26 September 2017

Favorite Books of 2017

by Barb Goffman

I love reading, but I can't ever seem to find enough time to do it. And when I do read, I'm often playing catch up. When it's time to pick up a new title, instead of going to my personal library and picking one of the hundreds of unread books on my shelves, I'm going to a list of books and stories published in the prior year and nominated for awards.

Agatha teapots
If it's February, March, or April, I'm reading a work nominated for the Agatha awards that year. I don't vote in a category if I haven't read all the nominated books and stories, and between best novel, best first novel, best historical novel, best children's/YA novel, and best short story, my reading dance card is full. (Some years the nominated books are announced and I've read several of the finalists, but I still usually have at least a dozen books to read. And yes, there's a best nonfiction category, too, but I never get to those books.)

So Malice Domestic comes, the Agatha awards are given out, and then I have a month or two to choose my own reading. Heaven! Until the Anthony and Macavity award nominees are announced, and it's off to the reading races again. I read Anthony- and Macavity-nominated books, stories, and novellas until Bouchercon, which occurs in September or October. (And this is a perfect time to give a shout out to my fellow SleuthSayers Paul Marks and Art Taylor, who are up for the Macavity Award for best short story this year, and to Art once more, as he's up for the Anthony for best short story. And let us not forget the wonderful late B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens, who is up for the Anthony for best novella.)

Anyway, Bouchercon eventually ends and the awards season is over and I get to read what I want to read. YAY! Not that there's anything wrong with the books and stories I read for the Agathas, Anthonys, and Macavitys (they're usually great--that's why they're nominated), but there's something to being able to pluck a book off the shelf just because I want to read it. And that period is coming. I'll get to choose my own books!

But what should I choose? There are so many options.

In preparation for making my choices, I reached out to some friends and asked them what books they've read recently that they loved. I asked them to focus on newer books that I might not yet have purchased. There's always room for more books on my shelves. Here are their recommendations:

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz -- my friend described it as "a treat for any tea-drinking, Anglophile, Agatha Christie fan--or anyone who enjoys a traditional mystery."

The Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah -- the new Poirot

Pulse by Felix Francis -- this book comes out next month, but my friend got an early copy.

The Case of the Curious Cook by Cathy Ace

The Good Byline by Jill Orr

Double Up by Gretchen Archer

Whispers of Warning by Jessica Estevao

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

Later Gator by Jana Deleon

The Ex by Alafair Burke

I've already read The Ex and recommend it heartily. How about you, dear reader? What books have you read recently that you adored? Bonus points for books published this year. I'd love to get ahead on my awards reading for next year!

25 September 2017

Nano, Nano

by Steve Liskow

At least one source claims that over 300,000 people signed up for National Novel Writing Month (November) last year, and I'm guessing that about 5% of them actually achieved the 50,000 word target by the 30th. If you're thinking about joining in this year, you have about five weeks to gird your loins, sharpen your pencil, or polish your keyboard.

I present workshops on preparing to write for NANO and I encourage people to sign up for several reasons.

First, if you're one of those people who has always believed you have a book in you, now's a good time to find out. Keep in mind that the catchy title is misleading. You won't write a book in a month, partly because a novel is longer than 50,000 words and partly because you're going to have to revise everything several times to make it coherent. If you don't believe that, maybe I can discourage you after all.

Second, trying to write 50,000 words in a month will help you find your most efficient process. Do you write more comfortably early in the morning or late at night? Do you work better in one long stretch or in shorter bursts of 30-45 minutes? Do you find it easier to type at a computer or use a pen or pencil and write your first draft out longhand? Can you simply jump in and start writing, or do you prefer to outline and create character biographies first? Writing, especially fiction, is a personal and intimate process, so nobody else can really tell you how to do it. You need to experiment and learn from your mistakes. Once you can get words on paper, you can learn more about plot and character, better point of view choices, and all the other mechanics.

But the first task, especially if you're new at this, is learning how much effort it takes to produce an average of 1667 words--roughly six and a half pages in 12-point font--every day. For the newbie, this is a daunting task. Even the act of sitting long enough to do it is rough, and you need to resist the urge to check your email, play computer games, or edit your picture files. Many established writers set daily word limits for themselves. Stephen King expects to write 2000 words, roughly eight pages, daily. I'm not sure, but I don't think he outlines. Neither do Dennis Lehane or Tess Gerritsen. Robert Crais outlines and plans, maybe because he got his start writing for television.

Keep in mind that if you're going to produce that much every day, not all of it will be brilliant. That's the biggest secret I can offer you. There are no obscure psychological tricks I know except giving yourself permission to produce lots of crap. Think of your first draft as a block of marble. The revision is the sculpting part: chipping away everything that doesn't look like an elephant or the Venus de Milo. Don't worry about whether what you're writing is good or bad. That comes later.

Some people (I'm one of them) like to do a rough outline or character background. I try to create a sequence of fifty scenes before I start the actual writing, then plan to produce at least one complete scene daily ( I NEVER quit in the middle of a scene because I'll lose the rhythm overnight). For whatever reason, my scenes average about 1600 words, so aiming at one a day keeps me on the target. By the time I write a complete first draft of the book, I'm often on the fifteenth scene list, or even more.

But sequencing and pacing come with practice and NANO is a great first step toward that goal.
If I write that quickly, I begin to find the rhythm of the book, too, and learn when a scene is in the wrong place or needs a different point of view. Then I change it on my outline/scene list. Actually, my first draft is that scene list.

Remember, if you write 50,000 words in a month, it's only the beginning.

But it's a great beginning.

24 September 2017

Informants 102

by R.T. Lawton

Last month, we discussed where informants came from and some of the reasons they agreed to cooperate with law enforcement. So now, let's say a potential informant walked into your local agency with the intention of cooperating, or you could even "have a hammer" on a criminal and he has chosen to "work off his beef." What do you, as a cop, do at this point? That depends upon the agency you work for. They all have their own rules and policies, but some things are basic.

The first thing you want to know is what can he do for you. If all he knows is that there's a lot of late night traffic at the place next to his residence and he suspects something criminal is going on, then you have nothing more than a citizen's complaint. Take down the info, thank him if he's a walk-in citizen and check it out later. It might be something, and then again, it might not be more than a group of dedicated party friends. If it's a criminal you busted and then made an offer to cooperate, lock him up, he's shining you on.

If he has names, dates, and specific knowledge of criminal activities, then you write up an intelligence report covering every crime and criminal he knows and ever met. Next, you see if the guy can introduce an undercover agent into one of the participants, give probable cause for a search warrant, or otherwise assist your agency. If so, then you take down a personal history of your new C.I. (you want to know who his relatives are and how to find him later if things go wrong), you photograph him (once again, to show people in case you need to hunt hi down or need a photo line-up for witnesses if things go wrong), and you fingerprint him (to make sure he is who he says he is and to determine his past criminal record, because things can go wrong). We busted a guy on a package delivery where one of our agents posed as a UPS driver. We quickly flipped the new defendant. Even his lawyer went along with him cooperating. Problem was when his prints came back, the guy was already in the wind. Seems the U.S. Marshals were looking for him under another name. Took us a while to catch up to him again. No offer for cooperation was made this time, nor did he get bond.

If the potential C.I. walks in wearing a tin foil hat, you politely show him the door. On his way out, you ask him what other agencies he's been to. In the old days, there was a circuit for those types. It seems some of our fellow agencies occasionally needed a little laugh to brighten up their work day, therefore those in tin foil hats were often referred to the last agency that had somehow stepped on their toes. Unfortunately, not all weirdos believed in the protective powers of tin foil, thus it may have taken a while to recognize them for what they were. I once received a phone call from a stage hypnotist who had performed the night before at a police benefit. He was calling to volunteer his services in helping us recruit the "best" informants. In the background, I swore I could hear adult male giggling.

Most agencies have some restrictions on various categories of informants. For instance, the use of juveniles is not permitted unless there is signed permission from at least one parent. Some agencies say no juveniles at all. The use of a one or two-time felon might be permissible, but the use of a three-time habitual criminal may need special permission from a higher up supervisor. Use of a felon on parole or probation may also need the permission of parole or probation agent who supervises that felon. After all, the goal of parole/probation is to remove the felon from the influence of his criminal buddies and into a better, more positive environment where he can straighten out, whereas if he works as an informant, then you are throwing him back into the same situations that led to him getting busted in the first place. And, if your potential informant is hooked on drugs, he'll make a great drug snitch, but there are inherent problems. We had a C.I. we'll call Thomas. He was great at making heroin buys. We'd search him, give him the buy money and then surveill him going into the dealer's house. When Thomas came back out, he would hand over the ten caps of smack he'd just bought. We'd search him again to ensure he had no drugs on him and that he didn't keep any of the buy money for himself. It wasn't until trial that we found out Thomas was such a good customer that the dealer gave Thomas eleven caps of smack for that amount of buy money. Seems Thomas shot up the eleventh capsules while he was still in the house, thus the supposed evidence count and the money spent always balanced out.

All informants are given a number which is referred to in buy and surveillance reports instead of using the informant's name. True, the defendants will figure out who the informant really is in the end, but it delays the process and affords the informant a measure of protection for a while. Generally, it gives him time to relocate.

In many agencies, the informant also signs an Informant Agreement. This document serves to remind the cooperating individual of the terms of the agreement between him and the agency. It also says point blank that the informant is not a law enforcement agent, nor is he an employee of that agency, and therefore has none of the powers of a cop. You'd be surprised.

And, this brings us to guns. Always search the informant before meeting the bad guys. If it's an informant buy, then you want to be sure he has no drugs going in. You also count any money he has on him to ensure he doesn't buy any drugs for personal use. And, you search him for weapons. Do that same search if the informant is introducing you in an undercover capacity to the bad guys. You would not believe the number of times we found guns on informants while getting ready to go in on a deal. Their common retort is you have a gun, why can't I have one?

Let me count the ways things can go wrong.

Especially if the informant is carrying a gun.

23 September 2017

The Bad Girl Method to Writing a Novel (a crooked path, of course)

by Melodie Campbell

Okay, I tricked you. You thought this was going to be a humour column. Not so fast. Yes, it’s about writing humorous books, because that’s what I write. But I’m sure this could apply to most books.

Writing a novel, or even a novella, means hours and hours of work at a keyboard. Hundreds of hours. Maybe even a thousand hours for a full-length novel.

Some of those hours are great fun. Others, not so much. Why is it that some scenes are a kick to write, and others just drudgery?

Here’s what Agatha Christie said in the Foreword to Crooked House, one of her “special favourites.”

“I should say that of one’s output, five books are work to one that is real pleasure… Again and again someone says to me: ‘How you must have enjoyed writing so and so!’ This about a book that obstinately refused to come out the way you wished, whose characters are sticky, the plot needlessly involved, and the dialogue stilted – or so you think yourself. “

Christie was referring to books, but I think the same can be said for scenes. Some, you can’t wait to write. Others are purgatory. Here’s my own method for plodding through the fire.

The Bad Girl Method to Writing a Novel

I always start with what I call a “light outline.” Yes, I outline. But I don’t outline every scene, or even list every scene. Instead, I start with ‘Three Acts and a Finale.’ Here’s the minimum I know before I start a book:

Inciting moment, Crisis 1 (in a murder mystery, the first murder,) Crisis 2 (the second murder,) Crisis 3 (includes the black moment, usually danger for the protagonist,) Finale (solving of crime.)

Yes, I write it down. I use Excel for this. When I have more thought out, I add it in. When I get new ideas, I make notes on my schematic so I don’t forget them. (I understand Scrivener is terrific for this. Some people use post it notes on a white board. Different strokes, but the same idea.)

So here’s the question I often get asked by my Crafting a Novel students: Do I write in order, from A to Z?

No, I don’t.

I always write the beginning chapters first. I do that, because I want to see if the characters are compelling enough to carry an entire book. Meaning, do I like the protagonist, do I care about her, and am I really excited to write her story. It may take a whole year to do so. I better freaking well want to live her life for a while.

If that works (meaning, if I like the first few chapters) then I’ll usually skip to the end, and write Crisis 3 and the finale. I’ve just said something big there: Yes, I always know the ending before I start the book.

I like to write the ending before I’m too invested in the project, because I want to know that it rocks. If it doesn’t rock, then I’m probably not going to want to invest another 500 hours writing the middle of the book.

So once I’ve written the beginning and the end, THEN do I write in order?

Not always.

Here’s my trick: I continue to move forward. But sometimes I skip scenes I’m not in a mood to write. I’ll put a note in brackets on the manuscript to fill in later.

I can’t explain it, but some scenes are just hard to write. I put off writing them. This is where many of my students go wrong. When they hit a scene like that, they just stop.

The trick is not to walk away from the keyboard. Instead, go on to another scene that you do want to write.

When your manuscript is 90% finished, you will have the incentive to go back and complete those hard scenes. It will still be work. But the lure of the finish line makes it easier.

Why don’t I write a complete outline, scene by scene? I’m one of those authors who gets bored if I know *exactly* what is coming next. If I have to write a fully scripted story for an entire year, it feels like drudgery. So this is what works for me: know where I am going in each act, but not exactly how I will get there. Be willing to make changes along the way, if I stumble across a brilliant new route to the end. Heck, even change the ending, if a better destination presents itself along the journey.

And that’s what makes it all fun.

Here's a book that was pure pleasure to write: WORST DATE EVER

Now available at bookstores, and online at all the usual suspects.

22 September 2017

Dance Band on the Titanic

by Thomas Pluck


A lot of my fellow writers seem to feel like what we do as entertainers, is frivolous.
When there are hurricanes bearing down on people you love, politicians playing pinochle with your life, and totalitarian regimes firing missiles over your country, writing stories doesn't seem to amount to that hill of beans Rick talked about at the end of Casablanca. It feels like a futile exercise or worse, an apathetic one. Artists flaunting that we are unaffected.

I say to hell with that. Whether you write stories that attack the status quo, or entertaining yarns that completely avoid any reference to current events, do what you please. We need to be entertained, and anyone calling books "escapist," like that's a bad thing, is selling their own brand of mental snake oil. We're not going to be boiled slowly like frogs in a pot because we're distracted by books, TV shows, or even our phones at this point. If anything, the phones are keeping us from distracting ourselves from tragedy. The TV shows have banner ribbons below the action, telling us to tune into the cable news to be horrified.

And stories help keep us sane.

It's been said that the classic mystery story is about returning the world to order. That's a calming prospect. If that's your bag, write them. Your readers will thank you. My life's been chaotic for a long time. My wife and I bicker over buying a house, because to her that means home and childhood; to me, it's a place I'll be forced to leave and never see again. I grew up in a donnybrook and the relatives who had houses and not apartments made me feel uncomfortable. So I prefer stories where a tornado hits and people come out of it okay. They pull together and make a new family, and weather the storm knowing that there'll be another one coming not long after. So you might feel like your horror tale, dark thriller, or anti-hero story is just adding to the anxiety of a confusing world, but to some of us it's a lullaby.

Art is not neutral. When the status quo is a boot on your neck, if I decide to write a pleasant little story that says "everything is fine," you'd perceive it as propaganda. That's a risk we take in any era. The dystopia is not equally distributed. The good ol' days were heaven to some, hell to others. Same with today.

So nothing's changed. Write the stories you have to write.

Readers will always need you.



21 September 2017

Golden Age Mysteries, Female Version


by Janice Law


Ah, the Golden Age of American detective fiction: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James Cain; murky clubs, noirish alleys, thuggish gamblers. Love them, and yet, isn’t there someone missing? We know all the men but what about the women writers of the time? Most have dropped from sight. As a well-read librarian of my acquaintance said recently, “I didn’t know there were any major women mystery writers back then.”

There were for sure, but I am not surprised that while Chandler & Co are still household words in the mystery community, Dorothy Hughes, Helen Eustis, Margaret Millar and the like are strictly specialist fare. Consider my own experience some thirty years after their heyday. My first novel, The Big Payoff, was an Edgar nominee and went into a second printing. But when my agent approached the big paperback mystery house of the day, the answer was negative. And why? Because they already had their female mystery author in Amanda Cross. One to a customer, apparently!

Things must have been even harder back in the day, and so a lot of fine work, even work that resulted in famous films like Vera Caspary’s Laura, was neglected and good authors subtly squeezed out of the mystery canon. Fortunately, thanks to the enterprise of editor Sarah Weinman, who, as she wrote, recently realized “...that the most compelling and creative American crime fiction was being written and published by women,” and decided to look into the women who preceded the best sellers of today (and paved the way for a great many more of us).

The result is the two volumes of Women Crime Writers, Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940’s & 50’s, (The Library of America). I’ve acquired the first and have the second volume on order. As my ninth graders used to say, I can recommend them to anyone.

The 1940’s work overlaps the later Chandler novels and at least one of them, Dorothy Hughes’ In a Lonely Place is set in California. The novels have dodgy characters, blackmail, a lonely detective, even a serial killer – a lineup not too different from their male counterparts, but I’m happy to report also some differences. We’ve only been getting one side of the story, folks.

The settings, for one thing, are varied. There’s a posh women’s college, the sort of closed academic world destined to be utilized by P.D. James and reach its commercial apotheosis in J. K. Rowling's Hogwarts. There is a smart-talking amateur detective right out of Chandler but, wait, she’s not the glamor girl on campus, it’s her chunky friend in the flannel shirt.

Some other familiar characters appear in Hughes’ In a Lonely Place and for a while it looks as if we’re getting that familiar dichotomy of the nice domestic wife and the free-living theatrical type. It perhaps won’t spoil the plot to reveal that these two women turn out to be the best of friends.
Both Laura and The Blank Wall have complicated women who are not necessarily what they seem at first glance. Caspary’s Laura has tricky plotting, giving the heroine not only her very own Svengali, a man almost overly eager to help the police, as well as a portrait lovely enough to snare the heart of a straight-laced inspector. If you are weary of conventional femme fatales, this one’s for you.

The protagonist of The Blank Wall ( filmed most recently with Tilda Swindon) is probably in the prototypically female position: head of a wartime household. With her husband in the service, Lucia Holley has her teenaged son and daughter to worry about, as well as her elderly father. Financially comfortable, seemingly content with a domestic role, her worries are focused on her far-away husband and on teenage rebellion before her daughter’s unsuitable boyfriend winds up dead in their boat house. A refusal to call the police sets Lucia on a slide from domestic security to unsavory company.

These are four writers who deserve to be remembered and more, republished, and I am happy to conclude with the information that Dorothy Hughes’ The Expendable Man, another really bold and imaginative novel, is available in paper from the New York Review of Books.

20 September 2017

Cold War Words, Hot War Words


by Robert Lopresti
You may remember that my last piece here was about the importance of empathy as illustrated by two very different books about intelligence work: John Le Carré's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Nicholas  Rankin's Masters of Deception.  Today I want to go back to those books to discuss a  different topic: language.
Le Carré is renowned for his plotting and characters but it is his use of words that dazzles me the most.  He invented a vocabulary of spying, most of it in Tinker Tailor, which is both memorable and believable.
When TTSS was adapted for TV and appeared on PBS there was a full-page ad, sponsored by Mobil, I believe, promoting the show and explaining the vocabulary.  Clearly someone thought the average viewer would be baffled by the jargon and give up even before they had a chance to be baffled by the plot. 
The most famous example, of course, is mole, for a double agent, especially one who was working for Side A even before he dug his way into the ranks of Side B.  Le Carré says he borrowed it from Russian intelligence circles although it turns out Sir Francis Bacon used it in the 1600s.  Le Carré says he had not read Bacon, and why should we doubt him?.  What is certain is that mole is part of everyday usage now.
Here are a few more of Le Carre's memorable coinings:
The Circus: MI-6 , so nicknamed for its (fictional) location in London at Cambridge Circus, but of course suggesting the chaos that often goes on there.
Lamplighters: The secret communication and dead letter people.
Breakage: People quitting the Circus.
 Scalphunters: The dirty work crowd, killers, kidnappers, etc.
Joe: Any agent in the field.  "I have to meet one of my joes."
Coat-trailing: Trying to convince the other side that you are a likely candidate to work for them. 
Honey trap: An attractive person set to woo a spy with their physical charms.
And so on.
But it isn't just terminology that makes Le Carré's language so vivid.  Let's take a couple of examples from a later book, Smiley's People.  An old Russian wants to tell George Smiley that he has acquired three facts that might be used to destroy their deadly enemy Karla.  But the coded message he gives is "I have three proofs against the Sandman."  Sends a shiver down my spine.
A few pages later Smiley reflects on the fact that a spy in trouble immediately discards the most valuable thing he is carrying.  But here is how that comes out:  "in the spy trade we abandon first what we love the most."  And that brings it to a whole different level, doesn't it?

My favorite of Le Carre's non-Smiley books is A Perfect Spy.  The protagonist of that one, Magnus Pym, is a double agent (this is not a spoiler) and he writes a confession to his son, although he certainly knows that the boy will never be allowed to read it.  Discussing the years just after World War II, he writes, "Vienna was a divided city like Berlin or your father"  For me, that's a real gut-punch.

What about the new le Carre novel, A Legacy of Spies?  It's very good but only two bits of language leapt out for me.  There is a safe house which Smiley named the Stables.  If that strikes you as having a mythological reference, at least one character in the book agrees with you.

And in a flashback we see the old spy's protege Peter Guillam demanding an explanation of the dodgy operation they were involved in.  Smiley tells him some of the story and then asks:

"Do you now have all the information you require?"
"No."
"I envy you."
 
Classic Smiley.

Moving on to Rankin's book about deception in the wars.  I was fascinated to learn that certain important and familiar words came from World War I. (Rankin notes that they did not appear in the famous eleventh edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, which appeared in 1911, but received major attention in the twelfth, after the war.)

Among the new words are propaganda and camouflage.   Also, in the British empire the best shooters were those who could kill small, fast-moving marsh birds called snipes. And, of course, those shooters were called snipers. 

I knew that tank, the word for heavily armored fighting vehicle, came from a bit of World War I deception - they're just spare petrol tanks! - but I had not realized that Ernest Swinton is credited with both the concept and the name.  Swinton was also a writer; his much-imitated Defence of Duffer's Drift turns what could be a pedestrtian lesson in military strategy into a fascinating story. 

And speaking of writers, the Director of Information for Britain during part of the war was John Buchan, author of The Thirty-nine Steps.  Oh, and one more?  During World War II, the assistant to the Head of Naval Intelligence had to be a real extrovert, a glad-hander who could play talent-spotter, make nice between competing agencies, and represent the office to the outside world.  The job went to a fellow named Ian Fleming.  Wonder whatever happened to him?

19 September 2017

The Terror of Daylight – Neo Noirs for a Rainy Day

by Paul D. Marks

Fall’s coming and winter’s sliding in behind it. So I thought I’d talk about some rainy day movies for crime writers and readers: neo noirs, mysteries and thrillers. All movies I’ve seen more than once, some many times, and never get tired of. All of which I like and would recommend to anyone who’s into these genres. All of which I own in one form or another. And I know I’ll have left out some of your faves and even some of mine, but I have to leave some for another list some time down the road. And I know you won’t agree with some of my choices, but that’s what makes a horse race.

Many of these flicks involve the terror of the everyday, of the mundane. The “terror of daylight” as some have put it.

So here’s the list as they popped into my head, in no particular order:

Pacific Heights, with Michael Keaton, Melanie Griffith, Matthew Modine. I’m not a big fan of horror movies these days. They’re just too predictable for my tastes, plus they’re more shock fests than true horror. But to me, while probably technically a neo-noir, Pacific Heights is a true horror movie. Why? Because it’s the kind of thing that can happen to anyone. We’ve all probably experienced that bad neighbor (or tenant) or the guy who lives in the apartment upstairs and makes noise at all hours of the night. Well if those things bug you, you’ll be creeped out by this movie.


Malice: with Alec Baldwin, Nicole Kidman, Bill Pullman. Written by Aaron Sorkin of West Wing fame. There’s just something about this movie that I really like. I think it’s very clever, good twists. Engaging cast. I don’t want to give away too much but you think this is going to be a straightforward serial killer mystery, but it spins off in a totally unexpected way.


Masquerade, with Rob Lowe and Meg Tilley. Part love story, part crime movie, but very noir in the sense that everyone is doomed, even as they’re redeemed.


Body Heat, with William Hurt and Kathleen Turner, written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan. Double Indemnity for the 80s, and today. I recently posted about this movie on FB and found some people hate it, so I guess to each his own, but for me personally this is the perfect updating of noir to a more recent (if you can consider the 80s recent) era.


The Firm, The Client, The Rainmaker, Pelican Brief: A John Grisham Quartet, starring respectively: Tom Cruise, Susan Sarandon, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts/Denzel Washington. All of them really good movies. And, while not neo-noir really, these also help satisfy that craving for crime, suspense darkness and evil and are entertaining at the same time.


Derailed, with Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston, based on the novel by James Siegel. I didn’t like the movie when it first came out, but it’s grown on me. For whatever reasons, even though I didn’t like it the first time I saw it, I gave it another shot. And another. And each time grew to like it more. A hapless family man is lured into a trap by lust – a very noir theme. And the bad guy (played to rotten perfection by Vincent Cassel) is so vicious and cruel, it makes my skin crawl every time.


The Lincoln Lawyer, based on the novel by Michael Connelly. Matthew McConaughey playing a sleazy lawyer – what’s not to love? When I first read the Connelly book this is based on, I wasn’t a big fan of the character, but the movie gave me a new appreciation for him. While not classically noir, you could make a case for the Ryan Philippe character as an homme fatale.


Fracture: A clever, intelligent psychological thriller. Great twists in this one. Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling play an intriguing cat and mouse game. I love this one so much I bought the download off Amazon so I could watch it multiple times.


Final Analysis, with Richard Gere, Kim Bassinger and Uma Thurman. Very Hitchcockian with a twist of noir, reminiscent of Vertigo. Another one I could watch over and over.


Drive: Ryan Gosling as a movie stunt driver, who moonlights as a getaway driver for crooks. But that’s just the plot. The “story,” as one development exec used to tell me is something else altogether. The film has an urban fairytale quality that  makes it very memorable.


The Big Easy, with Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin. Not noir, but fun to watch. After seeing this movie I went out and bought a bunch of Cajun/Zydeco music CDs.


Devil in a Blue Dress, starring Denzel Washington, as Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins. The book is one of my faves and, of course, since it’s the first Easy book the one that turned me onto the character. I didn’t love the movie the first time I saw it, but it’s grown on me over the years in subsequent viewings. And it plays off the noir theme of the soldier returning home after the war to a very changed country.


Double Jeopardy / Kiss the Girls: Ashley Judd double feature. Both are great fun to watch. Ashley Judd at her best in these kind of action flicks. Instead of playing the femme fatale here, she is our every “man” noir hero/heroine, who takes matters into her own hands.


Angel Heart, with Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro, Charlotte Rampling. I know people who claimed to have figured it out before the leader even finished spooling through the projector. I guess I’m not that bright. But definitely a good twist. Very dark. And a beautifully shot film. This was when Mickey Rourke still had a promising career.


John Dahl triple header: The Last Seduction, Kill Me, Again, Red Rock West, starring respectively: Linda Fiorentino, Val Kilmer, Nicholas Cage. All great neo-noirs based on the classic formula, with modern twists. I wish Dahl would make more.



The Grifters, The Getaway: Noirs based on Jim Thompson novels that start with G. And it must be noir if it’s Jim Thompson, right? Starring John Cusack and Angela Huston in the former, Alec Baldwin and Kim Bassinger in the latter.



And let’s not forget L.A. Confidential, based on James Ellroy’s 3rd novel in the LA Quartet. I loved the book when it first came out. I loved the movie when it came out. I re-read the book – I think I love the movie more! With Kim Bassinger, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce.

So that’s my starter list. What are some of your fave neo-noirs?

***

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. 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 Ellery Queen, newstands and 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. Twenty-four stories in all. Available on Amazon.



18 September 2017

To Be or Not to Be Shy


TO BE OR NOT TO BE SHY

by Jan Grape


Facebook did one of those reminder items asking if you wanted to share what you were doing 1 to 8 years ago? One popped up for me. Last year about this time I was attending Bouchercon in NOLA and having a wonderful time. And looking on my calendar it is almost time for Toronto Canada Bouchercon. Wish I could go this year, however, I chose to attend my 60th High School Reunion instead. I haven't been to a class reunion in many years. Maybe fifteen or sixteen years. 

I am hoping you Bouchercon 2017 attendees, will do a get together, Meet the SleuthSayers you don't know and renew friendships with those you've known for years.I tried to do something like that last year, sent letters out to y'all but never heard back from anyone. Turns out no one got my email note. It obviously got lost in cyberspace.

I went to a Toronto Bouchercon a number of years ago. It's a beautiful city. I think it was around 1991 or '92. Right after I checked in and unpacked, I went back down to the lobby and immediately  ran into Editor, Jane Chelus who told me she was buying one of my short stories for the second Malice Domestic anthology. I was thrilled as this was third story publication I had sold in six months. All in anthologies. I was never published in AHMM or EQMM but to be honest, at that time I had not ever sent one in.

 Or wait, maybe I did send one in and was rejected and just didn't try again. It wasn't because I was upset it's just that I started to sell for anthologies and couldn't find the time to write something for a magazine. A bird in hand, you understand. 

That's also close to the time I had finished my first novel and was sending it out. That one never sold but the second one sold and it became, AUSTIN CITY BLUE. I always be grateful to Bob Randist for giving me that title. The Austin City TV music show had grown in popularity and my book featured an APD female officer so the title was great. I know it helped sell copies of the book.   

