30 September 2013

First of All


First lines are always interesting, and several SSers have written about them.  Last year, I shared the 2012 winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest in this blog, and here I am again, this time with some of the winners for 2013.

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest was started in 1982 by Professor Scott E. Rice of the English Department at San Jose State University.  The contest is named for English novelist and playwright Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, who penned the immortal first line of the 1830 novel Paul Clifford
which was probably the inspiration for Elmore Leonard's rule not to begin a novel with the weather.

In case you haven't had your first cup of coffee yet and don't remember it, that opening line reads:

     It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents,

     except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by
     a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it
     is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the
    housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the
    lamps that struggled against the darkness.
                                              Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

The first year of the contest, it received three entries.  One year later, after much publicity, there were more than 10,000 entries. Now there are numerous categories, the admissions are astronomical, and in addition to winners there are Dishonorable

Here are a few of the 2013 winners:

Grand Prize Winner 
Okay, this picture isn't exactly what
the sentence describes, but Lady
GaGa's meat dress was my first thought.

    She strutted into my office wearing a dress that clung to her like Saran Wrap to a sloppily butchered pork knuckle, bone and sinew jutting and lurching asymmetrically beneath its folds, the tightness exaggerating the granularity of the suet and causing what little palatable meat there was to sweat, its transparency the thief of imagination.
                   Chris Wieloch, Brookfield, WI

Crime Category Winner

   It was such a beautiful night; the bright moonlight

   illuminated the sky, the thick clouds floated leisurely by 
   just above the silhouette of tall, majestic trees, and I was 
   viewing it all from the front row seat of the bullet hole
   in my car trunk.
                                          Tonya Lavel, Barbados, West Indies

Crime Runner Up
I do believe this is the first time SS
has had a plumbing fixture

   Seeing Mrs. Kohler sink, Detective Moen flushed as he plugged the burglary as the unmistakable work of Cap Fawcet, the Mad Plumber, for not only had her pool of
assets been drained, but her clogs were now missing, and the toilet had been removed, leaving them with absolutely
nothing to go on.
               Eric J. Hildeman, Greenfield, WI

Crime Dishonorable Mention

   Observing how the corpse's blood streaked the melting 

   vanilla ice cream, Frank wanted to snap his pen in 
   half and add drops of blue ink to the mix, completing
   the color trio of the American flag--or the French flag,
   given that the body had just fallen from the top of the
   Las Vegas Eiffel Tower onto a creme glacee cart.
                                    Alanna Smith, Wappingers Falls, NY

Vile Puns Runner-Up

   Niles deeply regretted bringing his own equipment to

   the company's annual croquet tournament because those
   were his fingerprints found on the "blunt instrument"
   that had caused the fatal depression in his boss's skull
   and now here he stood in court accused of murder, yes,
   murder in the first degree with mallets aforethought.
                                                   Linda Boatright, Omaha, NE
For more of these, a lot more including Detective Fiction, Romance Novels, Western Novels, and Purple Prose, go to 

The opening line of my most recent Callie adventure, Mother Hubbard Has A CORPSE IN THE CUPBOARD, is: 

James Brown burst from my bra just as I took a sip of Coors from my red Solo cup– the kind Toby Keith likes to sing about.  

I'll save the first sentence for my October, 2013, release, CORPSE UNDER THE CHRISTMAS TREE until it's out.

What about you?  Care to share some first lines? Your own or your favorites for Honorable Mention or Dishonorable Mention?

WARNING:  The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest intrigues me. I'll share the 2014 winners with you next year.  Meanwhile, I may try writing some intentionally horrendous first lines.  Let's just hope I have enough sense to recognize them, enter them in the contest, and don't use one for the horror novel I'm finishing now.

Until we meet again, take care of… you!

29 September 2013

So Soon?

by Louis Willis
Happy Second 

When I started this article, I didn’t know whether to wish us “birthday” or “anniversary.” Dixon’s post on September 20 solved my dilemma, only I changed his word a little since my post wouldn’t be on the 17th. Thanks Dixon. It seems like it was only a few months ago that we celebrated our first anni-vertmonth. 

This, our second means it’s 

So, where is the PARTA?

With the many outstanding and enjoyable articles, we had a good second year. I’m looking forward to an even better third year and maybe a party.

28 September 2013

A Series Discussion

A couple of years ago, I discovered a good way to watch mysteries. It's actually a good way to watch many different genres--though most of my time's spent with mystery/crime/suspense. I'm talking about the wide availability now of TV series on Netflix and other outlets, via either snailmailed DVDs or streaming video. So far, I've found the best of these to be made-for-cable series (especially those created by HBO) but I've also seen some great productions from places like A&E and BBC. Two excellent series that I've watched recently--House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black--were produced by Netflix itself.

In the past I've posted often about favorites of mine: authors, novels, short stories, novellas, movies, sequels, remakes, directors, actors, villains, sidekicks, even soundtrack composers. Today I'm at it again. Here, in no particular order, are twenty TV series that I've watched and thoroughly enjoyed over the past few years. (Again, most are mystery/suspense offerings, but I've included a few comedies, fantasies, Westerns, etc.) I've not included those that I didn't like, or that for one reason or another I just stopped watching after the first episode or so, like Continuum and Vegas and Shameless. By the way--and as always--I'd be interested to hear your take on the following shows, and any recommendations you might have for series I have not yet discovered.

