27 October 2020

Ross Macdonald - Connecting With The Past


Paul here. One of my favorite mystery authors is Ross Macdonald and one of my favorite characters is his Lew Archer. I like them for a variety of reasons, but I’ll leave those for another time. Today’s guest post is by Tom Bergin, who runs the The Name is Archer Facebook group. It was started in 2014 by John Aaron, and is currently run by Tom, Lila Havens and Mike Langston. With a name like that, it’s clear that the focus of the group is Lew Archer, but it’s expanded over the years to include many other crime writers and crime films.

Tom is a lifelong reader and has been reading mystery novels since he was in grammar school. Retired now, he’s able to devote more time to a life of crime—in books and films anyway. He grew up and still lives in San Francisco with his wife. They have five children, ranging in age from 28 to 42.

So, without further ado, Tom Bergin talks about Ross Macdonald and Lew Archer:

***

Ross Macdonald - Connecting With The Past

by

Tom Bergin

Ross Macdonald has been my favorite mystery writer for forty years. One day I walked into a bookstore and spotted a volume of Dashiell Hammett’s novels. I was living in San Francisco at the time so it seemed like a sign that I should buy the book. Hammett led me to Raymond Chandler and Chandler led me to Ross Macdonald. I liked Hammett and Chandler but I loved Ross Macdonald. His writing touched something in me and I’ve been reading him ever since.



Ross Macdonald was born Kenneth Millar on December 13, 1915 in Los Gatos, California. Although born in the United States, Ken’s parents were Canadian and Ken was raised in Canada. Ken Millar published his first novel, The Dark Tunnel in 1944. Millar went on to write twenty-three more novels. Eighteen of these were Archer novels. There was also a volume of Archer stories titled The Name is Archer published in 1955 and a more complete volume of Archer stories titled The Archer Files (2015).  Writing under the pseudonym John Macdonald, Millar’s Lew Archer made his debut in The Moving Target in 1949. He then published his next five novels with the pseudonym John Ross Macdonald before adopting Ross Macdonald when The Barbarous Coast was published (1956).

The first few Archer books were in the hard-boiled Chandler tradition. They were good books but Macdonald was eager to make his own mark on the genre. Macdonald wanted less violence in his books and more psychological insight into his characters. He wanted to write about families and family tragedies rather than gangsters and mobsters. Most critics contend that this change took place with the publication of The Galton Case in 1959. The Galton Case and the books that followed cemented Macdonald’s position next to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler in the pantheon of hard-boiled writers. 

There are many things I love about Macdonald’s writing. The first book of his I read was The Galton Case. I was hooked and quickly read everything of his I could find. The first thing that struck me about Macdonald’s novels was the complexity and ingenuity of his plots. Plot was important to Macdonald. In his essay The Writer as Detective Hero Macdonald writes: “Chandler described a good plot as one that made for good scenes, as if the parts were greater than the whole. I see plot as a vehicle of meaning. It should be as complex as contemporary life, but balanced enough to say things about it.”



Along with complex plots Ross Macdonald’s books are full of ideas and themes. In an interview with Paul Nelson he said: “You really start with meaning before you have anything to structure.” There is plenty of meaning and many ideas in his books. I’m only going to mention a couple. Probably the most obvious theme that runs through Macdonald’s work is that of the past. The idea that what has happened in the past affects what happens in the present. This idea is prevalent in almost all the later books. In The Zebra-Striped Hearse Archer says: “The past is the key to the present.” In The Far Side of the Dollar Archer states: “I mean the deep connections you get in life, the coming together of the past and the present.” In many of the books the sins of the parents are visited upon their children. The children suffer from the bad deeds of their parents. An example of this would be Ralph Hillman’s affair in The Far Side of the Dollar. That was the start of the trouble for the Hillman family.


Another important theme of Ross Macdonald is that things are connected in life. People are connected, ideas are connected, the past and present are connected, what one person does directly affects other people. In The Far Side of the Dollar Lew Archer says: “Life hangs together in one piece. Everything is connected with everything else. The problem is to find the connections.” 

The thing I like best about the Archer books is the character of Archer himself. He’s a good man. He’s compassionate and empathetic. Archer cares about people. He has a connection with young people. Lew worries about Stella in The Far Side of the Dollar: “Generation after generation had to start from scratch and learn the world over again. It changed so rapidly that children couldn’t learn from their parents or parents from their children. The generations were like alien tribes islanded in time.” Archer’s empathy for people is one of the qualities that sets him apart from other private detectives. Even though Archer was a compassionate and caring man, he was also a realist. He knew life was hard. In The Far Side of the Dollar Stella tells him that she doesn’t see how she and Tommy are ever going to be happy. Lew replies: “Survival is the main thing.” It was a hard saying to offer a young girl. “Happiness comes in fits and snatches. I’m having more of it as I get older. The teens were my worst time.”


One of my favorite lines from all the books comes from The Far Side of the Dollar. Lew says: “Other people’s lives are my business.” The line has a dual meaning. The line is true in a literal sense. Archer’s a detective. It’s his job to investigate people’s lives but I prefer to think of the line in a different way. Other people’s lives are Lew’s business because he’s a human being. They are his business because he cares about people. Because he’s connected to them.

I’ll continue to read Ross Macdonald’s books because I’m still entertained by, and learn from, his books. In this crazy, angry, divided world we’re living in, it’s good to be reminded by a wise voice that we’re all connected and that other people’s lives are our business too.

***

Thank you, Tom. I really enjoyed that. And people can check out The Name is Archer at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1734000126825677


~.~.~
And now for the usual BSP:

A great review of Coast to Coast: Noir at Just Reviews:

Each story is filled with sadness, tragedy and each character experiences death in a different way. The titles alone are eerie and will give you the chills. A fabulous collection of well written noir short stories told in different settings with  characters that work in meat packing plants, feed companies, markets and not very lucrative jobs causing their downfalls and falling for the need to complete jobs that most would turn down. A superb collection for readers that want something odd, different and dangerous.

-- Fran Lewis, Just Reviews
And a very nice review of The Blues Don't Care at The Irresponsible Reader:


Marks hits the right notes with his prose and characters, creating a mystery that appeals on many levels. I recommend this for mystery readers looking for the kind of thing they haven’t read before.

--H.C. Newton, The Irresponsible Reader




Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com

26 October 2020

Stratford Redux


 by Steve Liskow

Several weeks ago, I got an idea for a short story that needed a little refresher on Shakespeare. During my theater days, I directed six of his plays, acted in nine, and assigned about a dozen more. When I donated most of my acting books to the theater several years ago, I found the Arden, Oxford, Pelican, Penguin, Bantam and Signet editions of plays I directed on my shelves, along with four hard-cover complete collections. I kept those. 

Reading outside your genre makes you see things differently, and revisiting Shakespeare was the writing equivalent of a six-pack of Red Bull. Remember, the majority of his audience--who paid well and often to see his productions--was illiterate. They came for a good story and they got it. He knew his audience and gave them what they wanted. He owned a shared in the theater and retired at age 46, returning to Stratford and buying the second-largest house in town. 

Since looking up what I needed, I've reread The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love's Labour's Lost and Romeo and Juliet. Even 2 Gents (Possibly his first produced work) shows us how to tell a story. Only in his late 20s, Will gives us plot and character arcs that are clear and strong. OK, the ending is a little hard to buy, but the structure and dialogue rock.

By the time I'd read the first act of 2 Gents, I understood the language again. Shakespeare wrote in modern English, and his punctuation is surprisingly contemporary. If you don't understand a line, stand up, read it out loud, and let the rhythms show you when and where to move. Trust me, it works. 

In Romeo and Juliet, look how Shakespeare differentiates Paris, Tybalt, Romeo, Benvolio and Mercutio, all teen-aged boys, by their speech patterns. Notice how everything in the plot is logical and leads to that wrenching finish.


Learn from the constant vivid images that deepen the characters and carry the themes. Shakespeare wrote that play when he was about 30, so his "great" works are still to come.

In the middle of my career, I took an intensive (One-day) workshop on performing the plays from the First Folio text. It was so helpful that I bought a copy of the First Folio, and I kept that, too.

The introduction makes an important distinction. "[This] is not a collection of plays, but a collection of scripts." Shakespeare wrote his plays to be performed, not to be read (remember, most of his audience couldn't read), and the difference matters. His actors often had only their own lines along with the cues (Today, we'd call these "sides"), but they could interpret the writer's verse, prose and rhythms for acting hints. If all English teachers took the workshop I did, students would come out of their classes loving Shakespeare instead of hating or fearing him. A theater group my wife still works with calls this phenomenon "Shakes-fear."

Alas, English teachers need no involvement with theater to get their degree. Most of them have none, and they teach Shakespeare as literature. It makes as much sense as a blind man teaching photography. 

Just as an aside, most editions of Romeo and Juliet put Mercutio's "Queen Mab" monologue in blank verse. The First Folio prints it in prose, and it flows better and is easier to follow. Actors could learn it more easily. 

Will can teach crime writers how to do it better, too.

You want noir? See how Lady Macbeth drives a good guy over the edge, 350 years before James M. Cain penned The Postman Always Rings Twice.


Verbal comedy?
The Comedy of Errors has Antipholus and Dromio discussing the Kitchen Wench with puns and repartee that Abbot and Costello might have cribbed for their "Who's on First?" gem. Foreshadowing? How about "Beware the Ides of March?"



I won't reread all the plays, but I will revisit several others. I've been away a long time.

25 October 2020

Evolution of a Story


 Originally, I was going to title this one as "Three Strikes and a Home Run on a Bunt." But that is too long for a title, and as baseball fans know, technically a batter only gets three strikes and then he is out of the batter's box. He doesn't then get another chance to swing at the ball. So, pay attention here because this is the way this game went.

Strike One
Back in the 90's, another short story author proposed that he and I should write a private investigator story together, a story set in the corrupt river-town of Sioux City during the Prohibition Era. At the time, the proposing author had several more published short stories than I did, but he had also received several rejections from AHMM. So, our plan was to co-author the story and submit it to AHMM and he would then get a story into their magazine, well, at least half a story. Since he and I liked the same authors and the same type of stories, it should have been easy working together.

I wrote part of the story and passed it to him. He wrote the next part of the story and passed it back. And, so on until the story was finished. Were there any problems? Of course there were. We didn't agree on the title, the private eye's name or even his height, among some of the important issues. Consulting with other fellow writers as intermediaries resulted in evenly divided opinions or else a third suggestion which neither co-author wished to implement. In the end, there was a lot of coin flipping. I submitted the story with both author's names  for the byline to AHMM. They rejected it. The editor must've had her own coin. At separate times afterwards, my co-author submitted our manuscript to two small press magazines he had previously been published in. In turn, each magazine accepted the story, but then went toes up before a contract could be signed. The story never saw print. With all the fun I'd had on this joint project, I swore to myself to avoid any short story collaboration in the future. This worked for about twenty years.

 Strike Two
Now, we move forward to the 21st Century. An author, whom I highly admire and was already in AHMM, inquired about the two of us co-authoring a short story for AHMM. I explained my prior situation and declined the proposal. A couple of years later, the inquiry came again. By the third request, I decided what the hell, give it a try, see how it goes. I then created a partial story outline proposal involving a bent cop and a gangster during the Prohibition Era, but a completely different plot than the story in Strike One. Next, I wrote about 1,000 words in the POV of one of the two main characters and passed the partial outline and story start to the other author for his turn to write about 1,000 words in the POV of the other main character. After the pass, other projects seemed to have come along and everybody went their separate writing ways. No harm, no foul.

Strike Three
A couple of years ago, I wrote a story about a gangster in 1930's New York City during (you guessed it) the Prohibition Era. Completely different plot than the ones in Strike One and Strike Two. I shipped the manuscript off to AHMM via e-mail in August 2017. The rejection came back in July 2018 with the editor's comments that it looked like I was setting the story up for a series. (Remember her comment for later.)  And, the editor was correct, I had intended for the story to become a series.

The Bunt

Looking through my story starts one day for something to write, I came across my old 1,000 word start from the abandoned Strike Two project. Years had passed without any progress, so I blew the dust off and continued the story. Only now, I changed the story to be written solely from one main character's POV, the bent cop. I finished the outline and the story as I wrote. The manuscript went to AHMM in February 2018 and was accepted in January 2019.

The Ball Keeps On Rolling
In the early part of August 2020, I got an e-mail from the Managing Editor of AHMM saying that I will have a story coming out in their Nov/Dec 2020 issue, but she had been on vacation and was trying to catch up, so she didn't yet know which story it would be. Since they had at the time six of my purchased-but-not-yet-published stories setting in inventory, I obviously didn't know which one it would be either.

The Home Run
In last August, Rob Lopresti e-mailed me with a link to the preview of the Nov/Dec 2020 AHMM issue. The last line in the 2nd paragraph in the Editor's Preview section says: "And R.T. Lawton introduces us to a new series in "A Matter of Values."

And yep, that's the bent cop and gangster story from Strike Two and The Bunt, but I wrote that one as a standalone story. Let's see now, one is a standalone, two is a sequel and at least three is a series, unless you count that as a trilogy, in which case it takes four. This means that in order not to disappoint the editor, I now have to come up with two or more new stories involving those same two main characters and then get contracts for each of those stories.. What a problem to have. Goes to show, you just never know how things will go in this game of ours.

24 October 2020

Setting as Character...Really? Bad Girl Makes a Case (and gives an example)


What do we mean by "Setting as Character?"  Students always ask me that, and here's what I tell them:

Setting is important in helping to establish the mood of your story.  It should be treated with as much attention as you would give any other character.

In the 14 week Crafting a Novel course I teach at Sheridan College, we spend most of one class talking about setting.

One of the first things you must decide when writing your novel, is the reality of your setting.  Is it a real place that exists today, or that did exist in another time?  A place you can research?  Or is your setting completely from your imagination?

The trouble wtih many beginning writers is they set their novels in 'Anytown USA.'  Thus, no character, no unique feel to the place...the 'why it is different from everywhere else?' is missing.


For this reason, I usually opt for a real setting, even in fantasy novels.  No, you may not be able to go back to 4th century West Country in England (when WILL they come up with a time machine that works, already?  I'm waiting...)  But you can visit the area now, take in the beauty of the countryside, and particularly, visit the local museums to get more details on how people lived and how the land looked at the time.

That's what I did.  Here's how the location for my time-travel trilogy came about.

 All of our families have pasts.  Have you looked into yours to see if there might be inspiration there?  That's how I found my setting for Rowena Through the Wall.  In a corner of England called Shropshire, more known for sheep than people, there once stood a Norman castle of fantastic 'character.'

The original castle, erected after Harold fell to William in 1066, went to ruin in the early 1500s.  The new abode, Hawkstone Park, was built in 1556; it was forfeited in 1906 to pay off the gambling debts of my rakish relative.

My late cousin showed me around the countryside.  Tony Clegg-Hill was the previous Viscount of Shropshire and Shrewsbury.  I adored him.  He had that particular dry British wit that reminded me of David Niven.  It was his great-grandfather who lost the castle.

Tony would regale me with anecdotes about the family villains: the original Viscount Huel, who was basically a henchman for William the Conqueror.  More recent rogues like Sir Rowland Hill gambled away anything that could be taken as a stake.  It's a damning history, but a vibrant one.  But not all the family were black sheep.  One Lord Hill distinguished himself as the second in command to the Duke of Wellington at the battle of Waterloo.  When Wellington was made Prime Minister in 1924, Hill succeeded him as commander in chief of the British army.

So when it came to writing Rowena Through the Wall, I leaned back into the family history.  The original Normal castle with it's rounded turrets, crenellations and merlons had been waiting for a writer to bring it back to life.  Rowena walks through the wall to her ancestor's land, and she falls in love with it too.

"Outlander meets Sex and the City"
"Game of Thrones Lite"
Rowena Through the Wall was featured on USA Today, and was an Amazon Top 50 Bestseller (all books.)



23 October 2020

Got Poe?


 

'Tis the season for all things spooky and macabre. Which all-time classic author comes to mind this time of year?

For me, it's Edgar Allan Poe.

I have a few things in common with the Father of the Detective Story. We both have called Richmond, Virginia and New York City home. We both share an affinity for ravens. And we both studied at my alma mater, the University of Virginia.

If you aren't familiar with Poe's UVA college days, here are a few factoids you may enjoy:

  • Seventeen-year-old Poe enrolled at UVA on February 14, 1826--yes, Valentine's Day--and remained through the full academic year, which ended in December.


  • Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, former US president, and founder of UVA passed away five months after Poe moved to Charlottesville. Though not confirmed, it is likely Poe met Jefferson at school functions and attended the memorial services held to honor the University's founder, including by wearing a black arm band.
  • Poe had an impressive athletic record while at UVA. He was a record-breaking swimmer, having swum six miles against the current on the James River. His running broad jump distance was 21' 6" with a running start of twenty yards.
  • Of the eight academic schools possible to enroll in at the time, Poe registered for two (modern and ancient languages). Of note, most students in those days enrolled in three schools, but Poe couldn't afford the extra fifty-dollar fee.
  • He was secretary of the University's Jefferson Debate Society.
  • Poe lived in a section of UVA's original academical village called The Range. His single dorm room, coincidentally and ominously No. 13, is now referred to as The Raven Room.
  • Mary Stuart Smith described Poe's dorm room (May 17, 1899) ~ There was one window, and opposite it, a door, both furnished with green blinds. There were two closets, one on each side of the open fireplace, with a book shelf, a single bedstead, a table, a wash stand, and a small travelling trunk. The walls were whitewashed, and adorned with quantities of spirited sketches in charcoal, drawn by the skilled fingers of the two-fold artist who was its occupant.
  • While living in 13 West Range, Poe etched a verse on the glass pane of his window:

Oh Though timid one, do not let thy
Form slumber within these
Unhallowed walls,
For herein lies
The ghost of an awful crime.

  • His nickname was Gaffy, the hero of a short story he wrote and read allowed to several classmates who had gathered in his room one night. According to legend, Poe flung the pages into the fire, destroying the only copy, after a friend noted it had repeated too often.
  • Poe wrote Tamerlane while at UVA. Later the University influenced two of his short stories, "William Wilson" and "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains."
  • Poe had a strained relationship with his uncle, John Allan, who was his guardian at the time and limited Poe's funding. By the end of the 1826 academic year in December, Poe had resorted to burning his furniture to keep warm. When he left for winter break, Poe had every intention of returning to UVA the following February, but . . .
  • Allan refused to continue financially supporting Poe at school, so he never returned to the University. Thus, he never graduated from college.
  • Poe left behind many personal debts, which Allan refused to settle. Worth noting, a century later, the University's librarian, Harry Clemmons, paid Poe's outstanding library fines.
  • UVA commissioned the sculptor George Julian Zolnay to create a bronze bust of Poe to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of his death.  The bust was displayed in Alderman Library before the renovations commenced this autumn.
  • If you ever visit Charlottesville, Virginia, stop by No. 13 West Range. UVA restored and furnished Poe's old dorm room to its period-appropriate spartan glory, though I suspect the  raven statuette was added later.

 . . . evermore.




Sources: 
The University of Virginia, Albert and Shirly Small Special Collections Library, The Raven Society, Bookman by C. W. Kent (1917), and Edgar Poe and the University of Virginia by F. Stovall (1969).


PS ~ Let's be social:

22 October 2020

Stand Back and Stand By


One of the most depressing things about living in this day and age is that I have to keep saying things like:

  • Nazis are bad.
  • White supremacy is bad.
  • People who say they plan to start a race war are often telling the truth.
  • People who say only they have rights – to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, not to mention the Constitution – are dangerous.

Etc.

Look, even I know who the Proud Boys are. You can read some summaries of their "beliefs" here:

SPLC - Why are the Proud Boys so Violent?; Anti-Defamation League - Proud Boys; USA  Today - Who are the Proud Boys?

Meanwhile, we had some more proud militia types - the Michigan Wolverine Watchmen (???? - obviously they've been reading too many Marvel comics; that or they all went to UofM. Although I doubt it...) - who decided kidnapping Governor Gretchen Whitmir and trying her for treason at a kangaroo trial and then executing her on national television was a great idea, along with attacking police officers and starting a civil war “leading to societal collapse”.  (NYTimes)

NOTE:  Why, why, why do so damn many white militia types want societal collapse?  Where do they think they can buy their favorite gummy bears?  And lest you think these are rugged survivalists, remember that most of this gang was involved in the armed protest / assault / invasion at the Michigan Capitol building back in April as they sought... <checking her notes...> access to haircuts and hardware stores.  (The Guardian)

Update:  turns out the Michigan Wolverine Watchmen were planning to not only kidnap, try and execute their governor, but also the Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam.  Listen, you rugged semi-constitutionalists, if states' rights are the most important of all, what the hell gives you the right to interfere in the governance of another whole state? 

And what is that they really want, anyway?  I've noticed that most white supremacist organizations - including the Proud Boys - have quit using the term "white supremacist" (puts people off) and instead call themselves "Western chauvinists".  And there's a key right there - because the mind set of these groups is predicated on a false idea, a toxic nostalgia, for a world in which (white) Americans (men) ruled the world, we were the wealthiest and strongest nation in history, everyone did what we said (except, of course, the Russians who back then were mortal enemy #1), and life was perfect.  Gas was cheap, a man - any [white] man - could earn enough to support a family, and the women could stay home and take care of the family as God intended.  Our suburban way of life was the envy of the world, and only we had it and we deserved each and every bit of it because we worked hard for it.

Granted, people did work hard for it - but the reason for our prosperity of the late 1940s through much of the 1960s was because we were the only industrialized country which had not had its major cities bombed to rubble in the almost 7 years of WW2.  70-80 million people worldwide died in WW2. Some 60 million Europeans became refugees during the entire World War II period. According to the United Nations, a million people had yet to find a place to settle by 1951, more than five years after the fighting stopped.  There was a need for massive rebuilding all across Europe, Asia, north Africa, and the Middle East:  buildings, infrastructure, factories, homes.  After a war that long, everybody needed consumer goods:  clothing, shoes, cars, furniture, etc.  And for years, the United States - relatively untouched by war - had a monopoly on production and sales of just about everything.  That was the economic miracle of the 1950s.  Based on the desperate poverty of almost everyone else in the world.*

And that is why I call it toxic nostalgia, because to bring back the glory days of the 1950s and 60s would require a return to that level of global poverty.  Instead, what we're seeing today (pandemic aside) is a world in which poverty is decreasing, countries are increasing production and prosperity - and instead of accepting it and joining in, some Americans are waxing way too nostalgic about when we "ruled the earth".  And dreaming about how to get back there. 

And that's not even nearly as bad as the superfund toxic nostalgia about the good old days of the ante-bellum South, in which slavery wasn't so bad, and somebody needed to pick all that cotton, and at least the slaves all got converted to Christianity and were saved.  That, too, lingers on - along with all the old BS about how slaves deserved to be slaves, because they were so inferior to whites.  Iowa Rep. Steve King asked a while back, "which nonwhite subgroups had contributed more than white people to “civilization.” 

Well, I taught a year-long class every year on World Civilizations which would have answered his question; but I think he would have flunked for citing Ancient Aliens as a source.**  See also SLATE on "Why It Makes No Sense to Judge Groups of People by Their Histories of Invention."  


This, and far too many other reasons are why we have a serious white supremacist problem in this country.  Thanks to Wikipedia, here's an incomplete list of White Supremacist Groups in the United States:

I can guarantee you that each and every member of all of these organizations knows what "Stand back and stand by" means.  

I've mentioned this before, but this incident will always haunt me.  Years ago right after the Timothy McVeigh bombing, one of our regular militia visitors at the courthouse told me, "War has been declared."  When I said the children in the day-care weren't soldiers (remember, 19 children were killed in a daycare there, as well as 3 pregnant women), he replied, "There are no innocent victims."  And he meant it.  And was not apologizing for it.  And was proud of it.  


White supremacist literature (see "The Turner Diaries") is all about "getting rid of" (i.e., killing) everyone who doesn't meet their standards, to the point where you wonder if even in our weapons-rich environment, there really are enough bullets to get that job done.  Because they are all about purity policing the world.  They really do want to create a white paradise, but of course, there are a lot of "whites" in their world who they don't consider truly white, or white enough. And as their immediate world gets whiter, they expand their list of undesirables, and make more and more "white people" non-white.  In the long run, there's no one "good enough" left. 
 
Remember, the Nazis declared European Slavic people to be non-white, and good for nothing, according to Hitler, but to be "slaves to our culture". That and be slaughtered to make room for more pure German Aryans.
 
Remember, Timothy McVeigh bombed a government building knowing there was a day care center in it full of children.  




 *I told this to someone last week, who was amazed - they'd never heard this explanation of the American 1950s before.  God knows what they're teaching about WW2 these days...

**Not to denigrate Ancient Aliens - it's a great piece of mental cotton candy. 

ALSO:  We finally got an update on the South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravsborg case - 4 weeks later - where Gov. Kristi Noem and Public Safety Secretary Craig Price on Tuesday gave an update on the Saturday, Sept. 12 crash that killed 55-year-old Joseph Boever. Noem and Price spoke to reporters from the Sioux Falls City Hall.  The audio of the 911 call made by South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg was released, but otherwise, "The incident remains under investigation, and Price declined to answer some questions, saying he wants to release a full report when the matter is concluded."  (Argus Leader
 
Color us all suspicious.  Because if this had been anyone but a high government official, this investigation would be over and charges would have been filed.  

21 October 2020

Crow's Life


 The special all-private-eye issue of Black  Cat Mystery Magazine is out and I am delighted that my story "The Charity Case" is in the lead-off position.  (And by the way, I just realized that this is my seventh published story this year.  I believe that breaks my previous record by two.)

The story features Marty Crow and he has been hanging around my life for thirty years.  Here is how he came to be.

I was born and raised in New Jersey. Every fall we would go down to Atlantic City for the teacher's convention Dad always attended.  Being a shore town, A.C. was not at it's best in late autumn.  

Like a lot of shore resorts it fell on hard times and in the seventies someone had the brilliant idea that the solution was legalized gambling.  None of the tacky slot-machines-in-every-diner like they do it in Nevada.  No sir.  Gambling was only allowed in casinos which also had to be hotels.  The first such house opened in 1978 and I have not liked the place as much since.  Casinos, full of bad luck, bad judgement, and bad air, depress me.


My reaction was to create Marty Crow.  He is an Atlantic City native, a private eye, and he has a gambling addiction.  That would be bad enough but what makes it worse is that he is firmly in denial, which is like having one short leg and refusing to use a cane.  A police sergeant friend called him the fourth best private eye in the city and Marty replied that he was the third best, because one of the others had gone back to parking cars.

The first three stories about Marty appeared in P.I. Magazine in 1989 and 1990.  Amazingly that journal is still going, although it gave up on fiction long ago.  Probably the best thing that came out of that for me was meeting S.J. Rozan, whose first private eye stories appeared in some of the same issues as mine.


In 1991 Marty leapt to the big time with the first of two appearances in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  Two years later "Crow's Feat" showed up in a British anthology called Constable New Crimes 2.  That got me one one-and-only Anthony Award nomination.

When Michael Bracken announced a collection of P.I. stories related to food I sent him "Crow's Avenue," in which a bottle of soda is the main clue.  It appeared in Hardbroiled, and yes, that is spelled correctly.  (Alas, reviewers and readers assumed it wasn't.)  


Even cooler, it was one of two of Marty's adventures which the Midnight Mystery Players adapted for radio.  The Players have vanished, but thanks to James Lincoln Warren, the dramatization of "Crow's Avenue" can still be heard at Criminal Brief.

Marty then took a decade off until Criminal Element proclaimed what they hoped would be a new series title Malice Occasional. The first (and, alas, only) volume was titled "Girl Trouble," and I knew "Crow's Lesson" would be a perfect fit.  It was inspired by a story in the New York Times about a school board hiring private eyes to follow certain students home to make sure they were living in the district.   What could possibly go wrong with having strange men following little children through the streets?  I figured Marty could find out.

Not all the stories involve gambling, although I always try to mention it.  Most dramatically, in "Crow's Feat" Marty blows a bodyguard assignment because he can't stay away from games of chance.



But what about his latest appearance?  In "The Charity Case" Marty is hired by a  hardware store owner, in the City for a conference, who has given eight hundred dollars to a beggar on the street and now regrets it.  Why did he do that?  Well, read it and find out.

I suspect that this will be Marty's last dance.  I am a long way in time and space from his origin and we don't seem to connect anymore.  But I wish him well, the poor fool