15 April 2017

So Mysterious: a Q&A With Gerald So


by John M. Floyd



Gerald So is a name that's familiar to most of us who write short mystery fiction. In fact Gerald is a past president (2008-10) and past vice-president (2012-14) of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, as well as an author, editor, and publisher. Since 2008, he has published crime-themed poetry, first in The Lineup chapbook series, co-edited with Patrick Shawn Bagley, Reed Farrel Coleman, Sarah Cortez, Richie Narvaez, and Anthony Rainone, and now at The Five-Two weekly website.

I e-met Gerald long ago, and although we've never crossed paths in person, I feel I know him well through our many emails and his many projects. We also share a love of crime poetry. (I've sold more than 300 poems, believe it or not--many of them in the mystery category--to Writer's Digest, EQMM, Grit, Farm & Ranch Living, etc.). Gerald reminded me recently of one of my poems called "Tinseltown," which appeared in The Five-Two several years ago.  (Here's a link.)

Okay, that's my warm-up act. Here's the main event: a brief interview with the crime-poetry king himself, Gerald So.


JF: Gerald, it's great to have you with us at SleuthSayers. Let's start with a clarification: What would you say is the difference between crime fiction and crime poetry?

GS: Mainly, unlike fiction, poetry isn't necessarily narrative. Poetry doesn't have to stick to procedural aspects of genre conventions. It can, for example, depict the aftermath of crime as an emotional moment, before the tendency toward story sets in. Poets have the freedom to approach crime from angles you might not see in fiction. I need occasional breaks from reading and writing crime fiction while poetry has held my interest all along.


JF: How did you get started writing poetry, and especially crime-themed poetry?

GS: I started writing bad poetry in high school. By college, I'd decided fiction was safer ground, but while teaching at Hofstra University I befriended poet Robert Plath, and handled the technical side of the faculty poetry website he edited. In reading the material to be posted on the website, I began to form opinions about it, and then seriously write my own poetry. I broke into print with poetry, not fiction, and decided I wouldn't give it up.

I think the theme of crime worked its way in naturally because powerful inciting events, such as crimes, are what hook and keep me reading anything.


JF: I agree. As I mentioned earlier, you started out publishing The Lineup crime poetry chapbooks. Now that you've published via a website, would you ever consider adding a Five-Two paper format?

GS: Yes, but I'd need more resources and help to make it happen. The advantage of maintaining a poetry blog and ebooks is I'm the only one who has to work on them to see them published. That said, a longterm goal of the site and ebooks is to keep crime poetry in the public eye, to grow interest in the concept until things like print or audio releases, and anything else you might imagine, are within reach.


JF: Can you tell us more about The Lineup series?

GS: The Lineup was a print-on-demand chapbook published once a year from 2008 to 2011. An acquaintance, author Alex Echevarria Roman, suggested the idea of a crime-themed poetry journal, and I ran with it, recruiting friends as co-editors. The Lineup had four editors per issue, each reading and rating all the poems submitted. It was a unique but complicated process, and as my friends turned to bigger projects, The Lineup couldn't be sustained. All four published volumes are still available here, though, on Lulu.com.


JF: The Five-Two, which I've heard you call a "crime poetry weekly," is a great site. Who are some of the authors you've featured in The Five-Two?

GS: Thriller author J.T. Ellison is one of the volunteer audio performers. There have been poems by your fellow Derringer Award winner Joseph D'Agnese and by novelist Peter Swanson. Other frequently featured poets include Robert Cooperman, Jennifer Lagier, Charles Rammelkamp, and Nancy Scott.


JF: What other kinds of writing do you do?

GS: I've written book, TV, and film reviews for Crimespree Magazine, a regular TV/film column for Mysterical-E, and a handful of short stories in various journals. I'm waiting on the status of two shorts whose titles I'm not allowed to mention.


JF: In closing, what are some other current markets for crime-themed poetry?

GS: I don't know many other markets that seek crime poetry specifically as The Five-Two does, but there are always markets for poetry with powerful inciting events, of which crime is just one. Some are Midnight Lane Boutique, Nerve Cowboy, Red Fez, Silver Birch Press, and Yellow Mama.


JF: Which is my hint to try some of these latest markets, and for our readers (hopefully) to try their hand at crime poetry also. Many thanks, Gerald, for joining us today. Keep up the good work!




And thanks to all of you as well. I'll be back next Saturday with my regular SleuthSayers column, and some observations of my own . .  . but I hope you'll tune in anyway.




14 April 2017

Interview with Martin Edwards, Malice Domestic's Poirot Award Winner

By Art Taylor

What has struck me most about Martin Edwards, whenever I've been fortunate to spend time with him, are his kindness, generosity, and modesty—qualities which continually understate his truly monumental accomplishments.

Martin Edwards
Just in the past year, Edwards won the Agatha, Edgar, and Macavity Awards in the U.S. and the H.R.F. Keating Award in the U.K. for The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story, but while this landmark book alone might be enough to earn that adjective "monumental" I used above, it's only part of Edwards' story. He's published a dozen and half novels, including two series set in Liverpool and the Lake District. He's published more than 60 short stories, and he's been honored with both the CWA (Crime Writers' Association) Short Story Dagger and the CWA Margery Allingham Award for his short fiction. He's edited 30 anthologies (and counting!), and he advises the British Library's Crime Classics series, republishing both novels and anthologies of classic stories (published in the US by Poisoned Pen Press). He's the president and archivist of the famed Detection Club, and he's the chair and archivist for the CWA as well. And he keeps up a lively blog on fiction, film, and more at "Do You Write Under Your Own Name?"

Oh, and seems like he accomplished most of this in his spare time, since he's also had a long legal career. 


In two weeks, Malice Domestic will celebrate Edwards with this year's Poirot Award, honoring outstanding contributions to the mystery genre. I can hardly imagine anyone who deserves the award more.

In advance of that, Edwards indulged me with a interview—while traveling and via iPhone!—a few quick questions touching on each area of his distinguished career.

Art Taylor: At last year’s Malice Domestic, you won an Agatha Award for The Golden Age of Murder, and this year, you’re returning as the Poirot Award honoree, with that same book  among the cornerstones of your contributions to the genre. Other than awards, what’s been a particularly memorable moment in the reception the book has received?

Martin Edwards: I worked on The Golden Age of Murder for many years, thinking few people would share my enthusiasm. Of all the many gratifying responses, I treasure the review in The Times by Marcel Berlins, one of our leading and most respected reviewers. Modesty forbids me to quote it here. But not to include it on my website!

[Editor's note, overriding Edwards' modesty: The Times wrote that "Few, if any, books about crime fiction have provided so much information and insight so enthusiastically and, for the reader, so enjoyably... No other work mixes genre history, literary analysis and fascinating author biographies with such relish.”]
 
Is there more ahead in your work as a historian?

Yes, this summer will see publication of The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, a companion to the British Library's amazingly successful series. It's a book I'm very proud of.


