20 January 2020

Santa Noir


by Steve Liskow

Everybody has too many Christmas parties and get-togethers in December, so the Connecticut MWA members threw a procrastinator's bash on January 11 in Middletown. Middletown is, of course, in the middle of the State, home of Wesleyan University and several fine restaurants, so we gathered at Esca, three blocks from the college and on a main intersection.
Chris Knopf addresses the motley crew. He mostly obscures Mark Dressler.
Bill Curatolo and Mike Beil are at the upper right.

Chris Knopf and Jill Fletcher, who organized the event, suggested that in addition to the usual gift grab bag, drinks and meals and catching up on everyone's accomplishments for the year, people write a 200-word story on the theme of Santa Noir to share with their accomplices. Alas, loud hungry patrons mobbed the eatery on a Saturday evening, so we abandoned the readings. Some of our recent predictions on this blog have made the upcoming year look a little bleak, and I agree, so the stories seemed like a definite counterbalance.

Here are four of them.

Santa Claus and Me by Mark L. Dressler
Jill posted this graphic, which inspired Mark's tale

I stared at that red Santa Claus outfit for several minutes. The lifeless man inside sent an eerie feeling through me matching the bitter night chill. I knew I'd never see that costume again.

Year after year, it was a never-ending journey, make-believe to many, but I knew differently. This was the night it would finally end. No more toys, no more nagging kids, no more workshops with elves, no more agonizing trips to the ends of each continent...and no more reindeer slaves.

I took another glance at that red uniform before walking away. I had no idea who that homeless man inside it was, but his clothes fit me perfectly. It was time for me to find a new home because I couldn't go back to the North Pole. I'd cleanse myself of this long white beard in the morning and become a free man. My name would no longer be Kris Kringle.

(Mark Dressler has published two novels featuring Hartford cop Dan Shields.)

At Burke's Tavern in Woodside, Queens, December 24, 1969 by William O'Neill Curatolo

Recently discharged marine Luis Martinez, high bar champion of the 43rd Street playground, sits alone on the broad windowsill across from the end of the bar nursing his fourth beer. He looks in need of cheering up. It's possible, no, it's certain, that the only advantage of having left his right leg back in Vietnam is that he now never has to pay for a drink, ever, in any of the watering holes up and down the length of Greenpoint Avenue.

Burly cop Georgie Corrigan bursts through the barroom door, dressed as Santa Claus. "Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas!" Santa Georgie moves along the bar clapping people hard on the back, and turns over to a couple of friends the bags of pot he took from a kid on his beat in Brooklyn a few hours ago. As he makes his way along the bar, he notices his old friend Luis, glassy eyed, staring off into space. Georgie sits down next to him and uses a burly arm to clamp him in a headlock. "Semper Fi, Jarhead!" and then, "Get up off your ass and onto those crutches. We're going outside to smoke a joint. Santa wants to see you smile."

(Bill Curatolo has published two novels.)

Santa By a Nose by Michael D. Beil

Christmas Eve at the Subway Inn, a dive bar that's a dead possum's throw from Bloomingdale's. Beside me is a bag with Isotoner gloves and a faux-cashmere scarf for the old lady. Three stools down is a schmoe in a Santa suit. The line of dead soldiers on the bar tells me the poor bastard is trying to forget how many brats had pissed their pants on his lap. For about a second, I consider sending a drink his way. But when he lifts his head, I realize he's the SOB I've been chasing for a week about a B&E in a bike shop on Second Avenue. No doubt about it. Eight million people in New York, but there's only one nose like that one. Fill it full of nickels and he could buy everybody in the place a drink.

I'm reaching into my coat pocket for my shield when a blast of frigid air blows in a tired dame in a coat that probably looked good during the Clinton administration, with three kiddies in tow.

"Daddy!"

I throw a twenty on the bar and nod to the bartender on the way out.

(Michael Beil was an Edgar finalist for Best Children's Novel for the first of five books in the Red Blazer Girls series.)

I Saw Mommy Killing Santa Claus by Steve Liskow

Detective Angel Noelle looked at the body, a fat man with a white beard and a red suit, underneath the mistletoe. Wrapped presents, grungy with fingerprint powder, lay under the tree.

"Your first, Noelle?" That was Detective Shepherd.

"Violent night," Angel said. "Got an ID yet?"

"We're waiting on fingerprints, but we've got a suspect and a witness."

Noelle turned to the woman in the green robe, the slit revealing black fishnets--previously hung by the chimney with care--and four-inch stilettos.

"I'm a dancer," she said. "All my son wanted for Christmas was his two front teeth..."

The small boy peeking from the stairs nodded.

"But instead, he brought..." The prancing vixen buried her face in her hands. "He deserved it..."

Noelle turned to the tech filling out the evidence label.  "What was the weapon?"

"Well, right now it looks like a fruitcake."

"Fruitcake?"

"Yeah, been re-gifted so many times it's hard as a Jersey barrier. The label on the can says, 'Do not sell after 2004.'"

Noelle looked at the body, deep in dreamless sleep.

"The contusions fit?" The open fire crackled in the fireplace.

"Yeah. Really roasted his chestnuts."

Outside, the black and whites rolled by.

(Steve Liskow practices piano about fifteen minutes a week.)


19 January 2020

WalMart da Bomb!


Florida woman– yes, there is such a meme– almost set off a bomb in a Tampa WalMart. Of paramount concern, as evidenced by multiple headlines, she hadn’t paid for the goods used to MacGyver the bomb.

Details remain sketchy, but the incident might have come about something like the following
Walmart logo

Bang!

Emma’s day started with an explosion, not the good kind. She stared at her sad Toyota, its left front WalMart-brand tire blown out. Further under the car, a pool of Great Value oil gathered.

She slammed the car door. Signs out front advertised Great Value powdered peanut butter and Moochie the Slacker Sloth, endorsed by author Eve Fisher. Emma grabbed a shopping cart and ignored the WalMart greeter.

She whipped past Quest Diagnostics who’d collected blood and urine samples. Either they or the Great Value early pregnancy test kit were wrong, she wasn’t sure which. Maybe her craving for all things pickle was trying to give her a clue– pickle freeze pops, pickle chapped lip balm, even the pickle yodeler.

Emma stomped past the WalMart pharmacy. They’d refused to honor her medical marijuana card. When she loudly enquired about medical meth, they’d asked her to leave.

She continued, ignoring a woman in pajamas entering the in-store McDonalds. The WalMart eyeglasses store looked fuzzy through her GV glasses. Money Services had cost her $1452 in a combined Nigerian prince and IRS scam.

Emma stopped at the salon to speak with her sister, Ella.

Ella said, “You need what?”

“Nail clippings, as many as you can get.”

“But… Is this another of your weird inventions?”

“Just do it. Sweep them up, whatever. Nails, real, artificial, I don’t care. Okay?”

Once upon a time, Emma had made the ideal WalMart customer. Where had it all gone wrong?

Chinese products, that’s what. No, even before that, her appearance on Shark Tank. She’d gone on the show to tout her latest invention, the Pooch Pouch, a hoodie sweatshirt with a built-in pocket for her puppy, Little Scabies.

Mr Wonderful himself, Kevin O’Leary, laughed his arse off.

Her ex-boyfriend had tried to warn her. Afterward, he must have heroically bitten his tongue.

Then what happened? The Kittyroo launched, an identical Chinese knockoff sold by WalMart. It wasn’t fair.

WalMart Chinese products drove her nuts. It wasn’t merely the lead paint on the toys, but nothing seemed to work right. Their melamine powdered milk could maybe kill you, but the ineffective garden insecticide couldn’t knock off a fire ant. The powders looked idential. Heck, they even tasted the same. When she added the insecticide to her now ex-boyfriend’s cereal, he merely burped and left for work.

She’d come to hate him. When she bought WalMart’s sexy Halloween mermaid skeleton costume, he stared at her weirdly. He’d had the same look when she’d given him a pink octopus mug.

Emma had tried to make her house a home. WalMart provided her biker gnomes and gangsta gnomes. She ordered WalMart Golden Girls Chia Pets.

For the kitchen, she’d bought the Poop Emoji cake pan, bacon bowls for taco salads, and cock-flavored ramen noodles.

For her bathroom, she’d picked out Pain in the Butt Diaper Rash Cream, WalMart Christmas-themed toilet paper, and Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay. Plus the ultimate bathroom book How to Poo on a Date.

Little Scabies fled when she presented her puppy with doggy nail polish and a Dinosaur Pet Costume. Her ex and even her sister Ella gazed at her strangely.

Well, she had a solution for him. She phoned and ask him to meet her in WalMart. He groaned but agreed to come.

She wheeled her cart with the wriggling wheel to Housewares. She picked out the largest Mason jar she could find. In Home Improvement, she picked out denatured alcohol and Chinese-manufactured paint thinner. She dumped the contents into the jar.

In Girls Fashion, she picked out pink shoestrings. In Outdoors Goods, she bought a giant box of matches. She returned to the WalMart Salon.

Her sister cautiously handed her a baggie of nails and clippings. Ella said, “I added some from pedicures. Is that okay?”

“Sure, peachy, wonderful,” Emma said.

Her phone beeped. Text message. From ex-boyfriend. “Parking now. Meet you Sporting Goods.”

Emma dashed to the back of the store. Under a suspended canoe, she knelt and added the nails to the solution. She draped a shoelace into the jar. After a moment, she felt it. The shoestring wasn’t soaking up the liquid. What the flip? Was it some kind of weird non-absorbent Chinese polyester?

Quickly, she undid one of her own laces. Yes! In moments, it was thoroughly doused. It would make the perfect wick.

In the distance, she saw her boyfriend arriving. She’d already selected a WalMart crematory jar, much cheaper than the sports fan coffin.

Calmly, Emma opened the WalMart-brand matches. She struck one.

Nothing.

She struck again. Nil.

And again. Nope.

She tried another match. Nada.

And another. Zilch.

She grasped a half dozen and stuck the strip.

One gave a little pizzle and snuffed out.

Weeping, she seized a handful and tried fruitlessly to ignite them.

Nothing, not even a poof.

Emma burst into tears as a security guard closed in.

“Ma’am? Did you pay for those goods?”

And that might be how a Florida woman almost set off a nail bomb in a Tampa store. Perhaps. Note that all of the above are genuine WalMart products.

18 January 2020

Writing for Fun





As mentioned in two of my earlier posts at this blog, I'm not one to stray far from my comfort zone in my writing, and I also don't care much for New Year's resolutions, but--at the urging of my publisher, Joe Lee--I'm going to try at least one new thing in 2020.

A quick background note: In the spring of 2006, it was Joe's idea (he owns and operates Dogwood Press here in Mississippi) to put thirty of my previously published short mysteries together in a hardcover collection called Rainbow's End and Other Stories. Thankfully, that book sold well enough for a second printing, and since then Joe's small, traditional press has published six more books of my stories--as well as the work of eight other writers. Another idea Joe had, back in 2015, was to veer away from my usual story-collections and produce a softcover book of fifty of my lighthearted tales with the mysteries in the front of the book and the solutions in the back. That project, called Fifty Mysteries (let's hear it for appropriate titles), was great fun to put together, and has sold well also. I think its success was due to (1) its "puzzle" format, (2) its humor, and (3) the fact that all of its stories feature two familiar characters from my longest-running series--all of which were reasons I thought it might not work. The point is, when Joe has a brainstorm, I listen.

So, what was this latest idea? To publish a book of my poetry.

A what?!

You heard right. Over the past 25 years I've sold poems to more than 100 different markets, including Writer's Digest, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Farm & Ranch Living, Mystery Time, Wordplay, Futures, Satire, Grit, The Lyric, Writers' Journal, Mobius, Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine, Capper's, The Mystery Review, and so on. But be aware . . . this is not the deep, profound, life-changing poetry you might find in prestigious literary journals. I'm not a contemporary poet and I noet. This is easygoing, humorous, Ogden Nash-style verse whose sole purpose is to put a smile on your face, and maybe even make you Laugh Out Loud and slap ya mama. The kind of thing that a lot of readers--and editors too, thank God--seem to like. (If you're at all interested, here's a SleuthSayers column I did about Nash and light verse, several years ago,)

The title of this unusual (ad)venture is called Lighten Up a Little, which is also the title of one of the included poems and might, I think, be good advice for all of us. The book will contain 300 lighthearted poems I've published in the aforementioned markets. Some are long (up to four pages) and many are short (as few as four lines), and all are an exercise in rhythm and rhyme and wordplay, because I love that sort of thing. As for subject matter, some of the poems are crime-based, but others cover everything from kids to sports to medicine to politics to movies to animals to technology to writing. The book is scheduled for April 2020.

Note: When the decision to publish was made and Joe and his wizards had started working on the layout, I sat down and drew a little cartoon I thought might work for the cover. I then scanned it and emailed it to my friend Chuck Galey, who's a professional illustrator, and asked him if he knew of any online coloring programs I might use to insert color into my dull-looking black-and-white drawing. Chuck responded by coloring it himself and sending it back to me. Boy, does it help to know the right people . . .


Here's an excerpt from my introduction:

"The following poems, grouped in a dozen categories of 25 each--and most of which are capsule-sized--may be ingested separately or in gulps of several at a time. They were designed to provide temporary relief from everyday stress and fatigue, but seem to also be effective in treating insomnia.

"To those who seek enlightenment, inspiration, and/or insights into the Meaning of Life . . . well, you might want to look elsewhere."

Which is true. No psychology or angst or navel-gazing here. Since I like movie comparisons, this is more of a Blazing Saddles than a 2001. And in case you're wondering what in the world I'm even talking about, here are a few really short examples of the contents:



A WILD ALLI-GATION

The wife of Mean Willie LaBrock
Disappeared off the end of their dock;
Willie claimed that a gator
Just swam up and ate her
But that sounds to me like a croc.


NEVER TOO LATE

"You're Al Capone?"
He said: "That's right."
"You're dead, I thought."
He said, "Not quite."
"Then you must be--"
"I'm 103."
"So you're retired?"
"That's not for me."
"But how do you--"
"Get by?" he said.
He pulled a gun.
"Hands on your head."


LOVE IS BLURRY

Thought not legally blind, Nate was badly crosseyed
When he married Big Lucy, a mail-order bride;
"Get some glasses," friends urged, but he figured, well, hell,
It might not be too smart to see Lucy too well.


PURPA TRAITOR

When Purpa's flights were smuggling grapes
Its king escaped in vain;
The Purpals found His Majesty
Aboard a fruited plane.


SOUTH OF SAUDI

If the country of Yemen
Were governed by Britain,
Their gas would be petrol,
Their dresses tight-fittin'.
And sports fans could watch,
For the price of a ticket,
Arabian knights
Playing Yemeni cricket.


A BOLD ASSUMPTION

"Since I'm quite debonair, I don't travel by air,"
Leonard bragged, from the helm of his yacht;
A storm came the next day and blew Leonard away--
I don't know if they've found him or not.


THE BOOK DOCTOR

When they're edited, writers have said
Semicolons are something they dread;
What if someone had stolen
One half of your colon
And plugged in a comma instead?



So there's a preview. If you're tired already, be forewarned: there are 293 more of these in the book. Some are silly, some are (I hope) witty, and some are just observations about people and places and situations in our workaday world. I doubt Maya Angelou or Robert Frost would've felt threatened by this masterpiece--but I can also tell you I had a great time writing it.

I'm hoping those who read it (release date April 23!), will feel the same.





17 January 2020

The Chet Baker Conspiracy


Chet Baker in Bruce Weber's Let's Get Lost.
Rumors that jazz legend Chet Baker was murdered started shortly after his death.

Filmmaker Bruce Weber was still in post production on his Chet Baker documentary Lets' Get Lost when he got the news that the jazz trumpeter had fallen to his death from a hotel window in Amsterdam. "...it wasn't really Chet's style to jump," Weber told the Los Angeles Times in 1988, seventh months after Baker's death. "He was always getting into trouble with drug dealers. He called me a month-and-a-half before his death and said, 'Something might happen. This cocaine dealer is after me.'"

If drug dealers were after Chet Baker, it wouldn't be the first time.  According to John Wooley in "What Happened, Man," Chet Baker was attacked in 1966 by multiple assailants outside a San Francisco jazz club. "Whatever its motivation," Wooley writes, "it had cost Baker several teeth." Wooley guesses it was drug related. Jeroen De Valk's Chet Baker: His Life and Music affirms this, describing five thugs sent by a drug dealer to beat Chet.  Born to Be Blue, starring Ethan Hawke as Baker, chronicles the same beating, and how the damage knocked Chet, along with his teeth, out of the jazz game.

Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker.
Drummer Artt Frank, who started playing with Baker in the '60s, writes about Chet's attempted comeback in his 2013 memoir  Chet Baker: The Missing Years.  Frank discussed his book in a radio interview with James Paris, and he made some provocative statements about Baker's end. He claimed that Baker contacted him before he died and said he was being followed. Frank said that Chet's widow also believed her wayward hubby was murdered. Speaking for Chet's widow is mere hearsay. Claiming Baker told him he was being followed the night before his death, especially since it echoes Bruce Webers statement, is more convincing

Robert Budreau, the director of Born to Be Blue, also made The Deaths of Chet Baker, a short film about Baker's final moments.  It depicts a drug dealer knocking a very high Baker out the hotel window. It's total conjecture. There's a brilliant three second moment that captures Chet right after doing heroin as he experiences the highest of highs. I was inclined to believe that Budreau got us as close as we'll get to the truth of Chet Baker's end. Case closed. Cue up the album Playboys (made with fellow hardcore junkie Art Pepper) and lament the days when smooth was in and distortion was seen as a mistake.

Tom Schnabel's Rhythm Planet.
Then I read Tom Schnabel's article for KCRW's Music Notes, "How Chet Baker Really Died." Schnabel was the music director for KCRW (he's largely responsible for making Morning Becomes Eclectic a drive time juggernaut). Here's what Schnabel has to say about Chet's fall:

I got a call from a patron at Santa Monica's now-deceased music store, Hear Music, and was told that he knew what happened. He was there at Amsterdam at the same hotel. He said that Chet was chatting up a woman in the lobby, went upstairs to get some cigarettes or keys, and found he had locked himself out of his hotel room. The door to the room next door was open. He entered, went out onto the balcony and tried to get over to his own balcony. He lost his footing, fell and died. The caller told me, "Ask Little Jimmy Scott, he was there at the hotel and remembers."

Little Jimmy Scott
A few months after Schnabel spoke with the caller, he met with singer Little Jimmy Scott. Schnabel writes that the jazz vocalist "corroborated every detail the caller told me about Chet's accidental death."

Schnabel's version lacks intrigue, and if it wasn't for the tragic outcome, is really pretty silly. This only makes it more believable to me. Chet had drugs in his system when he died. Trying to cross from balcony to balcony like Errol Flynn seems like the impulsive move that someone high would pull. Especially if a hotel hook-up was at stake.

What's interesting is that the Chet Baker murder rumors lingered unabated after Schnabel's article was published in 2012. It was like it was written in a vacuum. Wikipedia didn't notice until 2019. The Chet Baker murder rumors live on to this day, though Schanbel's article should probably lay them to rest.

I think "How Chet Baker Really Died" proves two contradictory things about conspiracy theories.

First, it shows that sometimes the answer isn't some complicated plot or deep cover up. Sometimes things happen. It's hard to believe that someone revered, worshipped, viewed as special, out of the ordinary, could meet their end like the rest of us jokers.

Stephen King's  11/22/63:
 Time Traveller vs Lone Gunman
Take the Chet Baker murder rumors, multiply them by what ever number that the hopes and dreams of America equals, and you have the JFK conspiracy theories. Stephen King begins his 11.22.63, his tale of time travel and the JFK assassination, with this quote from Norman Mailer:

It is virtually not assimilable to our reason that a small lonely man felled a giant in the midst of his limousines, his legions, his throng, and his security. If such a non-entity destroyed the leader of the most powerful nation on earth, then a world of disproportion engulfs us, and we live in a universe that is absurd.

Occam's Razor tells us that if there are two explanation for something, take the easiest one with the least assumptions. The Warren Commission concluded that Oswald acted alone. Tom Schnabel proved that Chet Baker slipped and fell. It's an absurd world, folks. Don't make things more difficult than they need be.

Yet there is a second, and very different, conclusion to be drawn: Sometimes the truth is ignored. Or worse.

A series of fateful deaths that defy the odds.
You wouldn't think that the JFK assassination and the purported cover-up that followed would make good stand up material, but I saw Richard Belzer (standup veteran and TV's Detective John Munch) deliver a hilarious set on exactly that. He was at West Hollywood's Book Soup presenting Hit List:An In-Depth Investigation Into the Mysterious Deaths of Witnesses to the JFK Assassination. Maybe you had to be there. Anyway, I won't recite the litany of people who claimed to have special knowledge of the assassination and then died shortly after. To quote Belzer:

An actuary engaged by the London Times calculated the probability that at least eighteen witnesses would die of any cause within 3 years of the JFK assassination as 1 in 100,000 trillion.

I've heard people say that the assassination of a president is too big to cover up; if there was something there, it would've come out by now. Belzer argues that it did, and it was stepped on.

Schnabel's little essay for KCRW was ignored, but eventually it did change Chet Baker's Wiki page. If you hear the murder rumors now, all you have to do is check Wiki. We all do that. In a way, Schnabel got to rewrite the ending. Richard Belzer is just one in a long line of researchers and crusaders trying rewrite an ending, to reach the tipping point on another Wiki page. The truth is out there, the X-Files tells us. The implication is, you have to find it. 

I'm Lawrence Maddox.


My travels are taking me away from Sleuthsayers for a few months. If during that time you need your fix of Yours Truly, check out my novel Fast Bang Booze, available from DownAndOutBooks.Com.

Madxbooks@gmail.com.

Tweets are welcome: Lawrence Maddox@Madxbooks

Cheers!




16 January 2020

Fearless Predictions for 2020


All right, all right, I'm late to the party, but what the hey.  I got distracted, which is at least better than lured.

Last weekend I spent at an AVP workshop at the penitentiary - one of our best, actually, which may or may not have been because the temperature outside was 10 degrees for the high, which meant that in the chapel (where we were assigned) it hovered around 55-60 degrees.  I've read before that it was the Ice Ages that made us humans cooperative, compassionate, and creative - so maybe the weather did the same for us.

Then, when the weekend was over, we came back home to a house that was at 55-60 degrees.  The furnace had died.  We got it repaired on Monday, and then went promptly out to hock our valuables to buy a new one, which will be installed before the next Ice Age. Which looks like it's going to be tonight.  So, before the woolly mammoths come over the rise,

Fearless predictions for 2020!

Between House, Senate, gubernatorial, and presidential races, the 2020 elections will surpass the $1.6 billion on advertising, polling, etc., spent in 2016.  This leads me to predict:
  1. The media will make out like a bandit.
  2. Someone will figure out that $1.6 billion is the GDP of a number of smaller countries, and make memes about that.
  3. Someone will figure out that $1.6 billion could be better used elsewhere.
  4. Nothing will change.  
Whether or not violence increases in our cities, nation, or worldwide, most people will believe that we live in an incredibly dangerous age, mostly because the media talisman is "if it bleeds it leads" and that's what we see.  This despite the fact that, in 1340s, the homicide rate was around 110 per 100,000, whereas today, in the US, it's 5 per 100,000.  And there were a lot fewer people around in the 1340s (and about to get fewer in 1347, thanks to the Black Death).

Woolly mammoths will be cloned, and will become the hot new pet of 2025.  (The last woolly mammoths were on St. Paul Island, Alaska, and were pgymies - they stood 5'6" - and I want one!)

President Trump will continue to tweet at the same rate most of us breathe.

There will be new record fires in California, and new record flooding all along the US Atlantic and Gulf coasts.  Climate change will continue to be considered a radical theory of why such things are happening by some.

Sloths will become the hot 2020 Christmas toy / doll / sling purse / baby carrier.

© The Far Side cartoon Imbeciles of the World Unite
© The Far Side
The anti-vaxxers will continue to spread complete bulls***. My "favorite" is this meme: "Let's bring back chicken-pox playdates to stave off shingles!"

Uh, shingles is a reactivation of the chicken-pox virus. No chicken-pox, no shingles… But by all means, make sure to give your children a virus that could very well cause them chronic pain, neuropathy, and even blindness, if not in childhood then as an adult.

To continue raging/ragging on the above, old teachers cannot stop fighting against deliberate ignorance, and the amount of time I spend trying to combat it is a major reason why I will never write enough fiction to satisfy my inner taskmaster.

Most people will go for popcorn, bathroom break, or a quick nap through the following Oscar categories:  make-up, costumes, sound, and short-film (animated and live action). Some will start streaming something on Netflix until the next "big" award.

The winners of the Super Bowl LIV (2020) will be PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg's, Mars, Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, and the Pabst Brewing Company.  Yes, and a team will actually win the game.

Axe throwing will remain a popular activity at many bars here in the Upper Midwest, because the winters are long, and nothing could possibly go wrong,

Xi Jinping will remain President for Life of China.  Vladimir Putin will make himself President for Life of Russia.  (Russian government resigns)  Major pissing contest follows.

Antonio Banderas will indeed get sexier with age.

Brexit will happen.  Almost no one, including Brexiters, will like it.
UK location in the EU 2016.svg
Brexit/Celtexit map
(Wikipedia)
Future quote: "It isn't what I expected it to be. I thought everything would be cheaper, we'd have more freedom, and all those foreigners would be gone."
Speaking of Brexit, even money that:
  • Scotland will vote for independence.
  • Northern Ireland will vote to join the Republic of Ireland. 
  • Scotland will join Northern Ireland and Wales in a Celtexit from Great Britain.  
    • Normandy and Brittany will consider joining them.  The beginning of the Great Celtexit from Europe will begin.  Catalonia will try to join, but will be told to cabrear.  
American troops will remain in the Middle East, mostly wherever Saudi Arabia wants them.

Anthony Trollope will become the hot new Victorian author in print, Kindle/Nook, movies, and television.  (And with 70 novels / short stories, there's a lot to mine.)  Speaking of Trollope, join the rest of us fanatics at https://trollope.groups.io/g/main.

Fake news and deepfakes will receive their own category at the Grammys, Emmys, Tonys, and Oscars.  No one will ever know who truly wins.

Ford v. Ferrari will not win Best Picture Award.

15 January 2020

Today in Mystery History: January 15


by Robert Lopresti

This is the fourth installment in my occasional march through the history of our field.  Make sure you have your comfortable shoes on.

January 15, 1924.  Dennis Lynds was born on this date.    He wrote under the name Michael Collins, and won the Edgar award for his first novel, Act of Fear.  It featured one-armed private eye named Dan Fortune, who is often described as a transitional figure between the Hammett/Chandler school of private eyes and the Parker/Muller/Paretsky clan.  Besides almost twenty other books, Fortune starred in "Scream All The Way," a story in the August 1969 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  I know that because it is the earliest story I can be certain I read in that magazine.  The tale and its illustration have stayed in my mind.

Under the name William Arden, Lynds also wrote fourteen books in The Three Investigators series, which I always enjoyed much more than the Hardy Boys.

January 15, 1924.  And speaking of Dashiell Hammett, he celebrated the birth of Dennis Lynds by publishing "The Man Who Killed Dan Odams" in Black Mask Magazine.  It's a suspenseful tale of a murderer in Montana who escapes from jail and runs into an innocent woman...

January 15, 1945.  On this date the Alfred Knopf publishing house started the Black Widow Thrillers, series.  It was perhaps the first attempt to canonize mystery fiction, creating a set of standard issue reprints of classic novels.  The first to arrive were Hammett's Maltese Falcon, Chandler's Big Sleep, and Ambler's Coffin for Dimitros.    Hey, Hammett is in three entries in a row.  Is that a trend?

January 15, 1948.  Sorry, no Hammett.  On this date Columbia Pictures released I Love Trouble, a noir movie written by Roy Huggins and starring Franchot Tone and Janet Blair.  If it is memorable today it is probably because Tone played a character named Stuart Bailey. You may remember that name from the classic TV show 77 Sunset Strip.  The movie and TV show were both based on Huggins' books/stories about that private eye.

January 15, 1965.  On this date  a certain famous person rang a certain famous doorbell...

January 15, 1973.  This was the year ABC gave up on trying to find a talk show host who could compete with Johnny Carson.  They chose instead to fill their late night slot with ABC's Wide World of Entertainment.  On this night they introduced one segment of it, a  series of 90-minute movies called Wide World of Mystery. 

I learned about this in a very entertaining article by Michael Mallory in the latest issue of Mystery Scene Magazine. (You do subscribe, don't you?  If not, why ever not?)  The first night's movie was called "An Echo of Theresa," but I want to tell you about a movie that appeared in the series later.  With Mike's permission, I repeat part of his description here:

While many of the stories bordered on the bizarre, none were stranger than "The Werewolf of Woodstock," which aired January 24, 1975.  Set in 1969 (obviously) it concerns a bitter, alcoholic farmer who loathes the younger generation, particularly those who attended Woodstock, which was staged near his property and left the place trashed.  During a freak electrical storm he takes a direct hit from a lightning bolt; instead of killing him... it turns him into a werewolf!  In his new bestial form he goes on a rampage against anyone he deems a "hippie," chiefly the members of a garage band who come to the site to record their own album (so they can claim it was "recorded at Woodstock").

If this makes you desperate to see the movie (produced by Dick Clark!) there are excerpts available here and here.  Perhaps that is as much as a human being can stand.  The series ended in 1976, and personally I don't miss it a bit.


January 15, 1981.  I remember exactly where I was that evening: watching the premiere of a great cop show on TV.  Remember Hill Street Blues?  It received 98 Emmy nominations.  Hell, even its theme song was a hit.

January 15, 1993.  This day saw the publication of Generous Death, Nancy Pickard's first novel.  (Well, her first published one.  She wrote one before this but, as she said, it "just sat there like a dead trout.")  Since then she has won multiple awards including the Shamus, Macavity, Anthony, and Agatha

January 15, 2008.  This date witnessed the Broadway premiere of Alfred Hitchcock's Thirty-nine Steps, a hilarious version of the great movie based on John Buchan's novel which essentially invented the genre in which the hero is being chased both by the cops and the bad guys.  The play is performed by one man playing the hero, a woman who takes most of the female parts, and two other actors who take on the rest of the roles, including a swamp and a forest.  I recommend it.



14 January 2020

Copyediting tips


A lot of editors wear one hat or another. They do developmental editing or copyediting. Not both. But not me. While I prefer developmental work, I also happily do copyediting. Helping make a manuscript consistent appeals to the anal-retentive side of my personality. (And while we're on it, yes, I know, that looks wrong: copyediting. It should be copy editing, don't you think? But the Chicago Manual of Style is what most (all?) publishers rely upon for fiction, and Chicago says to use copyediting and copyeditor. So I will here, even as I shiver while doing it.

Anyway ... it's late and I'm short on time tonight, so I'm going to quickly talk about two copyediting problems I spot all the time, not just in fiction, but on blogs and Facebook and, basically, everywhere. Both issues deal with when it's appropriate to set words or word phrases off by commas.

You think you know the answer? Let's see. I'm going to post some example sentences and you decide which ones are properly punctuated.

Example 1

A) My short story "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" was published in 2018.
OR
B) My short story, "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast," was published in 2018.

Example 2

A) My newest short story "Alex's Choice" was published in Crime Travel.
OR
B) My newest short story, "Alex's Choice," was published in Crime Travel.

So what do you think? In each example, was (A) or (B) correctly punctuated? Based on a mistake I see often, I'll bet most of you (including you writers out there) said (B) for both. And I say to that ...

Buzz!

You lose that round. In Example 1, the correct answer is (A). But in Example 2, the correct answer is (B). Why? It all has to do with whether the story titles are necessary for the sentence to be clear.
A pot roast dinner because ... why not?


You set a story title (or any information) off with commas when that information is not necessary for the sentence to be clear. So let's look at Example 1. If I wrote it without the story title it would say: My short story was published in 2018. That would probably leave you thinking, "Which story are you talking about? You've had a lot of stories published. You even had more than one published in 2018." And you would be right, which is why you need to know the story title for that sentence to be clear. Since the story title is required, you don't set it off with commas. So the correct punctuation for the sentence in Example 1 is: My short story "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" was published in 2018.

Turning to Example 2, here's how it would read without the story title: My newest story was published in Crime Travel. Assuming again that you're familiar with my work, do you need the story title to know what story I'm talking about? Nope. I only have one newest story, so I don't need to say its name for you to know which story I'm talking about. Since the story title isn't necessary in that sentence, if I were to add it, the title should be set off with commas, as such: My newest story, "Alex's Choice," was published in Crime Travel.

Think you've got it? Let's try again.

Example 3:

It's 2006, and I call my sister and say, "My short story was nominated for an award." She would congratulate me and know exactly which story I'm talking about because at that time I only had one story published. As such, if I'd included the story title in the sentence, it would have been  unnecessary detail, so it would have been set off by commas: My short story, "Murder at Sleuthfest," was nominated for an award.

But let's say I had two stories published in 2005. If I called my sister a few months later and said, "My short story was nominated for an award," she would ask, "Which one?" She can't tell which story I'm talking about because it could have been my first story published in 2005 or my second one. So I have to revise my sentence to make it clear: My short story "Murder at Sleuthfest" was nominated for an award. Since the story title is necessary for the sentence to be clear, it's not set off by commas.


Paul Rudd
Here's another example, just to be sure you've got it. Assume I'm not a bigamist and I'm married. Which is correct?

A) My husband Paul Rudd reads more than I do.
OR
B) My husband, Paul Rudd, reads more than I do.

If I had just one husband (and if I have to make one up, Paul Rudd is a good choice), his name would be set off by commas because you wouldn't need to know his name for this sentence to be clear. If I had simply said "My husband reads more than I do," you'd know I'm talking about Paul Rudd.

But what if I were a bigamist? Then if I said, "My husband reads more than I do," you would rightly say, "Which husband? Paul Rudd or Robert Downey Jr.?" (If I'm going to be a bigamist, I might as well do it right.) So for that sentence to be clear, I'd have to say: "My husband Paul Rudd reads more than I do." You'll notice there are no commas in that sentence because dear Paul's name was necessary for the sentence to be clear.

More Paul Rudd
Let's move on to something related: Which versus That. I see the word "which" used so often when the correct word in a particular situation is "that." When do you use "which" and when do you use "that"? If information is necessary to a sentence, you use "that" and no commas. If information is unnecessary to a sentence, you use "which" and commas.

Example:

I've just gone shopping and come home with one new blouse. I put it on and show it to my husband, Paul Rudd. (Set off by a comma because I'm no bigamist!) And he says, "Your new top is pretty." And I smile, pleased that he liked my new top. There was no confusion in our conversation. He could have said, "Your new top, which is blue, is pretty." But he didn't have to mention the color because I only bought one new top, so I know which top he's referring to. Since the color wasn't necessary for the sentence to be clear, the information was set off by commas and the word "which" was used.

You can never have
enough Paul Rudd
But what if I'd come home with two new blouses? I model both of them for Paul and say, "What do you think?" He replies, "Your new top is pretty." Instead of smiling, I say back, "Which one are you talking about? The red one or the blue one? You don't think they're both pretty? I spent hours looking for two tops I thought you would like, and you can't even bother to have a kind word for both of them, you son of a ..."

Oh, wait, sorry, back to grammar. So you see, Paul's declaration that my new top was pretty was ambiguous because I hadn't bought just one top. So I calmly ask Paul which one he's referring to, and he says, "Sorry, I should have been clear. Your new top that's blue is pretty. The red one's ugly as sin." Since the color blue was necessary for me to know which blouse he liked, the information was not set off by commas and the word "that" was used.

And now I'm off to therapy since I can't even have a happy marriage with an imaginary husband.