Showing posts with label Jan Grape. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jan Grape. Show all posts

13 February 2017

Great Short Stories Revisited



by Jan Grape

I've been reading short stories in anthologies published in 1990s and 2000s. I blushingly admit I have stories in them and it started as a project of rereading my stories. Some I had forgotten like "Whatever Had To Be Done" published in Deadly Allies by Doubleday in 1992 and Bantam paperback in 1993. This was the first collaborative anthology by the Private Eye Writers of America and Sisters In Crime. It was edited by Robert J. Randisi and Marilyn Wallace. This story was probably my second story ever published where I actually received money. I had published two or three stories for small indie magazines that were subscription only and I was paid in copies.

The very first short story I had published happened in 1981 or so and I got $100 for it. It was not a mystery but a Christmas story published in the Wichita Falls City Magazine. I don't even have a copy of it anymore because Elmer, our kids and I moved a few times I remember. I think still had copies  on the last move to Austin. When Elmer and I moved out of our house and into our RV full time we ran out of time and I have no idea where my copies of that magazine wound up.

I do remember the story pretty well. My main character was myself and it was about returning to a small town and in every store I entered, people were friendly and full of the Christmas spirit. If I made a purchase the store gift-wrapped my purchase for free. I compared that joyful attitude to major city stores in Houston where I lived at the time. I'm not sure how the story ended and I don't remember the editor's name, gosh it was  35 or 36 years ago. However, I'll never forget her phone call to me. "Jan, I'm calling to tell you we're publishing your short story." I remember gushing a bit and then she said, "Actually, the story has already been published in this month's issue and along with a check for $100 I'm sending four or five copies of the magazine."

I was beside myself as was my family. I had been trying to be published for a couple of years, had a private-eye novel almost finished and this was my big dream. Good thing I didn't quit my day job because I didn't publish anything else for FIVE years and then only a couple of small articles, which I was paid real money for but nothing over the hundred I had first received.

The first, second and third stories I sold happened all about the same time. In Invitation to Murder published first in hardcover by Dark Harvest in 1990, paperback by Diamond in 1993, edited by Ed Gorman and Martin Greenberg, featured my story, "A Bunch of Mumbo Jumbo." In  Mary Higgins Presents Malice Domestic, from Pocket Books in 1993, featured "Arsenic and Old Ideas."
I received verbal acceptance, contracts and money all around the same time although Mumbo Jumbo was actually published first.

After than I was in many theme anthologies, in about 10-12 Cat Crime, Partners In Crime, Deadly Allies 11, Lethal Ladies 1 & ll, Santa Clues, Midnight Louie Pet Detectives, Murder For Mother and White House Pet Detective. I was lucky in that I found editors, including Bob Randisi, Ed Gorman and Marty Greenberg who liked what I did and kept buying my stories.

My 1998 Anthony Award winning story, "A Front Row Seat," was in Vengeance Is Hers anthology, edited by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins published by Penguin/Signet in 1997, featuring all hard-boiled women writers.

Shortly after that I finally sold my first Zoe Barrow, Austin policewoman novel and have only written a few short stories since. I enjoy the short form and have been able to feature my female private-eye characters, Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn in around ten stories. They were characters from my very first novel which never sold.

I am so proud that many of my fellow SleuthSayers are short story writers and are being nominated and winning awards. I think the short story will continue to thrive although at times we think the heydays are over. I do appreciate Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine & Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine who keep publishing wonderful short stories every month. Maybe one day soon I'll crack that market.

24 October 2016

In Memoriam

by Jan Grape

Two special mentors of mine have transitioned to another plane of existence, Clark Howard and Ed Gorman.

Years ago, before I was published, I saw a little notice in a Houston newspaper for people interested in forming a Southwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.  I lived in Houston then and definitely was interested and so I went. It probably was 1982. Not exactly sure about that. I honestly don't remember where this meeting was held, or even who all attended. This was the second meeting for the group and I know I missed the first meeting. I do remember four people who were there besides myself. Joan Lowery Nixon and Mary Blount Christian who both wrote Children's and or young adult mysteries and both women were very involved in MWA. There was a guy named John (don't remember his last name) who actually became our first Vice-President. Back then, that was the title used for MWA chapters. Not President although that's who was really in charge of taking care of business. I do remember one other gentleman who attended and that was Clark Howard. Clark had written a number of True Crime (or fact crime) books and had several short stories published. Mostly in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Somehow before I knew it, I was elected Treasure of the Chapter. I know when I got back home, my husband, Elmer Grape cracked up at the idea, I was never known to have a mathematical mind. In fact, my greatest strength was giving very accurate, very concise and very brief treasurer's reports.

"We had a little money, we spent a little money and we still have a little money." Everyone almost fell off their chairs that first time but, they were quite pleased each month instead of one of those dry reports such as..."we had 10 new members join at $25 each, $15 per person was sent to MWA-NY. I spent $25 on newsletter stamps...blah, blah, blah. Of course, I always gave our VP and the board members a written report with all the dry facts.

Now I must tell you a bit about my friend, Clark Howard (excerpted from EQMM on Facebook). As a boy, Clark grew up without parents and was homeless for a time. He would conceal himself in a bowling alley before they closed at night so he would have someplace to sleep. He told me personally that his mother was a junkie and he found her dead. I'm not sure if his father was ever even in the picture. He joined the Marines when he was 17 and served in Korea. I imagine that coming from such a tough background gave him the grittiness he needed to write such realistic stories. His painful
autobiography, Hard City  was published by Dutton in 1990.

One of the first things I learned about writing from Clark was his opinion about creative writing classes. He was not fond of them for good reason. After he was honorably discharged from the service, he enrolled in classes at Northwestern University in Chicago where he had spent some of those early days. One class he was taking was in Creative Writing. The professor in that class wanted the students to write a story and turn it in. The prof made copies of every one's stories and passed them to the students to critique. Clark said, everyone in the class including the professor tore his story apart saying it was terrible, they didn't like the characters, they didn't like the scenes, etc. Clark said he walked out and never came back. Said he had just sold that story and another on for five hundred dollars. I asked him later if he ever told the professor. He said, "No. I decided it wouldn't do me any good and it wasn't going to get me a good grade in that class. That maybe I knew as much about story writing as he did."  At any rate his advice to me was not to worry about taking creative writing classes. Learn your craft by writing and keep writing and hope you find a good editor who will buy your stories.

I have a feeling Clark Howard was right, he won a Edgar award from MWA for one of his short stories and was nominated for an Edgar five times in that category. He also won EQMM's Reader's Choice Award five times and was the recipient of the Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer for Lifetime Achievement from the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

One other major thing I leaned from Clark was something that is useful perhaps more in life than in writing and it was something he learned in his own terrible upbringing and in interviews with many killers on death row in prisons all around the country. No matter how bad your childhood is or how many bad thing happened to you, at some point as you reach adulthood, you have to be responsible for your own behaviour. You can't continue to blame your parents or your teachers or your sad neglect. There is just you yourself to blame when you do wrong. And when you do wrong as an adult, whether it'd 18 or 19 or 20 years old you have to accept the consequences.

Ed Gorman bought many of my short stories and was very much a part of the publishing of my first novel. I had moved to Austin from Houston in the late eighties, 1987 as I recall. I had been elected Vice-President of the Southwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. I agreed to continue to serve as VP and would travel to Houston each month for the meetings. It was 150 miles one way but it was an easy drive, less than three hours and I could return back home on the same day. We actually met on Sunday and the traffic was not too bad until you got to Houston.

One day I got a telephone call from a man who identified himself as Ed Gorman. I knew of Ed mostly because I was also a member of the Private Eye Writers of America, a group started by Ed and Robert J. Randisi. Ed asked if I would be willing to write a column for Mystery Scene Magazine. I think I had a subscription and had seen three or four issues. The magazine came out quarterly. He and I talked for a while and I got a sense of what he wanted my column to be about. I was to report the news about writers in the Southwest Area. Texas, Arkansas, New Mexico and Louisiana. He said he'd pay me two cents a word, a carton of cigarettes and a box of condoms. I said I did smoke and could use the cigarettes but since I was married and had taken care of any accidental problems I wouldn't need the condoms.

We decided on the name, "Southwest Scenes" and he wanted a photograph. I enjoyed emailing, faxing or even calling mystery writers in the Southwest area and getting their news. When they had a book or story coming out or when they were appearing at a bookstore for a signing. Or even generally if they were getting married or having a baby or whatever was going on in their life. We had not decided to open a bookstore yet and I was writing a couple of short stories and sending my first novel out to see if I could get a publisher interested. I had sold a non-mystery story to a city magazine and had a couple of stories published in little subscription magazines. My first novel was never published but the two female Private Eye characters, Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn had been in both of the short stories that were published.

I discovered Ed didn't like to go to mystery meetings like the Edgars or Bouchercon but he enjoyed talking on the telephone. We talked every week and sometime more. We enjoyed our conversations and my husband Elmer almost always knew when Ed and I were talking because I'd be laughing like crazy as we talked.

