04 December 2020

Crime Scene Comix Case 2020-11-011, Paint Job

by Velma

After rummaging through the dust bin of the Future Thought channel of YouTube, I found this little gem. Check it out.

Reintroducing Shifty, a none-too-bright crook who looks like a Minion in zebra stripes. This time poor Shifty finds himself doubly humiliated. The poor felon can’t win.

That’s today’s crime cinema. Hope you enjoyed the show. Be sure to visit Future Thought channel on YouTube.

03 December 2020

Lighten the Mood Already

No charges, no grand jury, no nothing in the South Dakota AG Jason Ravnsborg case other than the investigators say he was driving distracted when he hit and killed Mr. Boever. Other than that, crickets. Since November 2. Of course, he is an elector, so maybe they're waiting until after December 14th.

South Dakota's COVID situation is just as bad as you've heard, and probably worse. 82,000 cases, 995 deaths and the population of the state is only 880,000. And Gov. Noem still won't do anything but look good on a horse.

But enough doom and gloom! Here's some of my favorite lighter things in life, so here's something lighter. There will be a [short] quiz at the end.

Exhibit 1: The Big Snit - perhaps my favorite animated feature of all time, outside of Wallace & Grommit.

One of my favorite Oscar moments, Sean Connery & Michael Caine eventually giving an award to Kevin Kline:

And why Kevin Kline won the Oscar: "Apes don't read philosophy." "Yes they do, they just don't understand it!"

Dr. Tongue's Evil House of Wax (from SCTV):

Salvador Dali on What's My Line. 'Nuff said.

Jimmy Stewart's favorite joke:

And my good friend and fellow SleuthSayer, Brian Thornton sent me a copy of his latest book, Suicide Blonde! Folks, it's great: three novellas of historical noir, and the lead off story should have a movie made of it with a Gloria Grahame lookalike as the lead. Maybe both leads. Thanks so much, Brian, and I loved it.

Stay safe, stay well, stay masked!

Which of the above is this a quote from?


02 December 2020

Stepping Down With Jane

 I wrote a few months ago about enjoying Libby, the service provided by some libraries that allows you to listen to books.  Recently I couldn't find any books on Libby I wanted to listen to so I searched their Humor category and was surprised to find Pride and Prejudice listed.

I must admit I have reached the age of mumbly-mumble without reading a Jane Austen book or watching a movie based on one.  But I figured I would give it a shot.

And, what do you know?  I enjoyed it a lot.  Although it was published in 1813 I found it much easier to read than, say, James Fenimore Cooper or Herman Melville who came a bit later.  

Since I came to it from the Humor category I was naturally interested in how well this comedy of  manners worked for me.  I found Mrs. Bennet  and Cousin Collins were not nearly as amusing as I think Austen expected me to find them, but I delighted in the company, and very odd mind,  of Mr. Bennet.  Favorite example: When his wife complained about the entailment which meant she would be forced from her home when he died, Bennet offered the comforting thought that she might die first.  Somehow this failed to console her.

Another point of interest was that everyone seemed to know the exact income of every eligible man.  "He has 2,000 a year," or whatever.  Was there a list posted on a bulletin board someplace?  In our society talking about such things is considered terrible manners.

I was also fascinated by Austin's use of certain words.  Amiable and agreeable appear constantly, and seem to be about the best thing you could say about someone.

But the most fascinating word of all is condescending.  The odious and unctuous Mr. Collins describes his patron Lady de Bourgh as "all affability and condescension."  He means it as a compliment.  It indicated that she was willing to be gracious to her inferiors.

Today, of course, the mere implication that you think you have inferiors is what makes the word an insult.  (And by the way the word comes from "stepping down with," and originally meant compromise.  English is, as they say, a living language.)

The Grammarphobia  blog has an interesting piece on  Austen's use of the word.  

I have also been reading In The Hurricane's Eye, one of Nathaniel Philbrick's excellent books about the Revolutionary War.  In it he quotes George Washington, early in the fight, instructing his new colonels: "Be easy and condescending in your comportment to your officers, but not too familiar."  The same usage as Austen, I believe.

And speaking of presidents...  Not to get political but this reminded me of  something Donald Trump said at a rally in March 2019: "You know, I always hear 'the elite, the elite.' Well, I always said… 'they are the elite, I'm not.' I have a better education than them, I'm smarter than them, I went to the best schools, they didn't.  [I have a] much more beautiful house, much more beautiful apartment, much more beautiful everything. And I'm president and they're not, right? And then they say 'the elite, the elite.'"

He seems to be claiming that some group is bragging of being elite, but in this country elite is generally an insult thrown at intellectuals.  The only person who seems to be hinting that he himself a member of the elite is Trump himself.   

Which seems pretty condescending.  See what I did there?

01 December 2020

Once More, With Feeling

Though writing has gone well this year, I’ve spent a great deal more time on the editorial side of the desk than in any previous year. Editing involves everything from pitching ideas to writing guidelines, reading submissions, editing accepted submissions, formatting files for publication, reviewing publisher copyedits, reviewing covers, assisting in promotional activities, and so much more.

Rereading the full ms. of
Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir
vol. 2. Note the pandemic-
influenced hairdo.
So, this year, in the midst of a pandemic that has shut down or curtailed wide swaths of our economy, I’ve worked (in one way or another) on multiple issues of Black Cat Mystery Magazine, three volumes of Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, two seasons of Guns + Tacos (with Trey R. Barker), Jukes & Tonks (with Gary Phillips), and Groovy Gumshoes. Some of these were or will be published in 2020, some in 2021, and some in 2022.

Additionally, and not mystery related, I edited six issues of Texas Gardener, a bi-monthly non-fiction consumer magazine, and 52 issues of Seeds, a weekly electronic newsletter. Though there are some similarities in the editorial processes between a non-fiction consumer magazine and a mystery anthology, that’s a discussion best saved for another time.


The mystery projects I’ve worked on this year have included both invitation-only and open-call, each with unique challenges, but once submissions start rolling in there isn’t much difference in what happens: A great deal of reading.

1. The first read is cursory. When I receive a submission for any project, I give it a quick read to determine if it adheres to the guidelines and is competently written. Some submissions don’t survive this stage and are rejected. Other stories are held for a second reading.

2. The second read is an in-depth examination of the manuscript and the story. At this point I’m looking at several things. Among them: Does the plot hold together? Do the characters engage me? How much work is involved in preparing the story for publication? If it’s a submission to a themed anthology, does it differ in any way from other submissions? 

3. An accepted story gets a third read. This is the editing pass, a combination of developmental editing, copyediting, and formatting, where I examine every element and correct errors (spelling, grammar), confirm factual information (dates, product names), ensure consistency (character names, place names), and look to plug plot holes. Were I editing novels, development editing, copyediting, and formatting would likely be three separate and distinct processes. Because I work with short stories, I tend to do them at the same time.

4. The edited manuscript usually* gets sent to the author with corrections, changes, suggestions, and questions inserted into the document via Microsoft Word’s track changes function. Any extensive comments or revision requests are included in the cover letter, and the fourth read happens when the manuscript is returned. This read is to ensure that the author has addressed every correction, change, suggestion, and question. This read also involves ensuring that the author did not insert new errors and that I did not miss any in my original editing. This stage may be repeated several times depending on the author and the story. 

5. After all the mss. are merged into a single file, the entire anthology gets the fifth read. This time, I’m looking to ensure consistency across all stories. For example, are words with various spellings spelled the same throughout the entire project (barbecue, barbeque, bar-b-cue, bar-b-que, BBQ), and, if not, are the different spellings justified? I also try to ensure that nothing is lost or has lost its formatting during the process of merging all the files into one.

6. The next read happens when proofs come back from the publisher. I read to see what the publisher’s copyeditor changed and why. I’m checking to ensure that everything is formatted consistently. Often, but not always, proofs are shared so that each author has one last chance to review what the publisher’s staff has done to their story.

So, by the time a story appears in an anthology or periodical I edit, I’ve read it at least six times.

And, sadly, I still miss things.


Once of the most important lessons I take away from all this reading is to be judicious in my selection process. Knowing that I will be reading a story at least six times helps ensure that I select stories I will feel as good about on my sixth reading as I did on my first, either because they were great stories or because, through working with the writer through the editing process, they have become great stories.

On the other hand, is it any wonder why I can’t keep up with all the anthologies and periodicals in my to-be-read pile?

*Sometimes a ms. is so clean there’s no reason to return it to the writer for correction or revision. Sometimes the deadline is so tight that there isn’t time to return it to the writer. At the consumer magazine we rarely involve writers in the editing process, and, as a writer, I’ve worked with many editors, both inside and outside the mystery genre, who do not involve writers in the editing process. 

Speaking of projects I’ve read at least six times:

Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir is a crime-fiction cocktail that will knock readers into a literary stupor.

Contributors push hard against the boundaries of crime fiction, driving their work into places short crime fiction doesn’t often go, into a world where the mean streets seem gentrified by comparison and happy endings are the exception rather than the rule. And they do all this in contemporary settings, bringing noir into the 21st century.

Like any good cocktail, Mickey Finn is a heady mix of ingredients that packs a punch, and when you’ve finished reading every story, you’ll know that you’ve been “slipped a Mickey.”

Contributors include: J.L. Abramo, Ann Aptaker, Trey R. Barker, Michael Bracken, Barb Goffman, David Hagerty, James A. Hearn, David H. Hendrickson, Jarrett Kaufman, Mark R. Kehl, Hugh Lessig, Steve Liskow, Alan Orloff, Josh Pachter, Steve Rasnic Tem, Mikal Trimm, Bev Vincent, Joseph S. Walker, Andrew Welsh-Huggins, and Stacy Woodson.

Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir, vol. 1 releases December 14 from Down & Out Books.

30 November 2020

Earth's Future?

Back in March when the idea that this Covid-19 was contagious and we all needed to quarantine at home, my thoughts turned to space. Yes, first to Isaac Asimov's robot books, then to thinking about our astronauts. Ever since the space program started the astronauts had to be in quarantine for two weeks before going out into space. They didn't want to take some earth germ to the moon. Then when they came  back from the moon, they once again had to go into quarantine  in case they picked up some germ from space and didn't dare give it to earth and cause a pandemic. They didn't necessarily like it, they wanted to see their families to assure their family they were still the same person. That space had not changed them into some weird "outer space creature." 

As the days and weeks passed people began to learn Zoom meetings for business because many  people were now working from home. Before long folks learned Zoom for personal visits. My side of the family who never have reunions had one by using Zoom and our computers. I have two sisters, we all live in Texas but each of us have grown children and some of those grown children have children. One niece lives in NM, one nephew in MO, my daughter anher sons live in TN so it was great fun to at least see everyone, even if it was just in and out on the computer via Zoom for a few minutes. My daughter had taught me how to Zoom and it was great to see her. Actually on Thanksgiving afternoon she and I visited for a couple of hours and even played a dice game. 

In my little town, I'm on the Parks and Rec committee and we had a couple of  meetings on Zoom. There are eight of us and this was a great way to discuss our  projects and plan what to do next. 

This all brings me to Asimov robot books and he writes about the planets of Aurora and Solara where people NEVER "see" each other in person. They "view" each other on large screens in their home. Even married people. They go for walks "together" but they are holographic images not together in actual physical contact. This has gone on for so long that people have become afraid to actually touch each other. Some people actually can become physically ill to even be in the same room room with a human being. The idea of being in the same room with a human from that nasty germ filed planet Earth can cause such a mental upset can be even as bad if not worse.

If this pandemic can't be controlled will earth ever become like that? Will people who are not afraid of science and technology eventually be the only population left in 2050 or 2075? What about the people who won't take the vaccination? Will they just eventually die off? Could visitation by computer only happen on Earth even sooner than 2050? Say 2035? 

29 November 2020

What Does It Say About You?

Almost every author has at least one of what I'm going to talk about. And, some of what I've seen are better than others. I'm referring to the photo you use on your book cover, or on your blog site and/or submit to the writers conferences so the committee can include that photo of you in their conference booklet.

Unless you are hiding out from say, bill collectors or the drug cartels, you want people to recognize you for several reasons. Readers may want to say hello to their favorite author and perhaps to discuss one of your story characters or maybe ask questions about you latest story which really impressed them. Agents, editors, publishers and booksellers passing by at a conference may decide they'd like a congratulatory business word with you. Other authors, upon recognizing you, may want to meet their competition or discuss aspects of the writing craft. All of these are missed opportunities to network if no one knows what you look like or who you are.

Well, says you, I already have a photo for all those purposes. Good for you is my reply, but not so fast there. Per chance there is a question or more you should ask yourself.

Does it still look like you?

How old is the photo? Have you changed your hair style in the meantime? Do your clothes date you to a certain time period? When you look in the mirror every day, any change in the appearance of the person looking back is probably minimal, but over the passage of time, the change from the photo may become very distinct. We've all seen that conference booklet photo of the author who tried to stay young forever. At those times, it can become jarring to see the reality in person. So, make a more current photo when needed. These days, it's easy to update photos to have a gradual transition in appearance.

What does your photo say about you?

Obviously, if you write Westerns, you'll probably be dressed in cowboy gear. And, if you write Romance, then you'll probably have your hair done, have professional make up and wear a classy dress. Readers have expectations as to what their authors should look like. Do your best with what you've got, but try to fulfill those expectations as best you can You only get one chance to make a first impression and that impressions can make a difference in sales.

With the digital cameras we have these days, you don't need to go to a professional photographer, unless maybe you're a big-name author. The rest of us can keep taking digital photos until we get the look we like, one that says "this is me and I'm a professional at what I'm doing."

It's up to you to decide what goes into your photo. If you have a background in what you're writing, then you may want to reflect that in your photo, whether it's through a prop or a staged backdrop. I've also noticed that some authors will pose with their dog or cat. I assume they are appealing, in a subliminal way, to other dog or cat lovers. Kind of a "We have a common bond here, so you'll like my book" approach to advertising.

For me

My first three appearances in 1990's writers conference booklets showed a profile caricature in trench coat and fedora rather than an actual photo. You see, I had a few felons (one of whom had gone down twice for homicides before he brought me a kilo of coke), who had done their time and were getting released back into society. (The kilo guy was on the streets less that a month before he was revoked for choking someone.) Anyway, I didn't need them finding me from a photo and causing a disruption at the conference.

My first real photo was back when AHMM used to publish photos of their authors when they had a story in the magazine. I also used that same photo for the MWA Board of Directors when I attended my first board meeting in NYC. It showed me in a black cowboy hat during the time I did ranch things on the Front Range of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The next photo, which I still use, is me in an EDGE ballcap, glasses and a bandido mustache. None of that has changed over the years, except that the real me has acquired some crow's feet around the eyes, but that change wouldn't show up in my photo anyway.

And, lastly, the photo I use for SleuthSayers is one I originally made for a non-fiction book I wrote under an alias. Under the terms of the contract, book signings could be held simultaneously on both the East Coast and on the West Coast and neither one of them would be me. I used a navy watch cap, dark sunglasses and had my wife dye my sideburns and mustache with black shoe polish. I guess you could say this photo reveals one of the many personas I've adopted in my past.

For you

So, tell us what your photo says about you.

Does it reflect your background?

Does it go with your genre?

Does it distinguish you from other authors?

Got any author photo tips or insights for others?

28 November 2020

Cozying Up the Facts

Melodie, here! Are you ready for Hot Crime in a Cold Climate?

In between the usual loopy columns by yours truly, I'll be introducing some of our butt-kicking, snow-loving, positively laugh in the face of Jack Frost, Canadian Crime Writers in this column.

First up is Crime Writers of Canada President, my friend and colleague, Judy Penz Sheluk. Judy has a cottage in the North-north (as opposed to the 'Near-north' as we say in the banana belt) so she is a babe to be reckoned with. Take it away, Judy!

— Melodie

Judy Penz Sheluk
Judy Penz Sheluk

Cozying Up the Facts

by Judy Penz Sheluk

As a former journalist and magazine editor, I’m all about doing the research and getting the facts. As an avid reader of mystery fiction, I also want to learn new things from the books that I read. What might come as a surprise, however, is how much you can learn from a cozy mystery.

Let’s take the example of award winning author Ellen Byron, who includes a “Lagniappe” chapter at the end of each book in her Cajun County cozy mystery series. Included are some of the real inspirations for fictional locations, characters, and moments.

Then there’s award winning author Vicki Delany. Writing as Eva Gates, her Lighthouse Library series is set in the Bodie Island Lighthouse, just outside of Nags Head, N.C. Apart from the interior of the lighthouse, with which liberties were taken (the lighthouse is quite small), all of the geography is correct. History also factors in with Read and Buried, where facts about the Civil War era Freedman’s Colony in Roanoke are important to the story.

And of course, we all wonder how the research gets done for Melodie Campbell's mob caper comedies in The Goddaugher series!

The central theme of my latest Glass Dolphin cozy mystery, Where There’s a Will, revolves around the old Hadley house, rented out for years, rumored to be haunted, and now on the market as an estate sale. Enter protagonist and Glass Dolphin antiques shop owner Arabella Carpenter, who, along with her ex-husband, Levon, has been hired to appraise the contents of the house. Among those contents is a roll-top desk hiding more than one secret.

roll-top desk

Now, I could have left the description as an “antique roll-top desk,” but what fun would that be? Instead I dug around until I discovered the Cutler Desk Company of Buffalo, NY. Not only did the company specialize in roll-top desks, they obtained the patent for the first American-made roll-top desk; in all they were granted seven patents related to the desk’s mechanism.

But wait, there’s more. During my online search, I managed to stumble onto a photograph of a Bill of Sale, yellowed in age, for a desk sold by Cutler on February 19, 1900. You can’t leave a detail like that out of a story, though, like Vicki and her Bodie Island Lighthouse, I’ve taken some liberties with the Bill of Sale that Arabella and Levon discover. Instead of the desk selling to someone in Ohio, I changed that to read T. Eaton & Co.

Now, I'll admit I’m not 100% positive that T. Eaton & Co. sold Cutler desks, but it’s certainly plausible: the store was headquartered in Toronto, just across Lake Ontario from Buffalo, and they do offer roll-top desks, such as the type made by Cutler, in their Fall and Winter Catalogue 1899-1900. And isn’t that a whole lot more interesting than “antique roll-top desk?”

Find more on Judy’s Facts in Fiction web site.

About the Glass Dolphin Mystery Series: A cozy mystery series without cats, crafts, or cookie recipes, the Glass Dolphin mysteries follow the investigations of amateur sleuths Arabella Carpenter and Emily Garland. The books include: The Hanged Man’s Noose (#1), A Hole in One (#2), and Where There’s A Will (#3).

Available from…

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KFLQ6KH

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/where-theres-a-will-judy-penz-sheluk/1137780682?ean=2940162992455

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/where-there-s-a-will-87

Apple: https://books.apple.com/us/book/where-theres-a-will/id1533844283?ls=1

About the author: A former journalist and magazine editor, Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of two mystery series: the Glass Dolphin Mysteries and the Marketville Mysteries. Her short crime fiction appears in several collections, including The Best Laid Plans and Heartbreaks & Half-truths, which she also edited. Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she serves as Chair on the Board of Directors. Find her at