Here are my favorites:

Longmire (A&E) -- The adventures of Sheriff Walt Longmire of Absaroka County, Wyoming. Aside from the gorgeous scenery, the title character is the reason for watching: he's a dedicated, complex, and conflicted guy, a bit like police chief Jesse Stone.

The Newsroom (HBO) -- A behind-the-scenes look at modern-day newscasts, set in the offices of the fictional Atlantis Cable News channel. I think Jeff Daniels won an Emmy the other night for his portrayal of anchor Will McAvoy.

Orange is the New Black (Netflix) -- Based on the book by Piper Kerman, this is a comedy/drama about life in prison, seen from the viewpoint of a thirtyish woman arrested for transporting drugs. Surprisingly good.

Rome (HBO) -- Okay, I know this is way off the usual fare--but it's an outstanding series about Rome in the first century B.C., filmed mostly in Italy. It ran for only two seasons.

Dexter (Showtime) -- Proof that a serial killer can be the hero of a show. The secret? Unlike Hannibal Lecter, this dude hunts down criminals that evaded justice. Another quirk is that this weird vigilante's day job is blood-spatter analysis for the fictional Miami Metro PD.

The Wire (HBO) -- One of the best-made TV productions ever. Set in Baltimore, this series presents an truly authentic view of police work through the eyes of both cops and drug dealers. A little slow getting started, but it's well worth it.

Downton Abbey (BBC) -- Who says I don't put some variety into these crazy lists of mine? This is a show I thought I would hate, and watched only because I knew my wife would love it. I found it fascinating. A chronicle of the lives of the Crawley family and their servants in early-twentieth-century England.

Weeds (Showtime) -- The polar opposite of Downton. This is a hilarious comedy/crime drame about the zany adventures of a suburban widow who decides to start growing and selling marijuana. Sort of a low-voltage version of Breaking Bad. I watched all eight seasons via Apple TV, almost back-to-back.

24 (Fox) -- How many ways can counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer find to save the world (or at least save the nation)? Plenty of them. I especially liked the always fast-moving plots and the real-time narration technique.

Veep (HBO) -- Another comedy, this one with Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the U.S. Vice President. Better than you might think--and I'll watch anything anyway that features Seinfeld alumni.

House of Cards (Netflix) -- The betrayals, blackmailings, and backroom politics of U.S. Congressman Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey). A unique feature: he sometimes "breaks the fourth wall" and speaks directly to the camera.

The Sopranos (HBO) -- Simply the best of the best. Gandolfini did one of the finest, most convincing protrayals I've ever seen by an actor. No description needed.

Boardwalk Empire (HBO) -- Has there ever been a more unlikely leading man than Steve Buscemi? Doesn't matter--he's great. He plays politician/gangster Enoch (Nucky) Thompson in this authentic look at Atlantic City during the Prohibition era.

Game of Thrones (HBO) -- Seven families battle for control of the mythical continent of Westeros. Based on a series of fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin. A well-done production, and another that I didn't think I'd like before seeing it.

Copper (BBC) -- A super-authentic historical mystery series. This is the story of an Irish cop in New York City's Five Points district in the 1860s. Dark but interesting.

Californication (Showtime) -- The life and times of Hank Moody (David Duchovny), a novelist who suffers from writer's block and a Porscheload of other problems as well. There's something in this series to offend just about everybody, but (God help me) I like it.

Breaking Bad (AMC) -- The story of Walter White, a brilliant high-school chemistry teacher who's diagnosed with lung cancer and starts cooking and selling crystal meth to pay the bills. I'm only two episodes into this one, and it's already good.

Borgia (HBO) -- This is almost as much a crime show as a historical drama. Set amid the nonstop corruption and violence of the Italian Renaissance, it deals with the infamous Borgia family and its struggle to gain and retain power. You'll never see another Pope like this one. (Not to be confused with the Showtime series The Borgias, which I've not yet seen.)

Fringe (Fox) -- Sort of a J. J. Abrams version of The X-Files. A female FBI agent teams up with an institutionalized scientist to investigate unexplained phenomena. The title refers to their use of "fringe science" to solve mysteries involving a parallel universe.

Magic City (Starz) -- Another behind-the-scenes story, this one about the world of hotels and gangsters in Miami Beach in the late 1950s. Jeffrey Dean Morgan does a great job as Isaac (Ike) Evans, manager of the fictional Miramar Playa hotel.

In my opinion, the top five of these are HBO products: The Wire, The Sopranos, The Newsroom, Boardwalk Empire, and Rome. I absolutely loved those--although I should use present tense in the cases of The Newsroom and Boardwalk, where there are apparently (and hopefully) more seasons upcoming.

Other series that I enjoyed a great deal over the years, and that I faithfully watched every week on TV rather than later on DVD, were Hill Street Blues, ER, and Lost. And six that I somehow never got around to seeing regularly but that I now wish I had, were Heroes, Six Feet UnderThe West Wing, Mad Men, 30 Rock, and Castle. So many shows, so little time. For what it's worth, I still think the alltime best-written comedy series were Cheers, M*A*S*H, and Frasier.

