31 August 2017

Racial Profiling, or Why Joe Arpaio Would Have Locked Me Up

by Eve Fisher

I am not, in any way, a fan of Joe Arpaio's pardon.  The former Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona (which includes Phoenix) was a racist power-mad s.o.b.  (I know, I know, I should tell you how I really feel.)

Arpaio apparently believed that anyone Hispanic - or looked Hispanic - had to be illegal (NOTE: they're not.)  Arpaio and his deputies specifically targeted people with brown skin, and would simply pull over people who looked Hispanic.  "About a fifth of traffic stops, most of which involved Latino drivers, violated Fourth Amendment prohibitions against unreasonable seizures. "

Image result for maricopa az county jail
Maricopa Co. Jail -
Tent City
It is important to remember that Arpaio ran a jail, not a prison. Nonetheless, Arpaio referred to his jail as a concentration camp, and called all detainees (60% of whom had only been arrested, and had not yet arraigned, tried, or convicted) criminals.

NOTE:  Coffin v. United States 1895 established "presumption of innocence" as the bedrock of our criminal justice system.  But not, apparently, in Maricopa County.

Sheriff Arpaio dressed his detainees in black-and-white striped uniforms and pink underwear because it gave him a good laugh.  He fed the prisoners rotten food - green bologna was a favorite - because they didn't deserve any better. He housed detainees outdoors, under Army-surplus tents, without any cooling measures and inadequate water - the temperatures in the tents could easily reach 140 degrees. “I put them up next to the dump, the dog pound, the waste-disposal plant.”  Sheriff’s department officers punished Latino inmates who had difficulty understanding orders in English by locking down their pods, putting them in solitary confinement, and refusing to replace their soiled sheets and clothes. The investigation found that sheriff’s department officers addressed Latino inmates as “wetbacks,” “Mexican bitches,” “f***ing Mexicans,” and “stupid Mexicans.”   (The New Yorker)

But wait, there's more!  Arpaio was a real piece of work. He was (and is) one of the most prominent and persistent "birthers" around, to the point where he used Maricopa County funds to send a 5 man deputy squad to Hawaii to investigate then-President Obama's birth certificate.  He set up a fake assassination attempt to boost his reelection.  He tried to get a grand jury to indict a number of Maricopa County judges, supervisors, and employees.  (The grand jury rejected all the claims.)  His office improperly cleared - i.e., claimed to have solved - up to 75% of cases without investigations or arrests, and simply ignored hundreds of rape cases.  He claimed that he lacked enough detectives to do the job - and when he was given $600,000 for more detectives, none were hired and the money vanished.  Along with almost $100 million of Maricopa funds.  (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Arpaio, and The Atlantic)

But wait, there's more!  Back in 1995, a wheelchair-bound paraplegic named Richard Post needed help to urinate; well, that was asking too much, so the jailers strapped him into a restraint chair, tightened the straps as tight as they would go, and left him there for six hours.  And broke his neck. In case you're wondering, he'd been arrested for possession of a joint.  And no, he hadn't even been tried yet.  Presumption of innocence...  And no, this wasn't the only mauling, maiming, and even death that occurred under Arpaio's rule, in Arpaio's jail, where, remember, over 60% of his "criminals" were simply awaiting trial, often stuck because they couldn't afford cash bail. (Phoenix New Times)

What finally began the end of Arpaio's career was when a Mexican man holding a "valid tourist's visa" was stopped in Maricopa County, arrested, and detained for 9 hours in 2007. The man sued Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, alleging racial profiling. Four years later, in December, 2011, a federal judge in Phoenix ordered Arpaio to stop detaining anyone not suspected of a state or federal crime, reminding him that simply being in the U.S. illegally is not a crime, only a civil violation. Arpaio's response was to let everyone know that after "they went after me, we arrested 500 more just for spite." He was voted out of office in November of 2016.  He was finally convicted July 31, 2017, of criminal contempt of court. He was pardoned by President Trump August 25, 2017, before he was even officially sentenced.

Okay.  So what do I care?  Aside from the multiple violations of basic human rights, the United States legal system, and the United States Constitution?

After all, I'm not black.  I'm not Hispanic.  I'm not Jewish.  I'm not Native American.  However, I've been mistaken for all of these.  I'm 100% Greek, born there, orphaned there, adopted from there.  (All right, my genome, according to National Geographic, is 50% Greek, 25% Tuscan Italian, and 25% Northern Asian Indian.)

But I know something that blonds don't know.  I learned, very young, that WASP Americans - even those who aren't racist / bigots - are very ignorant of the possibilities of ethnic differences in a group of people who all have brown eyes, black hair, and a slightly darker shade of skin.  To many WASPS, we all look alike.

I was shipped to this country when I was 2 1/2 years old - here's a picture of me from the orphanage. That curly hair, those big dark eyes, led some people in our Arlington, VA world to assume that my parents had (for reasons passing understanding) adopted a child who might have "a touch of the tar brush" as it was so politely put back in the 1950's.  There were also whispers about me in my grandmother's small town in Kentucky. Nothing overt.  Just whispers, enough so that I was aware, early on, that not everyone was as pleased to have me around as my parents and grandparents.

Since then, I've had the privilege of explaining who I am, i.e., where I'm from, to an endless stream of people.  When I travel internationally, I'm the one taken aside for questioning.  I have a passport that says I was born in Athens, Greece, for one thing, and that makes people wonder.  It's only gotten worse since 9/11, and I have had long chats with uniformed personnel in many an airport.  The one exception is Athens, Greece, where the guy looked at my passport and waved me through without even a baggage check.
"Συνεχίστε!" "ευχαριστώ!"  ("Go on through!" "Thanks!")

But even when I don't have to have a passport, such as crossing the border into Canada - and they are always very polite - I'm the one who has to get out of the car and talk directly to the border guard so that s/he can make sure I'm not...  someone else...  something else...  That I really am "American".

I don't mind that.  Well, I do mind, but I can live with it.  But there's more.

In 1960 we moved from Arlington, VA to southern California.  In the '60s, when the California image was blonde, tan, and thin.  I had the tan.

NOTE:  It's all right - I figured if you can't join 'em, beat 'em, and (in the world of mini-skirts and gogo boots) came to school wearing my grandmother's 1930's suits (see illustrations on the right) and an armload of books.  If you're going to stand out, stand out with style.

Moved down South.

A little profiling, here and there.  A  a lot of, "Greece?" said by someone with an extremely puzzled face.  And some other things, like the time a KKK type followed me through the stacks in the public library saying "oink, oink", "Jew pig", "Jew bitch", etc.

And then we came to South Dakota, where I have been taken for Native American.  In a small town West River, my husband and I stopped late one summer night to get a motel room.  Back then, I had long hair, down to my waist, and, since it was summer, a pretty good tan.  I was told they had no vacancies.  I went back to the car and we sat (windows open) to figure out where the next closest town was, and another car pulled up.  A nice blond man got out, went in - I could hear the entire conversation - asked if they had a room, and was told "Yes, sir.  Sign right here." I told some friends about it, and they said, "Oh, yeah.  They're pretty racist up there."

