06 February 2018

Stiffed

by Michael Bracken

When I began writing crime fiction in the early 1980s, many magazines published mysteries, but there were only three mystery magazines—the digest-sized Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. (Two more digests were soon to join them, the short-lived Espionage Magazine, which published fourteen issues beginning in December 1984 and ending in September 1987, and the even shorter-lived The Saint Magazine, which published three monthly issues—June, July, and August—in 1984.) I was deep into my career before I cracked EQMM and even deeper before I cracked AHMM, but four of my first seven published mysteries appeared in Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

My first two mysteries appeared in Gentleman’s Companion (“City Desk,” January 1983; “Adam’s Rib,” March 1983) and my third appeared in Mike Shayne that same year. “Vengeance to Show in the Third” (October 1983)—the story of an ex-jockey, a girlfriend who isn’t who she appears to be, and race fixing—was clearly influenced by reading Dick Francis. Just like my initial sale to Espionage, I targeted the men’s magazines first and, after rejections from Hustler, Gallery, Stag, and Cavalier, I stripped out 500 words of graphic sex and submitted the story to Mike Shayne on March 8, 1983. A postcard from editor Charles E. Fritch dated July 10 notified me of my first Mike Shayne acceptance.

I described the genesis of “With Extreme Prejudice” (August 1984), my second appearance in the magazine, in “You Only Live Twice,” when I explored by brief foray into writing spy fiction.

The story of an insurance investigator who steals from the company’s clients, “A Matter of Policy,” my third appearance in Mike Shayne (February 1985), was also first submitted to several men’s magazine. After rejections from Hustler, Playboy, Gem, Buf, Cavalier, Gallery, and Swank, I stripped out 600 words of graphic sex and saw the new version rejected by The Saint Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine before acceptance by Mike Shayne on November 11, 1984. Unlike the postcards I received for the first two acceptances, this one came typed at the bottom of a rejection for another story. (The rejected story, “All My Yesterdays,” finally saw publication in Suddenly V [Stone River Press, 2003] and, in 2004, earned a Derringer Award for Best Flash.)

My final appearance in Mike Shayne—“The Great Little Train Robbery” (June 1985), the story of a gang preparing for a train robbery—is the first story the magazine published that did not start life intended for a men’s magazine. AHMM, Spiderweb, and EQMM all passed on the story before Mike Shayne accepted it February 13, 1985, and “The Great Little Train Robbery” has become one of my most-often reprinted short stories: Detective Mystery Stories, September 2002; Sniplits, April 2008; and Kings River Life (as “The Great Train Robbery”), August 19, 2017.

Just like when Espionage bit the dust with an accepted story in its files, Mike Shayne also had an accepted story in its files when it ceased publication in August 1985, and that story—“Fresh Kill”—finally appeared in the April/May 2001 Blue Murder.

(Though The Saint Magazine never published my work, it also accepted one of my stories prior to its demise, and “Sharing” did not see publication until the July 2001 Judas_ezine. That means each of the three mystery magazines that died in the mid-1980s died clinging to one of my stories. Maybe it’s a good thing for us all that neither AHMM nor EQMM began accepting my work until well into the twenty-first century.)

“Unfortunately,” notes James Reasoner, frequent contributor and ghostwriter of many of the magazine’s Mike Shayne stories, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazinehad a habit of not paying their writers unless they were badgered and threatened into it.

Apparently, I never mastered the art of badgering and threatening because Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine stiffed me. I was never paid for the four stories they published.

Unfortunately, they aren’t the last publication to go belly up owing me money.
Of more recent vintage: “Texas Hot Flash” appears in Tough and “Skirts” appears in Black Cat Mystery Magazine #2“Smoked, which first appeared in Noir at the Salad Bar, has been selected for inclusion in this year’s The Best American Mystery Stories.

05 February 2018

Shades of Gray

John Lutz
John Lutz
featuring John Lutz
When I read the Baltimore Bouchercon guest list, one attendee caught my eye, the primary person I’d like to tip my hat to. Big-name authors find themselves inundated with clutching fans, leaving one to wonder– When does adulation grow old? I relegated myself to someone pointing out John Lutz across the room.

Then James Lincoln Warren arranged a dinner party (the same JLW who notes I write excessive introductions). I knew all the attendees except one couple. I introduced myself.

I almost spilled my drink. I wasn’t sure I heard right. The John Lutz and wife Barbara? Ever play the fantasy dinner guest list game? He’s the Victorian era’s equivalent of inviting Arthur Conan Doyle, La Belle Epoque’s homologue of Agatha Christie. John Lutz is my favorite author of my era.

After I gabbled or blabbled, I settled down at dinner, thoroughly charmed. James’ dinner became my Bouchercon highlight. So, when Jan Grape suggested recruiting John Lutz for an article, I nearly fell off my perch.

Credit for today’s article goes to Jan who is experiencing computer woes, else she would be writing this introduction mentioning Edgar and Shamus and movie awards. Unfortunately, she left me the onerous task of introducing John’s article.

So without further yammer and blather, Jan and I take pleasure introducing Mr John Lutz as he talks about his new spy novel.

— Jan Grape, Leigh Lundin



The Honorable Traitors
by John Lutz

How did I come up with the idea for my new series hero, secret agent Thomas Laker? You might assume that since I’ve written books in every other genre of mystery and suspense fiction, it was logical and predictable that I’d turn to espionage. But there’s nothing logical or predictable about coming up with ideas.

Here’s how it happened: I was reading a World War II history book, which set me musing that spies are our modern Cassandras, doomed to prophecy truly and not be believed. German agents found out where the Allied invasion of France was going to happen, and the generals dismissed their report. Soviet agents found out when the German invasion of Russia was going to happen, and Stalin blew them off. 

Not being believed must be a standard frustration of the spy business. I thought: What if there was a small, super-secret agency that operated in a more freewheeling fashion? Its agents, though of course unknown to the public, would be people with high reputations in the espionage fraternity. When employees of the CIA and FBI were being frustrated by bureaucrats and politicians, they’d turn to the people in my agency.

Honourable Traitors
Knowing that when agents of The Gray Outfit receive ‘actionable’ intelligence, they act.

That was the name that came to me for my agency. I decided to call its top agent Thomas Laker.

As my readers know, I like a hero who’s his own man, and does things his own way. My earlier series characters were private eyes in one-man agencies and retired cops who were so good the NYPD had to call them back to work on their own terms.

Laker’s like that, too– though he does have to report to his tough-as-nails boss Sam Mason, head of The Gray Outfit. Luckily Mason has as much disdain for routine methods as Laker.

My readers will also know that my series characters don’t work entirely alone.  Soon enough they meet up with a woman who gets under their skin.

In Laker’s case, it’s a beautiful and brainy NSA codebreaker named Ava North. The secret she brings him that is too hot for anyone else to handle concerns not her work but her family. The Norths have been Washington insiders for generations. The beginnings of the story of The Honorable Traitors go all the way back to World War II, but its unimaginably violent final act will take place in the future… the very near future.

