Don Colon, Admiral of the Ocean Sea.

Today, two countries claim to have the burial site of Christopher Columbus. In 2003, to prove up their claim, Spain had the bones in their catafalque tested. The DNA results published in 2006 confirmed a close match to Chris' brother Diego. (Both son and brother had the same first name of Diego.) To bolster their side of the argument, the Spanish also had well documented travels of the remains, although some scientists did not think these bones were those of a man who had suffered from severe arthritis as Columbus was known to have endured in later life.

As for the Dominicans, citing respect for the dead, they declined to have their bones in the lead box which was held in their newly built Columbus Lighthouse disinterred for DNA analysis. That leaves the world to wonder if the bones in the Dominican Republic are those of a stranger, those of his son Diego, or if some of Chris got left behind way back in the 1795 Cuba trip, meaning at least part of him got his wish to be interred in his old Hispaniola.

That's me on the right
Regardless where Chris ended up, the guy sure got a lot of frequent cruise miles.

As for my experience in the Dominican Republic, our snorkel excursion was cancelled due to rough seas, so we did our own brave new world exploring and went zip lining for our first time ever.

It was exhilarating.

24 June 2017

How I Became an Overnight Success in 26 years

by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

Three years ago, I wrote a crazy little book that won two crime writing awards. (Okay, not three years ago. It won the Derringer and Arthur Ellis three years ago, which means I wrote it two years before that. Trad publishing takes time…but I digress.)

That year, I also won a national short story contest, with prize money of $3000. The year after, I was shortlisted along with Margaret Atwood, for another fiction award. (That was the year pigs learned to fly in Canada.)

The Toronto Sun called to interview me. They titled the article, “Queen of Comedy.”

“You’re famous!” said an interviewer. “How does it feel to become an overnight success?”

“That was one long night,” I said. “It lasted 26 years.”

This blog post was inspired by Anne R. Allen

Not long ago, Anne had a post on her Top 100 blog: 10 Reason Why You Shouldn’t Publish that 1st Novel

(It’s terrific. Check it out.)

But that got me thinking about my own “overnight success.”

Here’s the thing. I started writing fiction for money in 1987. (Nineteen Eighty-Seven!! Big shoulders and big hair. Wasn’t that two years before the Berlin Wall came down?)

I won my first award (Canadian Living Magazine) in 1989. By the time my first novel hit bookshelves, I already had 24 short stories published, and had won six awards.

Plus The Goddaughter’s Revenge – the book that won the Derringer and Arthur – wasn’t my first novel published. It was my fifth.

My Point:

I’ll drill down even more. It wasn’t even my fifth novel written. It was my seventh. The first two will never see the light of day. One has gone on to floppy disk heaven. Although if God reads it up there, he may send it to hell.

I would never want ANYONE to read my first two novels. Writing them taught me how to write. I got rid of bad habits with those books. I learned about the necessity of motivation. The annoyance of head-hopping. And the importance of having a protagonist that people can like and care about.

Yes, my first novel had a TSTL heroine who was naive, demanding, and constantly had to be rescued. (For those who don’t know, TSTL stands for Too Stupid To Live. Which may occur when the author is too stupid to write.) Even I got sick of my protagonist. Why would anyone else want to make her acquaintance?

In my first two novels, I learned about plot bunnies. Plot bunnies are those extraneous side trips your book takes away from the main plot. Each book should have an overall plot goal, and ALL subplots should meander back to support that one plot goal in the end. My first book had everything but aliens in it. All sorts of bunnies that needed to be corralled and removed.

Speaking of bunnies, I’m wandering. So back to the point:

IN 2015, some people saw me as an overnight success. I was getting international recognition and bestseller status. One of my books hit the Amazon Top 100 (all books) at number 47, between Tom Clancy and Nora Roberts.

But that overnight success took 26 years. I had one long apprenticeship.

I tell my students to keep in mind that being an author is a journey. No one is born knowing how to write a great novel. You get better as you write more. You get better as you read more. You get better as you learn from others.

Being an author is a commitment. You aren’t just writing ‘one book.’ You are going to be a writer for the rest of your life. Commit to it. Find the genre you love. Write lots.

And you too can be an overnight success in 26 years.

(The Goddaughter. She’s a much more likeable protagonist, even if she is a bit naughty.)


On Amazon

23 June 2017

A Bond By Any Other Name?

By Art Taylor

I'm writing this week's post from Atlantic Beach, NC, where my son Dash and I are spending the week visiting with my parents and my brother. It's almost squarely the middle of our trip as I'm beginning this post, and it's been a fine, fun week already—and fine and fun also describe nicely the beach reading I brought down with me.

While most of my reading throughout the years relates to work of some kind or another—texts on my syllabi, a book I'm slated to review,  readings for an anthology I'm helping edit or a contest I'm helping judge—I do try to balance out those stories or books with a few solely for pleasure. For our getaway this week, I packed Forever and a Death by the late Donald Westlake. The book began as a film treatment by Westlake, who was asked to contribute a story to the James Bond film franchise—but when elements of the book proved too political for the filmmakers, the film itself was never made, and Westlake wrote a novel instead, one never released during the author's lifetime. Hard Case Crime finally published the book just last week—the third of Westlake's previously unpublished works to be released by Hard Case since the author's death.

Donald Westlake and James Bond?!?! As a fan not only of Westlake's writing but also of the Bond series in both books and film, how could I resist? I snapped it up immediately.

Before we get to that Westlake + Bond equation, I want to mention the Bond + beach equation. My family has had a home somewhere along North Carolina's Crystal Coast for most of my life, and even the anticipation of reading a new Bond novel in this setting brought back several fond memories, since I discovered so many of Fleming's original books at the beach and then too the subsequent series by John Gardner, who began writing his own Bond novels when I was in my early teens—perfect timing for me as a reader. I distinctly remember being in our house in Emerald Isle one weekend during the school year when I was supposed to be pushing through Homer's Odyssey (at left is the cover of the W.H.D. Rouse translation we'd been assigned) and yet being drawn instead to Fleming's Spy Who Loved Me, such an unusual and fascinating book in the series as anyone who's read it knows. (As I recall, I balanced things out by rewarding myself with a little Bond for each section of Odysseus's journey I pushed through. And thinking about it now, aren't there many similarities between Odysseus's travels and Bond's own travails? Tempting Circe, the threatening Cyclops, twists and troubles at every turn of an international adventure.)

Speaking of Gardner: Though I don't remember his books as clearly, I do remember enjoying them very much, and I should add that I'm generally fascinated by what other authors have done with the character and the series. I still haven't read Kingsley Amis's Colonel Sun, the first non-Fleming Bond book, and I never got around to Raymond Benson's contributions, but in recent years I've very much admired the various treatments offered by Sebastian Faulks, Jeffery Deaver, and William Boyd—the ways each of these authors have balanced the iconic character/story against their own interests and aesthetic temperaments. (I leave Anthony Horowitz out of the list here only because I haven't read it yet either.)

So it was with some mix of both nostalgia and anticipation that I opened up the new Westlake—and found myself immersed immediately in what seemed familiar terrain: a powerful, wealthy villain in the first stages of a diabolical plan that would ultimately prove catastrophic for millions of people. Between Westlake's deft prose, the short chapters cross-cutting between several characters' perspectives, and cliffhangers at every turn, Forever and a Death has proven a joy from the start—and yes, the perfect beach read, even without the fact that so much of the novel's thrilling opening section takes place on the water.

And yet, more than 200 pages into it as I write this post, one perhaps key element of a James Bond novel seems missing—namely, James Bond himself.

Having read only small bits of advance press on Forever and a Death—more about its backstory than the story itself—I'll admit that I did expect some Bond-like figure here in one form or another. Maybe not Bond by name, of course, and who knew whether the character would be more Connery or more Craig or more Moore? But certainly he would be a secret agent of some kind, missioned and skilled and licensed to kill, right?

Whatever those expectations, however, my enthusiasm for the book hasn't waned a bit, even as Bond himself has failed to show up. On the contrary, I'm actually finding myself intrigued in fresh ways by that central character's absence—imagining the process by which Westlake must have reworked this story from the original film treatment, the decisions he must have made in translating that original story into this new one.

I understand that there's an afterword here by a producer from the Bond franchise, and I've hesitated so far looking at it for fear of plot spoilers. But I'm hoping that the essay will offer some glimpses at the original treatment and some insights into how it became this.

In the meantime, though, I'm just enjoying the ride. 

I know many of my fellow SleuthSayers are devoted Bond fans too from previous posts here—so how about a quick question: What's your favorite Bond book not written by Ian Fleming? From what I'd read myself (see exceptions above), I'll vote William Boyd's Solo, and my review at the Washington Post detailed the reasons why. Your choice? 

(Or for folks who aren't Bond fans, what author continuing another author's series ranks as your own favorite?)  

22 June 2017

Bullying 101

by Eve Fisher

DISCLAIMER: Almost 40 years ago, a dear friend of mine
committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his running vehicle.
I claim no objectivity in what follows.

Earlier this week, Leigh Lundin posted The Wickedest Woman in the World, a great blog post about the Michelle Carter case. A lot of us chimed in. During the discussions, I agreed that an article about Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome would be valuable, along with a little thing on hybristophilia, but later, later, later… And I will. But after I listened, briefly, to Rush Limbaugh (I try to keep an ear on what the self-proclaimed Doctor of Democracy is up to) and got ticked off, I've decided that the REAL description of Ms. Carter's behavior is bullying.

You see, Rush was defending Michelle Carter, saying that the case against her is nothing but liberal BS, because liberals don't believe in free speech (oh, Rush, if you only knew!). He said, "this woman, Michelle Carter, she may be just downright mean. She may have no heart. She may just be brutal, getting on the phone and telling this guy to kill himself, ’cause he said he was going to, and if he doesn’t now he’s a coward and whatever. But she didn’t kill him. And yet so many people are coming along thinking he didn’t do, he’s a victim, she did it. This is 180 degrees out of phase. If we’re gonna start penalizing people for things they say or things that they think, but don’t actually do — now, I know what some of you think. “But, Rush, you just got through saying that the Democrats turned this Hodgkinson guy into a lunatic.” I do believe that. But..." (See full Transcript for more of the typical Rush twist on how it's different when…)

Well, first off, sorry, Rush, but we already penalize people for things they say. We have freedom of speech, not freedom from consequences of said speech. But more on that later.

Secondly, what Rush presented was the standard bully's defense:
  • "I didn't MAKE them do anything."
  • "It's THEIR fault if they can't take a joke."
  • "Can I help it if they're a loser?"
  • "I didn't do anything wrong."
  • "Hey, 'sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me'. So what's the problem?"
Okay, show of hands, how many people out there have ever been bullied? How many felt helpless? How many felt afraid?

Scut Farkus
Scut Farkus
Let's use Scut Farkus (of "A Christmas Story") as an example: Scut had all the neighborhood boys terrorized to the point that, when he came up and yelled at them "Come here!" they came. No, he didn't lasso them or hold a gun, he just yelled and they did it. And there's at least one scene where a boy turns around and gives him his arm to twist. They were thoroughly cowed.

But it can get infinitely worse than that.

When we first moved up to South Dakota, I subbed at the high school for a while, and a student there committed suicide because of the constant, non-stop bullying that he received. That was before internet and cellphones. Google bullying and suicide and see the number of hits you come up with. And cyber-bullying, with teens and adolescents, is pushing the number of suicides up.

According to PEW research on teens and cellphones, one in three teens sends 100 text messages a day. 15% send 200 text messages a day. And a certain percentage of that is cyber-bullying. And a certain percentage of that leads to suicides. Michelle Carter exchanged over 1000 text messages with Conrad Roy, encouraging him, telling him, badgering him to commit suicide. What makes it worse is that she knew that he had attempted suicide already, back in 2012, and that he was battling anxiety and depression. After learning that he was planning to kill himself she repeatedly discouraged him from committing suicide in 2012 and 2014 and encouraged him to "get professional help". But then her attitude changed and in July 2014, she started thinking that it would be a "good thing to help him die" (Wikipedia) Thus the 1000 text messages. That's cyber-bullying, and it worked. She even admitted it, in an infamous text to a friend - “I was on the phone with him and he got out of the [truck] because it was working and he got scared and I f***ing told him to get back in."

And why did Michelle Carter want Conrad Roy dead? Because she wanted to receive the sympathy of her classmates as the grieving girlfriend, who only wanted the best for her boyfriend, and the best was that he die.
Defense attorney Joseph Cataldo talks to Michelle Carter in court.
Michelle Carter - from CNN,
"Text Messages Michelle Carter Used
How many of you have been or have known the victim of domestic abuse? There's often more verbal than physical, because it's all about control. Here are some of the many signs of domestic abuse, a/k/a bullying (from the Domestic Violence and Abuse Checklist.):

Does the abuser:
  • humiliate or yell at you?
  • criticize you and put you down?
  • treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your friends or family to see?
  • ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?
  • blame you for their own abusive behavior?
  • see you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?
  • act excessively jealous and possessive?
  • control where you go or what you do?
  • keep you from seeing your friends or family?
  • limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?
  • constantly check up on you?
Notice that I did not include any physically violent act. All of the above are verbal, emotional abuse; and they're enough to leave the victim answering "yes" to, Do you:
Ingrid Bergman in "Gaslight"
  • feel afraid of your partner much of the time?
  • avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
  • feel that you can’t do anything right for your partner?
  • believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
  • wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
  • feel emotionally numb or helpless?
Domestic abuse is bullying, carried on into adulthood. There's a direct link between bullying in childhood and domestic abuse in adulthood (Psychiatry Online): "Men who had bullied schoolmates once in a while were twice as likely to have engaged in violence against a female partner within the previous year as were men who said they had never bullied their school peers. And men who had admitted bullying frequently in school were four times as likely to have done so as were men who had never bullied in school."

On top of that, there's a direct link between domestic abuse and mass shootings (see here and here, too.) Because bullying is all about control and fear. Domestic abuse is all about control and fear. Mass shooting is all about control and fear.

Okay, that was quite a long and winding road. And not every bully, cyber-bully, or just narcissist is going to end up a mass shooter. But I noticed this in the Wikipedia article cited above: This decision "could set legal precedent for whether it's a crime to tell someone to commit suicide." My response?

I CERTAINLY HOPE SO.

Why wouldn't it be a crime to tell someone to kill themselves? Why wouldn't it be a crime to gaslight a person? Why wouldn't it be a crime to do your best to INCREASE someone's mental illness? Or to use their mental illness to your advantage?

Here's the deal, Rush and followers: I believe 100% in free speech. You can say anything you please, anywhere, any time. But I also believe that free speech has consequences. After all,
  • If you yell "FIRE!" in a crowded theater, you're liable for the results.
  • If you threaten the President's life, you're going to get a visit from the Secret Service.
So why, if you badger someone who's battling depression and mental illness with over 1000 texts telling them to kill themselves, and they do it, why wouldn't you be culpable?
Of course, the bullies would totally disagree: to a bully, all the consequences flow one way, onto the victim, who is solely responsible for what happens to her/him. And so we have Michelle Carter, new icon of free speech, who told her boyfriend to "get back in the f*****g truck" so that she could go cry about his death to her friends.

Next time, Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome and hybristophilia, or why Erik Menendez has a wife.

21 June 2017

First Words

by Robert Lopresti

If you haven't read B.K. Stevens' most recent blog I recommend you do so now.  This is partly because it is very interesting and also because it inspired today's wisdom-dump.  I am referring specifically to the unfortunate remark the older policeman makes to the returning homeowner.

It reminded me of this scene from the classic police sitcom Barney Miller.  You want the bit that begins around 2:20.




I think it was after seeing that show that my wife and I formulated what I think of as the First Words Rule.  It states when you have to tell a friend or loved one about a bad situation that has just occurred (a car accident, a house fire, the atomic defibulator crushing the emoluments boot) the first words out of your mouth should be: Everybody's okay.  Assuming that is true, of course

Now, how does that relate to writing?  (This is a blog about writing and reading and crime, remember?)

Glad you asked.  We are looking at the difference between telling a story and telling the news.  It is natural for a storyteller to want to build up suspense, or to tell things in chronological order.  But the journalist knows that it is bad form to "bury the lede."  If you are reporting on a city council meeting and one of the members accidentally drops a bloody axe out of her purse, that's probably where you begin your piece, even if it didn't happen until New Business, way at the end of the evening.

Of course, years later when you are telling your grandchildren about your career you might want to build slowly up to the axe-drop.  But that's story-telling, not journalism.

These days fiction writers usually begin in the middle of the story, not with the journalistic lede, but as far in as they think they can go without baffling the reader.  To pick one favorite at random, here is how Earl Emerson opened Fat Tuesday:

I was trapped in a house with a lawyer, a bare-breasted woman, and a dead man.  The rattlesnake in the paper sack only complicated matters.

Not the beginning of events, but not the climax either.

You can start your story or novel wherever you see fit.  But when you're telling somebody the news, start with the most important part.
 

20 June 2017

The Darkest Crime

by Melissa Yi, Patreon

I managed to collar some of my favourite writers for an interview.

Melissa YiWhat attracts you to writing crime? In other words, "But you look so normal!"
Rebecca Cantrell (New York Times bestseller): Don't I just? That's how I lure them in...readers, I mean. I love writing crime because I have an overblown sense of justice and, despite having heard many warnings to the contrary, I want life to be fair.

O’Neil De Noux
 (winner of the Shamus Award and the Derringer Award): Grew up reading a lot of crime fiction. My father was a police officer, my brother was a cop, two of my cousins were cops. I became a cop, served as a road deputy (patrol officer), organized crime intelligence officer and homicide detective. I also worked as a private investigator for eight years. I always knew I’d write and took notes throughout my career. In the middle of it, I started writing novels.

Annie Reed (finalist in the Best First Private Eye Novel contest sponsored by St. Martin’s Press and the Private Eye Writers of America): I love stories that impose some sort of order on chaos. Since mysteries/crime fiction has to be resolved by the end of the book, they're perfect for me. Plus, I love figuring out puzzles. And, you know, I'm the quiet one in the corner that your mother warned you about. *g*

Dean Wesley Smith (USA Today bestselling author): I love the puzzle aspects of mystery and crime. I never know who did what when I start off, so I get to entertain myself as my characters solve the crime. So I love to read mystery, I love to write it as well.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch (New York Times bestseller who is also an Edgar and Shamus Award nominee): Oh, my, such a convoluted question. I used to work part time for a forensic psychologist. I would administer his Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Tests to the criminals (and others) who came in, as preparation for court. (I met a number of murderers and arsonists. The murderers didn't scare me. One arsonist scared the crap out of all of us.) One day I took the MMPI myself, and scored exactly the same as both the cops and the criminals. Now, I remember when the first cop scored similarly to a criminal; my boss told me that was common. Cops and criminals are two sides of the same coin. But I scored high there too. I showed it to him (fearless person that I am.) And he said that I scored that high because I lived "outside the norm" which is what it measured. But I wonder. Maybe I'm just predisposed to seeing the dark side of human nature--and being fascinated by it.

Reader: Wait a minute, Melissa. How did you meet such illustrious authors, along with Anthony Award finalist Libby Fischer Hellmann and New York Times and USA Today bestselling author J.F. Penn?

Melissa Yi: Er, I hang around with famous people all the time.

Reader: <cough, cough>

Melissa Yi: Shh! They were just about to tell me about some of their favourite books!

Rebecca Cantrell: My main character, Joe Tesla, has agoraphobia and can't leave the tunnels under New York. In this book, I got him a submarine and let him explore the ocean with his service dog.
Did you know dogs can scuba dive? I didn't before I started this book.

Melissa Yi: I didn't, but dogs are pretty amazing.

Annie Reed: Parents walk a tightrope trying to figure out how much freedom to give their kids while trying to keep them safe from the creeps and predators in this world. The internet makes it so much easier for the bad guys to get their hooks into unsuspecting kids, and it's not always obvious who the bad guys are. I had to walk that tightrope with my own daughter when she was in her teens. We got lucky. A lot of families don't. That's the reason I wrote PRETTY LITTLE HORSES.

O’Neil De NouxGRIM REAPER was my first novel, written at a dark time not long after I left the homicide division. It has a lot of anger in the book – showing the pressure and often numbing effect of witnessing repeated violence. It’s raw. It’s the most realistic book I’ve written.

Dean Wesley Smith: Actually, the series is close to my heart. Having retired detectives working on cold cases in Las Vegas has numbers of elements I love. First off, retired humans feeling worthwhile by helping put to rest mysteries that have left families always wondering. And Las Vegas is my favorite place on the planet. So all win for me.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: The opening to Spree, that van on that highway, was a vehicle I had actually seen. I hate that highway in Nevada. The remoteness scares the crap out of me. And I knew that van had a story. I wrote the story very fast, and it surprised me, so I figure it'll surprise readers too.

Reader: Hang on. There's something familiar about all these books. Melissa, didn't you write a book about a hit and run?

Melissa Yi: Yes, NOTORIOUS D.O.C. Eight years after a woman is killed in a hit and run, her mother is still searching for justice, and Dr. Hope Sze is the only person crazy enough to take on her case. After I gave birth to my son, I read the first draft of the novel and said to myself, This book is about a mother's love for her kid. I threw away the first version and wrote a whole new and more powerful story.

Reader: I know what this is. This is a Storybundle!

Melissa Yi: Wait a minute. Who's running this interview?

Reader: I'm serious! I know what this is. You pay as little as $5 for five stellar crime books, or if you beat $15, you unlock another five bonus books! But it only lasts for two more weeks. I even found the link: https://storybundle.com/mystery

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: You left out two things: the way it introduces readers to new writers and the way that it brings in charities. I really love the charitable aspect. This bundle's charity is AbleGamers, which I think is extremely worthwhile.

Annie Reed: As a reader (and a bargain hunter), I love getting a bunch of great fiction at an insanely low price, and at the same time being able to support a wonderful charity. As a writer, I'm thrilled to be included with a group of awesome writers, some of whom are new to me, and I can't wait to read their work!

Melissa Yi: Okay, you've outed us. How did you get so smart?

Reader: When you read, it's a chicken and egg sort of question.

Melissa Yi: “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

Reader: Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird. Which is not part of this bundle, but it should be.

Melissa Yi: Amen, brother. Amen.


19 June 2017

Hiding the Ball

by Steve Liskow

If you read or write police procedurals, you probably know far too much about fingerprint patterns, blood spatter,




decay rates, DNA matching, ballistics and digital technology. Modern law enforcement relies on forensic evidence to solve crimes, and it works, which is all to our benefit. But it reduces the human (read, "character") factor in modern stories. I can't avoid them altogether, but I try to rely on them as little as possible.

Why, you ask. OK, I'm not a Luddite (although I do write my early notes with a fountain pen) but...

Readers want to participate in your mystery. The stories from the Golden Age--back before you and I were even born--required that the sleuth share his or her discoveries with the reader so we could figure out the solution (or, more typically, NOT) along with him. That's why so many of the classic stories of Agatha Christie, Nero Wolf and their peers had a sidekick as the narrator so he didn't have to give the sleuth's thoughts away. It also explains why those stories are so convoluted and complicated. The writers did what attorneys now call "hiding the ball," burying the real clues in mountains of red herrings, lying witnesses, contradictory information and complicated maps, not necessarily drawn to scale.

The Ellery Queen series featured the "Challenge to the Reader" near the end of the book, stating that at that point the reader had ALL the necessary information to arrive at the "One Logical Solution." It was a daunting challenge that I think I met only once or twice. Agatha Christie said she did her plotting while doing household chores. I'd like to see the banquets she prepared to come up with some of Poirot's herculean feats.

If you withhold the clues and pull them out at the end like a rabbit out of a top hat, readers accuse you of cheating. I still remember an Ellery Queen novel that solved the murder of a twin brother by revealing at the end that there were actually triplets. Tacky, tacky, tacky.

You need to put the information out there where readers can see it, but without making it too obvious.

Magicians accompany their sleight of hand with distractions: stage patter, light and smoke and mirrors, scantily clad assistants, and anything else that will make you look that way instead of at them while they palm the card or switch the glasses. And that's how you do it in mysteries, too.

There are a few standard tricks we all use over and over because they work.

The first is the "hiding the ball" trick I mentioned above. If you describe a parking lot with twelve red Toyotas, nobody will notice one with a dented fender or an out-of-state license plate. The B side of this is establishing a pattern, then breaking it. Often, the sleuth believes that oddball is a different culprit and not part of the same case, but he finally figures out that it's the only one that matters and the others were decoys.

You can also give people information in what retailers used to call a "bait and switch." Stores would advertise an item at a low price, then tell customers that item was already sold out and try to sell them a more expensive version. You can give readers information about a person or event, then tweak it later so it points somewhere else. The classic police procedural The Laughing Policeman hinges on a witness identifying an automobile parked at a scene...then years later realizing that a different car looks a lot like it. Oops.

You can give information and later show that the witness who mentioned it was lying. The trick here is to plant a reason for the witness to lie early in the story and leave the connection until later on. If the reader sees the reason with no context, he'll overlook it until you make it important again when you pull the bunny out of the derby. This is one of my favorites.

I also like to focus on a fact or circumstance that's irrelevant and keep coming back to it. Later in the story, your detective can figure out that it's meaningless...OR realize that he's look at it from the wrong angle. My recent story "Look What They've Done to My Song, Ma" has PI Woody Guthrie and his musician companion Megan Traine trying to clean up a music file so they can identify the voice that's talking underneath the singer. It's not until late in the story that Guthrie realizes the voice doesn't matter--at least, not the way he thought it did, because the speaker isn't the person everyone assumed it was. That story appears in the July/August issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, along with stories by known accomplices John Floyd and O'Neil De Noux.

The "how could he know that?" clue gets lots of use, too. Someone makes a comment, suggestion, or observation and the sleuth doesn't realize until later that he couldn't have known the murder weapon or condition of the body unless he was there. If you haven't used this one at least once, raise your hand.

Its second cousin is the condition or event that didn't happen, the old case of the dog that didn't bark in the night, first used in "Silver Blaze," an early Sherlock Holmes story. Its fraternal twin, which makes a handy red herring in the age of technology, is a missing computer file. Since it's missing, we don't know what's on it...or if it's even important. The sleuth can spend pages or even entire chapters worrying about that missing file folder or computer. In The Kids Are All Right, I had two murder victims whose computers were found with the respective hard drives removed. The implication was that missing files would implicate the killer. But can we really be sure?

Now, what's your favorite way to deal off the bottom?

18 June 2017

The Wickedest Woman in the World

by Leigh Lundin

Ever see the movie Gaslight? Based on the play by Patrick Hamilton, the British version came out in 1940 followed by the North American version in 1944. Gaslight, as you know, entered the vocabulary meaning psychological torture against another made vulnerable by love. Dante should have created a subcircle for those who destroy people who love them. We’ll come back to playwright Patrick Hamilton shortly.

Distaff Defense

When a client is a woman, defense teams try to jury-select as many men as possible. Men tend to be far more sympathetic toward a woman killer than do other women. It’s been said women aren’t as easily fooled by their own sex.

Sometimes I’m susceptible, I admit it, but I like to think logic and rationality provide the best hope to resolve cases. For example, a careful look at the evidence– at times presented in twisted ways to the jury– suggest Casey Anthony did not kill her daughter. More likely, chlorine findings intimate the little girl drowned in the family pool and Casey panicked.

On the other hand, who can doubt Jodi Arias didn’t murder her boyfriend? Yet, even after her admissions, some guys continued to contend it was all a mistake. Fanboys insisted she ought to be pardoned or at least paroled. Neither Arias, Anthony, nor anyone else should face execution, but come on guys, grow brain cells.

Death by Unseen Hand

Michelle Carter
Now we have Michelle Carter. Over time she encouraged and manipulated a vulnerable boy into suicide. This boy trusted her; he deeply believed she held his best interest at heart. In actuality, she held his life in her hands and she, intoxicated with the power and drama, crushed it like an empty cigarette pack.

This past week, she was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and released by the judge on bail pending sentencing… if any.

Impassioned articles calling for her unconditional release have appeared across the spectrum. Editorials argue she’s “a young, impressionable girl,” she’s a child, she’s an innocent, she didn’t mean it and besides she’s just too cute to kill.

The judge was astonishingly sympathetic toward her, but that didn’t stop critics insisting he should have dismissed the charges or throw out his own verdict. Some have followed lawyer Joseph Cataldo’s lead by suggesting she is the victim, brainwashed by a suicidal boy.

Conrad Roy III
Cataldo, along with conservative outlets such as National Review and Hot Air, further argues her whispers of death should be protected by the First Amendment. By that reasoning, a spouse who hires a hitman to kill their mate could claim protected free speech. Once on that slippery slope, what would preclude a mafia don from claiming orders of murder-for-hire to underlings should be protected too?

Murder by Suicide

The main difference is Michelle Carter cut out the middle man and nagged her mentally enfeebled ‘friend’ to just ƒ-ing kill himself. After coming up with the idea of carbon monoxide poisoning, she dreamt up further ways for him to kill himself– hanging and bagging. For the drama, you know, the ooh and ahhs of classmates and the warm glow of hugs and Twitter attention and that lovely feeling of power over life and death.

One major assertion claims she can’t be a killer because she wasn’t present. Again, the spouse-hiring-hitman argument could be applied, but it’s simpler than that: She was in his head. Instead of commanding her own finger to pull the trigger, she commanded his. In his susceptible state, the lad followed through, an instrument of his own demise.

Give a Girl Enough Rope…

Michelle Carter’s plotting reminded me of another classic play and crime movie again by Patrick Hamilton, the same playwright who wrote Gaslight. Film fans will recognize Rope as the innovative Hitchcock suspense. Inspired by a true story, students experimentally kill a friend, arrogantly believing they’ll get away with it.

Michelle Carter
In a nutshell, that sums up Michelle Carter’s approach. The difference is she strangled no one; instead she manipulated her friend into killing himself.

That anyone could reach that depth of evil beggars imagination. Clearly she knew exactly what she was doing. Over hundreds of text messages, she cajoled, threatened, urged and persuaded her friend to take his own life. She gaslighted him.

Part of me argues she was only 17 then, intelligent but immature, that she lovingly practiced assisted suicide. But then I reread the transcripts of their cell phone records. She lied to the boy’s mother, his sister, her own friends, the police, and the boy himself. She admitted he’d be alive if it weren’t for her.

She’s young, so she has plenty of time for redemption. That’s more than she gave her friend, Conrad Roy.

Children shouldn’t be tried as adults, and that includes her. Nonetheless, a possible sentence of zero time would be a terrible miscarriage of justice.

What is your take?

Cellular Text Transcript


17 June 2017

Talk/Don't Talk


by John M. Floyd



Everybody seems to like dialogue. It can do a lot of things for a story, writingwise: advance the plot, deepen characterization, "show" rather than "tell," improve the pacing, etc. Besides, its just fun to read. I think it was Lawrence Block who said nothing engages a reader like listening to the people in a story talking things over.

It's also fun to write. And it's easier to write, I think, than plain old description and exposition, because when my characters speak I can hear them in my head.
Enrolling in discourse

The truth is, most of my short stories are heavy on dialogue. I've even begun a few of them with the intention of writing the whole thing in nothing but dialogue. One such story, "Careers," was published in AHMM years ago and another, "Doctor's Orders," at Amazon Shorts--the first was 1000 words in length, the second 6000--and I can still remember the fun I had writing those. It'll probably be no surprise to you when I say that many of my favorite genre writers--Harlan Coben, Joe Lansdale, Nelson DeMille, Stephen King, Lee Child, Greg Iles, Janet Evanovich, Steve Hamilton, Carl Hiaasen, Robert B. Parker, Jack Ritchie, Elmore Leonard, Donald Westlake--are/were absolute wizards in the use of dialogue.

Some movies that are almost all-dialogue come to mind: Sleuth, Twelve Angry Men, The Hateful Eight, Proof, The Breakfast Club, and Glengarry Glen Ross, to name only a few. Several of these were originally plays, which makes sense.

BUT . . .

(You knew there had to be a but in there somewhere, right?)

. . . there are also some well-known stories that don't include much--or any--dialogue.

Personally, I've only created a few (none of them well-known) that are seriously short on dialogue. One of my stories, "Bennigan's Key," a 5000-worder published a few years ago in The Strand Magazine, has no dialogue at all. But since it was prose, I was at least able to use unspoken thoughts (sometimes called "internal monologue"). The same could be said about Jack London's short story "To Build a Fire."

The sound of silence

In movies, the no-dialogue approach is harder to pull off. After all, a screenwriter can't tell you what the characters are thinking. He or she has only two ways to convey information to the audience: action and speech. And if no one's speaking . . .

Even so, here are some excellent films that contain little or no dialogue: Life of Pi, Quest for Fire, The Bear, Cast Away, GravityAll Is Lost, The Revenant, Apocalypto, Walkabout, and The Gods Must Be Crazy.

One of those--All is Lost, a 2013 film with Robert Redford as a lone seaman who battles the elements--contains only one spoken word: a common and graphic expletive, uttered after a frustrating setback. And despite the fact that nothing else is said during its almost-two-hour run, the movie manages to hold the attention of the audience throughout. An impressive feat.

NOTE: It occurred to me only after jotting down those little-or-no-dialogue movies that all ten of them involve characters who spend the whole story walking around (or running around or floating around) in the Great Outdoors. I suppose a lot needs to be happening around them, to have any kind of interesting plotline.

Speaking your mind

Can you think of other movies, or stories or novels, that tell the entire tale using no dialogue? If you're a writer, have you published anything written that way? How hard was that to do? Have you written any plays, or other kinds of fiction, that use almost nothing but dialogue? If you had to pick one of the two extremes--all or none--which would you prefer?

"Let's hear it for a lot of talking," Dialogue Dude says.

Quiet Dude makes no reply . . .






16 June 2017

The Purple Side of Blue

by
O'Neil De Noux

Shell shock is what they called it during the wars of the 20th Century when combatants who survived shelling suffered serious psychological effects. Today it is called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We all know it effects police officers and other first responders as well. It comes in many shades.



When I was a homicide detective We experienced what we call 'the purple side of blue' - a bruising of a police officer's psyche after repetitive exposure to extreme violence perpetrated on others. It effects police officers and their families. It is another brutal, lingering residue of the job.

I cannot even list all the horrendous things we witnessed - from infants beaten to death to children shot in drive-by shootings to stabbings to mass killings. It cannot be forgotten. Some try to numb the effects with alcohol or sex or whatever. It makes officers vengeful and their families stunned as the officer morphs from the smiling rookie who came out of the academy with visions of saving lives and catching criminals into a sulking individual with demons crawling inside their mind, reminding them of what they've witnessed. Again. And again.

Every cop I know who has been in law enforcement a while suffers the purple side of blue. Every one. Some more than others.

I've written about the subject, illustrating it in my police procedurals, rather than telling about it. Probably why my most realistic homicide novel, GRIM REAPER, has the word 'fuck' in it 344 times in a 208 page book. You see, on my first day as a homicide detective, my partner Marco Nuzzolillo (best detective I ever worked with) took me to witness 10 autopsies of murder victims. From that bloody day, I worked case after case where a human died at the hands of another human.

Not long ago, I was asked by a deer-hunter friend if I was a hunter.
"I used to be."
"Did you hunt deer?"
"No. I hunted humans."
Pause.
"I hunted humans who killed humans."

I am old now and have an excellent memory. I recall, with unfailing clarity my childhood days weilding wooden swords made by my father as we were the knights of the round table, days swimming in Lake Garda, nights chasing lightning bugs, getting into watermelon fights, looking at girls differently as I grew up, wondering why I noticed their lips and the flow of long hair and their smooth jawline and soft necks. I recall every broken heart, every scintillating thrill of love, recall the births of my children. I remember the bad times too, the failures in life we all experience, but we concentrate on the good times, don't we?

Sometimes, in the middle of remembering a day at the old zoo with a pretty girl, I can see her face and the beauty of that summer day and how I felt. Then I get a tap on my shoulder and turn to see it is nighttime and the bodies of two teen-aged girls lie next to the muddy Mississippi, their hands tied behind them, bullet holes in the back of their heads and I see their autopsies in flashes. I remember brushing a finger over their wrists, touching them, connecting with them, secretly telling each who I was. I was the man who was going to catch who did this.

My partners and I solved that murder case. Took 13 months, but we did. Closure? Not for me. I still see those young, dead faces under the harsh light in the autopsy room. Snapshots of carnage. Closure? Yeah. Right.

A better writer once wrote:
"Never send to know for whom the bells tolls; It tolls for thee." John Donne

Damn, this article is depressing. It is a wonder we can stand it all. Maybe that is what makes us human. We can stand anything.

www.oneildenoux.com

15 June 2017

When Is A Novella Not a Novella?

by Brian Thornton

"[A]n ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic."

                                                                                                                              – Stephen King

"[O]ne of the richest and most rewarding of literary forms...it allows for more extended development of theme and character than does the short story, without making the elaborate structural demands of the full-length book. Thus it provides an intense, detailed exploration of its subject, providing to some degree both the concentrated focus of the short story and the broad scope of the novel."

                                                                                                                             – Robert Silverberg

Both King and Silverberg were talking about that most difficult to quantify of literary vehicles: the novella. In keeping with the nature of the animal we're discussing here, I have to say that, fresh from writing my first novella, I think both of these contradictory statements by a couple of top-notch writers are spot-on.

I feel qualified to weigh in on this issue because, as I've chronicled in this space: I recently finished my first novella. It was both maddening and liberating.

"So what?" I hear you say. "Sounds like writing nonfiction/novels/short stories/poetry/haikus/limmericks/name your poison to me."

Yes, but as King avers above, the novella is a particular (peculiar?) animal. This is in large part because no one these days seems all that sure what exactly a "novella" is.

"That's easy," you say. "It's a work of fiction that is longer than a short story, but shorter than a novel," you say.

Okay.

So what is a "novelette"? It too is longer than a short story, and shorter than a novel.

While working on my novella, I figured I'd better decide just what the hell I had on my hands, and what I intended to do with it.

You see, I didn't set out to write a novella from scratch. I set out to expand an already successfully sold and well-liked short story into something longer form.

Gee, guess which turns out to be harder!

Anyway, after much research, I have NOT been able to rectify this question. According to one "reliable" source, anything above 50,000 words is a novel, anything between 30,000 and 50,000 words is a novella, and anything below 30,000 is a short story!?!

Um. No.

30,000 words is NOT a short story.

I like the following rough formula, which is supported by, among others, SFWA (The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America):

Flash fiction: 1,000 words or below.
Short story: 1,001 to 7,500 words.
Novelette: 7,500 to 17,500 words.
Novella: 17,500 to 40.000 words.
Novel: 40,000 words and above.

Some people find these distinctions pointless. I think they're very important now, more than ever.

Why? Because the ebook (and sites like Amazon and Smashwords) has helped resurrect the novella as a viable literature form. King rightly complained (back in the day, before the internet, et. al.) that novellas were tough to sell (which was why he bundled up four of his in the collection "Four Seasons" and sold them under a single cover).

But, like the short story, the novella has begun to experience a renaissance in electronic format. Having it featured available for a single click and at costs anywhere from free to $1.99 is making a whole of writers a whole lot of money.

And good for them!

What do you think? Hit me up on the comments section, and share your thoughts on the utility and relevance of the novella!

(Tune back in two weeks from now, I'll juxtapose the experience of expanding a short story into a novella into that of writing a novella from scratch.)

14 June 2017

Michael R. Davidson's THE DOVE

David Edgerley Gates



1987, the Cold War. Reagan is president, Gorbachev is General Secretary. The Russians are mired in Afghanistan, ground down by attrition, death by inches. What if there's a way to bleed them out faster?

CIA's chief of operations at the Paris station is approached by French security, We have a potential KGB defector, in Moscow, they tell him. But for us it's a Denied Area. We don't have the resources to operate there. You do. Harry Connolly, CIA operations, knows Rule One: There are friendly countries, but no such thing as friendly intelligence services. What do the French want in return?

It turns out the French want the product. They've just been beat out of the biggest arms deal in history by the British, a total of 20 billion pounds sterling, to the Saudis, and the French smell a rat. The defector in Moscow has inside information on the arms sale.

The defector has access to the material because his skill set is technology theft. KGB has a compromised asset inside the Saudi deal, but more to the point, CIA could use the defector's knowledge to map Soviet weaknesses. Where are the gaps, what's on their shopping list, which specific technology problems are they targeting? 

And we're off. Paris to Moscow, Paris to DC. London to Riyadh, London to Geneva. Harry has good tradecraft, and he begins to pull the threads together. Everybody's got a piece, from the fixer for a Saudi Prince, Mohammed Attar, to the British procurement minister James Abbott, to banker and bagman Wafiq al Salah, to the Novosti correspondent Nikolay Kozlov, a KGB spook under journalistic cover, and the hapless defector-in-place Stepan Barsikov, giving classified information to the West because he's defeated at love. The journey crosses personal landscapes as much as physical distance. And interestingly, not everybody learns everything. There are things left hidden, or unspoken.

And the last question, the historical one, about the end of the Soviet Union, did they fall or were they pushed? It's perfectly plausible, as The Dove suggests, that the Russians could be goaded into overreach and overspending. Imperial ambition, with an economy on the edge of collapse, and political hardening of the arteries, the Old Guard unable and unwilling to accept reform, meant the system was on life-support, and ready to collapse of its own weight. They were perched on a narrow ledge. Gravity did the rest. Oh, and maybe just a small thumb on the scale.

https://www.amazon.com/Dove-Michael-R-Davidson/dp/0692877142/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1497302186&sr=1-1&keywords=michael+r+davidson


This is a review I posted on Amazon for The Dove, with the tagline "authentic and thought-provoking." I've got a couple of things to add. They're in the nature of personal observations, what you might call editorial asides.

First off, it's probably obvious I have a weak spot for Cold War spy stories, having written a few myself, and Michael Davidson knows the territory. This is probably the place to note that Davidson is former career CIA.

Second, although I wouldn't presume to call us close friends, Michael and I are Facebook pals, and we've had the occasional private e-mail conversation. Fair disclosure.

Third, it should be said that Michael and I aren't entirely on the same page, politically. I think he's somewhere to the Right of Attila the Hun, he thinks I'm somewhere to the Left of W.E.B. Du Bois. (I'm exaggerating. A little.) The point here, specifically referencing The Dove, is that it's an article of faith among Reagan's admirers that he brought the USSR to its knees by forcing them to spend money they couldn't afford on advanced weapons systems, to keep pace with American technological developments. This isn't unfounded. I'd be likely to give some credit for the collapse of the Soviet Union to the Polish pope, or Lech Walesa, and fissures in the empire - the Causasus, the rise of radical Islam, falling oil prices - but let's be fair.

It's interesting to me that two guys with an intelligence background, Michael's far more extensive than mine, can agree to disagree on a fair number of things, yet not lose sight of certain homely truths. Neither one of us trusts the Russians worth a rat's ass, which is the inner unreconstructed Cold Warrior for you, in full plumage, and we both have an old-fashioned regard for keeping faith, for honorable service, for duty. There are worse things.

13 June 2017

It's Academic!

by Barb Goffman

Growing up, I was one of those nerdy kids who liked school. Not all subjects, and not all teachers, but I loved reading and history and got mostly A's (at least in elementary school). After completing college summa cum laude, I went on to get a graduate degree in journalism, and then after working a few years, went back to school and got a law degree. As I've liked to joke, there's no such thing as too much education.

My interest in education continued after graduation. When I was a newspaper reporter, I covered primary and secondary schools. School board meetings? Sign me up. Visiting classrooms to see how students were learning and write articles that gave their parents a virtual seat in the classroom. Loved it. And when I worked as an attorney, I specialized in higher education, first assisting colleges with compliance with state and federal regulations, among other things, and then working for a student-loan provider and servicer. I might not be a teacher or professor, but education sure is in my blood.

"Asps. Very dangerous. You go first."
And that's why one of the types of books and stories I love to dig into are academic mysteries. So I was jazzed to read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (yes, for pleasure reading) a couple of days ago titled "From Indiana Jones to Minerva McGonagall, Professors See Themselves in Fiction." The Chronicle surveyed their readers' favorite professors in TV, movies, and books, and the winner was ... Indiana Jones, the main character in Raiders of the Lost Ark and three subsequent films.

Why is Jones so popular? Who wouldn't love a Nazi-hunting, boulder-dodging, snake-hating scholar who travels the world between classes, seeking archeological treasures and fighting bad guys? Quoting William Purdy, a lecturer at the University of California at Los Angeles, the Chronicle said, " 'One of the hard knocks against academics is we’re in an ivory tower and not in touch with the world. He’s a straight response to that criticism.' "

I ditto that. Indeed, the Indiana Jones movies are more action-adventure stories than campus mysteries, but there's crime at the heart of all of these tales, so they fall within my definition of the genre.

That said, there are also a lot of great crime novels set on college campuses. Just a few weeks ago, The Semester of our Discontent by Cynthia Kuhn won the Agatha Award for best first mystery novel published in 2016. Set at a prestigious fictional college, the novel showcases an English professor embroiled in departmental politics and murder. Here are just a few other mysteries involving academics that I've enjoyed:
  • The Red Queen's Run by Bourne Morris (more department politics and murder) - the first in a series
  • Murder 101 by Maggie Barbieri (a professor is accused of killing her student, which I bet a lot of professors dream about but few would admit to) - the first in a series
  • Artifact by Gigi Pandian (a historian described as the female Indiana Jones--the first in a wonderful series, but so far, no Nazis)
  • Fifty Mysteries by our own John M. Floyd (fifty short stories involving retired schoolteacher Angela Potts. They're not exactly academic mysteries, but I love Angela Potts, and she used to be a teacher, so I'm listing her.)
  • The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Yes, they're set at a secondary school, but it's a magical school, and they're wonderful, and there sure is mystery in these books, so I count 'em. 
    "Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it."
Other academics that made the Chronicle's list of favorite academics:
  • Charles Kingsfield from The Paper Chase
  • John Keating from Dead Poets Society
  •  Minerva McGonagall and Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series
Want to read the whole Chronicle article? Click here.

And please share your favorite academic mysteries in the comments. I know there are a lot more I could have listed. What academic mystery books/series/stories/movies/TV shows do you love and why?

12 June 2017

Suspension of Belief, too



by Jan Grape

I turned on my tablet a short time ago and read Leigh's post about suspending belief. Oddly enough I'd been working an article in my mind all day about suspended belief. Thank goodness my idea is a different take on the subject.

The idea of suspended belief has never really bothered me because as a voracious reader, every time I pick up a mystery, thriller, science fiction or even a western to read I know I'm going to suspend belief.

Do you really think that each time Jack Reacher goes to any new town he's always going find someone that needs his help? An underdog, often a vulnerable female needing him to go up against a  monstrous gang of bad guys he'll have to beat-up or better yet kill them all.

 Remember, Murder She Wrote. We all laugh and say, I don't want to go to Cabot Cove Maine.  Because in that quaint little beach town, that's the murder capitol of the world, I might find a body. Angela Lansbury/Jessica Fletcher always did.

But we always suspend belief to read the story. As writers, we try very hard to make our mystery world as real as possible so our readers will absolutely suspend belief and read our books. One of the major strengths of a mystery story.

To make our character's world as real as possible we research our character's job. If it's law enforcement or private investigation or newspaper reporter or international spy we try our best to make that job sound as authentic as possible. It helps tremendously if we have actually worked in the field we are trying to portray. The lingo of the field is especially important.

If our character is an amateur sleuth it often helps if that character has a love of cooking or bird-watching or quilting or something that we also do ourselves. It can add to the "reality" of our story.

If as a writer we don't have the job or hobby experience then research, research, research. Naturally, life experience or life knowledge can help. All can be used when writing and setting up the suspension of belief for our readers.

Something I try to do, in my book especially, is to include as much "truth" as possible. A "universal truth," as my mystery writer friend, Susan Rogers Cooper and I call it, is often a good thing to include. For instance, if my female character is to pack for a four day trip, she notes that she only has three clean bras that are really nice enough for the trip. So she either has to go buy a new bra or two, plan to wash one on her trip or pack one of her old "house only" bras. Almost all women can relate. It is so true. A lot of men can't relate but, men probably won't mention what he is packing in his book.

 My main hope is when I do find a body someplace and write about it, you know I probably have not found a body our here in the Texas Hill Country but, you will believe me and suspend belief.

11 June 2017

Suspension Bridge

by Leigh Lundin

Suspension of disbelief — While used all the time in story-telling, the phrase always struck me as a particularly awkward and unwriterly agglomeration or words. It seems more appropriate for a turn-of-the-century magic show than for literature.

To begin with, the human brain cannot grasp a negative without first comprehending or at least thinking of its positive. The mind first considers ‘belief’ and, after momentary processing, pulls up ‘disbelief’. Then the grey cells attach ’suspension of’, resulting in complex mental gymnastics for a simple concept, even if we remain unaware of the internal computing at the time.

Enantiosemy

suspension
© courtesy imgarcade, artist unknown

‘Suspend’ is one of those words that can mean virtually its opposite, a contronym if you will, like the word ‘citation’ in North American English. You can suspend fruit bits in Jell-o or suspend a balloon in mid-air. But if you suspend the suspending, they come crashing down, much like my faith in our phrase under discussion.

Imagine an author constructing posits like fragile clouds floating in the sky. That writer has suspended his beliefs. He wants his audience to believe those illusions hover there in the magical atmosphere of his tale.

Science and engineering students play sly and sometimes sophisticated jokes on one another such as disassembling a Volkswagon and reassembling it in a boy's dorm room.
    An urban legend has it Coca Cola will dissolve metals overnight, engine blocks or some such. A freshman went on about this and sophomores suggested the only way to prove or disprove it was to run the experiment himself. They helped him gather half a dozen different types of nails to leave in a jar that night.
    The next morning the freshman awoke to find the nails had dissolved into nothingness, thus proving the urban legend. Upperclassmen clapped him on the back and complimented him on his research.
    They didn’t compliment his naïveté, his suspension of disbelief. As you figured out, the sophomores silently removed the nails in the middle of the night.
Thus when you think about it, an author of fiction is ultimately asking for belief… a believing in his world rather than the reality surrounding us.

Coming to Terms

Everyone knows what ‘suspend disbelief’ means, but nobody’s bothered to come up with more elegant wording. We could toy with ‘enbelief’ or ‘sur-belief’ or even ‘lief’, although that last means ‘gladly’.

English often adapts foreign words for concepts. We could try ‘glauben’ in German, ‘foi’ or ‘croyance’ in French, ‘creencia’ in Spanish, ‘убежден’ in Russian, and my favorite, ‘credinţa’ in Romanian. Feel free to leave off the çedilla. (Pardon the childish play on that word.) Would professionals accept this following term? “A writer asks little more from his audience than credinta.”

Frankly, I’m surprised our literary forebears haven’t borrowed an equivalent phrase from French or Russian authors. All the Russians I know are in Washington busily working on the next election, but I do have good French friends. I asked two of my closest, Micheline and Jean-François, for their opinions. J-F responded with this:
“Suspension of disbelief” is a useful concept, and quite hard to render accurately in French. The direct translation is clumsy. It is close to “licence poétique” but poetic license designates a liberty of the author rather than the reader blindly following the enchantment.

Actually, “enchantement” or “envoûtement” is a good path, with the idea that the reader is so charmed by the story that he forgets about reality and plausibility. I would suggest “succomber à l’enchantement” (succumb to the enchantment), e.g. in full context:
“Readers of Tolkien willingly suspend their disbelief” ➔
“Les lecteurs de Tolkien succombent de plein gré à son enchantement.”

Succomber à l'enchantement— I like that. If I can’t have credinţa, I vote for that.

Does ‘suspension of disbelief’ seem awkward to you? What are your ideas, your suggestions?