Showing posts with label Dale Andrews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dale Andrews. Show all posts

02 June 2015

Best Of Times/Worst Of Times (Writing)

by David Dean 

Linda Landrigan, Editor of AHMM, Me, and Janet Hutchings, Editor of EQMM at FUN Dell Party
The best of times

I'm very happy to announce that the current (July) issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine carries a story of mine. It's titled "The Walking Path" and demonstrates how exercise is not always conducive to good health or a long life. As is common in many of my tales, the protagonist misreads events unfolding around him which leads to a surprising, though not very pleasing (for him, at least) end to his outdoor pursuits.

The theme of missed opportunities and misunderstood relationships also features in the following month's issue in a story called, "Mr. Kill-Me". The poor fellow conjured up in this tale cannot for the life of him understand why he's being stalked. His antagonist, a shabby cyclist who keeps showing up at unexpected moments, offers him no threat of violence, but is insistent that our hero kill him.

The month following (yes, it's been a very good year– see first half of blog title) I change pace with a police procedural in which a detective must come to terms with his own actions of nearly fifty years before. This novella is titled "Happy Valley". Counting "Her Terrible Beauty" that was in the March issue, that makes four stories in EQMM in a single year– a first for me. Still, I pose no threat to the late, great Ed Hoch's prolific output, or that of our own Edgar-Nominated John Floyd. Speaking of whom, I had the pleasure of meeting John, and his lovely wife, at the Dell soiree in New York this year. The only fault I could find with the man was his overbearing height, other than that he was just as charming and intelligent as we've all found him to be through his SleuthSayers articles. Still, I'm disappointed with his insufferable tallness.

A Less Fun Party
The worst of times

Since the fall of 2012 I've had three novels published, none of which have thrived. If I called a summit meeting of everyone who had read any of them I could probably forego renting a hall and just have them convene in my living room. Even there, I'm not sure that anyone would have to stand during the meeting. I find this a little distressing. My intention in writing the novels was that someone would read them. You can see my frustration here.

Part of the problem is that none of them have received very much publicity. Small indie presses have no funds for advertising it seems. The big corporation boys do, but only if you're already famous, which presents a conundrum for such as the likes of me. The other part of the problem (and this is the part I like even less than the first) is that I may not be very good at writing novels. I especially don't like this possibility because it doesn't allow me to blame anyone else. When I was occasionally asked what I did as a chief of police, I would always fire back, "I find out who's to blame and pin it on them. Now get out of my office!" My wife claims that I still do this as a private citizen. I tell her that it's paramount to blame those responsible for any faults I may possess, then tell her to get out of my office. She does not comply. I find this distressing as well.

So there you have it, the best and the worst. In case I've raised anyone's hopes that I will never write another novel, you must not know me. I'm already taking another stab at the beast and am on page 125 after only a year's labor. It's titled, The German Informant, and is coming along, though I doubt it will fare any better than the others. On the days I find the going tough, I blame the neighbors for all the distractions. If it weren't for them it would be done already!

In closing, and in order to refill the glass to half-full, I want to take a moment to thank a number of fellow writers who have been particularly kind and supportive in recent months: Brendan DuBois, Doug Allyn, Joseph D'Agnese, Don Helin, Lou Manfredo, Art Taylor, Fran Rizer (whom I miss from this site) and my fellow SleuthSayers, Dale Andrews and Eve Fisher. Each of these extremely talented and busy writers have taken the time, and in some cases, expended considerable effort, to aid or support me in my literary pursuits. I am in your debt, my friends, and honored to be so. Below is a copy of the aforementioned EQMM issue. You will find my name next to that of Joyce Carol Oats, a pretty good writer who I think shows real promise. I hope this fortunate pairing boosts her career.

03 March 2015

Her Terrible Beauty

By David Dean
The title of this piece just happens to be the title of my latest story in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.  This is not a coincidence.  I am utilizing my God-given right to promote my work in lieu of the huge monthly check I would normally receive from our generous paymaster, Leigh Lundin.  But I will not just promote, but educate as well, sprinkling tidbits of information throughout that cannot possibly be found on the internet.  For instance: Saint Patrick's Day is two weeks from today.


Yes, only a few hundred million of us woke up knowing this today.  What the devil does it have to do with my latest groundbreaking literary effort?  Very little, actually, but since this auspicious occasion just happens to be coming up, I thought I'd smoothly weave it in.  Just watch my handiwork.

My story takes place in antebellum Alabama, circa 1831, within the diocese of Mobile and concerns a brother and sister, murders and miracles, duels and deceptions.  It ends with a hanging.  St. Patrick has nothing to do with any of it.  Yet, if you go to Mobile, as I have, and visit the magnificent Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception you will discover a small, unique statue of him situated to the right of the altar.  If you look up, and you should, you will find a ceiling exquisitely rendered in gold leaf patterns of alternating fleur-de-lis and shamrocks, heraldic symbols of both France and Ireland.  Mobile, like most of the Gulf Coast, was originally colonized by the French and, in fact, it was here that the first Mardi Gras was celebrated in North America; not in New Orleans.  This was in 1703--another fun fact.  It is celebrated in Mobile to this day. 

How did St. Patrick sneak into this decidedly French environment, you may ask?  The answer lies with all the Irish priests and bishops entombed in the vault beneath the Cathedral.  In those days, the Irish were mighty and prodigious evangelizers of the Catholic faith and were forever charging into the breach.  It appears that they charged into the Mobile colony.  The French and the Irish have a long relationship actually, as both have found themselves squared off repeatedly with their mutual enemy, the English.  One happy result of this alliance was Hennessey Cognac; another the breathtaking ceiling of the Cathedral.  More fun facts as promised.

My protagonist opens the story with a request for one of these priests (French or Irish, it doesn't matter).  He wishes to prepare himself for his impending exit from this perplexing world of ours.  A rider is sent to Mobile to fetch one.  Thus begins our tale of madness and murder.  It's in the March/April issue along with many fine tales by such notables as Doug Allyn, Dave Zeltserman, S.J. Rozan, Loren D. Estleman, Marilyn Todd, and more!  I hope that you will get a copy of this issue, and that if you do, you find your visit to L.A. (Lower Alabama) interesting.

P.S. During my time here the news broke of Harper Lee's impending book release.  This was big down here as Monroeville, a nearby community, is both Ms. Lee's home and the setting for "To Kill A Mockingbird."

P.P.S. Oh yes, almost forgot, our fellow SleuthSayer, Dale Andrews, vacations yearly in nearby Gulf Shores, Alabama--a final fun fact.      



                          

11 December 2014

The 8th of November, 1951

by Dale C. Andrews

    Sometimes when I settle down in the evening in front of the television I think back to the origins of this strange little device that we have welcomed into our homes over the past 65 or more years.

    Television actually got its start even earlier, in the 1920’s, and for several years what was the first television station sending out commercial broadcasts, WGY – broadcasting out of a General Electric plant in Schenectady, New York -- contented itself with showing Felix the Cat riding around on a turntable for two hours a day.  But regular commercial broadcasting likely dates from 1948, the year that Texaco Star Theater starring Milton Berle became the first “must see” TV.

    The early years of television saw an avalanche of new programming hit the airwaves, some original series and some transplanted from the about-to-be-supplanted radio airwaves.  Mysteries were a staple of radio and many moved readily to this new medium as well.  Included in this rush to offer televised entertainment were three different series featuring my personal favorite, Ellery Queen, making the jump from radio.  Ellery Queen series variously aired on the old Dumont network, as well as on ABC and NBC.  These early television attempts at conquering the whodunit were a far cry from NBC’s 1975 Ellery Queen series that graced the Thursday and then Sunday night schedule for one short year.  The 1975 series is now available in a great DVD collection, but most of these early Queen televised adventures are now lost to us – they were either performed live, or on lost kinescope tapes.  You can read about them, and their radio predecessors, either in Francis Nevins magnum opus Ellery Queen:  The Art of Detection, or on Kurt Sercu's website Ellery Queen:  A Website on Deduction.  But watching those early shows, that's another matter.  Well, maybe . . . .  There are always exceptions, bits of the past lurking out there ready to be discovered (or re-discovered) by the intrepid detective.

    So step with me, now, into Mr. Peabody’s wayback machine, as we set the dial for November 8, 1951.  When we get there, get comfy on the couch, or on the floor with a pillow.  Pull the popcorn bowl up close.  All eyes on that magnificent 9 inch black and white screen as we eagerly await tonight’s Ellery Queen adventure -- “Murder to Music.”




Note that Dale Andrews returns to SleuthSayers the last Sunday of the month, commencing 25 January 2015.

03 June 2014

So Long for Now

by Dale C. Andrews

       Well, gang, this is my sign-off piece, at least for a while. Why? (I might hope you are asking.) Well, it’s sort of a short story rendered long.

       It all began last fall. In October I flew off to what has been my annual gig teaching a graduate course in the history of transportation at the University of Denver. Last year all went well until the flight home. I, like almost everyone else these days, refuse to check a bag. So when I approached my seat I threw my bag up into the overhead rack. As I did so something clicked -- more like snapped -- in my right shoulder. By the time we landed in D.C. my right arm was in such pain that I could hardly carry off my carry-on. 

       I immediately did what most of us do in such circumstances. I ignored the whole thing. Sure enough after a few weeks the pain lessened, but it didn't go away. So I exercised. Eventually I went to see my chiropractor. That helped but the pain still didn't go away. So a few weeks ago I threw in the towel and went to see a specialist who diagnosed a torn labrum in the shoulder and a rotator cup tear. To fix this I go under the knife on June 10 and, per my doctor, thereafter for perhaps as much as three to four months I will not be able to effectively use my right hand. And after that it will take physical therapy to bring the arm back. 

       So, there goes swimming, piloting the boat, playing the piano -- all for the rest of the summer. Hmm, anything else? Oh, yeah. Typing. 

       I’m a touch typist and I am used to pounding the keyboard at around 100 words per minute (probably the only useful skill that emerged with me from high school).  My writing is heavily dependent on that typing speed, and I always write at the keyboard.  So losing my right hand is going to put a severe crimp in things. Also, I am "write" handed, which sort of rules out reverting to the pen and paper that I otherwise left behind in the 1980s. It did occur to me that I could do some columns using only the left hand side of the keyboard -- a new take on “constrained writing.” A little research, however, shows how daunting that task would be.

       Herbert Spencer Zim, noted for works in the natural sciences arena, also produced one of the definitive treatises on frequencies of letter occurrences in the English language, Codes and Secret Writing. The bottom line from Zim is that, in descending order, the ten letters we most frequently use are ETAON RISHD. It is true that six of these are reachable in touch typing with the left hand, but think of the difficulties. True, a mystery writer could type “dead,” which is, I suppose, encouraging in its own way. But “death” would (because of that “h”) be beyond our reach. And thanks so much for that left-handed “q,” which can’t be used since it requires a right-handed “u.” (Unless, of course, you are writing about Qantas Airlines -- but forget about that, since you avoid the "u" but you still can’t reach the “n”.) Moreover the ten most common letter pairs according to Zim are TH HE AN RE ER IN ON AT ND ST. Of these only RE, ER, AT and ST are typed using the left hand. So, while one might fashion a dying clue typing with only the left hand (Queen did something a bit similar in a mystery the name of which will not be “spoiled” here), it’s simply not that feasible for a series of articles! 

       Okay, I know. I could probably hunt and peck my way through a few pieces, left handed but I suspect that I’m not going to be that up to it in the near term. So instead I am chucking all of this for a while. 

       How best to exit (at least for now)? Well, perhaps (and a tip of the old SleuthSayer hat to our resident list-maker John Floyd) with a list of some memorable final lines from the movies.  Here goes:
I think we should be leaving now. Yeah, that's probably a good idea. -- Pulp Fiction 
Let's just wait here awhile, see what happens. -- The Thing
Goodnight, you princes of Maine. You kings of New England. -- The Cider House Rules
Well, uh, hope you folks enjoyed yourselves. Catch ya further on down the trail. Say, friend - you got any more of that good sarsaparilla? -- The Big Lebowski
Some people say it's forgive and forget. Nah, I don't know. I say forget about forgivin' and just accept - and get the hell outta town. -- Grosse Point Blank
You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry: you will someday. -- American Beauty
They say they're going to repeal Prohibition. What will you do then? I think I'll have a drink.-- The Untouchables
Way back, way, way, way back, up high into the right field. That ball is still going. It's way back, high up in there. He did it. Hobbs did it. -- The Natural
I do wish we could chat longer, but I'm having an old friend for dinner. Bye. -- The Silence of the Lambs
If not Arizona, then a land not too far away, where all parents are strong and wise and capable, and all children are happy and beloved. I don't know. Maybe it was Utah.  -- Raising Arizona
That'll do, pig. That'll do. -- Babe
I'm too old for this. -- Lethal Weapon
I'll be right here. -- E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
You met me at a very strange time of my life. -- The Fight Club
He’s still out there! -- Friday the Thirteenth
You're still here? It's over! Go home. Go! -- Ferris Bueller's Day Off
And here is your receipt. -- The Blues Brothers
You're Next.  Invasion of the Body Snatchers (a special one for Stephen Ross and Jim Winter who are brand new Tuesday SleuthSayers) 
         Any one of those (and several in tandem) could comprise a fine fare-thee-well today, but I will admit to a personal favorite. Although it actually appears at the beginning, not the end, of the film, for my taste it works just fine:


       And as Conklin said to Jason Bourne in one of those Berlin flashbacks:  See you on the other side.

20 May 2014

Which-es Brew

by Dale C. Andrews
I found that Thai was the only language which wanted to pass my lips in any coherent form, and the only word which I seemed capable of forming was, why?
                        The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August 
                        Claire North 

       Two weeks ago, in the context of a discussion on Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, I wrote about the ability of most authors to develop a “writer’s ear.” Simply put, writing with a “writer’s ear” means that the test of the narrative is “does it sound right?” If so, so be it. Writing from Strunk and White is like flying on instruments, writing from your own ear is like flying by dead reckoning. And dead reckoning is sort of where we all want to be -- we learn the rules so that we can freely write without reference to them. 

       Whether this works, however, depends upon how well we have developed that “writer’s ear,” how well we have mastered the rules before we begin to grant ourselves the luxury of ignoring them.

       How much freedom does our "writer's ear" deserve?  Back in 2006 James J. Kilpatrick had this to say in one of his On Writing pieces: 
Is "woken" a legitimate verb? We're talking style today, so stick around. The question came last week from George Woodward of Berlin, Conn. He enclosed a clipping about a fellow who is regularly "woken up by garbage trucks." He asked: Should an editor have changed it to read, "awakened by garbage trucks"? The answer lies in a writer's ear. "Woken" is indeed a legitimate alternative to the more popular "awakened." The thing is, we read with our ears as well as our eyes. What does your ear tell you? I believe an editor with a lively sense of style would leave the sentence alone.
        Of course, all of this pretty much depends upon how good that “ear” is. Kilpatrick offers a pretty strict test: If there are multiple usages, each of which is correct but one of which is more popular, the writer (and his or her editor) may choose either based on what sounds right to the writer’s ear 

       But what if the ear is, in some respect, untrained? What if the choice is one between a correct usage and a grammatically incorrect usage? Return with me now to that quote at the top of today’s piece. How many of you are bothered by the quotation, from the pseudonymous Claire North’s new novel The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August? Do the two usages of “which” grate? It’s understandable if they do, because In each case the indisputably correct word should have been “that.” 

       Before moving on here I need to state that I thoroughly enjoyed The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. It is a very engaging science fiction novel with great characters, a neat time-travel plot and an inspired underlying story. I recommend it as a great read. But if you are a stickler on the correct usage of “which” and “that” (and I confess that I am), be prepared for some eye rolling. Throughout the book the author (and her editor) get it wrong almost every time. 

        By all accounts, figuring out when to use “which” and when to use “that” is one of the great stumbling blocks for writers to master. Ms. North is therefore in good company. Stephen King consistently mixed up the two words for years until, somewhere around ten years ago, something clicked in his head or in the head of his editor. And I was a member of those same ranks. I wrote and edited legal papers for decades without figuring this one out. Finally, about 20 years ago when documents kept coming back to me from the General Counsel’s office with “which” changed to “that” and “that” changed to “which” I hunkered down and learned the rule. And strangely, once you “get” the rule your writer’s ear will predictably kick in. That which previously slipped by unnoticed will then begin to grate. 

       Many of you, I am sure, are already on board. You know when to use “which" and when to use “that” and you are likely feeling a bit bored with all of this. You folks can quit here and just jump down and read (or re-read) Fran Rizer's excellent article from yesterday, or maybe Stephen Ross' thoughtful guest article from Sunday.   

       But for the rest of you, here is the rule as simply as I know how to put it:  Use “that” as the opening word in a restrictive clause; use “which” as the opening word in a non-restrictive clause.

Which is which? Well, if you can’t eliminate the clause from the sentence the clause is restrictive. An example would be “SleuthSayers is the daily blog that brings together mystery short story writers.” You can’t get rid of “that brings together mystery short story writers” and still have the sentence make sense.  So the clause is restrictive and requires “that.”

By contrast, if our example read “SleuthSayers, which offers a new article every day, is the mystery short story writers’ blog” it would contain a non-restrictive clause. The sentence still makes sense without the phrase “which offers a new article every day.” So the non-restrictive modifying clause requires a “which.” Clauses with “which” are therefore not unlike the extra information imparted when you use a parenthetical, which is another way to recognize them. 

       Want an even simpler rule? This one works something like 95% of the time, which is enough for most of our writer’s ears: If a clause is set off by commas it should begin with “which.” Otherwise, use “that.” Of course, this all presupposes that one also knows when to set off a clause with commas. And when do you do this? Well, when the first word is “which!” 

       If which-es were horses …

06 May 2014

The Elements of Style

by Dale C. Andrews

       Before retiring in 2009 I did my fair share of legal writing. But I did an even greater amount of editing. My approach to editing is a simple one to state, harder to put into practice. I told those whose work I was charged with reviewing (and revising) that they should write as though there were one thousand ways to write their piece erroneously and one thousand ways to write it correctly. If they got it right, it would be right, even if I might have chosen a different one of those thousand acceptable approaches. But if they got it wrong, well, then it was in my hands and I had free rein when I revised it.

       Those of us who have written for a living -- as I did when I was editing those (uninteresting) legal briefs and memoranda -- have learned how to write through a prolonged process of trial and error. If successful, this process eventually results in the development of an ear for the language, an ability to “hear” what works on the page and what does not. But the process of getting there can be agonizing, and generally begins with the boot camp of learning (and following) a set of strict rules that are drilled into us at an early age. For many of us, at least those in my generation, those rules were probably initially encountered in The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White.
   
       The Elements of Style was originally written and self-published by Strunk, an English professor at Cornell, who was White’s teacher in 1919. Popularly, however, the volume has been available for 55 years, dating from 1959, the year when White, who had written a New Yorker article praising the volume and Professor Strunk, edited and updated Strunk’s slender guide and for the first time published it for the mass market. Almost immediately the volume took off. Dorothy Parker said of it “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

       But, as is the case with almost any “how to write” treatise Strunk and White (as the book is often called) also has its detractors. Much of their criticism stems from the brittleness of the volume’s approach, its tendency to prescribe hard and fast rules in circumstances where guidance might be a better approach. In an article “celebrating” the 50th anniversary of The Elements of Style, “Fifty Years of Stupid Grammar Advice,” (The Chronicle Review, April 17, 2009) Edinburgh English professor Geoffrey K. Pullum had very little good to say about the volume. As an example, Pullum takes issue with Strunk and White’s position on split infinitives.The Elements of Style advises that split infinitives "should be avoided unless the writer wishes to place unusual stress on the adverb." Pullum rejects the approach, labeling it “completely wrong”:
Tucking the adverb in before the verb actually de-emphasizes the adverb, so a sentence like "The dean's statements tend to completely polarize the faculty" places the stress on polarizing the faculty. The way to stress the completeness of the polarization would be to write, "The dean's statements tend to polarize the faculty completely."
       But arguably Pullum has fallen into the same “brittleness” trap for which he derides Strunk and White. In fact, as a purported universal rule, Pullum’s rule on adverb placement fares no better than does the Strunk and White rule. All Star Trek fans, for example, know that the word “boldly” is stronger under the Strunk and White "exception" approach (“to boldly go where no man has gone before”) than it would be under the Pullum alternative (“to go where no man has gone before boldly”). When one approach works for the “dean’s statement” sentence but the other works for the Star Trek opening, one can only conclude that there in fact can be no universal rule, nor universal exception.

       Are there other pitfalls encountered when a writer follows black and white approaches religiously? Certainly. For example, Strunk and White dictates that no sentence must ever begin with the word "and" or “however.” We are told to avoid “certainly” in almost all circumstances. “Factor” and “feature,” we are told, are “hackneyed words.” And the rule, as originally set forth by Strunk and White, is that “to-day”, “to-night” and “to-morrow,” are only to be written using hyphens. There may be guidance in this, but hardly unbreakable rules.

       In a 2009 article, also celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Elements of Style the New York Times had this to say:
The little book had big pretensions, which were not always appreciated by writers or even grammarians. Had they followed all the rules (avoid injecting fancy words, foreign languages and opinion), Thomas Wolfe, Vladmir Nabokov, William F. Buckley and Murray Kempton (a comma before “and” — or not?), to name a few successful writers, might have been shunted into very different careers.
       Pullum’s article goes further. To make its point that rules of English usage cannot be hard and fast Pullum takes on the Strunk and White rule that the phrase “none of us” requires the singular “is.” Using computerized searches of which the authors of The Elements of Style could only have dreamt, Pullum points out that Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne of Avonlea consistently and and almost invariably use “none of us are.”

       These examples illustrates the problem with any stark approach when it comes to setting usage rules. English simply refuses to play by those rules. It evolves. I used to work with someone who railed at anyone who spelled “supersede” with a “c”, decrying that this was the most common misspelling in the English language. But today “supercede” clears most spellcheckers just fine. And hardly anyone today (no hyphen) would hyphenate tonight or tomorrow as prescribed by The Elements of Style.

       The truth is, that while it is good to know the underlying rules when developing your writer’s ear, the rules themselves need to be taken with grains of salt. Once your ear has matured and developed it needs to be relied upon more than the rules. If the prose sounds right to an educated ear as it is written, it likely is right to the ear of the reader. This point was not lost on White, who, as anyone who has marveled at Charlotte’s Web fully realizes, was possessed of a great writer’s ear. White in fact acknowledged that his own approach to writing was at least a bit at loggerheads with the black letter law of The Elements of Style:
E.B. White, at work at The New York Times
I felt uneasy at posing as an expert on rhetoric, when the truth is I write by ear, . . . [but] [u]nless someone is willing to entertain notions of superiority, the English language disintegrates, just as a home disintegrates unless someone in the family sets standards of good taste, good conduct and simple justice.
       To me, that says it all. The rules set forth in The Elements of Style are foundational. Knowing them is like learning how to outline a story, or essay, in advance. Usage rules and outlining skills are tools that each of us should first master so that our writing is constructed on a solid foundation. Then, when and if we abandon the rules, or at least loosen the reins, it is with full knowledge of what we are doing.

       And (I purposely begin) even then we have to be careful. In that 2009 article celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Elements of Style, The New York Times noted that the latest edition of the book contained “ a forward by White’s stepson, Roger Angell.” Soon thereafter The Times published a correction. 

        It should have been “foreword.”

22 April 2014

Back to the Carnival

by Dale C. Andrews

       Next month author Herman Wouk turns 99.
Herman Wouk
     
       In a writing career that has spanned over 70 years Wouk has produced an impressive array of literature. His first novel, The Man in the Trench Coat, was published in 1941. Wouk’s specialty has been the historical novel, particularly war tales and military-based fiction. We know him for Aurora Dawn, published in 1947 when Wouk was still an officer in the Navy. We know him for The Winds of War and its sequel War and Remembrance. He wrote both the Pulitzer prize winning The Caine Mutiny and the theatrical version, The Caine Mutiny Court Martial. But Wouk is equally at home in other settings. Marjorie Morningstar focuses on the aspirations of a would-be actress, and Young Bloodhawk (with some autobiographical underpinnings) chronicles the rise and fall of a young writer. Wouk’s latest work, The Lawgiver, published in 2012 when Wouk was 97 -- a Hollywood tale of an attempt to film the life of Moses told through an epistolary array of letters, memos, articles, and text messages -- prompted high praise from the Washington Post:
in some essential way, this book about a movie about a book is also about the very act of writing books. Wouk reminds us of the eternal value of storytelling while he shows 30- and 50- and 80-year-old whippersnappers how it’s done.

Sunset Point, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
     All of this, however, is not strictly intended as an homage to the incredible career of Herman Wouk. Rather, it is an homage to one particular novel, which you may have never heard of unless you (like I) frequent the Caribbean. And yes, we are about to head south again -- this time to the Turks and Caicos (specifically, to Sunset Point on the island of Providenciales) for a family reunion with my brother Graham and his wife Nik.  We'll get back to that Herman Wouk novel in a little while, but first some background.

       There are very few islands in the Caribbean that Pat and I have not visited over the years. This trip we are settling down in one place, but most of the time we island-jump.  As you head south in the Caribbean it is like going back in time.  The further you go, the more apt you are to stumble upon the West Indies of the 1950s or 1960s -- small towns, secluded beaches dotted with small locally-owned beach front hotels, restaurants and bars. These are islands where large cruise ships never anchor and couldn't tie up even if they wanted to.

Island Windjammer's 24 passenger Sagitta
       For almost 25 years we cruised the small islands of the West Indies on the tall ships of Barefoot Windjammers, until the company went under back in 2007. Since 2009 we have continued to sail on the tall ships run by Island Windjammers, a small company founded by stalwart fans of Barefoot Windjammers. Island Windjammers ships, Sagitta and Diamant, arose from the ashes like phoenixes and now visit the same islands that have always been Windjammer favorites -- including many out of the way places like St. Vincents, Bequia, Statia, Carriacou and Union Island, where secluded Chatham’s Bay is about as great as it gets. Following the trade winds to these unfrequented islands -- mesmerized by the shimmering turquoise, watching for that illusive flash of green at sunset, walking the cobbled streets where activity slows under the sun -- who wouldn't begin to dream, just a little, about chucking it all; about pulling up  roots and heading south for good. Ahh, yes. For good. 

Bequia Book Shop
       And that is what Herman Wouk’s Don’t Stop the Carnival is all about: The Caribbean. You might have to look pretty far to find a copy of Carnival on the shelves of a bookstore in the United States. But it’s everywhere in the Caribbean. If you are walking down the sidewalk street that runs along the bay in Port Elizabeth on Bequia, just duck into the shade of the Bequia Bookshop. You will find a stack of copies. The same will likely be true at the Gaymes Bookshop on St. Vincents or at Nathaniel’s Book and Sports Supplies on St. Lucia. Or try the gift shop at any island hotel. At each of these you will stand a good chance of securing a copy of Wouk’s hilarious, sad and cautionary tale of what ensues when Norman Paperman, blinded by the beaches, breezes and bougainvillea, takes a deep breath and decided to forsake New York to run the Gull Reef Hotel on the mythical (but oh so familiar) island of Kinja. 

       Wouk was not the first author to set a story in the Caribbean. Alec Waugh did it in the 1955 bestseller Island in the Sun, set in Grenada, but now remembered mostly for the title song sung by Harry Belafonte in the 1957 movie adaptation. Ian Fleming used the Caribbean in several novels. Agatha Christie “went” there for A Caribbean Mystery in 1964. Even Stieg Larsson opens The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest with Lisbeth Salander idling the time away on Grand Anse beach in Grenada. But you are unlikely to find any of these tales at “down island” book stores.

       So what is it about Don’t Stop the Carnival that keeps it on the shelves and next to the beach chairs of the tourists and expats who populate the beaches of that magical string of islands to our south? Several things, I think. First, the central character in the book is really the Caribbean itself -- its beauty as well as the rickety, thrown-together nature of its governments and infrastructure. Wouk portrays the alluring charm of the islands (embodied in his fictional Kinja) while also showing the dark underbelly. We understand both why we want to live there as well as why actually doing so might drive us crazy. Second, Wouk accomplishes all of this while walking gracefully the thin line between comedy and tragedy. I laugh my way through Don’t Stop the Carnival every time I read it, but the message of the book is ultimately a sad one of failed and unrealizable dreams. The book, written in 1965, is both dated and timeless -- despite its setting, now 40 years ago, it continues to resonate because of its understanding and love of how the Caribbean works (and doesn't work). 

Ruins of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co.,
which later became the Royal Mail Inn on Hassel Island
       Like many other of Wouk’s works (pardon my alliteration!) Don't Stop the Carnival is premised on real life experiences. In the 1960’s Herman Wouk and his late wife Betty managed the Royal Mail Inn, a small Caribbean hotel located on Hassel Island, which is directly across from the ferry depot at St. Thomas' Charlotte Amalie Harbour. If you find yourself taking the ferry from St. Thomas to Tortola, visit the Petite Pump Room (upstairs above the ferry depot) for a drink and gaze across the harbour -- what you will see is Hassel Island.  And those abandoned buildings and ruins are what used to be the Royal Mail Inn, a real life dream that proved unrealizable for Herman Wouk. So, just as his war novels were based on his experience in the Navy during World War II, so, too, Don’t Stop the Carnival rings with authenticity simply because Herman Wouk wrote what he knew all to well. 

The Jimmy Buffett album
       Unlike Island in the Sun, Don’t Stop the Carnival was never filmed.  It did, however, spawn a musical adaptation written by another hero of all Caribbean expats and wannabe expats, Jimmy Buffett, in collaboration with Herman Wouk himself. I recommend that album, where Wouk cameos as narrator, as heartily as I do the original book.  The score and libretto are more operetta than musical -- taken together they "tell" Wouk's tale in its entirety.  It’s all there in song, from dream to disillusionment. You will, however, have a difficult time tracking down the album. It’s a little out of the ordinary for Buffett, and like the original book by Wouk caters best to the fanatical few who return whenever possible to the islands.  That tends to be a narrow (but deep) market.  

       Don’t Stop the Carnival ends with Norman Paperman’s wife Henny telling him “time to go home, Norman.” We all get there. But where we love to be is at the beginning, when Wouk sets the stage: 
Kinja was the name of the island when it was British. The actual name was King George III Island, but the islanders shortened that to Kinja. Now the names in the maps and guidebooks is Amerigo, but everybody who lives there still calls it Kinja.
The United States acquired the island peacefully in 1940 as part of the shuffling of old destroyers and Caribbean real estate that went on between Mr.Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill. The details of the transaction were, and are, vague to the inhabitants. The West Indian is not exactly hostile to change, but he's not much inclined to believe in it.
Meantime, in a fashion, Amerigo was getting American-ized; the inflow of cash was making everybody more prosperous. Most Kinjans go along cheerily with this explosion of American energy in the Caribbean. To them, it seems a new, harmless, and apparently endless, carnival.
       Want to try that again with music, pictures, and Herman Wouk narrating?  No problem, Mon.  Just click here

08 April 2014

Training Writers

by Dale C. Andrews
Now as the train bears west,
Its rhythm rocks the earth,
And from my Pullman berth
I stare into the night
While others take their rest.
Bridges of iron lace,
A suddenness of trees,
A lap of mountain mist
All cross my line of sight,
Then a bleak wasted place,
And a lake below my knees.
Full on my neck I feel
The straining at a curve;
My muscles move with steel,
I wake in every nerve.
I watch a beacon swing
From dark to blazing bright;
We thunder through ravines
And gullies washed with light.
Beyond the mountain pass
Mist deepens on the pane;
We rush into a train
That rattles double glass.
Wheels shake the roadbed stone,
The pistons jerk and shove,
I stay up half the night
To see the land I love. 
                 Night Journey 
                 Theodore Roethke 
       On a Thursday morning in early October Ellery Queen was grappling with more fundamental concerns. The cross-country flight west to Los Angeles had been bumpy, particularly over the Rockies, and he had been bone-weary when the cab deposited him . . . . [H]is sleep had been fitful, and by morning he had still found himself more than a little disoriented in time, thick of tongue, and feeling every bit of his seventy years. Mr. Queen lamented the loss of the leisurely cross-country Pullman trips of yore and grumbled, not for the first time, how flying so unforgivably takes the travel out of travel. 

                  The Mad Hatter’s Riddle 
                   Dale C. Andrews 

      What is it about a train that lends itself to narrative fiction and, particularly, to mysteries? The question is open to some debate, but to my mind there are several aspects to train travel that can be irresistible to those of us who tell stories.  First, a passenger on a train is both a part of the world, and yet apart from it, traveling in a defined slice of life that is removed from everything else.  Second, time passes relatively slowly on a train -- there are opportunities to move about, to have contact with others over drinks or in a dining car, where seating is luck of the draw and we never know who may be across from us at the table. Jimmy Buffett said something about sailing that is equally true of riding the rails -- “fast enough to get there, slow enough to see: moderation seems to be the key.” Unlike airplane travel, where the terrain passes by miles below us, on a train we witness every mile, yet we are apart from each of those miles, encapsulated in a microcosm world. There is an undeniable romance to this.  Third, the train contains its characters, almost like a locked room. The cast is all there, rolling on the rails and quarantined from the every-day world, which can only be observed as it glides by. 

On board the fabled Orient Express
       Little wonder that train travel has provided a recurring locale for narrative writing. Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is a prime example of a mystery built and dependent upon the structure of train travel. And it only seemed right that Ian Fleming used the constrained setting of a train as the locale for much of the narrative in From Russia, With Love, the fifth James Bond novel. Fleming drew much of his description of that particular train
-- the same Orient Express that captivated Christie -- from his own wartime journeys on the fabled train.

       The same lure of the rails lies at the heart of Hitchcock’s 1938 classic The Lady Vanishes, which was, in turn, based on the 1936 novel The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White.  And Hitchock returned to the rails with North by Northwest.  More recently Sara Gruen’s best seller Water for Elephants relies as much on the train as it does on the circus for its setting, and the 2008 movie Transsiberian is not only a mystery and thriller, but a grand homage to the Trans Siberian Express. 

       So there are lots of stories that take place on a train. But what about fiction that is written on a train? 

       In an interesting little plot twist, Amtrak has taken an initial proactive step toward fostering an even more symbiotic relationship between narrative writing and train travel. Recently the company unveiled its new (and admittedly fledgling) “Residency for Writers.” The program envisions offering selected writers round-trip accommodations on various Amtrak long distance routes as inspirations for writing. In the words of Amtrak “[e]ach writer's round-trip journey will include accommodations on board a sleeper car equipped with a bed, a desk and outlets. We hope this experience will inspire creativity and most importantly fuel your sense of adventure.” 

       The genesis of the Amtrak Residency Program was described as follows in the on-line magazine The Wire
After New York City-based writer Jessica Gross took the first "test-run" residency, traveling from NYC to Chicago and back, Amtrak confirmed that it is indeed planning to turn the writers' residencies into an established, long-term program, sending writers on trains throughout its network of routes.
       Jessica Gross described her trip, and the allure of writing on a train, during the course of her interview in The Wire
All told, it sounds like a truly exquisite experience. Gross later detailed her trip in The Paris Review: "I’m only here for the journey. Soon after I get to Chicago, I’ll board a train and come right back to New York: thirty-nine hours in transit—forty-four, with delays. And I’m here to write."
What, exactly, is the appeal of writing on a train? In a phone interview with The Wire, Gross described the train ride as a "unique environment for creative thought," one that "takes you out of normal life." She won't find much disagreement. Now more writers (The Wire's staff included) are clamoring for their own Amtrak residency.
“I’ve seen a billion tweets from other writers saying ‘I want one of these’,” Gross said, probably being a tad hyperbolic, but it's true that once Amtrak actually does start offering writers' residencies regularly, they're going to be very popular. Julia Quinn, social media director for Amtrak, tells The Wire that there has been "overwhelming demand" from people interested in the program – part of the reason the company is intent on turning this into a regular operation.
Observation car on Amtrak's California Zephyr
       Unfortunately not all of the press generated by the program has been as glowing as the story from The Wire. The Washington Post on March 13 served up a grousing review of the project that basically argues that Amtrak is publicly funded, already expensive, and shouldn't be giving away anything for free -- even to writers. The author of the piece, Post writer Dan Zak, attacks the modest Amtrak Writers’ Residency not by criticizing the program itself, but by attacking Amtrak for offering it.
Amtrak’s 400-plus-mile routes [Zak snivels] posted an operating deficit of $614 million in 2012, while its shorter routes (like those between the District and New York) had only a $47 million surplus, according to a 2013 Brookings Institution report. And yet ridership more than doubled between 1997 and 2012. Amtrak, birthed by a government bailout of the country’s privately operated rail network, is a publicly funded for profit entity.
Math,” Zak ponderously concludes, is “the antidote to romance.” 

       Puhh-leeeze! 

       An aside here (as I struggle through ten deep breaths):  For the last five years I have taught a graduate course at the University of Denver on the development and regulation of transportation in the United States. I could (and do) go on and on about the bum deal that Amtrak has received over the years. But that course, not SleuthSayers, is the better venue for such a monologue. Suffice it to say that every passenger service everywhere in the world is, to some extent, government subsidized. The U.S. government built highways for cars and trucks. The government built airports for airlines and gave them air traffic control. The government built ports for ships. And every country that has taken the next step in train transportation, and invested in high speed rail, has done so with a commitment of governmental funds.  The amount the federal government currently spends to subsidize Amtrak operations is a drop in a bucket.  The amount pales when compared to the outlay in government funds expended to support other modes of transportation.  I could go on, believe me. But the simple answer to the cabined “do the math” squawks of Mr. Zak (who you can just about bet has never read Theodore Roethke and certainly is no fan) is simply that math has nothing to do with it. Certainly it is not an "antidote" for romance.  (And by the way -- who in their right mind wants an antidote for romance?)

       Amtrak's ridership has set new records in something like 8 of the last 10 years.  Many Amtrak runs, including long distance runs, operate near or at 100% capacity; that is, the only reason more riders (and more revenue) is not secured is because of the limited number of cars available to Amtrak (a fact that does derive from Mr. Zak's mathematical penchant).  It seems to me the answer to a viable national rail network is the same as the whispered promise in the baseball epic Field of Dreams: If you build it, they will come.  

       For a host of obvious reasons Amtrak’s Writers’ Residency program is likely not for math majors of Mr. Zak’s ilk, who focus on cost to the exclusion of value; expense to the exclusion of investment. But in any event (and again) Amtrak's Writer Residency program is not about math. Rather, the program is for the romantic.

       If you are more poet than mathematician, well, take a look. Applications can easily be submitted to Amtrak on-line
Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis and reviewed by a panel. Up to 24 writers will be selected for the program starting March 17, 2014 through March 31, 2015. A passion for writing and an aspiration to travel with Amtrak for inspiration are the sole criteria for selection. Both emerging and established writers will be considered.
Residencies will be anywhere from 2-5 days, with exceptions for special projects.
All aboard?

01 April 2014

Honey...I'm home!

By David Dean

I know what day this is, but this isn't a joke--I'm back.  None the wiser for the hiatus, mind you, just back...and glad to be here.  I noted in my absence, that Terry raised the bar for Tuesdays so that I am almost guaranteed to disappoint.  Thanks for that, Terry.  Thanks a lot.

If you recall, dear reader, I took the time away from SleuthSayers to pen another of my unsellable novels.  It is with some pride that I report--mission accomplished!  "Starvation Cay" is complete!  My thanks, by the way, to my fellow Tuesday scribbler, Dale Andrews, for overseeing some of the technical aspects of the story.  Besides his literary value, he has a wealth of knowledge regarding all things nautical.  Useful to me, as I set nearly the entire story on board boats.  Thanks again, Dale.  Through no fault of his, I am now in the process of collecting rejection slips and arranging them in order of snarkiness.

On another note entirely, my son and heir, has gotten hitched to a truly lovely young woman.  Robin and I absolutely fell in love with her too, and apparently she was too smitten to heed that time-honored warning--Look to the parents!   

The wedding took place in the Blue Ridge Mountain region of Virginia where they both teach.  My son's side was not only represented by mine and Robin's families (The Georgia-Jersey Axis), but also by a large contingent of his college rugby buddies who double, apparently, as the school's male dance team.  Her side was family from both Jersey and Michigan.  Both sides were duly impressed with the athletic abilities of rugby players and their women, even if the dance floor became a dangerous place for the infirm and elderly.  The bride's family went very quiet during their dance interpretation of John Denver's "Country Roads," which also included a sing-along.  Fortunately, the nuptials had already been performed so there could be no "take-backs." 

As if this wasn't enough good news, our Christmas present from them was a grandparents' album.  Robin got it almost immediately.  I, however, being a former police officer, stared at it for several stupefied moments before understanding dawned.  Robin was crying and hugging the young couple, as I was still turning the album over and over in my hands, murmuring, "They're trying to tell us something...but what?  What could it be?"

Besides working on the novel, I also managed to knock out a few short stories along the way.  I'm happy to report that those did sell, and will be (or have already been) published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

As if all these things weren't enough, I've actually read a few books, as well.  But more on that at another time.

I've missed you guys.  Though I have duly followed SS every morning (it's the first thing I read), it's been a little lonely out here.  Writers are not thick on the ground in South Jersey, and as you all know, it's a solitary profession at the best of times.  So, it's good to be back amongst friends, if only virtually, and even better to have been asked.  Thanks all.   

     

 


 

25 March 2014

My First Farewell Post

by Terence Faherty

This post ends my year and my career as a regular contributor to the SleuthSayers blog, though I'll be available to pinch-hit whenever one of the group needs a break.  I'd like to thank Leigh Lundin and Robert Lopresti for giving me this opportunity and for their patience while I learned (but never mastered) the software.  I'd also like to thank the other writers on the blog for their encouragement and comments, especially Dale C. Andrews, with whom I've shared Tuesdays (and the daunting job of preparing the retrospective posts for SleuthSayers' second anniversary).  I hope to actually meet Dale someday, maybe at a baseball game. 

In place of blogging, I'm going to be devoting more time to promoting a new book, The Quiet Woman, which will be published by Five Star in June.  It's quite a departure for me, as it's my first stand-alone mystery and my first comic/romantic/supernatural one, at least in book form.  (I now see some of my Alfred Hitchcock stories as baby steps in that direction.) I'll write more about The Quiet Woman closer to its release, if my replacement will relinquish a Tuesday.  That replacement, incidentally, is David Dean, a man who needs no introduction to regular SleuthSayers readers, since he's the writer I replaced one year ago.  He's spent that year working on a new book, about which I hope he'll write in this space.

I'm sorry that so few of my twenty-odd posts had to do with mystery writing and that so many were about old movies and forgotten actors and authors, though many of my favorite posts by other contributors have also wandered far in the subject matter field.  Many of these favorites have been magazine quality, in my opinion, both in terms of writing and word count.  The latter I attribute to good time management, something at which I've never excelled, as the following account of my approach to blog writing, inspired by Eve Fisher's recent Robert Benchley post, will demonstrate.

As near as I can reconstruct, my two-week blog-writing cycle has gone something like this.

Through the miracle of Blogger.com, my column appears on a Tuesday.  All is right with the world.  I can hold my head up in any gathering of productive human beings, though I can't remember the last time I attended such a gathering.  This happy glow stays with me until Thursday, when it's eclipsed by the bright rays of the approaching weekend.

Sometime during that weekend, I panic, until a quick check of my desk calendar confirms that the looming Tuesday belongs to Dale Andrews.  Sure enough, Dale's column appears as if by magic on the appointed day.  It might even give me an idea for a post of my own.  If it doesn't, no problem.  I have a week to work one out.

A week being much more time than I need, I don't actually use the whole thing.  That would be wasteful.  In fact, I spend so much of my week not being wasteful that, before I know it, another weekend arrives.  Sometime late on Sunday, I wonder, idly, what Dale will write about this week.  Maybe he's traveling down south again.  He seems to travel more than John Kerry.  That's the life, escaping the cold snow for the warm sand and trading juncos for sanderlings.  I can almost hear the waves. . .

I awake in a cold sweat with the realization that the approaching Tuesday, whose skirmishers are even now topping the nearest hill, is my Tuesday.  To arms!  To arms! 

Okay, maybe that isn't exactly how my average fortnight has gone, but it's close enough that just recounting it has caused my heart to race.  When it settles down, I'll get to work on a new book, following Mr. Dean's example.  In the meantime, thanks very much for visiting.

18 March 2014

Bonehead

by Dale C. Andrews
Rule 59. One run shall be scored every time a base-runner, after having legally touched the first three bases, shall legally touch the home base before three men are put out. Provided, however, that if he reach home on or during a play in which the third man be forced out or be put out, before reaching [a required] base, a run shall not count. . . .
                                   Rule 59 Reach Official American League Base Ball Guide (1908) 


Washington Nationals' Spring Training, Viera, Florida
     It’s that time again. At least once a year my fortnightly spot here on SleuthSayers is devoted to the national pastime. Luckily my wife likes baseball as much as I do. We generally watch every one of the 162 games played by the Nationals in the regular season each year, and this week finds us on our annual one week visit to Florida to watch the Nationals in Spring Training in Viera. If we were not each such devotees it is hard to imagine the marriage surviving. 

       During the winter, when baseball retreats with the sun, I try to fill the void with the next best thing. There are others out there like me, and this usually inspires an annual crop of baseball books, generally published during the winter of our discontent. I have highlighted such books in past March columns here and here, and this year the best of the annual lot may be Where Nobody Knows Your Name by John Feinstein. Feinstein’s book is a non-fiction account of what it is like to play in the minor leagues -- far from the chartered jets and mega-salaries. The book is populated by has-beens and wannabees, and, as a result, in its telling it imparts a wistful sadness that can be found at times in baseball stories. 

       This year I also sought solace watching Ken Burns excellent Baseball documentary, originally released on PBS in nine episodes in 1994 and subsequently updated and expanded to ten episodes (innings) in 2010. The full series, available on-line from NetFlix, and elsewhere in DVD format, is highly recommended. Burns is a master, and his homage to the national pastime regales the viewer with the stories behind the sport. And like John Feinstein’s new book, Burns, too, offers some poignant stories amidst the heroics. A good example is the story of Fred “Bonehead” Merkle, which goes back over one hundred years. 

       In 1908 Merkle was a 19 year old backup first baseman on the New York Giants, a team that that year was in a neck-and-neck race with the Chicago Cubs for the pennant. Merkle had received high praise as an up and coming backup player when in late September the fates interceded. What started the ball rolling (or flying) could have been a big break for Merkle, but, as described by the Sports Encyclopedia in 2001, it didn’t turn out that way. 
Fred Tenney [the Giants’ regular first baseman] woke upon September 23rd (1908) in the throes of a lumbago attack, and 19-year-old substitute Fred Merkle was sent in to take his place at first base. As events turned out, fate would treat Merkle unkindly that day.
       Merkle took his position at first base and all went well until the bottom of the ninth inning when Merkle stepped up to the plate. The score was tied, one to one, and there were two outs. Merkle’s teammate Moose McCormick (what a great baseball name!) was on first base. Merkle singled and McCormick advanced to third. The next batter, Al Bridwell, also singled. Moose McCormick trotted home and the stadium erupted, fans storming the field in celebration of the Giants’ apparent win. 

The field just after Moose trotted home
       Concluding that the game was over, and perhaps a little terrified by the stampeding crowd, Fred Merkle lit out for the Giants clubhouse. But, unfortunately for him and for the Giants, he did this without first tagging second base. The Cubs second baseman, Johnny Evers, noticed this and, with Rule 59 (quoted above) buzzing around in the back of his brain, Evers had an Epiphany moment. He started jumping up and down, frantically screaming for his teammates to throw him the baseball, which he realized was still technically in play. In response a ball was retrieved by the Cubs, thrown to Evers, and Evers tagged second, while continuing to jump up and down to attract the attention of the umpires. 

       It took the umpires and the review process two days to sort out the mess, and they eventually ruled that because Fred Merkle had not tagged second Rule 59 dictated that that when the ball was thrown to second base Merkle was out and that, under Rule 59, the otherwise winning run was negated. This left the game a tie. A makeup game was therefore scheduled for October 8. The Cubs won that game, and as a result the pennant, by a score of four to two. 

       The Giants manager, John McGraw, was furious at the decision, and later handed out gold medals to all of the members of the Giants team proclaiming them the true champions, despite the fact that the Cubs went on to win the 1908 World Series. Were the Giants “robbed” of the pennant? Well, it all depends on exactly what happened to that baseball between the time that Al Bidwell hit it and the moment some minutes later when Evers was seen jumping up and down on second base with a baseball in his hand. 

       The story, as told in the Ken Burns series, went like this: When Johnny Evers realized that Merkle had returned to the dugout without tagging second he frantically signaled his teammates to retrieve the ball. Seeing what was going on Giants coach Joe McGinnity tried to prevent the play at second. As the Cubs players raced toward him he scooped up the ball and tossed it into the stands where it was caught by a fan wearing a bowler hat. Two Cubs players then sprinted into the stands, wrestled the ball from the hands of the fan, and relayed it to Johnny Evers at second base for the out. 

       If Burns got it right the play was pretty spooky but it is hard to say how the Giants were “robbed” -- the out was made consistent with the requirements of Rule 59. However the previous sentence begins with a mighty big “if”. The accounts of what happened that day vary radically and, rather strangely, it is almost impossible to find the account that Burns tells in his documentary. By contrast, here is the eyewitness account of what transpired as recorded by Mr. O. C. Schwartz in a diary that was discovered over 70 years later among Mr. Schwartz’s effects at an estate sale. 
       So much has been said about what is commonly called "The Merkle Boner" that, being an eyewitness to the account, I should set the matter straight once and for all.
       It was a Wednesday, Sept. 23 in 1908, my Dad took me to the game , letting me miss school that day. I was only eight-years old at the time, and it was the first chance I ever had to watch a professional baseball game in person.
       I may be 75 years old, but I remember it as if it were yesterday.
       The controversy is all about what happened in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Polo Grounds was crowded that day. The fans were all getting ready to rush the field at game's end.
       The score was tied 1-1 with two outs. A fellow by the name of McCormick was on first base at the time. Fred Merkle came to bat and wasted no time getting a base hit and advancing the runner to third base.
       The crowd was absolutely hysterical as Al Bridwell came to the plate. Bridwell singled to the outfield and McCormick scored what was the apparent winning run. The fans all rushed onto the field to celebrate the win as pandemonium filled the ballpark.
       It is a funny thing, but instead of watching all the people or the players, I kept my eye on the ball. It came to center fielder Solly Hofman on the second bounce. Realizing that the winning run was scoring as he fielded the ball, Hofman lobbed a rainbow into the infield. The third base coach Joe McGinnity, pitcher Christy Mathewson and a fan were all in a battle with second baseman Johnny Evers to catch the ball. After a brief skirmish, the fan came away with the ball and heaved it into the stands along the third base line.
       Meanwhile Merkle, who was so excited by his team apparently winning the game, jogged halfway to second base and then starting running towards the Giant's dugout. Mathewson or one of the other Giants in the dugout had yelled to Merkle and he began scurrying towards second base.
       Evers had somehow retrieved yet another ball from somewhere and touched second base ahead of Merkle and the umpire, at Evers admonishing, saw the event and ruled Merkle out, thus negating the winning run.
       So much has been said and talked about over the decades, about whether Evers had the ball that was hit by Bridwell. I saw it with my own eyes, Evers forced Merkle out at second with a ball which was thrown to him from the New York dugout.
       The chaos that ensued was one of the wildest things I have ever seen. The umpires were arguing with Cubs manager Frank Chance and Giants manager John McGraw in the infield. After being swarmed by fans and reporters, the umpires decided to assemble in the umpires quarters which was located behind home plate beneath the grandstand.
       After deliberating what seemed like an eternity, they came back to the field and advised everyone of their decision. They had decided that the force-out at second base negated the run scored, therefore the game ended in a tie, and would have to be replayed, pending a review by the National League President.
       If I forget everything else in my life, I shall never forget the look of sadness and helplessness in the face of young Fred Merkle right then.
       If Mr. Schwartz got it right, it was, indeed, robbery that sent Chicago on the road to the pennant and world series in 1908. After winning the World Series in 1908 the Cubs never again reached that prize, and now hold the dubious distinction of being the team with the longest World Series drought in the history of the sport. Some say this Cubbies curse began in 1945, when owner P.K. Wrigley ejected Billy Sianis, a Chicago tavern owner who had come to Game 4 with two box seat tickets, one for him and one for his goat. But others count that curse as having begun the day that the Cubs, through what may well have been sleight of hand, manufactured an out at the expense of Fred Merkle and the New York Giants. 

A cartoon depiction with its
own boner -- Fred in a Cubs cap!
       But fair or not, there is no two ways about it -- the whole mess would have never occurred if Fred had just tagged second. The Giants manager, McGraw, was steadfast in not blaming Merkle. Most everyone else, however, was not that charitable. Merkle played with a succession of teams through 1920, but always under the spectre of that blunder he committed when he was nineteen. By all accounts the blunder stalked him the rest of his life. The following is by Keith Olbermann, writing in Sports Illustrated: 
       It was nearly 30 years after the game—that game—and, Marianne Merkle remembered, even church wasn't a safe haven. One Sunday morning in the 1930s, Merkle and her family were attending services in Florida, when a visiting minister introduced himself. "You don't know me," he piped, "but you know where I'm from! Toledo, Ohio! The hometown of Bonehead Fred Merkle!"
       Little Marianne knew what would happen next. "The kindness drained from [my father's] face," she told me five decades later. Then Fred Merkle rose and wearily told his wife and daughters, "Let's go."

04 March 2014

Colin Wilson

by Dale C. Andrews
Colin Wilson at work at his home in England
[T]he basic impulse behind existentialism is optimistic, very much like the impulse behind all science. Existentialism is romanticism, and romanticism is the feeling that man is not the mere he has always taken himself for. Romanticism began as a tremendous surge of optimism about the stature of man. its aim — like that of science — was to raise man above the muddled feelings and impulses of his everyday humanity, and to make him a god-like observer of human existence.
                  Colin Wilson 
                  Introduction to the New                                         Existentialism (1966)
Man’s capacity to doubt is his greatest dignity.
                  Colin Wilson 
                  Necessary Doubt (1964)
Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.
                   Paul Tillich, Theologian 
                   Systematic Theology (Vol. 2, 1957)

       On December 5, 2013 author Colin Wilson died in his native England. 

       Collin Wilson was an enigma -- one of the most prolific and yet least-known authors of our time. Wilson burst into literary prominence in 1956 with his book The Outsider, the introduction to his “new existentialism,” written in longhand by Wilson at a table in the British Museum at a time when he was living in a sleeping bag on the streets of London. The book was heralded by critics as a seminal work and the author, a mere 24, was famous. Over 100 books later, at the age of 82, Wilson died in what some would view as literary obscurity. His death went almost completely unnoticed in the United States. I am unaware of a single obituary that ran this side of the Atlantic. 

       Wilson wrote his 100-odd books during a career that spanned nearly 60 years. And it is hard to imagine an author who mastered and wrote in more genres than Wilson. His works include a multi-volume series on his “new existentialism” that followed publication of The Outsider. But his work also encompasses science fiction novels, including the 1967 cult classic The Mind Parasites, biographies of historical figures as disparate as George Bernard Shaw and Abraham Maslow, and in-depth analyses of murder, sexuality, the Lost City of Atlantis, mysticism, and the occult, to mention but a few. While the genres of Wilson’s works defy any general characterization, there is a shared theme. Whether Colin Wilson was writing non-fiction or fiction his works uniformly provided a vehicle for Wilson to share his views on humanity and the power of human intellect to pull each of us up by our own bootstraps. Each of his books had a message; the take-away for the reader was the growing understanding of Wilson’s life view. 

       Colin Wilson also wrote mysteries, which I devoured. But that is not where I first encountered his works. That story reaches back 45 years. 

       1969 was a strange year for many reasons. It was not so much a watershed year -- that was 1968 -- but it had the crazy momentum of the first year that followed the 1968 watershed. During 1969 I was a student at George Washington University in downtown Washington, D.C.  Ground zero in the anti-war movement. 1969 was a year that inexorably pushed everyone toward extremes:  love it or leave it; change it or lose it. I remember participating in anti-war marches in front of the Nixon White House when members of my fraternity, who were also members of the National Guard, were lined up along the sidewalks with rifles, not trained on me, but still ready, as I marched past them. It was a time to draw lines. Either; or. 

       1969 was also a strange year on a much more personal level. In the Spring my roommate David Schlachter began experiencing increasingly bad headaches. For weeks he brushed these off. We were young at a time when youth had never seemed younger or more powerful. But eventually ignoring was no longer possible. David began to see double. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor, given (“given,” what a strange word) scant months to live. 

       I was away for a long weekend when David was diagnosed. Another friend, Frank DeMarco, had access to his uncle’s beach house in Avalon, New Jersey. And that’s where we were. We received the news about David upon our return.

     About the same time Frank stumbled onto The Mind Parasites by Colin Wilson. He knew nothing about Wilson but, for whatever reason, was tempted by the book’s cover when he saw it for sale in a drug store. Frank was transfixed by the book, which is a clever (Wilson was always clever) science fiction send-up (and pastiche) that walks an amazingly thin line between parodying and worshiping the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Like all of Wilson's works, the book is also more than just "that science fiction story."  It is a story told in the trappings of Wilson’s philosophy of life, a philosophy of human enlightenment, of the powers of the mind over the failings of the body. 

       What more opportune time to discover Wilson than at this juncture -- when Frank and I were each starkly confronting the perils facing our friend? 

       Frank recommended the book to me and I read and liked it. But for Frank the book’s message was, I think, more. It was transformational. At a time when we were grappling with the imminent death of a mutual friend a story that offered up a philosophy of transcendence, a path to spiritual powers that were not bound by the mortal limits of flesh and bone, was seductive. 

       I began visiting the library and checking out other Colin Wilson’s books. And while The Mind Parasites did not grab me as tenaciously as it had Frank, the Colin Wilson book that did was Necessary Doubt

     No surprise, Necessary Doubt is a mystery. But, like The Mind Parasites, it is also more. The protagonist (and detective) is a theologian, Zweig, who is modeled after the real-life theologian Paul Tillich. This appealed to me. I was minoring in religious studies and already admired Tillich, a theologian who stood somewhat “existentially” aside from his church -- somewhat of an outsider, looking in. One of Tillich’s (and Zweig’s) philosophical tenets was that to truly believe something one must first doubt it and then explore the factors that underlie that doubt. In effect, Tillich (and Zweig) argue, belief can be found only at the top of a step ladder of doubt. Zweig approaches the mystery in Necessary Doubt as would Tillich -- doubting each step, each conclusion, doubting always until convinced. 

       David, a senior when he was diagnosed, managed to graduate from George Washington University and returned to his parents’ home in Clarinda, Iowa. Months later, back in Washington, D.C., in February of 1970, we received a late night call telling us that David was hospitalized and not likely to survive the night. With little thought (and even less money) Frank and I walked out of our fraternity house shortly after hanging up the phone, got into Frank’s car and headed west. We were convinced (and we were right) that David would wait for us before taking his leave. 

       What followed was a surreal 20 hour drive from Washington, D.C. to Clarinda, Iowa. Like all surreal experiences it is hard to remember precisely what went on in that car but a lot of it involved Colin Wilson and searching the AM bandwidth for Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Waters

       In The Mind Parasites the protagonist discovers, and then embraces, a life view that the mind is capable of nearly everything, and that life never really ends, in other words the belief
that the mind is beyond the accidents of the body, that it is somehow eternal and free; that the body may be trivial and particular, but the mind is universal and general. This attitude makes the mind an eternal spectator, beyond fear.
       Frank and I were with David when he died early on March 2, 1970. The days that we were together on that awful winter journey Frank and I pondered -- perhaps the better word is debated -- life. The sacred and the profane. Do we each carry the spark of sacred immortality, the ability to transcend flesh and bone, or are we simply profane electric mud? And these discussions, at base, involved a mutual examination of Colin Wilson’s views, as expressed in his fiction as well as his non-fiction. We were pretty much Colin Wilson neophytes at that stage, and I pretty much remained so. But not Frank. Frank went on to seek out, and then meet Wilson, and the two knew each other, and were friends, for the rest of Wilson’s life. 

       Frank has recounted his discovery of Colin Wilson and has written about that trip of ours to and from Iowa in his book Muddy Tracks: Exploring an Unsuspected Reality. I occasionally pop up in the book, but you will have to watch carefully -- I’m an unnamed character. Traveling incognito. Here is Frank, in chapter one, describing, in the third person, his 1970 Colin Wilson epiphany:
Colin Wilson's books gave him an opening he could believe in: the development of mental powers! The achievement of supernatural abilities, paranormal skills! He didn't know whether he could believe in them or not, but here was a writer who was investigating reports of such things, and doing so from a point of view quite similar to his own: open and inquiring, yet skeptical and wanting to make sense of it all, rather than merely accepting someone's word for it.
       In a world of full circles, the foreword to Frank’s book was written by none other than Colin Wilson. Here is part of what Wilson himself said about Frank’s transformative experiences that winter 44 years ago:
My own work had played a part in [Frank DeMarco’s] development (as [he] described in the first chapter), which is how I come to be writing this introduction. It helped to crystallize his own feeling that there is something oddly wrong with “this life,” and that there has to be some alternative, some other way.
        Frank may chime in on his own here. He's an in internet presence, has his own blog, and has continued to write extensively there about Colin Wilson. As for me, I often reflect on that February trip, 44 years ago. The philosophical perspectives of Colin Wilson obviously spoke deeply to Frank in a life changing way, and from the works of Wilson and the experience of our friend’s death, 44 years ago last Sunday, Frank, I think, found his life view. 

       That trip was also a watershed point in Frank and my friendship. We remain friends to this day, but we were never again to be the really close friends that we were when we piled into Frank's car and headed west that February night to be with David. And the reason for this, too, can be found in Colin Wilson’s writings. Frank made the jump intuitively to Colin Wilson. 

       My embrace was more limited. I am Zweig. I am still climbing that ladder of Necessary Doubt