Showing posts with label AHMM. Show all posts
Showing posts with label AHMM. Show all posts

30 July 2017

Into the Jungle

by R.T. Lawton


Khun Sa
photo by Satham Pairoah
From roughly 1963 until 1996, a man with the chosen name of Khun Sa operated as an opium warlord in the region of Southeast Asia known as The Golden Triangle. This triangle consisted of a mountainous jungle area involving three countries: Burma, Laos and Thailand. The land was populated by many people of different ethnic groups, several of which were hill tribes. For centuries, Turks from the west, Mongols from the north and various waves of Chinese out of Yunnan Province had invaded this land and absorbed the local inhabitants. As a result, a great number of languages and dialects were spoken here. Religions ranged from Muslim to Buddhist to animalistic and variations.

#1 "Across the Salween"
AHMM Nov 2013
Khun Sa, which means Prosperous Prince in the Shan language, was a man with a murky past and a strong future. Most historians agree that he was born of a Chinese father and a woman from the Shan hill tribe in Burma. He lived in an atmosphere of treachery and shifting alliances among the various opium armies where only the strong and cunning survived. And, he was a survivor, but like the Germans in World War II, he eventually found that he couldn't fight a war on two fronts at the same time. The Burmese Army had finally squeezed his Shan Army into a small area where he had his back to a river. Being a survivor, he surrendered to the Burmese government and went on to become a thriving businessman in his retirement from opium warlord status.

opium field in Burma
After creating four successful series for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine (two other potential series didn't make the I'd-like-to-buy-it list), I was searching for something new to write. My first acceptance with AHMM ("Once, Twice, Dead")  had been set in the Golden Triangle at a time when the magazine's previous editor was looking for stories with an exotic background. This one was written as a standalone  with the protagonist not being a good candidate to start a series, however, the Golden Triangle was an intriguing background for a series. I'd been to Vietnam in 1967-68 (in-country in the highlands), so I had a feel for the area, plus reports on the mountain opium smugglers had crossed my desk over the years during my main career, and I now had a Chinese historian living next door at my current residence. True, his English isn't always the best, but his wife who speaks five languages, to include Mandarin and English, makes for an excellent translator when he looks up internet facts for the Chinese version of history's events, which are not always the same as the English version of the same happening.

#2 "Elder Brother"
AHMM Jan/Feb 2015
Then, I began brainstorming to come up with characters and story lines conducive to the Golden Triangle. With such a background location already rife with treachery, corruption and violence, it was easy to implement our frequently used writing technique of What If?  Since he real opium warlord supposedly came from a mixed race family, what if my White Nationalist Chinese (KMT) story warlord had two sons, one half-Chinese/half-Shan hill tribe and the second son was pure-blood Chinese. In oriental culture, the elder brother tends to have dominance, but a pure-blood considers himself as better than a mongrel half-breed. It now becomes a conflict between Elder Brother (the half-Chinese/half-Shan) and the younger pure-blood Chinese.

poppy dripping opium sap
from cut during harvest
Naturally, the elder brother is raised in the jungle and is comfortable in those surroundings, while the younger brother has grown up in the British school system in Hong Kong. The younger brother, our protagonist for this series, has studied Julius Caesar, Machiavelli and Sun Tzu, yet has no knowledge of jungle survival. After his mother died in Hong Kong, the younger son (as a young adult) finds himself taken out of the civilized world and transplanted to a jungle camp in the mountains of Southeast Asia. As his opium warlord father says, it is time he learned the family business and made his own way in the world.

#3 "On the Edge"
AHMM Oct 2015
Elder Brother has the position of Staff Captain and is in command of some Shan Army troops, part of his father's army. The younger brother has the rank of Sub-lieutenant and is in command of some of his father's Kuomintang troops (KMT), the old White Nationalist Chinese soldiers originally under Chiang Kai-Shek that went south out of Yunnan Province after Mao's Red Army chased them out of China during their civil war. And, as the KMT generals said after being stranded in Burma, an army needs an income and opium was handy.

Woman of the Mon tribe
Thus, we are presented with two half-brothers from different backgrounds, who have no love for each other, not to mention that only one of the brothers can inherit the position of opium warlord upon their father's demise. The competition begins and the reader has a front row seat on the safety of the sidelines to see every move made by the warring brothers, though sometimes the reader should look below the surface of what appears to be happening. Not all the enemies are within the family; other organizations and opposing opium warlords are also seeking any advantage they can take.
#4 "Making Merit"
AHMM July/Aug 2017

So far, AHMM editor Linda Landrigan has purchased five stories in the Shan Army series with #5 being "The Chinese Box", while one more manuscript, #6 "Reckoning with Your Host," is soon to be submitted to her e-slush pile.

To add spice to each story, old Chinese proverbs are often quoted in dialogue by our protagonist. Sometimes these sayings can be taken at face value, other times the wording may be twisted to fit the circumstances. Any way you look at it, the ride should be a new adventure for readers into a world that once truly existed. Root for whichever side you like, they are still people you wouldn't want to marry your sister or daughter. And if you should be unwise enough to take one home for supper, be aware that the pain between your shoulder blades could be the steak knife missing from your silverware.


Sleep well, and be glad these real life characters are on the other side of the world.

29 July 2017

Four Stories


by John M. Floyd



July has been a busy month for me, in terms of the SleuthSayers blog--it has five weekends, so it was my duty to post three columns, on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Saturdays. For this last assignment, I thought it might be fitting (and, yes, easy) to talk about four of my short mystery stories that appeared in publications with a July 2017 issue date. Three of them were in magazines, one in an anthology.

Hitched with the team

First, I was fortunate enough to be featured alongside three of my fellow SleuthSayers--R.T. Lawton, O'Neil De Noux, and Steve Liskow--and two of my old friends--Joe D'Agnese and Robert Mangeot--in the July/August 2017 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine (which actually went on sale last month). My story there, called "Trail's End," is the first of a new series featuring rural sheriff Ray Douglas and his lawyer/mystery-writer friend Jennifer Parker. The two of them are in sort of an on-again-off-again relationship and, not surprisingly, wind up in the middle of a murder investigation on their way back from a trip to New Orleans.

NOTE 1: After finishing several drafts of this story, I was having a hard time coming up with a suitable title, so I changed the plot around a little, placed the murder scene at a motel, put it at the end of a road at the edge of a swamp in the middle of nowhere, and named the motel the Trail's End.

NOTE 2: Someone recently asked me why the women in my stories are usually smarter than the men. I replied that I try to write fiction that comes close to the way things are in real life.

One more thing about this story. An old friend from my hometown named Cheryl Grubbs told me a couple of years ago that she hoped I would one day use her as a character in one of my creations. As fate would have it, Sheriff Douglas's deputy in this story is named Cheryl Grubbs. And by the way, the second installment in the series has been purchased by AHMM and will appear sometime in the coming months, so Deputy Grubbs will be back again then. Cheryl, if you're reading this, I hope you'll like her.

The book thief

My second July story, "The Rare Book Case," also came out in late June, but appeared in Woman's World's July 3 issue--WW copies go on sale almost two weeks before the issue date--and is an installment in my series about retired schoolteacher Angela Potts and her former student Sheriff Charles "Chunky" Jones. Most of the stories in that series were written for Woman's World, but other Angela/Chunky adventures have appeared in Amazon Shorts, Flash Bang MysteriesRocking Chairs and Afternoon Tales, and my short-story collection Fifty Mysteries: The Angela Files.

This one is set on the Fourth of July, and involves the theft of a rare first-edition novel from a locked case at Abner Smith's bookstore. The thief, long gone now, was seen by one of the store's customers but not by the owner, and when the sheriff is summoned certain things in the customer's description of the suspect don't seem to add up. Fortunately the bossy Ms. Potts--who as usual is on the scene even though she probably shouldn't be--is especially good at that kind of math, and saves the (Independence) day.

Maintaining law and daughter

My third story of the month, in the Summer 2017 issue of B.J. Bourg's Flash Bang Mysteries, is a new episode in a series I've been writing for a long time, featuring Sheriff Lucy Valentine and her mother Frances. Fran usually helps her daughter solve mysteries (whether Lucy wants her to or not), but her main goal is to get Sheriff Valentine married so Fran can become a grandmother, a mission that has so far been unsuccessful. Other stories about these two, which I've named the "Law & Daughter" series, have appeared in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Mysterical-E, Woman's World, Futures, Mouth Full of Bullets, Seeds, Kings River Life, my short-story collection Dreamland, and several anthologies.

This story in Flash Bang is called "Ace in the Hole," and involves the gangland kidnapping of a guy named Ace McGee, who seems to be destined for a late-night burial in a pit at a construction site. Working with Fran and Lucy to try to keep Ace alive and above ground is teenaged genius Donna Fairley, which is also the maiden name of one of my old IBM co-workers. (Warning to my family, friends, and acquaintances: you guys have a way of showing up as characters in my stories, so you better be nice to me . . .)

A neo kind of noir

The last of my July-dated publications, "The Sandman," is a standalone story included in the anthology Noir at the Salad Bar, from Level Best Books. (Actually this isn't the last one, but until just before time for this column to post, I thought it was. My fifth publication with a current date, a story called "Crow Mountain" in Strand Magazine, is described below. Hang on . . .)

"The Sandman" is possibly the most intense of the stories I'm discussing here, but I still tried to plug a bit of humor in. The title refers to a character named Sanderford, and the plot involves a couple of underworld loan-sharks who target the owner of a local bar. This mystery is more of a howdunit than a whodunit, with a few twists thrown in (I can't seem to resist that), and was great fun to write.

I'm especially honored to have been featured in this book alongside friends Michael Bracken and Alan Orloff. Noir at the Salad Bar was released on July 18.

Getting lucky at WW

I also have another Woman's World story, called "Mr. Unlucky" out right now, but its issue date is August 7 so I'm not counting it as one of my July stories. (That issue appeared at our Kroger store on July 27, so I picked it up yesterday along with a jug of milk and a loaf of bread. Seriously.) This was my 89th story to be published in Woman's World, and in recent weeks I've sold them #90 and #91. So far, 82 of those have been installments in my Angela-and-the-Sheriff series.

"Mr. Unlucky" is a whodunit about a robbery at a local furniture store, and involves a mysterious note on which is written the name of an old TV show and movie called Mr. Lucky. I'm a certified, card-carrying movie addict, so anytime I can work something cinematic into one of my stories, it makes it even more fun to write. Upcoming is a Labor Day story scheduled for the September 4 WW issue (on sale August 24) and a murder mystery in the September 18 issue.

Breaking news . . .

I only just found out that I also have a story in the current (June-Sep 2017) issue of Strand Magazine, just released. Yes, as I said, I know that makes five stories rather than four, but instead of changing the title of this post at the last minute, I figured I'd tack this onto the end. The story is "Crow Mountain," about a fisherman who encounters an escaped convict deep in the woods, and what happens as a result. If you pick up this issue, I hope you'll like the tale--it's a little different. And I'm proud to have been featured alongside one of my longtime heroes, Max Allan Collins.


Anyhow, that's my midsummer report. (You might notice I didn't mention my rejections, which are many.) If any of you have recent--or not-so-recent--successes to announce (publications, acceptances, completions, etc., of either shorts or novels), please let me know via the comments section below. Everybody likes hearing that kind of news.



Speaking of fortunate events, today is our wedding anniversary. Carolyn and I were married 45 years ago in a galaxy far, far away (Oklahoma), and tonight most of our kids and grandchildren will be here at our house for dinner. I can't think of a better way to celebrate.

