30 November 2017

How an Anthology Kick-Started My (Fiction) Writing Career

Patience. There's a tie-in. All will be revealed below.
by Brian Thornton

I have written extensively (herehere, and especially here) about the rebirth of that antique artform:
the novella. As I have also noted elsewhere, the novella's return to literary fashion owes much to the changes wrought by the publishing revolution of the last decade. Print-on-demand technology has given rise to a host of independent publishers willing to take chances on stories deemed not profitable by legacy publishers, and self-publishing has proven itself a viable and profitable option for many authors shut out by these same legacy publishers.

As the novella, so the anthology.

Now, I know what you're saying: "But wait a minute. Has the anthology ever really gone away?"

I take that point.

But while the anthology has never really gone away, it hasn't exactly thrived as an artform or as a commercial vehicle, either.

Instead, it's just sort of hung around.

Now, I am not dissing the anthology format. Quite the contrary. I owe the beginning of my career as a professionally paid writer of fiction to an anthology that never even saw publication.

The Immortal (and Prolific!) Michael Bracken
Well over a decade back, I was reading through the posts on the Short Mystery Fiction Society's email list and read a call for submissions by then SMFS stalwart (and newly-minted fellow Sleuthsayer) Michael Bracken for a projected crime fiction anthology with the working title City Crimes, Country Crimes.

Bracken, then as now, was a publishing machine. Always working. Always churning out content. Short stories, confessional pieces, and collecting and editing short fiction anthologies for a variety of boom and bust small presses. He did it all.

City Crimes, Country Crimes was intended to be a themed anthology, with the expressed purpose of emphasizing setting as practically another character in the collected stories (think the desert in John  Ford's cavalry movies). I'm a big fan of a well-drawn setting that serves as something more than a backdrop for the action in a piece of fiction, so I was especially intrigued.

Long story short: I wrote a story, submitted it, and was pleased to have it accepted. A genuine thrill to have my work recognized by a pro like Michael as publication-worthy.

Fast-forward a few months, and Michael got back to myself an all of the other projected contributors to the project with the bad news that the publisher he had lined up for this project had folded. This was when print-on-demand was still in its infancy, and e-publishing had not really taken off yet as a viable outlet for one's work product.

So the project was scrapped. All that hard work (especially on Michael's part!) down the tubes.

Come to find out that this sort of thing happened a LOT. Especially with anthologies.

And then along came Amazon and its Kindle game-changer. But wait...I'm getting ahead of myself. More on that paradigm shredder in later (I promise).

Anyway, so I was left with this pretty decent short story, an orphan for which I needed to find a home. It was crime fiction, set in frontier Montana during the Cheyenne uprising circa 1873.

Speaking of prolific! R.T. Lawton, ladies and gents!
Since I'd been burned going the anthology route, I decided, on the advice of old friend (and fellow Sleuthsayer) R.T. Lawton to submit it to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, one of the few venues at the time that paid for fiction at rates which weren't outright insulting.

AHMM accepted it, and this story, "Counting Coup," was the first piece of fiction I got well and truly paid for (I'd already made a bit of money writing book-length nonfiction).

And it all started with a promising anthology that never got off the ground. So thanks (again) to Michael Bracken for believing in my work, and to R.T. Lawton for the same thing.

In two weeks, the next round of my long association with anthologies: my first experience collecting and editing one!

29 November 2017

Bouchercon Babbling

Carolyn Tillery, Janet Randolph, Charles Salzberg, Sarah Byrne, Himself, Aubrey Hamilton
by Robert Lopresti

Counting on my fingers here: I think Toronto last month was my seventh Bouchercon.  (The first was New York, back in 1983, a much smaller affair.)

I want to tell you about the highlights but I am mostly thinking ahead.  If you have not gone in recent years and might go in the future, bookmark this page for future reference.

Melodie Campbell, Some American
Of course, one of the great treats at these events is running into old friends, people you only know from email or social media, or people you have admired but never had the chance to say so.  You will see some pictures  here of me with my fellow SleuthSayers, some of whom I met for the first time.

Naturally it's a joy to be on a panel.  I was on "Readers Recommends," and frankly I didn't think anyone would attend, considering the competition.  But we had close to seventy people in the audience.  The picture on the top of this page shows our little group.  For some reason we all look like our best friend died and didn't leave us a cent, but we were all having a good time.  Moderator Carolyn Tillery did a fine job.

The funniest event I saw was the Liar's Panel. Five authors each tell stories about something that happened in their own lives.  Contestants have to guess which stories are true.  Luckily I was not a contestant because I was wrong on seven out of ten stories.  As you can imagine, some of these were hilarious.  Reese Hirsch's story about vampires was true?  And the only lie in Danny Gardner's story was the murderer getting caught.  Quite an hour.


Another don't-miss event is Speed Dating.  You get a free breakfast, sit down at a table, and every six minutes two authors plop down next to you to tell you why you should buy their books.  It's hectic and fun (and having been on both sides I can tell you, it's more enjoyable to listen than to be one of the authors prattling at full speed).

The highlight of the Speed Dating for me was when Twist Phelan and Zoe Quick arrived together.  They are both FB friends of mine but we had never met in person.  We had a six-minute mutual admiration society, and then they hurried on.

Barb Goffman, What's-His-Name
After my panel I went to the dealer's room to sign books, except I hadn't brought any.  The bother of getting them past the border and then back home (and we were not flying straight home either), combined with the difficulty of finding a vendor willing to take them on consignment just didn't seem worth it.  This decision appeared to be confirmed when I saw Danny Gardner carrying an armful of his own books and complaining that the customs people had inspected each one like they were bricks of cocaine.  Nonetheless I wound up signing books: four different anthologies.