And more.

Now all this happened, but not daily.  (Well, not since my school days - no, you could not pay me enough money to be a child again.)  Just often enough to give me a hint of what it must be like to be truly a minority in this country.  But I'm still officially white, part of the white majority, and I do have privileges. There are all sorts of things I can do without getting arrested, or even stopped by the police:
  • I can change lanes without signaling.
  • I can walk around the neighborhood wearing a hoodie.
  • I can reach for my car registration and proof of insurance in the glove compartment.
  • I can stand on a street corner, looking confused and anxious.
  • I can forget my keys and use a coat hanger to get into my locked car.  Or open a window to get into my locked house. 
  • I can sit on my front porch and watch whatever street show's on offer.  I can even talk to people on the street or make comments to my husband about what's going on.  
  • I can stand in an alley with a group of friends. 
  • I can talk on a cell phone. 
  • I can, and have, driven around with a broken tail light, and for a while, without a front license plate (which wasn't required in the South). 
    • (NOTE:  In the last few years, people have been stopped, arrested, jailed, and even killed for doing each and every one of these things in the United States of America.)  

(Wikipedia)
But, for me, any and all of the above would have been risky behavior in Maricopa County under Joe Arpaio.  Maybe not for you, but for me.  Because of how I look.  

Pardon Joe Arpaio?  I wouldn't have, but what's worse is that he was convicted and then pardoned for a misdemeanor.

Did I mention his "special forces" that led a botched raid in which they firebombed a home to ashes and burned a puppy alive?  (See here)  And found nothing?

Did I mention that Joe Arpaio was/is one of the founders of the The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA, for short) that believes that sheriffs are "the highest executive authority in a county and therefore constitutionally empowered to be able to keep federal agents out of the county"? And, as such, are not responsible to any federal law, agent, or judge?(See CSPOA and/or Southern Poverty Law Center on the movement.)

After all of that, a misdemeanor?  Unpardoned, the most he would have served would have been six months, maximum, and - sadly, tragically - it wouldn't have been in the Arpaio Maricopa County Jail.

Pardon him?  I sure as hell wouldn't have.  But then, I have skin in the game.


PS - Next week, back to quacks, radium and murder.

30 August 2017

How to Find Us

by Robert Lopresti


This is going to be a quickie.  As I wrote a few weeks ago, one of our regular readers asked if there is a way to be notified when we put up a new piece.

As I said then, we attempt to have a new masterpiece up every day at midnight, Eastern time.  People being human and the Blogger software being occasionally possessed by demons, we are sometimes late.  But if you check in after midnight you should see our one and only entry for the day.  (On rare occasions more than one entry has appeared in the same day, but that means one of us - usually me - has lost another fight with Blogger.)


Here is another choice: Use a feed reader, alias a news aggregator..  With a free feed reader you identify blogs you like and the program gives you a list of entries that you haven't looked at yet. Here is a compilation of some feed readers.

I use Feedly.  The first illustration shows some of the blogs I follow.  The numbers indicate that there are X many entries I haven't yet read.

The second illustration shows my Feedly page for the SleuthSayers blog.  Pretty intuitive to use.  (Much more so than Blogger, believe me.)


A third suggestion: Are there any other  blogs you check regularly?  Some of them have a blogroll, a list of their favorite blogs, with the most recent etnries showing.  This illustration is from my website Little Big Crimes. 

As I said last time, if anyone has a different suggestion, let us know. 

29 August 2017

2017 Macavity Award Short Story Nominees Dish on Their Stories

by Paul D. Marks

Today I’m giving over my post to the 2017 Macavity Award Short Story Nominees. There’s six of us and I’m both lucky and honored to be among such truly distinguished company. It’s mind blowing. Really!

The envelope please. And the nominees are (in alphabetical order as they will be throughout this piece): Lawrence Block, Craig Faustus Buck, Greg Herren, Paul D. Marks, Joyce Carol Oates and Art Taylor. Wow!

I want to thank Janet Rudolph who puts it all together. And I want to thank everyone who voted for us in the first round. If you’re eligible to vote there’s still a few days left – ballots are due September 1st, and I hope you’ll take the time to check out the links below and read all the stories.

But even if you’re not eligible to vote, I hope you’ll take the time to read the stories. I think you’ll enjoy them and maybe get turned onto some new writers. Our Bios are at the end of this post.

So without further ado, here’s our question and responses:

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

“What inspired your Macavity-nominated story? Where did the idea and characters come from?”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


Lawrence Block: “Autumn at the Automat,” (In Sunlight or in Shadow, Pegasus Books). Story link: http://amzn.to/2vsnyBP 



When I got the idea for an anthology of stories based on Edward Hopper paintings, the first thing I did was draw up a list of writers to invite. I explained the book’s premise and invited each to select a painting.

The response surprised me. Almost everyone on my wish list accepted, picked a painting, and went to work. Now it fell to me to go and do likewise, and I began viewing the paintings and waiting for inspiration to strike. I considered several works—everything Hopper painted somehow manages to suggest there’s a story waiting to be told—and when I looked a second time at “Automat,” the germ of the story came to me.

But there was a problem. “Automat” was off the table. Kristine Kathryn Rusch had already laid claim to it.

I tried to find a way out, but all I could think of was the story that had come to me, as it evolved in my mind. So I emailed Kris, explained where I was, and asked her how strongly committed she was to that particular painting. Had she begun work on a story?

She could not have been more gracious, replying at once that she’d picked “Automat” because she’d had to pick something, that she hadn’t yet come up with a plot and characters, and could as easily transfer her affections to something else. I thanked her, and that same day I sat down and started writing. If I remember correctly, an increasingly tenuous proposition with the passing years, I wrote the story in a single session at the computer. It was already there in my mind, waiting for my fingers to catch up with it.

Kris promptly selected another painting, “Hotel Room 1931,” and knocked my socks off with her story, Still Life 1931, which she elected to publish under her occasional pen name, Kris Nelscott.

So that’s the story.

***

Craig Faustus Buck: “Blank Shot,” (Black Coffee, Darkhouse Books). Story link: http://tinyurl.com/BlankShot-Buck 

“Blank Shot” was the result of two writing issues coming together in the right place at the right time. I'd been asked by someone to blog about openings, so I'd been thinking about my favorite way to start a story, which is with a bang. So I wrote an example: "His face hit the pavement hard."

I wrote my blog and found myself wondering what happened next to the hapless fellow in my example. At the same time, I'd been reading a Cold War thriller about Berlin in the time of the Wall, and I wondered what Berlin had been like before the Wall went up, but after it had been divided after WWII. I did a bit of research and became fascinated with this period of a divided city that had open commerce and transportation between the sides, yet still maintained a heavily guarded border without barriers between them.