04 February 2018

Hi Infidelity– The Rules have Changed

by Leigh Lundin

Man Faces 15 Years after Catching Wife Cheating

Cast of Characters
• Donis, Sean
37, NJ, husband, father of little tyke, cheat catcher
• Donis, Nancy
38, NJ, wife, unrepentant cheater, new divorcée
• Lopez, Albert
58, NY, unprofessional orthopedist, banger of wives, oblivious Nancy Donis could sue his ass for workplace sexual harassment
• Mcleod, Nabeela
38, NY, prosecutor of really-important-cases, enabler on the side of something or other
Just the Facts, mildly distorted

After an exhausting tax day, Nancy Donis announces she’s dashing out to sup with friends in nearby Elizabeth. “Gotta run, toodles, ta-ta.” Mr Donis is not invited.

Sean Donis remains home to babysit their 4-year-old child. Facing a dinner choice of hotdog tacos, hotdog pizza, or hotdog with cornflakes, Sean looks for the iPad where he kept his unfinished novel.

It is gone, missing. His child doesn’t know about it, the family pooch swears it hasn’t eaten it, and the pet turtle claims it hasn’t seen it since last Tisha B'Av. Where, O where?

Mr Donis turns on his iPhone and activates the app, Where’s my iPad. Instead of hearing beeps from under the sofa, GPS shows the iPad crossing the border into New York.

Possibly he felt fear for her life– car-jackers, mall robbers, hostile Russian political operatives. Perhaps to save her, our protagonist stashes young child with grandmother, puts on cape, and swoops off to the rescue.

At this point, Mr Donis crosses the line, literally, from New Jersey into New York, or from a legal standpoint, from the frying pan into the fire. The iPad leads him into a morally sordid suburb in Pomona in Rockland County. There he finds the family Ford Edge, its hood warm, passionately warm to the touch.

The iPad’s signal leads to a front door… unlocked. Who in their right mind in New York leaves a door unlocked?

In Flagrante Delicto

Armed with only his iPhone, Sean Donis dashes inside. Upstairs he finds wife Nancy with her boss playing swallow-the-leader, hide-the-zucchini and other parlor tricks. In shock, Sean drops the phone.

Lopez, a real-life orthopedic Batman fan, leaps from his insemination experiments to grab Sean. He threatens Donis’ life, demanding to know “if (Donis) wanted to die.”

A devastated Sean says, “Kill me. I don’t care.”

Here we come to the crux of the matter. Professional foot fetisher fondler Lopez is so traumatized threatening the life of the man he’d just cuckolded, he presses charges against his victim.

Rockland County prosecutor Nabeela Mcleod, watching Jersey Shore reruns and bored from polishing her nails hour after hour, jumps on the case. She develops a legal theory her constituent has been victimized when discovered bangin another man’s wife. The prosecutor files burglary and unlawful surveillance charges against the wronged husband, the victimized father. She seeks a 15-year sentence.

Seriously? As Sean’s lawyer says, at worst Mr Donis committed a trespass violation, not multiple felonies.

Poor PTSD afflicted banger Lopez, now aggrieved, says the wife lied and kept her marital status hidden from him, her employer. He claims he didn’t know she was married and living with her husband and child. This contradicts his own testimony when asked, “Did you even think what effect the defendant finding out about you two would have … on their child?” He answers, “Yes.”

Suing the victim sounds like an upside-down alienation of affection tort. Whereas the state once sided with the wronged party, this perpetrator has engaged the state for his own spiteful ends. Lopez has prosecutor Nabeela Mcleod gleefully pursue the poor husband through the courts, adding insult to injury.

Set aside the moral issue, the right or wrong of Mrs Donis and Mr Lopez to ‘bang’ whomever they  wish. The question I pose is whether Lopez and Mrs Donis… and the prosecutor… should punish Mr Donis for catching them in the act?



I might have chosen another word, perhaps politer, perhaps not, but ‘bang’ is the verb used repeatedly in Mr Donis’ court hearing.
Note:
In this sarcastic opinion piece as in all SleuthSayers articles, actions and accusations are ‘alleged’. Don’t sue us– we’re broke.

03 February 2018

"I said, 'He said,'" she said.


by John M. Floyd



We all know there's plenty of room for disagreement in the writing/publishing world: literary vs. genre, characters vs. plot, outlining vs. pantsing, showing vs. telling, first-person vs. third-, simultaneous submissions vs. one-at-a-time, past tense vs. present, self-publishing vs. traditional, and so on. (Thomas Pluck's SleuthSayers column yesterday, mostly about POV issues, is a good example.) One of my favorite discussions, though, is the one about using/avoiding the word "said."

There is apparently a movement now to declare "said" an obsolete word. Its proponents insist that the word is unemotional, boring, and unsophisticated, and that there are many better words we can substitute. The movement's loudest cheerleader, I've heard, is a California middle-school teacher who published a successful book on the subject, and a lot of other educators and writers have climbed onto that bandwagon. One article suggested replacing "said" with "more colorful words like barked, howled, demanded, cackled, snarled, professed, argued, cautioned, remarked, or cried."

Elmore Leonard is probably spinning in his grave. One of the commandments in his 10 Rules of Writing was "Never use a verb other than 'said' to carry dialogue." "Never" seems a little extreme, but I think his point was that "said" is a transparent word--the reader's eye skips right over it. Flowery synonyms for "said" can do the opposite of what I as a fiction writer want to do: they can distract the reader from the story itself, and make him or her think about the writing and the writer rather than what's written. I read somewhere that "said"--and probably "asked" as well--is more like a punctuation mark than a verb. It's unobtrusive.

Also, some substitutes for "said" seem to try to explain or clarify things too much. In the sentence "Get out," she demanded, the attribution verb is redundant--we can see that it's a demand. Same thing with "I beg you," he pleaded or "I feel terrible," she moaned. And believe me, I've seen this in a lot of students' stories. It's amateurish overwriting at best and ("I saw you," he observed) hilarious at worst.

Besides Dutch Leonard (I really miss him, by the way), there are other prominent writers who seem/seemed to prefer the word "said" over its synonyms: Larry McMurtry, Ed McBain, Robert B. Parker, Ernest Hemingway, Lee Child, Joe R. Lansdale, Janet Evanovich, Dennis Lehane, Raymond Chandler, Martin Cruz Smith, Stephen King, William Goldman, and John Sanford, to name a few.

I've rounded up several quotes on this issue of "said" avoidance:



". . . Don't tell me your character 'excaimed,' 'stated,' or 'replied.' When in doubt, just use 'said.' That's all. Maybe they 'answered.' They certainly did not 'retort.' You can use 'said' more often than you think . . . it's one of those words that takes a while before it starts sounding repetitive."
-- Ariel Gore, How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead

"The best form of dialogue attribution is 'said,' as in 'he said, she said, Bill said, Monica said."
-- Stephen King, On Writing

"Mr. [Robert] Ludlum . . . hates the 'he said' locution and avoids it as much as possible. Characters in The Bourne Ultimatum seldom 'say' anything. Instead, they cry, interject, interrupt, muse, state, counter, conclude, mumble, whisper (Mr. Ludlum is great on whispers), intone, roar, exclaim, fume, explode, mutter. There is one especially unforgettable tautology: '"I repeat," repeated Alex.' The book may sell in the billions, but it's still junk."
-- Newgate Callender, in The New York Times Book Review

"Editors and critics often refer to melodramatic dialogue tags as 'said bookisms.' They know that these phrases give our story an amateurish look. Your readers might not know what the darn things are called, but chances are that they'll notice them, too . . . In most cases, the word 'said' would work just fine, and using said bookisms detracts from the dialogue."
-- Ann M. Marble, "'Stop Using Those Said Bookisms,' the Editor Shrieked."

"[Say is] just too simple and clear and straightforward for many people. Why say something when you can declare, assert, expostulate, whine, exclaim, groan, peal, breathe, cry, explain, or asseverate it? I'm all for variety and freshness of expression, but let's not go overboard."
-- Patricia T. O'Conner, Woe Is I

". . . Some teachers, teachers who were themselves not writers, used to warn against the monotony of the word 'said.' This was wrong-headed advice."
-- Rick Demarinis, The Art & Craft of the Short Story

"In journalism circles, said is a virtue--simple, precise, and unadorned--and alternatives to it are considered frilly and silly. You don't have to agree, but be aware that lots of editors hold this view. Choose your alternatives to said with great care."
--June Casagrande, It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences

"We're all in favor of choosing exactly the right verb for the action, but when you're writing speaker attributions the right verb is nearly always 'said.' The reason those well-intentioned attempts at variety don't work is that verbs other than 'said' tend to draw attention away from the dialogue."
--Renni Browne and Dave King, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers



You can tell which side of the argument I'm on, here--I prefer "said," and, if asked, "asked"--but I'm not a sign-waving activist. I tend to throw in some whispers, shouts, and murmurs when I feel like it. And, in all fairness, there are a lot of excellent and successful authors, among them J.K. Rowling, Nicholas Sparks, Salman Rushdie, Nevada Barr, John Irving, Patricia Cornwell, and Jan Karon, who regularly frolic in the synonymial daisies of dialogue attribution and come out smelling just fine. Bottom line is, there'll always be writers who love "said," writers who avoid it like Kryptonite, and writers who lobby for verb diversity. It's just another of those debatable issues of style where some things work for some and not for others.

"The choice is yours," he intoned.






02 February 2018

Career Suicide!!! and Rules Hawkers

Thomas Pluck








Hyperbole intended.

Recently a writer shared a link about How to Avoid Three Career-Killing Moves in Writing.
And being a writer who doesn't want to kill his career, I clicked. Now what were these moves? Going on vitriolic diatribes against reviewers who deign to give you any fewer than five stars? Buying a book by a writer who gave you a bad review, shooting it with a shotgun, and mailing it to her? Spitting on writers you don't like at cocktail parties?*

No! They were:

  • Writing in the present tense
  • Using the third person omniscient
  • Using multiple points of view
I'm not kidding. Now I can pick up successful books that use any of these without even trying. Of course, they need to be done well, but that goes with anything. I just had to laugh. Writers are still peddling The Rules, and using them to further their careers.

Writing workshops and books on writing can have real value, but be wary of anyone who says there are hard and fast rules for writing. Careers have been made on hawking "the rules", but if you read widely in the genre you want to write in, you'll learn what rules can be broken with skill. I recently read Laura Lippman's excellent Wilde Lake and she uses first person for the past scenes, with the narrator as a child, and third person when she's an adult. The point of view never wavers from the protagonist's, but it was an odd choice to use first person for the past and third for the present. But Lippman knows what she's doing, and it works wonderfully.

In my Denny the Dent stories, I have always used past tense for his childhood and present for "now," which annoyed one editor who demanded that I change it all to past tense. That has been corrected in my new story collection, Life During Wartime, which includes three Denny the Dent stories, and 21 stories total. I like to juxtapose childhood and adult scenes, and Lippman's method is very appealing, because children lend themselves to the first person, and adults are better at hiding things about themselves, so the third often works better. It wasn't third omniscient, it was limited to the protagonist, but we learned things about her that she was unlikely to share in first person.



Third omniscient has its place, but mystery often requires the limitations of perspective to "work." But not always. Two of my favorite Lawrence Block novels bounce between first person narratives of his sleuth Matt Scudder and the killer he is hunting, as he commits the crimes. This actually amps up the tension because we know how much danger Matt and Elaine and their friends are in, when from their perspectives, we would have no idea. This gives us the suspense of the bomb under the table rather than the short tension of the murderer appearing from nowhere and the victim dying in terror.

Eva Dolan breaks the rules in her thriller This is How it Ends, which I just started reading. It's gripping so far, and the POV changes are made clear in the chapter headings. That's not my favorite way to do it, but it works fine. But she needs it, because one character is in first and the others are in third. James Lee Burke does this as well in his Dave Robicheaux novels. He's a master, but sometimes this is confusing. Is the third person section what actually happened, or is it Dave telling us what he thinks happened? We can't be sure. In Swan Peak I am told he uses dueling first person perspectives and has them both on a phone call. I can't wait to see how he pulls it off. My buddy Josh Stallings--the author of the Mo McGuire hardboiled L.A. crime thrillers, and his wonderful disco-era heist novel Young Americans--raved about how well Burke handled it, so I have moved that book up my list.

For me, I prefer a loosely limited third and signify changes by beginning the sentence with the character we are following. Sometimes this is called "head jumping" when done too often, but Carl Hiaasen does it well enough, and it is entertaining as both a reader and a writer to get in the heads of bizarre characters. For me, it's fun to change voice and let the characters speak for themselves, rather than through the lens of one narrator, and you can get backgrounds and motives across much more easily than by playing games so the narrator learns it. But I enjoy singular narratives as well. In Bad Boy Boogie, the story revolves around the deceptions of Jay Desmarteaux's friends and family, so I limited the story to what Jay saw, except for one pivotal scene that drives the entire book. His greatest fear is becoming the monster that he killed, so I wrote from the perspective of that monster for one chapter, at the very end, to show the difference between them. Jay may not know the difference, but we do.

If that kills my career, put it on my tombstone.

I'm going to break my own rule and tell you my rules, which you don't have to buy on Kindle or subscribe to my Patreon to learn:

  • Write the best book or story you can in the time you have.
  • Treat people with professionalism and respect.
  • If an editor or agent has rules, follow them when submitting or querying.


Not following these won't kill your career, but they may hinder you getting a career started. I'm not sure what can kill a writer's career if they keep selling books. Killing pets, beloved characters, bouncing away from beloved series to write standalones they love... these have hurt careers, but not always killed them. They return to favorite series characters, revive them like Misery Chastain, and they are back in the saddle... maybe short one foot, like Paul Sheldon in Misery.

* Just kidding, Richard Ford did the latter two of these and still has a career

01 February 2018

Just Another January in South Dakota

by Eve Fisher

I don't know if this made the national news, but the South Dakota media was all over the story of a 72 year old SD man, Daniel Lucas, who snow-birded in winter to Arizona, and who never came back last spring and was missing.  Well, they found him.  He killed himself in his car, they say.  His head was in a box, and his body down in a canyon in Maricopa County.  So how did he get dismembered?  Well, apparently a homeless man, Mattew David Hall. found him in his car, dead, and rather than call the police, he moved the body but kept the head to prove that he hadn't killed him...  And kept it for a long, long, long time...  They say that Mr. Hall has mental issues.  Yah think?  I think the guy kind of looks like Nick Nolte, so there's casting if they ever make a movie of it.

