13 August 2022

There Will Be Math (or, a Few Story Statistics)


2010, Aix-en-Provence, and I'm standing at a velvet rope in the Musée Granet. The rope is the only thing between me and a manual inspection of any painting in the gallery. I could have a right good art appreciation lesson before the guards swarmed. I stayed lawful and legit, but what if someone hadn't? What exactly would swarm? A story idea was born, and it started me on an unexpected path.

My first crime story. My first good crime story submitted, anyway. And my first acceptance in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.. There are ten more AHMM acceptances since that museum caper and 29 others out or headed your way. If by now you're thinking there will be math in this post, you're right.

That first AHMM (2014)

In all honesty, I didn't start out writing stories with any count goal in mind.

I was drafting an ambitiously doomed novel and hoping for credits to pad my queries. A fine plan, other than the doomed novel part.

The novel is shelved. The stories still trickle out a few per year. A person learns a few things on a path like that. The stories get better, I hope, or the author gets smarter. Talent is a factor in acceptance, but I'm being honest here. Luck gets involved. Tons of talented writers are out there writing tons of great stories. Not all of those catch an editor's eye.

Which mean it's important to share the wisdom. Math-style. Buckle up.

WORD COUNT IS NO ACCIDENT

We're a crime blog, so I'll filter the acceptances down to crime stories. I prefer to read printed stuff, so I'll filter again down to crime stories run or contracted to run in a print edition. I'll filter a third time for paying markets plus a conference anthology with charity proceeds. I want to see y'all printed and paid.

A print edition means print production costs. These constraints should inform a submission strategy. Precious few crime markets--or any markets--take novellas and novelletes these days. AHMM is one of those, to include the annual Black Orchid Award. Still, magazines have only so much room for magnum opus novellas. And for every long story, a print market needs multiple shorter stories to balance the issue. Not too short. Flash stories can create inverse balance issues. I go for the middle ground.

Oh, that Goldilocks zone, 3500 to 4500 words. Convert that word count to time, and you have a ten-ish minute, single-sitting read--nicely suited for my kind of character build and high note.

The average length in this group is 4,200 words. The eleven AHMM stories average 4,500, mostly off two longer stories featuring the same character. The eight in other markets average 3,800. Long pieces wear me out (more below), and shorter pieces are hard for me to nail. I don't spend much time on either.

READING IS CARING

Often, what goes without saying should be said most. Print markets have sample issues, either the current one or a back issue. Read them. Reading a market is essential to submission prep, or else I don't give the submission much chance. Respect-wise, markets can and should have editorial tastes. Not to sense a given market's taste is to be unprepared. As for AHMM, Managing Editor Linda Landrigan recently gave a lengthy interview to Jane Cleland here that is gold for anyone wanting to submit.

I'm molasses-in-winter slow at getting a piece ready. Six to nine months is warp speed. For AHMM, I'm usually in the eighteen month range before I feel confident enough to submit. Why rush something when AHMM prints six editions each year?

The numbers in red above are earlier manuscript versions floated to anthologies. These calls can be great motivators to get a draft finished. Deadlines are a thing with anthologies, whether I'm ready ready or not. Those early rejects did me a huge solid. A version of the French caper story went first to a MWA call. Rejection provided a chance to slow down and rewrite my AHMM breakthrough story.

STORIES OF DISTINCTION

Here's the thing about story variety: You have to be a varietal. At least bring a twist on something not done to death. If you're playing it tried and true, other someones have already bombarded these markets with a similar idea. I mean, distinctiveness is to break through that crowd. By side-stepping it.

Avoid–avoid–the first or easiest thoughts. People have been writing stories for a lo-ong time. That first idea has been done. But five or eight or so ideas down a brainstorming list is a prime nugget.

Inching out on a limb involves risk. Checking the mail has risk, too. Paper cuts. Wasp stings. Meteors. I say go for it.

"Two Bad Hamiltons and a Hirsute Jackson" (AHMM, 2015) is about twenty bucks in counterfeit. Twenty bucks. The difference maker is how the main character can't let an easily recoverable loss go. I've used hot chicken as an unhealthy religious experience, lottery audits as a stardom dream, and the surprisingly real phenomenon of walnut-jacking.

Another path to distinctiveness is approach, or how a story is told. Who takes center stage, how events are structured, what's the emphasis and slant. This path is inexhaustible. I'm character-centric. Premise follows, yin and yang. Plot and structure are the scaffolding. "The Cumberland Package" has a dark moment scene where main character literally disassociates for 412 words

. 412. In a short story. But whenever in angst I deleted that dark moment, the story fell apart. I kept the fugue, as to go down swinging. The story was a Derringer finalist.

Art theft and organized crime in the South of France isn't exactly original ground. To Catch a Thief got there first, among others. My thief in that French caper story had a turn of phrase, though, an Eeyore outlook on life but committed to the craft, like if Dortmunder had gone upscale and failed at that, too.

Speaking of Westlake, there's the dying art of style. I invest in a voice, broadly and for each story. I'm not afraid to use this for hijinks. But style is another risk. Style adds editing work. Maddening work, and style can backfire with an editor. AHMM's famed openness feeds my luck--but so does the energy put into each submission.

A MILLION CRIMES IN THE CITY

Murder in deft hands makes for awesome whodunnits.

Clues, red herrings, evidence, science, suspects. That's a lot. In that sense, I'm lazy. And also realistic. Writing a clever mystery isn't what draws me to the chair. Character is. Other writers bring more passion and skill to the whodunnit. I'll read those A-gamers' work and write in my wheelhouse.

This faux body count might surprise. Nine. That's on purpose. To paraphrase Raymond Chandler, murder is a means to another end, or it's a desperate reaction to something way out of hand. I start with the small change--relationship friction turned toxic, street robbery, drug muling, art capers that should've stayed clean--and see how out of hand things should get. If the character has to solve a crime, fine. Sometimes, I shake my lazy bones loose and write a mystery.

I've tried hard to learn from success and failure. I know first person is more my thing. Crawling inside a main character's head and way of speaking rewards my approach. I've learned to keep the vocabulary simple. A thesaurus is a great place to find the wrong words. And I track story stats so there's an objective way to keep improving. Okay, also I'm compulsive. But mainly the objectivity thing.

IN ALL

  • Pros submit to pro markets. To compete, write and submit professionally.
  • Don't rush a piece. It only gets one chance with a dream market. Be surer than sure you're researched and ready--ready ready--to click send.
  • Don't settle on an easy plot or premise. If you've read it before, so has the editor. 
  • When in doubt, mid-range length is your friend.
  • Read what you love. Write where your skills are.

If breaking in to these markets is your dream, keep dreaming. Don't be discouraged. Be intentional. Put in the work. I'm Exhibit A that there comes a moment. Mine was at that French velvet rope and wondering who might hop it.

12 August 2022

Time to go to the movies again


It's fun to make lists. Here are some movies lists. What does this have to do with writing? Movies have scripts, don't they?

1. Movies I’ve watched many times and will watch again.

    Amadeus
  • AMADEUS (1984)
  • ANIMAL CRACKERS (1930)
  • BATTLEGROUND (1949)
  • BLOW-UP (1967)
  • BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969)
  • CASABLANCA (1943)
  • THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)
  • Blow-up
  • DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID (1982)
  • THE DEPARTED (1984)
  • DR. ZHIVAGO (2006)
  • FAHRENHEIT 451 (1966)
  • FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953)
  • FUNERAL IN BERLIN (1967)
  • THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (1947)
  • Ghost and Mrs Muir
  • THE GODFATHER (1972)
  • THE GODFATHER PART II (1974)
  • I MARRIED A WITCH (1942)
  • THE IPRESS FILE (1965)
  • JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959)
  • LAURA (1944)
  • LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)
  • The Godfather
  • THE MALTESE FALCON (1941)
  • THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (1975)
  • MY FAVORITE YEAR (1982)
  • THE PRODUCERS (1967)
  • REBECCA (1940)
  • ROMEO AND JULIET (1968)
  • SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998)
  • Ipcress File
  • THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994)
  • SHINDLER’S LIST (1993)
  • THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD (1965)
  • THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951)
  • THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942)
  • VERTIGO (1958)
  • YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974)
  • This Gun for Hire
  • ZULU (1964)

This list is incomplete as I keep remembering good movies.

2. Movies I’ve seen once and will never watch again.

  • AUSTRALIA (2008)
  • AVATAR (2009)
  • THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)
  • A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1972)
  • Laura
    Laura
  • CRASH (2004)
  • LOVE STORY (1970)
  • THE DEERHUNTER (1979)
  • FATAL ATTRACTION (1987)
  • GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002)
  • MRS. DOUBTFIRE (1993)
  • SAW (2004)
  • THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2008)
  • WHAT DREAMS MAY COME (1998)
  • Every superhero movies I’ve seen except
    • THE PHANTOM 1996)

3. Movies I’ve fallen asleep while watching and won’t try again.

  • All of the LORD OF THE RINGS movies.
  • The HARRY POTTER movies my daughter was able to drag me to

4. Movies I’ve walked out of to get a cup of coffee and waited for my wife to finish watching and join me at the coffee shop

  • THE CONSTANT GARDENER (2005)
  • THE ENGLISH PATIENT (1996)
  • SOLARIS (2002)

That's all for now.



11 August 2022

Murder in the Chapel - 1935


First of all, many thanks to John Benting, Associate Director of Emergency MGMT/Security Audit Control, at the South Dakota State Penitentiary for his notes on this case.  Mr. Benting is working on a history of the South Dakota State Penitentiary, and I hope he gets it published soon.  All the factual material & material in quotes is from his notes, and all the rest is my own experience and fervid imagination.  

On September 17, 1935, Florence Turner (aged 32), inmate #7164, was killed on the chapel stage by her partner in crime and love, Glenn Murray (aged 33), inmate #7163. Both were doing time for burglary: Glenn got 20 years, Florence 10. They'd robbed a gas station in Rapid City and for some reason kidnapped two people. They took the two out to the country and tied them up with barbed wire. Proving that  Houdini lives when there's enough desperation, the two victims got out of that barbed wire and notified the police of the crimes. After that, it wasn't long before Glenn and Florence were captured north of Belle Fourche (which is only 55 miles away).  They arrived at the penitentiary on July 7, 1933. 

So why did he kill her, two years later? And how?

Well, the "how" is easy:  

"The day after the murder Murray was interviewed by Warden Reilley and State's Attorney Crill. Murray said that the female inmates (there weren't that many of them back then, and they lived in "the cottage") passed notes over the wall."  

My note:  The cottage was a small pipestone building added on to the east side of the main prison. It's still there, it's just been repurposed. 

"The previous Thursday Murray had another male inmate working out on a roof of one of the Hill buildings throw a note over to a female inmate who gave it to Florence. During that Sunday's church service Florence signaled Glenn that she'd received the message. Glenn said the message he had sent to her was that they were going to commit to a suicide pact and that she would show up to sick call on that Tuesday the 17th to carry out the deed."  

So, on Tuesday, Florence went to the prison hospital, which back in those days was reached through the chapel. Murray was waiting there - some say on what's now the stage - with a half pair of scissors he had stolen from the grain house, and stabbed her in the heart. Then he pulled out the blade, dropped it, and walked away.  NOTE:  Murray never, ever attempted to kill himself.  

Glenn's file for Sept. 17, 1935 states: "Stabbing Florence Turner with a dagger M.Sol. 9:15am."  Florence's file page for Sept. 18, 1935:  "Died September 17, 1935. Was stabbed in the heart by inmate Glenn Murray (sweetheart) when going to hospital for treatment. Died instantly."  

Fourteen days later, on October 1st, Glenn's file says "Released from Sol. Confinement 10:30am. Murdering his so called wife by stabbing her in heart." 

Fourteen days: Not that long for killing another inmate, is it?  

Glenn was convicted of murder and given a life sentence, but back then, life wasn't always without parole in South Dakota as it is now. He got out in October 1960, but came back on a violation in 1962. He died two years later in prison of a heart attack in December 1964.   

I'm still puzzled as to why Florence agreed to a suicide pact.  True, she and Glenn were childhood/high school sweethearts (hard to say which), who were going to get married back when she was 17.  Somehow her parents blocked it. Some time later, she married William T. Turner, 20 years her elder, and had five children with him.  After Donna, the fifth, was born, she left Turner and went back home to her parents in Brownsville, Iowa.  When Glenn got out of an Iowa prison in February, 1933, he found Florence, and convinced her to run off with him. She did, taking Donna with her.  They only had one month together, because they were arrested in March. (One month. I hope it was a good one.)

Anyway, at the time of her death, Florence was still married to William T. Turner (then 55). He was living in Waterloo, Iowa, raising the other four children. (NOTE:  Donna was adopted by an unnamed couple in Rapid City a couple of months after Florence's arrest.)  William Turner stated that he exchanged letters with his wife about every two weeks: she would write a letter to him and include a letter for the kids. He also stated that a year before the murder he'd tried to get her out on parole so she could come home and help raise the kids, but the request was denied.  

From the I Am An Evil Person Files:  What leaped to my mind was, "You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille" - and that maybe this was why Florence agreed to the suicide pact. Anything but going home to Mr. Turner. 

Then again, I'm not convinced that there was any note about a suicide pact - maybe it was a note about an escape attempt.  I don't know that anyone ever found the note. And if Florence thought that they were going to escape, and he killed her, well, that would explain a lot of what comes next:

Florence haunts the Hill chapel and the offices, hallway, etc., around the chapel.

John Benting:  "For years people have talked about a ghostly presence in the chapel area. Those who have had encounters have considered it to be a female presence, which is odd for a male dominated prison. More importantly these people who have considered this "ghost" a female presence had no knowledge of Florence's murder. I didn't uncover this story of Florence Turner until around 2015. It had been a story that had been lost in time for many decades as I have spoken to many people who have worked here as far back as the 1970's who didn't know the story of Florence's murder. There are still a handful of stories from a couple different people that come out every year on happenings in the chapel area. I have never personally had an experience here, but I know I have been hearing these stories of the female ghost going back 15 years before we rediscovered Florence's story."

I know a few stories myself. For one thing, there's a cold column of air on the stage of the chapel that isn't a draft: you can shut all the windows, close all the doors, and that column of air is still there. I've experienced that.  

Occasionally things move - not while you're watching, but when you look back up it's not where it was. I've experienced that, too.  

Other people (including a couple of staff I know) have seen a face or more behind a door, or reflected in the glass on a door.  

And, unlike the Loch Ness monster, Florence can show up on videotape:  There's a door in another room that leads out to a small catwalk. That door is ALWAYS kept locked, because that room has been repurposed. Well, there's video cameras everywhere in prison.  So there is a tape, very late one night, when all the inmates were locked down in the cells, and no one was even in the chapel area, that shows that door opening, all by itself, and then closing, all by itself.

I wonder what she was looking for…

10 August 2022

This Immense World


 

I’ve been reading a book a friend gave me called An Immense World, by the British science writer Ed Yong.  If the name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s a regular at The Atlantic, and won the Pulitzer for his writing about COVID over the past two years, an island of common sense and clarity in the general chaos of misinformation.  I might go so far as to say Ed Yong’s columns kept me sane. 

The central theme of An Immense World is how we encounter our immediate environment, how we separate the familiar from threat, how we register light, heat, pain, movement, and even magnetic fields – and by we, it includes every creature of the earth, the air, or the oceans.  The immense world is exactly that, not confined to our species alone.

Yong borrows a conceit called Umwelt from the German, the world which appears to us, and each of these worlds appears differently to different animals.  But our world feels to us like the whole world: since it’s all we know, he writes, we easily mistake it for all there is to know. 

Light is electromagnetic radiation.  Sound is pressure waves.  Smells are small molecules.  Our senses transform those signals into a sunrise, a voice, the scent of baking bread.  Biology tames physics.  It turns external stimuli into information we can act on, to eat, to find shelter, to survive, and reproduce, and to evolve.

[The above is not me writing; I’m paraphrasing Yong.]

No animal can respond to everything, too much information is as bad as too little.  We imagine it to be a superpower, that Spidey sense, but it would be overwhelming.  So each animal filters their signals at the source.  Which work to our advantage, which work against us?  Natural selection is the obvious mechanism.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

What fascinates me about this is how clearly it applies to human social interactions, how it’s a physical model for relationships, functional and not so.  If this is the way the brain works, the way it processes signals from the physical world, and makes them kinetic – fight or flight, for example – is this also the way the brain processes what we might call the less substantial world, language, ritual and religious belief, the interpretation of spirits, family and kinship?  Does it develop from our sensory input?

Yong has an example from neurobiology.  400 million years ago, certain species of fish left the water to live on land.  In the open air, they evolved to see longer distances than they could underwater, and he suggests this spurred a greater adaptive leap.  By seeing farther ahead they could think farther ahead; they could plan, instead of simply reacting to what was immediately in front of them. 

This isn’t biological determinism, that’s not where I’m going.  I’m talking about the common tendency we have to analyze other people’s behavior in terms of our own.  I see you acting in such-and-such a way, and if it were me, my motive or reason would be thus-and-so.  I therefore ascribe that motive or reason to you – and I’m totally off-base. 

The metaphor Yong puts forward (he credits Jakob von Uexküll, fabulous name) is a house with windows overlooking a garden, and each window has a different view, so our perspective of the garden shifts from window to window – a smell, a sound, a touch – but the garden we sense is the only real garden.  The garden from a tick’s point of view, or a bee’s, or a sparrow’s, will be different from ours, but just as real.  We’re each of us inside the house, looking out on a landscape.  The windows are of course our physical senses.  Is it plausible that the reach, or limits, of those senses, are reflected in the reach, or limits, of our imagination, our myth-making, our theology - our understanding of human destiny? 

Our world feels to us like the whole world, and if it’s all we know, we easily mistake it for all there is to know. 



09 August 2022

Weather or Not


    Some immutable truths live in the basement of the jail, the place I call my work home. I'd like to explore some of them in the next few column inches. The following comments are not
supported by scientific research– no lab rats were killed in the writing of this blog. Rather, it is a compilation of observations.

    1. Hot weather makes criminals more aggressive.

    High temperatures are associated with bad moods, jittery behavior, irritability, and negative feelings. The jail staff certainly believes it. They keep the jail chilly to lessen aggressive behavior. As I've mentioned before, if you plan to get arrested, think ahead and bring a sweatshirt.

    When the weather gets extreme in either direction, cold or hot, we see a few anecdotal examples. As I discussed in my last column, some of my criminal trespassers go full Otis (That's an Andy Griffith Show reference and not the elevator). The homeless present themselves to the jail and force an arrest. This is a tactic for survival and not necessarily aggressive behavior.

    Rarely does a 4th of July pass that I don't see at least one man who attacked his brother with a barbecue fork. He apparently missed the note on the calendar identifying this as Independence Day.

    As I mentioned above, I'm not a social scientist. But we need to think about causation and correlation. In the summer, personal violence rates climb. Ice cream sales also do. Before we require Blue Bell (or whatever the leading ice cream is in your region) to slap a warning label on each half gallon, we need to consider whether the change in one produces a change in the other or if they are only statistically associated.

    So what about cause? Hot weather makes a person grumpy and, as a result, they are quick to wield that two-pronged, long-handled fork. Although we tend to think so, I'm inclined toward a different explanation. People are out more in the summer. They tend to hydrate with beer. When the siblings gather for the holiday, alcohol and family become the secret sauce. The barbecue fork is the weapon of convenience. The hot weather takes the blame. Check back at Thanksgiving; the knife used to carve the turkey will be involved.

    Personally, cold weather makes me grumpier. That's why I chose to move down to Texas and visit Minneapolis in early September before the northern gales bring the ice and snow.

    Consider rain. My climate criminologists tell me that rain and low barometric pressure also lead to a higher incidence of violence. My jail staff, however, love rainy days. (After they get to work and dry out their clothes.) They are hopeful for an easy workday, believing that rain will make fewer people go to the bars. They also think that police officers, not wanting to get out in the rain, might let a few behaviors slide that would otherwise result in traffic stops or out-of-car investigations.

    Of course, it has been so long since it rained in north Texas, that most people might just stare at the sky, getting soaked by this phenomenon that they've read about on the internet. We're living the reverse of a Ray Bradbury short story.

    2. There was a Covid effect. 

    In the early days of Covid-19, the crime pattern around Fort Worth shifted. The bars were closed. People didn't go out, and my driving while intoxicated cases fell precipitously. Instead, malefactors drank at home. They still acted out their aggression on the people around them. Spouses bore the brunt of the anger.

    The bars are back in business. We've grown accustomed to Covid. These days you can get punched by a stranger and infected all at the same time.

    3. A full moon makes everyone crazy.

    At the end of this week, August's full moon will fill the night sky. All manner of disturbing behavior will be attributed to this celestial power. I'm not sure that the statistics bear out lunar lunacy. Many of my jailers believe it, as do police officers and emergency medical workers. When the frontline observers attribute criminal behavior to a full moon, the people will persist. They can talk a phenomenon into existing.

    There may be a practical element to this one. A full moon might provide enough light for a burglar to practice his or her trade more easily. On that night, the concealing darkness of the shadows remains, making it harder for the victim's doorbell camera to get a good picture of the thief. The opposite of crazed behavior, the incidence of crime under a full moon might be perfectly rational when viewed from a certain perspective. The bomber's moon has become the burglar's moon. Just don't howl.

    For the astrological incline, by the way, Saturn will be at its yearly brightest a few days following the full moon. The tug of Saturn influences a person's moral boundaries. The next week may be a seriously dangerous time to be outside.

    As for me, I'll use the excuse to stay indoors and start planning for Bouchercon.

    Truth be told, I'm traveling the day this posts.

    Until next time.

08 August 2022

Sidekicks and Wingmen


Few things are more helpful to a detective than a good assistant. Dr. Watson ranks as the first among equals in this useful category, being not only a helper and the recording narrator, but also a stand in for the reader when the great man's mind gets ahead of the rest of us. He was followed up by the likes of Archie Goodwin of Nero Wolf fame and the obtuse but brave and cheerful Captain Hastings, friend of Hercule Poirot.

I have been thinking about assistants of one sort or another since I have recently watched several of the Cormoran Strike TV dramatizations while reading a number of Abir Mukherjee's mysteries set in 1920's India. Both feature lively and highly intelligent assistants who are crucial to the stories' success.

Strike, created by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) is a fine character, a one legged Afghan war vet who hires pretty Robin Ellacott as his secretary and office manager and gets the bonus of a trained driver, a superb undercover operative, and a fine detective. While Cormoran has some rough edges and is not at his best in social situations, Robin is a smooth operator, although, in what I consider a retrograde touch, she doubles as the woman in jeopardy when the action lags.

Robin is well acted on screen and well drawn on the page, as is Mukherjee's Sergeant Surendranath (Surrender-not) Banerjee, assistant to another war wounded detective, Captain Wyndham. The Captain

is a man of the Empire, only partly disillusioned about the Imperial project after the horrors of trench warfare which have left him addicted to opium. That he evolves from acceptance of the colonial power structure to a considerably more complex attitude is due to his assistant, Sergeant Banerjee.

Banerjee, a Brahmin, was superbly educated in England (Harrow and Cambridge) and he has family connections with the top of Indian society and with supporters of Ghandi's independence movement. Both these circumstances make him an unlikely, as well as a conflicted, policeman in a colonial set up. Nonetheless, he is good at his job, if a touch naive, and he clearly foresees a need for good police work in any future India. 

Banerjee's education gives him perspective on both cultures. He is a key to Wyndham's (and the reader's) understanding of Indian politics, religious beliefs, and customs up and down the social scale. He is certainly better educated than his Captain and perhaps more intelligent.

What Banerjee does not have and what he will certainly learn from Wyndham is a more cynical and realistic view of human nature, especially of its criminal elements. And just as rapport with his Sergeant modifies the Englishman's view of the Raj, so the Captain's trust and their evolving personal relationship strengthens the sergeant's confidence in himself and in an independent India.

Signs of this evolution were very clear in their most recent outing, Death in the East, which also highlighted Banerjee's importance as a character. The Sergeant's arrival was delayed for more than half the novel, and at least to this reader, he was sorely missed. Wyndham with his bad memories and his addiction is best taken in smaller doses. His obvious affection for Banerjee lightens the mood of the novel, even as the Sergeant provokes him to reassess the done thing and British attitudes.

They are a good team, and Mukherjee, who was raised in Scotland and now lives in London, has himself the bicultural heritage and background to bring them both to life, as well as a host of Colonialists, revolutionaries, princes, opium purveyors, servants, and even ladies of the zenana.

***

The Falling Men, a novel with strong mystery elements, has been issued as an ebook on Amazon Kindle. Also on kindle: The Complete Madame Selina StoriesThe Complete Madame Selina Stories.

The Man Who Met the Elf Queen with two other fanciful short stories and 4 illustrations and The The Dictator's Double, 3 stories, 4 illustrations are available from Apple Books.



07 August 2022

Grammar Nazi


Even the best of us make grammatical mistakes although it’s difficult imagining Stephen Fry flubbing floating phraseology. He manages to educate without being overly pedantic. He doesn’t belittling lecture like grammar police.

TL;DR: If you’re in a mad rush, jump to the second video featuring grim Gestapo grilling, gore, and gunfire, but if you have 6½ minutes, the fabulous Fry makes an entertaining case for not being too… er, Fryish.

But what if Goebbels or Göring controlled the language? Imagine no more. A comedic critic has done exactly that. Picture The Producers language coach. So with apologies to Mel Brooks and almost everyone else (you may have to turn on sound in the lower right), we bring you: