10 July 2017

Just Sitting Around

by Jan Grape

The other day I was just sitting around thinking about what to write for this blog. Nothing much came to mind immediately. But as luck would have it, sitting here finally gave me an idea. I'd ask some writers where they write. Do they have an office? Do they write at the dinning room table? Do they go to an actual office they rent in order to give themselves the atmosphere and the feel of a business. They need the business work place to feel the magic happen.

Through the magic of Facebook, I was able to find out how and where some writers work.

Fran Rizer, one of our Sleuthsayer family and writer the Callie Parrish books says: While I don't have an actual office, I do have a designated small room. I don't own a desk either. My computer and printer sit on an ornately carved Chinese table with a marble top. It came with a matching chair, but I use a standard roll-around office chair with arms, The table is beautiful when you can see it, which isn't often because it's usually cluttered with print-outs for proofing.

Bill Crider, who writes book in every genre but, probably best known for his Clearview, Texas Sheriff Dan Rhodes, (and for the 3 VBKs [very bad kittens] he rescued from a storm drain a little over a year ago and who have a huge following on Facebook and who were never really bad just little kittens.) Bill's upcoming Sheriff is titled, Dead To Begin With, due out in August, from Minotaur Books.
Yes, I have a office. When Judy was alive, she kept the door shut so visitors couldn't see inside. I keep it shut now because I don't want the cats to wander in and disappear. That gives you some idea of its condition. It was designed to be a small fourth bedroom, and it now holds bookshelves on three walls, some of them floor to ceiling crammed with thousands of old paperbacks. I have two computers, a printer, two scanners, an old TV set, a desk and various other items. There's not a lot of room to move around. Naturally, I love it.
Manning Wolfe, an Austin, Texas lawyer, and author of Dollar Signs, a legal mystery set in Austin says: Interesting you should ask about my office because I just re-did my space. We had Bill's mother's 1920's art deco dining room table in storage that I now use for my desk. I use both a desk top and a laptop. My picture window faces out to the patio and into the woods, I love it.

Manning desk Manning rose

I also heard from Harlan Coben,  New York Times Best-selling Author of thirty mysteries and thrillers. Most recent out is Home and upcoming is Don't Let Go, due in late September from Dutton.
He says he doesn't have a work space, that he writes where ever he happens to be sitting. Outside, at the kitchen table, on an airplane, in a hotel room.

Brendan DuBois writes: Once at Bouchceron, I heard Sue Grafton say something to the effect that she's most happiest in her office. The same is true for me. It's my time machine, my dream machine, my own place where I can write, dream, and curse. I write on trips, I write on planes and trains, but my office is my special place. It has books, mementoes, and lots of memories. Oh, and lots of clutter! In its previous life, it was a teenage girl's bedroom before me and the missus moved in. We repainted it and now it's mine, with desk, filing cabinet, and lots of books and book cases.

Brendan DuBois Brendan DuBois

Myself: I have an office, with a desk and a roll-around office chair with arms. Much like Fran described. However, I just couldn't be comfortable in there so I write sitting in my living room sofa using my laptop.

Now I'd like to hear from all of you. Tell me where and how the magic happens at your house or do you have to leave and go to an office?

09 July 2017

The Thrill is Gone

by Leigh Lundin

John Grisham novels draw me in; I enjoy them immensely. The Firm especially appealed to me because it struck close to home, following my stumbling upon massive fraud within one of the largest Wall Street firms. In imaginative moments, I picture a dark, violent response turned into a Hollywood thriller. I could have found myself in a dastardly plot, on the run for my life with a miniskirted damsel as vice presidents and accounting drones dropped dead around me. Excited movie audiences would gasp between mouthfuls of popcorn, women would cry, and children would whisper, “He’s so bwave.”

Twists of tension hallmark a Grisham tale. Some of his novels are sensitive and many explore societal issues, but I most enjoy his thrillers, those with brain versus vicious brawn.

During the holiday, I sat down with The Whistler, which promised to be a thriller. Meh, not so much.

Not every book from a great author turns out brilliantly. S.S. Van Dine said writers should stop after six novels, because no author has more than six good mystery books in him. There’s truth in that and Van Dine went on to prove his own point. He wrote twelve novels, but critics felt the latter half dozen were decidedly inferior.

Problem Number 1

Grisham set his novel in Florida. Mere Mississippi madness can’t match Florida’s lunatic weirdness, no more than New York neurosis nor Indiana insanity can. Florida floats alone in its own sea of bizarre psychosis.

Take for example our governor… please. This man committed the largest fraud in Medicare/Medicaid history… the most sizable medical corruption ever. The fines alone amounted to $1.7-billion, which left him plenty remaining to buy a Florida governorship. We, the real loonies who ignored his corruption, voted him into office not once but twice.

Rick Scott, largest fraud in Medicare/Medicaid history
Florida Governor Rick Scott, largest fraud in Medicare/Medicaid history © Miami Herald

Thus when Grisham’s novel promises the largest judicial fraud in the history of America, the bar is set historically high. The New York Times reviewer failed to grasp this, but the multi-millions discussed in the story don’t come close to real-life frauds, not by Florida standards. Cons and bunco-artists have long prospered in the Sunshine State where mere six and seven figures are pocket change. If Grisham hadn’t promised biggest, hugest, worstest fraud, then we Floridians might have more easily suspended our disbelief.

Problem Number 2

I wanted more characterization, particularly of its heroine, Lacy Stoltz. While the author shortchanged many characters, Grisham delivered better with her short-lived partner, Hugo Hatch. Grisham colorfully describes Greg Myers/Mix, a disbarred lawyer, but abandons him halfway through the book.

Characterization of minor characters shouldn’t come at the expense of major inhabitants, especially the criminal mastermind behind everything, barely fleshed out by the end of the novel. We also learn little about the whistle-blower who started it all.

As for corrupt Judge Claudia McDover, I award a C. The main issue comes from her worrying if a man she sent to death row was truly guilty. Listen, John, we in Florida love to send even innocents to Old Sparky and Gassy Gus and believe me, officials don’t fret about it, they brag about it. Get with the program, man.

I lost count at the number of bitter divorcées in the novel, five or possibly six. Male writers think the way to a woman’s heart is to capitalize on putative anger towards men. Whether this James Pattersonian model is correct, I leave to readers.