Michael Bracken, Art Taylor, Unidentified
Another favorite event is the Librarian's Tea.  We bookpushers and our loved ones get free tea and cookies, some free books, and a talk from famous authors that tends to lean heavily toward how wonderful libraries are.  (Hey, you have to know your audience.)  Now as it happens, Hank Phillippi Ryan was at our table.  My wife doesn't read a lot of mysteries so I had to explain "You're sitting with royalty."

It turned out Hank was moderating the panel.  That didn't go so well, but it wasn't her fault.  About fifteen minutes after it started a fire alarm went off.  In that fancy hotel the alarm sounded like someone whacking a xylophone every few seconds.  Then a voice on the PA announced that an alarm had been pulled in the parking garage.  Someone was investigating and the fire department was on its way.

Melissa Yi, Robert Me
As near as I could tell everyone stayed.  (Librarians are tough.)  Soldiering on, Hank asked, through the alarms and repeated announcements, how the panelists would incorporate this sort of scene into one of their books?  The clear winner was Linwood Barclay who said the victim would be whoever was ringing that damned bell.

Eventually the PA announced that the fire department had declared everything was okay.  Then they announced it again.  Then they announced they were resetting the alarm.  (Why would we care?)  Then they announced that again.  We still didn't care.

There was a special event honoring Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, with Art Taylor interviewing editor Janet Hutchings, followed by a long line of authors talking about how EQMM had touched their lives and careers.  Quite moving.  There are few American magazines that have survived as long as this one and the stunning thing that in 75 years there have only been three editors.

On the SleuthSayers front, Art Taylor won the Macavity Award for best short story and the late great B.K. Stevens won the Anthony Award for best novella.

The Macavity Award for Best Nonfiction went to Margaret Kinsman for her book Sara Paretsky: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction.  However, the author wasn't present so the award was accepted by Sara Paretsky!  Yes, the subject of the book accepted the award.  When was the last time that happened?

Next time I will include my favorite quotations from Bouchercon.  Here's a sample: 

"In Scotland we have an unarmed police force.  Well, no firearms.  Just batons and sarcasm." - Caro Ramsay






28 November 2017

The Intersection of Plotting and Cursing
– Rated R for Language

by Barb Goffman

"Oh fuck. I miscounted."

That was the essence of a text message I sent a few minutes ago, upon being reminded that my next SleuthSayers post was supposed to be uploaded in the next hour and forty-five minutes. I had thought I was scheduled for next Tuesday, not for tomorrow.

My cursing amused my dear friend Leigh, who had sent the friendly reminder. And it made me think a few things, first being how one phrase could be used in so many situations and as the starting point of so many stories:

"Oh fuck. I miscounted," Jessica said, holding up the positive pregnancy stick. This is the conflict from which a thriller is born in which Jessica goes on the run, determined to raise her child free from the murderous gang her boyfriend is a part of.

"Oh fuck. I miscounted," said the attorney who put a decimal in the wrong place, and now had to notify a client that he screwed up some documents, costing the client millions. This is the conflict that results in the attorney realizing that if he's going to be disbarred and have his life ruined, he might as well make the best of it, so he steals all his clients' money and goes on the run. That's another thriller.

"Oh fuck. I miscounted," said the hit man when he ran out of bullets. This is the conflict that prompts a thriller in which a hit man is sent after a hit man for failure to get the original job done right. (Wait, a hit man sent after another hit man who screwed up--that's the basis for Grosse Point Blank. Great movie. But I digress. ...)


These are all interesting premises, but they're also all thrillers. Couldn't the phrase be used in other types of crime novels? Especially if it's part of the story, not the source of the originating conflict? Let's see ...

"Oh fuck. I miscounted," said the thief to his partner, hoping the guy bought the story of why the bank job proceeds hadn't been split evenly.  Damn, that's another thriller.

"Oh fuck. I miscounted," said the cop on the witness stand, revealing he screwed up his review of some evidence thus tanking the case, making the prosecutor wonder if the cop is on the take. This could be a legal thriller. Damn, there's the word thriller again. But it's a legal thriller, so it's a bit different.

"Oh fuck. I miscounted," said the PI upon realizing he'd been videotaping the goings on in an apartment on the third floor of a building instead of the fourth all day, and as a result he'd missed the payoff he'd been hired to document. Okay, this is better. A PI novel isn't necessarily a thriller.

"Oh fuck. I miscounted," said the burglar after he'd broken three fingers, two toes, and one tooth in his quest to steal an expensive ring, only to realize after he made it home that he'd grabbed the wrong ring and would have to do the job again. Now we're getting somewhere. This could be a caper.

"Oh fuck. I miscounted," said the gray-haired grandma, explaining how she'd made eight salads for her house guests, seven with peanut dressing and one oil and vinegar, but had accidentally set the wrong salad down in front of the guest with the fatal allergy. Oops.  I'm tempted to say this could be a cozy, but the fuck throws the book into traditional mystery territory. Real-life grandmas might say fuck, but in cozy novels--nope. That's not gonna happen.


"Oh fuck. I miscounted," said the man when confronted with evidence of his bigamy, right before both his angry wives start kicking him in the ... I don't know what kind of book this is, but I know I want to read it.

Okay. That's nine solid plot ideas stemming from "Oh fuck. I miscounted." I wish I could come up with a tenth, but I have just a few minutes before I have to get this post uploaded, and I still have to figure out photos to go with it. Aaaah. So, what about you, dear reader? Can you come up with a solid tenth for me?  Bonus points if you can figure out how to work the phrase into a cozy.

27 November 2017

More Reviews

by Jan Grape

MARCIA MULLER's latest is The Color of Fear, which came out in August, from Grand Central Publishing. I think this is her 32nd or 33rd in the Sharon McCone series. I've read most of them. Likely only missed one or three throughout the years and enjoyed them all. Sharon has grown and changed but she is still McCone. Marcia has explored more into Sharon's Native American background in the past few books and that has given more depth to the character.

This book opens with Sharon's biological father being beaten all most to death one night. He has come from the Reserve to spend the Christmas Holidays with Sharon and her husband Hy Ripinsky.

Sharon goes to the hospital but her father, Elwood, is in grave condition and she is not allowed to see him. In the meantime she calls her birth mother, Saskia Blackhawk as she had become closer to Elwood in recent years.

McCone is not sure of the motive. Is this a hate crime against her Native American father or a rage against McCone herself. Or could it be against someone looking for revenge against Hy. She and Hy have merged her agency and his Executive Protection Agency. M&R

With the San Francisco police short staffed and overworked Sharon proceeds to investigate Elwood;'s perpetrators herself. Before she can get very deep into her investigation, bad things begin to happen to her staff and other family members. Soon McCone herself is in jeopardy.

This is once again, Muller's awesome writing presents a story you can never go wrong reading. It would make a fine Christmas present for any mystery novel lover. Besides hardcover, Grand Central Pub offers this book in Ebook and also in Audible.


HARLAN COBEN's latest thriller is Don't Let Go also an August release from Dutton. Suburban New Jersey detective Napoleon "Nap" Dumas found the girl of his dreams his Senior year in High School, the intriguing and beautiful Maura. Then one night before graduation his twin brother, Leo and Leo's girlfriend Diane are accidentally killed by a train and Maura breaks up with Nap and disappears.

For fifteen years, Nap has been treading water, searching every way he knows to find, Maura and suddenly her fingerprints are found in a car when a police officer obviously had stopped the car but then is killed. The car and Maura disappear again.

Nap is determined this time to find Maura. Find out where she has been for fifteen years. Also he wants to find out why his brother and Diane were killed. None of it makes any sense.

Nap soon discovers the small town where he lives and people he knows are hiding something. There are secrets the town has kept for more than fifteen years, one being a closed military base near Nap's town. People Nap had gone to school with and thought he knew have told lies.

As usual, Coben, weaves a story that you have to peel like an onion, layer by layer to discover the secrets in the center. Just when you think you have it all figured out, you find you must peel back another layer.

This is another must read and it's available in Hardcover and Ebook

26 November 2017

The Big Book of Rogues and Villains

by R.T. Lawton

Christmas is coming and the shopping days will soon be counting down at a rapid pace. And while Santa may be the one who knows whether you've been naughty or nice, sometimes good things happen regardless of how you've been.

To me, it started when I went to the DELL Cocktail Reception in Manhattan during Edgars Week about a year and a half ago. Although, if you wanted to be picky, you could successfully argue that it all started when Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine published my 1660's Paris Underworld story, "Boudin Noir," in their December 2009 issue. In any case, while I was conversing with fellow authors at the reception, I happened to notice Otto Penzler, anthology editor and owner of Mysterious Bookstore, talking with Linda Landrigan, editor of AHMM. Not wanting to interrupt them, I waited until they were finished before making myself known to Linda. As things turned out, it was probably a wise choice on my part.

About a month later, I received an e-mail from Otto. He wanted to purchase the reprint rights to "Boudin Noir" for his upcoming anthology, The Big Book of Rogues and Villains, scheduled for a Fall 2017 publication. Hey, for extra money on an already published in AHMM story, AND to appear in an Otto Penzler anthology, you bet. Months afterwards, I spoke with Linda at a conference and mentioned the e-mail from Otto. That's when I learned that Otto had been asking her about any authors he should include in his anthology, and Linda had mentioned my name and one of my stories. Made me glad I hadn't interrupted their conversation at the reception.

So now, as of October 24, 2017, the book is available both in paper and in Kindle. You don't want to miss this one. 72 handpicked stories concerning some of the best and/or worst criminals that ever walked the earth.

Just think, you can be your own Santa Claus this year and it doesn't make any difference if you've been naughty or nice, you can still reward yourself with a great Christmas present. Order up a copy of  The Big Book of Rogues and Villains for your own reading pleasure. And, if you're feeling generous, order a copy for a friend or two.

I know what my four kids are getting for Christmas. Makes shopping easy.

25 November 2017

OATLANDER – Why I can never write a book straight (one of the zany posts)

by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)



It happened again.  One little letter got switched around, and those little writer demons in my head let loose.

It started with a quote from an industry reviewer, regarding my time travel series starting with Rowena Through the Wall.  He said:  “OUTLANDER meets SEX AND THE CITY.”

Nice way to describe Rowena et al.  I’m very grateful to him.  But of course, when I quoted him, I messed up the spelling of Outlander.

So here’s a sneak preview of my next book:

OATLANDER

Claire (okay, lets change that to Flaire) falls through time and lands in virtually the same country she did in that other book.  The country that thinks using animal bladders for instruments is a really neat idea.

“What the heck,” says Flaire, looking around at all the sheep.  “This isn’t Kansas.”

“Ach no,” says ruggedly handsome and unmarried oat farmer, who might possibly be named Jamie (okay, let’s change that to –heck, nothing rhymes.  Tamie?  Bamie?  Okay, Balmy.  “And why are you wearing just your slip, lass?”

Flaire (looking down): “Blast. So’s I am.  Well, fuck-a-duck.”

Balmy:  “Canna no dae that, lass. Only sheep here.”

<We travel further along in the story, to the battle of Culloden, where Balmy and the local rebels exchange words.>

Leader of Rebels:  “Today  will go down in history, lads!  Grab yer spikes and pitch forks!  We go to spill English blood!”

Balmy: “Not on me oat field, ye don’t.”

“SCOTLAND! SCOTLAND! SCOTLAND!”  Rebels charge.

Flaire, watching everyone trip over sheep.  “This isn’t going to end well.”

Balmy:  “Back to Kansas, Lass?”

Flaire:  “Sure.  No oats though. We’d have to call this…Cornlander.

Balmy <scratching chin>:  “But that would be-“

Flaire:  “Corny?” 

Melodie Campbell writes funny books.  Mostly about crime.  Or maybe her comedy is criminal.  You be the judge. 
 
 On Amazon

24 November 2017

A Lost Book

by
O'Neil De Noux

A few days ago, I spotted the spine of a book on one of my bookshelves and felt a stab in my chest. I pulled the book down, ran my hand across the cover, sat on the floor and started reading the book. Again. My chest tightened as I read the only novel written by my friend.

THE HEYDRICH DECEPTION by Daniel Savage Gray (paperback, 317 pages, Zebra Books, 1989) is a World War II espionage-caper novel in the vein of Ken Follett and Frederick Forsyth and another friend, Greg Iles. Check out Greg's BLACK CROSS (1995).



Set from 1939 to 1942, the book centers around a scheme by "the most dangerous man in the world" - SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich, Reich-Protector of Bohemia and Moravia and a main architect of the Holocaust. Heydrich is producing counterfeit British pounds by the millions to distribute to world banks in a plot to destabilize the pound and throw Britain's economy into turmoil.

The main character is Professor Victor Boden, an Austrian forced to work on the project by Heydrich. Boden decides to help the British and the book takes a breathtaking trip through intrigue, murder, double-crosses - everything necessary in a good espionage novel. It's not all men-and-guns, there are women the reader will care for immediately and there is heartbreak and a wonderful twist at the end.

I had to slow down reading the book to savor this well-written historical spy novel.

Professor Daniel Savage Gray taught me at Troy University, became a good friend and encouraged me to write fiction. He wrote a couple non-fiction books about Napoleon and Waterloo but THE HEYDRICH DECEPTION was his only foray into fiction. My first novel, also a Zebra paperback, came out a few months before his novel.

When Gray's marriage disintegrated he moved across country and I lost touch with him, briefly talking to Gray on the phone once in 1992. I did not learn he died of a medical condition in 1995 until years later. Hit me hard.

THE HEYDRICH DECEPTION is a classic example of a good book written by a good writer that went out of print shortly after publication and is lost. Back then Zebra printed books, opened their back door and tossed them into the wind to see if anyone snatched up enough for a second printing. THE HEYDRICH DECEPTION remains of out print, a lost book like so many excellent books. By a forgotten writer.

Think about it. How many excellent short stories appeared in the pulps that are lost forever? How many cool adventure novels, mysteries, SF - you name the genre - are gone except for copies in used bookstores and sometimes online? How many writers have been forgotten? I'm sure y'all know a few. Share them if you wish.

As I said earlier - there is heartbreak in this book and when I finished reading the book again, I felt choked up. Old men get choked up easily. This time it was because Gray wasn't talking to me anymore. It was his voice in the story and the story ended and Gray's voice faded. I'm getting too personal now, but all life is personal and a good book is a good book.

23 November 2017

I'm Not In Prison... A Thanksgiving Meditation

by Eve Fisher

Image result for alternatives to violence projectI spent last weekend at the pen, doing another Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop.  This time we were training inside facilitators, which we do every two years or so.  These are inmates who have done basic and advanced workshops, and have shown themselves to be really good at walking the walk as well as talking the talk.  These are guys who have gone a long time without being written up or put in the SHU, who know how to and do defuse situations on the ground, and want to be a part of spreading the word to others.  Without them, we couldn't do AVP.  (NOTE:  Check us out on Facebook!)  We outside facilitators need their help in all sorts of ways, and I can't say enough good stuff about them or give enough thanks for their help.

Meanwhile, I'm so glad I'm not in prison.  It's one of the things for which I am truly thankful.  And I don't take it for granted.  There's a long, long, long list of things which will send you to prison and I know very few people who have done none of them.  And it can happen so fast...  I've seen guys in the pen who are absolutely shell-shocked because suddenly they are there, and they almost don't know what's happened.  (Some, who are mentally disabled, really don't know what's happened.)


Image result for prison v. nursing homeMeanwhile, this meme - the one on the right - has been going around the internet for a long, long time, comparing prison (favorably) to nursing homes.  And I've refuted it every time I see it, and will continue to do so.  One version of it starts "Let's put Grandma in prison", to which I always respond, you must really hate your Grandma.  And then I explain why this meme is absolutely, one hundred percent false.  Not to mention pretty damn hateful...

So, let's compare apples to oranges, prisons to nursing homes:

Yes, prisoners get a shower every day - it's to prevent lice, mites, and scabies.  It's a health measure, not for their pleasure.  Believe me, a lot of prisoners would just as soon not take showers, because they don't want to be in a large group of naked men, some of whom are hostile, and - what with steam, slippery tile, soap, etc. - it's a place where rape and other assaults can happen.  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?
(NOTE:  In a nursing home, they do get a bath or shower every day, but in private.)

Image result for prison cell usa toilet in front
Prison cell
Yes, there is 24/7 video surveillance.  That's for security.  Yes, the lights don't go off at 7 PM in the pen - they don't go off at all.  That's for security.  The average prison cell is 6 x 8 feet, and (except for lifers) it's shared by two inmates, and the toilet is open, right in the front, by the door, so that literally everyone can see them doing their business.  That's for security, too.  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?
(NOTE:  The average nursing home room is at least six times that size, and the toilet is in a private bathroom with a door.  And no, the lights are NOT turned off in a nursing home at 7:00 PM.)

Yes, there are three meals a day.  They're awful.  I know, I've eaten a lot of them.  (We don't go out for meals during a weekend workshop.)  They get no fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, or red meat.  (The exceptions:  once a day they get canned corn or canned green beans or lettuce or raw carrots.)  There are a lot of carbs, which is why, even if you don't have diabetes before you go into the pen, there's a good chance you'll develop it before you go.  (Nationally, 21% of inmates have diabetes.)  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?
(NOTE:  I've eaten many a meal in assisted living centers, while visiting my parents, God rest their souls, and they weren't cold, except the salads, and they were pretty good.)

Yes, prisoners are allowed to have a TV - if they can afford it.  (No, they're not free.)  This is also a security measure, believe it or not.  Unless they have a job (and as many as half the prisoners don't), they're locked down, in their 6x8 cell 23/24.  Lately, they're also being given tablets (provided for free by private corporations, and not on the taxpayers' dime), which allow them to make telephone calls from their cells (using earbuds), listen to music, and access the digital law library.
(NOTE:  The digital law library has caused some prisons to quit having a paralegal on staff to explain the law to the inmates, which is sort of like providing a medical library and firing the doctors.)  Working or not, inmates are only allowed 1 hour for recreation (rec).  Depending on staffing levels, or climate, even rec is cancelled.  Inside rec is in the gym, which does come equipped with basketball hoops and weight equipment.  (Personally, I want them to burn off their energy somewhere....)

Prison tiers, SDSP
When the weather is nice and staffing levels are good, rec is outside, where inmates can play baseball and walk / jog around the track.  But, as soon as the temperature goes below 50, all rec is indoors, because the inmates - for security reasons - aren't given coats unless they have a specific job outside.  So, here in South Dakota, that generally means that for six months out of the year, inmates don't get to go outside, at all.  And because of the configuration of cell blocks, most cells don't have windows; and where there are windows, they're covered with iron mesh, which means that inmates don't even get to see the sun for six months out of the year.  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?

Now let's talk about medication.  Most prisoners are now given Vitamin B and D supplements, because of the lack of sunlight, the food, and the constant fluorescent lighting.  Yes, there's generally a paramedic and a nurse on duty 24/7 at a prison.  Yes, there is free prescription medication, and if you really want people with bi-polar, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses to go without medication in an over-crowded environment of people who are stuck there for years for criminal behavior, well...  that one's beyond me...

But notice I said prescribed medication.  You have to get that prescription, and getting it can take a while.  First you have to get an appointment to see the doctor, which takes a while.  Diagnosis takes a while.  And the medications are given out on the prison time schedule, not the prisoners.  Diabetics don't get to check their blood sugar and medicate accordingly.  They get their insulin at the scheduled time.  Period.  Inmates on chemo get to ride out the side effects in their 6x8 cell, without any special diet or help.  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?

Image result for elderly in prisonA lot of prisoners are elderly.  You get 20, 30, 40, 50 years or life, you're going to grow old in prison.  Eventually, elderly and disabled prisoners are allowed knee braces, walkers, and eventually even wheelchairs.  Those who are in wheelchairs are often assigned a pusher, which in this case is an inmate who will push them to where they want to go.  But they're not given any special help in and out of bed, on and off the toilet, up and down the stairs, to and from the chow hall, the medication line, etc., until they're actually at the hospice stage.  Is this really the way you want Grandma to live?

All I can say, is that if your elderly loved ones are in a nursing home that does what the meme says, you have put them in the wrong nursing home.  (That or you really do hate them.)  Get them out.  Immediately.  Here are the official Nursing Home Care Standards:  find some place that follows them!

Meanwhile, I hope that reading this has made us all truly thankful for the things we have:  a home, with a private bathroom, a soft bed with comforters and pillows, weather-appropriate clothing, the ability to go outside whenever we want, do what we want, eat whatever we want.  The simple fact that I can actually turn the lights on and off is wonderful.  The fact that I can have a Thanksgiving Dinner with friends, loaded with good food...  it's fantastic.  I am truly, truly, truly, thankful.






22 November 2017

"...This Sad Havoc"

David Edgerley Gates

East London, the 1890's. Whitechapel is still scarred by Jack the Ripper's terrors, and the men who police her streets are haunted, too. The late Victorian, a time and place of huge instabilities, that masquerades as a somehow immutable and granite-solid social and political norm, with its seething discontents just barely contained.

