03 April 2020

Character bios


Character Bios

It's hard to write a column when you see this headline online from the New York Times: 13 Deaths in a Day: An 'Abocalyptic' Coronavirus Surge at NYC Hospital.

But I'll give the column a shot –

A nice reader emailed me recently asking if I compiled a bio of the main characters in my series books. I replied, "Yes." The nice reader asked me to send examples. I replied, "No. That information is classified." I explained what I want readers to know about my characters is in my published fiction. The reader persisted, so I sent the following bio of a non-series character, information recently declassified by the CIA, FBI, NSA, FOP, SPCA, BMW, AARP, FDFUU, and Mensa.

Bio of character Christopher Fry from fiction written by O'Neil De Noux

Christopher Fry (white male, born 1910 in Spitzhavelziess, Germany, 5'8" tall, 150 pounds, blue eyes, sandy hair).

French fries

Christopher Fry's real name was Cristoph French Fry. He changed it when he left Europe in 1937, after the Popsicle Affair (still classified) in Bavaria. He came to America to fulfill his dream of meeting Rita Cansino after seeing Rita play an Egyptian girl in Charlie Chan in Egypt (20th Century Fox, 1935). He spent a year knocking around San Francisco until someone told him Hollywood was in Los Angeles. He spent another year in a futile search for Rita Cansino until he spotted her in another movie, Only Angels Have Wings (Columbia Pictures, 1939) and realized she had changed her name to Rita Hayworth.

Rita Cansino
Rita Hayworth as Gilda

Christoph managed to run into Rita at the swank Hollywood nightclub The Lion's Roar (which burned down in 1944 during the Great Coloring Book Scare). Rita did not call the police on the adoring fan but told Fry if he really wanted to be someone she admired, he should paint ducks. Lots of ducks. Just ducks.

"Do you mean I should catch ducks and paint them?"
"No. I mean duck paintings. Painting images of ducks on canvas."

a duck

Unfortunately, Rita soon married another and a crestfallen Fry moved to Algeria to begin a fifty-year sojourn into art and painted some of the most expressive ducks ever painted. Critics hailed the expressions he was able to portray in duck eyes. In Algeria, he met his wife Azocolzzzlollah, a former nun who made chocolate giraffes in the Algiers Kasbah (Casbah). When the bottom fell out of the chocolate giraffe market, the couple migrated to Saskatchewan where Fry became the most celebrated duck artist in the province. Fry returned to the US, settling briefly in New Orleans in 1965, where he nearly drowned in Hurricane Betsy. He vowed to never return to the US, leaving several paintings with local art dealers, paintings now hanging the New Orleans Museum of Art between the Gaugin section and E.J. Bellocq's lurid nudes of Storyville prostitutes.

Storyville photo by E.J. Bellocq

Fry returned to Canada.

In 1997, Fry and Azocolzzzlollah were canoeing on Reindeer Lake in Saskatchewan during moose mating season. They were last seen frantically paddling away from a large moose.

a large moose

END of Fry bio

My reader thanked me but had one question. Was Fry's sandy hair the color of Sahara Desert sand or Gobi Desert sand or Death Valley Desert sand. I informed the read the color was more like the sand of the Kalahari Desert. The reader thanked me.

Thats all for now –
http://www.oneildenoux.com

02 April 2020

Chaos



I probably wouldn't have read Tom O'Neill's Chaos, Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties if he had not appeared on Eye 94, a book show on WLPN-Chicago radio. This is a low power station and the show ( full disclosure here) is hosted by three book geeks, one of whom is our son. It tells you something about the state of the publishing business that a huge variety of authors, from local first timer to literary translators to Pulitzer Prize winners, is willing and eager to share the mikes.

Still on the face of it, another book about the Sixties did not appeal. Great music, sure, and some high ideals, but also a lot of self-absorption, pretension, and outright bad behavior, some of which still haunts us now.

But O'Neill was so down to earth, unassuming, and informative that I cracked the covers. Four hundred and thirty-six pages plus notes later, I know a lot more than I knew before, and I have a lot more questions about what I thought I knew previously.

Chaos, I think, will appeal to two different sorts of readers. Conspiracy buffs and true crime fanciers will have a field day with this exploration into the muddy waters of the Tate-LaBianca murders and their perpetrators. Along the way, O'Neill turns up a bizarre gallery of spy agency and FBI operatives (worried about anti-war protests and Black Power), dodgy psychiatrists, mind-control specialists, ambitious or anxious politicians, and cops both frustrated and corrupt. There's an appearance by Jack Ruby, assassin of Lee Harvey Oswald, along with links to the CIA and illegal human experimentation. You couldn't make this stuff up!

The milieu really requires a Thomas Pynchon to do it justice, and, come to think of it, Pynchon's early novels were contemporary with the drugs, anxiety, and paranoia of the Sixties. Unsurprisingly, O'Neill had trouble digesting all these strands, and what had begun as an article for an entertainment magazine on the lasting impact of the Manson case on Hollywood morphed twenty years later into a book so long and complicated that he took on a collaborator, Dan Piepenbring to help him out of the documentary thicket.

And that brings me to the second group of potential readers: fellow scribblers. While Chaos is a convincingly-researched true crime account, it is also two other things: a critique of what might be called the official story, the late Vincent Bugliosi's best selling Helter Skelter, and the narrative – and it honestly is an epic– of O'Neill's twenty-year pursuit of information.

Anyone who has done even modest amounts of research will be sympathetic to O'Neill's obsessive pursuit of just one more document, one more interview, one more angle. He was warned at the start that the Manson case had the potential to devour his life and that warning proved prescient. Again and again, he worries that he is going down a conspiracy theory rabbit hole, and that he is becoming so overwhelmed not just with information, but with conflicting information, distortions and outright lies, that he will never finish.

It was a near thing. Before he was done, O'Neill was half a million in debt. Premiere, the original commissioning magazine was defunct, and his first publisher had washed its editorial hands of the book and was threatening to sue for the return of his advance. The lot of the writer, like Gilbert and Sullivan's policeman, is not always a happy one.

Thomas O'Neill
O'Neill is candid about these tribulations and about his anxiety concerning his debts, especially to his devoted parents. Along the way he is threatened with retribution of one sort or another and with suits, including several times by Bugliosi, who had some violence issues as well. More than once, O'Neill questioned whether or not devoting his life to the aftermath of  several sordid murders was worthwhile.

Part way through the investigation someone asked him just that, and he records his answer at the end of Chaos: "This has been the most exciting thirteen years of my life. There's nothing like the adrenaline rush of catching these people in lies, and documenting it – knowing you've found something no one else has found."

There speaks the true researcher and one of the truest sorts of detectives.


Good Eye 94 discussion with Tom O'Neill

01 April 2020

The Night Big Ben Fell


I expected this piece to be the highlight of my January 15th column on Today in Mystery History.  Unfortunately it turned out that my original source was wrong: the event in question happened a day later.  Rather than hold back until 2030, the next time January 16 falls on a Wednesday, I decided to make this a free-standing entry, so to speak.

Our subject is a radio hoax, one that terrified large parts of a nation and led to furious condemnation of the brilliant man who conceived it.  It happened--

Excuse me?

I believe I heard some of you saying: "Slow your roll, Lopresti.  You are off by a lot more than one day.  Orson Welles famous broadcast of 'War of the Worlds' didn't happen in January at all.  It was the night before Halloween, 1938."

Right you are, dear friend, and completely wrong as well.  Because I was referring to a different hoax. One with a mystery writer front and center.

Monsignor Ronald Knox was an English Catholic priest, and a mystery writer.  He is best remembered today for his  Ten Commandments of detective fiction, which were at least partly tongue in cheek.  Example: "Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable".

In 1926 the  British Broadcasting Company (It didn't become the Corporation for another year) was being criticized for being boring, so they hired the famously witty Knox to give them some spark. And spark he did.

On January 16th, in a studio in the back of an Edinburgh music store he performed a one-man show.  The BBC warned that the show was going to be humor, but it began like any news show.  Then it reported that protesters had gathered in Trafalgar Square, led by Mr. Poppleberry, the leader of the National Movement for Abolishing Theatre Queues.

In between less-interesting news reports came announcements of mob violence, explosions, and the roasting alive of one official who "will therefore be unable to deliver his lecture to you." And then a mortar attack on the Houses of Parliament:  “The clock tower, 320 feet in height, has just fallen to the ground, together with the famous clock Big Ben.” Finally the BBC itself was attacked.

It may seem crazy that anyone could take this nonsense seriously, but radio was still a new medium (having started in the UK in 1920) and sound effects - used liberally here - were unheard of, so to speak.  Keep in mind that the Bolshevik Revolution was a fresh memory, and a national strike in Britain was being planned for the spring.

So people called the BBC demanding to know what was really going on.  Some people wanted the Navy to attack the entirely fictional rioters.  "People Alarmed All Week-End" ran one newspaper headline.

Martin Edwards, in his excellent book, The Golden Age of Murder, suggests that this disaster encouraged the BBC to look for a less risky form of entertainment and led to some of the greatest British crime writers, including Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, and yes, even Father Knox,  to create a round-robin mystery for the radio.

So, that's the true story of a radio hoax.  And none of this has been an April Fool's joke.

31 March 2020

For Your Quarantine-House Arrest Viewing Pleasure


by Paul D. Marks

I work at home. And we live off the beaten path, so I'm home a lot and used to it. Disciplined. Etc. But knowing that I shouldn't be going anywhere and that everything is closed still gives me a feeling of unease. Before, if I wanted to get out somewhere I could. Now I pretty much can't cause everything's closed, social distancing and all the rest. So, even though not much has really changed for me, it's still different. But Buster still gets his walks.

So, in this time of “sheltering in place” and concerns about being out in public, I thought I’d suggest some fun movies for your quarantine. And I hope I remember them correctly. But even if my descriptions aren’t 100% correct they’re close. I think. I hope. Maybe. Also, I’m not including movies where zombies come after people or people turn into zombies or zombies have romances with other zombies or zombies have romances with humans. (Note: This is a zombie-free blog post.)


Outbreak – A virus moves from monkey to humans. Starts conquering the universe until Dustin Hoffman and Renee Russo save the day.

Contagion – A virus moves from bat to humans—sound familiar? Starts to infect the world, until Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne and Kate Winslet save the day. Get Matt on the horn. Stat.


Panic in the Streets – A doctor and a cop have 48 hours to stop pneumonic plague from conquering the world. Richard Widmark saves the day.

The Killer That Stalked New York – Evelyn Keyes is a smuggler who arrives in New York infected with smallpox. She eventually feels guilty, turns herself in and saves the world.


The Andromeda Strain (1971) – A virus comes to earth from outer space and begins to conquer the world until Owen Marshall, I mean Arthur Hill and pals save the world.


12 Monkeys – A deadly virus almost wipes out humanity—until Bruce Willis saves the world. He has to go back in time to do it though. Of course, this is after he saved the Nakatomi Building in Die Hard I (The real building of which was a couple blocks from where I used to live. I remember watching it go up in the distance.) and rescuing the Fed’s gold bullion stash in Die Hard III. He’s a busy dude. But he couldn’t save his hair.



The Stand – A deadly plague kills off most of the world. Who (actor-wise) saves the day depends on which version you watch.

Runaway Virus – I haven’t actually seen this one, but a “runaway virus” is out to get the world. I’m sure somebody saves the day. Wanna bet on it?

The Devils – Lotsa hanky panky in the town of Loudun in 17th century France, while the plague rages in the background. Burn ’em all at the stake…and hope the plague burns with ’em.

The Hot Zone – Follows the spread of the Ebola virus. I sure as hell hope someone saves the day.

Pandemic – There’s a handful of things by this title in which a virus spreads. I think someone will save the day.

Now, if we can only get Matt and Evelyn and Renee and Richard and Dustin to save us.

Okay, don’t get on my case for trying to be a little funny here.

I’m sure there’s many more. So feel free to add to the list in the comments. And please no political comments.

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

Coming June 1st from Down & Out Books - The Blues Don't Care:

Got another early review for The Blues Don't Care. Thank you to Sam Sattler at Book Chase.

"The Blues Don’t Care is a fun, atmospheric look at 1940s Los Angeles that almost perfectly captures the tone of all those old black and white gangster movies of the day. Bobby Saxon is such a fan of those films himself that he uses them as training films in his quest to make himself into a detective capable of solving a murder the police have little interest in solving for themselves. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it makes him crazily reckless. And that’s exactly why The Blues Don’t Care is so much fun. (Well, that and one other thing about Bobby you’re going to have to learn for yourself – trust me.)" Sam Sattler, Book Chase



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

30 March 2020

Talking About Dialogue III: Dialogue and Plot


by Steve Liskow

Last time, we discussed how dialogue can deepen character, so today we'll look at how it can advance your plot.

Obviously, we need to understand the situation and what is at stake, and we learn that through exposition. An information dump or obvious explanation too early in your story kills pace and energy, and may drive your readers away. Playwright Jeffrey Sweet shows us there's a right way and a wrong way to convey information.

Hemingway's short story "Hills Like White Elephants" presents a man and a woman arguing over her having an operation. Since they know what the operation will be, they never explain it to us, but it's clear and drives the story. The opening scene of David Mamet's play Glengarry Glen Ross shows two men using jargon they never explain, but eventually the audience has enough context to understand that they're real estate agents. Both examples show Private Exposition, so-called because the characters don't share it. It gives information, but provides tension and doesn't slow the action. As long as your characters speak to each other and not to the reader, you're fine.

Public Exposition has the people explaining things so the reader knows them, too. This means at least one character in the scene has to be brought up to speed. It's typical in mysteries when someone has to explain the situation to the sleuth. Be sure someone in the conversation doesn't know what's going on or this can become heavy-handed and smothering.

"I was talking to John, who, as you know, is your brother."

Ibsen and Chekhov used to load their first scenes with servants discussing what their masters were up to, and it was like watching ice melt. Ira Levin even pokes fun at it in his play "Critic's Choice."

The test is simple: if both characters know what they're talking about, don't explain it to the audience. If at least one character is in the dark, add details, but sparingly.

Jodi Picoult talks directly to the reader in House Rules when Emma explains what it's like to live with a child who has Asperger's Syndrome. She puts it in the context of incidents that have happened, which gives it conflict and more life than a lecture.

If you're not sure about what you've written, read it aloud. If you hear yourself lapsing into a monotone, it needs more conflict or energy. And maybe less telling.

Plot points involve your characters doing things or discovering information that changes the situation. Dialogue can make that happen. The easiest way is to have one character tell someone else what's going on. This is good if you're trying to move your plot in a new direction. Jeff tells his wife: We're not going to Atlantic City this weekend after all. I just got laid off.

Dialogue can introduce new obstacles, which is a variation on the new information. showing how a character reacts or perceives that new problem deepens your characterization as it moves your plot along, so you get double action for the same low price. You can increase the tension if one character realizes that things aren't what they seem to be, too. Maybe Beth tells Martha that the company has decided to interview someone else for that supervisor slot that she expected to get.

Dialogue can create conflict either directly or indirectly and sometimes the indirect approach is better. One person resists, but is subtle about it.

James Scott Bell offers several ways to avoid dialogue that is so agreeable that it becomes dull.
The second person changes the subject, answers a question with a new question, counter-attacks, or interrupts. All those tactics can lead to a more open confrontation or even an explosion, but they don't have to. It's like watching Congress. Nothing gets resolved, so it increases the tension. If you use all these methods through the first two-thirds of your story, your tension will keep growing until it's time for your big release.

Dialogue can use emotions to manipulate people, too.

There are only two basic ways to make people do something: Force and Manipulation.

Force is the threat of physical, mental or emotional violence, and verbal violence can be very effective. If your parents or an older sib constantly belittled you, you know how much it hurts.

Manipulation plays on the emotions of the other character and may involve an attempt to instill an emotion, generally a negative one like Guilt, Fear, Jealousy, Anger, Lust, Envy, Greed...

You can show angers through pouting, accusing, name-calling, sarcasm or evasion to create tension, too. Action tags can help, too. They show instead of tell, and they can move a scene along without calling attention to themselves.

"What makes you think I'm jealous?" Melissa's fists tightened until her knuckles turned white.
"You are so beautiful..." Tom buried his face in Clytemnestra's raven curls.

Use "said" and not some showy synonym from a thesaurus. And remember that people cannot shrug, nod, snort, smile, wink or laugh a line of dialogue. I know, amazing, isn't it?

If you have only two people in a scene--which makes life easier--you may be able to write the dialogue by itself and leave out most of the tags, especially if the two speakers have different speech patterns, which we discussed last time. If you use a tag occasionally to help people keep track, it's enough. The Hemingway story I mentioned above does this.

It's easy to speed up the pace of the scene by limiting the length of sentences and speeches, too. Cut description, narration, and tags. Interruptions are good, too. Increasing the tension makes the pace feel faster, too. To slow down a scene, do the opposite. Add introspection and analyzing from the POV character and use longer sentences with more qualifiers.

Dialogue can give information through response or suggestion, too, instead of telling.
"Why do you want to talk to that jerk?" means "I don't like him."
"You actually live here?" suggests "It's a dump."

And finally, a line of dialogue can be a transition into a new scene.
"What are we doing here?" Jack stared at the seedy motel and reached for his gun.

I love dialogue because it offers you so many good choices.

29 March 2020

A Pound of Flesh: Journaling



The all-powerful "They," whoever these experts are, suggest that writers should journal their daily experiences to help out their writing. Thus, I begin the process. But, first a short prologue to aid the reader on a little background.


A month ago, we returned from a Caribbean cruise and as several of you may know, the cuisine on a large cruise ship is very plentiful and very tasty. Both of which are a problem. Plus, one has to add in all those vacation rum and cokes, not to mention a few rounds of of tropical concoctions served up from various fruits and alcohol. The conclusion of this type of situation usually results in the start of a well-intentioned diet shortly after the traveler returns home.

However, in my case and in the interests of full transparency, I must confess that the weight problem started shortly before we left for the cruise. Somehow, I had gained three pounds before embarkation. My only excuse is that I must have been anticipating the feast to come. But then, as so often happens, succumbing to temptation is sooner or later  followed by remorse and a certain amount of pain while trying to get back on track.

Okay, so here's the deal, starting with the first full day back home:

Sunday:  220.6 lbs.
     ate wisely, no desserts, no alcohol
     Goal: to get back to my 1967 going-to-Vietnam weight of 199 lbs.

Monday:  219.6 lbs.
     ate a big breakfast, no lunch, had soup for supper, no sweets
    okay, you got me, I had a couple of rum and cokes, it's called tapering off, besides, I needed some
    compensation for having to shovel 4" of snow this morning. Snow leeched out my new Caribbean
    tan.

Tuesday:  218.6 lbs.
     don't know why that .6 pound thing keeps hanging on, but hey I'm losing a pound a day so far and
     I have a weight loss haircut to look forward to this afternoon.
     ate a good breakfast, MAY skip lunch.
     Okay, so I put a little white rum in my cranberry juice for breakfast, but I've still got that weight
     loss haircut coming up to help me stay on pace.
     Made half a sandwich with deli-sliced ham, but it was the thick sliced bread, not the thin sliced
     type of sandwich bread, so had to add more ham. Need to speak to wife about buying some thin
     type sandwich bread.
     This afternoon, even though I told her not to do it, the wife baked blueberry muffins for the two
      grandsons to have a snack after school. Those warm muffins are great when they are fresh out of
     the oven. In my defense, I did NOT put butter on them.
     Slipped a little on the rum and cokes after supper, but figured them as a reward for doing so well
     with the weight.

Well, here we are with DAY 4. Today's weight came out at 218.0 pounds. That's still good, I lost .6 pounds from yesterday. Finally, got rid of that .6 thing following me around on the scales every morning. The haircut weight loss must've worked. Not sure what to do about tomorrow. I've only got so much hair.
had a good breakfast, most important meal of the day.
Okay, I did pour some Kalua in my coffee cup, but there was also some coffee in that same cup. It's something I learned from a friend on the ship one morning at breakfast.
Too much good food in the house to skip lunch. Waste not, want not. May have to do a few situps to counteract lunch intake. Supper will be another problem. Don't think I can do that many situps. Wonder if a couple of pushups would suffice to counteract supper?
Rum all gone. Need to make a resupply run.

DAY 5: 219.2 lbs.  Ooops!
Those two growing teenage grandsons coming to the house for a hearty breakfast five mornings a week before school are putting a kink in my diet plans. Wife doesn't help the situation either with all her baking of cookies and other high calorie snacks in the afternoon for after school treats.
Hid the bottle of Vanilla Crown Royal immediately after breakfast, but evidently not well enough. Found it again behind the cans of Coke in the refrigerator right after supper. Gotta get better at hiding things. Still haven't made that resupply run.

DAY 6:  2xx.6  lbs.   Damn!
Well, I gave it a shot, but don't think this journaling thing is going to work out for me.

END of Journal


28 March 2020

Why Writing a Cozy Murder May Kill Me


For most of my author life, I have written mob capers. (Okay, there was that trilogy of ribald sexy fantasy that started my career, but surely that’s in my past. At least, that’s what I tell the priest.)

There have been seven of them. (Mob capers. Not priests.) An eighth will be coming, but in the meantime, my publisher wants me to write a cozy mystery. “You’re already writing comedy,” she said. “This is merely a different sub-genre. And cozies have a HUGE audience in the States.”

More than capers, she not so subtly pointed out.

I know about cozies. Some of my best friends write them. These are authors who can somehow do without sex, violence and profanity in their writing lives. My protagonists are not that sort of people, at least by choice, but I digress.

Thing is, if I was going to write cozies, I was going to have to clean up my language. It may come as a surprise, but mob caper characters don’t actually say, “Golly” and “Goodness me” when they get hit with a chunk of lead.

So as I embarked upon project clean-up, I pulled from my past, aka my dad’s side, which is firmly British. (As opposed to my mother’s side, which had bases in Sicily and The Hammer. ‘Nuf said.)
Most cursing in our house was Brit. I grew up on a steady diet of colourful West Country language.

However, this was a cozy, so I played it light. Even that didn’t work with my publisher.

The first word to go was Pits. “Pits!” Penelope yelled.

Publisher: “What is Pits? Nobody in the States will know what you mean. Use Rats.”

“Rats,” Penelope yelled, while closing the car bonnet.

That didn’t work. I tried again. It got worse.

Soon, ‘bloody’ and ‘bugger’ were off the table.

Me: “Really?”

Me (throwing arms in the air): “I’m Canadian.”

“But they don’t know that,” she said, as if that were some sort of naughty secret we had to keep.

I retreated to Rats and Holy Cannoli.

But problems resurfaced quickly. “You’re a cow!” said Peter.

Publisher: “You can’t use cow. It sounds…”

Me: “Too trashy?”

Publisher: “Bestial. And with respect to the current scandals in Hollywood and DC…“

Me: “Gotcha. Not suitable for a cozy.”

It didn’t end there. Other phrases came under the knife. My whole vocabulary was at stake. Thing is, every non-naughty British expression seems to be…well…so much more expressive than the American equivalent.

“You filthy swine!” is much cooler than “You dirty pig!”

“Damn and blast!” really rocks it over “Darn and boom!”

It’s taken a long time and a lot of soul searching, but I may have come up with a solution to this whole cozy language problem. Something my publisher should be happy with, that isn’t a four letter word, and that shouldn’t offend the clergy. Not only that, it pretty well tells the tale.

“Curses!” said Penelope.



Melodie Campbell does her cursing south of Toronto. She was hardly ever a mob goddaughter, at least not recently. You can buy The Goddaughter and the rest of the series on Amazon.com and all the usual suspects.

Melodie Campbell
Winner of the Derringer and Arthur Ellis Awards
"Impossible not to laugh." Library Journal review of THE GODDAUGHTER