Bouchercon can be great fun, but can also be intimating to some folks. I guess I was born without a shy gene. It has always been easy for me to meet people. Because of that anti-shy gene it's difficult for me to understand someone who is shy. But since all my children are a bit on the shy-side, like that I also can sympathize.

Going to B'Con is where you can get over shyness fairly quickly if you want to meet a writer you admire. Go to the bar. Even if all you want to drink is Diet Coke. If you see the writer you want to meet, call the waitperson over and say you want to buy a drink for your object of admiration. If you don't get a response from them...don't blame me. We all know most writers never drink, right? Realistically, they will be appreciative and perhaps even stop by to thank you personally. Perhaps other writers will have witnessed this and drop over to the table where you are and want to chat. 

Another way to get acquainted at Bouchercon is to team up with a friend who is NOT one bit shy and then follow around with your friend, Your not-shy friend can lead you to a group of people who you might want to know. They could be fans, or authors or editors or agents. Meeting people is simply a matter of smiling and saying, "hi." 

Attending a large convention like this in a city where you have never been or it has been a long time since your last visit is a perfect time to explore. Schedule a little time to do some sight-seeing. If you don't have anyone to go with you, go by yourself. In fact, my personal MO in going to a convention is to plan to go a full day early and once I've checked in and unpacked, I explore the hotel. Check out where the bar is located, where my panel room is located, or panel rooms of talks you want to attend. locate where the book room is and most especially where the bathrooms are located. 

Once I've got the hotel at least partially figured, I go outside and look around. Take a taxi to a famous landmark or museum or river front.  I think it's important to go outside for five or ten minutes every day. Get some fresh air. The canned smell of even a large hotel can get to you in a fairly short time.

If you have a book out or a short story anthology out try to go to the book dealers room right away. Introduce yourself to these booksellers even if your book came out last year. These are folks who sell books and spending a few moments with them is all important.

Writing all this reminds me how much fun I always have at cons and it makes me a little sad I won't be there. But I'll soon be seeing all the people I spent time with for ten or eleven or twelve years, many from second grade when I first moved to Post TX until I graduated. I know I will be wondering who are all these old people and did anyone think to print the name tags in large letters so I can see who it is. I know they will be wondering who I am.

The same works at cons. Please let me be able to read the name tags when I'm at least five feet away. Have fun at Bouchercon 2017, and lift a glass to me.    

17 September 2017

Road Trip

by Leigh Lundin

Shortly before Hurricane Irma struck, I closed shop and ran, thinking Alabama looked pretty desirable as the massive storm trampled South Florida. I’d gassed up a couple of days earlier, fortunate because stations in Orlando and along the interstates had closed for lack of fuel. I came across a full-sized bus (like a tour bus) abandoned on the Interstate, which made me wonder if it had run dry.

I shot north on I-75 fighting rain and high winds. Before hitting the Georgia border, I turned west on I-10 churning as much distance as possible from the hurricane. Past Tallahassee, my gauge read a quarter tank and it had become obvious no place had fuel. News article had mentioned people driving until they ran out of gasoline; I didn’t want to be one of those gamblers.

Angel from Alabama

The first of a series of quiet heroines helped out, an Alabama emergency services operator who monitored shelters not only in her state, but took the time to look up Georgia and Florida as well. With her guidance, I turned back toward Tallahassee and located a refuge in a Baptist Church… closed… but a sign offered directions to a Red Cross shelter in a nearby elementary school. They squeezed me in and gave me a cot. A women lent me a blanket and sheet.

I’d brought Valentine, my 30-year-old cockatoo. His old travel case was long gone, and pet stores and Walmart had been sold out out of pet carriers and cages for days. I nested a couple of plastic baskets and later borrowed a plastic kennel from the Red Cross until I could buy a cage.

Through our stay, the pets were universally well-behaved– several dogs, a kitten, a gecko, a fish, and Valentine. A couple of adults could have taken lessons.

Do Unto Others

Bunker living comes with unspoken rules, mainly a duty to intrude upon others as little as possible and likewise ignore annoyances as much as possible. Good citizens don’t notice tetchy babies, major bra adjustments, and peculiar pajama habits. Really, it was okay that one lady chose to spend day and night in her pajamas… there wasn’t much to do anyway. I have little knowledge of other guys, so I never guessed any male past the age of eight wore pajamas. Now that I’ve witnessed man-jammies, I’d consider legislation outlawing them.

Several of us wanted to shampoo, but we encountered an unanticipated problem. Sinks for 1st and 2nd graders are only knee-high to an adult. It just ain’t possible.

Restrooms presented an additional problem. Florida classrooms are built very differently from their northern counterparts. Schools in the cooler north are constructed with indoor corridors and inward-facing rooms, more like a hotel than a motel, where the latter’s room doors open onto a walkway. Florida schools usually take the motel approach with outward-facing rooms opening onto sidewalks. That meant people visiting the loos had to force their way outside and stagger through driving winds and rains. Fortunately, a teachers’ lounge contained a couple of indoor restrooms, so one could choose to queue up or brave the elements.

Can you hear me now?

Unlike Houston, Irma disrupted phone land lines. Cell service and SMS (texts) still remain spotty… sometimes one bar, sometimes zero. The most reliable communications has oddly been wifi, although with so many people using it at once, the internet crawled.

Here the etiquette rules broke down when one hardheaded mother tried to stream Barbie videos while the rest of us simply prayed for email to respond. Worse, she let her daughter play video games on her tablet keeping others awake at three in the morning. As residents and Red Cross volunteers begged her to shut down the racket, she slept– or pretended to sleep. I offered ear-buds, an offer ignored.

Next day, some of the ladies tried a quiet chat with the young mother who pointedly turned her back. Later, those frustrated women were seen stirring a cauldron, chanting into the winds and wearing odd black hats. Soon after, that mother vanished. I’m not saying there’s a connection, but…

Cross at the Red Cross

Another complained loudly and bitterly about the Red Cross, especially that they weren’t feeding us, which seemed strange since they provided coffee, food and snacks 24-hours a day. I think she meant they weren’t offering seafood and chateaubriand, but she became so belligerent, volunteers refused to deal with her without a deputy present. A worker asked if I could speak with my wife– she camped next to my cot. When I explained I didn’t know her, the worker said, “Lucky you!” As soon as the main crisis abated, the sheriff’s department escorted the overstressed woman and her son away, reportedly to a homeless shelter. Potential murder mystery material here.

I don’t know if it’s related, but as I was driving through the fringes of the hurricane, a radio broadcast urged people not to donate to the Red Cross. I don’t know what the hostess’ issues were, but frankly, the Red Cross became my heroes and heroines. Not only did they feed and shelter people, but they cleaned up after us. Criticize the ladies (and men) of the Red Cross, and I have a few words to say about it.

One young father was proactive in cleaning up, getting kids involved and he himself swept up, but as local all-clears were given, nearby residents walked out, leaving the cleanup to volunteers. I discovered most out-of-state Red Cross helpers pay their own way to drive into disaster, deprivation and danger to help others. If that’s not quietly heroic, I don’t know what is.

The Kid in Me

Children liked me mainly because I haven’t grown up. My reply to people who say “You’d make a great father,” is no, I simply make a great uncle.

The young dad who helped with the cleanup was terrific with the kids. On a stage at one end of the auditorium-cum-cafeteria, he organized dodgeball with the kids. Somewhere he found a scaled-down basketball goal, a huge pink dollhouse perhaps 4’ by 4’, and a similarly-sized kitchen cabinet/oven/dishwasher/sink/refrigerator play set. While little girls climbed all over the dollhouse, the boys were a bit frustrated with the lack of boys’ toys except for Star Wars action figures. Then the boys decided the kitchen set sorta, kinda looked like a castle. Thus it became Darth Vaders’s palace quarters.

I’ve now moved into a motel, although phone and SMS problems persist throughout this area. Calls drop, the internet crawls, and text messages arrive jumbled if at all. Minor stuff. People are safe and dry.

But… good news.

Yesterday, I received word power has been restored in my neighborhood. Reports say others on the street received damage including a tree crashing through the roof of the ladies who live opposite me. Fortune may have been with me this time as my house is reputedly intact.

I’ll head home but not before car repair. In the blinding rain on the interstate, I ran over a sailboat or a cow or a 4x4 or something… and it popped loose a fender on my old Acura. Once that’s dealt with, I’ll make the return journey. Gas stations have been getting fuel, although running out by afternoon. At least I won’t have the pressure of a hurricane.

I've gone through Hurricane Andrew and later three devastating hurricanes in a row: Charlie, Frances, and Jeanne. This time, evacuating was the sensible step with such a huge storm and dire predictions. Camping out in my badly damaged house for two weeks in 2004 was bearable, but 13 years later, I was not excited to repeat it.

Remembering

At least three dozen people have lost their lives in this storm. Those in the Caribbean didn’t have the option Floridians enjoyed to get the hell out of Dodge. It’s easy to forget how fortunate we are. There’s a fine line between a mini-adventure in a hurricane bunker and a catastrophic disaster.

16 September 2017

A Trivial Pursuit


by John M. Floyd



Yes, I know: there are a lot of productive things I could and should be doing right now, instead of writing a trivial post about trivia. But, as I've confessed in the past, I love little-known facts about fiction and those who create or portray it.

So, for the next few minutes, I challenge you to forget about the stock market and North Korea and politics and global warming and take a look at these worthless little tidbits about movies and novels and actors and writers. Since they surprised me when I learned about them, I hope they (or at least some of them) might surprise you as well.


- Ian Fleming wrote the children's book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was adapted from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

- Jack Kerouac typed the novel On the Road on one continuous roll of paper 120 feet long.

- Dooley Wilson (Sam, in Casablanca) didn't know how to play the piano.

- Dr. Seuss wasn't a doctor, of any kind.

- Harriet Beecher Stowe lived next door to Mark Twain in Hartford, Connecticut.

- The names of the policeman and the cab driver in It's a Wonderful Life were Bert and Ernie.

- Both Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were extras in Field of Dreams.

- Between 1982 and 1984, Nora Roberts wrote 23 novels.

- The announcer who replaced Armed Forces Radio DJ Adrian Cronauer (played by Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam) was Pat Sajak.

- Mel Brooks wrote the lyrics to the theme from Blazing Saddles.

- Steve Buscemi is a former NYC firefighter.

- The final Lord of the Rings movie, The Return of the King, was nominated for eleven Oscars and won all of them.

- Before writing The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown was a pop singer. One of his solo albums was called Angels and Demons.

- In Raiders of the Lost Ark, a drawing of R2D2 and C3PO appears on a column in the Well of Souls.

- The novel Catch-22 was originally titled Catch-18.

- Robert Louis Stevenson burned stories based on readers' informal responses, Leo Tolstoy's son rescued the manuscript of War and Peace from the ditch where Tolstoy had thrown it, and Tabitha King pulled the discarded manuscript of Carrie from Stephen King's wastebasket.

- James Arness (Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke) and Peter Graves (Jim Phelps of Mission: Impossible) were brothers.

- William Atherton, who played the obnoxious TV reporter in Die Hard and Die Hard 2, sang the "What'll I Do?" theme song during the opening credits of the 1974 (Robert Redford/Mia Farrow) version of The Great Gatsby.

- "Goldeneye" was Ian Fleming's name for the Jamaican beach house where he wrote all the James Bond novels. Sting later used the same desk to write the song "Every Breath You Take."

- One of the voices of E.T. was that of Debra Winger.

- Clint Eastwood composed the main theme ("Claudia's Theme") for Unforgiven.


- Tom Wolfe, who was six-foot-six, preferred to write standing up, using the top of his refrigerator for a desk.

- In The Abyss, many of the underwater scenes were actually filmed in smoky air, using fake bubbles.

- Olivia Newton-John's grandfather, Max Born, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1954.

- Both Erle Stanley Gardner and Agatha Christie dictated their novels. (Though ESG typed his earliest work.)

- To make some of the spacecraft seem larger in the movie Alien, director Ridley Scott filmed his own two children outfitted in miniature space suits.

- Rowan Atkinson has a master's degree in Electrical Engineering.

- Singer Tex Ritter ("Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darlin'," from High Noon) was actor John Ritter's father.

- Actor/director Anthony Hopkins composed the music for the movie Slipstream (2007).

- Clyde Barrow once wrote a letter to Henry Ford (it's on display at the Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan) praising the V-8 Ford as a getaway car.

- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was the first book written using the typewriter.

- Clint Eastwood did all his own mountain climbing--no stuntmen--in The Eiger Sanction.

- Most of the cast and crew of The African Queen got sick from the water. Only Humphrey Bogart and director John Huston were unaffected because they drank only whiskey.

- Evelyn Waugh's first wife's name was Evelyn.

- Tom Hanks is a descendant of Abe Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln.

- The first U.S. paperback edition of Ian Fleming's Casino Royale was published with the title You Asked for It.

- Michael Myers's mask in Halloween was a two-dollar Captain Kirk mask, slightly altered and painted white.

- Carolyn Keene, author of the Nancy Drew novels, was really a pseudonym for a team of several different writers.

- Hoyt Axton (the father in The Black Stallion) wrote "Heartbreak Hotel."

- Melissa McCarthy and Jenny McCarthy are first cousins.

- The original title of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy. It was reversed when Newman decided to take the role of Butch rather than Sundance.

- The same author (Larry McMurtry) wrote Lonesome Dove and Terms of Endearment.

- Frank Oz was the voice of Yoda, the Cookie Monster, and Miss Piggy.

- Mickey Spillane ordered 50,000 copies of his 1952 novel Kiss Me, Deadly to be destroyed when the comma was left out of the title.

- Mia Sara (Ferris Bueller's girlfriend) has had two fathers-in-law: Sean Connery and Jim Henson.

- Director John Carpenter composed the music for most of his movies.

- Noah Webster was T. S. Eliot's great-uncle.

- Ian Fleming got the name for his fictional spy from a book he owned called Birds of the West Indies, by James Bond.

- The charcoal sketch of Kate Winslet in Titanic was actually drawn by director James Cameron.

- Tommy Lee Jones and Al Gore were roommates at Harvard.

- J. K. Rowling came up with the names for the houses at Hogwarts while on a plane. She jotted the names down on a barf bag.

- The keypad on the laboratory's door lock in Moonraker plays the five-note theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

- Author Sidney Sheldon created the TV series I Dream of Jeannie and The Patty Duke Show, and won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.

- When the kid in Home Alone 2 walks into the Plaza Hotel, the person he asks for directions is Donald Trump.

- Tom Clancy was part owner of the Baltimore Orioles.

- Cormac McCarthy wrote with the same typewriter for more than fifty years. When it broke, he auctioned it off for more than $250,000 (to donate to charity).

- In World War II, Roald Dahl was a fighter pilot, Donald Pleasance was a POW, Christopher Lee was an undercover agent for British Inteligence, and Charles Durning was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart.

- When a hurricane hit the set during filming of Jurassic Park, the pilot who choppered the crew to safety was the man who had played Indiana Jones's pilot, Jock, in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

- The top three most-read books in the world are The Holy Bible, Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, and the Harry Potter series.

- In The Secret Life of Ian Fleming, Fleming was played by Sean Connery's son Jason.

- Actor Sam Shepard wrote 44 plays; one of them won him the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979.

- The roles of both John McClane in Die Hard and Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry were first offered to Frank Sinatra.

- When J. K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, she typed three separate copies of the manuscript because she couldn't afford copying fees.

- Samuel L. Jackson's Pulp Fiction quote from Ezekiel was originally written for Harvey Keitel's character in From Dusk to Dawn.

- Chocolate syrup was used as blood in Psycho's shower scene; it was also used as the Tin Man's oil in The Wizard of Oz.

- Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was eighteen, and it was published when she was twenty.

- Mystery writer John Sandford, a.k.a. John Camp, won a Pulitzer for Non-Deadline Feature Writing in 1986 for articles about the life of a Minnesota farming family.

- Of his 70-plus film roles, Gregory Peck played a villain only twice (I think), in Duel in the Sun and The Boys From Brazil.

- Dolph Lundgren has a master's degree in Chemical Engineering.

- In the UK, Fifty Shades of Grey is the best-selling book of all time.

- George Lucas had a dog named Indiana.

- Robert Duvall had a bit part as Steve McQueen's cab driver in the movie Bullitt.

- The Salvation (2014) was a Western filmed in South Africa, with a Danish director and actors from Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, the U.S., and England.

- Haley Joe Osment, the boy who "saw dead people" in The Sixth Sense, played Forrest Gump's son five years earlier.

- Tippi Hedren (The Birds) is the mother of Melanie Griffith and the grandmother of Dakota Johnson.

- Kurt Vonnegut managed America's first Saab dealership.

- Denzel Washington and Jeff Goldblum both played thugs in 1974's Death Wish.

- As a child, Roald Dahl--the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory--was a taste-tester for Cadbury's chocolate.

- Nathaneal West's 1939 novel The Day of the Locust features a character named Homer Simpson.

- In High Plains Drifter, one of the headstones in the cemetery was inscribed with the name Sergio Leone.

- Married (at one time or another): Geena Davis/Jeff Goldblum, Rachel Weisz/Daniel Craig, Calista Flockhart/Harrison Ford, Marlo Thomas/Phil Donahue, Rita Hayworth/Orson Welles, Uma Thurman/Gary Oldman, Dyan Cannon/Cary Grant, Lorraine Bracco/Edward James Olmos, Catherine Keener/Delmot Mulroney, Mia Farrow/Frank Sinatra, Christie Brinkley/Billy Joel, Barbara Streisand/Elliott Gould, Brooke Shields/Andre Agassi, Lisa Marie Presley/Nicolas Cage, Mary Steenbergen/Malcolm McDowell, Isabella Rosselini/Martin Scorcese, Madonna/Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller/Will Arnett, Michelle Phillips/Dennis Hopper, Mimi Rogers/Tom Cruise, Helen Hunt/Hank Azaria, Drew Barrymore/Tom Green, Katherine Ross/Sam Elliott, Scarlett Johanssen/Ryan Reynolds.

-Dated (at one time or another): Helen Mirren/Liam Neeson, Anjelica Huston/Jack Nicholson. Sarah Jessica Parker/Robert Downey Jr., Courtney Cox/Michael Keaton, Whoopi Goldberg/Frank Langella, Carrie Fisher/Paul Simon, Jeanne Tripplehorn/Ben Stiller, Meryl Streep/John Cazale.

- Barbie in Toy Story 3 is voiced by Jodi Benson, who also voiced Ariel in The Little Mermaid.

- Paranormal Activity cost $15,000 to make and has grossed $210 million; Deep Throat cost around $25,000 and grossed $600 million; John Carter cost $350 million and lost $200 million.

- Mickey Spillane was at one time the author of seven of the ten best-selling novels in history.

- Sean Connery wore a toupee in all of his James Bond movies.


And maybe the most valuable and surprising piece of trivia of all:

- Katy Perry's cat's name is Kitty Purry.

(Don't ever say I didn't give you the inside info.)


Can you think of any crazy and lesser-known movie/novel/actor/author facts? Inquiring minds want to know . . .




15 September 2017

What's in a name

by
O'Neil De Noux

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet."
ROMEO AND JULIET
William Shakespeare 

Montague. Capulet. De Noux. DeNoux. Denoux. La Doux. Le Noux. Noux. De la Noux. DeNox. DeNooks. DeNo. DeNuNu. Delacroix (a girlfriend from St. Bernard Parish called me that). It never ends. Even if I smell the same.

As an army brat I traveled and was always the new kid in class. I waited for it. First day of school, teacher calling roll. When the teacher got to the 'Ds' I cringed. When the teacher stopped at a name, I raised my hand and said, "Here."

Invariably, the teacher looked up and said, "You have two last names."

"I know. My parents don't like me."

Funny how so many kids in grammar school thought I was serious. Some teachers as well.

Often the teacher would ask, "How do you pronounce the one that starts with a 'D'?"

O'Neil as a first name? I envied the guys named Mike and Jimmy and Eddie. Even my brother got to be Danny. De Noux is cool. Got an 'x' in it. But it's spelled one way.

When my first novel GRIM REAPER came out, they spelled my last name Denoux on the cover. My aunts and uncle chided me. "You can't even spell your own name."

What I'm trying to say is, for God's sake, spell the person's name correctly. Look it up if you don't know. Poe is not Edgar Allen. It's Edgar Allan. Hemingway has one m.

I know. This is coming from the guy who sets records for typos.

And not just names. Titles!


The internet can be a big problem with this. It never forgets and can never be corrected, even when it is corrected.

When my novel ENAMORED was nominated for the 2012 Shamus Award for BEST INDIE PRIVATE EYE NOVEL, the press release from the Private Eye Writers of America spelled my name correctly but misspelled the title as ENAMORTED. Someone thought it was a play on words, something to do with the French word MORT. Dead. The book's a mystery after all and I do have a French last name, right?

I called for a correction and it was made but the damage was done. Too late. Websites worldwide listed the nominations as soon as the press release came out. The book was ENAMORTED. I had readers and reviewers email me because they couldn't find the book on amazon, couldn't find it on any search engine except references to the nomination. You'd think a book nominated for a SHAMUS would sell. Talk about dead. Sales? What sales? The book sank like RMS TITANIC ... and there was no iceberg.

Such is life in the slow lane. It didn't take me long to joke about it, only my wife didn't laugh. Her Irish was up. She was livid. Still is. For a while, if I wanted a rise out of her, all I have to ask is, "Remember that book I wrote - ENAMORTED?"

Eventually, in my house, we stopped saying someone 'passed' or 'passed away' or 'is gone' or 'is in a better place' or 'is in the hands of the Lord' or 'is playing hopscotch with Saint Peter' or 'is burning in eternal hellfire' or 'crossed the rainbow bridge'. Wait, that's for animals, isn't it?

We say he's enamorted. Funny? A little. Sometimes the hurt is humorous.

So, everyone please check your spelling, especially when it comes to names and titles.

www.oneildenoux.com

14 September 2017

"The radium water worked great until his jaw came off" and Other Quacks

by Eve Fisher

Two blog posts ago I discussed the wonderful Goat Gland Doctor, Doc Brinkley and his crowd way down south.  Today, we're on to radium, oxygenated air, and murder.

William John Aloysius Bailey

First, a contemporary of Doc Brinkley, John Aloysius Bailey (May 25, 1884 – May 17, 1949), a Harvard University dropout who claimed to have a physician's license and promoted using radium as a cure for coughs, flu, and other common ailments. Bailey started up Bailey's Radium Laboratories in East Orange, New Jersey, and while the FTC kept investigating him, he managed to die wealthy (as opposed to Doc Brinkley, who died broke).

While Bailey claimed that adding radium to your drinking water (!) could treat everything from mental illness to diabetes, anemia to constipation, headaches to asthma, his two most famous products were:
  • Arium, a restorative that "renewed happiness and youthful thrill into the lives of married peoples whose attractions to each other had weakened." An analysis of Arium tablets showed that they contained radium, of course, but also strychnine...  (see Arium)
  • Radithor, marketed as "A Cure for the Living Dead" as well as "Perpetual Sunshine".  A man named Eben Byers swore by Radithor, which worked so well for him that he gulped down bottles of it - 1,400 to be exact.  At the trial (for Mr. Byers died) it was stated that "The radium water worked great until his jaw came off" - see HERE, p. 18.  
  • And then there was the Radiendocrinator, as pictured below in its beautiful dark blue embossed leatherette case, which contains the gold plated Radiendocrinator nestled in its velvet lined pocket...  (Always give the punters something for their money.)  







Says the curator of a collection of quack cures, "The Radiendocrinator in the above photo was sufficiently radioactive that I had to remove the source before it could be put on display." Remember where it was supposed to be placed on the human body. https://www.orau.org/ptp/collection/quackcures/radend.htm

Mr. Bailey did serve his country during wartime - he was the wartime manager of the electronic division of IBM during WWII.  Who knows how much radiation he carried with him?  In any case, Mr. Bailey died of bladder cancer on May 17, 1949.  When his body was exhumed nearly 20 years later, it was found to be "ravaged by radiation".

Charles Lewis Blood

C. L. Blood (transparent).png
C. L. Blood, physician
and conman
And now, murder.  Charles Lewis Blood (September 8, 1835 – September 27, 1908) alias C. H. Lewis, a/k/a C. L. Blood was yet another self-styled physician, who operated in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago.  He sold what was known as "oxygenized air", which he promoted as a cure for catarrh, scrofula, consumption, etc.

Now most quacks are relatively harmless, if you disregard the fact that none of their treatments worked, and could kill you in the trying. But they weren't deliberately  trying to harm people.  Blood was different. He had a rival in the oxygen game in Boston, Dr. Jerome Harris, a real doctor, who was giving people "super-oxygenized air" which was really nitrous oxide.  And probably any patients who tried it thought it was a lot more fun that Blood's version.  Anyway, one day Harris treated a man named Carville, who began frothing at the mouth, rolling on the floor, and having a fit. Harris sent him home, Carville called his own physician who cured him! Miraculously!  And the next day the newspapers were plastered with the horrific story of the poisoning of poor hapless Carvill by the evil Dr. Harris, who was only saved by the amazing treatments of his personal physician...  Dr. C. L. Blood.  Harris ended up having to leave Boston because of all the bad publicity.
NOTE:  In 1880, Blood published "A Century of Life, Health and Happiness", a compendium of medical information for the home, and if I ever find it on a used bookstore shelf, I'm buying it.  As long as it's a dollar.  
In May 1884, again in Boston, Blood was arrested for blackmailing Ernest Weber, a local musician. They were, apparently, courting the same woman, Jennett Nickerson.  Cap'n Blood procured from her, allegedly by force, an affidavit to the effect that she had been ruined by Weber (i.e., had sex with him) after he promised marriage, and that Weber had later forced her to have an abortion.  Blood tried to blackmail Weber with the affidavit, but he took it to the police, who arrested Blood.  He was convicted and sentenced to prison. 

Hiram Sawtelle
But Blood got out, and in February, 1890, Blood was implicated in the murder of Hiram Sawtelle, a Boston fruitseller.  Isaac Sawtelle, Hiram's brother, had gotten out of prison "after securing, at great expense, a pardon for his rape convictions."  He moved in with Hiram, Hiram's wife Jeanette, and their mother, a household that was apparently as happy as that of the Bordens.  The main problem was money.  Dad had died, leaving all the money to Mom, but Hiram was managing it, and Isaac was broke (it cost a lot to get a pardon in those days), and he had a friend named Blood, who came up with a plan, involving a third man named Jack...

(Don't worry:  it gets more complicated.)

Isaac Sawtelle
Isaac kidnapped Hiram's daughter, Marion, and used her to get Hiram up to a secluded camp near Springvale, Maine.  Whatever was supposed to happen, it didn't.  Hiram was shot four times, stripped, decapitated, and the body buried in a shallow grave across the New Hampshire state line. When Hiram's wife noticed her husband was gone, she told the police that she thought Isaac had killed him.  Isaac was eventually captured in Rochester, NH.

Meanwhile, Blood's picture was being circulated by the Boston newspapers, where two hoteliers up in Dover, New Hampshire, recognized it.  One of them reported that Blood had been carrying two bundles, one done up in wrapping paper and apparently containing clothes, and the other wrapped in newspaper and "about the size of a man's head".[9]

Isaac was charged with conspiracy, murder, and was awaiting trial.  On April 13, he confessed that he'd plotted to get the property from Hiram, but denying that he planned or had any part in Hiram's murder.  Instead, it was Jack who led Hiram away, Jack who probably killed him.  Isaac knew nothing about it until the day he was arrested, when he got a letter from Blood that read "Your brother had to be put out of the way. Let each look out for himself."[14]

Here's the fun part:  Despite Isaac's jailhouse confessions and the hoteliers' statements, Blood was never even questioned by police. Even Hiram's widow denied that Blood had any dealings with Hiram.  And at the trial, Isaac himself changed his story, confessing that he'd shot Hiram and that all Blood had done was prepare the legal instruments of transfer for Hiram to sign.  Isaac was convicted and sentenced to death.  Almost immediately he recanted his confession and once again laid full responsibility for the murder on Blood:
"Dr. Blood is the man who is responsible. Some time it will be known, a deathbed repentance, perhaps, and when all is known it will be found that I am innocent of anything to do with the murder. I have accused him; I accuse him now. If he had come forward I would have accused him to his face. But why didn't he appear? He didn't dare to; he didn't dare to face me. Now that I am practically dead he can do what he pleases. He has had a chance to establish and prove an alibi, while I have been in jail, tied hand and foot… Blood was responsible in every way. I do not mean to say that he killed Hiram—that he fired the shots which caused his death—but I do mean that he knew of it and was responsible for it."[17]
Isaac Sawtelle died of natural causes on December 26, 1891, shortly before his scheduled execution.

[A reproduction of a visiting card from c. L. Blood.  The card bears the text "Dr. C. L. Blood" in cursive script, and a captioned photograph of Blood in the upper left corner.]
There was no deathbed repentance on the part of Dr. Blood.  Instead, he moved to Manhattan, where he died on September 27, 1908, in Manhattan.  The short obituary in his hometown Ayer, Massachusetts newspaper, reported that Blood "had lived in New York city twelve years, where he was in a manufacturing business."[12] He was buried in Ayers, in the family plot in Woodlawn Cemetery, but his widow and four surviving sisters did not add his name to the family memorial.  His calling card must suffice...