21 May 2018

Sticking It Out

Guest starring Brendan DuBois
Jan Grape invited a guest whom we are honored to have with us today. Brendan DuBois is the award-winning author of more than twenty novels and nearly 160 short stories. His latest mystery novel, HARD AGROUND, was published this past April by Pegasus Books. His next novel, THE NEGOTIATOR, is set to be published this August by Midnight Ink. He's currently working on a series of works with bestselling novelist James Patterson, with publications set for early 2019.

Brendan's short fiction has appeared in Playboy, The Saturday Evening Post, Analog, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and numerous anthologies including THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES OF THE CENTURY, published in 2000, as well as THE BEST AMERICAN NOIR OF THE CENTURY, published in 2010.
His stories have thrice won him the Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America, two Barry Awards, a Derringer Award, and have also earned him three Edgar Allan Poe Award nominations from the Mystery Writers of America.

Brendan is also a Jeopardy! game show champion.
— Jan Grape and Rob Lopresti


Sticking It Out
by Brendan DuBois


Last month I had the fun and privilege of going to Manhattan for the Edgar Allan Poe Awards ---- or as we call them in our house, Passover (hah-hah-hah) --- and had a fabulous time. The best part of Edgars week is catching up with old friends and making new ones, hobnobbing with agents and editors and other writers, and reinvigorating ones sense of being part a great writing community.

On one afternoon, I attended a wonderful reception at Dell Magazines --- publishers of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine --- and among the attendees were two old friends of mine, writers Doug Allyn and S.J. Rozan.

As we talked, laughed and gossiped with editors Janet Hutchings and Linda Landrigan, assistant editor Jackie Sherbow, and authors Jeffrey Deaver and Peter Lovesey, it was a just reminder of how far I’ve come in publishing. When I was just a kid, writing short fiction at the age of twelve, I dreamed about coming to Manhattan and hanging out in publishing offices.

At some point, some of us realized that three of us --- Doug, S.J., and myself --- had all gotten published by either Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock within a year or so of each other back in 1986. I think the three of us looked at each other and all thought the same thing: thirty years! And look how good we all looked! And we are still getting published in both magazines, as well as novels and other works.

Later that week, I joined up with S.J. and Doug at the Dell Magazines table during the Edgars banquet, and as part of the ceremony, there’s a slide show depicting past Edgar winners, and when it came to the 1980s and 1990s, the three of us commented on fellow short story authors who had won Edgars, had published for a few years, and then… disappeared.


What happened?

The three of us discussed this a bit, talking about these past friends and co-authors, and while a couple of them had died over this time period, what of the others?

I don’t know about Doug or S.J., but I felt a slight shudder pass through me. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and to be a published author back in 1986 was one of my greatest accomplishments. How could someone just… stop? Give up? Never return again to writing?

And what could someone do to prevent this from happening?

What are the keys to having a lengthy writing career?

Some thoughts:

You have to possess something more than just talent. You need drive. Something inside of you pushing you. Many years ago, when I was in college, a good friend of mine had submitted a short story to The New Yorker magazine. It was rejected, but it was a personal rejection, a typewritten note from an editor, encouraging her to submit again. And what did she do? Nothing! She just shrugged and went on with her life, finding joy and satisfaction in something else.

I’m still gobsmacked that she had done that. But you know what? Her life, her decision.

You have to have a thick skin. Rhinoceros skin? Try two rhino skins. Writing is a hard, tough, and lonely business. Here’s a news flash: nobody cares if you write or not. Nobody. It’s all up to you… and you have to realize that in the outset, you’re going to get rejected. Lots of times. Rejected in creative ways you never knew possible.

And some of those rejections will be harsh and deeply personal. And you have to smile, shrug it off, and keep on writing.

Then… you get published! Yay!

And then you really need a thick skin… maybe three rhino skins. The reviews will come in, and some will be great, and some will be awful. And as humans do, you’ll tend to ignore the good reviews and obsess on the negative ones.

Don’t.

As someone once said, opinions (and reviews) are like certain bodily orifices. Everybody has one. There are a number of fine, dedicated and thoughtful reviewers out there, but alas, it’s the mean ones that stick in your mind.


My trick is this: good reviews come from reviewers who know exactly what I was trying to do in a piece of writing. And bad reviews come from ignoramuses who missed the whole point of my story.

Still, again, you need a thick skin. Maybe even four rhino skins!

You have to be willing to stretch yourself, try different things, different approaches. My first published short stories were of a kind, following certain tropes and approaches. But as months and years went by, I decided to experiment.

You can’t keep plowing and re-plowing the old fictional fields. Editors and readers then get bored. So I wrote first person. Third person. Even a couple of second persons. Then I wrote from the point of a view of a woman. A young boy. A… dog! Yes, a dog.

You need to be trying new things, new ways of telling a story. Sure, there’ll be rejections, but in the end, you’ll be your stretching your talent.

You have to seek out new markets, new opportunities. Back in the days when I first started writing short stories, I used a typewriter. Found my markets via Writer’s Digest Guide to Markets. Sent out my stories in a nine-by-twelve manila envelope, with an SASE contained within. And I’d walk up to my mailbox, shooing away the baby dinosaurs as I did so.

Now it’s all electronic. And there are lots of new markets out there, lots of new publishing opportunities. When I first started out, self-publishing was considered icky, the sign of a loser. Now? I self publish novels that I’ve retained the rights to, and have self-published a number of original anthologies of my own short fiction.

Opportunities had changed, and so had I.

And, lastly, you still have to love it.

Not to mention that there aren’t setbacks, or disappointments, or career plans that founder on the shoals of reality and publishing.

But still, I can’t go without a day without writing.

More than it’s what I do, it’s what I am.

My friend Doug mentioned this at another ceremony during Edgars Week, where Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine gave out the Reader’s Choice Award. He said something to the effect that decades later, he still loved being in the writing game, that he still loved it.

And so do I.

20 May 2018

Crime Song

by Leigh Lundin

My brother Glen never met a music genre he didn’t like. He came by it honestly, learning brass and reeds as a kid while he tinkered with a marimba. Glen went on to learn guitar and keyboards as I messed with percussion. We’ve attended rock concerts, symphonies, and baroque chamber orchestras. We’ve enjoyed progressive rock, hard rock, fusion, and blues. He’s gone on to embrace electronica, trance, industrial, rap, and world music.

Recently he sent me a link to a familiar early 60s Mersey band, The Hollies, one of the few British Invasion bands still performing. As well as they were received in the US with The Air that I Breathe, Bus Stop, He Ain’t Heavy (He’s My Brother), and numerous other songs, The Hollies grew even more wildly popular overseas.

One of my favorite tunes was the echoic Long Cool Woman, but I’d never listened closely to it. Glen’s link contained lyrics and I suddenly realized it’s a crime song. I found it easy to imagine RT Lawton penning a ballad like this.

Take a listen. Here’s Long Cool Woman:


… and here find the lyrics:

19 May 2018

Hints and Shortcuts


by John M. Floyd





This post is a followup to a column I did two weeks ago called "Manuscript Mechanics." (By the way, Leigh Lundin did an excellent followup already, in his SS post Manuscript Mechanics II the day after mine--check it out also.) As in my first post, much of what I'll say today is pretty basic and should be familiar to you, but I've been surprised at how many writers either don't know these things or have forgotten them.

Imagine I'm telling you an old joke. If you've heard it, feel free to roll your eyes and tune me out. (I'm used to that.) But if you haven't heard it, you might be as pleased as I've been with how much time and how many headaches these hints can save. And, unlike my previous post, the information here can apply to all kinds of writing.

Here goes. A guy walks into a bar . . .



1. Everyone knows about using the keyboard to copy/cut/paste (Ctrl-C, Ctrl-X, Ctrl-V)--but did you know that you can do a "select all" with the shortcut Ctrl-A? Also, if you make a mistake you can undo it without using the dropdown command menu. Just use Ctrl-Z. It'll even back you up more than one occurrence. Hit Ctrl-Z several times, and it'll take you back to whatever previous point you want, repairing missteps as you go. This saved me recently when I was trying to delete a word in a looooooong email I had saved as a draft, and when I hit the delete key my computer thought I was trying to delete the entire email. I wasn't, but it did. I almost panicked, and said some unkind words, and then realized I could hit Ctrl-Z and bring the email back from the ashes. (By the way, for Apple users, the Command key is used instead of Ctrl.)