Of all the characters, Lacy’s obnoxious, protective brother comes across as the most real. He’s the one guy we can picture in a love/hate way. If all characters were constituted this well, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Problem Number 3

Thrillers should feature thrills or at least suspense. At no time did I believe the heroine’s life was in danger. Her one brush with death came and went so suddenly, neither she nor we had time to fear for her.

Our disbarred lawyer Greg Myers disappears, presumed taken out by the bad guys. Then we’re told he might remain alive, sucking the air out of that danger. His girlfriend’s safety is more problematic, but that’s quickly resolved.

The tension ramps up a little regarding the whistle-blower. Thanks to the foresight of an alarm system and home security cameras, that risk proved minimal. It's no Pelican Brief.

The Firm set a high standard of suspense and tension. When people talk of an exciting Grisham novel, that’s the one that comes to mind. If The Whistler hadn’t been billed as a thriller and hadn’t overhyped superlatives of corruption and badness, it would fall comfortably in the drama arena. As it’s presently marketed, it’s a thriller absent of thrills.

The Grisham We Know and Love

But wait, all is not lost. It’s still an interesting read and Grisham gives us a little of the social commentary he’s noted for, particularly about Florida’s death penalty, which sounds much like my own writings.

Grisham briefly describes Florida’s Starke death row (there’s a self-descriptor!) where 400 men are warehoused in 6×9×9 un-air-conditioned cells, designed to make their remaining time on Earth as miserable as possible.
“Only California had more men on death row than Florida. Texas was a close third, but since it was more focused on keeping its numbers down, its population was around 330, give or take. California, which little interest in executing people, had 650. Florida longed to be another Texas, but its appellate courts kept getting in the way. Last year, 2010, only one man was lethally injected in Starke.”

“Total isolation leads to sensory deprivation and all sorts of mental problems. Corrections experts were just beginning to recognize this, and a movement to reform the practice of solitary confinement was struggling to gain momentum. Said movement had not made it to Florida.”
I’ve touched upon my AmerInd background and mentioned my parents’ disdain for the politically correct ‘Native American’ and ‘Indigenous American’ labels. Grisham is more comfortable writing about First Nation people than many writers. My family couldn’t have agreed more with his observation.
“The term ‘Native American’ is a politically correct creation of clueless white people who feel better using it, when in reality the Native Americans refer to themselves as Indians and snicker at those of us who don’t.”
I award The Whistler a 6.9.

Your View

Have you read The Whistler? What is your opinion?

08 July 2017

Whodunits: Pet Peeves

by B.K. Stevens

Whodunits sometimes seem like the Rodney Dangerfield of the mystery world: They don't get no respect. When people want to make fun of mysteries, they usually make fun of whodunits (probably because these people don't actually read mysteries, so they think all mysteries are whodunits). Even people who do read and enjoy mysteries often look down on whodunits, seeing them as hopelessly formulaic and old fashioned, as not nearly as smart or daring as their cool noir cousins. How often are unabashed whodunits nominated for Edgar awards? To be honest, I can't answer my own question, because I don't keep careful track of such things. But most of the Edgar winners and nominees I've read aren't whodunits. (I've wondered if some of them were really any sort of mystery--but that's a subject for another post, one I'll probably never write.)

Well, I'm unsophisticated enough to admit I love a good whodunit. Most of my favorite mysteries are traditional whodunits--and most of them were written many years ago, back when more people took whodunits more seriously. When I come across a new whodunit that tells an absorbing and believable story, plays by the rules, and still manages to deliver some surprises at the end, I'm both delighted and impressed. And, partly because I love well-done whodunits so much, I get seriously irritated by ones that don't play fair, ones that make things too easy for the detective (and the writer). Here are some of my pet peeves. I won't claim they're anything more than pet peeves, won't try to argue I'm objectively right. I'm simply going to list some things that get on my nerves. Maybe they get on your nerves, too.

  • Unrealistically chatty suspects and witnesses: Most law-abiding people feel some obligation to answer a police officer's questions. Even so, and even if they're not guilty of the crime, they might withhold facts they find embarrassing or painful, as well as facts they think might arouse false suspicions. If a private detective or an amateur sleuth is asking the questions, people are under no obligation to answer. Some people might be so talkative (or so lonely) they welcome any opportunity to spill secrets, but it's hard to believe many people would be that way. Wouldn't most people question the detective's motives, worry about getting in trouble or offending someone, or simply not want to spend the time? Private detectives and amateurs who try to bully people are out of line--they don't have the right to demand that anyone say one word to them. If a private detective or an amateur sleuth showed up at my door, asking for information about a friend or family member, I'd have some questions of my own to ask, and I wouldn't reveal anything unless I got satisfactory answers.

  • Overheard conversations: During the course of a story, a detective might catch a lucky break or two. But detectives should solve crimes by detecting, not by watching clues fall into their laps. If the detective just happens to overhear two suspects conversing and picks up vital information, I'm skeptical; if the detective overhears more than one helpful conversation, I usually stop reading. (An overheard conversation is more palatable if the detective goes to some trouble to overhear it--goes to a restaurant where two suspects always meet for lunch on Tuesday, puts on a wig, poses as a server, practices a French accent, and so on. Then I'll attribute any information the detective picks up to ingenuity and effort, not to dumb luck.)

  • Convenient coincidences:They're as bad as overheard conversations. The detective, too frazzled to keep deducing, goes for a run in the park and happens to spot two suspects sitting on a bench, holding hands and locked in intense conversation--but both have sworn they don't know each other, have never met. Now the detective can confront them with their lies and get them to break down. Or the detective decides to leave a party, puts on a suspect's coat by mistake, and finds a conclusive clue in the pocket. The detective hasn't earned the insights such incidents yield, so I'm not impressed--I'm incredulous and more than a little annoyed. As Ronald A. Knox says in "A Detective Story Decalogue," "No accident must ever help the detective." It was a good rule back in 1929, and it's still a good rule nearly a century later.

  • Culprits picked out of a hat: All the suspects have means, all have opportunity, and all have motives--very different motives: One will inherit a fortune from the victim, one is an angry ex-husband, and one is a business associate who went bankrupt when the victim didn't honor a contract. Several clues point to each. In the last scene, one case-cracking clue proves the would-be inheritor is the culprit, and all evidence about the victim's unhappy marriage and unethical business practices is irrelevant. If the final clue had been different, the culprit would have been different. That's one way of surprising the reader, but it's an easy, artless way. When I read that sort of whodunit, I feel as if all the effort I've devoted to weighing the evidence in ninety percent of the story was wasted. I thought I was working on a puzzle, but it turns out I was working on three separate puzzles. The puzzles don't interlock, and only one was completed--only one mattered. Any pleasure I might have found in being surprised is eclipsed by irritation.