I decided to take my opening line, put it in 1960 Berlin, and see what happened. The result was a hoot to write and full of surprises for me as my characters developed. The ending really came as a shock. Of course, I had to do a lot of back-filling and tap dancing to motivate it and make it work, but that was the fun part.

Once again, writing by the seat of my pants, instead of outlining, turned the work of writing into play. I truly believe that when authors allow their characters to do the driving, the journey is more enjoyable for both writer and reader, and the destination is more likely to delight.

***

Greg Herren: “Survivor’s Guilt,” (Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016, Down & Out Books). Story link: https://gregwritesblog.com/2017/07/21/cant-stop-the-world/ 

My story was inspired, in part, by the stories I heard from people who did not evacuate from New Orleans before the levees failed; what it was like to be up on the roof, running out of water, and drinking alcohol because that was all that was left while waiting to be rescued. A married couple—friends of friends— got divorced because the wife had wanted to evacuate and the husband didn’t; they were on their roof for four days. That dynamic—the blame and guilt—fascinated me, as did the mental anguish. That kind of trauma changes people.

As I listened to the husband tell his story, through my horror at what they endured, I thought: what if they had argued and he’d accidentally killed her?

After all, the victim’s body wouldn’t have been found for months, and by then, the water and decay would have certainly done a number on the corpse; and the bodies weren’t autopsied. It seemed almost like it would be the perfect crime. The body might not ever be identified, and the husband could just disappear, as so many did in the vast diaspora that followed.

As for the characters in my story, I had started with the story and worked backward. I made them blue collar, because of most of the people who lived in the lower 9th were, and began piecing together who they were, and what their marriage had been like. It all just kind of fell into place as I wrote the story.

***

Paul D. Marks: “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Dec. 2016). Story link: http://www.elleryqueenmysterymagazine.com/assets/3/6/EQMD16_Marks_BunkerHill.pdf 

My story “Ghosts of Bunker Hill” is partly inspired by the Bunker Hill section of Los Angeles. Bunker Hill was L.A.’s first wealthy residential neighborhood, right near downtown. It was filled with fantastic Victorian mansions, as well as offices, storefronts, hotels, etc. After World War I the swells moved west and the neighborhood got run down and became housing for poor people. It wasn’t shiny enough for the Powers That Be, who wanted to build up and refurbish downtown. Out with the old, the poor, the lonely, in with the new, the young, the hip. So in the late 60s they tore it down and redeveloped it. Luckily, some of those Victorians were moved to other parts of L.A. If you’re into film noir you’ve seen the original Bunker Hill. And when I was younger I explored it with friends, even “borrowing” a souvenir or two. And that place has always stayed with me.

In the story, P.I. Howard Hamm is investigating his best friend’s murder and, while the murder takes place today in one of those “moved” Victorians, “ghosts” of the past influence the present.

As it says in “Bunker Hill Blues,” the sequel to “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” which is in the current September/October 2017 issue of Ellery Queen, but which also applies to the first Bunker Hill story:

“Howard might not have believed in ghosts, but they were everywhere if you knew where to look for them: There are more things in heaven and earth, and all that jazz. Not creatures in white sheets like Casper, not malevolent apparitions like in Poltergeist. But ghosts of the past, ghosts of who we were and who we thought we wanted to be. Ghosts of our lost dreams. In some ways those ghosts are always gaining on us, aren’t they?”

***

Joyce Carol Oates: “The Crawl Space,” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Sep.–Oct. 2016). Story link: http://www.elleryqueenmysterymagazine.com/assets/3/6/EQM916_Oates_CrawlSpace.pdf 

(Note: I couldn’t reach Joyce Carol Oates, but Janet Hutchings, editor of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, provided me with the following and with Ms. Oates’ bio at the end of this piece.)

Joyce carol oates 2014
Photo by Larry D. Moore © 2014
“The Crawl Space” by Joyce Carol Oates was written in response to an invitation from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine to contribute to its special 75th-anniversary issue, September/October 2016. The author explained the seed for the story when she spoke at the EQMM 75th Anniversary Symposium at Columbia University in September 2016:

“‘The Crawl Space’ . . . gives me a shiver because it’s set in my former house…. There was a crawl space in that house. If you know what a crawl space is, it’s some strange part of a cellar—it’s not completely filled in. Sometimes there is a cellar and the crawl space goes out from it, but this particular house didn’t have a cellar. It only had a crawl space. There were things stored there, and I think repairmen would have to crawl in there and do things—and I think they never came out again....If you have an imagination, you can just imagine how horrible it would be to be in a crawl space. So the story’s about that dark fantasy that comes true for someone.”

Ms. Oates added, that despite being set in her former home, the story is “NOT autobiographical”!

***

Art Taylor: “Parallel Play,” (Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning, Wildside Press). Story link: http://www.arttaylorwriter.com/books/6715-2/ 

My story “Parallel Play” centers on new parenthood, both the stress and anxieties surrounding it and then the idea of parental protectiveness—the thought that most parents will do whatever it takes to protect their children. The opening to the story is set at a kids play space which I call Teeter Toddlers, and the idea of the story actually first came to me when I was taking my own son, Dashiell, to his weekly Gymboree classes. I was the only father who regularly attended, and while the moms there were certainly welcoming to me, they did seem to form quicker friendships, share more quickly, with one another than with me—some small gender divide, I guess, and probably not surprising, but I did start wondering about various dynamics and situations, letting my mind wander (as we crime writers do) into darker twists and turns. Another inspiration was the prompt from the anthology Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning, which required weather to play an important role. The Gymboree had big plate glass windows surrounding the play space, and I remember one day watching a thunderstorm roll into view. That image plus one more element—a forgotten umbrella—and the rest of the story was suddenly in motion. I hope that readers will appreciate where it all goes.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

BIOS:

Lawrence Block has been writing award-winning mystery and suspense fiction for half a century. His series characters include Matthew Scudder, Bernie Rhodenbarr, Chip Harrison, Evan Tanner, Martin Ehrengraf, and a chap called Keller. His non-series characters include, well, hundreds of other folk. Liam Neeson starred in the film version of his novel, A Walk Among the Tombstones.  Several of his other books have also been filmed, although not terribly well.  In December Pegasus Books will publish Alive in Shape and Color, a sequel to his Hopper anthology In Sunlight or in Shadow. LB is a modest and humble fellow, although you would never guess as much from this biographical note. http://lawrenceblock.com/ 


Author-screenwriter Craig Faustus Buck's short crime fiction has won a Macavity Award and has been nominated for a second, plus two Anthonys, two Derringers and a Silver Falchion. His novel, Go Down Hard (Brash Books), a noir romp, was First Runner Up for the Claymore Award.  The sequel, Go Down Screaming, is coming out whenever he writes his way out of the second act. CraigFaustusBuck.com  

Greg Herren is the award-winning author of over thirty novels, and an award-winning editor, with twenty anthologies to his credit. He has published numerous short stories, in markets as varied as Men magazine to the critically acclaimed New Orleans Noir to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and his story "Keeper of the Flame" is scheduled for an upcoming issue of Mystery Week. He has written two detective series set in New Orleans. His most recent novel, Garden District Gothic, was released in September 2016. He lives in New Orleans with his partner of twenty-two years, and is currently finishing another novel. http://gregherren.com/ 

Paul D. Marks is the author of the Shamus Award-Winning mystery-thriller White Heat. Publishers Weekly calls White Heat a “taut crime yarn.” His story Ghosts of Bunker Hill was voted #1 in the Ellery Queen Readers Poll and is nominated for a Macavity Award. Howling at the Moon was short-listed for both the Anthony and Macavity Awards. Midwest Review calls his novella Vortex “…a nonstop staccato action noir.” His short stories can be found in Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine/s, as well as various periodicals and anthologies, including St. Louis Noir. He is also the co-editor of the Coast to Coast series of mystery anthologies for Down & Out Books. www.PaulDMarks.com 


Joyce Carol Oates is a winner of the National Book Award, two O. Henry Awards, and a National Medal of the Humanities (among many other honors). One of America’s most celebrated literary writers, she is the author of more than fifty novels and dozens of short stories, most under her own name but a number employing her crime-writing pseudonyms Rosamond Smith and Lauren Kelly. Her honors in the field of crime fiction include two International Thriller Awards for best short story. https://celestialtimepiece.com/ 


Art Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He has won three additional Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, a Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, and his work has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University. http://www.arttaylorwriter.com/ 

###


And now for the usual BSP.

I’m happy to say that my short story “Bunker Hill Blues” is in the current Sept./Oct. issue of Ellery Queen that hit newsstands Tuesday of this week. It’s the sequel to the 2016 Ellery Queen Readers Poll winner and current Macavity Award nominee “Ghosts of Bunker Hill”. And I’m surprised and thrilled to say that I made the cover of the issue – my first time as a 'cover boy'! Hope you’ll want to check it out. Available at all the usual places.




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




28 August 2017

Now It Gets Personal

by Steve Liskow

Two weeks ago, I discussed Connecticut crimes that span our country's history. Several were grim "firsts," and they prove that you don't have to set a crime story in the Big Apple or LA.

But when people ask--as they invariably do--"Where do you get your ideas?" I have answers that hit closer to home. Postcards of the Hanging grew from a crime in the town where I attended high school half a century ago, but today I want to talk about other crimes that shocked Connecticut. I know or knew people who were involved in all of these, and even though I changed every possible detail, two of them have inspired novels...so far.

It's probably an urban legend, but New Britain, CT claims to have more package stores (liquor stores to you tourists) per capita than any other city in the United States. On October 19, 1974, Ed Blake felt ill and closed his Brookside Package Store early for the first time anyone could remember. It probably saved his life.

Two career thugs decided that holding up a New Britski packy would mean good money on a Saturday night. When they found their target closed, they went next door to the Donna Lee Bakery, where a customer called one of them by name. The men could have turned around and walked away, but instead they forced all six workers and patrons into the back room and shot them. They raided the cash register and fled, gaining less than twenty-five dollars for their efforts.

Passersby noticed their car and license plate, and police tracked them down within hours. They served long terms in Somers, Connecticut's maximum security penitentiary (one died of cancer a few years ago), but it didn't bring back the victims. One was the cousin of my assistant principal. Two others had a son in my junior English class. Ed Blake's son was a former student, too.

I've never used that story. You don't always gain insight by trying to analyze a horrific event. Evil is simply banal and stupid, and sometimes it comes down to unfortunate people being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Several years later, Pulaski High School became a middle school and I transferred to New Britain High School, alma mater of two Connecticut governors, Thomas Meskill and Abraham Ribicoff.

By the early nineties, NBHS, designed for 1600 students in 1973, had an enrollment of 2800. It also had turf wars between the Latin Kings, Los Solidos, and 20 Luv, all of whom wanted to control drug sales in the area. The President of the Latin Kings, Miguel deJesus, was no scholar but he caused no trouble in my fifth period comp & lit class, aside from doing no work. Other teachers had less luck with him, and his guidance counselor told me they were less sociopathic than I was.

On November 4, 1993, a car dropped Miguel off at the Mill Street entrance, directly below my classroom's window (circled in red).



He came early to be readmitted after a ten-day suspension for fighting. As he approached the double doors, a stolen car pulled into the driveway and a man wearing a hoodie put a handgun against the back of Miguel's head and shot him six times (the black circle on the picture). Dozens of witnesses saw the car, which was later found abandoned, but it took nearly two years of detective work before the shooter and driver were caught. Two members of rival gangs died in the next week, and police barely managed to contain an all-out gang war. Miguel was the first of three gang members I lost over the next three years.

Run Straight Down changed every detail, but it grew from that shooting. I focus on the teachers who had to go back into the building the next day and make it safe for the kids...when we all knew damn well that everything was broken.

After retiring from teaching, I read newspapers to the blind for several years, but in summer of 2007, a federal trial took place in Hartford without a word about it appearing in print. The jury eventually convicted Dennis Paris, alias "Rahmyti," of assault, drug trafficking, extortion...and over 2500 counts of trafficking under-aged girls along the Berlin Turnpike.
Raymond Bechard's book about the case includes transcripts in which the women are asked over and over if Paris knew they were between 14 and 17 while he forced them into as may as ten liaisons a day. They said "yes" over 300 times. The case convinced the federal government to rewrite the existing law so that if the person was underage, it didn't matter whether the trafficker knew that or not.

The Berlin Turnpike had been notorious for decades (I live less than a quarter-mile from the highway), and I revising Cherry Bomb when I bumped into Bechard at a signing and discovered that his girlfriend was a cousin of one of my former teaching colleagues (and another sister who had been a student). Through him, I got to do a phone interview with one of the "witnesses" to clarify details of prostitution from the woman's perspective.

Dennis Paris's defense counsel was Jeremiah Donovan. His trial was in session when two men invaded the Cheshire home of Dr. William Petit, a case I mentioned two weeks ago. Donovan later defended one of those men, too.

In March of 1998, disgruntled worker Matthew Beck, on leave for emotional problems, returned to the CT Lottery headquarters in Newington, armed with two handguns and a knife. He killed four workers. Lottery President Otho Brown lured Beck away from the building to give other workers a chance to take cover and call for help before Beck trapped him in a fenced-in parking lot. Survivors called Brown the hero who saved their lives.

Others weren't so lucky. Beck shot Linda Blogoslawski Mlynarczyk, formerly the first female mayor of New Britain, in her office. New Britain had a 21% Polish population, third in the nation at that time, and Linda literally walked through neighborhoods knocking on doors to talk with residents. She met her soon-to-be husband Peter when he helped her run her campaign. Over 1000 mourners attended the woman's funeral during a cold heavy rainstorm, the same day Mlynarczyk's farewell to his wife appeared on the front page of the Hartford Courant. It hurt like hell when I realized he now wrote even more eloquently than he had years before...as another student in my class.