2. How do you replace italicized text with underlined text, and vice versa? Some markets (AHMM is one of them) prefer underlining instead of italics, in their submissions--but I usually do all my drafts using italics. If you have a completed manuscript that includes italics, you can change italicized text to underlined text for the entire manuscript in one swoop: Open "Find and Replace," click in the "Find What" box, click on "Format" in the dropdown menu, then click "Font" and choose "Italic" and click OK. Then click in the "Replace With" box, and (under Format/Font) choose a single underline under "Underline Style" and click OK. Then click "Replace All," and it's done. To change it back again, reverse the operation.

3. How do you replace straight quotes with curly quotes? As anyone who's converted Courier to TNR knows, it's hard to find and change all the straight-up-and-down apostrophes and quotation marks in a manuscript to proper "curved" apostrophes and quotes. A quick way to do it is to just pull up "Find and Replace" and key a single quotation mark into both the "Find What" box and the "Replace With" box and click "Replace All." Then do the same with double quotation marks. When you're finished, all apostrophes, single quotes, and double quotes should now be corrected.

4. Highlight using the arrow keys. Sometimes it's difficult to highlight certain text with just the mouse. If ever you need to be exact, and (for example) highlight everything up to a particular character but not including that character, you can just hold down the Shift key while pressing the right- or left-arrow key. But here's the real time-saver: If the text to be highlighted (and then copied, changed, deleted, etc.) is a single word, there's no need to stripe it or use the arrow keys. Just double-click on the word, and presto, it's highlighted.

5. What's the best way to copy/paste a manuscript into the body of an email? If a market requires the submission of a manuscript as a part of the email rather than as an attachment, it can be hard to paste the story directly into the body of the email without gorking up the spacing and formatting. Here's a good way to do that without risk: save the manuscript first as a plain-text (.txt) file in your Word program, then close it and open it again, and then paste it into your email. It will now be formatted correctly. NOTE: As I mentioned in my post last week, saving a regular manuscript in plain-text will convert everything to Courier 10-point font whether you want it to or not, and will lose any special features like italics and underlining. Emphasized text can be indicated, however, by typing an underscore (_) immediately before and after any text (letter, word, phrase, whatever) that should've been italicized or underlined. If by chance you save it as .txt and it doesn't convert it to 10-point Courier (this sometimes happens, for some reason), you're still okay--just remember that your special characters are still lost, and you'll still need to substitute the underscores.

6. Turn off widows and orphans. Another way of saying this: Turn on widow/orphan suppression. Like #5, this is more of a safeguard than a shortcut. If widow/orphan control is left activated, you'll wind up with some manuscript pages that look far too short--some of them seem to end two-thirds of the way down the page. So I turn it off. It really doesn't matter to me, and I don't think it matters to editors either, whether there is a single ending line of a paragraph at the top of a page or a single beginning line of a paragraph at the bottom of a page. Consistency is more important.



Please let me know of any other handy tricks-of-the-trade you might've discovered, or even any pet-peeve issues you might have, with all this. Writing is hard enough work already, and I'd like to make it easy as I can, not only for myself but for the editors I send my stories to.

Best of luck to all of you who type and submit manuscripts of any kind. Keep me posted!








18 May 2018

Face the Music: Public Readings and How to Survive Them

by Thomas Pluck

Thomas Pluck



There are few terrors greater than being faced with reading your work in front of an audience, particularly when they are strangers, or not even fans of the genre. Public speaking is a skill, and I don't want to hear writers whinging that they are introverts and just want to stay at home with their cats. No one forced you to write your book. If you were so private, it would be sitting on a closet shelf like Emily Dickinson's poems. Cut the humble shy wallflower act. Being nervous about what people will think of your book doesn't mean you are a selfless monk devoid of ego in the temple just waiting for enlightenment to strike.

It's natural to be nervous about it. However, you are doing yourself, your readers, and your colleagues a disservice if you do not practice reading aloud when you're home alone with your bored cats, whimpering dogs, and headphone-wearing partners and children. We can tell when you show up having never read this story aloud before, unless you are very well practiced at reading in public in general. Some have the knack, the gift of gab, the desire to have an audience, willing or not. And good for them. I remember the first time I read poetry in front of the Rutgers-Newark English department. I gripped that podium so tightly I thought it would shatter into timbers. Before that, remember reading a presentation in 5th grade on deer, where I was shaking like a sizzling slice of bacon in a pan, having to say "urine" with a straight face in front of my classmates. I got a little hammy after that, the class clown act in middle school and high school, doing silly spoofs of Shakespeare. That confidence faded the moment I had to read something I had written in front of people who read books for a living.

Practice does help. "Noir at the Bar" readings, where you can socially lubricate if necessary, can be a good start as long as you don't let the drink in your hand become a crutch. Invite your friends, they'll mimic their rapt attention, or look at their phones and say they were posting a photo of you to Instagram to boost your social media presence. Join a writer's association like the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and so on, and you can ask to be a reader at their events, surrounded by friendly writers who know what it's like to be up there. I did all of that. I even hosted Noir at the Bar in Manhattan for the longest year of my life-- that's another column, but if you host one of those events, you suddenly become every writer's unpaid publicist-- and all those accomplishments helped:

Now I can say "urine" in front of a crowd of strangers and not even snicker.

I had a stealth strategy, helped along by some of my pub family. They like karaoke. Some of them even insist on pronouncing it like they're in Tokyo, where it's done differently, in a private room among friends. You can do this in Koreatown in Manhattan as well, and I'm sure in other cities with such neighborhoods, if you prefer privacy, but to me that misses the point. It helps to have grown up in and around bars. My uncle ran bars for the Jewish mob in Manhattan for thirty years. I never visited one, to my chagrin--I wanted to be a bouncer, like Sascha the Slovenian, who busted knees with his club and smashed The Infamous Urinal Pooper's face on a car hood--but it was not to be. I did sit on a stool at Grandinetti's next to my grandfather and drink a Coca-Cola before Sunday dinner, while he nursed a Pabst. And I've been to every tavern in northeastern New Jersey so my father could drink while we kids had burgers and fries. Bar patrons often have the blues, and when you have the blues, you want to sing about it.

So, American karaoke is more about flipping through a binder full of songs until you find the one that reflects your soul, and belting it out in front of a bunch of people who just want to drink and not hear your caterwauling. And what better way to get a thick skin about reading in public? So what if you can't sing, few can. Even the good ones can maybe belt out one song or singer, and know not to step out of their wheelhouse. Or should. I don't. I'm a tenor. I've sang everything from Elvis to Guns 'n Roses, growled out John Fogerty, flopped terribly trying to keep up with the Ramones, serenaded my wife with a gender-bent version of the DiVinyls "I Touch Myself", and done duets of "Love Shack" by the B-52's that brought down the house, and been hugged by strangers on their birthdays for my emotional rendition of "You Oughtta Know" by Alanis Morrissette.

Comedians know. Sometimes you kill, sometimes you bomb. More often, you face a storm front of indifference. That's the ugly truth. Even if you silence a room with your reading, it doesn't mean that they are waiting with bated breath for the climax. It's a better sign than the audience talking amongst themselves, but don't get cocky. Unless it's a book event for you, they may not even be there to hear you. Even if it is your event, they may only be there to ask how they can get their epic about their Uncle Oogie and his funny-looking foot made into a movie with Tom Hanks. Hey, you write the script, use my idea, we'll both be billionaires. But it's more likely for people to show up to your events if you are a practiced reader who respects the audience.

Some advice:
Keep it short. This is another reason you practice reading at home. A "short" story of 2500 words can take 15-20 minutes to read, which is an eternity. Read excerpts. Read the good parts. Give a short introduction and start where stuff happens.

Be entertaining. If you want to read a nuanced and powerful piece, by all means do so, but read the room. If you're not alone, and the writer before you just read about a puppy who died defusing an atom bomb, you might want to chat a little bit about your book or what inspired the story so they can finish wiping their eyes and put away their tissues. Bring a backup story. I didn't do that for my only reading at Noir at the Bar D.C., where Josh Padgett brought in a great crowd. An older crowd. I had read host Ed Aymar's stories, Nik Korpon was there, they both are a little raunchy. So I brought my story "Gunplay," a hilarious poke at gun fetishism. (It went really well when Hilary Davidson read it at Shade in Manhattan, for our story swap.) I'm no Hilary Davidson. I read it to be funny, but the groans from the audience told me that a couple who cosplays as Union soldier and Scarlett O'Hara with live ammunition in the bedroom wasn't their cup of sweet tea!

I finished anyway, took a bow, and lost the audience favorite in the voting. But they will remember my name. It's not always so bad, I've had many readers come up and tell me how much they liked a story at a reading. It's a great way to introduce yourself to a new audience. It's part of the job. Even if you never do readings, chances are you will be on a panel, flanked by witty and seasoned writers, and you will have to hold your own. Or worse, you'll be next to That Guy who hogs the mike and bullies the moderator into making it a one-man show, and you will need the chutzpah to interrupt and grab the wheel of the bus so you and your fellow writers can get a word in edgewise. To some people this comes naturally. For the rest of us, practice makes passable. Read to your cat. Sing to your dog.

And be thankful for the printing press, or we'd all be reciting our stories like Homer. Maybe we'd be so good the king would pluck our eyes out so we couldn't wander off.

17 May 2018

This Is The Way We Avoid Writing...Avoid Writing...

The guy it all started with...THIS time.
by Brian Thornton

This time it all started with Ezra Meeker

A pioneer Northwesterner, an Oregon Trail settler who became famous for enriching himself by cornering the world's hop market during the late 19th century, Meeker, was an early and enthusiastic booster of Washington, first as a growing territory, and later as a new state.

I have a project set around the time that Washington became a state (1889) which involves an "Immigrant Inspector" assigned to the Puget Sound area by the INS. As such he has run-ins with illegal immigrants (mostly at this point Chinese), sex slave trafficking rings, drug (mostly opium) smugglers, railroad labor wranglers, railroad labor agitators, and a whole host of others.

With Meeker playing such a prominent role in the early history of the region, I decided that I wanted to dedicate a portion of this on-going project to the South Sound region, and doing research on Meeker and his large extended family seemed like a great starting place for historical evidence that might be used to dress up my germ of a story.

Several rounds of ever-expanding Google searches about Meeker and his extended clan helped lead me to Asa Mercer.


Asa Mercer after he'd left Washington for Wyoming

Poking around in the back yard of the Meekers brought me around to a ton of information on another prominent Washington family: the Mercers, specifically the younger of the original two Mercer brothers, the restless, energetic Asa Mercer.

Now, I write historical mystery. I have a Master's degree in history, and I am a native of the Pacific Northwest, so I've had research-based encounters with both the Meeker and the Mercer families before. This is not new ground for me.

This time, however, I was doing historical research for a fiction-based purpose. So tidbits I might have not bothered pursuing previously, when I was still writing predominantly nonfiction, struck me as worth pursuing, this time around.

This included Asa Mercer's connection with the nascent University of Washington (as a young man he helped build the school's original building, and also served as both its first president, and its first teacher), and his subsequent much more pop-culture friendly association with the so-called "Mercer Girls."
Young Asa Mercer: Check out that pompadour!

For those unfamiliar with the Mercer Girls, here's the short version of the story:

Mercer recognized that the majority of settlers in Washington Territory were young, single (and overwhelmingly white) men. Recognizing an opportunity, Mercer headed east to New England, where, during the height of the Civil War, he convinced a significant number of young, unmarried women to travel to the Puget Sound area, luring them with the promise of "honest work" such as teaching jobs, and the greater likelihood of them finding eligible bachelors who could make good husbands.

These intrepid young women all went on to work in the region as schoolteachers. Nearly all of them would later marry, have children, and serve as the human roots of any number of current Northwest family trees.

Nearly a century after their arrival in Puget Sound the Mercer Girls went on to serve as the inspiration for a "comic western" television series produced between 1968 and 1970.

I'm talking about Here Come the Brides, of course.

A sappy TV show which has not aged well, Here Come the Brides featured three young actors, two of whom spent considerable time during the '60s and '70s as "teen heart-throbs": Bobby Sherman and David Soul.
These two.
Sherman would go on to a moderately successful career as a pop singer/songwriter, and Soul went on to play Hutch in Starsky & Hutch, then to England, where he was still acting as late as 2014.

And the third guy?

He's Robert Brown.

He's the guy on the right, Those are some sweeeeet gloves.

Here Come the Brides was pretty much the high-water mark of Robert Brown's career, name-recognition-wise. And of course when I came across his picture in the course of digging deeper down into this particular rabbit hole, I recognized him right away.

But not for his work on Here Come the Brides.

Nope.

There's a Star Trek connection.

Yep, I'm a Trekkie.

Nope, not a "Trekker." I don't dress up or go to conventions, or speak Klingon. I just LOVE Star Trek, and have since I was four (the year the original series was canceled).

So of course I recognized Robert Brown from his guest-starring role in the Star Trek episode "The Alternative Factor." As the time-traveler Lazarus, he played a dual role (same guy, two universes. In one he's sane. In the other, he's not.).

He was great.

And he gets to rock a fake beard that looks waaaay worse than either Ezra Meeker's or Asa Mercer's!
Now, I have a rule when it comes to researching for my writing. If I come across anything remotely relating to Star Trek, the writing of Ross MacDonald, the music of Miles Davis, Stevie Ray Vaughan, or Ryan Adams, or the poetry of William Butler Yeats, I am required to cease all research, get away from the computer, and go do something which might be remotely productive.

Because given the excuse, I will dig down that particular rabbit hole all the way to China!

So there you have it:

Ezra Meeker. Asa Mercer. Mercer Girls. Here Come The Brides. Robert Brown. Star Trek.

This is the way we avoid writing today.

(But tomorrow is another day!)

See you in two weeks!


16 May 2018

Five Red Herrings, Tenth School


by Robert Lopresti

1.  Derringer Days.  Yesterday the Short Mystery Fiction Society announced the winners of the Derringer Awards and I couldn't help but notice that I was one of them, specifically for Best Short.  "The Cop Who Liked Gilbert and Sullivan" appeared in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine #23.  You can read what I had to say about it here and here.  Congratulations to my fellow winners, Brendan Dubois, David H. Hendricksen, and Earl Staggs.  But let's have a big round of applause for the winner of this year's Edward D. Hoch Memorial Gold Derringer for Lifetime Achievement.  That went to our own John M. Floyd!  Well deserved, too.

2. Free pictures!  It's always nice to find a new source for public domain illustrations.  (We bloggers love them, anyway.)  The Library of Congress very kindly sorted out the pictures on their website that are free for the taking.  (See the one below.)  Enjoy.


3. Underpaid through the ages. The University of Missouri Libraries has done a great service for anyone writing historical fiction.  Prices and Wages by Decades links you to actual government publications from the 1700s forward reporting on how much things cost and how much people were paid.  

4. Man With The Axe.  Last time I did one of these gather-alls I mentioned Lowering the Bar, which talks about the odd side of the legal biz.   I have to point out the story above which informs us that in a single incident a man in New York was charged with:
driving while ability impaired by drugs, driving while ability impaired by the combined influence of drugs, no license plates, unregistered motor vehicle, uninspected motor vehicle, operating without insurance, no front windshield, and no safety glass.

But on the bright side for him,  it turned out there is no law in the Empire State against driving around with an axe embedded in the roof of your car.


5. Shanks does Japan. According to an automatic translation app, the title of the book at the right is Sunday Afternoon Tea With Mystery Writer.  Could be, but in English it's Shanks on Crime. First time I have ever appeared in Japanese.  I wish Shanks a long and happy visit there.



15 May 2018

Giving Thanks

by Barb Goffman

It may be six months until Thanksgiving, but when the urge to thank people moves you, I say, go with your urges.

Writing fiction might feel like working in a vacuum because so much of the time the author is sitting alone in front of a computer, typing away. Even if the writing occurs in a public place, the writer is essentially toiling alone (except for the voices in her head). But we all need help from time to time, and it's a wondrous thing to work in an industry--the mystery community--where people are willing to help others, even eager to do it. They were helped along the way, and they like to give back by helping others.

Take Barbara Ross. She's a mystery writer from New England. Last month she gave a presentation to my local Sisters in Crime chapter in Virginia about promotion--what works and what doesn't. We didn't pay her to do this. She was going to be in the area and has a bit of expertise in this subject and didn't mind spending a chunk of her day sharing her knowledge with others, so she did. Mystery writers do things like this for others all the time. Heck, it's what so many of the blog posts here at SleuthSayers aim to do: help other writers. To all the Barbara Rosses out there, thanks.

There are other people we writers often turn to for assistance: subject-matter experts. I was reminded of this recently when I was answering a question posed to me about my newest short story, "Till Murder Do Us Part." The question was: Do police officers really use peppermint-scented masks to avoid terrible odors at death scenes. (A sheriff's chief deputy wears just such a mask in my story.) And my answer was yes, some do. I got the information from a subject-matter expert who gives his time, free of charge, to help authors get details right. It's also how I knew to call this particular character a chief deputy. So to Lee Lofland and all subject-matter experts who help authors get their  lingo and other details right, thank you.

You don't have to be a professional in any particular field, however, to have useful information for an author. Personal experience can be wonderfully helpful. When I was writing "Till Murder Do Us Part," I needed to know what it looked, smelled, and sounded like when a cow exploded. There's only so much information I could find online. I needed someone with personal experience to answer my questions. Bless my Facebook friends; they came through. None of these people are farmers, but they all spent time on farms growing up, had firsthand knowledge with exploding cows, and didn't mind providing pertinent details. So thank you to my friends Bob Harris, Gwen Mayo, and Teresa Wilder for their help with these details. And thank you to everyone I know who has, over the years, shared personal information that enabled me to get details right. Everyone is an expert in their own lives, after all. You just need to know who to ask about what.

For instance, if you need information about writing, ask some writers. Just today, I had a friend who was feeling down because she hasn't yet had luck selling her first novel. (It's great--I've read it--but sometimes these things take time. Not every agent is right for every author and book.) I figured it might help her to hear from other authors who had a lot of rejection before they had success, so I asked my Facebook friends to share their stories. And did they. About thirty authors shared their stories of querying and querying and querying until, finally, they had success.
Not the right paper for professional
queries, but very pretty





Three of these authors sent out more than 400 queries each, and for two of them, when they finally got published, their first book was nominated for major awards. These are perfect examples of the importance of persistence. Hearing these personal stories helped my friend, and my heart was warmed that so many people shared what some might think is embarrassing information in order to help another writer have confidence to continue querying. Rejection is just a step on the journey to success, but it's never easy. So to all my fellow authors who shared their stories on my Facebook page yesterday, and to authors everywhere who regularly share their insights to help others get published, thank you.

The list of people to thank feels endless, which is lovely, because it shows that wherever you turn, there are helpful people. Thank you to the agents, editors, and publishers who have taken a chance on me and other writers. Every one of us was new at some point and needed someone to give us our big break. Thank you to all of you who've done that.

Thank you to the bookstores, librarians, reviewers, and bloggers who buy our books and share them with the world. You help make our dreams come true. And finally, we authors would be nowhere without readers. You buy our books, enabling us to buy our food and feed our dreams. So thank you.

Before I end, a little BSP with a little more thanks thrown in: First, the launch party for Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies (in which I have my cow story, "Till Murder Do Us Part") is this Sunday, May 20th, at the Central Library in Arlington, VA, from 2 - 4 p.m. If you're in the DC area, I hope you'll come to the event and share in our celebration. Books will be sold and snacks will be served.

Second, this past week I was honored to have my short story "Whose Wine Is It Anyway?" nominated for an Anthony Award, along with stories by fellow SleuthSayer Art Taylor and authors Susanna Calkins, Jen Conley, Hilary Davidson, and Debra H. Goldstein. You can read my story on my website by clicking here. Art's story is available here. Debra's story is available here. Hopefully Susanna's, Jen's, and Hilary's stories will be available to read for free online soon. In the meanwhile, you can buy the books these stories were published in. Congratulations also to SleuthSayers Thomas Pluck, nominated in the best paperback original category, and Paul Marks, nominated in the best anthology category.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to send in ballots for the Anthony Award nominations, and especially thanks to everyone who listed my story on their ballot. With so many good stories published each year, receiving an honor like this is, well, an honor. A true honor. So ... thanks.

If you have someone you'd like to mention or thank who helped you on your life's journey, I welcome you to do it in the comments. And thanks for reading.

14 May 2018

Seeing Eye To Ear

by Steve Liskow

When I was young, I wanted to play piano but my parents wouldn't drive me across town to my great aunt's house to practice on her Steinway baby grand. They let me study violin instead, and I quit after one year. Years later when the British Invasion hit, I was one of thousands of guys who saw girls go crazy over the Beatles. In 1966, I spent twenty-five dollars on a Stella Harmony guitar with strings thicker than coat hanger wire and set about cultivating terrible technique and a crop of blisters.



Since then, I've bought, sold or traded at least twenty guitars and a half dozen amplifiers. Right now, I own five guitars, two of which are for sale. Around the Millennium, I bought a used Roland keyboard and have wasted lots of time and a little money on books that promised to turn me into the next Glenn Gould, Otis Spann or Dave Brubeck. None of them did.


A few months ago, I saw a series of DVDs on playing piano at a ludicrously low price and decided to bet on one more losing hand. Surprise, the videos are excellent. After watching the first three, I understand the keyboard and music theory better than I ever have before. Piano gives you a fuller understanding of what is going on in a song because you play two separate lines. It's changing how I look at and hear the guitar, too.

The old blues players often used alternate guitar tunings, which I avoided until I bought a resonator guitar and started playing slide more often. Different tunings change the sound of a chord you've heard for years, and it forces you to think about what those tones mean. I'll never be great on either guitar or piano, but I'm thinking a lot more about what I'm doing.

Looking at your writing from a different perspective can have the same effect.

In 2005, I wrote a short story featuring Woody Guthrie (under a different name) and Megan Traine and a rock band. It was a complicated story and one of my friends commented that he had trouble keeping all the characters straight. The story was almost 7000 words long, which meant few markets would look at it, and when I cut characters and words, the whole thing became incoherent. I ran out of places to send it, and it languished on a floppy disc for about four years.

In 2009, someone told me about the Black Orchid Novella Award. Among other requirements, entries had to be between 15 and 20 thousand words. Could I expand that short story into a novella and introduce the large cast more gradually?

Over the next four days, I added nine thousand words and nothing felt padded! I'd never considered writing a novella because at that time the market was non-existent. But now I had one on my hands and I sent it out. "Stranglehold" won the Black Orchid Novella Award and appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in the summer of 2010. I was so used to thinking "short story" that I couldn't see it was really a novella waiting for its growth spurt.

A few years later, something felt wrong near the end of a WIP and I couldn't figure out what it was. I swapped manuscripts with another writer, who suggested that I change the point of view in one of the last scenes. Both characters had POV scenes throughout the book, so the change was feasible. It also made the ending much stronger. Someone with more distance could see that right away.

The Whammer Jammers introduces Hartford detectives Tracy "Trash" Hendrix and Jimmy Byrne exploring the world of roller derby. I interviewed skaters, referees, coaches, boyfriends, announcers, spectators, and Hartford police officers before I developed an outline and started writing. After about sixty pages, I felt like I was hip-deep in quicksand.

That night, I watched a baseball game on TV, the announcers giving the play-by-play in present tense, the way they always do. It dawned on me that Roller Derby is a sport, so what if I went back and changed the book from past tense to present? Bingo. I finished the rough draft in six weeks.

I did lots of research for what I thought would be the third Woody Guthrie novel, too. The more I played with it, the more it felt like it would work better with Zach Barnes in Connecticut. From there, it evolved into a police procedural with Trash and Byrne again. Once I have an outline, I usually produce eight or ten pages a day, but this beast needed three weeks to reach page fifty. I put it aside for a month, and when I looked at it again, I saw that two crucial premises actually contradicted each other. Oops. I recycled about half the characters into The Kids Are All Right, a finalist for the Shamus Award for Best Indie Novel.

When you revise, you become more committed to what you already have on paper. You tweak, but you don't rebuild. Looking at it from a different angle helps you see other possibilities. What if the other person is the main protagonist? What if you try it as a comedy instead? Should you expand that short story? Could it become a play, or maybe even a screenplay?

Going back to music for a minute, I remember Leonard Bernstein discussing the opening of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and saying that the original opening, the da-da-da-DUM, included a flute in the score. Beethoven, one of music's great revisers, realized that a flute didn't belong in that "strong masculine utterance" (Bernstein's words, not mine) and removed it.

Learn from the masters. And maybe pick a different instrument.

13 May 2018

Death comes in...

by Mary Fernando

She is the first person I have spoken with who has actually killed. 


“Unlike a lot of people, I do kill,” says Dr. V. As a veterinarian, she does indeed kill as part of her job. “There is how I end a life and what it is like.”

She starts with the latter.

“As one of my duties it is a bit of a double edged sword - it is so sad. Euthanasia literally means good death in Latin- I have to concentrate on that. it is my job to stay professional and not show grief. It can build up over time.”

Veterinarians have a very high suicide rate. One of the contributing factors is the result of facing grief over killing animals they are attached to while not being allowed to express their grief. It is their job to stay calm and comforting when they need comfort themselves.

She then moves onto the how she kills. She is describes both how to kill and what you see when death arrives. Not just for the animals in her practice, but for all living beings. 

“I front load sedatives and anti-anxiety meds, so the animal is still with it enough to know their owners are there, but not as aware of the insertion of the IV catheter. We use pentobarbital at 300 times the dose used for anaesthesia. In 30 secs to a minute the syringe is fully injected and in 15 sec to 30 secs they pass.”

“I believe that is when the soul leaves the body. Breathing is slower and slower and then it stops - and I get a feeling - it is a deep stillness and you can almost see an emptiness.”

“I know what to expect and I warn my clients. The eyes will stay open. Even if you try to close them, they open up again. The  animals will urinate and defecate. When calcium is released from the cells, sometimes you will see muscles contraction and the most scary thing is when the diaphragm contracts it looks like breathing. But it isn’t.”

“If this was an overdose of sleeping pills, it would be just like this.” 

Listening to her, I think of the many dogs I have had over the years. How their pain and suffering was relieved by vets just like her. And how it must have worn each of them down. 

I also wonder if any of us can kill - and watch this stillness - the emptiness - followed by the open eyed release of bowels and bladder and the breath that is merely the release of calcium and not life. Can we watch this and not be gutted to our core?

As a doctor I have seen death marching in - sometimes slowly and sometimes on a rampage - and I have seen death arrive. I have heard people say that it was a mercy, for the best. I have said that myself. But here’s the thing, the arrival of death is always frightening. There is no way that you can wipe out a life lived without that. Even if it is for the best.

12 May 2018

INTERVIEW: Alex Segura on BLACKOUT, Outlines and Writing the PI

by Libby Cudmore

I don’t remember how I met Alex, but when we did meet, over Twitter, we clicked immediately. We both wrote PI novels and shared a love of the Talking Heads and the Replacements. So when he invited me to read at Noir at the Bar (a series I have desperately wanted to be part of for years) I felt like I had finally made it as a mystery writer.

As you do at readings, I bought everyone’s books, and read his Silent City first. I was instantly sucked into Pete Fernandez’s world, right alongside him as he worked to solve the case of a missing journalist and the shadowy figure who haunted his detective father’s own caseload.

Blackout, Segura’s latest book, finds Fernandez, a Miami native, now living an isolated life in New York, pulled back to Miami after a politician hires him to find his wayward son in a case that connects to one Fernandez botched years ago. “He sees it as this opportunity to fix his mistake,” said Segura. “There are a lot of parallels to his recovery and embracing life.”

Though Segura started out in comics, rising through the ranks at DC to become the Senior Vice President of Publicity and Marketing and the editor of Archie imprint Dark Circle Comics, (to which he contributed Archie Meets Kiss and Archie Meets the Ramones) he soon turned to crime fiction. “When your hobby becomes your day job, you need a new hobby,” he said. “I started reading the classics – Chandler, McDonald – but what I really liked were the more contemporary ones, like George Pelecanos, Lawrence Block and Dennis Lehane.”

He was drawn to the “textured, messed up,” protagonist over the Golden Age detectives. “I didn’t want to write the detective with the fedora and then the dame walks in,” he said. “I love the enterprising hero who doesn’t have the resources of the police or the FBI. He’s chosen to do things on his own.”

11 May 2018

The House of Shock

by
O'Neil De Noux

At 10: 30 p.m., Saturday, January 3, 1959, my father, my little brother Danny and I sat in front of our   television as the local news ended and spooky music came on to welcome us to a new series of monster movies called THE HOUSE OF SHOCK. Hosted by Morgus The Magnificent, an Einsteinish hairscientist with frizzy gray-white hair, sunken eyes in a pock-marked face and hideous, protruding teeth, Dr. Morgus introduced a movie about a fellow scientist whose experiment went a little awry.

Listen to the opening theme of THE HOUSE OF SHOCK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09eDKJXUbMc

Morgus the Magnificent AKA: Dr. Momus Alexander Mogus

I sat riveted to the floor watching Boris Karloff's FRANKENSTEIN (1931).


I was terrified and fascinated. FRANKENSTEIN was the only episode my little brother saw. The following Saturday night, when the spooky theme music came on, Danny ran up the stairs screaming, "Turn it down. Turn it down." This was followed, periodically by shouts, "I can still hear it!" Danny did this every time THE HOUSE OF SHOCK came on until he was too big to fit under his bed with his New Orleans Police gear. He was twenty-two by then.

The movie that second Saturday night was DRACULA (1931) with Bela Lugosi at his frightening best.


Following Saturday, you guessed it - THE WOLFMAN (1941) with Lon Chaney, Jr. and this one really scared me. I figured I could stave off Dracula, who only came out at night.  I had a crucifix and we have garlic at home (my mother was Sicilian-American). I had to get some wolfbane. Frankenstein I could outrun. But the Wolfman? I couldn't out run him and didn't have a silver cane or silver bullets.

I was horrified and thought - at least these monsters weren't in America. But didn't Dracula sail on a ship? Damn.

The next summer - we went to Europe. My father was in the army and was stationed in Italy. The wolfman was in Britain with Dracula and Frankenstein was in Germany or ... where the hell was Transylvania. I looked it up in the World Book Encyclopedia. Romania. Looked awfully close to Italy.

Along with seeing theatrical movies like THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953), JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959) and THE LOST WORLD (1960), the monster movies on THE HOUSE OF SHOCK stimulated my imagination then and continues.

Writers need an active imagination. Glad mine started so young.

http://www.oneildenoux.com/

10 May 2018

Actor, Writer, Catcher, Spy

by Eve Fisher

I just heard that Paul Giamatti, Paul Rudd, and Jeff Daniels are all joining in a movie about Moe Berg (1902-1972), professional baseball player. He played pro for 15 seasons (1923-1939), mostly as a backup catcher. But he was called "the brainiest guy in baseball," and I can see why.  An Ivy League graduate, attorney, and baseball player who spoke nine language?  Well, of COURSE he would be a prime candidate for a spy with the OSS. 

MoeBergGoudeycard.jpgBerg began his work in 1934, when he was touring Japan with the American All-Star team. In 1943, he parachuted into occupied Yugoslavia to determine which of the resistance groups was the strongest.  (He decided for Tito, and he was right.)   He was also sent around Europe in the 1940's to collect intelligence on Germany’s efforts to build an atom bomb. If he believed the Germans were close to developing nuclear weapons, he had orders to shoot the lead physicist, Werner Heisenberg. He decided they weren't. He was awarded the Medal of Freedom in 1945, but declined.

Things changed, though.  In the early 50's he worked for the CIA, very briefly, because they quickly decided he was "flaky". For the next 20 years, he lived with his brother, Samuel, reading and snarking and unemployed. Sam evicted him, and he lived with his sister Ethel in Belleville, New Jersey until he died.


There's a long list of unlikely spies, if you think of spies as being a specific, separate job, as in a Le Carré novel or Ian Fleming novel.  But the truth is, writers (including Le Carré and Fleming) and entertainers have been the first choice to hire for years.

The first recorded one is Thessalus, a tragic actor in Hellenistic Greece, who accompanied Alexander the Great on the long expedition to conquer the Persian empire (and, as far as Alexander could, the world). He served as an envoy (and probable spy) for Alexander to Pixodarus of Caria (southwestern Anatolia, current day Turkey) in 336 BCE.

Geoffrey Chaucer was another one.  He has a surprisingly well-documented life for the medieval son of a vintner.  Let's put it this way:  vintners were simply wealthy peasants in the view of the aristocracy.  And being a poet - well, anonymity was the order of the day for artists of all kinds.

But somehow, Chaucer got placed a page in the house of the Countess of Ulster.  He married Philippa de Roet, the sister of John of Gaunt's 30 year mistress Katherine Swynford, who eventually (through what many people of the day believed had to be either witchcraft or a miracle of God) became John of Gaunt's third wife.  In other words, Chaucer had connections:  and besides becoming one of the great poets of the English language, he became a courtier, diplomat, soldier, lawyer, and civil servant.  And spy.  

He spent a tremendous amount of his life traveling on either King Edward III or Richard II or John of Gaunt's shilling:  France, Spain, and Flanders, the Italian states, perhaps in pursuit of a princess for the young Richard to marry; and/or to negotiate peace; and/or to borrow money from the Visconti and/or Sir John Hawkwood in Milan; and/or for who knows what?  We're all guessing when it comes to what medieval potentates (or modern potentates) really wanted.  (For a great study of the actualities and possibilities of Chaucer's role as diplomat and spy, read Monty Python alum and medieval scholar Terry Jones' Who Murdered Chaucer?  Mesmerizing.)  

Some other writers are more surprising.  Graham Greene, John Le Carré and Ian Fleming make sense, because they all worked for British intelligence at one point or another.  But Roald Dahl?  Julia Child?  Harry Houdini?

Roald Dahl.jpg
Roald Dahl
Both Scotland Yard and the American Secret Service used Houdini's escape artistry for their own ends.  Houdini was notorious for going into police stations around the world - including Russia (hint, hint) - where he insisted on being locked up so that he could prove he was the greatest escape artist in the world!  The locals were wowed!  He did it again!  And he left town with his reputation intact (he always escaped), and a lot of information.  (No, I don't know what kind.)

Roald Dahl was a three time Edgar Award winner, who wrote the classic "Lamb to the Slaughter" (short story and immortal "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" episode), as well as dark children's masterpieces like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, and The Witches.  During WW2, he worked with Ian Fleming and others to write propaganda to help the war effort.  He also was attached to the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., where he was stunned by American luxury: "I'd just come from the war. People were getting killed. I had been flying around, seeing horrible things. Now, almost instantly, I found myself in the middle of a pre-war cocktail party in America." Dahl later said: "My job was to try to help Winston to get on with FDR, and tell Winston what was in the old boy's mind."  (see Wikipedia)

And then there's Julia Child, who started out as an OSS research assistant and definitely moved up the ladder.  According to Wikipedia

Julia Child at KUHT.jpg"In 1944, she was posted to Kandy, Ceylon, where her responsibilities included "registering, cataloging and channeling a great volume of highly classified communications" for the OSS's clandestine stations in Asia.[9] She was later posted to Kunming, China, where she received the Emblem of Meritorious Civilian Service as head of the Registry of the OSS Secretariat.[10] When Child was asked to solve the problem of too many OSS underwater explosives being set off by curious sharks, "Child's solution was to experiment with cooking various concoctions as a shark repellent," which were sprinkled in the water near the explosives and repelled sharks.[11] Still in use today, the experimental shark repellent "marked Child's first foray into the world of cooking..."
While I couldn't find a playable video of The Bobs' "Julia's Too Tall" song about her, I did find a couple of lyrics: "She's too tall to be a spy. But not too tall to bake a pie..."  But I disagree. I think her being too tall made her a perfect spy.  No one ever thought of Chaucer, Child, Houdini, Berg or Dahl and instantly went, Spy! which is probably part of why they were so successful.  

Which raises the interesting question of why Ian Fleming - who certainly knew better - made James Bond so damned obvious.  Apparently, on November 29, 2016, Anthony Horowitz and David Farr got into a 90 minute debate as to who was the greatest spy novelist of all time, Fleming or Le Carré.  (Full Transcript.)  Horowitz' summation was that ‘George Smiley is a fascinating character. James Bond is an icon. That’s the difference.’

And that's largely true, despite the fact that James Bond was actually a horrible spy. Think about it:  He uses his real name.  All the time.  He blows his cover, every time.  He gets captured.  All the time.  And he destroys everything he touches...  There's a whole lot of things get blown up, run over, caved in, and I'm not just talking about the women.   (10-reasons-james-bond-worst-spy-.) 

I don't know if John Le Carré and Ian Fleming ever met, but I do know that Le Carré had his own problems with James Bond.  In an interview in 1966 with BBC's Malcolm Muggeridge, he said, "I dislike Bond. I'm not sure that Bond is a spy. I think it's a great mistake if one's talking about espionage literature to include Bond in this category at all. It seems to me he is more of some kind of international gangster with, as it is said, a licence to kill...  he is a man entirely out of the political context.  It is of no interest to Bond who for instance, is president of the US or the Union of Soviet Republics."

Reflecting on the interview in 2010 he said : " These days I would be much kinder. I suppose we have lost sight of the books in favour of the film versions, haven't we ? I was a young man and I knew I had written about the reality in The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and that the Fleming stuff was a fantasisation of his own experiences written from the safety of New York."  (Citation)

La nuit de Varennes (1982)Then again, maybe it's not all fantasisation.  Fleming was notoriously heavy drinker, smoker, and womanizer.  Or perhaps he was channeling another great spy, whose womanizing, gambling, style, and sheer effrontery made him welcome everywhere, even after it was known he was a Venetian spy.  Who else, but Casanova?

It's amazing that, of all the spies, Casanova has the worst movies made about him.  With one brilliant exception.  If you get a chance, beg, borrow, or steal a copy of La Nuit de Varennes, where Thomas Paine, Restif de la Bretonne (pornographer, journalist, and philosopher, often called "the Voltaire of the chambermaids"), and Casanova and others all chase down Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette as they desperately try to escape Paris and their coming doom.  It is comical, philosophical, sexual, historically accurate, beautiful, horrific, and constantly entertaining.  The highlight is Marcello Mastroianni as Casanova in old age - still stylish, still courteous, still gallant, still arrogant... and ruefully, wearily truthful, even to himself. 

I'd love to see a movie with James Bond in old age - see if he has the same grace and presence.  But then, icons don't change.  Fascinating characters do. 

Oh, and yes, that's a young Harvey Keitel as Thomas Paine - it's a hard movie to beat.  Enjoy!















09 May 2018

What They Ate

David Edgerley Gates

Not on the subject of crime, but partly on writers, more particularly on food - and the relationship of women to food - and simply because it's an utterly fascinating book, I might suggest Laura Shapiro's latest, What She Ate.

We were briefly colleagues at The Cambridge Phoenix, in what might have been a more innocent time, and then Laura moved on to Newsweek. She published Perfection Salad in 1986, which took as its baseline the late 19th century Fannie Farmer cookbook, and then took flight. It was a meditation on America's relationships with food, a social history, a political document, an attitude, a conversation with the reader. It was an eye-opener. I gobbled it up, and argued back the whole time I was reading it. It turned what was familiar and comforting inside out.  


Food writing has undergone an enormous change, and I think a lot of the credit goes to M.F.K. Fisher, although it's condescending to diminish Fisher as merely a 'food writer,' although maybe it's the reverse - we shouldn't diminish food writing as something suspect and domestic and below the salt. For sure, this is true of Laura Shapiro, whose eye, like Fisher's, is drawn to the telling detail, and how food is a reflection of our desires, carnal and otherwise. (Her second book, Something From the Oven, picks up the themes of Perfection Salad, but it's rather about the food industry than the community of the kitchen, and she wrote a lively and gracious portrait of Julia Child as well.)

What She Ate is a sort of group portrait. An approach to the canvas, so to speak, looking at six women through what they brought to the table. It appears to circle in, from the peripheral, but that's inexact, or even demeaning. As if to say, food is peripheral, or food is women's work, the kuche in between kinder and kirche. In other words, that this most basic of human activities is somehow less than serious. It's very much lose-lose. If the table is central, though, to family, to tribal instinct, to our sense of commonality, if it nourishes us in both express and literal ways, as well as the unexpressed, then what we sit down to is celebration. The breaking of bread is by no accident sacramental. How To Cook A Wolf, indeed.

The six women we're invited to sit down with are, in order of appearance, Dorothy Wordsworth, the poet's sister, the famous Brit hotelier and caterer Rosa Lewis, Eleanor Roosevelt, Eva Braun (!), the novelist Barbara Pym, and publisher and master of self-invention Helen Gurley Brown. It's enjoyable company, for the most part, although we don't quite imagine a dinner party with all six of them in the same room. We can, on the other hand, imagine being seated next to each of them on turn. The exception being Eva, who doesn't come across as being particularly interesting in her own right, and the guest list puts you off your feed, but the reason Eva's in the nearest chair is that this was likely her only means of self-expression. 

"Extraordinary circumstances produce extraordinary women," Shapiro remarks in her introduction, "food makes them recognizable." The point here being the intimacy of food, how we prepare it, and serve it, how we take it into our mouths. That we digest its nature, whether that be its earthiness, or meaty sinew, or leafy crunch. That it's in fact very much a domestic pursuit, homely in both sense of the word, does it no discredit.

The voice in What She Ate is companionable. Engaging, a little skeptical at times, but sympathetic. She seems to coax her subjects into the light, or encourage them to reveal themselves, and they can be not always self-aware. The mix is a challenge, and a bit of a puzzle, but it works. Mostly because the author is curious, and generous, open to surprise, sly and funny. What it is, is chewy.


08 May 2018

A White Hot "White Heat" Tour of L.A.

by Paul D. Marks

This week I want to talk about one of my favorite subjects. No, not me. Los Angeles. A lot of people have said L.A. is another character in my books. Author S.W. Lauden said of my one of my works, “I loved how the action bounced around Southern California, almost as if the region was one of the main characters.” I take this as a huge compliment. And, though I’ve written about L.A. one way or another before, sometimes you just feel called home.

Since my novel White Heat is being re-released this month by Down & Out Books (release date May 21, 2018 and Available now for pre-order on Amazon), I thought I’d talk about some of the locations in the book. I was born in L.A., my family goes back a ways, at least on my mom’s side, and L.A. infuses me and my work.

White Heat is about Duke Rogers, a P.I. who inadvertently causes the death of Teddie Matson, a young actress, by helping her stalker find her. He then tries to make things right by going after her killer. His search takes him to South Central L.A. right as the 1992 Rodney King verdict is announced and the riots are sparked.



Before the main action, Duke returns to his house and his dog Baron after being away. Baron is named after a dog my family had as a kid. He’s the larger dog in the pic. But he and Molly, the other dog, were a great team. He protected her. He protected all of us. And he had some great adventures.

I’d gone out of town for about a week on a case. My buddy Jack had collected the mail and taken care of my dog, Baron. I came home, greeted by Baron in his usual overzealous manner. There was a message from Lou on the answering machine. She didn’t say what she wanted and I couldn’t reach her. Everything else was in order. I went to the office, was sitting in my chair, listening to k.d. lang, catching up on a week’s worth of newspapers and taking my lunch break of gin-laced lemonade. I’d cut down on the alcohol. Cut down, not out. I could handle it in small doses. The article I was reading said that a verdict in the Rodney King beating case was expected any day now. But it was another headline that slammed me in the gut. 

Another photo. 

Made me want to vomit. 

Through force of will, I was able to control it. 

I crumpled the paper. 

Tossed it in the can. 

Kicked the can with such force that the metal sides caved in. 

Fucked up a case. 

Fucked it up real bad.


Duke’s house is a Spanish-Colonial built in the 1920s. Similar to the house I grew up in, though based more on a friend’s house.

I pulled up to the house, a Spanish-Colonial built in the twenties. The driveway ran alongside the house back to the garage, which like a lot of people in L.A. I never used as a garage, even though I had a classic Firebird. The stucco was beige, though it might have been lighter at one time. A small courtyard in front was fenced off from the street with a wooden gate. At the back of the courtyard was the front door. I pulled about halfway down the driveway to where the back door was, parked. Baron, my tan and black German Shepherd was waiting for me with a green tennis ball in his mouth. We played catch. He loved running after tennis balls. Seeing him, playing with him, gave me a feeling of normalcy again. Made me forget about things for just a moment. After half an hour it was time to cool off.


I have to include El Coyote, a Mexican restaurant near Duke’s house. A real place that I’ve been going to since I was about three years old. And that my mom was going to well before that. People either love or hate this place. My wife Amy had to pass three superficial tests before we could get married: Not smoke, like the Beatles and like El Coyote. She’d never been there, so I took her and she passed the test. And, as they say, the rest is history. In White Heat Duke meets a friend of his there, Lou. She works at the DMV and got him the info that sets the story in motion…and inadvertently gets Teddie Matson killed.

The lobby was crowded. Lou’s strawberry hair glinted in the lights, accenting a still-perfect complexion. Her Anne Taylor dress highlighted her figure, flaring at the waist. Stunning, as usual. 

She knew. Her eyes said it. The corners of her mouth said it. And her weak handshake instead of a hug said it. She knew. 

El Coyote was an old restaurant from the old neighborhood, a few blocks west of La Brea on Beverly Boulevard. It attracted an eclectic clientele. Tonight was no different. Teens in hip-hop drag mixed with elderly couples and homosexual couples and young hetero couples on dates. All inside a restaurant that had been here since before the war—the Big War. Lou particularly liked the decor, paintings made out of seashells. “Interesting,” she always said, as if that was enough. And she loved the food. So did I. But I knew a lot of people who didn’t. You either loved it or hated it, there was no in between. That’s the kind of place it was. I liked their margaritas. They weren’t those slushy crushed ice new-fangled things you find in most restaurants. They were just tequila, triple sec, lime juice and salt around the rim. Damn good. 

“Interesting,” Lou said looking at a shell painting, after we were seated. I nodded. There was an awkward feeling between us, a gulf of turbulent air that we were trying to negotiate. There was nothing for me to say in response. This wasn’t a social call. She leaned forward, talking quietly. “You know why I wanted to have dinner, don’t you?” 

I nodded. 

“I didn’t want to leave any specifics on the answering machine or call a bunch of times.” 

“In case the cops were on us already.” 

She nodded. “I shouldn’t have run it for you. I didn’t know who Teddie Matson was. I don’t watch television, especially sitcoms. How was I to know you were asking me to look up a TV star?”


Teddie’s Fairfax area duplex. Teddie lived in a four-plex in the Fairfax area. Her character is inspired by Rebecca Schaefer and what happened to her. And Ms. Schaeffer lived in this neighborhood.

The light was mellow, soft. It grazed across the row of Spanish-style stucco duplexes and apartments, reflected off leaded picture windows and prismed onto the street. Each had a driveway to one side or the other. Gardeners worked the neatly manicured greenery of every other building. It was a nice old neighborhood in the Fairfax district, one of the better parts of town. My old stomping grounds. 

The same time of day Teddie Matson had been murdered. I planned it that way, hoping the same people would be around that might have been around that day. 

I walked up the street, my eyes darting back and forth, up and down, aware of everything around me—radar eyes—looking at the addresses on the buildings. The number was emblazoned in my brain. I could see it before my eyes, but it was only a phantom. I passed a gardener at 627, coming to a halt at 625. I stared at the building. 

A typical stucco fourplex from the ’20s. Even though I hadn’t been inside yet I knew the layout—I’d seen enough of them. Two units upstairs, two down. A main front door that would lead to a small, probably tiled hall, with an apartment on either side and a stairway heading to the two upstairs apartments. I walked up the tiled walk, stuck my hands through the remnants of yellow crime scene tape, tried to open the front door. Locked. I rang the bell. No response. I felt as if I was being watched. Still no one answered the buzzer. 


Florence and Normandie in South Central. Or what previously was called South Central but today is just called South L.A. You might recall Florence and Normandie as the riot’s flashpoint and the corner where Reginald Denny was pulled from his truck and beaten. In White Heat, Duke, finds himself in South Central the day the riots explode. He hooks up with a local named Tiny and they try to get to safety together.

Tiny and I bolted from the doorway and ran down the street, ducking for cover by low walls, doorways, shrubs all along the way. We weren’t out to party. We were on a mission. He was taking me to Warren, to Teddie’s family.

We came to Florence and Normandie. Half a block away the cops were regrouping. Or retreating. Or hiding out. It was hard to tell. There was a swarm of them, but they weren’t doing much of anything.


The family of murder victim Teddie Matson lives in a craftsman house in South Central. Craftsman houses dot various parts of L.A. Duke and Tiny make their way through the wreckage to Teddie’s family’s house.

An explosion in the distance. A plume of smoke hit the sky. 

“They don’t realize that they’re only wrecking their own backyard. One of the first things my daddy taught me was never to piss in the wind and don’t shit in your own backyard. Problem is, too many of ’em just don’t have daddies,” Tiny said wistfully. He stopped, turned up a walk. “Here we are, Teddie’s family’s house.” 
Craftsman (Victoria Park) By Los Angeles [CC BY-SA 3.0
(https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
 or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)],
from Wikimedia Commons

The house was a Craftsman bungalow. It had a low-pitched roof, a stone fireplace that was also seen from the outside, exposed struts and a wide porch. It wasn’t big. It wasn’t small either. Comfortable might have been the word. It looked almost rural with its magnolia trees, shrubs and wood and stone exterior. Looked like a nice place to grow up. In fact, the whole street was clean and well-tended except for the graffiti and broken glass. I assumed the broken glass was from that day. I hoped it was.


In a B story/subplot, a woman comes to Duke for help with a stalker, Dr. Craylock. Craylock’s house is in Rancho Park, on Tennessee, a block west of the Twentieth Century-Fox studios (in West. L.A.)—Well, they say ‘write what you know’. And I knew this neighborhood well. I was living here when I met Amy, about a half block west of Fox. And the funny—or ironic thing is—I lived walking distance to the studio and, at that time, it was the studio I went to the least. The one I went to most was Warner Brothers, way across town out in Burbank—the farthest from my house.

Craylock’s house was in Rancho Park, on Tennessee, a block west of the Twentieth Century-Fox studios. It was an expensive one-story Spanish job, not unlike my own house. A new jet black BMW sat in the driveway. Pickup car, I thought. She hadn’t mentioned what he did for a living; it must have been something where he could charge people more than he was worth. A doctor. Plumber maybe. 

The riots hadn’t stretched this far west, yet. It was a good neighborhood, if there was still such a thing in L.A. I used to live only a couple blocks from Craylock’s before I moved back into my folks’ house. The first street north of Pico. The Olympic marathon runners had run down Pico just across the alley behind my apartment. I watched from my breakfast area window. It was a different L.A. then. It wasn’t that long ago.


La Revolución. Duke visits a bar on Whittier Boulevard in East L.A., where some pretty rough types hang. He’s looking for one guy in particular, a banger called Ramon, who might be able to put him on the trail of Teddie’s killer.

La Revolución was a dingy place on the outside. Looked like an old industrial building, small machine shop or something. The bottom half of the stucco wall was painted a dark, though chipping, forest green. Top half was white, or used to be. Grime and dirt crept all the way up to the roof. Made you wonder how it got that high. A handful of men stood outside talking, playing dice and drinking. We parked a few doors down. Jack dumped the contents of the kit bag on the floor, swept them under the seat, all except for his credit card, driver’s license holder and the .45, of course, which he put back in the kit and stuck under his arm. We walked back to the entrance. Several pairs of intense brown eyes followed us up the sidewalk.


Duke also finds himself in MacArthur Park, formerly Westlake Park, but renamed for General Douglas MacArthur after World War II. It’s here that he finally hooks up with Ramon. My grandparents used to take me there for picnics. They’d rent a boat and we’d glide along the water. When Amy first moved to L.A. she had a job interview downtown. She’d bought some food and decided to eat at MacArthur Park as it looked nice from the street. But it had changed a lot since my grandparents took me there. It was a needle park, filled with drug pushers and gang bangers. Luckily she made it out safely. And scenes from Too Late for Tears, one of my favorite film noirs, were filmed here.
MacArthur Park (formerly Westlake Park)

MacArthur Park is midway between Hancock Park, not a park but an upper class neighborhood, and downtown L.A., a neighborhood in search of an identity. When I was a boy, my grandparents used to take me to the park. We’d rent rowboats and paddle through the lake, tossing bread crumbs to the birds. The park is a different place today. You can still rent paddle boats—if you want to paddle across the lake while talking to your dealer. Sometimes on Saturdays or Sundays immigrant families still try to use it as a park. Most of the time, it’s a haven for pushers, crack addicts, hookers and worse. Even the police don’t like treading there. If they were scared, who was I to play Rambo? 


The rental car slid easily into a parking place on Alvarado. Click—locked. Of course that wouldn’t keep out anyone who wanted to get in. The Firestar was in my belt, under a loose fitting Hawaiian shirt that was left untucked. Wet grass sucked under my feet. As long as it didn’t suck me under I was okay. 

“Meet me by the statue of el general,” Ramon had said. The statue of General Douglas MacArthur is in the northwestern corner of the park where there was, naturally, no place to park. Cutting through the park was not a good idea. I walked along Wilshire Boulevard, past garbage and litter and clusters of men, teens really. Some young men in their early twenties, in white tank top undershirts and baggy pants, charcoal hair slicked back off their foreheads. One man danced a nervous jig by himself in a corner of the pavilion building. Crack dancing. 

No one approached me to buy or sell drugs. Probably thought I was a narc. Maybe saw the silhouette of the Star. MacArthur had seen better days, both the park and the statue. Graffiti camouflaged the general’s stern visage. No one there cared who he was or why there was a park named after him. 

No Ramon. 

I stood on the corner. Waiting. Trying to look nonchalant. A black-and-white cruised slowly by. Mirrored eyes scrutinizing. What’s the white man doing there? Is he buying drugs? Do they see the gun? Were they calling for backup? Fingering their triggers? Seconds passed like hours. The car drove by. Gone. I felt lucky. Luckier than I had walking the length of the park without getting mugged. 

“Amigo.” 

“Ramon.” 

He stood behind the statue, signaling me to join him. 

“We finally connect, uh, man?” 


Griffith Park Observatory. Duke finds himself on the trail of the killer, the Weasel, heading up the winding roads of Griffith Park.
Griffith Observatory By Dax Castro
 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

At Sunset he turned right, heading for Hollywood. Where were the damn cops now? Nowhere in sight. We dodged in and out of traffic to Western where he headed north, up into the Hollywood Hills and Griffith Park. I didn’t know if he knew where he was going, but heading up the winding roads of the park wouldn’t get him anywhere, except maybe to the Observatory. 


He couldn’t know where he was going. I think he was trying to hit the freeway and took a wrong turn. We chased up the backroads of the park, past the boy toys sunning themselves on the hoods of their cars, waiting for another boy toy to pick them up. 

Finally, we turned into the Observatory parking lot. He headed around one side of the circular driveway. I cut the other way, heading toward him, hoping we’d meet at some point. If not, he just might get all the way around and take the other road down. 

I gunned it around the circle. He was coming for me. A school bus was unloading children near the entrance to the building. I stopped, not wanting to hit any kids. The Weasel kept coming from the other side. Shit—I hoped he wouldn’t hit anyone. A teacher saw us coming and hurried the kids out of the way. 
Fight scene from Rebel Without A Cause
 filmed at the Griffith Observatory

He came flying around the circle in one direction. 

Me in the other. 

Engines gunning. 

His old Monte Carlo with the big V8. 

Me in my little Toyota rental. 

A hair’s breadth before we passed, I cut in front of him. He played chicken and ditched onto the sidewalk. He thought he could go around me.

***

So these are some of Duke’s adventures in La La Land. Duke (and I) love exploring all the different neighborhoods of Los Angeles. And I like doing that in my writing. Duke’s journey also hits other areas of L.A. and even takes him up to Reno, Nevada and down to Calexico on the Mexican-American border. Duke and I explore more of L.A. in the sequel to White Heat, Broken Windows, coming in September.

###

My Shamus-winning novel, White Heat, is being reissued in May by Down & Out Books. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon.  Release date is May 21, 2018:



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