  • Loose ends: As the previous pet peeve made clear, I'm not a fan of mere red herrings. I prefer whodunits in which all clues, no matter how much the detective may misinterpret them at first, ultimately point directly or indirectly to the solution. But if writers can't resist the temptation to throw a mere red herring into the plot, they should at least have the decency to explain it at the end. Years ago, I read a well-written whodunit that had an intriguing plot and some interesting, complex characters--but also had one big problem. I mentioned the book to an old college friend who also loves mysteries. "I think you might enjoy it," I said, "except for one thing." "I know," she said. "I've already read it. You never find out who the baby's father was!" Yes, that was the problem. The murder victim was a young, single woman, and the autopsy revealed she was several months pregnant when she died. So the protagonist's initial investigation focused on three men who might have been romantically involved with the victim and might have fathered the unborn child. Eventually, the protagonist realized the motive for the murder had nothing to do with the pregnancy and focused on other suspects. And the writer never bothered to tie up loose ends by saying who the father was. I understand that it's good to end a mystery at a dramatic moment. I know many readers--and many editors and critics--don't have much patience with the old-fashioned scenes in which suspects gather in the parlor to hear the detective go over all the evidence and gradually zero in on the culprit. But I don't think that's any excuse for leaving loose ends dangling--and leaving readers wondering.  

  • Withholding secrets: Awakened in the middle of the night when the phone rings, the detective listens to what an unidentified caller says, jots down some notes, and goes back to sleep. Later, the detective looks through the victim's appointment calendar, takes out the notes from the phone call, underlines something, and nods sagaciously. But the reader doesn't learn anything about what was said in the phone call or what was written in the appointment calendar until the final scene, when the detective reveals that the bits of information each yielded connected in a surprising way, making the culprit's identity clear. How can readers keep up when the detective knows things they don't? Golden age writers declare such ploys unacceptable. "The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery," S.S. Van Dine says in "Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories" (1928). Knox agrees: "All clues must be plainly stated and described. The detective must not light on any clues that are not instantly produced for the reader." And the oath taken by members of the Detection Club (including Knox, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and E.L. Bentley) asks inductees to "solemnly swear never to conceal a vital clue from the reader."
I could go on. I love good whodunits so much that I have lots of other pet peeves about lazy ones. I'd better stop here, though. I may have already reinforced the stereotype that whodunits are hopelessly formulaic and old fashioned, governed by rigid rules set down nearly a century ago. But some of the rules Van Dine, Knox, and others proposed no longer hold writers back (if they ever actually did). The rules saying whodunits shouldn't have a "love interest" have faded from significance, for example, as have the ones forbidding "subtly worked-out character analyses." The rules whodunit purists still cite with approval are the ones that helped shaped the genre, and they boil down to two simple principles: Be reasonably realistic, and play fair. A whodunit, when it's done right, presents detectives, writers, and readers with difficult but possible intellectual challenges. We're cheating if we make our detectives' job too easy, and we're cheating if we make our own job too easy, too. We shouldn't shower our detectives with unearned clues. And while misleading and surprising readers are essential parts of our job, we shouldn't accomplish them by bombarding readers with completely irrelevant red herrings, or by withholding vital information until the last possible moment. We should treat the whodunit form with more respect. If we do, maybe, just maybe, others will respect it more, too.

Do you have pet peeves about whodunits, or about other kinds of mysteries? I'd love to hear them.

07 July 2017

The Book As Object

By Art Taylor

Michael Dirda's column in yesterday's Washington Post celebrated more than a dozen small presses whose books he recommended for summer reading. Many of these publishers specialize in genre fiction, and a couple are likely already favorites of my fellow contributors here and our readers: Poisoned Pen Press, which publishes the British Library Crime Classics series in the U.S., and Wildside Press, which has actually published stories and books by several SleuthSayers, including Barb Goffman's collection Don't Get Mad, Get Even, B.K. Stevens' collection Her Infinite Variety, several of Janice Law's books, including most recently Homeward Dove, and several volumes of the Chesapeake Crimes anthology series, the latest of which features my story "Parallel Play," which you can find here for free. (And while we're talking about "Parallel Play," I'm thrilled that both my story and my SleuthSayers buddy Paul D. Marks' terrific "Ghosts of Bunker Hill" have recently been named finalists for this year's Macavity Award—just find some way to vote for both of us!)

While Dirda's emphasis is on small publishers and summer reading, the column actually brought me back once more to another topic—books as objects—since several of the other publishers focus on high-quality, illustrated hardcovers, often in limited editions. In his column, Dirda himself contrasts one publisher from the next in these same terms. Writing about The Folio Society, Dirda asks, "Are these the most beautiful books being published today?" and then later in the column, he notes that Wildside's books "aren't fancy" before praising their enormous collection of titles in "fantasy, science fiction, adventure and horror" (and, again, I'd add mystery, of course).

There are a couple of ways to think about books as objects, of course. A reader may well feel some sentimental attachment to a specific book. I still have, for example, an old "junior deluxe edition" of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which isn't in terrific shape but which my mother read to/with me when I was a child. My tattered copy of the first volume of The Norton Anthology of American Literature never fails to transport me back into the classroom at my old boarding school, The Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia. And I treasure a copy of Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies not just because of the joy I take in reading it but also because it was a gift (Christmas? Valentine's?) from an ex-girlfriend—to whom I gave a copy of another Gorey title as a present on the same day!

The book as object can be a container for memories, I guess that's what I'm saying.

Interestingly, that ex-girlfriend was the one who first questioned why I enjoyed special editions of books: first editions, for example, or handsome special printings of some kind. Aren't there the same words in a tattered paperback as in a pricey hardcover? And aren't the words inside what matter?

It's hard to argue with her point—both from a writer's perspective and from a reader's, the words themselves are indeed the most important thing—but at the same time I can't help but admire and enjoy the beauty of a well-made book, holding it in my hands, reading it: an elegant binding, fine paper, original illustrations, etc.

My wife Tara and I have become big fans of those Folio Society books ourselves. Just recently, she ordered their new edition of H.P. Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu & Other Stories, which features some beautiful illustrations by Dan Hillier, and at the same time ordered me the next title in Folio's series of James Bond novels, Dr. No, illustrated by Fay Dalton. I already have the first two in the series (they're doing about one a year), and I anticipate continuing to collect the rest (I'm a sucker for these things, I know). And as a bonus for ordering two books, Folio sent us a surprise title: The War at the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa, one of my favorite writers. Much appreciated, and a beautiful edition as well. And I've also enjoyed a couple of Folio's editions of other crime classics: Dashiell Hammett's Maltese Falcon and Patricia Highsmith's first three Ripley novels in a nice boxed set.

Another of the publishers Dirda mentioned was Centipede Press, which also produces beautiful editions, limited editions in this case, numbered and signed by author or editor or illustrator or some combination of those. On Dirda's recommendation a few years back, I ordered Centipede's edition of Paul Cain's Complete Slayers, featuring his novel Fast One and all 13 "slayers" stories he wrote for Black Mask and other pulp mags—really his complete fiction. The edition features an illuminating biographical and critical essay by Max Allan Collins and Lynn F. Myers Jr., plus original cover art by Ron Lesser along with a gallery of covers of previous editions of Cain's books/collections. It's really a stunning volume start to finish, as is another book I picked up from them, Speak to Me of Death: The Collected Short Fiction of Cornell Woolrich, Volume One (which reminds me I need to order volume two soon as well).

And yes, Cain's and Woolrich's stories are great too—it's the words that matter most, I agree.

Centipede Press and the Folio Society aren't the only publishers putting out elegant editions of classic works. Beyond those mentioned by Dirda, another favorite publisher, Crippen & Landru, comes to mind as well; I could list a whole group of books they've published which I treasure, and congratulations to Jeffrey Marks, who recently took over the press's operations from founder Douglas Greene and promises to continue their fine work. But beyond a continued listing of publishers or of favorite special editions on my own shelves, a question: Does the specific edition/printing of a book matter to you as a reader—first editions, special editions, or those volumes with sentimental resonance—or does it make no difference at all? 

(Postscript: It wasn't by design that the two covers here feature scantily clad women, though seeing them together reminds me of J. Kingston Pierce's wonderful blog Killer Covers (a companion site to The Rap Sheet), which celebrates classic pulp titles with often provocative artwork, a different group of special and collectible editions!)

06 July 2017

Hybristophilia, or How Erik Menendez Got A Girl in Prison

by Eve Fisher

A while back, I was sitting in the chow hall at the pen, talking with a young (early 20s) prisoner who was having relationship problems.  You see, he'd gotten involved with a woman through the mail.  A literal pen-pal.  Nice woman.  Little older than him, but still hot.  And she really liked him.  A month after their first face-to-face visit, she moved to the area so she could see him every week.  Two months later, and she wanted to get married.  Like in a couple of weeks.  He was really flattered, but he was also really kind of freaked out, because things were happening so fast, and what did I think?  I told him "DON'T DO IT!"  Then I brought in another of our outside volunteers, a father-figure to the guys, who heard the story and also said, "DON'T DO IT!"

Hybristophilia is defined as a sexual fixation on "a partner known to have committed an outrage, cheating, lying, known infidelities or crime, such as rape, murder, or armed robbery." All right, Wikipedia says its a sexual perversion, but you tell that to the people who are into it.  Plus, there's not a lot of actual sex involved.

(Maximum-security prisons don't allow conjugal visits.  Nor do federal prisons of any level.  And only four states - California, Connecticut, New York, and Washington allow conjugal visits in lesser-security prisons.)

And God knows there's not a lot of money involved, either.  If anything, money is generally going to flow from the outsider to the prisoner.  Money to help pay for the prisoner's phone time, stamps, commissary, odds and ends...  In fact, and forgive me for bursting anyone's bubble out there, but one of the main reasons that a lot of prisoners write to outsiders in a friendly to ever-increasing romantic vein is specifically to get money.  And they're often very successful.
BTW, prisoners also write attorneys, of course, to get help, and they send judges either bogus lawsuits or outright threats.  I remember at the courthouse, whenever something from the pen arrived for the judge, we'd all gather around - judge, court reporter, myself (circuit administrator), state's attorney, bailiff, etc. - and read the latest idiocy.  My favorite was a lawsuit demanding that the sheriff depose each and every officer of the court for high crimes and misdemeanors, listing everyone by name.  Except the judge. Finally, at the very end, there was a little handwritten note saying, "____, sorry I forgot you, asshole!"  You've got to be fairly stupid to send out stuff like that, not to mention "I'm going to take a shotgun to your head" to a judge, when your full name, prisoner number, and cell number is on the envelope...  
So, no sex, no money - why would someone get involved with a prisoner?  Why would someone write love letters to a total stranger?  Want to date them, through a glass/mesh screen?  Want to marry them in the visitors' room?  ???

Well, in some cases, there's the fame factor.  For those who write/wrote to Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, the Menendez brothers, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, part of the charm, apparently, is getting in on the modern obsession with celebrity.  No, it doesn't matter how horrendous the person is, or how heinous their acts, by God if they're famous, they're a celebrity, and by becoming their girlfriend/boyfriend, you become a celebrity, too!  You might get in on the media spotlight, get a book deal, a movie deal, or the body!

CharlesManson2014.jpg
Charles Manson in 2014
  • NOTE:  Not kidding about the body.  Did you know that, in 2015, at 80 years old, Charles Manson cancelled his upcoming penitentiary wedding to 27-year old Afton Elaine Burton, now known as Star, because he found out she was hoping that, after he died, she'd get his corpse, put it on display in a glass case in LA, and charge people to see it?  (Charles Manson has always been a little smarter and saner than he looks.)
  • DOUBLE NOTE:  With regard to my last blog-post, Bullying 101, where I talked about Rush Limbaugh (and others) objecting to Michelle Carter being convicted of manslaughter for texting her boyfriend to suicide, saying that it's a violation of the First Amendment to "start penalizing people for things they say or things that they think, but don’t actually do":  Let's all remember that Charles Manson got life in prison without parole, for exactly what he said, and nothing that he did.  He was nowhere near either of the murder scenes.  So far, I haven't heard anyone objecting to his sentencing...