Mattew David Hall


Moving on, we South Dakotans have our own Kremlin connection!  We're so proud.  Paul Erickson, of Vermillion, SD, is a long time Republican campaign operative.  He worked in SD for Trump, and in 2016 Erickson claimed he was on the Trump presidential transition team.  Which is why he sent an email during the 2016 NRA convention to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump with the subtle subject:  "Kremlin Connection":
Image result for paul erickson south dakota
Fun Fact:  Back in 1994 Erickson was an entertainment lawyer
who booked John Wayne Bobbitt
on a “Love Hurts," worldwide media tour.
Subtle, he's not.
"Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump. He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election. Let's talk through what has transpired and Senator Sessions' advice on how to proceed."
No one knows if that meeting took place:  Sessions told the House Intelligence Committee he didn't remember the request.

Okay, so Erickson is also connected to Russian gun rights advocate Maria Butina, who's worked for the deputy governor of Russia's central bank, Alexander Torshin, and who ran a pro-gun group in Russia supported by Torshin.  Erickson and Butina formed a limited liability company called "Bridges" in South Dakota in 2016 (I don't know if it was before or after the Kremlin Connection e-mail), which has an address in a Sioux Falls apartment building and no known actual purpose.  (Can't even find it on the web, dag nabbit.)  So - according to McClatchy news outlet, the FBI is investigating whether Torshin funneled money (thru Butina, thru Erickson?) through the NRA to help fund the Trump presidential campaign. The NRA spent $55 million on the 2016 election with $30 million of that going to the Trump campaign.
Gentle reminder:  The reason this matters is that it's illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.  (Thank you, Angela Kennecke for your investigation!)
BTW:  Check out this post from South Dakota's own Cory Heidelberger, with photos of Ms. Butina speaking all over South Dakota, including the Teenage Republicans Camp in the Black Hills, where a number of past and current South Dakota legislatures were counselors, or just there for the party.  Including Mr. Erickson...

Our South Dakota Legislature is back in session, and the legislation is coming out thick and fast, and piling deeper and higher.  Some of my personal favorites so far:

HB 1144, which makes it easier for city councils, county commissions, school boards, and other governmental bodies to do their business behind closed doors, especially if they're "Consulting with legal counsel or reviewing on communications from legal counsel about proposed or pending litigation or contractual matters.”  (Someone's trying to do something they don't want anyone to see...)

SB 107, which would repeal all regulations and licensing requirements for barbers.  Can't figure that one out to save my soul...
SB 109, which would repeal the licensing requirements for sign language interpreters.  Can't figure that one out, either...  

SouthDakota-StateSeal.svg
THE Official State Seal
HB 1102 started as a bill to require as much as a year in jail and a $2,000 fine for creating any replica of the Great Seal of South Dakota that did not include every detail specified by state law, including the state motto, “Under God the People Rule.” (See image to the right)

Well, the ACLU and most of us South Dakota smart-alecks had a lot of fun with that (google freely), and it's since been amended to ban renditions of the seal that are “greater than one-half inch in diameter and used for an official purpose or a for-profit commercial use” while at the same time making it clear that HB 1102 does not apply to “or limit any artistic or satirical use of the seal.”  More fun is still being had, because how can you resist shooting ducks?  (This is funnier up here, in Ducks Unlimited territory.)  Google freely.

State Representative Drew Dennert wants to make hunting, fishing, trapping and harvesting wildlife a constitutional right, that "shall be forever preserved for the public good" in HJR 1005, and make "Hunting, fishing, and trapping...  a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife."  Still trying to figure out the "harvesting" part.  I can just see it now - hunters fighting against farmers in combines in the corn fields over the pheasants:
"I'm hunting!"  "But I'm harvesting!"  And shots ring out...

Meanwhile, a Mr. Levi Breyfogle of Rapid City has proposed a new Constitutional Amendment that would make all "victimless" crimes unchargeable:
"(1) A charge of a violation may only be filed by a victim whose person or property has been physically damaged by the defendant. If the victim is incapable of filing a charge of a violation, a family member may, but only if the victim does not object; and  (2) The damages must be physical, quantifiable, and have already occurred."
(Someone's done something they don't want anyone to know about...)

But enough of that, back to the news:

636523968955778979-DUUlef1W0AEUSO1.jpgLocal News:  On January 24th, in an improbably appropriate move, a woman crashed into the Billion Car Care Center.  Meth, not alcohol, and there were also 2 children under three in the back seat, who were unharmed, and are now "in the care of a family member."  Thank God.  BTW, here in South Dakota, if you get arrested, you get to do the walk of shame in jail stripes., which is then broadcast on the nightly news, and she looked shell-shocked, to put it mildly.  Whether it was the situation she finds herself in, or that she hadn't had any meth in over 24 hours, I don't know.

636004804435050121-aqua.JPG
The photo that launched multi-
million dollar investments...
The latest scam:  Perhaps because they saw the EB-5 and GearUp! rifling of federal dollars, Tobias Ritesman and Tim Burns (long-time Brookings developer) cooked up a new company, Global Aquaponics which was going to be a high-tech fish farm near Brookings, SD.  (check out their website here!)  They were going to grow fish and shrimp in tanks, and use the "nutrient rich" water to grow vegetables.

And apparently there were quite a few people who weren't bothered by the lack of experience in shrimp farming available in the High Plains, because they managed to raise a few million dollars. (P. T. Barnum was so right.) But a year later, while the ground had been (barely) broken, no tanks were being built, and there was no sign of anything but a nice office downtown in which Mr. Ritesman went slightly off his nut one day and wanted to know about Bitcoins while waving a gun in front of a tech consultant. Let's just say that everyone got ripped off, and Mr. Ritesman and Mr. Burns are facing federal charges.

In the "we should have known" department: Mr. Burns was involved in the EB-5 scandal. (Thanks again to Angela Kennecke at Keloland News)   And Mr. Ritesman claimed to have won the same "Entrepreneur of the Year Award" as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.  He didn't, but apparently no one checked before investing.
(BTW, this proves that there's a reason why Frank L. Baum made the Wizard of Oz a humbug and a conman in his earthly life back in Kansas and other parts of the Midwest.)

National News:  So, no fish, no shrimp, no vegetables in nutrient-rich water.  But we do have radium, at least in Brandon, SD.  Radium, which is (1) radioactive, (2) killed Marie Curie, (3) can occur naturally, and (4) has been in the city's water for decades. It's also not uncommon across the country. An analysis by EWG (go here for an interactive map) found 170 million people exposed to radium from drinking water in 22,000 utilities nationwide.  Brandon's radium level doesn't exceed federal guidelines.  What's amazing to me is how much (and many) poison(s) you can have in your drinking water before it exceeds the guidelines  Look it up some time.  

Well, that's all from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 

My husband just looked this over and suggested, "Sponsored by the South Dakota Tourism Department".





31 January 2018

The Biggest of the Best

by Robert Lopresti

Once again awards time has come around, and I am prepared to list the best short mystery stories of the year. This is my ninth annual wingding and either I am going soft or 2017 was a particularly good year for the field. You will find 18 stories listed below, up five from last year, and one ahead of my previous record. What can I say? May be this was just a year that needed distractions.

The big winners were Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, tied with five stories each. Akashic Press and Mystery Weekly Magazine each scored two.

Four of the authors were women; fifteen were men. Four authors are appearing for the second time on this august list. Two completed the hat trick. More remarkably, one author scored two on the list this year. The only other time that happened it was achieved by Brendan Dubois in 2012.