Anyhow, there you have it. I think I've now managed to list my favorites in every visual and printed medium except maybe video games.

Anybody remember Pac-Man?

27 September 2013

First in a Series

by R.T. Lawton

Let's say you've been writing for a while. You have some stories out there. You're comfortable with what's familiar in your writing, but at the same time you like the excitement and challenge of something new. You know if you continue with the same familiar characters in your series then you have a certain amount of baggage to carry forward, which also means you need to find new ways to insert the same old background. This process can become tiresome and take the fun out of writing. So now you're wondering what to do for your next creation.

Why not start a whole new series? You get the fun and excitement of working with new characters and inventing new plots to get them involved and moving right along. Plus, by the time you write the second story, you get the best of both situations; you have these new characters to collaborate with and you have the comfortable feeling of being familiar with them, yet there is still room for them to surprise you with what actions and reactions they may have to the next conflict coming up in their lives.

The Start

Everybody generates story ideas differently. There is no right way, only the way that works best for you. Sometimes I start with research for a setting, sometimes with a character who then gets into a situation, sometimes with a scene in search of a character, and rarely, with an ending in search of a story. Sometimes my idea gets a one-page plot line from opening to climax (those usually have a higher percentage of being completed) and sometimes the idea gets a mere start in writing, which may then take up to several years of ripening before finding an ending.

Here's how I came by the latest series.


For years, reports crossed my desk about on-going politics, intrigues and battles in the mountain jungles and poppy fields of the Golden Triangle located in Southeast Asia. I had also kept some clippings from English language newspapers out of Thailand and Hong Kong concerning events in that area of the world. It appeared to be an interesting and fertile backdrop for potential stories. Then, a few years ago, our neighbor who runs a Chinese restaurant made it a practice to come out to our table, if he wasn't too busy, and talk Chinese history with me. Since his English was not the best, his wife sometimes had to translate the discussions from Mandarin to English. One advantage for me was that he could Google a person or historical event from the Chinese viewpoint of history and I then got a translation. Turns out that facts and viewpoints of parties involved could vary.

The Next Story Characters

There were many different opium warlords with varying political ties who vied for domination of the opium trade in the Golden Triangle during the 50's, 60's and 70's. One real life warlord who stood out was known as Khun Sa, but then he had several names. His background, name and birth varied depending upon who wrote the facts. Most agreed he came south out of Yunnan Province when Mao's Red Army defeated the White Army Nationalists during China's civil war. Many of those White Nationalists, also known as the Kuomintang, who didn't go with Chiang Kai-shek to take over the island country of Taiwan, moved south into Burma and Thailand where they became involved with the opium and dragon powder trade. After all, a standing army has to do something if it is to survive in a foreign country while it is cutoff from the motherland. In this case, crime paid very well for whoever had the men and weapons.

Khun Sa was alleged to have had a Chinese wife, a Shan wife or maybe both. This provided fodder for my story characters. What if an opium warlord had a son by each wife and the sons were now vying to become the heir apparent? The half-Shan son would have the edge with the local Shan hill tribes and that portion of his father's Shan Army, while the full-blood Chinese son would have the edge with that portion of his father's Kuomintang Army remnants. One son would be raised in the jungle camps of the Shan State in eastern Burma, while the other son attended British private schools in Hong Kong. Therein lies the instant clash of culture and education. Ready made conflict, you gotta love it for storytelling.

The Running Story Line

Told from the Point of View of the well educated, full-blood Chinese son, the reader watches that son's attempts to adapt to the jungle life he has been thrown into after the death of his mother in Hong Kong, and observes how he rationalizes his actions for survival while trying to overthrow his half-breed Elder Brother. But, Elder Brother has his own agenda to become the next warlord. And, if the current warlord and his two sons aren't careful, there are several rival groups with their own reasons to remove these three from the playing field.

"Across the Salween"

He was late.
For two days now, I had squatted back on my heels in the damp greeness of this mist covered jungle slope like any hill tribesman would with my thighs resting on the back of my calf muscles and an old French rifle across my lap. The rest of my squad lay fanned out in concealment on the slope, smoking black market American cigarettes and digging in their packs for rice balls wrapped in banana leaves. But, I could also hear occasional rustling in the brush and whispers of complaint as they grew restless.

And so the first story in the Shan Army series begins. The second ("Elder Brother") and the third ("On the Edge") manuscripts are currently setting in AHMM's slush pile. It is now in the hands of the editor as to whether this becomes a series like my other four in Alfred Hitchcock, or this one remains as a standalone story.

Got any ideas for a new series on your own part?

PS ~ Thanks to Rob Lopresti for his critiques on all three stories. I sometimes suspect that my way of writing occasionally drives him to distraction, him being more on the literary side of the scale, while I'm more on the telling-stories-to-friends-in-a-bar type of guy. (Come to think of it, I still owe Rob a beer from our meeting at Bouchercon in San Francisco.) Anyway, I also believe that some of Rob's suggested revisions/corrections have bettered the quality of these stories. Seems like it never hurts to get that one more informed opinion before sending off the latest brain child to fend for itself. So thanks, Rob, for hanging in there.

26 September 2013

Born Bad. Or Not.

by Eve Fisher

I am, hopefully, on vacation for the next two weeks (mostly off-line), so here's something to chew on for a while.

Many people think philosophy is an esoteric subject, a plaything, a hobby, irrelevant to daily life: but the one place where the rubber hits the philosophical road is when it comes to criminal justice.  Basically, there are only two theories of how human beings tick:  (1) we're born bad; (2) we're not.  In the Western World, these were the (classical - not current!) Conservative v. Liberal views.  In Asia, this is Legalism v. Confucianism.  In every world, it's the divide between (1) those who believe that human beings need to be kept under tight control, with strong laws and punishments and (2) those who believe that humans respond well to education, encouragement, rehabilitation.  Original sin; good at heart.

This is more than a question of religion or philosophy.  It's also a question of laws.  The idea of  "innocent until proven guilty" was first postulated in Ancient Rome - but it did not apply to slaves, which were a large percentage of the population (some calculations say 40% during the height of the Empire).  And in the Dark Ages and Middle Ages, it crumbled entirely, as crime became linked with sin, and the general impression was that, at the very least, if accused, you had to undergo some kind of trial to prove your innocence.  Walk on burning coals; drink contaminated water; hold a red-hot poker for a certain length of time; sink when thrown in the water.  If you were innocent, your burns would heal without festering, you would not become ill or die from the water, and someone would fish you out before you drowned.  If your burns went gangrenous, if the water made you sick, or if you floated, you were guilty, and you would be punished, usually by death.  It wasn't until Cesare Beccaria's 1764 book "Of Crime & Punishment", that sin and crime were unlinked, with the idea that perhaps sometimes you stole because you were hungry, not because you were evil.  He said some fairly radical stuff:  that the corruption and injustice of society could provoke criminal activity, that punishment should lead to rehabilitation, and that capital punishment should be abolished.  Yes, he was a softie.  He was also the first to be called a "socialist" - although it didn't have today's connotations.

In the East, in Asia, Confucius (551-479 BCE) said that men were educable, and perfectable.  That we are indeed born good at heart, and as such persuasion and education were what was needed.  (This did not apply to women or servants:  "if you are too familiar with them, they grow insolent; if you are too distant with them, they grow resentful."  Awwww....)  He was a great believer in benevolence (ren), ritual a/k/a in correct behavior (li), and, of course, filial piety (xiao).  Perfect fidelity to these three things would lead to a perfect man, from whom one could find the perfect rulers, including that elusive philosopher king that everyone since Plato has been seeking.  Confucius was the basis of almost all Chinese education, political science, economics, and law until Mao's Cultural Revolution in the 1960's.  And there was a resurgence after the death of Mao. 

Confucius' antithesis was Legalism, which argued that men are basically selfish, fundamentally amoral, and barely worth the trouble of ruling them.  One of the chief Legalist philosophers, Han Fei Zi (280-233 BCE), said that the purpose of government was to serve the interests of the ruler, because men were such beasts they couldn't recognize good government when they saw it.  (We have a local civic leader that likes to remind everyone that we live in a Republic, not a Democracy, and thus we don't have to be told everything that's going on...  Legalism lives.)  Legalism was enthroned by the Qin Shihuangdi Emperor (ruled 221-207 BCE), who was the great unifier of China in everything from land to language to weights and measures and, in addition, built most of the Great Wall of China.  The Qin Emperor tried to wipe out Confucianism, with massive book burnings and slaughter of scholars.  And, under his rule, the idea of collective responsibility was made a permanent part of Chinese law:  if you committed - or were accused of - a crime, your entire family, perhaps your entire clan, was shamed, arrested, tortured, and/or killed as deemed appropriate by the authorities.  After all, if they had raised you better, you'd never have become a criminal.

Collective responsibility may seem extreme, but when you think about it, it's universal.  Privately, who would want to be the relative of the Unabomber?  Arial Castro?  Ted Bundy?  There are all sorts of people wrestling with the shame of having a family member in prison.  (For that matter, even in our enlightened age, there's a whole range of things, like mental illness and addiction, that still carry a stigma, and not just for the sufferer.)  And then there are the "good wives" who stand by their man (and, I'm sure, also "good husbands" who stand by their wives, though they don't get the press), and nowadays have to defend that decision... 

And then, nationally:  How long will the Germans be guilty for the Holocaust and WWII?  What Germans who were alive at that time could claim innocence?  How about the Japanese during WWII, with comfort women and concentration camps and Unit 731?  What level of culpability do the people of a nation hold for that nation's acts?  And for how long?  Is there an expiration date on slavery, or war, or genocide? 

Cruel and unusual punishments:  what's the definition?  Was the 17th century idea of execution for everything, including stealing a handkerchief, excessive?  Is no death penalty unbelievably soft?  (Norway, for example, reinstated the death penalty to execute Vidkun Quisling and other WW2 Nazis, and then promptly re-abolished it.)  Today the United States is the greatest incarcerator and last Western country with capital punishment (some states with an express lane, others abolishing it)...

It all depends on whether you think people are capable of rehabilitation or not.  If people are born bad, well, why not kill criminals?  If people are born good, though, and we do not pursue rehabilitation (turning, for example, to for-profit prisons) what does that say about what we really believe?  Or are willing to do?  This isn't about history, it isn't really even about crime:  it's about philosophy.  What we believe.

25 September 2013


by David Edgerley Gates

[Note: This post isn't supposed to be actively political, and I apologize ahead of time if it raises anybody's hackles. I mean no disrespect. R.T. and Dix, by all means chime in if you don't share my opinions.]

I personally think the Viet Nam POW-MIA issue is baloney, and I don't believe there were in fact any secret camps that held American GIs after the end of the war. Chuck Norris, who's admittedly all too easy a target, made a series of Missing in Action movies that flew in the face of reason, but the phenomenon is driven by a sense that we were humiliated in defeat, and Chuck Norris was in effect re-fighting the war, only this time we won. Basically, it amounts to denial.

This isn't to say that human remains aren't still being discovered and repatriated, and better forensics, including DNA analysis, have been used to identify formerly missing service members, which brings some small measure of comfort to their families, and helps redeem their sacrifice. There's also a certain amount of anecdotal evidence that a few Americans wound up in GRU or KGB custody, inside the Soviet Union, and you can't completely dismiss these stories, even if they feed into what some of us think is an irrational conspiracy theory.

What prompts these thoughts is not to argue, yet again, the unresolved issues of the war, or the fixation on Viet Nam in the American imagination, but something more tangential. Can a writer convincingly sell a story element, and will the reader buy it, if the central theme, taken out of context, seems preposterous? I'm not talking about alternate histories, say, or revisionism, but our own shared past. If the writer is Nelson DeMille, and the book in question is THE CHARM SCHOOL, then the answer is yes.

It's worth remarking that DeMille served in Viet Nam with the 1st Cav, in the late '60's, as a platoon leader, and his experience colors his work, not to mention that he might vigorously dispute my first paragraph, above. I intend him no insult.

You can't really explain THE CHARM SCHOOL without spoiling the story, so I won't. Trust me, though, DeMille takes a premise that I'm personally resistant to, and makes it absolutely compelling. You never stop and say to yourself, Wait a minute, this can't be true, because the guy never takes his foot off the gas. The narrative momentum snaps your head back against your seat. The trick, here, is obvious. Don't let the reader catch his breath. Easier said than done, but DeMille has complete control of a story on a collision course with Fate itself.

The question, then, isn't so much whether it's a tough sell, to a skeptic like me, but rather that it depends on execution, and of course on self-confidence. DeMille closes the sale because he doesn't entertain disbelief. In our waking moments, we might hesitate. In the dreamscape DeMille conjures up, everything is solid, and genuine, and all of a piece. You stub your toe on real things, and your doubts never enter the picture.

24 September 2013

Herewith, the Clues

       Last week I received an eagerly-awaited package in the mail -- my author’s copies of the December, 2013 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. SleuthSayers is well represented with two stories – one by David Dean and the other (I admit that this is the one for which I was waiting) by me.

       Like the previous stories I have been fortunate enough to place in the pages of EQMM, my latest story, Literally Dead, is an Ellery Queen pastiche. Since it is written, as close as I can make it, to the style of Ellery it is a “fair play” mystery -- that is, all the clues are there, but are hopefully presented cleverly. Sleight of hand is at the heart of all golden age fair play mysteries.  While interest in this genre may have waned somewhat in recent times, mysteries premised on obscure but solvable puzzles have been with us a long time, at least since the days of Poe and Doyle. But the genre really hit its stride in the middle of the twentieth century. 

a Detection Club dinner
       An organized approach to writing fair play mysteries dates at least from the 1930s when a number of famous (or soon to be famous) British mystery writers, including Christy, Sayers and Chesterton, to name but three, established the Detection Club with the intention of establishing standards for “fair play” detective stories. Each of the members of the club took the following oath, reportedly still administered today:
Do your promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?
       The members of the Detection Club went on to establish rules of fair play that, by and large, have governed the writing of fair play detective stories ever since. The most important of those rules is that every clue necessary to solve the mystery must be revealed, in advance, to the reader. 

       The task of actually revealing all of those clues in advance can be a thorny one. After all, one cannot do it in too obvious of a way.  Often, describing a clue in a manner that conveys its full importance to the reader can amount to revealing too much, a too-easy tip to the ultimate solution. Moreover, some clues are simply difficult to describe in narration. The description may bog down if embodied in the detective’s first person narrative or the third person narrative of the author, or the clue itself may be difficult to "show" to the reader.  As an example, a typewriter may have telltale discrepancies, such as cuts in some letters, that will allow the detective to tie a message to a specific machine. But how do you fairly show this in the context of a narrative? Or another example -- how do you show one important aspect of a newspaper article -- do you highlight it by presenting it alone, or do you risk boring the reader by presenting the entire article, none of the rest of which is relevant? 

       There is a simple solution to all of this, although the solution requires a degree of author control that is unavailable in most publishing venues. But the solution is still there -- if the author has the means, he or she can simply include all of the clues in their entirety along with the narrative. Like most simple solutions this one is not at all simple to put into practice. But it has, nevertheless, been tried. It’s interesting to take a look at two different attempts, separated by about 75 years.  

Dennis Yates Wheatley
       In the 1930s an English writer, Dennis Yates Wheatley, was famous for his series of mystery and occult novels. Extraordinarily prolific, Wheatley also authored the Gregory Sallust espionage series that many credit as the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. Searching for a clever way to present fair play whodunits Wheatley teamed with a fellow wine aficionado, art historian James Gluckstein Links, and produced a series of fair play mysteries that the team referred to as “Mystery Dossiers.”  The dossiers featured mysteries constructed by Links and then written by Wheatley. The first of these, Murder off Miami, was published in 1936 and quickly sold 120,000 copies. It was followed by Who Killed Robert Prentice, (1937), The Malinsay Massacre, (1938) and Herewith, the Clues, (1939). The dossiers were mysteries of a different ilk -- while they contained narratives setting forth the underlying story, they also gave the reader a lot more.

       Accompanying each mystery was a series of clues -- real clues, such as entire newspaper articles, burnt matches, strands of hair, an arsenic pill (from which, the dossier explained, the poison had been removed). And in each case the solution to the mystery was contained, at the end, in a sealed envelope. The game, then, was for the reader to examine the clues along with the narrating detective as the story progressed; the approach allowed the reader to see precisely what the detective sees, that is, the wheat along with the chaff. 

       The approach intrigued the reading public, but, as can be imagined, the production costs for these mysteries were inordinately high. It is reported that hair samples required by one of the dossiers were secured from European nuns. Matches were burned seriatim by employees of the publisher for inclusion in one of the dossiers. And many of the clues had to be wrapped in wax paper, and then affixed by hand with staples to the appropriate page in the final volume. Little wonder that pristine copies of the original dossiers -- with the clues still encased, and with the ending still sealed in that envelope, sell for many hundreds of dollars.

       The Wheatley/Links works were re-issued in the late 1970s by Hutchison and Company Publishers in London, but even with modern technological advances the cost of publication inspired few imitators. 

       Between the 1970s and today advances in computer technology and computer gaming saw similar attempts to offer up not only the story but the clues -- several computer simulation games based on Sherlock Holmes stories accomplished this with varying degrees of success. But, at least to my knowledge, a full-blown attempt to harness these technological advances in the context of published literature was not attempted. Until this August, that is, when Random House published Marisha Pessl’s brilliant (there. I’ve said it) new occult thriller and mystery Night Film

Marisha Pessl and her great new book
       Night Film, to be clear at the outset, is a mystery, but not a classic fair play mystery. What it is is a really fine book. It grabs the reader, holds the reader’s attention, and then deposits the reader, at the end, a slightly different person. The narrative is so compelling at times that the reader may even begin to perceive the world differently -- I know that I did -- simply as a result of having read the story.

       But Night Film also employs a startling gimmick -- when evidence appears in a magazine story the narrative stops and the magazine takes its place. The same is true of police reports, college newspapers, slips of paper, a CD album cover -- all are reproduced between the covers of the book.  And not content with this, the book goes further -- if you read it equipped with a smartphone loaded with the Night Film app (free for the downloading) additional content appears on your phone when various pages of the story are scanned. The result is a near complete immersion into the world created by Pessl. 

       The Links and Wheatley mystery dossiers of the 1930s similarly wrapped the reader into the narrative, but were often criticized as being too much gimmick and too little story. That cannot be said of Night Film, which is a near perfect blend and weighs in at over 600 pages of mesmerizing story. The addition of forays into the actual evidence only serves to heighten the reader’s involvement. 

       You probably get the idea that I think Night Film is a sensational read. As I have said many times, I am loath to dish out spoilers in a review.  So, beyond what I have said already, you will just have to take my word for it!

       Oh, yeah. And when you buy it at a bookstore, or download it for your e-reader, why don’t you also pick up a copy of the December issue of EQMM!

23 September 2013

Mystery of the Little House Books

Susan Wittig Albert
by Susan Wittig Albert

Our guest blogger this week is Susan Wittig Albert, who wants to introduce you to her latest, an intriguing literary deception.
— Jan Grape
Most of the time, I write mysteries. Some of my mysteries are contemporary (the China Bayles books), some historical (the Darling Dahlias 1930 series), and some biographical (the Beatrix Potter Cottage tales and the Robin Paige Victorians that I wrote with my husband). Most of these mysteries involve a crime of some sort, usually a murder, always involving some kind of criminal deception.

Recently, I wrote about a different kind of deception, a literary deception, in In A Wilder Rose, a true story about the writing of the Little House books. If you read those books as a child, you probably remember that they were about the Ingalls family's pioneer treks from Wisconsin to Indian Territory back to Minnesota, and then on to South Dakota. The named author of the eight books– beginning with  House in the Big Woods and ending with These Happy Golden Years– was the child heroine of the series, Laura Ingalls Wilder. By the time the books were published (1933-1943), Laura was in her 60s. While she had written poems for children and contributed paid newspaper articles to a farm journal, she had never written a book in her life. 

When I was a kid, I adored these books. But when I grew up and began to study literature (on my way to becoming a college English professor and an author of young adult and adult fiction), I puzzled over the mystery of how this elderly farm wife could produce eight perfectly-told books. Usually, this was explained by saying that Laura was a literary genius, and leaving it at that. But when I became a fiction writer myself and learned how truly difficult it is to write a book and get it published, I began to wonder how that worked for a 60-ish woman living on a remote Missouri Ozark farm in the 1930s. She rarely left the immediate area and had never been to New York. How in the world did such an isolated writer find an agent? Did she send out query letters with samples chapters? How did she know where to send them?

But the mysteries began to multiply when I discovered that Laura Ingalls Wilders had a daughter, Rose Wilder Lane--and that Rose (married and divorced) was a nationally famous journalist and one of the highest-paid women magazine writers in America. When I learned this single fact, all my mystery-solving instincts came alive at once and I embarked on a research project that led me to learn about Rose's life as a writer and a daughter.

I was helped along the way by William Holtz's 1933 biography of Rose. He argued that Rose was the
ghostwriter behind the Little House books, but he didn't provide much persuasive evidence of that claim. Following some leads from Holtz's book, I visited the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa where Rose's papers are held. In the archive, I found Rose's diaries from the years in which the Little House books were written as well as letters exchanged between Rose and her mother. When I studied the letters along with Laura's original manuscripts, I was able to put dates to the extensive work Rose did on the books and solve the mystery of how the Little House books came to be written and published.

The story in a nutshell: Flush with $10,000 from the sale of a book, Rose came home to the Wilder farm in 1928. She built her parents a "retirement cottage" on the property and she and her friend, Helen Boylston, moved into the old farmhouse. But then the crash came, Rose's magazine markets dried up, and she was stranded at the farm. Hoping to earn some money, Laura settled down to write her memoir, 328 handwritten tablet pages she called "Pioneer Girl."  Rose edited her mother's draft and sent part of it to an author friend in New York. An editor expressed an interest in it. When it was published in 1932, that part of "pioneer Girl" became Little House in the Big Woods.

Over the next ten years, Rose and Laura carved up "Pioneer Girl" into the eight Little House books. Laura would produce a handwritten draft, and Rose– using her experience as a published author– would rewrite it into publishable form. Laura would submit Rose's typescript under her own name, to George Bye, the literary agent who also represented Rose. Bye would send it to the publisher.  When the copy edited text came back, Rose did the work of checking it, and Laura submitted the approved text, again under her name. Each of the eight books in the series was done this way, without neither the agent nor the books' editors knowing that Rose was responsible for the finished submissions.

Why did Rose not insist on being acknowledged as a co-author or ghostwriter of Laura's books?

For one thing, she wanted her mother to be recognized as an author (her mother dreamed of achieving "prestige") and to have whatever royalties the books produced, although no one could have predicted in 1932, that they would produce a large fortune. The Wilders had no income except the few dollars they earned by selling milk and eggs in town, and an annual $500 "subsidy" that Rose sent them (the equivalent of about $6100 today).  Laura's small royalty checks of  $50 and $100 in those first years went a long way toward making the Wilders financially independent.  Finally, in 1938, the books earned enough so that Rose could discontinue her financial support.

But Rose also felt that ghostwriting "juveniles" (in a time when children's literature was not important) would not boost her writing career. In a letter, she wrote that writers of her stature didn't do ghostwriting unless they were desperate for money. She herself was desperate at the time, and ghostwrote five adventure books for the journalist Lowell Thomas, for $1,000 each. But it certainly wasn't something she was going to advertise. Hence the literary deception, which has persisted to this day.

The mother-daughter collaboration was an uncomfortable one, beset by the challenging issues of control and manipulation that troubled the relationship throughout both their lives. As Rose's journals demonstrate, the first three books were produced with difficulty. The two women managed best when they were apart, and in 1935 Rose left the farm. The remaining five books were written by mail: Laura mailed Rose her draft, Rose mailed Laura her rewrite, and Laura submitted the book to their agent.

As a reader of the Little House books, I am grateful to Rose for reworking her mother's stories and using her literary connections in New York to get them published. And I'm very grateful for her leaving a trail in her diary and letters, so that this puzzle could finally be solved, and I could write
A Wilder Rose, the story of Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the Little House books they built together.

A Wilder Rose is now available in print and ebook from Amazon and B & N. Check out the website aWilderRoseTheNovel.com if you click on the "Readers/Book Clubs/Libraries" link, you will find additional free 'backgrounders'.

22 September 2013

The Matchless Swede

Last week, I published Anton Chekhov's 1884 short story, The Swedish Match, apparently not short enough for a few. To the regret of mystery fans, the anticipated payoff of a detective dénouement evaporated by the end of the story.
E.C. Bentley
E.C. Bentley

The tale reminded me of Trent's Last Case by E.C. Bentley, a send-up of Lord Peter Wimsey, Ellery Queen, and the amateur sleuth genre. The Swedish Match seems less entertaining for modern audiences who must parse a Victorian translation of the original Russian.

