23 July 2017

Florida News, Moral Retardation

by Leigh Lundin

Florida postcard
Florida madness waits for no one. The Sunshine State exists merely to make other states feel better. Usually I adopt a mocking stance, but sometimes the subjects are too dark, too sick for levity. Two of the most disturbing stories– one about a truly sick honeymooning couple– I’ve removed from today’s lineup. At least we finish with a warming palate cleanser. Let the revue begin.

Water Hazard

Tampa, FL.  Golf courses once employed kids to retrieve wayward balls from ponds, lakes, and water hazards. In Florida, courses can get a bit rough. Ask Scott Lahodik. He’s worked as a golf ball search-and-rescue professional for nearly three decades.

Recently a Charlotte alligator violently objected to Lahodik disturbing his collection. Lahodik thinks it might be time to retire.

Cutting the Cord

Deland, FL.  A professional skydiver chose to die doing what he loved. This might have been easier to take if it weren’t for people who loved him.

How Bow Dah

Boynton Beach, FL.  Without adding to her publicity/notoriety, a 13-year-old girl has become (in)famous for bad behavior and poor enunciation. Violent and apparently proud of bottomless ignorance, she appeared on Dr. Phil where she told him he wasn’t nothin’ until she graced his show. She’s also shown up in music videos, television shows, and courtrooms. Our home-grown (sort of) girl is an experience… and not a good one.

Wired

Boynton Beach, FL.  That teen girl isn’t the only bad actor from Boynton Beach. Police arrested a man with an electronic devices wired to his penis. Prosecutors will no doubt file a, er, battery of, um, charges.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if the ‘electronic device’ was a GPS? That would be embarrassing.

Jacksonville, FL.  We’re not done with penises yet, but a Duval County man nearly was. He managed to shoot himself in one of the worst places he could shoot himself. This is reminiscent of the Florida woman who was, well, caught pleasuring herself with a loaded pistol. Some people like to live dangerously.

Armed and, well, Armed

Deltona, FL.  A Volusia County man shot himself in the arm. This is the USA– people shoot themselves all the time. However, this man didn’t realize it until he changed his shirt… three… days… hence. (Shh! I always wanted to use that word.)

Listen folks, this is Florida. It’s freaking hot here. People sweat. God knows how many days he’d already been wearing that garment. We should change shirts three times a day instead of every three days. I know it’s difficult to detect one’s own body odor, but how bad do you have to stink when even a bullet hole under your arm goes numb?

Voter Fraudster, Oh Yeah

Sarasota, FL.  You know who Steve Bannon is, icon of alt-right rags and radio, and a fixture in the White House. You know about the desperate quest to prove some kind– any kind– of voter fraud. The committee need look no further than Florida.

Not only did Stephen Kevin Bannon register to vote in New York, he also registered to vote in Florida. For a home address, he listed a vacant house he never lived in scheduled to be torn down.

That’s one. Now the fraud committee has another 199,999,999 voters to check out.

Aramis Ayala

Orlando, FL.  The Supreme Court has forced Florida to back down on a number of legal issues. In it’s excitement to execute, SCOTUS has required capital cases to be reviewed, which resulted in instances of actual innocence. The Court also directed Florida to stop incarcerating children for life. Florida judges made paltry efforts to see that children convicted of crimes less than murder have a chance, however slim, of seeing the outside world again before they die.

Orange and Osceola Counties recently elected a black prosecutor, a major step for Florida. However, our governor (you already know my criticisms about Rick Scott) virtually stripped her of prosecutorial powers and reassigned cases to other state attorneys. To rephrase, Governor Rick Scott has removed State Attorney Aramis Ayala from major cases, nullifying our election of this woman.

Setting aside racist overtones, the crux of the matter centers around the governor’s lust for capital punishment while Attorney Aramis Ayala has expressed doubts about the morality and effectiveness of the death penalty. No doubt Scott has his Attorney General pin-up babe Pam Bondi trying to figure out a legal justification for his actions.

My opinion? Governor, WE elected her as OUR state attorney, not yours. Screw up the rest of the state and leave us alone.

Shoot First… The rules are different here.

Tallahassee, FL.  Florida proudly originated the Shoot First / Stand Your Ground law detested by police and despised by prosecutors. It’s thought to thwart prosecution of approximately one hundred homicides a year (including children), triple the average. Now Florida has introduced a new and improved SF/SYG law designed to make it even more difficult to prosecute killers in a state already in love with death.

Now Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch has ruined the party by declaring the amended law unconstitutional. Governor Scott suffered the vapors at the news and waved his blonde bombshell Attorney General Pam Bondi into action. Miss Bondage is presently trying to find a legal argument to shut down the judge’s ruling.

He Who Laughs Last…

Cocoa, FL.  No doubt you’ve heard the news that four Florida ∆ítards stood around joking, recording, deriding and reviling a man as he drowned instead of saving him. For once, I suffer a paucity of adjectives.

The question has been raised, why do we rush to implement Shoot First / Stand Your Ground laws but don’t have a Good Samaritan law? Folks, this is Florida.

And also, why should a civilized society require laws to do the right thing? Oh yes, this is Florida. But the next story might make you feel better.

Stone the Samaritans

Lakeland, FL.  Our hysterical society has developed such a fear of men with children, it’s become dangerous for both. A Polk County man attending a softball game noticed a lost child wandering around. He tried to help her find her wayward family.

When one of her parents finally bothered to notice the little girl was missing, he ran down the man he spotted with his daughter and, attacking him from behind, badly beat him. Police tried to tell the foolish father the stranger was trying to help, but the man refused to accept that possibility. Maybe the family felt a little guilt himself, but they took to Facebook to falsely deride the man who helped and demand police arrest and prosecute the helper as a sexual predator.

He Who Writes Last…

Panama City, FL.  A family– nine people in all– found themselves in trouble and unable to swim back to shore. Good Samaritans organized a sort of bucket brigade, a chain of 30 to 50 possibly up to 80 heroes and heroines extending far into the rip tide to save the family.

Kudos and congratulations. Sometimes Floridians get it right.

22 July 2017

Why Being a Writer is the Best Excuse Ever

by Melodie Campbell (bad girl, back to her silly self)

There are all sorts of reasons for being a writer.  (Money isn’t one of them, in case you were wondering.  Unless, of course, you are a masochist.  Then again, many writers are.  We’d have to be, to put up with this biz.  But I digress.)



Many of us write because we can’t help it.  All sorts of demented characters have taken over our loopy minds.  If we don’t let them out to live their own lives on paper, all sorts of bad things will happen.  For instance, they may induce us writers to perform their fantasies in reality, on behalf of their little selves.  This might be fun if you are writing erotica.  Not so great, if you’re a crime writer, like me.


That aside, there are many reasons that being a writer can be great fun.  You get to kill people on paper.  (Okay, I’m just now realizing how twisted that sounds.) 


Moving on, being a writer gives you all sorts of excuses for bizarre and socially-inept behavior.  In social situations, friends can look over at you, shake their heads, and say confidentially to others, “It’s okay, really.  She’s a writer.”  Sort of how being an Australian explains things.


Here are some things that can really work to your advantage (reword: you can work to your advantage.)


The Research:  writing a book gives one all sorts of excuses to do research.  This can be as innocent as merely looking up things on the internet (exactly what is the distinction between hot romance and porn? Checking Yutube…hey, every writer knows Show Not Tell is best.)


The Bar:  all writers meet in bars, right?  Certainly all agents and editors do.  Especially those from out of town who don’t have offices in the vicinity.  “I have to meet my editor at The Drake,” you call out to all concerned.  And then you gather up your laptop, notebooks and cell phone.  The hard part is, you must remember to bring all those things back from the bar after your ‘meeting’. 


The Deadline:  your major excuse for getting out of any dull social obligations, including ant-infested picnics and relative-infested gatherings.  “I’m on deadline!” you cry frantically, even if your deadline is nine months from now.  (Nine months…nice metaphor.  Probably, I came up with it while in The Zone.  See below.)


In case you are still not convinced that being a writer is the best excuse ever, let me introduce you to The Zone.  This is the place your writer-mind travels to when it really doesn’t want to be where your body is. You can zone out at any time, in any social situation. 

Enjoy this.  Milk this.  Smile and look distracted .  Your boss, inlaws or editor will nod knowingly, as if they are a party to a big secret.  They will look upon you sympathetically and say to each other, “Oh.  He’s planning his next book.” 


Which can be really useful if what you are really planning is how to do away with your boss, inlaws, or editor.




21 July 2017

A Change of Place

by Thomas Pluck

I first encountered Thomas Pluck in 2011 when I read  a remarkable tale in A Twist of Noir called "The Uncleared."  You can read it here.  When I reviewed it at Little Big Crimes I wrote that "I can easily see this story as the outline for one of those looong broody tales that EQMM loves so much. Instead he fit it on a postcard, and did it with no sense of cramming or shorthand.  Quite remarkable."  It is that.

Thomas's most recent book is BAD BOY BOOGIE, a Jay Desmarteaux crime thriller.  Ken Bruen called it a "must re-read novel."  And like me, he is a New Jersey boy.  What else do you need to know?  

He made a guest appearance here in March, which should have warned him off, but apparently he is a slow learner and agreed to take a permanent seat at our table.  This is his first shot as a regular.  I'm sure you will enjoy it. Please make him welcome, and remind him to cut the cards.   - Robert Lopresti

Hello, everybody. I'm honored to join the crew here at SleuthSayers, and I hope you'll enjoy my triweekly musings here. And thank you for the kind words, Robert. I keep going back to "The Uncleared" and there's a novel waiting to come out, once I visit Alaska... which brings me to the subject of today's post. But first, let me say how I came to be here.

I've been a fan of the crime and mystery genre since grade school, when I cut my teeth on Agatha Christie and Encyclopedia Brown. Later came the Fletch series, Ian Fleming, and Hammett brought me into hardboiled. For a good while my trinity was Lawrence Block, James Lee Burke, and the pet shop cozies of Barbara Block (no relation) and now I read everyone from Hilary Davidson and Tana French to Joe Lansdale and Laura Lippman and Walter Mosley, and I have a soft spot for Liza Cody's Bucket Nut wrestler tales with Eva Wylie, and Christa Faust's Angel Dare series. I read outside the genre a lot as well. Stewart O'Nan, Victor LaValle, Laird Barron, Joyce Carol Oates (though she does write suspense as well), Roxane Gay. To get an idea of the range, I recommend Protectors 2: Heroes, the anthology I edited to benefit The National Association to Protect Children, which has a solid core of mystery with fantasy, horror, lit, SF, and poetry mixed in.

But enough about me, we're here to talk writing. I recently returned from a two week tour of central Europe by car, where my wife Sarah, and my best friend Johnny and I toured seven countries in 3800 kilometers, having adventures and seeing both expected and uncommon sights. And of course, it inspired several story ideas. I've always felt envious of writers who can master a sense of place without having physically visited it. Lawrence Block for one, has written several stories about countries and cities he's never been to--despite being an accomplished world traveler--and the level of verisimilitude he manages never makes you question whether he's been there.

I don't always visit areas I want to write about, or write about places I've been, but some can't help but inspire a good story. In Munich, we stayed in an area where there was a high refugee population, which gave me a good view of the stark differences; the heart of an old city blocks away from a modern one. In the space of twenty minutes we walked from a tight neighborhood of buildings hundreds of years old celebrating Charlemagne, through a tony open mall where opera was performed, to a grimier urban red light district reminiscent of old Times Square.

In Amsterdam, the streets were clogged with bicycles. And our canal boat guide joked that the canals were filled with them, too. It didn't take much to make me wonder how easy it would be to chain someone to their bike with a few cinder blocks and chuck them into the water. (I might have even thought it a fitting end for a couple of cyclists who blew through pedestrian walkways while looking at their phones.) That's not so different from New Amsterdam, New York, these days with cars parking in the bike lanes and bicyclists veering onto the sidewalks and phone-addled pedestrians walking wherever they please, but there was no electricity in the air in the older city; everyone was relaxed, perhaps due to the easy access to the demon weed. (The one place they weren't relaxed was in the supermarket, the munchies, I suppose).

The story that relied on my travels the most was Blade of Dishonor, which I based on my trip to Japan to see my oldest friend compete in his first martial arts competition, train at his teacher's school, and galavant throughout Tokyo and Niigata with a bunch of rowdy fighters. That was such a culture shock that I knew I'd write about it someday, and was glad David Cranmer gave me the excuse, when he approached me to write a story about a fighter who comes into possession of a stolen sword.

Some writers draw inspiration from familiarity. The same routine, the comfortable writing room, or spot--I have a nook in the parlor with a view of Manhattan in winter, and trees the rest of the year--but others need a jolt, and some of us benefit from both. I couldn't visit the Talheim Death Pit in Germany before I wrote "Truth Coming Out of Her Well to Shame Mankind" for Lawrence Block's upcoming art-themed anthology Alive in Shape and Color. But I visited the area last week, and saw similar remains in the Neues Museum in Berlin, just in time for final edits. But the odd thing was, I changed nothing. What I'd come up with in my imagination felt true enough. There's one scene in a quaint Medieval village that drew on a real visit, but nothing I couldn't have gotten from a trip through Google Maps and Street View, and perusing the Medieval Justice and Torture Museum website.

So maybe you can write stories without ever leaving your chair. That's where the work gets done. And I'm glad I got back to it last night, savoring a dram of peaty scotch and writing a safecracking scene in the basement of a colonial-era tavern that never existed, based on several that are now lost to history. That's a place I like to visit in my head, and I hope it will be as enjoyable for readers to join me there on the page.

What works for you? Are your best vacations in your head, or do you draw from the real ones for inspiration?

-TP

20 July 2017

The Moon-Eyed People

by Eve Fisher


Fort Mountain, Murray County, Georgia December 2015.JPG
Fort Mountain
photo from Wikipedia
Fort Mountain lies in the Cohutta Mountains, and on Fort Mountain is Fort Mountain State Park.  It's an eerie place.  I went there with a friend of mine - hi, Richard! - on a cold, almost snowy day in early winter.  Fog.  Lots of fog.  Half the time the visibility was down to 20 yards, sometimes 20 feet, which only added to the general frisson of excitement of an unknown mountain trail.  We didn't know what was going to be around the next bend.  In more ways than one.

Part of the Fort on Fort Mountain
You see, there's a ruined stone fort on Fort Mountain, and not only does it predate the arrival of Europeans, but the Cherokee claim that it predates them.  The ruins are an 885-foot long rock wall which zigzags around the peak. The ruins also contain 19-29 pits (depends on who's counting, I guess), as well as what looks like a gateway.  It may date to 500 AD. It might be older.  It might be newer, but not by much.  It's a very strange place, and there are a few strange stories about it.


Story #1:  European Version 1:  The Welsh Prince.  Madoc, son of Owain Gwynedd, King of Gwynedd in north Wales, had to flee a fight over succession after Owain died in 1170.  He fled to America, (300 years before Columbus), and wandered the continent, building and breeding lavishly wherever he went,  leaving lost tribes of Welsh Indians, white Indians, etc., everywhere he went.  So naturally at some point he arrived in Georgia and built a fort to protect himself from the marauding tribes around him.

Saint brendan german manuscript.jpg
St. Brendan the Navigator, 15th C. ms.
The Madoc legend is based on a medieval tradition - and I mean a tradition, not a story or even a poem - about a Welsh hero's sea voyage.  To be honest, we have more evidence of Brendan the Navigator than Madoc.  Nonetheless, this was a hugely popular legend during the Elizabethan era, because it gave Elizabethan England a foundation for claiming title to North America.  All of it:  after all, Madoc was said to have landed at "Mobile, Alabama; Florida; Newfoundland; Newport, Rhode Island; Yarmouth, Nova Scotia; Virginia; points in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean including the mouth of the Mississippi River; the Yucatan; the isthmus of Tehuantepec, Panama; the Caribbean coast of South America; various islands in the West Indies and the Bahamas along with Bermuda; and the mouth of the Amazon River" (Fritze, Ronald H. (1993). Legend and lore of the Americas before 1492: an encyclopedia of visitors, explorers, and immigrants). Sounds like he conquered the continent, doesn't it?  So of course Madoc was given credit for building everything and anything that Europeans couldn't believe the indigenous peoples built, from natural formations like Devil's Backbone in Kentucky to man-made buildings like Fort Mountain in Georgia and the Pueblos of New Mexico. And he was given credit for fathering every tribe later European settlers liked, from the Mandan to the Zunis, Hopis, and Navajos.

Story #2:  European Version #2:  The Moon-Eyed People are one of the lost tribes of Israel, per the Book of Mormon.

Story #3:  The Cherokee Version:  The Moon-Eyed People.  The Cherokee are an Iroquois-language family tribe, who moved south, slowly from the Great Lakes.  (Why they moved, no one knows.)  Some time after the 1540s, they reached the Appalachian mountains.  When they came to the area around Fort Mountain, they found the moon-eyed people already there, living in the Fort. The moon-eyed people were very small, pale, and couldn't see well by day, so they moved around mostly at night.  (Why that sounded Jewish or Welsh I have no idea.)

BTW:  The Cherokee County Historical Museum in Murphy, North Carolina has what is supposedly an effigy of The Moon-Eyed People.  (I tried to post it, but it just doesn't want to, so check out the link HERE, at Roadside America.


Anyway, the Cherokee and the moon-eyed people fought a great war, and at the end of it, the moon-eyed people were killed and/or dispersed.  (Benjamin Smith Barton, 1797)  The Cherokee may or may not have used the fort.  In any case, the story says that the fort was destroyed in a massive earthquake which shook the whole world - or at least the entire area - and caused the stone walls to collapse.

  • One version of the earthquake says it took place after the Cherokee-moon-eyed people war, because the Cherokee who were living in the fort were killed, while the Cherokee who were living in wooden houses weren't.  
  • Another version is that it was the earthquake that allowed the Cherokee to win the war, and that afterwards, the moon-eyed people went underground and in caves.  

So, we have a pale tribe that couldn't see well at night.  Albinos or Madoc?  Personally, I plump for albinos.  The Kuna people of Panama and Columbia "have a very high incidence rate of albinism. And, whereas in many cultures albinos are subject to everything from ridicule to persecution to murder, in Kuna mythology, albinos (or sipus) were given a special place. Albinos in Kuna culture are considered a special race of people, and have the specific duty of defending the Moon against a dragon which tries to eat it on occasion during a lunar eclipse. Only they are allowed to go outside on the night of a lunar eclipse and to use specially made bows and arrows to shoot down the dragon." (Wikipedia)  And, the Zuni and Hopi nations also have high rates of albinism. It's not Welshmen, it's genetics.

Story #4:  European Version #3:  Reptilians, or David Ickes Strikes Again:  Of course, in this day and age, the moon-eyed people have become part of the whole "Ancient Aliens" mythos. Some people have speculated that the moon-eyed people were actually vampires. The legendary David Ickes has decided they're a sub-species of the reptilians who are dwelling among us (mostly in public office).  Thus the moon-eyed people are still among us (because you can't kill them), and speaking of reptilians, did you know that the TV series "People to Earth" (about a support group for people who claim to have been abducted by aliens) is coming back to TBS on Monday, July 24th?  I, for one, can hardly wait.


Fort mountain, Georgia wall 2016.JPG
Anyway, if you ever get a chance to go to Fort Mountain, go, and hike around it.  Preferably on a day with heavy weather.  Rain or snow, sleet or mist, or just thick fog will do nicely.  And I can tell you that, walking around it in a thick fog on a cold day, those 885 wandering feet seem like a long, long way, and the pits seem like they might hold something, have buried something, that might be waiting for you to pass (or not) in order to come out again...

Walk slowly.  Look around.  With any luck, yours will be the only footsteps, the only breath, the only...

Then again, maybe not.









19 July 2017

Five Red Herrings 8

by Robert Lopresti


1. Maybe I've been here before.  Five years ago in this space (wow, we've been doing this a long time, haven't we?) I wrote a piece about incidental music in movies and TV, (and by incidental I mean it wasn't written for  that show and is not being performed by a character).  The inspiration was Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" showing up in yet another TV show.  I wrote: "It was about five years ago that I concluded that the FCC had passed a new rule requiring every TV show to feature 'Hallelujah.'" I now have evidence that I was right (not about the FCC, but about the frequency of that song's appearances.)


I am reading The Holy or the Broken, a book by Alan Light that is entirely about you-know-which song.  It reports that the first appearance on TV was in Scrubs  in 2002.  There were five more visits in 2003 and seven in the year after.  Each performance pays in the $50,000 range, with half going to the author (and his publisher) and half to the performer (and the record company).  Not bad.

By the way, the whole book is fascinating.  If a writer of fiction tried to make up the story of Cohen's "Hallelujah" she would have to sell it as fantasy or magic realism.  It involves two generations of singers dying young, an animated children's film, TV talent contests, the 9/11 attacks...


Meet the new boss
Blonde as  the old boss
2. Blonde on Blonde. Going even further back in my blogging past, in 2008 I commented on my affection for the British TV show New Tricks.  I noted that there seemed to be a rule that all shows about cops working on cold cases (New Tricks, Cold Squad, Cold Case) had to be led by a blonde woman. 

I recently discovered new episodes of New Tricks and all but one of the  characters had been replaced, including the leader.  And yes, the new one is a blonde woman.
from Gratisography


3.  Getcha pretty pictures right here.  Some of us here at SleuthSayers HQ find ourselves from time to time looking for illustrations that we can use without fearing the Long Arm of the Copyright.  The website Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes has a very helpful list of four websites with images free for the using. 


4. Steven on Sherlock.  The latest issue of Strand Magazine (February-May 2017) has a very interesting interview with Steven Moffat, co-producer and co-creator of Sherlock.  Even if you don't watch his show, Moffat's insights into the great original are interesting.  To those who complain about his making the characters young and modern he replies that when Doyle invented Holmes and Watson they were young and used the newest technology available.  They aged into period pieces as Doyle wrote about them for forty years.  He also points out that people don't complain about the James Bond movies yanking the character out of his time period, although Fleming's character was a World War II vet.  Definitely worth a read.


5.  Riding a trend?  But maybe the most interesting thing in the Strand (and my apologies to John Floyd and the other authors of fiction who appear therein) is a full-page ad for Ted Allbeury's novel The Twentieth Day of January.  There are plenty of ads in the magazine for books, but this one is almost forty years old.  So why bring it back now?  Perhaps the plot description holds a clue: 

"Seemingly out of nowhere, wealthy businessman Logan Powell has become President-elect.  But veteran intelligence agent James MacKay uncovers shocking evidence that suggest something might be terribly wrong with the election: is Powell actually a puppet of the Soviet Union?"

Timing is the key to success.







18 July 2017

Bestseller Metrics with Editor & Author Elaine Ash

by Paul D. Marks

Today I’d like to welcome Elaine Ash, editor, writer and friend. Elaine was born and grew up in eastern Canada, but calls L.A. home these days. Under the pen name “Anonymous-9,” Elaine’s crime fiction is included in numerous “Best of” lists every year. Anonymous-9 was invented as a blind for her hard-hitting, experimental short stories. Her work has been praised by T. Jefferson Parker, Ray Garton, Johnny Shaw, Douglas Lindsay, Josh Stallings, Robert Randisi and many others.

But Elaine also edits fiction writers, from established authors to emerging talent. As the former editor-at-large for Beat to a Pulp webzine, Elaine worked directly with writers of all genres to develop stories for publication. Some of those writers went on to fame and fortune such as recent Edgar nominee Patti Abbott (Polis), Jay Stringer (Thomas and Mercer), Chris F. Holm (Mulholland), S.W Lauden (Rare Bird), Kieran Shea (Titan), Hilary Davidson (Macmillan) Sophie Littlefield (Minotaur, Delacorte) and many more.

Today, she works with private clients, helping them shape manuscripts, acquire agents and land publishing deals. She also ghostwrites and edits for industry clients.

Elaine has a new book out called BESTSELLER METRICS. It’s a different approach to writing novels so I thought it might be of interest to people here and I asked her some questions about it:



Paul: What made you decide to write Bestseller Metrics?

Elaine: I saw that if writers could get novel structure right before hiring an editor, everybody would win. Well-structured stories attract bigger agents and land better publishing deals. That might sound like a sales pitch, but it’s the truth. 


How did you develop it and how did you figure out what it takes to have Bestseller Metrics?

I developed it over years of editing novel manuscripts. In my view, people who give hard-earned money for an editor’s opinion deserve proof that the changes will move them closer to publication. I had metrics in my head for many years before I wrote them down. The key here (that you may not know about) is based on my personality type. The Myers-Briggs personality scale reveals that I’m an INTJ, “Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging personality. There are 16 types and INTJ females make up 0.8% of the population. Males make up 2% of the population (https://www.16personalities.com). We are called “The Architects” and our brains never stop categorizing and creating systems out of information. For kicks. Really. Don’t I sound like a fun date? A colleague of yours and mine, the indubitable Dana King says I “put into words what’s been sitting in plain sight.” Metrics patterns have been showing up in books for a hundred years at least. Nobody was oddball enough to document them in terms of novel structure until I came along. 


I understand that you’ve trademarked your plan, what is so different about it that it deserves a trademark?

The system has registered patent pending status from the US Patent Office, which is different than a trademark. That may be changing, however, after my conversation with Dr. Gregory Benford, a physicist and professor at UC Irvine, also a Nebula Award winner for his science fiction. He told me about a genetics testing company that operated under trade-secret law. It’s nothing strange or new—the Kentucky Fried Chicken recipe is a trade secret. So I came up with a plan. I’ve released the initial part of the system to the general public in the book, while other parts are being developed as publishing industry software that will operate as a business trade secret. It sounds great, but as Dr. Bentham said as he walked away from me, “Just remember, every mook with a gat thinks he’s a tough guy.” So we’ll see if the plan actually works in the real world. 


What one thing holds back most unpublished manuscripts?

Structure. There so little information for aspiring authors. For decades, I’ve seen manuscripts with sparkling prose, 3-D characters and great premise ideas fail solely on structure. It’s not because writers don’t want to learn—they’re paying for books, classes, conferences and workshops. They’re breaking their fingernails to get it right. But structure is rarely taught, or it’s taught in a way that is not accessible to large numbers of learners. My greatest wish is that educators will pick up this book and start teaching it. On my to-do list is to create teacher-support materials for use in classrooms. I’ll work with any teacher who contacts me.




You talk about “Imaginary Memory.” What is that and how does it affect writers and their writing.

The Imaginary Memory tricks a writer into thinking details are on the page that aren’t really there, or are only partly there. As an author reads his or her own writing, a parade of stored memories and images flood the mind, filling in missing plot points and smoothing over missing descriptions. A cold reader can tell something’s missing immediately, but the writer feels like everything’s complete. Imaginary Memory is a trickster. That’s why a writer can be convinced they’ve just turned in a tremendously vivid piece of work to a writers’ group, and reaction falls flat. I invented tests to help short-circuit IM and give the writer clear indicators of what’s missing.


How is Bestseller Metrics different from the average how-to book on writing fiction?

It’s a window on the creation of novels. It offers a series of tests for writers of every genre to find how close they are to the metrics of bestsellers. If you can count from 1 to 10 you know enough math to do the tests. The book has crystal-clear diagrams, cartoon line drawings, detailed analyses, and a sprinkling of humor and encouragement so it stays interesting and entertaining.


You talk a lot about numbers of characters in best-selling novelscan you tell us a little about that. Character countingwhat is that? And why is it important?

Too often, good manuscripts are flawed by a carousel of characters dropping into a chapter and then vanishing, never to be seen again. Too many characters create confusion and complicate the plot. Successful novels have basic and measurable numbers of characters that track from beginning to end. Key information a writer needs is, “What’s the right amount of characters?” I’m talking about average-sized novels around 100,000 words or less. Epics and sagas with huge word counts like A Game of Thrones have their own metrics, and there are separate chapters on that.

Leaving the literary leviathans aside, there is a predictable amount of characters that appear in the first quarter of the books I examined. The first quarter of a story is golden—it’s the time when readers get to know the main character and “the world.” Inside the books on my list, in every genre, between 25 and 53 characters appear in the first quarter, no matter if the book is 62,000 words (The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett) or  146,000 words (Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn). Flip to the last quarter of each book and you’ll find a range between 4 and 22 characters that made it through to the climax and ending. Will you find novels that don’t match these metrics? Of course! Art isn’t set in stone. But for the beginning novelist, trying to craft a manuscript for sale, these guidelines are tried and true. They will help you create a story that works. Like I say in the book: “Learn the rules, land a publishing deal, and then break all the rules you want.” 



You talk about discovering the secrets of best-selling books like— 

Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding, The Big Sleep - Raymond Chandler, Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn, The Color of Magic - Terry Pratchett, Interview with the Vampire - Anne Rice, A Game of Thrones - George R. R. Martin, Harry Potter - J.K. Rowling, A Confederacy of Dunces -John Kennedy Toole, The Shining - Stephen King, Lady Chatterley’s Lover - D. H. Lawrence, The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins, The Devil Wears Prada - Lauren Weisberger, The Lincoln Lawyer -Michael Connelly, Monster Hunter International -Larry Correia, The Other Side of Midnight - Sydney Sheldon, Kill Shot - Vince Flynn 

—what are those secrets?

I examine each cast of characters and their relationships to one another. I provide simplified outlines for some books and point out the major plot elements. Nailing the first and second act plot twists can be tricky, and as far as I know, no book has distilled this information before. Hollywood does these breakdowns for films all day long, but nobody’s done it for novels. This is the kind of information I longed for and searched everywhere for as a first-time writer. A career novelist email me yesterday and said, “If I’d had this book 20 years ago, I could have saved a lot of time.” That was a pretty big compliment.


Anything else that you’d like to say?

Friend me on Facebook and ask any questions you like. Visit me at bestsellermetrics.com. You can email me there, too. Look inside the book at https://www.amazon.com/Bestseller-Metrics-Novel-Writing-Structure/dp/1546524886. FYI, there is no e-book and there likely won’t be one. This is a full-size workbook meant to be written in.

Thank you for joining us, Elaine.

***


And now for the usual BSP:

My short story “Blood Moon” will be coming out in Day of the Dark (Stories of the Eclipse). Edited by Kaye George. Releasing July 21, 2017, one month before the big solar eclipse on August 21st. From Wildside Press. Available for Pre-Order on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B073YDGSL5


www.PaulDMarks.com

17 July 2017

Cats and Gats

by Steve Liskow   

Last Friday, my wife Barbara and I celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary.
For 31 of those years, we've had from one to three cats, and knowing that Ernie and Jewel will probably be our last pets is disconcerting, especially since both are developing health issues at a much younger age than we expected. Jewel has been on steroids (forfeiting her football scholarship) for nearly two years to fight her asthma (yes, cats get asthma!) and she's beginning to exhibit some of the side effects that the drug can cause.

Ernie has developed stage two kidney disease. So far, he loves his diet food--he has always eaten like a teen-aged boy--and is responding well to the blood pressure meds he takes because of the kidney problem. But both cats are only nine years old, and they've been together almost from Ernie's birth.

Barb and I met at a theater audition not long after I'd adopted a cat from someone who couldn't keep her. Many of out theater friends pointed out that cats fend for themselves more easily than dogs--which we both grew up with--if their servants have a schedule that involves late rehearsals or travel.

Cats are better teachers, too. They can demonstrate everything an actor needs to know about concentration, and they help me with my writing now because they give me a sense of proportion. Dogs may pretend they like a chapter because they want you to feed them. Cats don't care. If you don't feed them, they'll go out and kill something...or tear up the couch and stare at you so you understand it was your own damn fault.

A character in Jodi Picoult's House Rules claims that all cats have Asperger's syndrome, and it may be true. If you have a cat, you know it's always about them. Cats are narcissists at heart, and that fits well with some of the great villains in literature: Moriarty, Goldfinger, Hannibal Lector, or Edmund in King Lear. When cats stalk their prey, they model a focus that can be truly frightening, but the also convey a calculation that works with either villains or sleuths.

Cats can help you depict character quickly in other ways, too. What does it show you if a person doesn't like animals--or, better yet, if animals don't like him? Fran Rizer's Callie Parrish has a Great Dane. Robert Crais gave Elvis Cole a feral cat. He's just called "Cat," which says it all, doesn't it? Linda Barnes's PI Carlotta Carlyle has a cat, too. Megan Traine, the female protagonist of my Chris "Woody" Guthrie novels, has two cats. She named the tuxedo with double paws Clydesdale (usually "Clyde"), and calls his calico sister Bonnie.

Remember the Disney film That Darn Cat (I know I'm dating myself here)? Dean Jones's character was allergic to cats, and it helped deepen his character. Clint Eastwood played a New Orleans detective with two children in 1984's Tightrope, and a crucial scene shows the family dog stuffed into a clothes drier. What does that tell us about the bad guy? Don't worry, he gets what's coming to him.

Many publishers and contests stipulate that an animal can't be killed or tortured in the story, and that just shows ho much most of us value pets. Watch the memes and petitions on Facebook if someone mistreats an animal. Some of my neighbors complain when a rabbit or raccoon gets into their garden, but sometimes I think I'd rather have a raccoon, rabbit, skunk, fox or coyote living across the street instead. We wouldn't talk politics and they take care of their space.

16 July 2017

Short Shorts

by Leigh Lundin

Like short stories, film shorts concentrate a lot into a little because the best are short stories, not merely vignettes.

Let’s start with writers…



And readers… This little girl has her own ideas about the arts.



You wouldn’t expect a reading public to be a cause for concern, but it might come as a surprise to learn Adolph Hitler’s barely readable Mein Kampf ranks high in non-fiction sales. Chairman Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book also sells respectably in the capitalist world. Some concern can be mitigated by the fact that both of these books are often studied to better understand mania, madness, and mass followings.



The lovely mother of one of our long-time readers died a few hours ago. I’m not free to mention the name, but blessed be. This is for Mama-san…


15 July 2017

Nick Mason: A New Kind of Hero


by John M. Floyd




Back when Leigh, Rob, Janice, and I were writing weekly columns for the Criminal Brief blog, I did a post about mystery writer Steve Hamilton (here's a link). I had met Steve at a writers' conference a couple of years earlier and shortly afterward became hooked on his series about reluctant private investigator Alex McKnight.


That blog piece was eight years ago. At that time Steve had written seven McKnights and one standalone novel, Night Work. He has since produced three more McKnight novels, a second standalone called The Lock Artist, and the first two books in a series about ex-con Nick Mason.

Backstory

One reason I was so intrigued by Steve Hamilton when I met him is that he was (at that time) an employee of IBM--and so was I, for thirty years. I'm not saying there aren't a lot of IBM folks running around out there, but there aren't a lot of them who are also mystery writers. Anyhow, Steve showed several of us at the conference a short film that had just been adapted from one of his stories, and I've been a devoted fan ever since. I've now read all ten of the McKnight novels--which are set, by the way, in the real town of Paradise, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula--and also both of his standalone books. And a few weeks ago I finished the second novel in his new series. The main thing to report, about that, is that Steve Hamilton's fiction is every bit as strong now as it was in his very first book (A Cold Day in Paradise, which won the Edgar Award). Keeping up that kind of quality, as we all know, is not always the case. Most authors--especially crime novelists, for some reason--can't continue to entertain/captivate their audience, or at least not at the same level, after a dozen books or so.

Another thing about Steve: he's a genuinely nice guy, friendly and down-to-earth and helpful to other writers. He's certainly been kind to me.

The new series

I've already mentioned the fact that I liked all the McKnight installments and the two non-series books, Night Work and The Lock Artist (the latter won Steve yet another Edgar). But I'm really excited about his latest two novels, The Second Life of Nick Mason and Exit Strategy. Both are set in Chicago, and feature the most interesting protagonist I've seen in a long time.

Nick Mason (no, he's not a brickmason, and no relation to Perry) is a career criminal. An ex-convict, in fact, who gets out of prison on a fluke and finds himself in a position almost bad as the one he left. On the one hand, he's now a free man, but on the other, he belongs to the guy who arranged his release. "Mobility," in his benefactor's own words, "is not freedom." Nick is still in a prison of sorts, and lives at the beck and call of someone who, if not strictly and promptly obeyed, will kill not only Nick but his wife and daughter as well.

This "second life" that Nick Mason has been granted (seldom has there been a more appropriate title for a novel) is what drives this series. The first book introduces the character and his dilemma, and the next one--Exit Strategy--continues the nightmare but puts forth the slim hope that Nick can somehow get out of the impossible situation Fate has handed him. Both novels feature fascinating characters, pulse-pounding action, and plenty of plot twists.

In the words of others . . .

Here are some excerpts from recent reviews of The Second Life of Nick Mason:

"A fine premise, a vibrant setting, a charismatic anti-hero . . . It's a tight, gripping book about a man hellbent on reinventing himself against long odds."--The New York Times

"Whatever he writes, I'll read. Steve Hamilton's that good."--Lee Child

"Steve Hamilton amazes me. Every time I think he's going to zig, he zags."--Michael Connelly

"The novel more than lives up to its hype."--The Chicago Tribune

"Trust Stephen King. This book is the real deal."--Stephen King

A killer like Keller

Maybe the most surprising thing about this series is that Steve Hamilton--like Lawrence Block, in his Keller novels--somehow makes the reader care about an extremely unlikely hero. Nick Mason has a good heart, but he's still a hired assassin. And here we are, cheering him on. I plan to do the same with future installments in this series.

Breaking news: The first of the Nick Mason novels will be a major movie soon, and a recent podcast featuring an interview with Steve can be found at Wrong Place, Right Crime.  (Click on July 3: Steve Hamilton. Hint, hint: I'll be featured there on July 17, so tune in for that one too.)

That's my pitch for today. Again, the novels are The Second Life of Nick Mason and Exit Strategy. I hope you'll read them, and the Alex McKnight series as well. In other words, spend a few cold days in Paradise.

And to Steve, if you read this . . . keep up the good work.




14 July 2017

We're all Liars

by
O'Neil De Noux

"I'm a professional liar, folks," Harlan Ellison once said. "I write fiction for a living. I make up this weird crap and people pay me for it."

Harlan Ellison at Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival

My kids used to warn people, "Watch out. My Dad makes up stuff."

They discovered it early when I read books to them. My daughter especially. She noticed how the book I just read to her was different from what I read to her earlier because I made up different versions of the story each time I looked at the drawings. "That's not the way the book was last time."

Made it difficult when the historian in me would tell them real stories and they'd wait until I finished before asking, "Was that true or did you make it up?"

No, I told them, there really was a man named Dracula.

Which brings me to my newest book SAINT LOLITA, a book where homicide detctive-turned private eye LaStanza, the main character of my longest running series, leaves New Orleans for most of the book. He goes to a Caribbean isle to locate and recover le Cerise, the largest red diamond in the world (which I made up. Not the world but the diamond. Well, when I think about it I made up LaStanza's world back in the 1980s when I created him).

I was going to set the story on the island of Saint Lucia. I've never been there and the research became so intense, I knew I'd never get it right and I love strong, accurate settings. So I made up an island and named her Saint Lolita - which opened so many subtle nuances in the story. There is even a Caribbean Saint Lolita Festival where women dress up as Lolitas, parade around in skimpy clothing. I got to put LaStanza in a pith helmet.

Cover art @2017 Dana De Noux

Yep, I've been making up crap for years. All fiction writers do.

I said earlier, I like a strong, accurate setting. I get most things right, especially in my New Orleans pieces because I go back to each setting to recheck and make sure I got it right.

Final note (and I hope I haven't put this in an earlier blog) comes from Tennessee Williams. After the Broadway success of his Pulitzer's Prize winning A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (which he wrote while living at 632 Saint Peter Street, New Orleans), Mr. Williams was an event here in the city where an uptown dilletante scolded him about his play. She told him if Blanche DuBois took the streetcar the way Tennessee described the route, she would not have ended up on Elysian Fields Avenue.

"The streetcars don't run that way."

He replied, "Well, they should."


Photo of Tennessee Williams by Evening Standard - Getty Images, uploaded by answers.com.

That's all for now, folks.

13 July 2017

The Black Orchid Award and the Rebirth of the Novella

by Brian Thornton


Rob Lopresti & Friend
So, come to find out that not one, but two of my fellow Sleuthsayers have not only successfully
written and sold novellas, they are both winners of the prestigious Black Orchid Award handed out annually for one lucky novella writer by the official Nero Wolfe fan club, The Wolfepack. These intrepid Sleuthsayers, Rob Lopresti and Steve Liskow.

Now, who better to ask about their process for writing novellas than successful, award-winning novella-ists?

Read on for the first part of the interview, conducted completely by email, and tune back in for round two in two weeks!

First off, why a novella?

Rob: The Wolfe Pack and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine co-sponsor the Black Orchid Novella Contest, which intends to promote the form in which Rex Stout wrote so many Nero Wolfe tales.  My friend James Lincoln Warren asked me to be a first reader for his entry which I was happy to do.  He won.  It’s tempting to go for an easy joke and say “So I decided anybody could do it,” but I knew better. I had never written anything in that length, and besides, James is beaucoup talented.

I should say that Rex Stout is one of my favorite mystery writers (the other being Don Westlake) but – dirty little secret – I have never cared for most of his novellas, which feel like ghostly imitations of his novels.  But I certainly know his plot structure and I decided to give it  a try.  And I won.

Steve Liskow
Steve: I've only tried two novellas and they both won the Black Orchid award, but they came from opposite directions. Novellas used to be popular, and they're slowing coming back, maybe for a number of reasons and advantages.

First, they demand less time to write than a full novel. You're looking somewhere between 20 and 40 K words, and my novels are usually low 80K, so there's less time to plan, write, and revise. Second, since people are often on the go, they like a story they can read in a shorter time, such as on the plane trip for business round trip. And with the advent of eBooks, you can sell a shorter separate work without the production costs that would make unit pricing a problem in the old days. A friend of mine has published six or seven eBooks, all novellas between 120 and 160 pages over the last three years. They're about five bucks each and if she published them on Create Space (I don't know if she did), she's making 70% royalties. That's a nice return for a lesser effort. I know Rex Stout used to produce books with two or three novellas and maybe a short story for a standard-length book. They're a problem for magazines because they mean fewer other stories have room, but the advantages are becoming more evident to more people. And someone pointed out on Sleuthsayers a few days ago (maybe John Floyd?) that there are now a few publishers producing novellas.

(Interviewer's note: That was me. And I interviewed one of those publishers a couple of weeks back. You can find that interview here.)

Did you initially set out to write a novella full-on, or did you decide to expand a short?

Rob: As I suggested above, I set out to write something for the Novella contest.  The hard part was: what did I know enough about to write a long story about?  Libraries?  Not interesting enough.  Archaeology?  Love it but I don’t know enough.  Folk music? I already wrote a novel about that, set in Greenwich Village in 1963 and- hey!

I had my idea.  Go back a few years in Greenwich Village history.  Create a beat poet who solves crimes for pay.  And – this was the part that sold me on it – in the inevitable Wolfean gathering-of-the-suspects at the end – my hero would do his revelation in improvised free verse.  “The Red Envelope” won the BONA and was published in Hitchcock’s.

Notice that title, by the way.  It is a hat-tip to Rex Stout’s The Red Box.  I hope to write more
novellas about Delgardo the poet, and my plan is to name each one after a different Wolfe novel or novella.  Chronologically I  want to move ahead one month each time.  “The Red Box” is set in October 1958.  The next one, which is most of the way through a first draft, involves something that really happened that November.

Steve: Neither of my novellas started that way. "Stranglehold" was a 6800 word short story that didn't quite work. There were too many characters at the beginning for readers to keep track of. When I tried to cut some of them (and the word count), the story fell apart. The story was longer than a lot of markets would take (this was about 2007-8), so when they turned it down, I had a story I couldn't sell anywhere. Then in 2008, I heard about the Black Orchid Novella Award. I'd read a lot of Rex Stout because he was one of my mother's faves, and remembered liking the voice and tone, so I wondered if I could expand the story and introduce the characters more gradually. I only added a couple of scenes and expanded everything else, and it worked. In fact, I remember adding 9000 words in less than a week because the whole thing seemed to be a novella waiting for me to recognize it. Once I added the length, I didn't do much other revision. By then, the earlier version had gone through about 20 drafts so I knew pretty clearly what needed to be there and what could go away. The more I look at my novellas, the more I understand how much Stout's and Archie Goodwin's voice influenced me. I grew up in the Midwest (Michigan), and if I remember correctly, Archie supposedly did too. Maybe that's why the form felt comfortable when I tried it.


"Look What They've Done To My Song, Mom" came from the other direction. "Stranglehold" was supposed to be a short story continuing the adventures of Chris/Woody and Meg, who had already shown up in at least two unsold novels (I later self-pubbed one and changed the other to the Zach Barnes Connecticut series, where it worked much better), and I was actually trying to come up with a novel as a sequel for the winning novella. I had the possible plagiarism plot but was stuck on subplots that really interested me. Valerie the ex-stripper/receptionist would have had a bigger role, but I wasn't sure exactly how or why. The vague idea sat around in my files for about three years, and then Alfred Hitchcock published one of my other stories and I received my author's copy within days of receiving a rejection from them for something else. I was really hoping they'd take the story, so I was pretty disappointed. BUT I saw the announcement of the Black Orchid again and thought to myself, "well, I've got a sequel to a winner I haven't been able to flesh out, so maybe I can do it as another novella."  I think I wrote the first draft in about a week and only did about three or four more drafts--very few for me. Something I'm beginning to understand about novellas is that you can work with about one subplot instead of several, and if you have five or six rich scenes with a lot going on, you're pretty much there. My theater experience working on low budgets meant I was drawn to plays with few set/scene changes (director, producer, frequent sound design, rare light design). That helps a lot when you're trying to be concise because it shows you how many or how few locations you really need. And I still write cheap: cut the locations, cut the props, cut the extra characters. Get to the end, then go back and figure out what's missing that people will ask about.

See you in two weeks!