Ripper Street. A period series that's run five seasons. You'd think this ground had been pretty well ploughed and harvested by now, but not so. Sharp writing, animated characters, a terrific cast, and solid production values. This is the kind of thing the BBC does incredibly well when they bring their A-game. Downton Abbey as cop shop.


Matthew Macfadyen as Reid
Inspector Edmund Reid, commander of H Division, holds down the center, but Reid is nowhere near as foursquare as he first appears. His sergeant, Bennet Drake, later himself promoted to inspector, is likewise morally compromised. And the American surgeon, Homer Jackson, a former Pinkerton's man, may well be a fugitive living under another name. The whorehouse madam, Long Susan Hart, of suspect origins, also in flight. Lastly, the Yard's eminence grise, Chief Inspector Abberline, at one time lead detective on the Ripper case, who never caught his man.


Jerome Flynn as Drake
It's a charged dynamic, and it keeps shifting. The orbits erratic, the gravitational influences uncertain, as each major player moves their own boundaries. Drake, for example, is a bare-knuckles guy, what the Irish call a hard boy, but it's his softness that leads him astray. Reid is a self-righteous bastard, and trips on skirts because he sets the bar so high. (He carries the enormous guilt of blaming himself for his daughter's death.) All of this, and more, the scenery not a backdrop, but an ecosystem, a laboratory, a Petri dish that cultures infection. The medium is a character. Social position is destiny, capital is corrupt, brute strength is master.


Adam Rothenberg as Jackson
This is noir well before the term gained currency, and the interior darkness a dread that isn't named. The broken men who 'copper' these sooty tenements and narrow cobbles are honorable if not always honest - least of all with themselves - but they fear the deadening of their own hearts. The 'abyss,' Reid calls it. "Is it ourselves?" he wonders to Sgt. Drake, and Drake has no ready answer.


MyAnna Buring as Susan Hart
Bennet Drake, over time, comes to seem the most conflicted of the characters. Not that all of them don't have their individual weaknesses and ambiguities, but at first glance, Drake presents the fewest doubts and afflictions. He's muscle. He doesn't philosophize. Reid is supposed to be the brains. More often than not, though, it's Drake who shows the greater wisdom, and even restraint. They have a careful balance. Reid doesn't always know when to hold his tongue. Drake speaks less, and reveals more.


Clive Russell as Abberline
A mystery surrounds the two Americans, the surgeon Jackson and the businesswoman Susan Hart, but what they seek in London is reinvention. This might be counterintuitive, in a place so stratified by class, but in fact it gives them an advantage, because they can choose to erase the past. It's no disqualification, for an American. After all, they arrived from the New World. Others, however, are trapped. Whitechapel is both opportunity and quicksand, each of them a lure. There are masks, of convenience, of propriety, there is nakedness, of both flesh and ambition. There are predators and victims. The faint of heart don't prosper. "I would spare you," Bennet Drake tells the whore Rose, "from this sad havoc." But the knight of deliverance is no proof against calamity.

Ripper Street isn't allegory. It's flesh and blood, and plenty of it - full frontal gore, by and large - vivid and convincing. And this visible despair is always grounded in the iron courtesies and awkward frictions of class, a comedy of manners, you might say. Black comedy, and bad manners. An overcast of melancholy. A pinch of solitude. And the historical ironies, thrown into relief. It's an age of wonders, of industry and invention, the coming of a new century, but the dislocations of that new century are unlike anything we could have imagined beforehand. From this remove, Ripper Street foreshadows our loss, the end of innocence.

21 November 2017

A Writer’s Thanksgiving

by Paul D. Marks

Well, since Thanksgiving is in a couple of days I thought I’d write about what I, as a writer in particular, am thankful for. We all have things in our “regular” lives to be thankful for, so this column will address specifically some of what this writer has to be thankful for:

Computers: Whoa! I can’t say enough about this one. Changed my life. I’ve mentioned before how when personal PCs came out I thought they were just another silly toy. Then my former writing partner got one and I saw him move a paragraph from one page to another and I was hooked. How much better than literally cutting and pasting with scissors and white out. (Of course I’m sorry for Mike Nesmith and his mom, who invented white out, but I think they’re doing okay anyway.) So I was the second person I knew to get a PC: two floppy drives, wow! And we know how far computers have come from those days. Now your phone is a mini-computer.

Microsoft Word: When I started out on that dual floppy computer I used a word processing program called XyWrite, which I really liked. But it didn’t weather the transition to GUI programs like Windows. So I switched to Word. One can complain about both Microsoft and Word plenty, but overall they’ve made my life a hell of a lot easier.

Paying Markets: In the ye olden days of the mid-20th century writers could actually make a living selling short stories. That’s not really true anymore. There aren’t a lot of paying markets. No one would think of not paying their doctor or plumber, but for some reason people don’t think writers’ work is worth paying for. Sure, sometimes they’re struggling themselves, but even a token payment would be nice. When I was teaching screenwriting seminars on occasion I would always tell the students not to work for free. And, though I have published with non-paying markets it’s definitely better to get paid. So thanks to Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock (and others)—magazines that still pay and still publish short stories. Long may they live!

Assistants: I’m most grateful for all the wonderful assistants I’ve had over the years. A variety of dogs and cats, who’ve kept me company, provided inspiration, and sometimes aggravation, but have always been wonderful companions and who make the solitude of writing much more bearable. And who, on occasion, have tripped the light fantastic over the keyboard and probably added a little extra dazzle to my writing.
One of my former assistants

My current assistants

Kindle and E-publishing:  I have mixed feelings on this one. Yes, I prefer hard copy books, though I read about 50-50 these days between those and e-books. But e-publishing has opened the door for lots of people to read my scintillating syntax (or is that sin tax).  And it’s kind of cool to be able to go on a trip and bring 100 books along so I can read whatever I feel like. And even more cool to be able to buy a book at 3am and have it in my cyber-hands faster than you can say “Amazon-one-click”.

Social Media/Facebook/Twitter: Aside from the marketing benefits of social media, it’s a great way for writers, who are pretty much a solitary bunch of people, to be able to get together at the cyber “water cooler” to chat, share ideas, happy moments, sad moments, laughter and opinions—sometimes too many damn opinions…. I’ve made many friends across the country (and the world for that matter) and figure there’s someone I could have lunch with almost anywhere in the country and in many parts of the world.  Of course, as with anything, there’s always some jerks and trolls in the bunch. And to those people I say CENSORED.

The Internet: In a word—research. I love being able to research everything on the internet. From
murder methods, to maps, history, music and how-to videos on You-Tube. Of course some of those how to videos are how to play this or that guitar or bass part or just watching a bunch of old clips of rock bands. As for murder methods, I hope the police never have to search my computer—I’m guilty. Guilty. Guilty of researching heinous methods of offing people. But what better way for a writer to procrastinate and call it work!

Smart Phones & tablets: At first I was reluctant to get a smart phone, but now I love being able to check my e-mail on the go, post photos on Instagram of my doctor’s waiting room while I wait and wait and wait, like the people trying to get an exit visa out of Casablanca, for the doc to show up. Or snap a picture of the traffic jam I’m stuck in on the drive home. And while I never want to become one of those people with their noses glued to their cell phones all day and all of the night (to borrow a line from the Kinks), I am grateful for the little distractions both the phone and tablet provide and how I can stay connected even when I’m away from my computer. Oh, and thankful for Android. I love that all my Google contacts, etc., are integrated across all my devices.

Support from Friends and Fellow Writers:  I’m thankful for all the friends and writers who have supported me and cheered me on, read my books and stories, nominated me for awards and voted for my writing, given me great reviews, interviewed me, published me in their magazines, given me space on their blogs (including this one: shout out to Leigh and Rob and everyone else here!), congratulated me on FB, liked my FB posts, shared my good news and sympathized when bad things happened, and on and on. Grateful, too, for Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, et al. Writing is a lonely profession and the support of friends who understand the struggles of a writer is…to quote a famous commercial…priceless…

And last but not least: My wife, the indomitable, inimitable, indefatigable, intrepid and on occasion infuriating ;-) when she wants me to rewrite things (but she’s almost always right), Amy, who has stood by me through thick and thin. Who, though not a writer, is my number one reader, number one editor, number one fan and number one supporter. And who puts up both with me general (a job in itself) and as a writer (another job in itself as all the significant others of writers are well aware).




So, Thank You All And Have A Wonderful Thanksgiving!




***

20 November 2017

Plotters and Pantsers

by Steve Liskow

Several years ago, I sat on a panel with three other writers and one of the patrons asked if we outlined or not. I said "yes," and it set off a debate that filled the rest of the evening and did little except confuse the poor woman who asked the question in the first place.

Saturday, I conducted a workshop on plotting and the same issue held the center stage for most of the afternoon. I think it's an important question, but there's not one right answer. Writing is a personal action tied to your own rhythms, thought process and voice. About half the writers I admire do outline and an equal number don't. Both approaches have advantages.

Dennis Lehane and Tess Gerritsen don't outline. Gerritsen writes (or used to write) her first drafts in fountain pen in a notebook over the course of about seven months and revised for the rest of the year. Lehane used to write longhand on legal pads and type his work into the computer at the end of the day. He said that if he hit writer's block (a topic for another day), it meant he'd made a wrong choice somewhere and he had to re-read everything to find it. He would make all the necessary changes from that point on and continue. I don't know if his process has changed now that he also works in television.

Robert Crais got his start in television, writing for Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacey, and others. He says he still pins index cards with ideas on a cork board in his office and sorts them until he knows where he's going. Maybe having to write quickly and know the good guys will survive at the end makes that necessary. Mark Twain didn't outline but Charles Dickens did.

When I started writing (without an outline), I produced nearly 300 pages of a first novel over the course of about a year and a half. Then I got lost. I went back and discovered I had over 125 characters, many appearing only once, and lots of dialogue that went nowhere. I scrapped about 90% of what I'd written because it was all tangents and false starts. What was left looked sort of like an outline, and I've used a refined version of that approach ever since.

My thought process is far from linear (my friends prefer to call it "delusional") so plotting is hard for me. I also tend to use several point of view characters to help with pacing and to keep information away from certain people. Outlines help me keep track of who knows what. It also helps me find recurring images or themes to use along the way. I usually have a general idea of the ending, but the outline helps me figure out how to get there. It's sort of like MapQuest with a few wrong turns.

My outline is closer to a story-board, a list of scenes that name the POV character, the setting and the important action or change that takes place in that scene, all in three to five typed lines. I like to have about fifty scenes in what seems to be the right order before I write the first real text, but I never have them right. I add scenes, delete others, and move many around to get the pacing right and strengthen the cause and effect connections. That list is both my outline and my first draft. By the time I finish the first full prose version of the story, I've revised that list at least a dozen times. I think my record is 27. By the time I have the list and the completed first typed text, most of my plotting is done. Everything after it is revision.

That revision often involves going back and adding false leads or red herrings to make the ending a surprise. Occasionally, I find a more surprising ending along the way. Chris Knopf (I don't think he outlines) once told me that he writes with several possible endings in mind. When he decides which one will pack the most punch, he goes back and changes the details that lead elsewhere. I suspect other writers do that, too. I assigned Huckleberry Finn in my American lit classes for decades, and I still maintain that Twain added the scene with the dead man in the floating house (chapter 9) when he realized that Pap was an unresolved problem at the end.

People who don't outline have a sense of pacing and probably know their characters well enough (maybe in a series?) to understand where they will go and what they will do next. And, again, there's always revision. At that plotting workshop last week, I cited Jack Bickham's book Scene & Structure
with his explanation of scene and sequel. The sequel is a reflection on what has happened and what to do next. It helps with pacing and it gives pantsers a place to figure out where they will go next. They can even delete the passage later if they want to.

If you outline and it locks you up, toss it away and try writing your first scene. That will show you what your second scene should be. That will give you your third scene, and so on.

If you write from the seat of your pants and keep getting stuck, try an outline. My scene list is usually about six pages long and takes me anywhere from two to six weeks to write. Not only does it give me the action, it shows me what research I might have to do. Maybe that's another topic for a rainy day.

Remember, the only wrong way to write is not writing.

19 November 2017

The Fearlessly Fantabulous Flynn

by Leigh Lundin

Dale Andrews first brought Gillian Flynn to my attention long before she wildly captured movie goers’ imagination with a thriller based upon her third novel.

Gone Girl (2012) impressed me immensely, especially the plotting, one of the best mapped out stories I’ve read. To be sure, not everyone loved it. Marital cheating put off our Melodie Campbell and others. Some found it difficult to find likeable characters. A few thought it indulgently slow in places. Me? I admired it and reviewed it. It persuaded me to read her earlier novels.

Today’s article isn’t so much a review as a discussion about brilliant writing. I’ve become quite taken by Gillian Flynn. She might rate as one of the best novelists of our time. Gone Girl’s plot so dazzled me, I suspect I missed more subtle aspects, but I recently knocked off her first two novels, which cemented her reputation with me… and oddly one of those books disappointed me. But hold on…


Sharp Objects (2006) brings us Camille Preaker, a newspaper reporter who returns to her home town to research disappearing girls. This novel proves especially difficult to talk about without giving away too much, but let’s say Camille has problems… lots of problems, both past and present day.

Critics sparingly use the coveted words ‘honest’ and ‘authentic’ when talking about writing. Google those terms (at least after this article goes on-line), and you’ll see Gillian Flynn. She has a naked way of scratching words on paper. She doesn’t merely strip her characters bare, it feels like the writer herself types damning words while self-honestly exposed, self-flagellating, rawly nude, damp and shivering amongst cold drafts.

I can’t think of any author that comes close to this style. Strangely enough Anne Frank crossed my mind, the tiny observations and self-exploration, some edited out by a father intent on preserving the purity of her reputation.

The plot electrifies. As the story progressed, I narrowed the perpetrator down to two possibilities, and it worked out much as surmised. Camille manages to make mistakes, one nearly fatal and the other… nearly fatal. A sympathetic reader wants so much for the troubled heroine.

Dark Places (2009) brings out mixed feelings. Gillian Flynn has proved herself at every aspect of writing… observation, characterization, word-smithing, insight, suspense, and especially plot… except…

Seven-year-old Libby Day and her brother Ben, age 15, are the only two survivors of the mass murder of their family. Ben’s imprisoned, sent there by his tiny sister’s testimony. Libby, now an adult, is troubled, fearful, and doesn’t quite trust her memory of events. Persuaded by a club that investigates unsolved murders, she begins to look back… and forward.

One of the crafts Flynn handles so well is male viewpoints. She credits her husband and male friends, but I believe her innate understanding is better than she admits. This insight and empathy shines in all three of her novels.

Again, in this novel, her close observations and word crafting virtually invite study. She handles the tension well. Fully-formed characters populate the book. But I have a problem… or her perpetrator does.

Lewis Carroll’s White Queen tells Alice she believes as many as six impossible things before breakfast. Flynn asks us to believe only two, but they choked me.

The killer is introduced so late in the novel, I almost couldn’t believe I’d read it correctly. Then I’m asked to accept a premise for the killings that borders on Alice’s impossible… let’s say Improbable with a capital I. By introducing the murderer so late, it doesn’t give the reader time to accept the unlikely motive. Suspending readers’ disbelief takes much more time, effort, and consideration.

Sandwiched between two ultra-brilliant novels, I didn’t expect such a flaw to cap an otherwise fine novel. Not everyone agrees with me– it was nominated for a CWA Steel Dagger Award and a horror award called the Black Quill. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so it’s possible the director and writers dealt with these issues.

The Grownup. Saturday I ordered two books, one John Floyd’s recommendation of Gin Phillips’ Fierce Kingdom and a novella published in hardback by today’s go-to girl, Gillian Flynn’s The Grownup. After posting the main article, I downloaded the audiobook, closed my eyes, and listened for an hour.

Referred to variously as a ghost story and an homage to a ghost story, it’s a sixty page tale about an, uh, hooker who’s a psychic, right, and a woman’s weird and despised stepson, and a haunted house and… Fun and at times funny, it’s quite different from her other ventures. Give it a shot.

Gillian Flynn… Her books, her films… What is your assessment?