How do you select books for the British Library's Crime Classics series, and has there been a title that you’ve been particularly proud to reintroduce into publication?

I act as consultant to the British Library and make endless suggestions about books, but they make the decisions. I'm very pleased about many of the reprints but writing a new solution to Anthony Berkeley's The Poisoned Chocolates Case was a particular joy.

[Another editor’s note: A joy for this reader as well!]

John Dickson Carr has said that short fiction is the natural form of the detective story. What special place does short story hold for you in the mystery genre? What  do you value most in a short story—and what are your own goals and challenges in writing your own short fiction? 


Short stories are wonderful! Sherlock and Father Brown were at their best in the short form, and today it remains a great vehicle for a mystery (as you have shown, Art!). A great short story grips from start to finish with no wasted words or longeurs.

One of the pleasures of short story writing is the chance to experiment, to take risks that might seem too daunting in the context of a novel that could take a year or more to write. I wrote short stories set in the countryside before moving from a Liverpool-based series to one set in the Lake District, and that apprenticeship did help. In between finishing one novel and starting another, writing a short story or two can offer a welcome change of pace, and get you in the mood to start another long haul. And there are some things you can do in short stories that you simply can’t do (or at least I couldn’t do) in a novel. One example is a very short story I wrote in the form of an extract from the index to a book. Another is a story called "Acknowledgments" which takes the form used by authors when they include acknowledgments in a book; except that in this story, things take an unexpected turn....


While you’ve obviously been busy in many directions, your fans are waiting for the next novel! What’s ahead for the Lake District Mysteries? (And really, where do you find time to do all that you do?)


I am working on a different kind of novel at present but after that it is back to the Lakes! I hope to continue to mix fiction and fact as a writer. I love both. As for time, well, life is short. I want to write as much as I can but most of all I want to write as well as I can. The awards have been hugely encouraging and the Poirot award is a great honour for which I'm truly grateful. I hope to repay that honour by writing the best books I can—and as a novelist I think the best may yet be to come. We'll see!


IN PERSONAL NEWS (Back to Art)


I'll close out this post with a bit of news about my own work. Last week, I learned that my story "Parallel Play" from Chesapake Crimes: Storm Warning, already a finalist for this year's Agatha Award alongside fine fiction by fellow SleuthSayers Barb Goffman and B.K. Stevens, has also been named a finalist for this year's Thriller Award for Best Short Story—and I'm in good company there too, with a slate that includes Eric Beetner, Laura Benedict, Brendan DuBois, and Joyce Carol Oates! The winner will be announced at ThrillerFest in New York in mid-July—and I'll be making my first appearance at that conference as well, keeping fingers crossed, of course, and toes too, let's be honest!

In the more immediate future is Malice Domestic itself, April 28-30 in Bethesda, Maryland, and here's my schedule below for that weekend.
  • Opening Ceremonies • Friday, April 28, 5 p.m.
  • Welcome Reception & Anthology Signing for Malice Domestic 12: Mystery Most Historical (as part of editorial selection committee) Friday, April 28, 9 p.m.
  • Panel: “Make It Snappy: Agatha Best Short Story Nominees,” with Gretchen Archer, Barb Goffman, Edith Maxwell, and B.K. Stevens, moderated by Linda Landrigan • Saturday, April 29, 10 a.m.
  • Agatha Awards Banquet • Saturday, April 29, 7 p.m.
Looking forward to seeing folks in Bethesda in just a couple of weeks!

13 April 2017

"Afternoons in Paris" by Janice Law

by Eve Fisher

You remember Francis Bacon:
  File:Pourbus Francis Bacon.jpg  No, not that one, this one:  

Francis Bacon, artist.  Francis Bacon, gambler.  Francis Bacon, bon vivant.  Francis Bacon, gay, asthmatic, Irish, autodidact, devoted to his Nan, louche, rough, crazy...

Well, HE'S BACK!!!!



Yes, my favorite gay artist adventurer is back in Janice Law's "Afternoons in Paris".  Francis is 18 and in the City of Lights, and very glad to be there after the craziness of Berlin (read Janice's "Nights in Berlin":  the book and David Edgerley Gates' review).  Now he's on his own, working for a decorator/designer by day (the somewhat susceptible Armand), visiting galleries with the motherly Madame Dumoulin, and cruising the city by night with the totally unreliable Pyotr, a Russian emigre who, like Francis, has a taste for quick hook-ups and rough trade.

Pyotr has two Russian friends, Igor, who's sinister, and Lev, who's quickly assassinated.  After getting robbed (by Pyotr), beaten up (by 'Cossacks') in Montparnasse, and finding two more waiting to do the same at his lodgings, Francis tries to avoid Russians by moving in with Madame Dumoulin and her brother, Jules, who needs a caretaker.  Well, it could be argued that Francis is the last person to be anyone's companion/caretaker, but our boy knows how to be appreciative.  And Jules, although a traumatized WW1 veteran, is an innocent (at least compared to Francis):  much like Mr. Dick in "David Copperfield", he builds complex machines and flies kites.  Francis can enjoy both.

And then Jules gets a chance to design machines for the theatre group Les Mortes Immortels, and it's back to Paris for all.  Jules' machines are the best part of a production about as audience-friendly as "Finnegan's Wake"; that and the character of Human Hope, played by Inessa, a Russian Helen of Troy who enraptures everyone around her.  Except for those who are using her.

Russians are everywhere, and they're all dangerous:  Pyotr; the NKVD assassin Alexi; the NKVD blackmailer Anoshkin; Inessa's missing brother, Pavel.  And, wouldn't you know it, who's up to his neck in all of this but Francis' Uncle Lastings?  Now known as Claude, art dealer and bon-vivant, but still up to his neck in intrigue, scams, sex, and spying.  Francis has a lot of fast talking, fast running, fast thinking, and fast acting to do to survive...

Soutine's Chemin de la Fontaine
des Tins at Ceret - Wikipedia
As always, it's fascinating to see the world through Francis' eyes, especially at 18, when he is still at the beginning of creating himself.  He has a knack for noticing details, from the "distinctive stink of French drains" to the "most brutal and vigorous thing I'd seen in France" - a dead rooster, painted by Chaim Soutine.  When he writes to Nan that "a glance at her makes me feel more hopeful", we know that Inessa is indeed a remarkable woman, someone to pay attention to.  And, when told that Pavel can't be wandering Paris without proper papers, Francis' reaction is "My own experience in Berlin led me to believe that Monsieur Chaput was exaggerating.  A teenage boy has a number of ways of eluding bureaucrats and busybodies."  And he would know.
Image result for jessie lightfoot
Nan

Emotionally, Francis is still developing, or is he?  At one point he says, regarding his commitment to Jules:  "I had promised Jules, and I believe in friendship.  It tends to be more stable than romance." Not to mention family. As he writes to Nan about his uncle, "I know this is a surprise, but He Who Must Not be Named has secured a job for me, and this time, I have asked to be paid half in advance. You can see I am getting wise to the ways of the world." In fact, the only person Francis trusts implicitly is Nan, in "Afternoons in Paris", "Nights in Berlin", "Fires of London", "The Prisoner of the Riviera", "Moon over Tangier" and in real life.  She will always be the most stable person in his life, not excepting himself.

But even at 18, Francis is already witty, sarcastic, honest, observant, hungry, lustful, reckless, and utterly sure that he will never be among the bourgeoisie. (And how right he is.) He always gives a master class in the art of survival.  Francis Bacon and Paris in the 20s - it's hard to ask for anything more.







12 April 2017

Keystone Cops - the Trump-Russia Connection

David Edgerley Gates


Once again, a disclaimer. This post isn't political comment, but thinking out loud about the spycraft involved. Nor do I claim special knowledge. It's pure speculation.



If you're one of the people following what Rick Wilson of The Daily Beast has characterized as "the Trump-Russia intelligence and influence scandal," you can be forgiven for experiencing a certain bemusement. The story keeps wandering off-narrative, the cast doesn't know their lines, the whole thing is like a dress rehearsal for the school play. Lucian K. Truscott IV, writing for SALON, sounds a note of gleeful despair, trying to strike a balance between the giddy anarchy of a Three Stooges routine and the jaws of darkness yawning open beneath our feet. You don't have to take sides to take it seriously, but it has an unreal quality. Farce, caricature, exaggeration of effect, clown noses and oversized shoes. 

What would a working intelligence professional make of all this? If we discount the attitude, and the partisanship, and the Whose-Ox-Is-Being-Gored, and focus on the basic operational dynamics - the tradecraft of recruitment, the servicing of resources, the value of the product - does it show any return on the investment? What's our cost-benefit ratio?

Security operations are often graded on the curve. You might have a downside risk, but if you're blown, the exposure is quantifiable. It's worth losing X to acquire Y. Penetrations are always high-value. Getting someone inside. Philby and Blake. Gunter Guillaume. Alger Hiss. Penkovsky. It's a tightrope act for the spy, of course. For his handlers, not so much. Embarrassment, contrition, crocodile tears. Deep-cover assets understand their vulnerability. It's a buyer's market. You're only as good as your last picture. So forth and so on. The point here being that a penetration is usually considered well worth the money, the extra effort, the aggravation. Any rewards justify the sweat equity. But defectors are known to inflate their resumes. They give themselves better credentials, they claim better access. Another thing to remember is that the more difficult the courtship, and the more it costs, the more highly you value the object of your desire. In other words, we both want to close the sale. It's to our mutual advantage. And who's to say there isn't as much wishful thinking on the one side as on the other?

Intelligence consumers want what's known in the trade as collateral, telling detail that gives your product a material weight, the force of gravity. What we've got here is disconnect. Peripheral vision, low light. Manafort is compromised because he was a bagman for Yanukovych. Kushner met with VneshEconomBank chair Gorkov, and VEB launders dirty money for the Kremlin. Flynn broke bread with Putin at a meet-and-greet sponsored by RT. Page and Stone were coat-trailed by SVR. All of it suggestive, none of it at all imperative.

There's a moment in Smiley's People, about a third of the way through, when George learns that Karla is "looking for a legend, for a girl."  This is the place where the story - the story within, the hidden narrative - begins to shape itself. George first hears that voice, and we're taken into his confidence, and feel its muscularity, and the book turns a corner (its secret just around the next one). 

How do we apply the comforts of a fiction? We suppose not, but hold the phone. The absence of structure tells us something. We're used to the idea of conspiracy, plots laid, inductions devious. I'd suggest this wasn't a concerted effort. Not at either end. I think the Russian services went after targets of opportunity. Putin's an old KGB guy of course, but he seems to have buried the hatchet with GRU. He's made extensive use of both, in Crimea and the Donbass. Russian information warfare strategy has also been formalized. Kaspersky Lab, which on paper is private sector, works in cybersecurity. Once upon a time, this was all under the authority of the Organs, the state apparat, but the chain of command is more flexible. I'm guessing an approach to an American or European businessman could be made by anybody, sanctioned or not. Is it corporate espionage, or government? What's the difference? you might ask. If you're shaking hands with the siloviki, the oligarchs, you're already in bed with the Mafia and state security. It's not at all difficult to imagine a guy like Paul Manafort being recruited, because he'd be recruiting talent himself, working both sides of the street. He's cultivating influence, that's his currency. So let's say we see this happen with other examples. No grand design or discipline, just low-hanging fruit.

Moving ahead, we get to the past summer of an election year, 2016, and evidence of Russian e-mail hacking. We know the FBI opened their investigation in July, and it's now being reported that CIA began briefing the Gang of Eight - the senior majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate, and on the intelligence committees - in mid-August. Slight cognitive dissonance, as the Bureau believed the Russian threat was meant only to disrupt the political process in general, CIA believed it was specifically focused on sabotaging the Clinton campaign and electing Trump. CIA suspects active collusion.

What are the basics? We know any intelligence community is top-heavy with turf warriors. MI5 and MI6. FBI and CIA. SVR and FSB and GRU. But there was a trigger mechanism. My guess is that a ranking somebody in the Russian spy orbits took notice and pulled the various threads together. We imagine frustrations expressed at the top of the food chain, "Who will rid me of this tempestuous priest?" And the barons mount up. I'm also thinking this was as much accident as anything else. The necessary tools were ready to hand. All it required was an organizing principle. The rest is housekeeping, who carried the water.

One last observation. The feckless and the foolish are easily led. You play to their vanities, their limitless self-regard. it's never truer than in the spook trade that you can't cheat an honest man.

Recommended:
Lucian K. Truscott IV in SALON
http://www.salon.com/writer/lucian_k_truscott_iv/


11 April 2017

The Curse of 2013

By Barb Goffman

Like poor Rose at the end of Titanic, clinging to a piece of wood in the frozen Atlantic Ocean, using the last of her strength to blow a whistle to attract rescuers who've missed her, then weakly, hoarsely yelling, "Come back! Come back," I find myself wishing some people would come back too.

Well, my wishes are about fictional characters, but they feel like real people to me. And they've all been missing since 2013.

With less than two weeks until Malice Domestic (a wonderful fan convention held every spring in Bethesda, Maryland, honoring the traditional mystery), I find myself thinking about mystery characters I wish would come back. I'm not talking about characters created by authors who have died--there's no way they're coming back, not in their original author's form, anyway. And I'm not talking about characters whose authors regularly put out a new book every year or so. This column is devoted to characters whose authors seem to have moved on or are taking too long of a break (in this devoted reader's perspective).