Six of the stories are funny (says me); four have fantasy elements. Only one is a historical. I think one could be described as fair play.

Enough chatter, let's go down to the red carpet.

Blakey, James. "Do Not Pass Go," in Mystery Weekly Magazine, September 2017.

The narrator has just arrived in a town and quickly discovers that the cops are corrupt, the wealthy run things to suit themselves, and the employers rip off the workers. Just like thousands of other crime stories.

But he gets a job at the Water Works where people get paid in brightly colored scrip. He doesn't earn enough to rent one of the identical houses on New York or Kentucky Avenues. He almost gets sent to jail for not paying the poor tax. And the Parker Brothers run everything. It's like they've got a – What's that word again?

Cohen, Jeff. "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Girl!" in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2017.

Elliot runs a movie theatre that shows nothing but comedies, most of them old. That may explain why Sharon, a doctor, divorced him years ago. Harder to explain is that she's about to have Elliot's baby. Like today.

Elliot rushes her to the hospital and promptly bumbles into a supply closet where a man in scrubs seems to be in the act of killing a woman in scrubs with a knife. Awkward. Cohen writes funny.

Coward, Mat. "What Could Possibly Go Boing?" in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2017.

Meet the staff of Fake Dog Dirt Etc, a rather low-end novelty shop. One of them just killed their boss, almost accidentally.

They hope to keep the dump open for a few more paychecks, if they can hide the body. And find the boss's hidden money. And avoid the cops. Did I mention the blackmailer?

Deaver, Jeffery. "Hard to Get," in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2017.

Deaver is making his second appearance in my annual best of list. And by the way, something very unusual happened here: the Edgar judges and I agree on this one. It is a very surprising thing when one of my favorites gets nominated.

Lessing is an analyst for the CIA; a desk jockey. When an agent dies while preparing for a vital mission, Lessing is the only person with the knowledge to fill the gap.

So all of a sudden he is in a small town in Poland trying to attract the attention of the deputy to the Russian spymaster who is running a ring of seditionists in the United States. But he has to attract the man subtly. If he is too obvious they will know it's a trap. Play hard to get, he is told...

Deaver, Jeffery. "A Significant Find," in Alive in Shape and Color, edited by Lawrence Block, Pegasus Books, 2017.

And here is Deaver again, with his second appearance in my Best of 2017. Greedy, greedy.

Roger and Della are having a crisis of conscience. They are a married couple, both moderately successful mid-career archaeologists, and they are in France for a conference. Why the crisis? Well, let's put it this way. Suppose Professor A gets a clue to a career-changing discovery but doesn't realize how to use it. If he tells Professors B and C about it and they are more clever at interpreting the puzzle, are B and C required to share the credit with A? An ethical dilemma indeed. Worse dilemmas will follow.

Gates, David Edgerley. "Cabin Fever," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2017.

This is the third appearance in this space by my fellow SleuthSayer David Edgerly Gates.

Montana deputy Hector Moody.is having a bad day. His truck breaks down in the mountains miles from anywhere. No phone reception. A thunderstorm approaching fast. And oh yes, unknown to him, two prisoners have escaped from prison and they have already killed to stay free...

Harlow, Jennifer. "The Bubble," in Atlanta Noir, edited by Tayari Jones, Akashic Press, 2017.

Maddie, a teenager in Peachtree City, is sick to death of her privileged life among snobs, absentee parents, and the self-medicated. She decides to commit murder, just for excitement and power, and, let's face it, because she is evil.

Her reluctant partner in crime is Emma, who is not as smart, not as pretty, and desperately in love with Maddie. Is Maddie willing to use her sexuality to manipulate Emma into crime? Oh, yes.

Hayes, Peter W.J."The Black Hand," in Malice Domestic: Murder Most Historical, edited by Verena Rose, Rita Owen, and Shawn Reilly, Simmons.
Brothers Jake and David fought over a girl named Bridgid and Jake left Pittsburgh for logging work in the midwest. David became a very successful mobster, until his body shows up in a river.

The story begins with Jake coming home to try to discover how his brother died and who is responsible. The first thing he learns is that Bridgid was murdered a few weeks before, and a lot of people think David killed her.

Is there a connection between the deaths? Can Jake stay alive long enough to find out?

Knopf, Chris. "Crossing Harry," in New Haven Noir, edited by Amy Bloom, Akashic Press, 2017.

Our nameless protagonist is a homeless person. One day he encounters a very strange man at Union Station whom no one notices except the homeless man and Harry. No one can see Harry except our narrator, because he's from another dimension. But Harry isn't the problem. It's the elegantly dressed man with a canvas bag full of–

Lawton, R.T. "Black Friday," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, November/December 2017.

This is the second appearance here by R.T. Lawton. My fellow SleuthSayer sent me this story for a critique before sending it to AHMM. I assure you the first version I read would have made this list, even if I never got my grubby hands on it.

Luckless burglar (and series character) Yarnell visits a pawn shop on the day after Thanksgiving to retrieve his wife's pawned wedding ring. Unfortunately there is a robbery going on, with a very nervous thief holding a gun. Eventually Yarnell's crafty partner Beaumont shows up, and finds a hilarious way of settling the issue.

Petrin, Jas. R. "Money Maker," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2017.

Petrin's protagonist is an aging loanshark in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In this story Skig has done an unnamed favor for a couple of Maine crooks and they send him the agreed upon fee. Unfortunately, half of it turns out to be counterfeit so Skig sets out to figure out who along the line of shipment shorted him. Bad things happen: Under the chairs a sight the media might describe as "distressing to some viewers."

Rozan, S. J. "e-Golem," in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September-October 2017.


This is the second appearance here by my old pal S.J. Rozan. Judah Loew runs a used bookstore on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. Most similar stores have been killed by the Internet but Loew's specialties - including Judaica and mythology - have kept him holding on. Not much longer, alas.

But then a newly arrived book claims to offer a spell for creating a golem , the clay humunculus that a medieval rabbi, also named Judah Loew, built out of dust to save the Jews of Warsaw. Ah, but the dust in a bookstore is special dust...

Slaughter, Karin and Michael Koryta, "Short Story," in Matchup, edited by Lee Child, Simon and Schuster, 2017.

This is Koryta's second apearance on my best of the year list.

It's 1993 and Jeffrey Tolliver, is a young Birmingham cop. He is in a small town in Georgia on a long weekend that has gone terribly wrong. Before the tale has gotten fairly started he finds himself standing in a hotel parking lot in front of a busload of missionaries and…
"Holy crap,mister. You're in your underwear."
"Running shorts," he said, resisting the urge to cover himself. "Training for a marathon."
"With just one shoe?"
"Half marathon."
Tippee, Robert, "Underground Above Ground," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2017.

The nameless narrator is a young man who has mastered the art of disappearing. He dresses in black, with a stocking cap that hides his face. And as the story begins, it is after ten PM and he is sitting in the darkness near a city tennis court, watching a young man and his beautiful girlfriend as they volley, flirt, and discuss Facebook.

It's clear that there are bad things in our narrator's past, although it is not clear at first whether they were done to him, by him, or both. The last paragraph just slayed me.

Todd, Marilyn. "Slay Belles," in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. January/ February 2017.