Familywise AND writingwise, I wish all of you the best.








26 March 2017

While We're at It

by R.T. Lawton

Most of us would agree that we're not in this for the money. We would prefer to say that we write because we love to write, or to have written (not quite the same thing), or to have an outlet for our creativity, or to entertain others. Take your pick. At various times I have fallen into each of the four categories. You may even have another reason, one which is all your own. Regardless of why we write, money still becomes a factor of some consideration. In which case, it's a good thing I have a nice pension to live on. Thus, when I hit the streets for research, I don't have to live there and spend the night huddled in the doorway of some downtown business.

Jan/Feb 2017 issue contains
the 9th story in my
Holiday Burglars series
Okay, I'll admit I'm a slow writer, plus I probably don't spend as much time at it as I should. But, I've also been told by fellow authors who write novels for small, but well-known publishing houses, that I probably make more money from just two short stories sold to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in any one year than they make from their one novel's advance, plus royalties (if it earns out) in that same year. Many of these novelists end up spending their advance for marketing and publicity (because their publishing houses don't do it for them), hoping  to make up their net profit  later on their second or third published novel. Unfortunately, the Death Spiral often kicks in and it's time to start writing under a different name because publishers know the statistics for an author's name.

For those of you who haven't heard of the Death Spiral, it works like this. Say you got a print run of a thousand books and you had a sell through rate of 80%. Sounds like a high rate, but for the second novel, as it's been explained to me, the publisher looks at the figures and decides to do a second novel print run at 800 books. After all, that's what the first novel sold. If that second novel gets a sell through rate of 80%, then the third novel gets a print run of 640 books. At an 80% sell through rate, there won't be a fourth book.

Me, I don't write novels, except for that one completed novel still in the desk drawer where it truly belongs. Too much time invested for a potential rejection, whereas if one of my short stories gets rejected, well, it's merely less than 6% (on average) of the words invested in a novel. I can write 3-10 short stories a year (hey, I'm not as prolific as John Floyd), which is still less than the number of words I'd need for that one novel a year like the publishing industry wants. The problem with my situation is there are only about four top paying mystery markets out there for short stories. If I were to become really ambitious, I'd have to branch out into the sci-fi short story market.

For the basis of this argument, here are the numbers, strictly for my AHMM market.

36 Accepted   15 Rejected*   70.6% Acceptance Rate   $15,516 Money Earned for just those stories, plus $750 for reprint rights on 8 of those AHMM stories  $16,266 Total for only AHMM stories (I'm not getting rich, so you know I'm not bragging.)
          * Most rejections were early attempts as I learned my way in, but yep, I still get rejections.

Many of the small publishing houses only pay about a $500 advance for a novel, whereas I've been making about $900 average for two AHMM stories in any given year out of which I have to spend no money for marketing or publicity. Those 36 short stories I sold to AHMM totaled to about 190K words, which for me would make about three short novels over a several year period.

MY Conclusion: For time spent, money received and interest of mind, Guess I'll stick to short stories for as long as my market lasts, even though there is less prestige in them than in being known as a published novelist. And, if I did spend the time needed to write a novel, it would have to be good enough to sell to one of the big houses, with a much, much better advance than $500 (which incidentally is the payment for one 700 word mini-mystery for Woman's World magazine), else it's not worth the effort for me. No offense meant to anyone out there, because I'm talking about me and how I think about my situation. Plus, I couldn't write a novel a year.

So, that's my story. Everybody wants something different, has different circumstances and/or sees the business in a different way. What's your take on the money side of the business we're in?

Personally, I hope you're one of those novelists getting great advances, high figure print runs and  excellent sell through rates. And, if you operate as an e-book author, I hope you have a great marketing platform that's working for you. Find whatever edge you can get.

Best wishes to you all.

26 June 2016

April in Manhattan

by R.T. Lawton


AHMM editor Linda Landrigan
 at Notaro's Ristorante
The plane lands at La Guardia and passengers proceed through the walkway. Now, it's down the stairs to claim luggage and find ground transportation. Out on the sidewalk, drivers for black Town Cars hawk $63 rides to Manhattan, but a taxi, even for two passengers, is a less expensive fare to the Grand Hyatt at Grand Central Terminal. Check into the hotel, up to the room, unpack and we're ready for a little relaxation. Start with a draft beer at $9 each in the hotel lounge. The price alone lets you know you are no longer in one of the fly-over states.

3 SleuthSayers at DELL reception
R.T., Liz Zelvin & David Dean
Wednesday morning is breakfast at Pershing Square Restaurant across the street from the Hyatt and nestled under an overhead street. Nice atmosphere, short waiting line, good service. Eggs Benedict are fine and the final bill is fairly reasonable for breakfast in mid-Manhattan.

Supper that evening is with AHMM editor Linda Landrigan at Notaro's Ristorante, 635 2nd Avenue. This is a family owned business, the atmosphere is homey, the food is superb, the waiters are friendly and the prices are good. Try their Rigatoni alla Vodka with a glass of Pinot Noir. You'll come back to dine again. Even though we were all full, I got into a several minute discussion with our waiter about the Italian dessert Tiramisu and learned a few things. The waiter promptly returned with a plate of Tiramisu (on the house) and three forks. Best I've ever had, to include the one I ate in northern Italy where this dessert originated. Turns out our waiter is part of the family who owns the restaurant. It's not a large place, so I would recommend reservations. We will definitely eat there again.

Some of the fancy dessert
at Edgars Banquet.
Edgar is white chocolate.
Thursday afternoon is the DELL Publishing (AHMM & EQMM) Cocktail Reception. Editors Linda Landrigan (AHMM) and Janet Hutchings (EQMM), Senior Assistant Editor Jackie Sherbow, Carol Dumont (the nice lady who sends contracts and paychecks to writers whose stories are accepted) and other names on the masthead are there to greet attendees. Nicely, three other SleuthSayers (David Dean, Liz Zelvin and Brian Thornton) plus a gentleman from our predecessor Criminal Brief (James Lincoln Warren), all short story authors,  also showed up. This event is always a good time, where one gets to meet other short story mystery authors and discuss all sorts of topics.

Then, it's back to the Grand Hyatt for the Edgar Awards Banquet. The wife and I start with the Edgar Nominees Champagne Reception in a large room on the Ballroom level. As chief judge for the Best Novel category (509 hardcovers in ten months) it's interesting to meet and be able to chat with some of the Nominees. Best Novel Judges Brian Thornton and James Lincoln Warren are also in attendance.
R.T. presenting to Edgars Best Novel Winner - Lori Roy
Next comes the general cocktail reception, followed by the banquet itself. Supper is served, speakers talk and awards are presented. Winners (and their publishers) are elated, while the rest of the Nominees get to look forward to the possibility of their next work earning them the status of Nominee and maybe Winner at the next Edgar Awards Banquet. Still, it's a good time and you get to meet and network with lots of fascinating people. Meanwhile, outside the banquet room, publishers have set up lines of tables with free books of their Nominee authors. I'm still waiting for one of my stories to make me a Nominee in the Best Short Story category. For now, it looks like a long wait.

The Pond in Central Park
Reflections in Central Park
Friday is free time and an enjoyable walk north to Central Park. On the south end of the park where the horse and carriage drivers hawk their rides, we see two people sitting in the back of a carriage within an area that's been blocked off. The driver, wearing a top hat, is perched on his seat, but there is no horse in the harness. A closer look reveals two movie cameras, a boom mike and some guys holding huge light reflector panels. Someone says "action" and a man steps into the horse harness. He has a plume on top of his head like the horses wear and as he pulls the carriage  forward about fifty feet, he bobs his head like a horse would do so that the plume has a horse's rhythm to its movement. The driver even flicks his reins as if a horse is in harness. The camera is shooting over what would be the horse's head and into the carriage. The carriage stops, three men back it up to its original starting position and they do another take. Must be easier for men to move the carriage in both directions than to back up a horse. Wonder what the horse thought about all this process as he stood off to the side doing nothing.

Baltika #3 in the Russian Vodka Room
SleuthSayer Brian Thornton & wife Robyn
at Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal
Ate Nathan's hot dogs from a vendor's cart. Not bad. Don't know if this is what native New Yorkers do or if it's just tourists. Then, it's a walk south to the Russian Vodka Room where large bottles of Baltika #3 and Baltika #7 are only $4 a bottle. Beats the much higher prices at other lounges and bars, and it is a great tasting beer. Right next door, The Jersey Boys is playing at the same off-Broadway theater that it has for the last several years. Supper is in a nice Irish restaurant near Times Square and dessert is at The Oyster Bar in the depths of Grand Central Terminal.

It was a great trip. If you haven't yet been to the Edgars, you should try it one of these Aprils. Just plan on spending some money.

Saturday is an early taxi ride back to La Guardia and a flight home.

Catch ya later.

30 March 2016

The Fatal Cup Of Tea

by Robert Lopresti

Arlo Guthrie tells a story about performing in a bar in Chicago in 1971.  After the show a stranger came up and said he wanted to play him a song he wrote.

Well, Arlo had experienced that before and as a result had heard a lot of bad songs.  So he told the stranger, you can buy me a beer, and for as long as it takes me to drink it, you can do whatever you want.

Today he notes, dryly: "It turned out to be one of the finer beers of my life."   The stranger was Steve Goodman and his song was "City of New Orleans."  Arlo's recording of it reached the Billboard Top 20 and made them both a nice chunk of change.

I was reminded of that while pondering a dose of beverage that had a profound effect on my life, albeit not such a lucrative one.  It was tea, not beer, and I drank it in a little cafe in Montclair, NJ, about 30 years ago.

I was with my wife and a friend and while they were chatting I found myself looking out the window at the street and, being a writer of the sort I am, wondering: what if I saw a crime taking place?  And what if there was a reason I couldn't just leap up and do something about it?


Cut ahead two decades and "Shanks At Lunch" appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (February 2003).  I mention all this because the hero of that story, conceived in that Montclair coffee shop, is making his ninth appearance in AHMM  this month (well, the issue date is May 2016, but it is available now).

"Shanks Goes Rogue" was inspired by three different things.  First of all, I wanted to bring back Dixie, a character who had appeared in the story "Shanks Gets Killed."  She is an eccentric woman who runs the charity favored by Shanks' beloved wife, Cora, which gives her plenty of opportunities to annoy my hero, and that's a good thing for my stories.

The second inspiration was this: I had thought of a clue.  Clues are hard for me and I wanted to use this one.  I figured out how Shanks could take advantage of it.

And finally, I had a hole in the book of stories I was putting together.  To be precise: the last story ended on a gloomy note and that would never do for a book of mostly funny stories.  As the saying goes, the first page sells this book and the last page sells the next one.  So "Shanks Goes Rogue" was created to round out my collection of tales.

But then I had an unpleasant encounter with a telephone scammer, which led me to write a quicky story called "Shanks Holds The Line."  I decided as a public service to offer it to Linda Landrigan  for Trace Evidence, the Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine website.  She put it up the next day.  But there was no reason I couldn't use it to round out Shanks On Crime, so I did.

Which left "Shanks Goes Rogue" looking for a home.  Linda adopted it and here we are, happily ensconced in the annual humor issue.  I hope it gives you a chuckle.   Personally, I will celebrate with a nice cup of tea.





20 May 2015

Telling fiction, from fact




by Robert Lopresti 
(The excellent picture on the right is the illustration Tim Foley created for my story in AHMM.  It is used by his permission.  See more of his  work here.)


The Encyclopedia of American Race Riots.
 
The words above are the opening of "Shooting at Firemen," my twenty-fifth appearance in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (July-August 2015, on sale next week).  I suppose when a short story opens with the title of an encyclopedia you can safely guess that the author is a librarian.   

But that book gave me more than my opening line.  It was the inspiration for the story as well.  When I saw it on the shelf of the library where I work I immediately grabbed it up and searched the index for the city where I grew up.  I didn't find it.  And when I realized why Plainfield, New Jersey's troubles had not made the book, I realized I had to write a short story.

What I want to write about  today is how to turn actual events into a piece of fiction, or at least how I did it.


You see, the hero of my story is a grown man who was a twelve-year-old boy in Plainfield when the riots struck in the summer of 1967.  So am I.  Like him, I spent that summer working as an unpaid junior counselor at a day camp for disadvantaged children.   (That picture shows me a year later, by the way.)

There are plenty more connections to reality - for example, the scene which gives the story its title is written down exactly as I remember it.   And I reported the details of the riot as accurately as I could, without overwhelming the plot.

But that's the thing.  Real events are not a plot.  And a riot, no matter how dreadful its crimes were, is not itself the engine for a crime story, at least not the one I wanted to write.  So in the middle of the chaos that occurred - burning buildings, stolen semi-automatic rifles, one brutal murder - I had to invent a  disaster on a small scale, one that my twelve-year-old boy could have an effect on. My inspiration for that was an actual event - an injury that happened to one of our African-American counselors as he tried to sneak past the National Guard, with no more nefarious purpose than trying to get home.  I raised the stakes as much as I could, fictionalizing both the cause and effect of the injury. A few of the characters in the story are based on real people I knew back then.  The villain was inspired by someone I met years later.

I want to mention one important change I made.  Throughout the story my protagonist reports on the events of the riot objectively, as certain of his facts as an omniscient narrator.  But there is one exception.

As I said, there was one brutal murder during the riots, the death of a police officer.  I don't mention his name in the story, but he was John Gleason.  His family doesn't believe the official version of his death -- you can read about the controversy here -- so out of respect for them in the story I reported that event differently.  It begins "[My mother] told me the version she had heard on the radio."  No guarantee that it was true.


Oh, by the way.  The reason Plainfield didn't make it into the Encyclopedia?  There was no room.   There were more than one hundred race riots in America that year.  And 1967 was just one of the so-called Long Hot Summers.

I seem to have a lot to add here.  For example: a few months ago my sister Diane Chamberlain wrote in this space about her new novel The Silent Sister, and how it was sparked by one of my short stories.  This is the one she was talking about.

And one more thing.  Back in those days I used to read a newspaper column by a guy named Sydney J. Harris.  One of his columns stuck in my head - or at least I think it did.  As I recall he gave a graphic description of a horrible riot.  Then he explained that it happened, not in Watts, or Harlem, but in Ireland in the 1920s.  The Protestants were fighting with the Catholics.

"Perhaps," he said (as I recall) "in forty years it will seem as ridiculous that we fought over race as it seems now that people fought about religion."  A good writer, but not a hell of a prophet.

I hope you enjoy the story.

09 August 2014

Submission Accomplished



by John M. Floyd


As most of you have heard by now, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine recently introduced a new submission process. Authors can now send their short stories in to AHMM the same way they've been doing it at EQMM, via the shared web site themysteryplace.com. Just navigate to the Hitchcock site, click on "Writers' Guidelines," and then choose "online submission system."

This is of course good news for those of us who regularly send stories in to AH for consideration. No more printouts, no more envelopes (self-addressed or otherwise), no more labels, no more stamps, no more trips to the post office. Easier, quicker, less expensive. A byproduct of the new system is an online tracking program that allows the writer to keep up with the current status of his/her manuscript. What's not to like?

Look, Mom--no hands

I was intrigued to see, at a couple of the Internet forums (fora? fori?) that not everyone seems to be pleased by the discontinuation of AHMM's old-school "manual" submission system. Although I don't agree, I think I do understand the reasons that some are less than happy about the move. It's been said that any publication that begins accepting online submissions, whether it's via e-mail or via a website "submission box," also begins receiving far more manuscripts than before. Why? Because it's now easier, quicker, and less expensive. The one thing that seems to make everything simpler can conceivably also make it harder because of increased competition and an increased workload for those who read the submissions.

Simply stated, it might now be so easy to submit that everyone will want to submit everything, maybe even those who shouldn't be writing and submitting anything. One school of thought maintains that if you're willing to take the time and trouble to print your story, print a cover letter, include an SASE, clip it all together, stuff it into an envelope, print and attach address labels, and drive to the P.O. and stand in line and pay the postage to mail it--well, that means you're possibly more serious about your writing. The more labor-intensive the job is, the fewer lazy workers will participate.

What are your views on the subject? Would you now be more likely to send a manuscript to AHMM? Do you think the pluses outweigh the minuses? I find it interesting that of the four mystery markets I submit to the most, two of them (Woman's World and The Strand Magazine) require snailmailed submissions. Maybe WW and The Strand will switch over as well, one day.

Again, I can see both sides of the argument. But I must admit, as someone who has already taken advantage of the new system (I e-sent AH a new story a few days ago), that I like it. A lot. Nothing can reduce the work it takes to produce a quality story, but anything that reduces the work it takes to get it submitted is--in my opinion--a good thing. I'm also wondering if the new process might allow AHMM to respond more quickly than it has in the past. (That might be overly optimistic, since--as I mentioned--there will probably now be even more manuscripts in the chute.)

Preaching to the choir?

Please be aware, I am not one of those writers who have been reluctant to submit stories to AHMM because of its hardcopy-only submission procedures. I've faithfully read AH since I was in college, editor Linda Landrigan has been extremely kind to me, and I would probably continue to submit stories to her magazine even if I had to send them via mule train. I suspect that most of my SleuthSayers colleagues feel the same way. But this should make the process a lot more pleasant.


Speaking of pleasant things, AHMM recently accepted another of my stories--this one submitted months ago, via snailmail--and as always, that feeling made it well worth the wait. I hope more acceptances, from AH and from others, are coming up for all of us.

No matter how we send the stories in.



04 July 2014

Taking the Fifth

by R.T. Lawton

Lest you become confused by the title, I should probably tell you this blog has nothing to do with the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution. That amendment has to do with the right of not talking about a particular subject which affects you in a criminal manner, whereas I am quite happy to speak about the subject at hand. And,this blog also has nothing to do with the American liquor industry's old way of bottling intoxicating beverages by a certain volume. You'll recall that America has gone to the metric system for some measurements, thus a liter is as close as you can get to the old fifth. No, this title has to do with the editor of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine taking a second and then a third story in my Shan Army (Golden Triangle) series set in Southeast Asia.

Back on 09/27/13, my blog title was "Fist in a Series," which was a pretty bold statement at the time. My short story,"Across the Salween," was being published in the November 2013 issue of AHMM, so I wrote that blog article about the story and embedded a photo of the AHMM cover of the issue into the article. I went on to say this was the first story in the series, while the second, "Elder Brother," and the third, "On the Edge," were then setting in the editor's slush pile. Me calling this a series was a bold statement because one published story does not a series make. This item of clarification was pointed out to me by a fellow writer at the Bouchercon in Madison, Wisconsin, several years ago when we were discussing one of my earlier series set in 1850's Chechnya. He politely pointed out that I could intend to have a series, but one published story was a standalone, the second is a sequel and by the time you get a third, then you can officially call it a series.

Well, I guess this one is official now. "Elder Brother" was accepted on 02/10/14 and "On the Edge" was taken on 05/13/14. By now, you're wondering what the Fifth has to do with all this. It's because the Shan Army series is my fifth series taken by AHMM. To date, this makes thirty short stories in Alfred, all of them in one of the five series, except for the very first story. That one was a standalone and I felt like I needed something different for the next submission in an attempt to show the editor I was not merely a flash in the pan. (Since the perception of a writer is often only as good as their last story, I think I'm still working on that flash thing.)

Having only two more manuscripts ( one in my 1850's Chechnya series and one in my Holiday Burglar series) currently setting in AHMM's slush pile, I'd best get back to writing before the editorial staff forgets me. Anyone have any juicy tidbits from Chinese history in the Golden Triangle, or any other people involved in that area which would make good background for another story in the Shan Army series? Let me know. That series is still a baby and needs a couple of brothers or a sister or two.

I'll sign off with a note of trivia. Seems I was born three days from being a firecracker. Good thing my grandson is taking guitar lessons, cuz the first song he can play by heart is "Happy Birthday." I'd sing along with him, but my wife always shushes me for being off key. Think she's afraid the boy will grow up to be tone deaf if he listens to my caterwauling.

Anyway, have a great Fourth of July.

07 May 2014

Busy week

by Robert Lopresti

Been an interesting and busy week at Casa Lopresti.

For instance, on Sunday I looked at My Little Corner, Sandra Seaman's indispensible blog and saw a link to Angie's Desk's listing of anthologies looking for stories.  And I had a tale that would fit one.  The next morning I checked my records and found that that story had been sitting at a magazine for six months, waiting for judgment.  So, obviously I couldn't send it it somewhere else.

Five minutes later I received an email rejection from the magazine.  Okay, I guess fate wanted me to send that story to the anthology.  We will see if the editor agrees.

Last month I had an idea for a piece of flash fiction (under 1000 words).  Problem was, it was about a new scam that is making the rounds and if I sent it to one of the paper magazines it might not appear for a year.  And, darn it, I wanted to make sure people knew about the scam now.

So I got a brain storm.  On Sunday I contacted Linda Landrigan and she agreed.  "Shanks Holds The Line" is now up on the Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine blog, Trace Evidence.  I hope you enjoy it.  (And thanks to our own R.T. Lawton for editorial help along the way.) 


But wait!  There's more!  Crime City Central is part of District of Wonders, a series of free podcasts that include readings of short stories.  (My favorite title is their science fiction entry: Starship Sofa!)

They asked me to contribute a story and so in their current entry you will find "Shanks On The Prowl," which originally appeared in AHMM back in May 2006.  The expert reading is by Rob Smales.  I had a fun time e-chatting with Mr. Smales, who wanted to make sure he got all the pronunciations of the character's names right.  I think he scored one hundred percent.

Okay, I'm sure the next few months will be back to humdrum normal.  I can cope.  Hoping you the same.

And here are last week's movie quotations, with the sources:

1.  -Well, I also feel it's about time someone knocked the Axis back on its heels.
-Excuse me, Baby. What she means it's about time someone knocked those heels back on their axis.  Leda Hamilton  ( Kaaren Verne)/ Gloves Donahue (Humphrey Bogart) All Through The Night


2.  Twelve people go off into a room: twelve different minds, twelve different hearts, from twelve different walks of life; twelve sets of eyes, ears, shapes, and sizes. And these twelve people are asked to judge another human being as different from them as they are from each other. And in their judgment, they must become of one mind - unanimous. It's one of the miracles of Man's disorganized soul that they can do it, and in most instances, do it right well. God bless juries.  -Parnell McCarthy (Arthur O'Connell) Anatomy of a Murder

3.  -If we wanted applause, we would have joined the circus. 
-I thought we did.  -Jack O'Donnell (Bryan Cranston)/ Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck)  Argo

4.  Exactly how many laws are we breaking here?
-You don't want to know. - Senator (Victor A. Young)/ Edgar Clenteen (David Morse) Bait

5.  -Your demands are very great under the circumstances.
-Why shouldn't they be?  Fat Gut's my best friend, and I will not betray him cheaply.  -Ahmed (Manuel Serano) / Dannreuther (Humphrey Bogart) Beat The Devil

6.  - I'm a brother shamus!
-Brother Shamus?  Like an Irish monk? -Da Fino (Jon Polito)/ The Dude (Jeff Bridges) The Big Lebowshi

7.  -Why did you have to go on?
-Too many people told me to stop.  -Vivian (Lauren Bacall)/ Marlowe  (Humphrey Bogart)  The Big Sleep

8.  Of course, you won't be able to lie on your back for a while but then you can lie from any position, can't you?  - Reggie Lambert (Audrey Hepburn) , Charade

9.  Saddam? His name's Saddam? Oh, that's real good, Bruce. Yeah, I'm gonna pin a medal on an Iraqi named Saddam. Give yourself a raise, will you? -Rick Cabot (Brendan Fraser) -Crash.

10.  Freedom is overrated.  - John Booth (David Morse).  The Crossing Guard.

11.  -Will two hundred dollars be enough in advance, Mr Reardon?
-Two hundred, I'd shoot my grandmother.
-That won't be neccessary.
-Never can tell. In my last case, I had to throw my own brother out of an airplane.
- Juliet Forrest (Rachel Ward)  / RIgby Reardon (Steve Martin) Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid

12.  There's a hundred-thousand streets in this city. You don't need to know the route. You give me a time and a place, I give you a five minute window. Anything happens in that five minutes and I'm yours. No matter what. Anything happens a minute either side of that and you're on your own. Do you understand? -Driver (Ryan Gosling) Drive

13.  I am Nikita! - Guess Who (Anne Parillaud)  La Femme Nikita

14.  -My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a president or senator.
-Do you know how naive you sound, Michael? Presidents and senators don't have men killed.
-Oh. Who's being naive, Kay?  - Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) / Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) The Godfather

15.  When you think of what they have to carry, all those jimmies and torches and skeleton keys, it's a miracle anyone ever gets burgled at all. - Lady Constance (Maggie Smith) Gosford Park

16.  Locked, from the inside. That can only mean one thing. And I don't know what it is. - Sam Diamond (Peter Falk) Murder By Death

17.  You know, this'll be the first time I've ever killed anyone I knew so little and liked so well.  - Helen Grayle (Claire Treveor) Murder, My Sweet

18.  Well, you take a big chance getting up in the morning, crossing the street, or sticking your face in a fan.  - Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) The Naked Gun

19.  -It's a mess, ain't it, sheriff?
-If it ain't, it'll do till the mess gets here.-Wendell (Garrett Dillahunt) / Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones)  No Country For Old Men

20.  -Is there a way to win?
-There's a way to lose more slowly.  Kathie Moffatt (Jane Greer) / Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) Out Of The Past

21.  At least meet her. Maybe she'd be someone you'd like to kill.  - Owen (Danny DeVito)  Throw Momma Off The Train.

22.   He's a fanatic. And the fanatic is always concealing a secret doubt.  -George Smiley (Gary Oldham) in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

23.  On TV is where we learn about who we really are.  Because what's the point of doing anything worthwhile if no one's watching?  And if people are watching it makes you a better person.  - Suzanne Stone Maretto (Nicole Kitman) To Die For

24.  - I need your help. I can't tell you what it is, you can never ask me about it later, and we're gonna hurt some people.
- Whose car are we gonna' take?  -Doug McRay (Ben Affleck) /  James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner)  The Town

25.  The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist. –Verbal Kint  (Kevin Spacey) The Usual Suspects
 

22 November 2013

Playing With Titles

by R.T. Lawton

Writing can be fun when you play with the words, especially when you put layers of different meanings into those words. Take for instance, the title for a story. Those few words give the reader a certain expectation as to what the story is about, and maybe what type of situation the protagonist will find himself or herself in. That title may even lead the reader to expect a certain ending.

But, it can be like when a comedian tells a clever joke. In this case, he frequently leads the audience down an expected path, and just when the audience is leaning a certain direction to go with the flow, the joke-teller reverses course and provides an unexpected punch line. The words of the punch line still fit the body of the joke, however the audience gets a surprise and ends up laughing at how they were fooled.


In my Holiday Burglars series in AHMM, I like to play with the wording in some of my titles. The first story in this particular series was "Click, Click, Click." It's about two burglars, Yarnell and Beaumont, who are in the process of breaking into the house of an ex-con. This ex-con hides his money and drugs inside wrapped Christmas packages placed under a decorated Christmas tree. Naturally, the title words are lifted from a song that goes something like this: "Up on the roof top, click, click, click, down through the chimney comes old Saint Nick..."

Yarnell and Beaumont however, cut the glass on a back door to make their entry instead of coming down the chimney. And, since they counted the number of houses from the rear instead of from the front of the block, they inadvertently break into a house belonging to an upstanding member of the National Rifle Association. The awakened home owner then steps into the living room unbeknownst to them with a loaded revolver in his hand. Now, the CLICK becomes the sound of a large hand gun being cocked as well as the song's sound of reindeer hooves up on the roof.

In "Grave Trouble," the definition of the word grave is assumed by the reader to mean serious. For this story, Yarnell and Beaumont are wearing Halloween masks to hide their identity from any security cameras while breaking into the basement of a jewelry store. But, because they left their tape measure behind, they are slightly off in their calculations conducted inside the storm drain and therefore end up in the basement of the funeral home next door, thus leading to the other meaning for grave.

For "Independence Day," which makes Americans think of the Fourth of July, Beaumont finds himself selected for jury duty. The case for trial is on a fellow burglar, one who owes money to Beaumont. Should Beaumont work to find the defendant guilty because of a prior double cross he committed, or should he try to set the burglar free so said burglar can pay the debt he owes?

And, my favorite, "Labor Day." By now, you have probably figured out where this one is going. Yarnell and Beaumont have burgled a top floor condo during the Labor Day weekend. As they descend, with their loot, in a rickety old elevator, people get on and off at various floors. After everyone else has gotten off, the last passenger still on, with our two burglars and their protege (The Thin Guy), is a pregnant lady. As they are about to have a safe getaway, the elevator manages to jam between floors and sure enough, the pregnant woman goes into labor. Someone has to deliver the baby while police and firemen are trying to open the elevator door. Oh yeah, a news crew is on scene waiting to interview the rescued occupants.

Anyway, I get a kick out of putting double meanings into some of these titles. Guess if I'm lucky, the reader will get some laughs out of these stories. And, if they go back and think about the wording in these titles, maybe they'll get a kick out of them, too.

06 November 2013

The Story I Said I'd Never Write

by Robert Lopresti

I am delighted to report that the January/February 2014 of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine is out this week and features my 24th appearance in that fine periodical.  Even better, it marks my third chance to grace the cover (and what a perfect illustration it is!).  "Devil Chased The Wolf Away" is a short story but the history of how it came to exist is a long story, so you might want to fortify yourself with a cup of coffee or something.  I'll wait.

Ready?  Okay, here goes.

About fifteen years ago I attended a concert by a man who had been considered a master musician.  The problem was he was long past his prime, and it showed.  He was confused and his playing was clumsy.

That would have been bad enough, but worse was the fact that his accompanyist, the man who had been driving him from show to show, was clearly fed up, and was rude and disrespectful.  This made the show quite unpleasant.

And as I watched it, being the person I am, I found myself thinking: is there a story here?  A crime story?

By the time the show was over I had invented Cleve Penny, an over-the-hill old-time fiddler from Kentucky.  His tale, "Snake In The Sweetgrass," appeared in the December 2003 issue of Hitchcock's.  

I thought it was my best story and some people seemed to agree.  Several urged me to write about Cleve again, but I didn't want to.  I was afraid that what seemed magical the first time might turn out to be just slight of hand the next time around.  Besides, if I kept dragging my old guy around from stage to stage, wasn't I being like that accompanyist?  So I made up my mind not to write a sequel to "Snake."

Then Bruce Molsky came to town.

Now, I must immediately explain that Molsky is not over the hill.  He is king of the mountain, and can play old-time guitar, banjo or fiddle as well as anybody.  This video should prove my point.  (And he can sing while he plays the fiddle, which is just plain cheating.)



But a few years ago Molsky performed here with a brother and sister act, only one of whom was old enough to drive, and watching him interact with those talented youngsters I had a sudden thought: wouldn't it be fun to have Cleve Penny work with some children?

I thought it would.  Not long before this my family had visited Chicago for the first time, which  included a pilgrimage to the Old Town School of Folk Music.  The School was founded in 1957 and has been offering lessons, concerts, and jams ever since. 

So I invented the Cornheim School of Folk Music, and installed Cleve Penny as guest Artist in Residence.  Then I gave the school a problem and invited Cleve to take his unique approach to solving it.  



But I had another problem.  "Devil" is in some ways a direct result of the events in "Snake."  Cleve's actions in the second story are heavily influenced by what he did in the first.  I can't assume that everyone who reads "Devil" will have read "Snake," much less remember it a decade later.  So how do I slip in the backstory?  I actually got into an interesting discussion on this subject with mystery writer Neil Schofield and wrote about it  at Criminal Brief.

I think I licked that problem, but Linda Landrigan, editor of Hitchcock's, offered an even better solution.  As I said last week, you can download a free podcast of "Snake."  I highly recommend you read/listen to it before you dig into "Devil."  You will enjoy them both more that way.

I think I'm done with Cleve Penny now, and he can settle into a well-deserved retirement.  But I have learned to never say never.

30 October 2013

Media Blitz

by Robert Lopresti

A long time ago, Robert Benchley wrote the following about his most famous piece, "The Treasurer's Report:" I have inflicted it on the public in every conceivable way except over the radio and dropping it from airplanes.  (And as proof, here is a short, hilarious movie version.)

I am thinking about that because this autumn is seeing my own work coming at the public from a variety of directions.  Not to worry; the phase will pass and by December I will sink back into obscurity.  But let's go over the details of my temporary onslaught.

As I wrote last time, September marked my first appearance in an e-book anthology.  I am sure by now you have all run out (or run your cursor over) to buy a copy of Malfeasance Occasional: Girl Trouble.  Right?

I am happy to inform you you won't have to spend any money for this next feature (although I do like dark chocolate if you're thinking of a gift).  This one is a freebie.

Linda Landrigan, who edits Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, suggested doing a podcast of my story "Snake in the Sweetgrass," which appeared in the December 2003 issue of AHMM.  And if it isn't up now here  it should be by next week.


She sent me the recorder they use and after much diligent practice I was able to record the story with only three mistakes.  And that was the best I could do.  Three different mistakes every time.  (It wasn't like I consistently tripped over the same tongue-twisting phrase, alas.)  Linda assures me they can clean that up.

But here is the cool part.  My story is about an elderly Kentucky fiddler and the title refers to a traditional fiddle piece that is his personal signature tune.  It seemed logical to include a recording of that tune in the podcast.

The problem with that is that I made up the name.  There is no such tune. 

No biggie.  My daughter, Susan Weiner, is a fine composer so she created a tune that matched the description in the story.  And then, extra special treat, my wife Terri Weiner recorded it on the fiddle.

So it is a real family operation and I recommend it highly.  But if that isn't enough to entice you to give it a listen, here is a bonus.  Remember, I said this is a media blitz. 

The January/February issue of Hitchcock's comes out November 4 and I am thrilled to report that the cover story is "Devil Chased The Wolf Away," a sequel to "Snake."  And while you can read "Devil" without experiencing "Snake" you will definitely enjoy them more if you read (or listen to) "Snake" first.

And next Wednesday I will explain how "Devil" came to be written, much to my surprise.