With respect and love, I wish the following authors would get a move on:

Stephanie Jaye Evans

I'm starting with you, Stephanie, because you're scheduled to attend Malice Domestic, and I want you to be prepared. I am going to hound you at the convention, begging and pleading for more stories in the Sugar Land Mystery Series about family man and Texas minister Bear Wells, who becomes a sleuth. Here's what one reviewer said of Stephanie's wonderful first book, Faithful Unto Death:

“Praise be! A new series with a soul, a heart, and a down-home Texas twang. Preacher Bear Wells is an entirely original sleuth and author Stephanie Jaye Evans is that real rarity: a debut writer with dead-on dialogue, winning characters, and—mirabile dictu! —nimble plotting.”   — Susan Wittig Albert, national bestselling author of the China Bayles mysteries

Faithful Unto Death, was a finalist for the 2012 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Stephanie has a great second book in the series, Safe From Harm, which came out in 2013. For four long years I've been waiting oh so patiently, hoping for more. Please, Stephanie, may I have some more?

Chris Grabenstein

Chris, I know your heart--and your time--belong to middle-grade readers. Between writing books with James Patterson (how can I get in on that gig?) and writing your own extremely successful books for kids, you don't have time anymore for your mysteries for grown-ups. (I was going to write that you didn't have time for your adult mysteries, but that has a completely different connotation.) But I wish we could add more hours to the day because I miss your John Ceepak mysteries. Oh, heck. Let's be honest, I long for them. Yes, I admit it: I have a crush on your character John Ceepak, and given how long it's been going on, I feel comfortable saying it's not going away.

Ahhh. Ceepak. A cop with a moral code. A decent, generous, wonderful man. If I can't have this romance in real life, come on, Chris, let me have it on paper. Please! I long to return to Sea Haven, New Jersey, and investigate more cases with John and his partner, Danny Boyle. Sure, I could re-read the eight books in your Anthony Award-winning series, starting with 2005's Tilt-A-Whirl and ending in 2013's Free Fall. But it's been four years since the last book. I need more. Please, Chris. Just give me a little more.

Sara J. Henry

Sara, Your first novel, 2011's Learning to Swim, was nominated for a gazillion awards (and won the Anthony and Agatha awards for best first novel as well as the Mary Higgins Clark Award). It deserved every bit of praise. I loved Learning to Swim so much that I told practically everyone I knew in 2011 about it. I gushed, Sara. Gushed. It was disgusting. So you can imagine how happy I was to read the 2013 follow-up, A Cold and Lonely Place. I love watching your main character, reporter Troy Chance, as she struggles to right (and write) wrongs. Your books have been described as "compulsively readable," and I agree wholeheartedly. I long to be compulsive again. On behalf of your fans, give us more Troy books, Sara. Please please please.


Julia Spencer-Fleming

Unlike a lot of authors, you usually have a new book come out every two years instead of annually. And that's okay. When someone writes books as good as yours, you can take any reasonable amount of time you need between books. But come on, Julia. We're both nonpracticing lawyers here, so we know there are limitations to how far you can stretch the meaning of the word reasonable, and I think we've hit the limit. It's been four agonizing years. I need more Clare. I need more Russ. I need more murder in the Adirondacks.

I remember how taken I was with the small town of Millers Kill, New York, when I came upon your first book, In the Bleak Midwinter. It has one of the best opening lines ever and a hell of an engaging plot. My love for the town grew over the series' eight books. Despite all the murders, it seems like a lovely place to live. I know others agree with me. Your books have won practically every award out there. Your latest book, 2013's Through the Evil Days, can't be the end of the series. I need to know what happens with Clare and Russ and ... Well, I'm not going to ruin it for people who haven't read the book yet. But you know what I'm talking about, Julia. Come on. Please don't leave me hanging. I need more.

2013

And that leaves me with wondering what the heck was going on in 2013 that made all these wonderful authors hit the brakes. Could it be a coincidence that all of them haven't had a new book out since then (or, for Chris, an adult book)? We mystery writers don't believe in coincidence. So there must be a reason. Are you all working on a big book together?! No. That would be too much to hope for. Is there a curse going on? No, I don't believe in curses either. ... Well, I'm out of ideas. So I'll just have to end this blog with my plea one more time. Get plotting, get typing, and get publishing, people. In the immortal words of Oliver Twist: Please, sir (and ma'ams), I want some more.

PLEASE.

*****

While I have your attention, in case you missed earlier posts: the Agatha Award will be given out in six categories during the Malice Domestic convention at the end of this month. I have a short story, "The Best-Laid Plans," short-listed in the short-story category. The competition is pretty fierce. Fellow SleuthSayers B.K. Stevens and Art Taylor are up for the award, as well as authors Gretchen Archer and Edith Maxwell. You can read about all five of the nominated stories by clicking here, and you'll also be able to click through to read the stories themselves. I hope you'll check them all out and read before you vote. (I'm also blogging today at B.K. Stevens's blog, analyzing my thought process behind the first two pages of "The Best-Laid Plans." I hope you'll stop by there too. You can read that post here.)
  
Once you finish reading, it's time to start packing. I'm looking forward to seeing so many of you at Malice Domestic in two weeks. (Stephanie Jaye Evans, this means you!)

10 April 2017

Do Pets Enhance Your Stories?



by Jan Grape

I live in a small town, that in reality could just be called a community. Except we have a City Hall, a City Council, a volunteer fire department  and a Police Department. We now have four sit-down restaurants, a marina, a Subway sandwich shop and a Sports Bar and Grill, where you can order great hamburgers or Wings and there is a sit-down dining area if that's your thing. We have an auto-motive shop,a gas station, a Hill Country Community Playhouse for live theater productions and a Dollar General Store. Just a mile from my house is Lake Marble Falls, which was formed by damming off the Lower Colorado River. And part of the chain of seven Highland Lakes in the Texas Hill Country. So we have a mixed community, high-end houses with a lake views or lakefront properties and a small section of single-wide or double wide trailers.

 Most of the area where I'm located is what I would call a middle class neighborhood. We also have a fairly large number of vacant lots which are wooded and because of that and the proximity to the lake we have a large population of deer. It's not unusual to walk out of my house in the afternoon or evening and find six or eight deer grazing on the lawn or even bedded down for the night in my yard. I enjoy seeing the deer. Especially this time of year when the does have produced babies and I get to see little fawns as they learn to use their little legs to hurry across the street and get out of the way of cars or trucks. The speed limit is 35 MPH but you know how that goes. Everyone seems to be in a hurry and sometimes they hit a deer.

My love of nature and watching the animals and the fact that my feline companion, Nora just turned twenty years old on March 30th, got me to thinking about animals in our stories and books. How many people have pets in their books? Not a specific Cat or Dog series just your main character's personal pet. I think it adds an extra dimension to the characterization. I love both cats and dogs but have have more cats myself for the past twenty-two years. Had a wonderful little dog up until a couple of years before I got Nick and Nora. Nick was with me for 17.5 years and Nora still is with me They were eight weeks old when they came to live with me and my husband.I laughingly tell people she's been with me longer than any of my kids, because the kids went off to college or got married.

For a number of years I wrote short stories for many of the Cat Crime books, And there were different fictionalized cats in each story. Some of their names were, Willie, Snowflake, Sam Spade and Domino. Snowflake was a black kitten with a white star-shaped design on the top of her head that looked like a snowflake had landed there. Domino was a white kitten with two black dots on her face above her eyes that looked like the dots on a domino. Willie and Spade were just cats that sorta helped the story along, Don't remember if I described them too much.

Then I wrote a story about White House Pet Detectives and discovered that Abe Lincoln had a cat named Tabby and they had goats and several other animals. I wrote a story with Tabby. I also visited the White House Pet Museum in Virginia. I was in the area for a mystery con and it seemed like I should definitely make a visit so I went.

Nick and Nora appeared in a story in an anthology titled Midnight Louie's Pet Detectives, edited by Carole Nelson Douglas's Midnight Louie. Nick and Nora were still little tykes who could type...well, Nora was able to read and write and type but she had not learn how to make capital letters. They both told the story and since they were black cats and lived in Texas where Midnight Louis lived they claimed a kinship to "Uncle Louie."  But they also claimed to have experienced a bit of detective training from Uncle Louie and used that knowledge to solve a case. Don't know if that was cat telepathy or Paws Express mail service.

In my first Zoe Barrow, police woman book, she had a couple of cats, named Melody and Lyric. Those were the cat names of two cats that at one time belonged to my daughter. They did nothing to help with the mystery, just gave Zoe a couple of pets to mention as animals to round her character out a bit. Characters can talk to the pets about the case, using them as a sounding board. Or they are useful to show how the writer can slow the action just before building up an scene of tension or unwinding after a scene of tension.

Cats and dogs both can be very accurate in their reactions to people. More so than the character themselves at times.  Animals often sense the good or bad or fear in people. They also can feel the true feelings of liking or love for them. That can be very useful to the character in certain situations.
I have a feeling that birds or fish or horses or alligators or snakes help to show a character's demeanor or even to help readers like or dislike a character.

Do any of you use pets at all and what do you think about it for your writing?  

09 April 2017

The Expanse

by Leigh Lundin

A month ago, when Barb Goffman wrote about new television shows, she touched on the sci-fi series, Timeless which, in my opinion, is pretty good as long as they keep SOS out of it.

Becoming an adherent of hard science fiction was foreordained– my first or second adult novel in the third grade was Fritz Lieber’s Gather Darkness (serialized 1943, published in book form 1950). I still keep that novel. Part of its technology of light wave cancellation is under study ¾ of a century later– Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility could become a real thing one day.

Mysteries and sci-fi formed two great genre loves, and their golden ages lived for me. Blade Runner, The Man in the High Castle… stories like those formed the bookscape of middle and high school.

Soft on Hard Fiction

The term ‘hard’ science fiction defines the purest form harking back to the golden and silver ages. At one time, adherents adopted ‘SF’ to distinguish the real stuff from the lighter fare enjoyed by science fantasy and space opera (e.g, Star Wars) fans, but others resented the co-optation of sci-fi.

This may surprise to those who aren’t yet fans: Hard sci-fi isn’t about monsters or wookies or paranormal. Hard science fiction is about society and ‘what’s possible’ propositions.

The Science of Imagination

One unspoken maxim rules sci-fi… the science must either be real or at least possible. That’s why Superman would be classified more as science fantasy because the physics doesn’t compute. Writers can exploit an exception– they may devise a universe with its own physics as long as the science can logically and consistently be extrapolated.

Consider Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park (1990). Dinosaurs in modern times? What could be sillier? Except Crichton knew his biology. He delved into considerable detail (in a clever Disney Epcot-like presentation) how dinosaur DNA might be trapped in amber. DNA has also also been recently found in mammoth bone marrow, so these ideas lie within the realm of possibility.

Likewise, Crichton’s 1999 Timeline might seem preposterous to congressional and cabinet appointees to science and environmental committees, guys who failed sixth grade Creationism in the Classroom. Facing a career as vacuum cleaner salesmen, they opted to enter politics specializing in the myths of global climate change and those unexplained mysteries of female fertility. Crichton, in fact, based the premise on actual physics experiments of space-time teleportation.

Those then-current experiments in space-time underlaid “Think Like a Dinosaur”, a subtle, almost tender, bitter-sweet episode of The Outer Limits, (2001, S07E08) which had nothing to do with dinosaurs. The program explored ethics and commitment through a vehicle of love and quiet despair.

Hard-Boiled Directives

Dashiel Hammett’s and Raymond Chandler’s stories touched upon socialism and capitalism gone bad. We’ve read that Ross MacDonald’s works were a commentary on the indolently wealthy 1%, and Dennis Lehane writes about a civilization uncaring about about cops, crime, and corruption. These societal undercurrents– intended or not– are a side-effect of their crime writing. In contrast, the best science fiction centralizes social themes as the core thrust.

For example, 2001, A Space Odyssey reimagined evolution of the human species. Soylent Green and one of my favorites, Silent Running, dealt with a society increasingly indifferent about pollution, over-population, and food shortages. Why fictionalize these issues? The creators want you to care while largely avoiding the politics of the day.

No Expanse Spared

The Expanse
My attention was drawn to the 2015 SyFy television series, The Expanse. Sporting a title in homage to Star Trek, it’s based on the novels of James S.A. Corey, nom de plume of writers Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. (Their pseudonym combines their middle names.)

The Expanse skipped 2016 but returned this year for a second season, which is running now. A third series is in the works for 2018.

The Expanse… within thirty seconds it hooked me. The music… the dark theme– trust me, this program is so Stygian, it makes noir look like Easter pastels in kindergarten.

The cast includes an intriguing classic detective, Josephus Miller, who channels the quintessential Marlowe and Spade. Another fascinating character is the assistant undersecretary to the UN, Chrisjen Avasarala, played to perfection in the smoker’s voice of actress Shohreh Aghdashloo. A third complex character is Colonel Fred Johnson, former UN Marine and accused war criminal who runs a ship-building base at Tycho Station.

And then we have the crew of the Rocinante, kind of a Firefly on steroids. (Firefly was a great but short-lived sci-fi series also made into a movie.) The crews take a while to set aside their trust issues and realize the innate decency of the others.

To my surprise, I came to like the character of Amos Burton, a marine and mechanic, extremely devoted to his colleague Naomi Nagata. ‘Character’ is the key word. Appearing as a man of deceptively simple outlook and tastes, Burton wins over the audience and crew thanks to his private code of loyalty, decency, bravery, and level-headedness. He’s the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to marry your sister until you suddenly realized how wrong you were and what a great man she’d miss out on.

A kind of perfect resolution unexpectedly came about in the midst of season 2 titled “Home”. (S02E05) It achieved an unheard-of 9.6 rating in IMDB. At the moment, I’m enjoying a break from viewing, savoring the episode.

The Science of Silence

Last week, John wrote about guilty pleasures. I can’t say space battles do much for me, but The Expanse is enjoyably different. Mainly, it’s much more realistic. For example, rail guns, capable of high ‘muzzle’ velocities, are a real ‘thing’. The US Navy electromagnetically launched projectiles without the aid of chemical propellants or explosives at 8600kmph, seven times the speed of sound, double the speed of a very fast bullet. Think of a hi-tech slingshot powered by magnets.


The shows contain a few mistakes, including a deliberate one. Like every movie and television show ever filmed, you hear the roar of rockets, the sounds of gunfire, and the boom of explosions in outer space. Except… space is absolutely silent. Alien capitalized on this with the tag-line, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” Space movies would be boring without sound effects and a lot of foley artists would find themselves out of work, so phony sfx are forgivable. (2001 might have used silence in the outdoor scenes.)

And so?

Earlier, I rattled on about societal themes in hard science fiction. What are the underlying social issues of The Expanse? Politics, greed, exploration and exploitation, war and weaponry. Look for a scathing side note vis-à-vis the amoral symbiosis of Werhner von Braun-type Nazi technocrats as exploited by Germany and then the Allied Powers.

Like I said it’s all about society.

08 April 2017

The 2017 Agatha Short Story Nominees

by B.K. Stevens

All of this year's nominees for the Best Short Story Agatha have female protagonists, but that's about the only thing they have in common. And the protagonists themselves are a diverse bunch, ranging from a midwife still in her twenties to a mystery author who fears she's past her prime. The settings for these stories include a lavish casino, a play space for toddlers, and a small-town bar; the moods vary from light-hearted to ominous. Some stories are whodunits, or whodunits with a twist; some might be described as suspense stories or even as daylight noir. Together, I think, they reflect the vitality of today's mystery short story, and of the many variations it embraces.


All the nominated authors contributed to this post by picking excerpts from their stories and commenting on them briefly. I hope that the comments will give you intriguing insights, and that the excerpts will whet your appetite for reading the stories in full (you'll find links to each below).

The Stories

"Double Jinx: A Bellissimo Casino Crime Caper Short Story" 

by Gretchen Archer

Henery Press


July Jackson's job as a Holiday Host at the Bellissimo Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi is more trick than treat when one of her Scary Rich slot tournament players croaks. Then $3,000,000 goes missing. And a couple dressed as condiments--he's Mustard, she's Ketchup--might be behind the spooky shenanigans. What's a Holiday Host to do? Call in the flying monkeys? July turns to the highest level of casino security and meets a boy named Baylor. Just Baylor. From there, it's all thrills and chills.

"Do you know how to shoot?"
I shook my head.
"Do you know how to point?"
I nodded.
He popped the clip out of the gun and passed it to me.
I couldn't remember being this scared or this calm before. It was an amazing sensation, the adrenaline mixed with the quiet confidence. The adrenaline was from what was about to happen. The calm was from him.
"Double Jinx" introduces July Jackson to the core cast of characters in my Davis Way Crime Capers. Not only does July go on to be Baylor's love interest, she gives up her job as Holiday Host and puts her Early Childhood Education degree to good use when she takes a nanny position for my main character's toddler twins in the just-released sixth full-length novel of my series, Double Up. I loved writing "Jinx." The holiday theme was so much fun, the Agatha Award nomination so unexpected (I cried) and such an honor, and then there are the bats. Have you seen the bats? "Double Jinx" has the cutest little bats ever.

You can read "Double Jinx: A Bellissimo Casino Crime Caper Short Story" here.

"The Best-Laid Plans" 

by Barb Goffman

Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional (Wildside Press)

 

When "The Best-Laid Plans" begins, my main character, celebrated cozy author Eloise Nickel, reads an article in Mystery Queen Magazine about the future of the traditional mystery novel. The article includes patronizing comments about Eloise from her long-ago former friend, Kimberly Siger. Both Eloise and Kimberly will be honored at this year's Malice International convention, Eloise for her lifetime achievement and Kimberly as guest of honor. Sharing the stage with Kimberly would have been hard enough, but now Eloise is livid. So she hatches a plan to get revenge at the convention. Nothing fatal, of course. Just painful. Eloise is cozy, just like her books. This excerpt is set on the day before the convention starts, with lots of people chatting in the hotel lobby bar.

I hadn't noticed when Kimberly walked into the lobby, but I figured it out pretty damn quick when the bar erupted in excitement and people ran toward the hotel's front doors. Not everyone, mind you, but a lot of people. It gave me the chance to reach into my purse for my lip balm. My aloe-vera lip balm. Kimberly was allergic to aloe. It's one of the things I remembered from being her friend so many years ago. Aloe made her skin itch and burn upon contact.

I slathered on the balm and watched Kimberly head to the bar. I planned to kiss her hello so everyone could see I was the bigger person. She looked better than I'd expected. Still thin from her love of exercise. No gray in her wavy, dark-brown hair. No lines by her eyes or mouth. Her skin was tight, her teeth, sparkling. Clearly she'd had work done.

"Kimberly." I rose and opened my arms in a welcoming gesture.

Her eyes narrowed for a second, seemingly confused. But she plastered on a smile and stepped toward me. Revenge step one, here I come.

"You're here," Malice board member Cherub Lapp shouted, jumping between us and hugging Kimberly. "I've been waiting for this moment all year. You are one of my absolute favorite authors. Can I buy you a drink?"

Kimberly grinned. "That would be a perfect way to start the weekend. Thank you."

And before I knew it, Kimberly had turned from me, and my chance was lost. Damn that Cherub.

Thankfully, I had other plans.
I'm often conflicted when I read or watch serial dramas because I want my favorite characters to be happy, to find success and love and contentment. But if they were to do that, they'd get no screen or page time, because happiness isn't dramatic. There's no meat to a plot about happy people. It's . . . sigh . . . boring. The best plots, writers know, involve characters who suffer. Not that authors have to be sadistic about it, but it's certainly more interesting to read, for instance, about someone whose revenge plans go wrong, who tries over and over to get back at her nemesis, with increasingly unfortunate results. The goal of a plot like that is for the reader to get invested, wanting the next plan to work because they like the main character, while also wishing that the plan flops, because watching the character suffer is so much fun. That's what I'm showing here. This is the first scene in which Eloise tries to get her revenge plans in action, and she gets her first taste of failure. It was fun to make Eloise suffer. (Yes, that's the sadistic side of me.) But I also enjoyed showing her pluck and sarcastic side. I hope that this scene makes readers eager to read more, to see how Eloise fares. Will she get her revenge? And how much will she suffer as she tries? As for you, dear reader, pick up "The Best-Laid Plans" to find out.

You can read "The Best-Laid Plans" here.

"The Mayor and the Midwife"

by Edith Maxwell

Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016 (Down & Out Books)


In "The Mayor and the Midwife," the very real mayor of New Orleans comes to Massachusetts to visit his pregnant daughter. Quaker midwife Rose Carroll, from my Quaker Midwife Mysteries, is watching over the daughter. At the mayor's request, Rose takes him to meet her police detective ally, Kevin Donovan, because the mayor is struggling with corruption in his government wants to meet some town officials. The following scene takes place during that meeting.
"Has his wife been informed?" I asked. This kind of shock could easily bring on labor. Her baby might be mature enough by now to survive the birth, or might not.

"Not yet, ma'am," the officer said.

"I must go to her. My pauvre fille," Joseph said. "You'll come along, Miss Carroll?"

"Of course. Let me quickly pen a note to my next client saying I'll need to cancel. I can hail a boy outside to deliver it."

I looked at the detective. I'd assisted him in several cases by keeping my eyes and ears open in the community, especially in the bedchambers of my birthing women, where secrets were often revealed during their travails. Keven had reluctantly grown to accept my participation.

"If it's murder, I'd like to help by listening, watching, and reporting to thee as I have done in the past," I said.

Kevin nodded. "Then meet me at the Currier steamboat dock after you see to the wife, will you?"

This brief snippet shows the mayor reverting to his native French and the detective conceding to let Rose help with the investigation. It lets the reader know that Rose knows what she's doing when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth, and we hear her musing about the places she can go where Kevin never could. Midwifery turns out to be a great occupation for an amateur sleuth.

You can read "The Mayor and the Midwife" here.

"The Last Blue Glass"

by B.K. Stevens

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, April 2016

 

"The Last Blue Glass" begins with a brief description of a dinner party. Newlyweds Cathy and Frank Morrell are entertaining Frank's mother and brother, plus two close friends. Then the story shifts ahead:
Nine years later, Cathy again stood in the kitchen--not the kitchen of their apartment in Newton Upper Falls or of their house in Virginia, but of their condominium in Brookline. Once again, Mrs. Morrell and Will, and Faye and Brian, had come to dinner. But Frank was dead now, supposedly in an accident. Really, Cathy thought, it had been suicide by car, suicide by alcohol. Really, it had been murder. She thought back to that first dinner party. Even then, there were signs. If she'd seen them, could she have prevented it? Maybe not. And what she was doing tonight wouldn't really set things right. But it was her only way to strike back against things that were wrong.

She gazed at the last blue glass in the cupboard and touched the small bottle in her pocket. I'll fix a special drink for someone tonight, Frank, she thought, and serve it in the glass we chose together. That's all I can do for you now.
In one sense, "The Last Blue Glass" is a whodunit, challenging the reader to watch for clues as Cathy thinks back on her marriage. Which of her four guests does she see as most responsible for Frank's death? Who will be the target of her revenge? In another sense, the story is a portrait of a marriage that goes tragically wrong--not because Cathy and Frank are bad people, and not because they don't love each other. Instead, their marriage--and Cathy and Frank themselves--are destroyed by subtle weaknesses in their relationship, weaknesses hinted at even in the opening paragraphs.

You can read "The Last Blue Glass" here.

"Parallel Play"

by Art Taylor

Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning (Wildside Press)


"Parallel Play" starts out with a simple mistake: Maggie, a young mother, realizes that she's left her umbrella at home and there's a major storm brewing just as her son Daniel's Teeter Toddler class is ending. Fortunately, Walter, the father of another boy in the class, offers to share his own and get Maggie and her son safely to their car. But more troubles are ahead--Walter points out that Maggie's tire might be going flat--and worse, generosity often comes with a price, since Walter soon shows up at Maggie's door for an impromptu playdate. Here's that scene:

Walter stared up through those smeared glasses. "I hate to barge in for a play date unannounced, but given the circumstances . . . "

Maggie shook her head, tried to hold back the tears suddenly welling up behind her eyes, finally found her voice. "It's really not a good time right now. My husband--"

"Away on a business trip." Walter nodded. "I heard you talking to Amy, that's what got me thinking about this, making sure you got home in one piece." He looked at Daniel again, smiled. "Surely you could spare a few minutes for the boys to play."

She nodded--unconsciously, reflex really. "A few minutes," she said. "A few, of course." Her words sounded unreal to her, more unreal than his own now, and even as she said them, she knew it was the wrong decision--everything, in fact, the opposite of what she'd always thought she'd do in a case like this. But really what choice did she have, the way Walter had inserted his foot into the doorway and held so tightly to Daniel's hand?

And then there was the box cutter jittering slightly in Walter's other hand, raindrops glistening along the razor's edge, the truth behind that flat tire suddenly becoming clear.

I hesitated slightly choosing this excerpt since it's nearly halfway through the story--killing any suspense those first few pages might've offered readers who haven't yet read the story. But at the same time, this moment captures in miniature what I was trying to navigate here: the potentially jarring contrasts between what continues to unfold as a very civil conversation (pay no attention to that box cutter, right?) and then the roiling fears, desires, and other emotions underneath that surface.

You can read "Parallel Play" here.

The Authors 

Gretchen Archer is a Tennessee housewife who began writing when her daughters, seeking higher education, ran off and left her. She lives on Lookout Mountain with her husband, son, and a Yorkie named Bently. "Double Jinx" was published by the Great Chickens of Henery Press in October of 2016.

https://www.facebook.com/crimecapers/
Barb Goffman edits mysteries by day and writes them by night. She's won the Agatha, Macavity, and Silver Falchion awards for her short stories, and she's been a finalist for national crime-writing awards nineteen times, including the Anthony and the Derringer awards. Her newest story, "Whose Wine Is It Anyway?," appears in the mystery anthology 50 Shades of Cabernet, which was published three weeks ago. When not writing, Barb runs a freelance editing and proofreading service. She blogs every third Tuesday here at SleuthSayers. In her spare time, she reads, reads, reads and plays with her dog. Learn more about her at

National best-selling author Edith Maxwell is a 2017 double Agatha Award nominee for her historical mystery Delivering the Truth and her short story "The Mayor and the Midwife." She writes the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Her award-winning short crime  fiction has appeared in a dozen juried anthologies, and she serves as President of Sisters in Crime New England. Maxwell writes, cooks, gardens north of Boston with her beau and three cats. She blogs at WickedCozyAuthors.com, Killer Characters, and with the Midnight Ink authors. Find her at


B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens taught English for over thirty years and now writes full time. She's the author of Interpretation of Murder, a traditional mystery offering insights into Deaf culture and sign language interpreting, and of Fighting Chance, a martial arts mystery for young adults. She's published over fifty short stories, most of them in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Eleven of her stories are included in her collection, Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crime. B.K. has been nominated for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards and has won half a Derringer. She and her husband live in Virginia and have two amazing daughters, one amazing son-in-law, four perfect grandchildren, and a smug cat.


Art Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del and Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He has also won two Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, a Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, and his work has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories. He also edited Murder under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015, winner of the Anthony Award for Best Anthology or Collection. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University. Find him at
 
 

 








07 April 2017

To Noir or to Not Noir

by
O'Neil De Noux

OK - so there's talk of an anthology and someone suggested it be a noir anthology. Someone else asked which definition of NOIR would be used. Good question. Glad we have people who are experienced editors to guide this thing.

I've always listed NOIR as one of the ways a mystery is presented as in HARDBOILED, SOFTBOILED and COZY.

As for the definition of NOIR, I bow to Otto Penzler's definition and here is the quote:

"Noir is about losers. The characters in these existential, nihilistic tales are doomed. They may not die, but they probably should, as the life that awaits them is certain to be so ugly, so lost and lonely, that they'd be better off just curling up and getting it over with. And, let's face it, they deserve it Pretty much everyone in a noir story (or film) is driven by greed, lust, jealously or alienation, a path taht inevitably sucks them into a downward spiral from which they cannot escape. They couldn't find the exit from their personal highway to hell if flashing neon lights ponted to a town named Hope. This is their own lack of morality that blindly drives them to ruin."

Pretty specific, isn't it? By that definition, I've written only a few noir stories in the 400+ I've written.

Dave Zeltserman tells us, "There are no heroes in noir."

I agree with both definitions. Then again, I've heard many who belive noir is more about setting and atmosphere. A story or book with a detective as the hero can be noir if it's dark enough. If that's true, then I've written more noir than I realize.

I've read a number of stories in the Akashic Book anthologies (London Noir, New Orleans Noir, etc.) and many do not fit Otto's or Dave's definion and it didn't bother me.



What I'm saying, I guess, is if the editor accepts a story in a noir anthology she or he believes is noir, then it's noir. W. Somerset Maugham tells us, "There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."

And Oscar Wilde did tell us, "A writer is someone who's taught his mind to misbehave."

Maybe the noir discussion is a little like the ones the Sicilian side of family gets into (which includes shouting and biting of hands and putting curses on each other), the one about - is it gravy or sauce. Looks the same to me. I can't figure out of it supposed to be spaghetti and meatballs or meatballs and spaghetti?



www.oneildenoux.com  

06 April 2017

Little Big News: ITW Nominees 2017

The International Thriller Writers have named their nominees for 2017.  COngrats to the short story finalists:
Eric Beetner — “The Business of Death” UNLOADED: CRIME WRITERS WRITING WITHOUT GUNS (Down & Out Books)
Laura Benedict — “The Peter Rabbit Killers” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)
Brendan DuBois — “The Man from Away” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)
Joyce Carol Oates — “Big Momma” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)
Art Taylor — “Parallel Play” CHESAPEAKE CRIMES: STORM WARNING (Wildside Press)

Ride Easy, John Wetton

by Brian Thornton
Heat of the Moment

So just last week I heard about the passing of a mile marker a couple of months back.

I'm talking about John Wetton, an English musician who died from cancer in January.

For those of you wondering, "Who?" he's probably best known as the guy who sang "Heat of the Moment" as lead singer of the rock band Asia back in the 1980s.

But John Wetton was a hell of a lot more than just a singer. He played on three of King Crimson's better albums and on two of Uriah Heep's lousier ones. He toured with Roxy Music and fronted another "supergroup" you likely never heard of called U.K., where he helped foster the career of a young drummer named Terry Bozzio (who went on to fame with Missing Persons in the 1980s).
King Crimson in 1974. John Wetton is on the right.
Music was incredibly important to me growing up. Like all teenagers, I had my prejudices and my reasons for them. This was especially true of music. I loved rock, secretly liked pop and country music more than I cared to admit, and was learning to appreciate soul and jazz.

I had heard of progressive rock, but really had no idea what it was. I knew that I liked bands that were labeled progressive rock such as Canadian power trio, Rush. All that changed the first time I saw the video for Asia's "Heat of the Moment" on MTV at my friend Steve's house.

Asia's first album
That song STUCK with me. I had to hear the rest of the album. Picked it up the next day. "Soul Survivor", "Wildest Dreams", "Time Again", "Cutting It Fine"? There's not a bad song on that album. I still own that original cassette (man, am I dating myself, or what?).

To be clear, Asia was not in the strictest sense a progressive rock band. A "supergroup" in the tradition of such '70s testaments to wretched excess as Beck, Bogert, and Appice, and Blind Faith, Asia was the brainchild of two Geffen records execs. And when you looked at the personnel these guys recruited for their project, Asia definitely fit the supergroup mold.

All four original members possessed solid rock credentials. Drummer Carl Palmer had provided the hammer which powered pomp rock stalwarts Emerson, Lake, & Palmer to '70s chart success. Virtuoso guitarist Steve Howe and well-traveled keyboardist Geoff Downs were both refugees from prog rock pioneers Yes. And the band was built around the songwriting and vocal work of bassist/lead vocalist Wetton (who they recruited first).

Asia's original lineup: Left to Right; Steve Howe, Carl Palmer, John Wetton and Geoff Downes

Put simply, these guys possessed chops and cred. Their first album, the self-titled"Asia" (not to be confused with Steely Dan's 1977 masterwork, "Aja") disappointed critics even as it captivated rock fans.

I was one of the captives.

And like so many "supergroups" before them, Asia peaked with that first album out of the gate. The band got too big too fast, and when the record company began putting pressure on them to replicate the success of the first album, they didn't have anything like the hooks they wrote and worked out for that first album. Then the egos started exploding, and Wetton was kicked out of the band by the same guys who'd brought him in (he drank too much, wasn't a team player, etc.).

He and all of the other original members except for keyboardist Geoff Downes would be in and out of the band for the next two-plus decades, until a reunion tour (2006) and new album (2009) with all four original members. They've released some pleasant stuff since, but it's not anywhere near the quality of that first album.

It can be argued that Asia was never a progressive rock band, their music definitely possessed prog rock elements with pop music production values. This made Asia a sort of gateway drug for me. Without being exposed to them I might never have been intrigued enough to give progressive rock bands such as (Peter Gabriel era) Genesis, or Yes, or Kansas, or even Rush as close a listen as they merit.

Asia–and Wetton–introduced me to a slew of artists who took chances, shook things up, changed up time signatures, and performed at virtuoso levels, all refusing to be bound by convention and live within the accepted strictures of their art. And not just in progressive rock, but in the work of other musicians. Iconoclasts such as Springsteen, the aforementioned Steely Dan, Miles Davis, The Who, The Clash, just to name a few.

Before long it wasn't just in music that I found myself drawn to that variety of rebellion. Literature, poetry, painting, cinema. I've spent my days in search of creative rebels and iconoclasts. And I've striven to strike that tone in my own work, with varying degrees of success.

But it all really started with Asia, and with John Wetton.

When "Heat of the Moment" was released as a single in the United States, the song on the B-Side of the record was called "Ride Easy." Recorded at the same time as the rest of the songs on the first album, it was inexplicably left off of it. In the years since, it's become a concert and crowd favorite and the band performed it a lot.

(You can listen to it here.)

That seems like a fitting final wish for a guy whose work was a gateway for me to so much of what I've found valuable in my life.

Ride Easy, John.

And thank you.