Anyway, back to reasons why people want to write to, date, have sex (or not) with, and/or marry prisoners.  According to Katherine Ramsland, professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University,
  • "Some believe they can change a man as cruel and powerful as a serial killer."
  • "Others 'see' the little boy that the killer once was and seek to nurture him."
  • "Then there's the notion of the 'perfect boyfriend'. She knows where he is at all times and she knows he's thinking about her. While she can claim that someone loves her, she does not have to endure the day-to-day issues involved in most relationships. There’s no laundry to do, no cooking for him, and no accountability to him. She can keep the fantasy charged up for a long time."   (Wikipedia)
Image result for goldfinger novelBTW, men also write to female prisoners.  I think many of them are also looking for the perfect girlfriend, who requires nothing (but a little money).  I also think that some of them are looking for a future drug mule or sex slave, and a female prison is a good place to recruit:  many female prisoners have already been so abandoned, abused, in every sense of the word, and so many of them have father issues, self-image issues, etc., that they are willing to do just about anything for anyone who seems to care for them.

Of course, there's also the occasional female serial killer, like Aileen Wuornos, who would be perfect for the man who wanted to tell himself that he can nurture the little girl she once was, and/or wants to see if he can change the serial killer the way James Bond changed Pussy Galore on the last page of "Goldfinger". (Even at twelve years old, I knew that was nothing but Ian Fleming's fantasy...)

Meanwhile, I talk to guys up here in South Dakota who are in their 20s and already have anywhere from two to nine children by two or three or four different women, and now have a girlfriend they met while in the pen.  They don't even begin to grasp how much trouble they're in even before they get out.  I understand why they keep having sex whenever they can - it's fun, free, and so far isn't illegal - but why won't they use condoms?  How are they going to support all those children?  How are they going to pay child support, make court-ordered restitution, and pay bills when they'll be lucky to get a minimum-wage job?  Sigh...

Not that our hybristophiliacs necessarily have any idea of the prior commitments their new prison romance has.  After all, it's the rare prisoner who's going to cough up things like ex-wives, current wives, children, and any other financial obligations or debts.  Or their personality flaws.  Or the truth about their crime(s)...   Hybristophilia is somewhere between kinky romance and lion-taming.  Either way, it's dangerous.  Either way, it's unreal.  (You don't really know someone until you've actually lived with them, and even then it helps if you've been together through a bad vacation complete with rain, food poisoning, broken-down car, and a fleabag motel with no heat.)  Yes, there are exceptions, where two people genuinely connect through letters and visits; where the prisoner eventually gets out, and they do marry/live together and it all works out.  Two points:  (1) These are very rare.  (2) None of these have been with serial killers.

But the fantasy lives on.



05 July 2017

Not a Butterfly Collection

by Robert Lopresti

Let's start with this fact: In 1940 the U.S. Census-takers recorded about 1,500 women working for the railroads as engineers, mechanics, etc.  In the published records they were listed as "Tailors and Tailoresses."  Because they couldn't have really been doing those jobs, right?

For the past two years I have been working on a nonfiction book.  Not related to mystery, alas.  It is more about my day job as a government information librarian. 

WHEN WOMEN DIDN'T COUNT (published by Praeger last week) is a book about how women have appeared and disappeared in federal statistics over the past 200 years.

 The feds collect statistics on a lot of different subjects, so my book covers a lot of topics as well.  But I'll just give you some examples from the four chapters related to our favorite topic, crime.

  • The government's first survey on stalking and harassment had to be redone when it was discovered that it had accidentally included data about spam email and calls from bill collectors.
  • Congress passed the Mann Act in 1910 to forbid transporting females across state lines for immoral purposes.  It was intended to combat "white slavery," i.e. forcing women into prostitution, but it was often used against adulterers instead.  The Supreme Court quickly ruled that women who traveled willingly could be convicted of "conspiring" to transport themselves.
  •  The 1880 Census lists all the crimes for which women were in prison.  There are plenty of predictable offenses, plus a few that might get you writers out there pondering.  For example: 

  • The National Institute of Mental Health started collecting data on domestic violence in 1968 and concluded that it was a problem of "epidemic proportion," but they didn't mention this news to anyone until a decade later when Representative Barbara Mikulski started holding hearings on the subject.  Exasperated, the Congresswoman declared: "Well, this isn't a butterfly collection, ladies and gentlemen, that people gather for their own private enjoyment.  This is public dollars to get public information to help the American people."
  • The 1970 report Crimes of Violence explained the concept of "victim precipitation," meaning that the victim sometimes "contributes to the commission of the offense."  Examples included when "a wife has masochistic needs that are satisfied by her assaultive husband," or when "a female engages in heavy petting and, at the last moment, begins to resist the man's advances."  The report concluded that 4% of rapes fell into that category.
I examined well over  a thousand sources in putting this book together but now I get to tell you about my favorite.  In 1907 Congress authorized a study of how working outside the home affected women and children.  There was debate over whether the Constitution permitted such a thing, and the Southern states were worried that the result would be a hit job against them, since most child workers were in that part of the country.  Nevertheless, a 19-volume report was eventually issued, and you can read it all online.
But what I want to recommend is Volume 15, Relation Between Occupation and Criminality of Women.  Author Mary Conyngton was assigned to investigate the popular assumption that jobs in newfangled places like department stores and factories were leading women to a life of crime.  Her whole book is still readable, and fascinating.

The passage below, in which she quotes from an unnamed "worker specially qualified to speak on the subject" is worth quoting in full: 

The belief you mention in the general immorality of saleswomen is certainly widespread, but I have found nothing to prove it well grounded.  In the course of some investigations into the methods by which department stores seek to secure and retain the trade of the professionally immoral women, a trade which, as you probably know, is considered exceptionally valuable, I came on something which may throw some light on the existence of the belief.  Mr. _____, who was first a department store manager in several large stores, and then himself established a millinery business, said he had found the best way of gaining and holding this trade was by having a forewomen who was "in" with such women, which of course meant that she herself led an immoral life, thus being able to meet them in the way of friendship, and to gain their trust in a natural manner.

"Didn't you find such a forewoman had a bad effect on your other employees?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied, "she certainly did get some of the others into her habits.  But as soon as I found out they were going that way, I discharged them."

 Ah, the good old days.  May they never return.





04 July 2017

Dialogue to Die For

by Barb Goffman

Remember the TV show "Name That Tune"? The idea was to see how few notes of a song a person could hear and correctly name that tune. I don't know how well I'd do on that show, but if there were a "Name That Movie" show, I would clean up--assuming they asked about movies I've seen. Spoken dialogue, I've found, sticks with me. I adore snappy and heartfelt dialogue in books too, but for whatever reason, I don't retain it the way I do dialogue from movies and TV shows. (You'd think, then, that I would have good recall for dialogue from audio books, yet not so much.)

Anyway, I started thinking about ear memory the other day when I turned on the TV. I wasn't looking at the screen. All I heard was, "Always," and I knew it was the late Alan Rickman as Professor Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II. (I might have seen that movie a few times.) That one word transported me back right to the exact scene in the movie. Rickman delivered it perfectly, revealing so much about Snape's character. Even now, recalling the scene breaks my heart a little all over again.
Alan Rickman 

Of course, Rickman had help. His dialogue was written for him. Great dialogue depends on the team of great writers and great actors working together, as well as the folks who add the background music that adds drama or tugs at your heart. When done right, dialogue can be magical. I only need hear certain words or a sentences in the right voice, with the right rhythm, and I know the film. I'm transported in my mind right back to that scene.

Here are a few examples. They may not be the most well-known from each movie, but they certainly stand out:

"I want the truth!" "You can't handle the truth." Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men

"You can't kiss her!" Sally Field in Soapdish

"Why can't I write shit like this?" Whoopi Goldberg in Soapdish

"Shall we play a game?" Joshua (computer) in War Games (even a computer can make dialogue memorable)


More Alan Rickman
"There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?" Emma Thompson in Love Actually

"Oh jeez. I'm getting pulled over. Everybody just pretend to be normal." Greg Kinnear in Little Miss Sunshine

"I guess it comes down to a simple choice. Get busy living or get busy dying." Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption

"And for what? For a little bit of money. There's more to life than a little money, you know. Don'tcha know that?" Frances McDorman in Fargo

"You don't really know how much you can do until you stand up and decide to try." Kevin Kline in Dave

"Here's looking at you, kid." Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca

"A toast to my big brother, George, the richest man in town." Todd Karns in It's a Wonderful Life (It's interesting that one of the most memorable lines in the film is from a minor character.)

And even more Alan Rickman
"I'll have what she's having." Estelle Reiner in When Harry Met Sally (another minor character who steals the scene)

"By Grabthar's hammer, by the sons of Warvan, you shall be avenged." Alan Rickman in Galaxy Quest

"Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride


"You're going to the cemetery with your toothbrush. How Egyptian." Robin Williams in The Birdcage

"Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?" Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark

"It was like ... magic." Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle 

"I'm not crazy. I've just been in a very bad mood for forty years." Shirley MacLaine in Steel Magnolias

"But I don't want to be a pirate." Jerry Seinfeld in Seinfeld

"I'm not insane. My mother had me tested." Jim Parsons in The Big Bang Theory

Alas, not Alan Rickman
but still wonderful



"As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly." Gordon Jump in WKRP in Cincinnati

Inspired to go watch a great movie or to try to write your own memorable dialogue? Great. But before you go, please share your favorite movie or TV show line(s) of dialogue. The lines that stick with you, that you remember sometimes out of nowhere. The words that transport you and make you smile. And if you know how to make dialogue on the page stand out in memory the way spoken dialogue does, please let me know. I'm open to any and all tips.

And to all of you in the United States, happy Independence Day!

03 July 2017

Fade to Black...

by Steve Liskow

I'm currently in the sixth draft of my latest Chris "Woody" Guthrie novel. Even though I know him and his companion Megan Traine pretty well by now (Starting in 2004, I gathered over 100 rejections for their first book) and the plot points are falling into line almost as if I knew what I was doing, one scene is reminding me of something I learned a long time ago.

Sex scenes are really hard to write well.

Every book sets its own standards for how explicit or how subtle, and sometimes you figure it out by doing it wrong. If it's too graphic, it verges on porn, and if it's too discreet, it feels prudish or even silly. Obviously, noir or hard-boiled stories allow more process than a cozy or traditional, but even then, you have a little...er, wiggle room.

Remember the Frank Zappa song "What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body?" The punch line is "I think it's your mind." Well, sex scenes really aren't about the choreography of who does what to whom and how much how often as much as they're about the emotions your characters experience.

If you're just putting tab A into slot B and folding appendage C over corner D, you're writing porn. Janet Evanovich discussed Stephanie Plum's frolics with a fair amount of detail, but also with large doses of humor. If you add humor, which chick lit romance writers--Jennifer Crusie, Jayne Anne Krentz, and Rachel Gibson, to name a few--do, it's much better. I admit, I read chick lit for the terrific dialogue. Yeah, sounds like when we were in college and claimed we read Playboy for the interviews, doesn't it?

Dennis Lehane's novels featuring Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro never describe their activities in much detail, but have any readers ever doubted for a second that they had a very hot sex life? Don Winslow, on the other hand, has a scene in California Fire and Life (one of my favorite crime novels) with Jack Wade and Letty Del Rio that tells you everything you never wanted to know...and it's perfect. These two have blamed themselves for ruining their relationship and splitting up years before, and now they discover how miserable they've been ever since. The scene is in Jack's head, and, graphic as it gets, it's so vulnerable it hurts to read it.

It's all about context, and sometimes you aren't the best judge. My first few books had some fairly explicit scenes, but I've moved away from that...until this one. In the WIP, Chris and Meg have their first really serious fight over a case and are trying to handle a situation they both botched in their previous marriages. Eventually, there's a hot make-up/apology sex scene. That scene didn't appear in my first draft, but my revising showed me it had to be there. In alternate drafts, it has become more and more graphic, and I've tried it from both Meg's and Chris's POV. I've even put it in and taken it out several times. I've tried it as a flashback, too, and it still doesn't satisfy me.

One more revision and it will go to beta readers. I'm already looking forward to their opinions and may even include three separate drafts of that scene: Meg's, Chris's, and none.

Who ever knew that sex could be so hard?

02 July 2017

Take This Movie, Please.

by Leigh Lundin

John Floyd and Paul Marks cast giant shadows when it comes to films. John is known for the depth and breadth of his movie experience. I’ve managed to name a flick or two John hasn’t seen, but it’s difficult. Paul is recognized for his encyclopedic knowledge of vintage Hollywood. What he doesn’t know about Tinseltown could be loosely packed in a brown derby with room left over for a head.

Occasionally one or another of the rest of us bravely steps up to chat about films. Recently a little article caught my attention, ‘Ignore The Critics! 10 ‘Rotten’ Movies You Should Totally Watch Anyway’. I’m not sure what the word ‘totally’ quantifies in this context, but I liked the point of the article. They led with this list, about half which I’ve seen and a couple I wouldn’t have minded seeing.
The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby
  • (2013)   The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  • (2013)   The Great Gatsby
  • (2012)   To Rome with Love
  • (2009)   Defiance
  • (2005)   Mr. & Mrs. Smith
  • (2004)   50 First Dates
  • (2004)   Troy
  • (2003)   Eurotrip
  • (2001)   A Knight’s Tale
  • (2001)   Wet Hot American Summer
Take, For Example…

Take the Ben Stiller version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It’s less fanciful and more in tune with today’s world of corporate closings and layoffs, in this case the shuttering of Life magazine. It’s flawed, as are most of the movies on this list and yet it’s a satisfying romantic comedy.

Like Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler made early gross-out movies, but also like Stiller, he can be genuinely funny and play sensitive rôles. To me, 50 First Dates is better than this list. It presents an original problem, one Sandler is determined to resolve, the fact his new love’s short-term memory means she forgets him the next day. Out of these ten, it’s my clear favorite.

50 First Dates

With half an eye on the small screen whilst doing paperwork, I watched Troy in one of those 2AM television time slots. It’s the one movie I would recommend only if your Netflix expired, your local Red Box dispenser broke, you don’t have enough light to read a tattered Danielle Steel novel, and you couldn’t even find your kids’ Bugs Bunny tape under the sofa. It survived in rental stores for, well, weeks by our teary, cat-loving gentle sex who watched and rewatched 2¾ hours of a naked Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, and Australian muscle Nathan Jones. It’s a pretty bad two hours and forty-three minutes you’ll never get back, but I give it points for a clever explanation of the Achilles’ heel legend.

Troy: Rose Byrne et Brad Pitt

Take Two

While I usually consult critics (Rotten Tomatoes, IMdb), I occasionally defy the experts. I might see a movie because it’s a plot taken from a favorite mystery or speculative fiction writer. When it comes to science fiction, most critics find themselves strangers in a strange land; they don’t grok the genre. (There’s a sci-fi reference.) That’s why SF reviews are often meaningless.

Ever wonder why the movie sound system is called THX? In my student poverty days (as opposed to my writer poverty days), I sometimes visited a pocket-sized dollar movie house off New York City’s Union Square. One afternoon they showed what’s now called a cult film, George Lucas’ THX-1138. It was considered beneath review by major newspapers. It ran on a bit, but I liked it.

THX-1138

My film-fanatic friend Geri should meet John Floyd. When I feel like a movie, I give her a call and she’s always up for a celluloid fix. She’s open-minded, so we’ve seen quite a range from 50 Shades of Grey (lush photography, great music, sad-ass plot) to The Accountant (violently clever). Despite the critics, we recently opted to see The Book of Henry.

The Book of Henry

Rotten Tomatoes’ critics weighed in at a low, low 23%, but audiences tripled that rating. Critic Susan Wloszczyna came up with the cleverest line in her review: “Every book needs an editor.” Zing. It’s true.

Henry's treehouse
We liked the film, the characterization and the childhood atmosphere, but it’s definitely not a children’s story. No child plans a murder and no mother carries it out… not in the real world and not in fantasy, but that’s the premise of the second half of the plot. Clearly the script writer failed to grasp that precept. British critic Kate Taylor said, “I began to wonder if [the screen writer and director] had ever met any children.”

By now, you’re probably wondering how we managed to like anything about it at all, but the setting, character concepts, and acting helped offset a script that lost its way. I simply wish the writer had thought longer and harder about a smarter way to handle his premise. It’s one of those stories where you’re pretty certain you could have written a better outcome.

Take Three

Sometimes I find myself on the opposite side of critics when they over-rate a film. An example is the 2015 The Witch (title stylized as VVitch). Rotten Tomatoes’ critics tipped the scale at 91%. It might have been atmospheric, but it contained absolutely no plot, none, zip. It consisted of nothing more than a series of scenes that were supposed to lead up to… something… but didn’t. Leave it to Puritans to sour a modern day movie about Puritans.

Rotten Tomatoes gave 2013’s Gravity a 96% rating. Think of it as 2001: A Space Odyssey where HAL ate the script. The space scenes were meticulously, even beautifully filmed, but NASA forgot to launch the plot, not much of one at least, mainly a dream sequence. Movie critics aren’t the only ones who don’t understand science fiction… sometimes movie makers don’t understand it either.

Pia Zadora in Butterfly
Pia Zadora in Butterfly
I’ve already written about a poorly (and unfairly) received film, 1982’s Butterfly with Stacy Keach, Pia Zadora, and Orson Welles. Sometimes trashing a movie has nothing to do with the film itself.

Let’s spare a moment to talk about Django Unchained, the 2012 Tarantino movie. My acquaintances found it incomprehensible, but I give it marginally passing marks. My gripes weren’t the same as my friends. Tarantino bragged how much historical research had gone into the film, but its anachronisms overwhelmed the story. I quit counting historical inaccuracies when I ran out of 9.5 fingers. (Friends will recognize another in-joke) Yes, I gave it a passing grade– barely– but I’ve thought for some time Quentin Tarantino is way over-rated. His sense of color, style, and violence stands out among less colorful directors, but I suspect future film classes will look back and wonder what the hell we were raving about.

Take Four

What’s your take? What poorly rated films make up your guilty-pleasures list? And what films received high ratings that mystified you?

01 July 2017

Mags and Anthos


by John M. Floyd




The other day R.T. Lawton and I were e-chatting about the new issue of AHMM--this isn't the first time he and I have been fortunate enough to be featured together in those pages--and we got onto the subject of submitting stories to mystery magazines and anthologies. And it occurred to me, also not for the first time, that these days I seem to be focusing as much on anthologies as on magazines.

Names and titles

There are probably several reasons for that. One: There aren't a lot of mystery magazine markets to submit stories to, lately. The longtimers are AHMM, EQMM, The Strand, Woman's World (they publish one mystery and one romance in each issue), and electronic zines like Mysterical-E and Over My Dead Body. (Am I leaving anyone out?) More recently, we also have Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, BJ Bourg's Flash Bang Mysteries, the upcoming Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and a few others.

And there seem to be more anthologies out there now than there were in the past. Either that, or I'm now more aware of them. Besides regulars like the annual MWA antho, the Bouchercon antho, etc., there are a lot of anthologies from places like Down & Out Books and Level Best Books. As has been mentioned before at this blog, there are some excellent websites (Ralan.com and Sandra Seamans's My Little Corner are two that come to mind) that allow writers to stay up to date on which anthos are out there and which are issuing calls for submissions. Occasionally I've been lucky enough to be asked to contribute a story to an upcoming anthology--and I have yet to turn one of those invitations down.

NOTE: This discussion does not include the annual "best-of" anthologies like Best American Mystery Stories, Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, etc.

Assets and liabilities

What are the advantages of magazines over anthologies, and vice versa? Well, for one thing, the leading magazines usually give a writer more exposure and (sometimes) higher pay than an anthology. Also, since some of the magazines have been in place for a long time, most mystery writers are already familiar with the kind of submissions those publications want and don't want.


Another point: When you publish in a well-known magazine, whether it's print or online, your story will probably be in their archives forever, like an episode in a TV series. Magazines, like newspapers, are periodicals; an anthology is more of a one-time event, there and then gone, and its individual stories are possibly not as easily retrievable in the future. The flip side of that argument, of course, is that anthologies give the aspiring writer the chance to have his or her work appear in a "real" book, and sometimes alongside big-name authors.

Another item on the plus side of the ledger for anthologies is the fact that, in some cases at least, the response time for stories submitted to anthos is less than for stories submitted to magazines. Also, you might face less competition that you would at the leading magazines, because of the often-tight submission windows for anthologies. Some writers don't find out about these "calls" until it's too late, and even if they do, there might not be enough time for them to write or re-vamp a suitable story. Besides, most anthologies are themed, and that alone can thin the herd. If you can't write (or find in your inventory) a story that fits the theme, you're out of luck.

There are at least three things that I've heard about anthologies that are sometimes considered to be advantages, but aren't. One: Anthos are more likely to accept reprints. Well, some are, and some are not. There are a number of magazines, especially e-zines, that will consider reprints as well. Two: Anthologies, since they sometimes pay via royalties, are a better financial opportunity for the writer. Untrue. As mentioned earlier, this depends solely on the publication--and on how well the book sells. Three: An anthology's editor is often a fellow author, and might be a friend or acquaintance and therefore more apt to squeeze your story in. That's certainly possible--but I consider myself a friend to several magazine editors, and I assure you that doesn't guarantee publication. The best editors, regardless of the kind of market they oversee, are more interested in acquiring quality stories than granting their buddies a free pass.

Questions and answers

I haven't gone back and studied the statistics, but I suspect that I now submit about the same number of stories to anthologies as to magazines. My question for you short-story writers is, how about you? Do you actively search out antho submission calls? Are you ever invited to submit? Do you usually stick to the tried-and-true magazines instead? Do you ever target non-mystery magazines with your crime stories? Do you use either of the market-listing sites I mentioned, and maybe some others also? What has your success rate been, for both magazines and anthologies?


One market we haven't talked about is collections of your own short stories. Have any of you tried publishing collections of your shorts, either at big or small traditional presses? Any successes there? If so, did those books consist mostly of your reprints or of your original stories? Has anyone self-published a collection, maybe via Amazon? Any experiences you'd be willing to share with the class?

Thanks in advance. And meanwhile, keep writing!



30 June 2017

Typos, Grammar and Writer Instusion

by
O'Neil De Noux

Persian rug. Lisan al-Gaib.

Errors in books are like fleas. And some of my books are infested with them. I tried Advantage, Advantage II, Revolution. They don't work.

I first spotted these bastards in my books published by Zebra (Kensington) but no one called me on them because there was no email back then. Hell, they didn't alter the books and after the publisher corrected the spelling of my name on the cover of the first book, I blew it off.

I noticed errors again after one of my short stories was selected and reprinted in a Best Of anthology. The femme fatale's eyes changed color midway through the story. I thought - how the hell did the editor do this - until I went back to my original submission version and I had done it. I checked the magazine that first printed the story and the editor there didn't catch the mistake either. That story has been published 5 times now and no editor or reader has ever caught the error. Then again, maybe the only six people ever read the story. Me and the editors.

On the rear cover of my LONE Hurricane Katrina novel, we spelled the name of the hurricane as Karina. No one noticed. Two years later, I did and quickly made the correction. One of the benefits of print-on-demand books is the ability to instantly correct all subsequently printed volumes. How did we miss that?

When we formed BIG KISS PRODUCTIONS, we gathered a number of people fed up with the way they were treated by traditonal publishers - writers, editors, copy editors, artists, artist models, photographers, publicists, literary attorney, literary agent and proof readers. We are responsible for the entire production of each publication. Everything we do is checked and rechecked at least 8 times by multiple people and there are STILL errors. Frustrating? Yes. Infuriating at times? Absolutely. But mistakes happen.

I find errors all the time in traditionally published books. It happens. No big deal. I know Mark Twain knew how to spell 'season' and Kate Chopin's editors know it is 'lullaby' and not 'lulaby'.

Kate Chopin, a Louisiana writer

A reader once scolded me at a writer's event about two typos she found in my BATTLE KISS (a book of 320,000+ words). She said she expected perfection in a book that cost her $4.99. That's the eBook price. That's right - 5 bucks. I spend more than that for coffee these days.

I have come up with an re-usable answer to this question and I used it with that woman. I said, "We always leave a typo or two in every book. We follow the lead of persian rug makers who explain why they always drop a stitch in each rug because only Allah is perfect."

She asked what I meant by that. I repeated, "Only Allah is perfect." I then added, "Lisan al-Gaib." Her eyes went wide and she sat down. Didn't bother telling her "Lisan al-Gaib" has nothing to do with any real religion but is a phrase from Frank Herbert's great novel DUNE.

If you wanna talk grammar, call Cornac McCarthy.

"But he broke the rules," said in a whiney voice from the monkey gallery. "That's not the Queen's English."

Well, I don't use the Queen's English either. I don't even use English. I use a bastardized form of English called American English. And not Ivy League American. I use New Orleans American. If I don't remember the grammar rule, I make up my own rule. Bottom line - if you can undestand what the writer means to express - then what the hell are you griping about? This ain't grammar school. Writers are artists. Would you go into Picasso's studio and tell him those last few strokes should go another way?

Writer intrusion? Check out Thomas Harris's HANNIBAL or Harlan Ellison's brillant short story "The Deathbird" HUGO Award winner for 'Best Novelette' where he intrudes in a story about the end of the world with, "Yesterday my dog died." The author gives is a touching tale about his dog, which of course connects to the theme of the piece, but he INTRUDES.



"But it interrupts us. It reminds us this is a BOOK." Right. That's what you're holding in your damn hand (unless it's a Kindle).


Kindle Paperwhite

That's all for now folks.
www.oneildenoux.com