Sisters Hannah and Lynn have deep roots in British organized crime. They also have a year-round-Christmas store, The North Pole, which cleans up dirty money from various family businesses. But the sisters have a special sideline. The store has Santa's Mailbox where kids can ask the fat man for help. And while Hannah and Lynn can't promise the latest video game or a pony, if the request is desperate they may offer a special solution…

Vardeman, David. "The Last Evil," in Mystery Weekly Magazine, November 2017.

Mrs. Box believes that suffering is good for the soul. She also believes in doing "a lot of good in the world. But there was another tinier but just as important point, and that was to get the leap on people. In her own life she felt a lack of people leaping out at her. In the past forty days and forty nights, not one soul, nothing, had given her a good jolt. Mr. Box certainly had not."

Which is why she keeps a live tarantula in her purse, and pulls it out to shock people. As a good deed.

Wiley, Michael, "Making It," in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September-October 2017.

When Skylar Ricks carjacked Gerald Johannson's Ford Taurus on a February morning in Chicago, climbing into the passenger seat at the corner of Granville and Clark, his hand wrapped neatly around a .44 Smith & Wesson, an unlighted Marlboro between his lips, Gerald said, "Oh, now you're in trouble."

Well, that took an unexpected turn, didn't it? As the story goes on we will learn the reason for Skylar's rash act and a good deal about the personality of Gerald. He is an older man, missing his late lover, and remarkably imperturbable. Even when being carjacked.

30 January 2018

Curses, Boiled Again!

by Barb Goffman

I work full-time as a freelance editor, which means that I get to spend my days helping other people's dreams come true. I don't have a magic wand like Glinda the Good Witch. (Wouldn't that be fun!) But I do have a hardworking red pen, which I use to help make novels and short stories shine. But publishing is a hard business, and for authors aiming for traditional publication, there's no guarantee a book will get picked up, no matter how good it is.

That's why it's wonderful when one of my clients gets a contract with a traditional publisher. And it's especially wonderful when that publisher is one of the big ones in New York, and the deal is for three books. And it's even more wonderful--wonderful to infinity and beyond!--when that client is also one of your closest friends, and the contract is for her first published novel, and that first book finally comes out.

Well, today all that wonderfulness is wrapped into one with the publication of Curses, Boiled Again! by Shari Randall. The book, the first in the Lobster Shack Mysteries, went on sale at a Barnes & Noble in Virginia last weekend where Shari appeared at a signing, but today is the day folks everywhere can buy a copy of this book, published by St. Martin's Press.

So what's it about? This is a cozy mystery whose main character, Allie Larkin, is a ballerina who's back home in Mystic Bay, Connecticut, recuperating from a broken ankle. Her beloved aunt Gully has recently opened a lobster shack--her dream come true. But it soon turns into a nightmare when Gully is involved in a foodie competition, one of the judges dies after eating a competitor's entry, and suspicion turns on Gully. Did she tamper with the food? Allie isn't going to let her aunt be railroaded, and she won't let a broken ankle keep her down either, so she sets off to solve the mystery and find the killer.

Signing at Barnes & Noble
The book is filled with delightful characters, delicious food, twisty twists, and Connecticut charm. What's not to like?

So take it from me, who edited the first draft of this book, the final version is sure to knock it out of the park. How do I know? I've also edited two of Shari's short stories (one in Chesapeake Crimes: This Job Is Murder, and the other in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies, which is coming out in April). And I edited a fabulous, unpublished stand-alone novel Shari wrote, which could be the start of a separate traditional mystery series--hint hint to any acquisition editors out there. So I know firsthand not only how well Shari writes, but also that Shari is an author who takes editorial notes and runs with them, making her work better and better. I have no doubt she took what was a good first draft of Curses, Boiled Again! and turned it into a great book, especially after working with her editor at St. Martin's.

But don't take just my word for it. Here's what some other authors who've read the book think:

"Not only is Curses, Boiled Again! a suspenseful and entertaining mystery, but Shari Randall left me longing to visit the Lazy Mermaid Lobster Shack―even though I'm allergic to crustaceans!" ―Donna Andrews, author of the multiple award-winning Meg Lanslow Mysteries

Cheers to Shari Randall!
"Delightful! A fun whodunit full of New England coastal charm and characters who feel like friends. Warm humor, a delectable plot, and clever sleuthing will keep you turning the pages." ―Krista Davis, New York Times bestselling author of the Domestic Diva Mysteries

"A mystery as richly layered as a genuine Connecticut lobster roll!" ―Liz Mugavero, Agatha Award-nominated author of the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries

"Curses, it's over already! Shari Randall introduces a lively cast of characters who had me dancing through this book. Allie Larkin charmed me with her sense of humor when faced with a heartbreaking injury. The climactic scene is like nothing I've ever read or seen and I loved it!" ―Sherry Harris, author of the Agatha Award-nominated Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries

And if you head over to Goodreads, you'll find around twenty-five reviews of the book, and they're all good. That's no surprise to me, of course.

The only disappointment is that the next book in the series, Against the Claw, won't come out until July. But at least it can be pre-ordered now. And I'll get to see the first draft of the third book in the series this spring. I can't wait to get my editorial claws all over it. Yes, sorry for the pun, but we're talking cozy mysteries here. It was a given!

****

Let me take a moment for a little BSP: Yesterday my short story "Whose Wine Is It Anyway?" from the anthology 50 Shades of Cabernet was named a finalist for this year's Agatha Award. I have stiff competition from four writers whose work I admire: Gretchen Archer, Debra Goldstein, Gigi Pandian, and fellow SleuthSayer Art Taylor. Woo-hoo for us all! I'm sure all the nominated stories will be available online for you to read soon (if they're not already), but in the meanwhile, you can read mine by clicking here.

29 January 2018

Would I Lie To You?

by Steve Liskow

If a story uses a first person narrator, the most important action in that story is the telling. The narrator arranges the people and events in a way that serves his purpose. Since he has a stake in the story, sometimes he cheats. That's where the fun begins.




Many of the classics gain their power from the irony of a dissembling story-teller. Lockwood, the secondary narrator of Wuthering Heights, is too conceited to understand that Nelly Dean passes the buck in her tale of Heathcliff and Catherine's star-crossed love. Through negligence or prejudice, she causes every tragedy in the book and blames Heathcliff, whom she admits she loathed at first sight.

Dickens's Great Expectations thrives because Pip believes that Miss Haversham is polishing him to be worthy of Estella. By the time he understands that Magwitch is his real benefactor, he also realizes that Estella is a miserable woman who would be a horrible match for him.

Critics have argued about Henry James's The Turn of the Screw since its serialization in 1898, and James did little to settle the argument, calling his story merely a "pot-boiler to catch the unwary." His prologue (He almost never used a prologue) shows us a series of narrators who are either biased, lazy, or irresponsible, and the story seems to be an exercise in covering everyone's tush. Is it a ghost story, or did the governess hallucinate the shades of Miss Jessel and Peter Quint? The visions first appear when she daydreams about the handsome master who hired her under strange circumstances, so I tend to side with the Freudians even if they do get heavy-handed. I used to love assigning this story in my honors American Lit classes, especially those who had read Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream the previous year and picked up on the allusion to Peter Quince, the rude mechanical who wrote the hilarious play they perform at the end. Musician Quince Peters, who appears in my two novellas with Woody Guthrie, comes from the same source.