We opened the bookstore in 1990 and I was pretty busy but Ed and I still talked often and I was writing some non-fiction articles, one for Writers Digest and reviewing books for the Houston Chronicle. One day, Ed asked if I'd write a story for an anthology he was editing. Invitation To Murder. Of course, I said yes. Along about that same time, Bob Randisi asked me to write a story for a PWA anthology he was editing, called Lethal Ladies. Both books and stories came out about the same time and I actually don't know which came first but I think, INVITATION was first.

The rest as they say is history. A short time later Ed asked if I would co-edit a book called Deadly Women. My co-editor was to be Ellen Nehr. Ellen passed away before we were ready and we asked Dean James to take over in her spot. Dean and Ellen both had deep knowledge of the history of women in mystery. This book is by, about and informs you about women in mystery. We finished it and did a beautiful job, it was nominated for an Edgar, an Agatha and a Mccavity in the non-fiction category. Dean and I won the Mccavity but were so excited to be nominated for the Edgar and the Agatha.

It's been difficult for me to write about both of these mystery friends. Ed Gorman passed away on Oct. 14 and it was only after that I found out about Clark Howard who had passed on October 1st.
I had no idea it was going to be this hard but I can testify that it's not easy to type or even to think when you have tears. I'll have to finish my memories of Ed Gorman for the next time.

I'm one of the few writers who met Ed in person. When Elmer and I started traveling in our RV we made a point to go to Cedar Rapids, IA to meet Ed and had dinner with him. I met his lovely wife Carol a few years before at at mystery con in Nebraska. I loved both men as brothers and as mentors and I miss them both. May they RIP.

22 June 2016

Writers League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference

by Jan Grape and Velma



22 June 2016



Footnotes


In This Issue
2016 Agents & Editors Conference
2016 Summer Writing Retreat
Quick Links
Follow Us


See You 
After the 4th!
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The WLT Offices will be closed due to
post-conference fatigue syndrome from June 27-July 4. We will reopen on
Tuesday, July 5 at 10:00 am, fully recovered.



Members Only
"Members Review"
Interested in reviewing books? Contact us at member@writersleague.org with "Members Review" in the subject line and we will respond with more details. 

"Meet the Members"
Want
to be profiled on our blog? We are looking for willing subjects for our
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Member News

Are you a current WLT member interested in submitting to Member News? Email your 50-word blurb (with links!) at member@writersleague.org. For a full list of guidelines, click here.



 Texas Writes
 
Our next Texas Writes event will takes place at the Marathon Public Library on Saturday, July 16 at 1:00 pm.
We're just starting to schedule our next round of events. The 2016/2017 schedule, available on the Texas Writes page on our website, will be updated as we add new libraries.


 Our Next Open Office Hours
July 14, 2016

Registration closes June 13 at 12 pm

Members: Meet one-on-one with a WLT staffer (in person or call in).

Click here for guidelines and to sign up. Current members only.  


Manuscript Contest

Congratulations to the 2016 Manuscript Contest winners and finalists! Click here for the list.

If you entered the contest and have not yet received your written feedback, please email our contest coordinator at sara@writersleague.org so that we can confirm your contact info and resend. All critiques have been sent as of May 20.



2016 marks the Writers' League of Texas' 35th Anniversary. 


To celebrate this milestone, we're asking members to consider renewing
their membership in 2016 at the special Anniversary Level or one of the
Premium Levels.

Details on the various membership levels and associated benefits can be found HERE.

Share Your Writers' League of Texas Story!

We're collecting stories, memorabilia, and photos from our members past and present to celebrate our 35th Anniversary.
We've created a form to make it easy to share stories or photos from our history. Click here to submit your contribution. 

For more information on our 35th Anniversary plans, click here.  



Support the Writers'
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You can support the Writers' League of Texas when you shop at your local Randalls through the Randalls Good Neighbor Program.
Since 1996, The Good Neighbor Program has offered their customers an
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Read more about the program here and follow the link to the form. Be sure to include the Writers' League's Charity Number: 277.



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2016 Agents & Editors Conference

Countdown to the Conference:
THREE DAYS TO GO!

It's not too late to join us this weekend in Austin.
Friday, Saturday, Sunday

June 24-26, 2016
Hyatt Regency Austin


The boxes are packed. The tote bags are stuffed. And the weekend ahead promises to be pretty amazing. In just three days, the Writers' League of Texas' 23rd Annual Agents & Editors Conference kicks off -- and we can't wait.

If you've been waiting to purchase your ticket to this year's event, the time is now and we do have a few spots left. You can find the full conference program on our website, including the weekend's schedule (Friday through Sunday), bios and photos of our visiting faculty, information on preparing for the many networking opportunities, details about the Hyatt and dining & entertainment options nearby, and the full list of our panelists, presenters, keynoters, moderators, exhibitors, and more.

We've also made available on Soundcloud our podcast of last week's June Third Thursday discussion, "Practice Makes Pitch Perfect." Whether you're planning to attend the conference (or another event) or you're looking to improve your query letter, we hope you'll listen to the recording (featuring a former literary agent and current publishing sales director) and take away some tips and tricks for both in-person and written pitches. LISTEN HERE


 
See you in Austin on June 24! 
And remember that we're here for you and happy to answer any and all questions ahead of time, so please do reach out. 





2016 Summer Writing Retreat

2016 Summer Writing Retreat: 
Seats Are Still Available!

 

Ever want to get away from it all and spend a week immersed in your
craft, taking in a truly breathtaking setting, and meeting fellow
writers?

Here's your chance with the Writers' League of Texas 10th Annual Summer Writing Retreat at Sul Ross State University in scenic Alpine, deep in the heart of West Texas.
Kicking off with an orientation the evening of Sunday, July 17, five classes are taught simultaneously by five terrific instructors, Monday, July 18 through Friday, July 22.

For additional information about this one-of-a-kind event, CLICK HERE. Seats are still available in two of the five classes!   


ONLY 4 SEATS REMAINING!

Writers who attend this class will come away with a clear sense of the distinct elements of effective storytelling to focus on for a revision as well as a definitive map for tackling the process and meaningful strategies to get (and stay) unstuck. Read a Q&A with Charlotte Gullick here, and visit the class page for more information and to sign up for her class.

Charlotte Gullick
is Chair of the Creative Writing Department at Austin Community College. A first-generation college graduate, she received her AA from Santa Rosa Junior College, a BA in Literature/Creative Writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a MA in English/Creative Writing from the University of California, Davis. She earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction at the Institute of American Indian Arts in May
2016.

Charlotte's first novel, By Way of Water, was chosen by Jayne Anne Phillips as the Grand Prize winner of the Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards Program, and a special author's edition was reissued by the Santa Fe Writers Project in November of 2013. Charlotte's other awards include a Christopher Isherwood Fellowship for Fiction, a Colorado Council on the Arts Fellowship for Poetry, a MacDowell Colony Residency, Faculty of Year from College of the Redwoods as well as the Evergreen State College 2012 Teacher Excellence Award.


ONLY 1 SEAT REMAINING! 

With a winning combination of morning instruction & discussion and afternoon writing assignments, as well as personalized feedback from the instructor, this course will give you the basic tools to write lengthy, narrative-driven stories that are moreabout attitude than objectivity, more about getting at the heart of a story than just the facts. Visit the class page for more info and to sign up for this class.

Michael Hall graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1979. Before joining Texas Monthly in 1997, he was an associate editor of Third Coast magazine and the managing editor of the Austin Chronicle.
He won a Texas Gavel Award in 2003 for his story about capital punishment, "Death Isn't Fair," which was also nominated for a National Magazine Award. Hall's stories have appeared in the
Best American Magazine Writing, the Best American Sportswriting, the Best American Nonrequired Reading, and Da Capo Best Music Writing. He has also written for Trouser Press, The New York Times, Men's Journal, and the Austin American-Statesman






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The Writers' League of Texas
is a non-profit corporation, funded in part by the Texas Commission on the Arts.                
 
This project is supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department.


Writers’ League of Texas, Suite 200 A-3, 611 S. Congress Av, Austin, TX 78704
512-499-8914 • wlt@writersleague.org

28 March 2016

Research Schmesearch

by Susan Rogers Cooper

I'm not an outgoing person. I'm not like my partner here on SleuthSayers, Jan Grape, who never met a stranger and can and will talk to anyone about anything and has friends all over the world. That's not me. I picked writing (or writing picked me) because I thought it was a solitary endeavor. I knew nothing about conventions, and book signings, and publicity. And all I knew about research was: Get in the car, go to the library and pick out a book on whatever I needed to know. Then along came the internet, and it was even easier. I didn't have to get out of my PJ's or put on shoes. My late husband told me everything I needed to know about guns, and, because he was the exact opposite of me when it came to interacting with people, I used him to make telephone calls and go visit people when necessary. He developed a friendship with the Travis County ME and even got an excellent murder device from Dr. Biardo that I used in a short story. Of course, I never met the man.

Recently I was able to use the internet for intense research into China Marines. My father had been a China Marine – U.S. Marines stationed in China in the 1930s before and during the Japanese invasion. My bad guy in the newest E.J. Pugh mystery DEAD TO THE WORLD, was not the upstanding jarhead my daddy was, but I took him to China and on to the Philippines, following the plight of the many who fell under the forces of the Japanese. Luckily my father was not among them. But this became a very personal research project and one I enjoyed immensely. Also, I didn't have to actually talk to anyone.

But that brings me back to the one book I wrote where I became totally involved with people and their stories, and their sights, and their sounds, even if I was being pulled into it yelling and screaming. Quietly, of course.

Back in the 1990s, I wrote two books with the character of a stand-up comic named Kimmey Kruse. In the second book, FUNNY AS A DEAD RELATIVE, I decided to take Kimmey to a place I knew. Port Arthur, Texas. Now I only knew this town because it was sort of an in-law. It was where my husband had been born and bred and where all my in-laws (and there were a lot of them) lived. My husband was part Cajun and that had always intrigued me (although my idea of a first married Christmas dinner was not goose and dirty rice dressing, but that's another story entirely). The story of DEAD RELATIVE was that Kimmey was called upon to deal with her Cajun grandfather who had broken his leg down in Port Arthur. Me-maw, his wife, had thrown him out many years before, so the cousins all took turns when it was time to deal with Pee-paw. Which meant, that although I knew all about Port Arthur – that it smelled of rotten cabbage from one refinery and dirty socks from another and that it had mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds – I really needed to spend a weekend researching the place.

And my mother-in-law and sister-in-law were happy to take on that challenge. They drove me all over the town, by the ornate homes of the ship captains who had started the town, to the beautiful Buddhist temple in the part of the city that housed mostly Vietnamese immigrants. They took me to a wonderful spot under the Orange Bridge (the bridge isn't orange but it connects Port Arthur to the city of Orange across the Sabine River) with funky restaurants and even funkier homes – Quonset huts and RV's and shacks decorated with art work made of junk. And I knew that this was where Pee-paw now lived.

While wandering around under the bridge, we saw some shrimp boats tied up there on the Sabine. I innocently said to no one in particular, “Gee, it would be nice to see the inside of one,” where upon my mother-in-law (from whom my husband inherited his tendency of never meeting a stranger) shouted out to a man on said shrimp boat, “Hey! Y'all! My daughter-in-law's a writer and she wants to see inside your boat!”

To say I was mortified was an understatement. Unfortunately my complexion lends itself to turning colors under stress, so I could feel the heat of the bright red shade I'd suddenly turned. But, having no other choice, I followed my family members onto the boat, shook hands with the captain and his wife, and got to see all there is to see on a small shrimp boat, and learn all about their lives and the vulnerability of fishing for a living. Thanks to my in-laws, I met several people that weekend, all with a story to tell.

That trip opened my eyes about research and what it can do. For one thing, it made it clear to me that Port Arthur, Texas, was more than a smelly place with big mosquitoes. It was the home to many, many refineries, with containers full of oil and gas and other flammables. It was only a stone's throw from the town of Texas City that had experienced the ultimate nightmare of living in that kind of world. The people of Port Arthur were brave souls, I discovered, living under the constant light of flames shooting from the pipes of the refineries, going to work, taking their kids to school, falling in love, getting married, having babies. Just living their lives, knowing that the horror of what befell Texas City could happen to them, at any time, in any of the many locations. So they drink a lot, eat a lot of sea food, and make bottle trees and paint tires white and bury them half way in their front yards. They listen to very loud zydeco music and still think Justin Wilson is the best comedian who ever lived.

I try to remember that experience when it's time to do research. I try to remember how ultimately good it really was. But I still need a little shove, a push in the right direction. That's where Jan Grape comes in. She shoves hard.

22 February 2016

Too Many Cooks...er,Uh...Characters

by Jan Grape

I love to read good books with characters I can care about, root for or at last give them a chance to grow on me enough to keep turning pages and finish the book. Sometimes I think an author gets carried away or else so many characters keep talking that he has to write them all down before they quit talking and he doesn't know what to do.

There are many, many books that have characters that I like so much I'll keep buying that authors books forever. Even in hardback because I can't wait for the next installment. Lee Child's books starring Jack Reacher is one. Child starts off many times giving you a bit of background, a bit of scenery or immediately telling you the problem that Reacher is facing. You may read twenty or thirty pages with only three or four characters introduced. There might be two or three other names mentioned but they probably aren't going to be major...like a sheriff who picks up the walking Jack Reacher or Navy lieutenant who will escort Reacher to a private jet. Before long you've read the aforementioned twenty or so pages and you are right there into the story and know what is going on.

I looked at a half a dozen books on my shelf and discovered that was more or less exactly what Harlan Coben, Sara Paretsky, Michael Collins, Marcia Muller, James Lee Burke and Bill Pronzini do. In the first twenty or thirty pages they will introduce their main character and perhaps two or four other characters that may have something major to contribute to the story. They may even mention three or four other characters who probably only have a walk-in part but are necessary.

Recently, I read a book by an author I admire very much but had not read in years. Everything was fine in the first twenty-five or thirty pages but suddenly a new scene opened up with two new characters. Okay, I guess these two were necessary. Turned out they were what I might call minor/major characters.

They showed up every so often and were important to the story but before I could turn around twice another major/minor showed up and then three more major/minor folks and this happened in the first fifty pages. And the real major character was lost in the shuffle in my opinion.

Honestly, it seemed to me as if the major character should be the one introducing in these other characters and not handling them all out at once. I more or less got so lost that I lost interest in the book. It took me weeks to finish it. And in between I read three other books.

No, I can't say I enjoyed that book as much and I doubt I'll ever purchase another by that particular author. The author did connect all the dots at the end but I mostly didn't care one way or the other. I may be the only one who feels this way but I don't think so. After thinking about it this week, I remembered when we owned our bookstore there were a few customers who complained about too many characters dumped on you immediately. I don't mind if you wind up with 79 characters but please don't dump them on me in the first forty or so pages. I confuse easily.

Which in turn led to my title...too many cooks spoil...er...uh too many characters spoil the book.

Let me know what you think. See you on down the road.

25 November 2015

America First

David Edgerley Gates


Couple of things led to this week's musing. After my speculations about the Duke of Windsor's political sympathies. Eve Fisher suggested John Gunther's INSIDE EUROPE (1938) for a good picture of the rise of fascism, and then she wrote wrote a column about anarchist history - how none of it develops in a vacuum. This was followed by Jan Grape's piece on terrorism, and then there was Donald Trump's widely-reported prescription for a register of Syrian refugees, and bringing back waterboarding. It doesn't matter what you or I think of Trump, or what we think about torture, for that matter, or immigration policy, or radical salafist Islam. Certainly there's a debate to be had about national security, but that's another conversation. Right now, let's talk about the hysteria index. This doesn't exist in a vacuum, either, or outside historical context.


We've got a long track record in this country of what Harry Truman once called Creeping Meatballism. Examples go back to the Know-Nothings, a nativist, anti-Catholic political party of the 1850's. One constant is fear of the Other, as in the captive narratives that were popular after the Deerfield Raid in 1704, white women and children carried off by Indians, and much the same sentiment as No Irish Need Apply or the Chinese Exclusion Act or Jim Crow laws, or various incarnations of the Red Scare. It boils down to marketing skills, and the lowest common denominator.

Charles Lindbergh got famous three times. First, for his solo flight across the Atlantic, then when his son was kidnapped, and last, for his active engagement with the America First Committee, established in 1940 to keep the U.S. out of any European war. Although there was plenty of isolationist feeling in the country, or at least a strong bent toward neutrality, in the end America First damaged Lindbergh's reputation and later legacy, because he was not only an admirer of Germany and an apologist for Hitler's rearmament policies, but he ascribed support for the war to the Jewish influence. This echoed the anti-Semitism of the more notorious America Firsters - one, Laura Ingalls (not the LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE writer) went to jail for sedition after Pearl Harbor, because she'd taken money from Nazi spymasters.

Joe McCarthy might seem a little obvious, and more than a little below the salt, which is why he was written off as a blowhard at first, but there was nothing ridiculous about him, not if you got tarred with the Commie brush. The blacklist was used to settle a lot of scores, and nobody's motives were pure, so you wonder how come it provoked so much fevered melodrama. What gets lost, or eroded over time, is the actual experience people lived through, the climate of paranoia and lynch law. That's why survivors on both sides of the quarrel still hold a grudge.  

Generally speaking, I'd guess you could make a pretty good case that this kind of phenomenon arises in times of uncertainty. As a friend of mine once remarked, people don't have much tolerance for ambiguity. The more complicated and intractable the problem, the more likely it appears to encourage simple-minded posturing and wishful thinking. "The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter," Spade says, which holds true for any unserious argument.

The world, which seems to lie before us like a land of dreams, is in fact an increasingly ambiguous and treacherous place, and we don't have too many navigational aids. Is there any such animal as True North? I can't say. The difficulty with taking refuge or comfort in
certitude, is that the goalposts are gonna move. There's no sure thing. Orthodoxy is snake oil. The received wisdom is a high-mileage trade-in with too many previous owners. The evidence of your own senses is open to question. It depends what's in the drinking water. In other words, we've got a trust issue. Somebody comes down from the mountaintop, you have reason to wonder whether the air up there's too thin to breathe.

We prefer to imagine it's all those other guys who are so gullible, and open to suggestion. Truth is, there's probably a closet jihadi in each of us - not in the literal sense, the Islamist moral midgets, but in the sense that each of us harbors a need to be protected, inside the mouth of the cave, safe from predators. Told it's okay. Better perhaps to know too little than too much, and not to be challenged by a world that doesn't conform to our hermetic comforts. The jihadi is sealed off, at a remove. I'm sure there's a psychological term for it. Inversion? It's reassuring, and self-contained. It feeds off its own inner heat, it has no outside frame of reference.

We're talking, I believe, about a defense mechanism. A reaction to uncertainty and confusion, and the loss of confidence. An arrested mania, a retreat. Why not call it a pathology? There's a fascinating book called EXTRAORDINARY POPULAR DELUSIONS AND THE MADNESS OF CROWDS. We might reflect on this, in our fortress mentality. These are uneasy times. They conjure up bafflement.

DavidEdgerleyGates.com

31 August 2015

Trouble with a Capital T

Jan Grapeby Jan Grape

I don't know why, but it gets more difficult for me to get to the SleuthSayers site or our Sandbox. What I get most of the time is a message that says that page is not available. or that site is not available. Or I get my name and it says I'm unknown, even though I'm signed in on google blog. It sometimes takes me 30 to 40 minutes just to figure out how to get here.

I'm still having to use my tablet as I couldn't  get on site at all with my laptop. I really got screwed up by downloading Windows 10. Do not do it until you have to unless you are a computer nerd or guru. This seems to be a more recent development. I used to have a hard time but finally found a easy path, but since you guys made it accessible to phones, etc. I've had this trouble. The first time I tried my regular way it wouldn't  work. Then I stumbled onto the secret. Then last night and today none of that worked. However, finally, a few minutes later I stumbled onto a new way. OK, enough whining. I don't even have any cheese to go with.

I suppose life is supposed to hand you lemons now and again. That somehow teaches us to learn how to make lemonade. But does it help in writing?  In many ways it does. I heard an author say once that he didn't trust a writer under forty-five. He did not think a writer had enough experience in living life to qualify as a good writer. 

Do you think that might be all wrong? Or does it make sense to you? I can agree in some way. Not only life experiences come into play, but I think your writing improves with age. That doesn't necessarily mean "your age."  I'm  also talking about writing maturity. I personally began to realize after I'd been writing for a few years that my writing changed about every six months or so. It got stronger, better as I learned the craft. As I learned how to develop stronger, more realistic characters. Also as I learned more natural sounding dialogue and how to create tension. You don't have to age chronologically, but your writing matures if you keep writing daily or at least every few days.

The chronological age can help also. Yet some people have life experiences at an age earlier than others. A loss of a parent or a sibling. A family's loss of a good job, changing the family 's economic standing. A young woman or young man dealing with abuse, emotional, physical or sexual can certainly make life experiences change. Sometimes the person has to grow up and learn to deal with life at an early age.

In that respect, I don't necessarily agree with the author who said, not to trust any writer under 45. I can also see a person's age can bring about a maturity of writing about life as in real life. 

In reality I don't  think you ever grow to full maturity with your writing. And some folks never grow up emotionally.  As a writer I think it is a lot of fun to keep growing and as an older adult I think being grown-up is much more trouble than it's  worth. I think I'll  just stay a kid a few more years.

08 June 2015

What Goes On In Your Town?

                          by Jan Grape

Product Details1960s AUSTIN GANGSTERS Organized Crime That Rocked the Capital by Jesse Sublett. The History Press 2015

I may have mentioned this book before, not sure, but I just finished it this week and am still intrigued. Mainly, I guess because I was in and around Austin, TX during the 1960s. No, I didn't moved to Austin until the last 60s and then only for about 16 months. I moved here for twelve years beginning in 1987. My Dad and Bonus Mom moved to Austin in 1957. They both worked at the State Offices of the State Employment Commission (now known as Texas Workforce Commission.) And because my family lived in Austin, I visited often. I'm sure I knew like most people that Austin had a certain criminal element, but Organized Crime?

Mr. Sublett's true crime book is outstanding for the history buff and for the crime writing gang. Okay, the Austin mobs weren't exactly like the old Italian mobs I've read about in crime stories and saw in movies like The Godfather. But the elements of crime were organized even if it could be considered a rather loose organization. Mr. Sublett says it was called a White Trash mafia.

Two high school football players, Tim Overton of Austin TX had every thing a young footballer could ever hope or dream for and yet threw it all away for a life of crime. Tim Overton a youngster from the wrong side of town whose mother died from a brain tumor when he was a senior in high School was a big offensive guard and Mike Cotton,a running back. from the more affluent side of town both received athletic scholarships from the new head coach Darrel Royal. Mike Cotton stayed out of the crime business, but Tim was drawn deeper and deeper into that world.

Tim Overton didn't just go nuts after his mother died, although some people thought he was really never the same. He did go on to college and was making decent grades that first year. After his first problems with the police, Coach Royal helped Tim and gave him more than one opportunity. Overton idolized Coach Royal and felt the coach turned his back on him. Probably harder on the coach than Tim Overton ever realized.

Before long, Tim and his associates or crew were driving Cadillacs, wearing diamond pinkie rings and running roughshod over prostitutes, pimps, banks and small businesses. Tim was involved with crooked lawyers, pimps and used car dealers. Smuggling and prostitution rings were high on the White Trash Mafia's plans and crimes. Murder often came into play and trying to outsmart the police was a big order of the day.



 Mr. Sublett has done fantastic research, with court transcripts, police files, Austin History Center files, talking to people who were around then and knew the players. He was able to also come up with photos of the players, their families, their victims and suddenly you realize while you're reading that you are totally involved with this story. Not to romanticize these criminals, but to be interested in the history of a town you've been in and around for over fifty year and a history you actually weren't aware of and in a way surprised about it.

If you have a chance and are interested in the history a small time frame of the capitol of Texas, I strongly advise you to pick up a copy of 1960s Austin Gangsters by Jesse Sublett.

A little personal note: Here's a photo of the beautiful Sage Award that was presented to me on May 17th from the Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writers Foundation. It's  lucite and has a silver colored star on top and is engraved. My picture wasn't  the best but I think you can get a sense of it.

09 March 2015

Me and the Derringers. (Maybe.)


by Melissa Yi.

At the end of my emergency room shift, I got a Twitter message that looked like this:

Quoi? Dr_sassy and the Derringers? That's never happened before. Sounds like a good band title, though.

My first thought was, Did someone tag me by accident? As in, they want me to know about the Derringer Award, which honours the best short mystery fiction published in the English language?

But another tag-ee, Britni Patterson, was already celebrating, so my heart kicked into high gear, just wondering if I was a chosen one.

And if so, which story was it? I had two eligible tales. “Because,” a biting tale of 490 words published in Fiction River: Crime, and “Gone Fishing,” a 12,000-word serialized Hope Sze novella commissioned by Kobo and kindly mentioned by Sleuthsayers last year.

I clicked on the link and found this Derringer short list:

For Best Flash (Up to 1,000 words)
  • Joseph D’Agnese, “How Lil Jimmy Beat the Big C” (Shotgun Honey, May 12, 2014)
  • Rob Hart, “Foodies” (Shotgun Honey, May 2, 2014)
  • Jed Power, “Sweet Smells” (Shotgun Honey, July 28, 2014)
  • Eryk Pruitt, “Knockout” (Out of the Gutter Online, August 31, 2014)
  • Travis Richardson, “Because” (Out of the Gutter Online, May 15, 2014)*
  • Melissa Yuan-Innes, “Because” (Fiction River: Crime, March 2014)*
Ah. Because.

I do love that story.

Warning: it’s extremely noir. I don’t find it scary, but then I face blood, guts, vomit and potentially Ebola every day in the emergency room. I’ve already alerted the SleuthSayers powers that be that I’m not especially cozy. I’ve written what I consider cozies, and I love Precious Ramotswe and Agatha Raisin, but I also regularly stare into the darkness and take notes. When I attended the Writers of the Future winners’ workshop in 2000 and turned in a pitiless story about werewolves, the Grand Prize winner, Gary Murphy, stared at me and said, “I can’t believe that such a sweet-looking woman wrote this!"

I laughed. I adore werewolves. And good stories of any stripe.

But Cozy Monday may need a new name. Any suggestions? Cozy or Not; Cozy and Noir; Alternatively Cozy Mondays (because I’ll bet Jan Grape can stick to one genre better than literary sluts like Fran Rizer and Melodie Campbell and me); Cozy and Crazy…hmm.

Back to the Derringer. Until now, I never really understood why awards have a short list. Well, I understood whittling down the list so that celebrity judges don’t need to plow through a mountain of stories.

But now I get the glory of the finalist. I’ve won other prizes in a binary announcement. Either I win the award or I don’t. But right now, the uncertainty makes it all the more treacherous and exciting!

If you're curious, I’ve published “Because” for free on my website for the next week only. You can download it to your friendly neighbourhood KindleKoboiBooks deviceSmashwordsor any format for a whopping 99 cents. That price will triple in a week. Please admire the cover photo by 28-year-old French photographer Olivier Potet. The non-cropped version is even better.

If Because tickled your fancy, you can also download Code Blues, the first Hope Sze novel, for free, as part of a bundle on Vuze, until March 16th.

And please tune in on March 23rd, when I plan to write about how medicine trains your mind for detective work. Watson, anyone?