Playwright Marsha Norman advises writers to write about the things in your life that still hurt, that still feel unfair and make you angry.

I've got mine.

27 August 2017

Informants 101

by R.T. Lawton

Law enforcement, in many cases, depends upon informants to solve crimes, catch criminals in the act, or at least get pointed in the right direction as to who did it and sometimes how they did it. Information from informants also helps law enforcement agencies recover stolen goods from robberies, burglaries and scams. Do informants provide this information out of the goodness of their heart? Rarely. Can they get hurt for conducting these informant activities? Oh yeah. Those in the criminal world despise informants and often dish out punishments ranging up to severe beatings and even death.

So why do these people inform on their friends, associates, fellow criminals and even family in some cases? Guess you could say there are a lot of reasons, and every informant has his or her own personal reason. So, let's take a look at where they come from and why they make that choice.

Fear:
 ~Fear is a constant factor in the underworld and many of those on the street have or are committing crimes to survive in their environment or in an attempt to get ahead in the world, maybe even to acquire some of the luxuries they think they so richly deserve in life. If these people feel that the cops are getting close to them for past crimes committed, they may voluntarily come forward and offer to work in exchange for a free pass on their prior misdeeds. On the other side of the coin, after the police do make arrests for past crimes committed, the police will often make the new defendant an offer, assuming the police have other criminals they want to put in prison and think their new arrestee can make cases on those criminals. In street slang, this is known as "having a hammer" on the soon-to-be informant. He either works, or gets a lengthy sentence.

For instance, in the drug world, we generally want to move up the ladder to a bigger dealer, so in exchange for a lighter sentence, the defendant agrees to make cases on his supplier and any other larger suppliers he can get into. Then, when that larger supplier goes down, we make him an offer too. Some take the deal, some don't.

 ~Running on the streets is a dog eat dog environment. Many criminals and criminal organizations use fear to maintain their position and as a measure of protection from rivals and others who may wish to do them harm. However  this same fear sometimes prompts a lesser criminal to work with the law in order to remove that threat from his personal safety. Fear can be a double-edged sword that cuts both ways.

 ~And strangely enough, there is the fear of being thought an informant. I took advantage of this fear once in Kansas City. We had just arrested a drug dealer and were driving him to the county jail for processing. We made him an offer and he declined, but wasn't civilized about the declination. So, as we were passing a local night club where several gangsters were hanging out on the street, I hit the brakes, screeching the tires. I then pointed towards the gangsters and hollered loud enough for all to hear, "Is that the guy?" The sudden stop of our car threw the handcuffed defendant forward and he instinctively looked where I was pointing. All the gangsters saw his face. I then drove on. His next comment was, "I may as well become an informant now, because all those guys already think I am after this." He went on to do a fair job, just not on those gangsters, and he subsequently got a lighter sentence in court,

Revenge or Jealousy:
 ~Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Can't tell you how many times a cast-off wife, mistress or girlfriend has called up to give information on their good-for-nothing ex-partner who just happens to have a long list of of ongoing or prior crimes. One of my long time fugitives hiding out in Venezuela was tripped up by the cast-off girlfriend of the man in Florida who forwarded hiding-out money on a monthly basis from the fugitive's dear, old, sweet corruptible mother in Wyoming.
 ~And, that green-eyed goddess of envy prompts many a person who sees others living in the lap of luxury from the proceeds of their crimes to drop a dime on those richer competitors, so as to give them a little well deserved misery.

Mercenary:
 ~These are the ones who do it for the money. They are usually the easiest ones to control, and when they finish working your area, you usually pass them along to work another area far enough away that the word hasn't spread, yet close enough that the informant is easily available for court on your own cases, if necessary.

Ego:
 ~These guys are looking for the positive feedback they never received as a kid. Or, they consider themselves to be smarter than the opposition and this is a way to prove it.

Wannabe:
 ~Someone who wants to be a cop, but isn't good enough to make the cut. It could be a physical problem, a psychological one, or maybe he didn't have the needed education. This type may try to tell you how to do your job.

James Bond Syndrome:
 ~These people are often dangerous to the controlling agent. They frequently fantasize about their position, exaggerate their knowledge of criminals and have been known to setup arrangments which parallel their favorite movie scene. We found out later, that one guy we dubbed as Pale Rider had wired up his own apartment to make his own recordings on dealers and on drug agents. In the end, we busted him for dealing on the side while he was working for us.

Repentance:
 ~Some people feel bad for their past crimes and want to make up for their transgressions, but that is seldom their only motivation for cooperating with the law.

Perverse:
 ~People in this category may be trying to discover who the undercover agents are or who other informants are. I've run into both of these situations. Fortunately, it turned out bad for them and not for our side.
 ~They may be trying to find out your agency's targets, methods of operation or how the agency's surveillance equipment works.
 ~They may be trying to eliminate their competition so they can get a larger percent of the criminal earnings.
 ~And sometimes they are sent by the criminal organization you're working on to infiltrate your organization. In some cases, they don't come as informants for you. This could be as simple as the Bandidos or H.A.'s sending their girlfriends to work as dispatchers or secretaries for the local cop shop or even a federal agency. You've all seen the movie "The Departed." That's closer to reality than you may think.

So, now you've got an idea of the who's and the why's of an informant. Next Month, in Informants 102, we'll discuss the ins and out's of handling these so-called cooperating individuals.

In the meantime, if you're involved in criminal activities, who can you trust? Nobody. Given the right motivation, anybody can turn on you.

As the Hell's Angels say, "Three can keep a secret, if two are dead."

Pleasant dreams.

26 August 2017

Burglars Beware! (more silly stuff from my standup days)

by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

(With apologies to both Monty Python and George Carlin)

I write about the mob.  This might lead some people to believe I am an expert in crime.  As there may be law enforcement officers reading this post, I'm not going to write about that.  Instead, I'm going to talk about crime prevention. (*Waves* to relatives in Palermo.)

Somebody who didn't know about my alleged area of expertise tried to sell me a home security device the other day.  Apparently, this device is rigged so that it would alert me when someone was breaking into the house.  This amazed me, in that - if I am home - I usually know when someone is breaking into my house.  Rather than announce his presense ("A Burglar, Madam") it would seem to me a lot more useful if someone would invent something that would bog the intruder over the head.

But I don't need fancy home security systems because there is no possible way a burglar could get past my secret weapon.  It's cheap and it's foolproof.  It's so fiendish, I expect it will soon be outlawed at the next Geneva Convention.

Let me put it this way: if the Spanish Inquisition had known about it, everyone would have confessed to everything.

To wit:
LOCATION: Madrid, 15 something-or-other, in a damp dungeon (not even a three-star)

"Stubborn, eh?  Still won't confess?  Okay, Cardinal Wolsey - bring out the secret weapon!"
(horrified gasps all around)

"Not the (gulp) not the..."

"Yes! (fiendish giggle)  Get the little pieces of LEGO!"

"ARGH! No please!  No! I confess!"

It works like this:  You step on the itty bitty piece of Lego, whereupon it pierces your bare foot, sending searing needles of agony all the way up to your brain.  This in turn causes all of your bones to suddenly melt and turn you into a pain-filled gibbering mass of jelly on the floor.

I don't know if you have ever walked barefoot across a minefield of individual Lego bits, but believe me, our intelligence agencies have missed out on a good weapon.  Marbles have a similar effect, but those little plastic Lego corners kind put the icing on the proverbial meatcake (man, am I mixing comedy sketches here.)

Methinks the Lego people have missed a terrific marketing opportunity here.  In fact, right after this column is done, I'm going into business.  "Killer Lego" should be on the shelves by Christmas, ready to be scatter on floors everywhere.  Hopefully, before relatives arrive.

Actually, if you really want to keep burglars away, it's simple.  And yes, I actually heard this from the horse-er-relative's mouth.  Throw a few ride-um toys on the front lawn of your home - preferably boy ones.  Then everyone will know you have kids, so there couldn't possible be anything of value left inside your house...

Melodie Campbell writes funny books about the mob.  But she denies that THE BOOTLEGGER'S DAUGHTER is a roman a clef.  You can judge yourself.
 on AMAZON

25 August 2017

About Hate

by O'Neil De Noux

Hate breeds hate. No need for me to preach this. We all know it.

How the hell do we have people in America proudly going around waving the Nazi swastika, spewing Nazi slogans? Why are we returning to the great divide of our civil war?

How did we end up with a neo-confederate president from New York? How did we end up with a president so consumed with anger, a president so ignorant of history, a president lacking the intelligence to grasp international relations? I wish him no malice. I hope he is OK and not as crazy as he seems. My biggest worry is the 65+ million Americans who voted for him.

I know a lot voted against Hillary rather than for him. It seems Hillary was too polarizing to the elected. But this anger, this hatred seething in white-males-who-did-not-go-to-collage, is so divisive. I'm old enough to remember how it started. Nixon reached out to them, calling them the silent majority. Goldwater had tried but he was flat-out crazy (sound familiar). Then Reagan brought it all together, the anti-Washington loathing, the gosh-darn-it's-OK-to-be-uneducated and the nation has never recovered. How many times have we wondered why our best and brightest aren't leading us? Barack Obama excepted.

How the hell do you drain a swamp when the swamp is what the foundering fathers designed? The US Government was constructed to be inefficient, to move slowly, to have checks and balances, for the women and men running the show to negotiate, compromise. The dunces McConnell and Ryan are the antithesis of compromise.

Hate breeds hate.

When I started in law enforcement in the late 1960s, the Ku Klux Klan (also known as the Knights of the White Camelia* here in Louisiana) was listed as a terrorist organization by the US Justice Department and the FBI vigorously investigated, infiltrated, disrupted, indicted and broke them up. Why isn't the FBI doing the same against right wing organizations today? How the hell did we end up with Nazi swastika flags waving in Virginia (and other places).

*Not a typo. That's the French spelling of camellia. In Louisiana we have Vermilion Bay not Vermillion.

One final thought about the confederate battle flag. For a short time in the early 1990s, I lived in beautiful Oregon. One day my wife and I entered a rustic mountain cafe and found a huge confederate flag nailed to the wall. Being a southerner, I asked about it and was told by a fiery-eyed, foaming saliva-mouthed cafe owner that the flag wasn't there to honor confederate soldiers. It stood for white supremacy. He was right. The flag has been absconded by white supremacists much as the swastika had been absconded from ancient India by the Nazis. It is a symbol of hatred.

So when you see the old stars-and-bars, it's not about honoring the confederate dead, when you see statues of confederate leaders, it's not about honoring the old south - it's about white supremacy.

When I posted my feelings about confederate monuments towering over New Orleans here on SleuthSayers and on my personal blog, I thought I put up a quiet, sincere, thoughtful piece. Many of my friends and family did not think so. They act as if I'd spit in the face of Robert E. Lee and the great Louisiana French Creole Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard.

When will the white majority ever try to understand the horrible legacy of slavery? Racism has never gone away. What's happened to our compassion? My God, people are railing against Jews. It's Hitler and Goebbels all over again. Blame someone else for your problems, then attack them.

Are we strong enough to find our way out of this? I have to believe we are. I have to.

Enough preaching.

24 August 2017

The Novella: Expanding a Short Story or Writing One From Scratch?

by Brian Thornton

As I mentioned when I began my summer-long look into the second coming of the novella, I have finally written one.

It was a bitch.

That's understandable, because, like so many people doing something for the first time, I went about it all wrong. Which is another way of saying that I had make a ton of mistakes before I could begin to learn from them.

In my last few entries I've included excerpts from interviews with several successful writers who seem to have really mastered the form and function of the novella. Although these authors are disparate in approach, tone, form, and style, they almost uniformly agree (with the exception of Steve Liskow) that their successful forays into novella writing were generated from scratch, intended from the beginning to be novellas.

(Steve Liskow mentioned that his novella, Black Orchid award-winner "Stranglehold," began life as "a 6800 word short story that didn't quite work..")

My initial foray fit neither of these models. "Suicide Blonde" started out as a short story that worked, in fact it worked so well that it was my second sale to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (where I maintain a 66% acceptance rate by not having submitted anything in the years since.). So why expand it into a novella, rather than start from scratch?

Put simply: because I had no idea what I was doing.

Look, I've sold several book-length pieces of nonfiction. Those were simple (Note I don't say "easy") to write. I'd earned an advanced degree in history and learned how to research and write professional-grade nonfiction work in grad school (I will not dignify anything I wrote as an undergrad with the title "professional," including the bi-weekly newspaper columns I wrote for beer money–The Gonzaga University Bulletin paid twenty bucks a pop at the time. That wasn't exactly small potatoes for a starving college student).

But I had zero experience writing a novella. And I thought, "Hey, maybe it'll be relatively easy to expand one of my short stories. People are always saying that wished that 'Paper Son' and 'Suicide Blonde' were longer, that they wanted to read more about the characters, so why not go that route?"

Having done it, I will say that, while I am committed to expanding another of my short stories (the aforementioned "Paper Son") into a novella, I am loathe to do so again once that is wrapped up.

Nope. My third foray into novella writing is going to be a from-scratch original story. And even though I'm going to finish expanding "Paper Son" into a novella, I am going about it far more efficiently than I did with "Suicide Blonde." That first attempt was trial and error: I wound up incredibly pleased with the results.

Having learned from my mistakes with "Suicide Blonde," I've mapped out the existing plot of my original story with "Paper Son," and am working on fleshing out addition scenes that ought to fit pretty seamlessly in with my original narrative and revising my original ending. I think it's going to work well. It feels great to have a sort of "system" for this sort of thing now.

And I anticipate having exciting news about a publication date for "Suicide Blonde" sometime in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned to this page!

Lastly, in two weeks I touch base with my previous interview subjects (as well as a couple of surprise guest stars) for a final wrap-up of my summer-long foray into Novellaville.

See you in two weeks!

23 August 2017

Bread and Circuses

David Edgerley Gates


This post is prompted in part by Barb Goffman's piece, from last week, about bearing witness to wrong-doing.

I'm not a fan of scoring political points in my stories. That doesn't mean I steer clear of political situations, or real-world issues. Of course, when they're safely in the past, that's a help. I've used the Viet Nam antiwar movement (and the FBI's counterintelligence programs) to what I think is good effect. And even in the present day, there's no reason to put stuff off-limits, unless it breaks the glass. 

There are easy ways to lose your reader's trust. You can make an obvious mistake, with geography, or firearms, or stamp collecting. Get one thing wrong they know about, and they won't believe it when you tell them things they don't know about. Ironclad rule. And the same is true of introducing your visceral dislike of Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump. You're going back on the deal you made. Not that we agreed to provide utterly mindless entertainment, but that we promised a convincing alternative reality, proxies of our common disquiet. I once reminded a friend of mine that most people are murdered by people in their own families, a wife by her husband, for example. She said, that was why she'd rather read about Hannibal Lecter. It was vicariously frightening, instead of familiar.

I get aggravated when Steve Hunter backhands Obama. It's gratuitous. In fairness, I'm equally annoyed if John LeCarre gets on his high horse about Thatcher and the Tory legacy. In either case, they're spoiling the illusion. Sometimes it's fun to see the man behind the curtain, what Orson Welles called showing you how the model train set works, but that's a different order of things. I don't frankly care what your personal political sympathies are. I don't want to hear them. I'm with Samuel Goldwyn, if you want to send a message, use Western Union.

Let's get it out front. It can't be any mystery that my own politics are somewhere Left of Steve Hunter, if maybe on the less radical side of LeCarre. I'm a social liberal, I don't have a problem using the tax system for income redistribution, and I'm pro-Choice. I also served in the military, and own guns. Are these inconsistencies? Men in this line of work are not all alike.

I don't think our politics affect how we tell a story. Allen Drury was by all reports a fair way to the Right of Genghis Khan, but Advise and Consent is a cracking good book all the same. I think, on the other hand, that our politics have a lot to do with the stories we choose to tell. As a for instance, both T. Jefferson Parker and I have written about the present-day border wars, drugs and human traffic coming north, money and guns going south, the so-called Iron River. What's going on is deeply corrupt. Jeff Parker and I agree Mexico is a failed state, and that the U.S. is complicit, but nothing we've written about this is prescriptive. We're not telling you how to vote.

Maybe it's a matter of degree, or emphasis. Wearing your heart on your sleeve. "I bet they're asleep in New York. I bet they're asleep all over America." Casablanca is, in the one sense, overtly political, and on the other hand, it's intensely personal. Why, the captain asks, can't Rick go back to America? Well, for one thing, he fought in Spain, on the Loyalist side. Which makes him what used to be called a Premature Anti-Fascist. He's politically suspect. He might even be a Red. The picture takes place in late 1941, but it was made in '42, and we were already in the war by then. Rick's earlier sympathies can be forgiven. In any event, this is context. It's not what the picture's about. "Who was it you left me for? Was it Laszlo, or were there others in between? Or aren't you the kind that tells?" That's what the picture's about.

We could say, then, that it comes down to story. Not a theme, or a setting, or the atmospherics of dread - be it Nazis, or Commies, or the surveillance state - but the through line. Who the characters understand themselves to be, and how they act (or choose not to act), and what the consequences are. I wouldn't call this a failure of nerve, I'd say it was knowing your lines and showing up on time. Political posturing isn't persuasive. Emotional investment is. The beating of your heart outguns the cannon fire.

The question Barb Goffman raised was about cowardice, and moral imperatives. Don't we have an obligation to speak out, at the least, against violence and hatred? And if we're silent, or indifferent, isn't that collusion? If you were a Jew in Hitler's Germany, would you fight, or hide? It's worth remembering that acts of conscience, in a lot of places, and even today, can cost you your life. We're not just talking about the Third World here, and primitive goons like Boko Haram. The First World has its own fatwas. We don't pretend we're doing it for God, or supposedly.

I don't have any prescriptive answer for this riddle, either. There are safe choices, and dangerous ones. We can all hope we'd rise to the occasion, if our courage were put to the test. But we don't really know whether we'd collaborate, to save ourselves or buy time. As for making our voices heard, I think we owe it to those other voices that are so deafeningly silenced. Just this week, a Turkish writer with German citizenship, Dogan Akhanli, was arrested in Spain on an Interpol warrant issued by the Erdogan government, requesting Akhanli's extradition. It's a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment. We forget in this country that speech isn't protected in much of the world. Dogan Akhanli has had the bad manners to write about the Armenian genocide, which in Turkey invites jail time for sedition.

Heroics aside - standing up against tyranny - we still don't seem to have decided the issue. What place do our politics have in our writing, mysteries or thrillers or any fiction at all? The key here, I guess, is the adjective 'our.' Lots of stories have a political dimension, and we could name any number of plot engines that do, from conflict diamonds to extraordinary rendition to black market transplant organs harvested from convicts. On the other hand, I'm not going to inflict my own politics on you. It's not hard to make that distinction. Don't tell people what to think. Stories are about movement. If something gets in the way of that forward motion, and makes the reader break eye contact, then it doesn't belong.



22 August 2017

Mystery #1: How to Balance Motherhood, Work, and Writing

by Melissa YiPatreon

Hi everyone, I want to tread lightly as we mourn the great writer and friend, BK Stevens. I'd written this post three years ago, and tucked it away for an emergency day that didn't come, although I came close many a time.

Sleuthsayers have been very kind to me, but I've struggled to balance my 'big three': medicine, writing, and my children. This summer, I realized it would be best for my family and my sanity if I gave someone else the opportunity.

Next month, you will meet Dr. Mary Fernando. I first met her through Capital Crime Writers, the Ottawa writers' association. Her first novel, An Absence of Empathy, was nominated for the Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Crime Novel, sponsored by Dundurn Press. In addition to her obvious talents as a physician and a writer, Mary likes to laugh, and I think you'll have fun together.
Shoot. Her face is cut off (perhaps fitting in a crime blog?), but that's Mary Fernando, me, a skull, and Elizabeth Hosang.

Best wishes, everyone. Perhaps it's fitting that my last column is about family. Yesterday, my eleven-year-old son, Max, turned toward me. "You said you weren't working in August."

"I said I wasn't working [at the hospital] as much. But that means I'm writing more. You know that."


"I hate your writing. I hate it. It takes you away from us."


So I'll work on getting our family back on track. Today, we watched the partial solar eclipse. Tonight was their last, despised swimming lesson. Tomorrow they'll revel at a barbecue before I start back at the hospital again.

See you online, and at Bouchercon in Toronto!
Cheers,
Melissa
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Original post:
When I was in med school and residency, I knew I wanted kids, but I had no idea how I’d make time for them AND emergency medicine AND writing. So I used to corner parent-writers at parties and say, “How do you do it?”

Dr. Ilsa Bick, a writer and a psychiatrist, said, “You have an advantage. You started writing young.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” I shook my head, genuinely confused. Writing in my twenties wouldn’t help me stay up all night with a colicky baby.

But now I see a few advantages, like before I procreated, I’d already written my million words of garbage, I’d published a handful of short stories and won a few awards (including Writers of the Future, where I met Ilsa), I’d written a few novels, and I’d perhaps most importantly, I’d learned iron-clad self discipline.
From the Kobo office. Cool place.

Still, since this spring, I’ve been wrestling with the question of how to become a more attentive mom.

Over the past two years, I’ve doubled my emergency room shifts per month. I still need to write. So motherhood was sliding on to the back burner. Now that my daughter has enough of an attention span longer than a few minutes, it’s all too easy to foist both kids off on the electronic babysitter (Netflix and/or YouTube).

So I tried a few different tactics.

I read about how other people prioritize their family life.

I wrote about balancing medicine and my family for the Medical Post.

And I started doing video diaries/vlogs (video blogs), walking my dog with my kids while talking about writing.




Last year, the fearless fantasy writer, Michael La Ronn, introduced me to #walkcasts. Those are podcasts you record while walking. Walking is a good idea for writers, who tend to be sedentary. And podcasts are fun, as you can hear on Michael's podcasts here. So I recorded ten of them, but I never got around to putting them in order, labeling them, etc.
On impulse, at the end of August, I started recording videos instead. Just a minute or two. Just long enough to say a few words about writing and show people the neighbourhood and our dog Roxy’s hind end as she trots in front of me.


I can’t say my videos are blowing up YouTube. My son Max laughed and said, “Why do you only have two views?” But you know, for once I’m not as worried how many likes or views I get. This is my way to combine two of the big loves of my life, and if the rest of the planet doesn’t see it, well, it’s probably just as well for my kids’ Internet privacy.

No matter what happens, or how many trolls give us the thumbs down, I will love my kids. And I will love writing. This feels like a win to me. It makes me more present if I’m recording my walks instead of just getting lost in my own thoughts.



If a young’un were to ask me now, “O Great and Wise Melissa, how do you do it?” I’d say supportive partner is priceless. A tight circle of family and friends will keep you afloat. But it takes ferocious will to make time for multiple serious interests. Do you let the kids weep for a few minutes while you finish your word quota for the day, or do you let the words slip away because kids come first? 

Medicine waits for no one. Are you willing to scale back your career now for the sake of your writing, or go all-out doctor and pick the pen back up in twenty years? You decide.

You can see how writing can easily drop off the to-do list. That’s why I encourage you to keep writing no matter what. Even one line, one word a day. Just keep at it, and it will add up to a song lyric, a poem, a short story, or a novel. Something beautiful for you, and maybe for the world.

21 August 2017

Days Are Darker Without Bonnie

by Jan Grape

I'm not sure what I can write about today. A couple of subjects came to mind but nothing could jell. My mind is on Bonnie and her family.

I read "The Last Blue Glass" this afternoon and am once again touched by how Bonnie's characters are strong and vibrant. That is one of the best short stories I have ever read and believe me I've read many through the years.  Cathy and Frank Morrell.  I surely think I must have gone to high school with them. Didn't you?

I don't want to get too maudlin here but I want Bonnie's family to know that I also lost my love, my other half and I can feel some of your pain.  I wish I could give you words of wisdom but there aren't any. Don't believe it when someone tells you that time heals. It doesn't.

What happens is that time passes and as it does pass on by, the hurt lessens just a little. And then a little more. You never get over that hurt and that loss. You just go on day by day and keep getting up and getting dressed and doing whatever you can to keep busy throughout the day and that night as you lay down to sleep you are thankful that one more day has passed.

Bonnie BK Stevens
Bonnie BK Stevens
Tears help a lot and don't ever hesitate to cry. But laugh too. Think of all the wonderful times you've shared. Let the memories help sustain you. At times when you least expect it, a memory will come up and it might tear the scab off, but more often it will bring a laugh. Laughter is as healing as tears are.

I am truly sorry that I never met Bonnie. From what everyone says, I know I would have liked her a lot. But as a fan and reader, I will enjoy reading her books and stories. And I will remember her as one of our SleuthSayers family and the many times she made thoughtful or witty comments to my articles.

Yes, our days are a bit darker, but I honestly don't think Bonnie would want us to stay there. Get out in the sunshine and live every day. Read and Write and think good thoughts for Bonnie Stevens aka B.K. Stevens. Rest in Peace, Bonnie.

20 August 2017

Bonnie

by Leigh Lundin

Bonnie BK Stevens
Bonnie BK Stevens
Around the corporate offices, we’ve been feeling depressed and not terribly energized since Bonnie died. Art’s devastated, John found it difficult to start his article yesterday, Rob’s glum, and our ladies have tried to cheer one another up. Bonnie’s impact was amazing.

I don’t feel much like writing and I won’t. You may have guessed last week’s post came about because we didn’t have a complete article. The story behind that is inspiring.

Bonnie had given me one of her books populated with gentle characters and genteel plots. B. K. Stevens’ stories were family oriented and she always made it clear her writing was a family operation.

On 10 August, Bonnie’s husband Dennis wrote that Bonnie had been working on Saturday’s column but wound up in ICU. He apologized the article wouldn’t be finished in time.

Afterwards I thought— what consummate pros, Bonnie and Dennis. It touched me and further augmented my admiration for our members… for indeed, Dennis is a behind-the-scenes colleague.

Someone said the hearts of her friends, family, and us SleuthSayers, a family of sorts, have a Bonnie-shaped hole in them. Along with everyone else, I miss her gentle intelligence. Blessed be.

Bonnie BK Stevens
This sketch of Bonnie I used on SleuthSayers for the first time last week. An enchanting French friend, Michèle Gandet (daughter of the charming Micheline as mentioned by RT and myself), said the picture shows a joyful woman. Michèle stated it perfectly.
Footnote > In writing this article, my fingers scribed a couple of oddly humorous typos, perhaps inspired by Bonnie’s playful side. I initially wrote ‘gentile plots’ instead of ‘genteel’ and ‘consummate prose’ instead of ‘pros’. Maybe it’s my own self-mocking drollery, but I like to think Bonnie would be smiling.