The danger of using irony is that readers may not understand. Contrary to increasingly popular mis-reading, Huckleberry Finn is NOT a racist novel (for that, I suggest Uncle Tom's Cabin, which portrays the black characters as docile and stupid, more like Labrador retrievers than people). Huck has been raised by a white-trash drunk and he repeats what he's heard about black people all his life. At the same time, he shows us that Pap, Tom, Boggs, Sherburn, the Grangerfords, the Shepherdsons, and the King & the Duke are lazy, greedy, stupid, violent, dishonest, or most of the above. Jim, on the other hand, is brave, loving, loyal, honest, and patient.

Never trust what someone tells you if he shows you something else.

If you write mysteries, the unreliable narrator should be near the top of your bag of tricks. Agatha Christie showed how far you can take this idea in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926). You don't have to go as far as Dame Agatha, but since people lie in mysteries, why deprive the narrator of so much fun?

Remember, you have to let the reader understand that something is rotten in the State of Denmark. A careless reader won't catch on (so much the better), but if you play fair and suggest along the way that narrator X spins more than bottles, you have lots of possibilities.

So, how do you play fair?

One way involves having the narrator say right up front that he prevaricates. In Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Chief Bromden is a paranoid schizophrenic in a mental hospital. He ends the first chapter by telling us, "It's the truth, even if it didn't really happen."

How much clearer can you get?

Holden Caulfield is a direct literary descendant of Huck Fin and a close relation to Chief Bromden. It still surprises me how many readers of Catcher in the Rye miss that Holden delivers his narration to a therapist after he's had a nervous breakdown.

Mary Katherine Blackwood, the narrator of Shirley Jackson's underappreciated We Have Always Lived in the Castle, is almost as crazy as Chief Bromden, but not as straightforward. "Merricat" tells us on page one that she's often thought she should have been a werewolf and that she likes Richard Plantagenet and the death's-head mushroom. We see her obsessive rituals to ward off "trouble," too. She lives with her sister Constance and her uncle Julian; the rest of the family died from eating sugar laced with arsenic on their strawberries. The small town shuns the family because they believe Constance evaded prison because of insufficient evidence. It's nearly the end of the book when those townsfolk trash the sisters' home and Merricat snarls, "I will put death in their food and watch them die." Constance says, "The way you did before?" and Merricat answers, "Yes."

She hasn't lied to us before about who poisoned the sugar. The subject simply hasn't come up in conversation. By the time it does, we've had ample opportunity to see that Mary Katherine Blackwood has more issues than the archives of the New York Times.

Gillian Flynn is equally clear in Gone Girl. Early in the book, Nick Dunne starts counting the lies he tells other people. This implies that he lies to us, too. Sure enough, when the police and Amy's parents call him out on various inconsistencies, he admits the truth...eventually. What makes the book so powerful is that Amy, the missing wife, lies even more than Nick...and even more skillfully.

Sometimes, the narrator shows you subterfuge without actually saying he lies. Chuck Palahniuk gives us a huge disconnect two page into Invisible Monsters. The macabre tableau involves Edie Cottrell's wedding reception--and Brandy Alexander bleeding out at the bottom of the stairs from a shotgun blast. Palahniuk's scene is horrific because it's so specific. Then the narrator shows her true colors: "It's not that I'm some detached lab animal just conditioned to ignore violence, but my first instinct is maybe it's not too late to dab club soda on the blood stain."

He's even clearer in Fight Club. 200 words into the story, he says, "I know this because Tyler knows this." Think about it. He repeats the comment throughout the book, too. That's fair.

Some narrators don't deliberately lie, but their background cause a bias that clouds their vision. I've mentioned Huck Finn, but think also of Nick Carraway, narrator of The Great Gatsby. Nick tells us his family is wealthy. His unconscious bias against the poor explains his letting Gatsby take the blame even though they both know Daisy drove the car that killed Myrtle Wilson. It's worth pointing out that Nick, who tells us he's the most honest person he knows, has two affairs during the book and came east to avoid marrying the woman he seduced back home.

Never trust what a character tells you if he shows you something else, remember?

In The Perfect Ghost, Linda Barnes shows us apparently agoraphobic Emily Moore, who mourns the death of her writing partner, killed in what might not have been an accident. At the same time, she starts sleeping with the famous director she and her partner were interviewing so they could write his biography. It may not be dishonest or unethical exactly, but it's poor enough judgment to make us examine the rest of her story more carefully.

Barnes, Flynn and Fitzgerald all use flashbacks, which delay the revelations because an altered chronology puts more pages between the contradictory details so readers are less likely to notice them. I generally avoid flashbacks, but nothing is off-limits if you do it really well. All three of these writers do it really well.

Another way to justify an unreliable narrator is to make him dumb or naive. Ring Lardner's short story "Haircut" (1926) features a barber telling a stranger about the events in a small Midwestern town. The story lasts as long as the customer's haircut, but Whitey the barber is too thick to understand how the people and events he describes fit together. By the end of his story, we understand that a murder has been committed. We know who did it, how, why, and that he will get away with it, too. Great stuff. And the unreliable narrator is the only way to make the story work.

Lardner's tale inspired my own story "Little Things." The two main characters are a bright eight-year-old boy and a shy six-year-old girl who meet when their respective single parents bring them to a miniature golf course. Amy lacks the wider knowledge to know that her experiences are not "normal," and Brian is too young to grasp the significance of what she tells him. Amy's mother and Brian's father are wrapped up in each other and don't even hear the little girl's revelations.

Everybody lies. But first person narrators do it better.

Trust me.


28 January 2018

Who'd a Thought?

by R.T. Lawton

SOUTH DAKOTA - East River

It was Super Bowl Sunday 1980, when the bartender paged me to the phone. My boss was calling to let me know that a four-engine aircraft had come down in a wheat-stubble field just west of the Missouri River during the late afternoon. He then made a strong suggestion that I go to the scene.

SOUTH DAKOTA - West River

Just as the sun was peering over the horizon, I drove up out of a shallow ravine and there in the wheat-stubble field sat a four-engine aircraft with oil slicks from each engine dripping off the aft edge of both wings. The plane's fuselage was loaded with bales of marijuana, 26,000 pounds of the stuff.

As we later pieced it together, it seems that a group of entrepreneurs had purchased a couple of four-engine aircraft in Spain and had at least one of them flown to Panama where it was worked on. According to regulations, whenever a plane departed the airport in Panama, it was supposed to file a flight plan as to its destination, however there is an exception to that rule if the flight crew was merely going to take off, fly around to check out the maintenance work and then immediately land. So, that's what the aircrew told the tower they were going to do. They took off like they'd said, but then kept on going south, all the way to a clandestine airstrip in Colombia, an airstrip guarded by Colombian Army soldiers. Corruption at its finest.

The plane got loaded with pot bales and the aircrew was going through a pre-flight check list, when a jeep load of soldiers drove up and told the pilot to take off NOW. The pilot politely explained that it was too early to leave, that he had a certain two-hour window in which he was to take off in order to arrive at his destination at the correct time. At that point the conversation deteriorated.  The Colombian soldiers pointed their automatic weapons at the pilot and insisted it was time for him to depart their clandestine airstrip. Not having any weapons of his own, the pilot quickly cranked his engines and took off. The tenseness of this experience rattled the aircrew's nerves enough that shortly after wheels up on the landing gear, they commenced the consumption of rum.

Somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico, the plane lost oil pressure. This necessitated the crew chief hooking up a 55-gallon barrel of oil and hand-pumping oil to each of the four engines. They entered U.S. airspace at the Texas border and allegedly flew north over Omaha, Nebraska, over SAC Headquarters without our Air Force scrambling fighter jets to intercept them. So much for our national border security in 1980.

Meanwhile, the ground crew, out of Minneapolis, was busy that late afternoon, laying out a landing strip in the wheat-stubble field with lights hooked up to car batteries, when they suddenly heard the approach of a large aircraft. They immediately got on their radio and told the airplane they had arrived too early and therefore were supposed to fly into North Dakota and return after dark before landing. However, the pilot having been threatened with automatic weapons, having consumed a quantity of rum for his nerves, and tired from having flown a leaky aircraft for several hours in air space he wasn't cleared to be in, made a heated reply, something to the extent of they were landing now, so get the hell out of the way. And, they did.

Airplane Number
South Dakota people are friendly folk and have a tendency to help people in distress, thus the ice fishermen on the Missouri River (America's true first line of national border defense) saw the airplane come down in the field, and in their concern for their fellow man, they immediately put down their fishing poles and drove over to assist these unfortunate souls downed in the middle of nowhere. Turned out, the aircrew members were not grateful for this offered assistance. The fishermen became suspicious and one brave guardian of America's borders let the air out of the plane's front tire, and state radio then got a call.

Now, the pilot, having been previously involved in these types of operations, had it in his contract that he would be driven to a motel to wait out the unloading process, after which he would be driven back to the wheat-stubble field and would then fly out the airplane. He never went back. Also, a fuel tanker and a flatbed semi with hay bales on the trailer were on a side road nearby to refuel the aircraft and offload the pot bales to then be concealed among the hay bales. They never got to perform their functions.

That's me in brown coveralls
and black wool watch cap
Back at the wheat-stubble field, seeing that all was not going according to plan, the ground crew scattered into the hills. Being city boys, they were not suitably prepared to spend the night in the great outdoors. By morning, most of them stumbled out as best they could to country roads. Cold, shivering, some with hay sticking out of their hair and clothes from burrowing into hay stacks to keep from freezing, these future felons begged to get arrested just to get warm again. For them, their grand pot plane adventure was over. Their court adventure was about to begin.

A few months later, DCI Agent Tommy Del Grosso and I flew down to Tampa, rented a car and drove over to a county jail where the pilot had taken up temporary residence. He agreed to talk to us if we'd take him out for a real meal. Guess he didn't care much for jail cuisine. Tommy and I signed him out in leg irons and took him to a local restaurant. When his meal came, I watched him pick up the salt shaker and pour it all over his salad. Having not seen this act before, I inquired as to what he was doing. His explanation was that it was terribly hot in that Florida jail, no air-conditioning for the summer heat, therefore the inmates sweated a lot and the jailers did not provide any salt or salt tablets, so he was taking this opportunity to load up. We got a lot of details from him on the smuggling operation, so he was worth the price of a meal and an empty salt shaker.

In the end, we had an airplane from Spain, flown out of Panama by an aircrew from Florida and loaded with marijuana from Colombia. The ground crew, fuel tanker and flatbed semi came from Minnesota, The wheat-stubble field was scouted out by a local boy from West River. A group of Eskimos from Alaska helped fund this pot plane endeavor, and if all had gone well, then three more smuggling flights were planned.

It was several years later, when I learned from another source that one of the higher up pot plane conspirators, that we didn't know about at the time, who was from the Dutch Antilles, took a long walk off one of the upper floors of a high rise in Singapore. The rumor in the drug world at the time was that someone in upper management wanted to ensure that his own name never got mentioned for some of their clandestine marijuana deals.

In retrospect, will we ever win this war on drugs? Probably not, but then most of us working agents figured the best we could do on the streets was to try to keep the lid on the garbage can.

                                                                           #

On September 30, 2017, my old boss and I took a road trip to Pierre, South Dakota, to attend the first and only Pot Plane Reunion. I got to meet and shake hands with the now 98 year old rancher/ice fisherman who let the air out of the plane's front tire. Also listened to the defense attorney who represented the pilot from Florida all those years ago. Unfortunately, too many law enforcement and others who had participated in the case had already passed on and there was one more of us who probably wouldn't make it to January in order to have the reunion on the actual anniversary date.

South Dakota. Super Bowl Sunday. A wheat-stubble field. Who'd a thought?

27 January 2018

Bad Girl Book Club –
the book club you may want to join!

by Melodie Campbell

Yes, there really is a Bad Girl Book Club (although it might also be known as the Lazy Bookclub.)

Right here, in Southern Ontario, a group of gals meet twice a year (hence the ‘lazy’) to lay out a set of criteria for a year of reading.

Okay, yes, there might be booze involved. And possibly a pig-out of gargantuan portions. But reading’s supposed to be fun, eh?

Here’s the thing: Our ranks include two association CEOs and senior execs. We aren’t the sort of people who like to be told what to do. So we don’t all read the same book every month. Instead, we draw up a set of criteria that we agree to meet.

Want to try it yourself? Get together a bunch of reading mates (buds if you’re American) and try this list:

2017 Reading Challenge
Readers must read at least 12 out of 14
  1. A book publisher this year
  2. A book you can finish in a day
  3. A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller
  4. A book chosen by your spouse, partner, child or BFF
  5. A book you previously abandoned
  6. A book that has won a major award within the last five years
  7. A book that is based on or is a true story
  8. A book that was made into a movie
  9. A book that was translated from another language (forcing us all to leave North America)
  10. A book in a genre you never read
  11. A book about travel adventures
  12. A book written from a non-human narrative perspective
  13. A Giller Prize Winner
  14. A book that starts with the same letter of your first name
Alternative criteria from the 2016 list:

  • A book published before you were born.
  • A book you should have read in school but didn’t.
At each meeting we compare books read, and make recommendations. This year, I added a new dimension to my list.

Increase the number of books that feature female protagonists written by female writers, to 75%. That is, 75% of the books I read this year should be written by women and should feature female protagonists.

How am I doing on that issue? I tried hard. I really did. I’m sitting at 61 books out of 95 read. Not quite 75%. Very simply, I’m having a hard time finding books that meet this criteria outside of cozies and romance, both of which I’m not keen on.

Female crime writers often write male protagonists. Even our bestselling author at Crime Writers of Canada – Louise Penny – writes a male inspector. We have secretly discussed among ourselves whether she would have been as successful if Gamache had been a woman. That’s a heated discussion for another day.

What is notable is that there seems to be a trend for male writers to write female protagonists. These may be good books, but they aren’t women’s stories in the way that I mean. They are written with a different lens.

So I’m struggling to find 75 books in year that I want to read, that are by women telling women’s stories.

How did I do on the rest of the list? 14 out of 14, of course! And the wonderful thing – I forced myself out of the usual crime ghetto, to read an assortment of books that I never would have read otherwise. Some – like The Nightingale and The Alice Network – were terrific.

If you’re interested in the list of books I read to meet the above criteria, let me know and I’ll post it here.

Have a wonderful year of books in 2018!

(Here's the book everyone in my group read for the "A book you can read in one day" category: