30 June 2017

Typos, Grammar and Writer Instusion

by
O'Neil De Noux

Persian rug. Lisan al-Gaib.

Errors in books are like fleas. And some of my books are infested with them. I tried Advantage, Advantage II, Revolution. They don't work.

I first spotted these bastards in my books published by Zebra (Kensington) but no one called me on them because there was no email back then. Hell, they didn't alter the books and after the publisher corrected the spelling of my name on the cover of the first book, I blew it off.

I noticed errors again after one of my short stories was selected and reprinted in a Best Of anthology. The femme fatale's eyes changed color midway through the story. I thought - how the hell did the editor do this - until I went back to my original submission version and I had done it. I checked the magazine that first printed the story and the editor there didn't catch the mistake either. That story has been published 5 times now and no editor or reader has ever caught the error. Then again, maybe the only six people ever read the story. Me and the editors.

On the rear cover of my LONE Hurricane Katrina novel, we spelled the name of the hurricane as Karina. No one noticed. Two years later, I did and quickly made the correction. One of the benefits of print-on-demand books is the ability to instantly correct all subsequently printed volumes. How did we miss that?

When we formed BIG KISS PRODUCTIONS, we gathered a number of people fed up with the way they were treated by traditonal publishers - writers, editors, copy editors, artists, artist models, photographers, publicists, literary attorney, literary agent and proof readers. We are responsible for the entire production of each publication. Everything we do is checked and rechecked at least 8 times by multiple people and there are STILL errors. Frustrating? Yes. Infuriating at times? Absolutely. But mistakes happen.

I find errors all the time in traditionally published books. It happens. No big deal. I know Mark Twain knew how to spell 'season' and Kate Chopin's editors know it is 'lullaby' and not 'lulaby'.

Kate Chopin, a Louisiana writer

A reader once scolded me at a writer's event about two typos she found in my BATTLE KISS (a book of 320,000+ words). She said she expected perfection in a book that cost her $4.99. That's the eBook price. That's right - 5 bucks. I spend more than that for coffee these days.

I have come up with an re-usable answer to this question and I used it with that woman. I said, "We always leave a typo or two in every book. We follow the lead of persian rug makers who explain why they always drop a stitch in each rug because only Allah is perfect."

She asked what I meant by that. I repeated, "Only Allah is perfect." I then added, "Lisan al-Gaib." Her eyes went wide and she sat down. Didn't bother telling her "Lisan al-Gaib" has nothing to do with any real religion but is a phrase from Frank Herbert's great novel DUNE.

If you wanna talk grammar, call Cornac McCarthy.

"But he broke the rules," said in a whiney voice from the monkey gallery. "That's not the Queen's English."

Well, I don't use the Queen's English either. I don't even use English. I use a bastardized form of English called American English. And not Ivy League American. I use New Orleans American. If I don't remember the grammar rule, I make up my own rule. Bottom line - if you can undestand what the writer means to express - then what the hell are you griping about? This ain't grammar school. Writers are artists. Would you go into Picasso's studio and tell him those last few strokes should go another way?

Writer intrusion? Check out Thomas Harris's HANNIBAL or Harlan Ellison's brillant short story "The Deathbird" HUGO Award winner for 'Best Novelette' where he intrudes in a story about the end of the world with, "Yesterday my dog died." The author gives is a touching tale about his dog, which of course connects to the theme of the piece, but he INTRUDES.



"But it interrupts us. It reminds us this is a BOOK." Right. That's what you're holding in your damn hand (unless it's a Kindle).


Kindle Paperwhite

That's all for now folks.
www.oneildenoux.com

29 June 2017

Down & Out Books Founder/Executive Editor Eric Campbell Waxes Rhapsodic About The Future Of The Novella


by Brian Thornton


Anthony Nom #1
Founded in 2011, Florida indie publisher Down & Out Books has cut a wide swath through the publishing world over the subsequent six years. 2017 has seen Down & Out garner SIX Anthony nominations, including three for Best Novella.

In keeping with my ongoing exploration of the reemergence of the novella as a commercially as well as artistically viable literary form, I recently conducted the following interview with Down & Out's founder and executive editor Eric Campbell. He is an unabashed fan of the novella, and it shows.

Read on....

First off, congratulations on those Anthony nominations. That’s some great work you guys are publishing, for sure!

Thanks a million, Brian. I'm still in shock that Down & Out Books earned six nominations. It's great to know that readers are connecting with the wonderful Down & Out authors. The stories are compelling, fun, adventuresome and excellent examples of how difficult the human condition is and can be. 

It’s been conventional wisdom for decades that one of the first casualties of the advent of television was the novella format. For decades publishers have avoided it as if it were radioactive. Obviously that’s not exactly the case anymore. What’s changed?

What's changed is that our society expects fast resolutions. They don't have the time for a 100K word novel; there's too much distraction from email, the internet, Facebook, etc. I find the novella to be a
Anthony Nom #2
perfect answer. It provides the reader with a long enough read to feel it's worth their time and hard-earned money and it gives the writer the opportunity to see if they can tell their tale in less than 40K words. Do we sell a million copies? Not yet. But I continue to see sales increasing and more folks are giving them a try…and really enjoying them. One of the good things with a small press like Down & Out is that I don't have move 100K units in order to make a profit and for the author to make some good money.

What was it that attracted you personally to the novella format?

You know that comment I made about distractions? That's me. That's you. That's everybody. While I would enjoy reading the 100K word book, I just don't have time to do so. I can sit down with a novella and knock it out on a plane trip, one or two nights before bed. I am a fan of pulp novels and they really aren't long works. You don't have to overthink the story and they move quickly. If you like series then you can pick up the next book and follow the continued exploits of your favorite guy or gal. A number of writers began submitting some really wonderful novellas and I saw them as a way to reach a different audience. So I dived right in.

What kinds of advantages does the novella have over full-length novels where storytelling is concerned?
Anthony Nom #3

The single biggest advantage is that the novella has to be tight and doesn't allow for a lot of "downtime." It fits what people are watching on TV. A story can be told in a single novella but it can have a longer endgame in mind. Think Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, etc. With the novella, the writer can tell the full story but instead of the reader waiting 12 months between shows, maybe you only wait 5 or 6 months. Or hell, maybe you only wait 30 days depending on the approach taken by the writer and publisher. At the end of the day, I think it boils down to great characters. If you've got a great character, then you've got someone people want to read about. 

What do you see in the future for novellas? Is its current resurgence a fad, or something more substantial?

I'm betting that the novella can and will continue to expand. I've got several projects in the pipeline that I think people will dig. 

*          *          *

Check back in two weeks when I'll catch up with several authors (including two winners of the Wolfe Pack's prestigious Black Orchid award for best novella and Anthony nominee S.W. Lauden) about their creative process when working on this hardest to quantify of literary art forms.

See you in two weeks!

28 June 2017

Wet Work

David Edgerley Gates

All this talk of spies, and Russian manipulation, plots divers and devious, is enough to make more than a few of us nostalgic for the Cold War. My pal Carolyn sent me a link to a recent Dexter Filkins piece in The New Yorker which speculates 'nostalgic' ain't the half of it, the body count going up as scores are settled.

We're on shaky ground here, in the Twilight Zone between coincidence and conspiracy. The politically suspect have been raw meat for years, inside Russia, journalists a favorite target, but the received wisdom has always been that the security organs don't operate with impunity in the U.S. I'm not so sure. Historically, we've got the murder of Gen. Walter Krivitsky, in 1941. His death was ruled suicide, but informed opinion agrees that NKVD rigged it to look that way. (Krivitsky died six months after they got to Trotsky, in Mexico.) Then there's Laurence Duggan, who fell out of a 16th-story window in New York in 1948. He had a meeting scheduled with his Soviet control that day. You think to yourself, Okay, but that was Stalin, this isn't the old days, when Yezhov and Beria could conjure up triggermen like dragon's teeth. Then again, who exactly is Vladimir Putin if not a wolf in wolf's clothing?

What we're talking about is the possibility, at least, that Russian state security is fielding hit teams on American soil. In the past, these were proxy killings, and they took place in client states or satellites. Western and Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia. Very seldom, if ever, would you take out the pros on either team, the agent-runners, KGB, CIA, the Brits, the Israelis. You compromised their assets, you sowed discord and misdirection, you put them at cross-purposes, but you didn't knock 'em off like gangland rivals. And we didn't go after targets in the Soviet Union, they didn't come after targets Stateside. That seemed to be the unspoken agreement, anyway. Professional courtesy. Elsewhere was fair game. Berlin, or Vienna. Helsinki, Athens, Istanbul. And the Third World? You couldn't even trust the water.

It all changed in late 2006, with the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko. We'd had the killing of Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian dissident, in the UK. This was back in 1978, the notorious poisoned pellet in an umbrella tip - Bulgaria's secret service, the DS, borrowed the toxin from KGB, it's thought. Nobody ever made the case, though. Markov was a one-off. (Not exactly. There was another Bulgarian, in Paris, ten days earlier.) Or maybe the DS operation was rogue? (Not that, either. There's good collateral KGB sponsored it.) In the event, the trail went cold. This isn't to say nobody cared about Markov, but it was a story that flared briefly, and petered out. We're talking about Bulgaria, after all. How many people can find it on a map? More to the point, Markov's murder didn't indicate a pattern. It was an anomaly. And then, almost thirty years later, Litvinenko. Another exotic poison, in this instance, polonium. A defector, a known enemy, a slanderer, and a personal insult to Vladimir Putin that the son-of-a-bitch is still walking around.

The issue for the Kremlin seems to be that people like Litvinenko, and the opposition politician Sergei Yushenkov, and the reporter Anna Politkovskaya, just won't shut up. The three of them are now dead, of course. The bone that got stuck in their throat appears to have been Chechnya. Chechen terrorists were blamed for the apartment bombings in Moscow and two other cities in 1999 that gave Putin political cover to jump-start the Second Chechen War. In a fourth city, Ryazan, a team of FSB covert operatives were arrested after planting explosives, and the story went round that all of the apartment bombings were a security service provovcation, a false-flag attack. Then there's the Moscow theater siege in 2002, which people have also suggested was a provocation, and there's the Beslan school hostage massacre in 2004. Three events pinned on Islamic jihadis from the Caucasus, and used to prosecute the war with increasing brutality - scorched earth, in effect - and three events possibly orchestrated or abetted by federal security agencies. The stories aren't going to stop, but they've become whispers and hearsay, their voices have been lost, along with Litvinenko, Yushenkov, and Politkovskaya.

Using state security, or the Mafia, or freelance private contractors, to settle up your debts can be habit-forming. You get a taste for it. And quite possibly, you get bolder, or maybe you just don't care if you leave your handwriting. When you come down to it, what's the point of intimidation, if you don't sign your name?

In his New Yorker piece, Dexter Filkins floats a few possibilities, U.S. targets, ex-pat critics of the Kremlin who wound up in the hospital, or dead. If targeted they were. It's a tough call. Guy gets drunk and chokes on a piece of chicken? Could happen. Guy gets beaten to death in a hotel room? Seems less like a happy accident. What about the guy who had a gun put to his head? Nobody murmured in your ear, "Michael Corleone sends his regards." There's nothing solid to go on. All we can say is, This happened before, and such-and-such didn't. We're left with supposition and suspicion.

Here's a supposition. Putin thinks he can get away with murder because he hasit's that simple. As for the niceties, or the courtesy, well. Chert vozmy. The devil take it. This is somebody who doesn't even have to pretend to courtesy. Still. It presents an uneven risk-benefit ratio. My guess is that it's more about, Who will rid me of this tempestuous priest? In other words, it isn't Putin's express bidding. He doesn't have to put pen to paper, or even raise his voice. Oligarchs and Mafia bosses kiss his ring. The thought is father to the deed.

One other thing. Rules of engagement aside, it seems awfully petty to put so much energy into hunting down a few loudmouths, mostly nuisance value, sticks and stones. You have to take yourself pretty seriously to take them so seriously. Which is I guess the point. We imagine that Power is the great engine, the dynamic that shapes men, and history. What if it's just vanity, or hurt feelings? 

27 June 2017

A Day in the Life of a Writer – The Writing Life

by Paul D. Marks

Today I’m going to talk about A Day in the Life of a Writer. This Writer in particular, but to one degree or another I think much of what I have to say here will apply to most writers. And specifically I’m going to talk about the difference between what others think I do in a day and what I really do and the odd hours I keep.

(Note: Because of the limitations of Blogger, the screenplay format is not totally correct. Also, as this isn’t really a screenplay I’ve cheated and adapted the content for this post.)

Take 1 – The Life of the Writer – What Others Think I Do

FADE IN:


INT. LUXURIOUS BEDROOM – WRITER’S COUNTRY HOUSE – MOS – DAY

Sun streams in through whiter-than-white plantation shutters. A figure stirs under satin sheets. The WRITER sits up in bed, stretches. Rings a little bell and a breakfast of French toast and fresh-squeezed orange juice is brought to him by his ROBOT in a pristine white room with no clutter, little furniture and definitely no clothes strewn anywhere. It’s 1pm on the bedside clock.

Because his life is so perfect, he doesn’t need to go to the bathroom or brush his teeth. It all just magically happens.

He eats leisurely, under an original Edward Hopper painting. He peruses the papers on his tablet, the stock ticker scrolling by on the 75” TV. He smiles big. All is right with the world.


EXT. POOL/BACKYARD – WRITER’S HOUSE – DAY

Bright sun, reminiscent of the original Hockney hanging in the Writer’s office, beats down. The Writer swims laps in his Olympic-sized pool. Towels off, sipping a cool Harvey Wallbanger that his Robot made to perfection. He looks fit, relaxed. Tan. And has a full head of hair:

The Writer with a full head of hair.


INT. HOME OFFICE – A FEW MINUTES LATER

The Writer, dressed cool-casual, enters, his loyal and extremely well-behaved pooch Chandler trailing. He gives a quick nod to that original Hockney. Stands at his high tech Varidesk. Except for the ambient hum of computers and the Baroque music coming from his Echo, all is silent – the perfect atmosphere for writing.

He checks his e-mail. The phone remains silent. The sun spills in on him and Chandler. All is right with the world as he opens his novel’s file and hits the first key of the day.

The start of a perfect day.
                                                                                                                                         FADE OUT.
***

Take 2 – The Life of the Writer – What I Really Do

FADE IN:


INT. MIDDLE CLASS BEDROOM – WRITER’S HOUSE – DAY

Sun streams in through the formerly whiter-than-white blinds. A figure stirs under an old threadbare comforter. The WRITER sits up in bed. He wipes sleep from his eyes. It’s 1pm on the bedside clock.

WRITER
                                                           Oh shit!

He jumps out of bed, jams on a pair of sweats and a T-shirt. Says good morning to his dog, Pepper, sleeping in the corner of the room. Pepper barely stirs. Walks into the


BATHROOM

where he cleans up quickly. Heads back into the


BEDROOM

Tries to get Pepper up. She’s having no part of it. He grabs her collar off the dresser.

WRITER
C’mon, Pepper. Let’s hit the road.

She finally gets up. He puts her collar on. Opens the bedroom door.


BUSTER,

his other dog, charges in like a herd of wild elephants.

WRITER
Calm down, Buster. G’morning.

Buster, a very large German Shepherd, leans into the Writer, nearly knocking him over with love, while Pepper leans into Buster. The Writer tries to keep his balance. He heads down the


HALL

followed by, uh, following the dogs. They head

OUTSIDE

so the dogs can do their business.


INT. HOME OFFICE – A WHILE LATER

The Writer enters, followed by Buster and Pepper. He nods to the framed Beatle albums and lobby cards of In a Lonely Place, The Big Sleep and others. He tries to sit at his computer desk, but it’s almost impossible as the dogs are laying so close he can hardly pull his chair out. He finally “rearranges” them, sits at the computer, opens his file and hits the first key.

Buster hangin' in the office, taking up as
much space as he damn well pleases ;-) .




THE TELEPHONE RINGS

He looks at the Caller ID – “OUT OF AREA”

WRITER
Telemarketer.

He turns back to the computer. From the look on his face we see a great idea has hit him. He starts to type. THE TELEPHONE RINGS AGAIN – ANOTHER TELEMARKETER. 

From the rage on his face it’s clear he’s forgotten his great idea. He picks up the phone. No one’s there. SLAMS it down.

WRITER
Damn telemarketers.

He starts to type again. The phone rings. It’s his friend, who always expects him to be home and available and assumes he’s avoiding calls…which he is. He ignores the call. He starts to type again. We HEAR A CHIME – a new e-mail has just come in. A DIFFERENT CHIME – someone’s commented on Facebook. And the Writer, doing his best imitation of one of Pavlov’s dogs, must answer the chime. It cannot be ignored.

WRITER
Better check that out.
      (pause)
Oh, a cute cat video.

He hits play on the video.

WRITER
And a gorilla dancing to Maniac from Flashdance.

He’s about to hit play when THE DOORBELL RINGS (O.S.).

Buster and Pepper BARK up a storm. The Writer puts his hands to his ears.


INT. ENTRY HALL

The dogs charge in, ready to smash the door down. The Writer follows. He opens the front door to see the UPS truck drive off and a package at his feet. He brings it in. What could it be? Maybe it’s a gift from an anonymous fan? Opens it. It’s for the neighbor.


INT. HOME OFFICE – LATER

The Writer busily writes – for all of two minutes – as we see via the wall clock. He searches the net – sees a link.

WRITER
That’s interesting.

He starts hopping from link to link – doing RESEACH. For two hours – as we see on the wall clock. He returns to his manuscript, types one sentence. Stands. Stretches. Exits.

The Writer's Office -- complete with former assistant. Unfortunately, he's no longer with us. But he was a great assistant.


INT. KITCHEN

He opens the fridge. Looks around. Slams the door. Goes into he


GARAGE,

grabs some Cokes and returns to the


KITCHEN

Puts them in the fridge. Opens one. Notices mounds of dog fur everywhere. Grabs a broom. Sweeps the fur into a huge pile. Plops it into the waste basket. The dogs are at the back door. He goes



OUTSIDE

with them. They do their business. He cleans it. They frolic. He weeds, then waters the outside plants.

Pepper (left) & Buster


INT. HOME OFFICE

The Writer enters, with dogs. He sits at his computer with his warm Coke. He’s just about to start writing – more telemarketer calls. He doesn’t answer but they interrupt his flow.

The phone quiets. He’s about to write. The computer stops responding. There’s 1001 updates.

WRITER
Damn updates.

He downloads said updates. Waits forty-five minutes for them to download and install – we can tell by the clock on the wall.

Time to check the mail.


EXT. HOUSE

The Writer opens the mailbox.

WRITER
I’m sure there’ll be twenty royalty
 checks and a film contract to sign.

He grabs the mail. Bills. And junk mail.

WRITER
I must’ve been dreaming.


INT. KITCHEN

Writer returns. Plops the bills on the counter. Sees the drooping plants. Waters the inside plants.


INT. OFFICE

The Writer enters. Sits at his desk – it’s an hour after he left the office. Where did the time go? He’s just about to start writing – when HE HEARS HIS WIFE, AMY, ENTER (O.S.). DOGS GO NUTS.


MONTAGE: The Writer, Amy, the dogs. Everyone eats. Watch TV. Amy goes to bed.


INT. OFFICE – LATER THAT NIGHT

The Writer enters. It’s quiet. He sits at his desk. Shakes out his hands. Limbers his fingers. Starts writing the Great American Novel from 11pm till 3am – we can tell from the clock on the wall. The Writer does other things till about 6 or 7am, then finally goes to sleep.

And now you know why the Writer keeps such strange hours.

FADE OUT.
***
Take 3

Take 1 is sort of my idealized day. Take 2 is more like my real day, though fictionalized just a little. My comforter really isn’t threadbare. In reality, I’m pretty lucky in that I don’t have to have a day job and when I did it was writing. But the reality also is that my romanticized writer’s life isn’t exactly what we might see in the movies. I do live in a semi-rural area so it’s relatively quiet here, though we live in a canyon so huge double dump trucks go by as there’s a mine up the road. But there’s also a farm and we go there to buy peaches or whatever happens to be in season. Unfortunately, it’s for sale and I hope they don’t turn it into a housing development – Ahhhhhhhh! We also have our own peach tree. And it makes peaches too, lots of them. But the birds always seem to get them before we do.

I do get up around 1pm. Now that sounds pretty “luxurious” except that I go to bed around 7am, give or take. So I don’t really sleep any more than anyone else I just do it at a different time. I do get up and take the dogs outside. Then I usually come back in and have lunch (or breakfast). Do some Facebooking and try to get some work done. The phone does interrupt, mostly telemarketers. It’s gotten so that I almost never answer the phone anymore, even with Caller ID. And even when we had Privacy Manager that was supposed to block telemarketers, most of them got through. I used to love yelling at them or toying with them, but that’s sort of lost its sparkle, so now I just don’t answer the phone.

And since I work at home people expect that I have all the time in the world to talk to them. I have certain friends and family who think I’m available – or should be – any time of the day and night. And some get insulted because they assume I’m here but not picking up. They’re often right. They also assume that I’m watching TV and drinking beer, just having swell time. They’re wrong. It’s not like that. But just like you might be working a job in an office, I’m working a job here and don’t want to be interrupted.

I don’t give out my cell number. The only people who have it are Amy and my mom, and since my mom died a while back I don’t think she’ll be calling, but if she does I’ll let the answering machine pick up... If it’s important she’ll call back. And Amy knows my sleep schedule. So if she calls it has to be an emergency – like wildfire that she’s calling to tell me about. We’ve had to evacuate three times and came close another two. That’s a call I’ll take, but I’d rather it didn’t happen.

So there you have it. My day is a work day, like anyone who goes to an office. My office is just a shorter distance down the hall. And I’m disciplined if I don’t get too many interruptions… What about you? What’s your Writer’s Reality vs. what others think it is?

                                                                                                                           FADE TO BLACK.
###

And now for the usual BSP:

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?

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