When Louis Willis brought Chekhov's story to my attention, I wondered what a Swedish match was. I investigated and illustrated the story with the results, historical photographs of red phosphorus safety matches. In my research, I discovered one of the most interesting bandits of the past century was responsible for the real Swedish Match– and a strong case for murder.

Igniting Flickers into Flame

It turns out Swedish Match is a century-old Swedish company with much older roots and deep American connections. Prior to World War I, the match industry was already decades old and in Sweden alone comprised some twenty manufacturers.

Bear in mind matches were an essential of the era. Every business, every household, every government office needed matches daily for lighting fireplaces and furnaces, lamps and lanterns, and of course tobacco. Matches were a simple must-have product.

Through quiet buy-outs and mergers during the war, a dynamic businessman named Ivar Kreuger consolidated match manufacturers until only two companies remained. The one controlled by Ivar Kreuger became Swedish Match or Svenska Tändsticks, literally Swedish lighter-sticks.

Ivar Kreuger
Ivar Kreuger
Striking a Deal

This is how Kreuger worked it: His father already owned a match company, but Ivar wanted to merge with the nation's largest match-maker, Jönköping-Vulcan. The much larger company was not interested. Kreuger bought up numerous small competitors and controlling interest in raw materials, gaining control of the forest industry in Sweden. But then Kreuger did something that would set him on a path for future business– he inflated the stock value of his company. This time when he approached Jönköping-Vulcan, they believed his holdings much larger than they actually were and agreed not only to a merger but as a subordinate party, turning over control to Kreuger.

The tail wagged the dog. Svenska Tändsticks, now a monopoly, rapidly spread into Norway, Finland, and targeted the rest of Scandinavia. Swedish Match became so wealthy, it lent funds to governments in post-WW-I reparations, in exchange negotiating monopoly rights country by country. With other holdings in America, Kreuger secretly moved on the Diamond Match and Ohio Match companies, hiding his actions from federal antitrust watchdogs. At his zenith, Kreuger controlled roughly 70% of the world market and 100% in many countries. And that's just the tip.

Burning Motivation

Kreuger (or Kreüger– the family apparently used both) was one of those rare entrepreneurs blessed with multiple business talents and the ability to persuade others of his prowess. A fascinating character, he amorally manipulated the enormous sums invested with him.

Before becoming interested in his father's match company and other family businesses, Kreuger studied engineering in the US and, except for opening a restaurant in South Africa, he began working in America. There he came across a new pre-stressed concrete and steel construction technique developed by Julius and Albert Kahn. Kreuger returned to Sweden intent on exploiting this new method in Europe. He began a construction business with his cousin and a friend, soon landing a number of prestigious European contracts. Kreuger's company introduced the concept of completion date commitments and went on to earn hefty bonuses for every project.

A Bed of Coal

Using securities and stock in his own company, he began buying a virtual Monopoly board of businesses– banks, railways, real estate, manufacturing, timber, and mines, especially gold mines, iron and coal. In some industries he grew to dominate half or more of the world's market. He considered taking over Sweden's entire telephone system and owned more than half of a company you know, Ericsson. In fact, you know a lot of companies Kreuger controlled: IG Farben, Bayer, the Diamond and Ohio Match companies, and several banks, as many as 400 enterprises in all.

And while his companies consistently produced quality goods, Kreuger financed his acquisitions in ways that would leave Bernie Madoff gasping. In normalized dollars, Kreuger the engineer, fabricated the largest financial schemes in history.

Burning through Money

Indeed, Enron and the banks, brokers, and insurers that precipitated the 2006 Wall Street debacle used techniques pioneered by Kreuger. He invented many of the methods still in use today to avoid oversight and regulation.

Pause for a moment. I'm a devout believer in entrepreneurism and a market economy. But I'm also wary when lobbyists and politicians begin calling for deregulation and tearing down investor protections, claiming they learned their lessons and business needs to grow and expand unhampered by pesky regulations.

The one lesson you can bank on is that business is incapable of policing itself. And that's what regulators do– keep companies on the straight and narrow path.

Hot Stocks

Even so, companies continue to go out of their way to avoid oversight and they use the same arguments today Kreuger used a century ago, among them that investors don't need to know. Modern corporations today use off-balance sheet accounting justified by Kreuger. The rationalization is if you the investor makes money, what do you care if company officers use accounting sleight-of-hand to become extremely wealthy?
Swedish matches

Kreuger invented a number of financial instruments in use today, among them convertible debentures, stock dilution, B-shares, unsecured debt, and junk bonds. As mentioned above, Kreuger would trade stock within his own company to buy other companies, but not just any stock. He invented B-shares worth 1/1000 of his own presumably A-shares. Like other high-flying CEOs each decade sees, Kreuger used companies as his own personal piggy bank, supporting toys and houses around the world and entertaining celebrities and movie stars of his day.

Where there's Smoke…

And then came the crash of 1929. Kreuger was heavily vested in America and America had invested heavily in him. He zipped country to country, continent to continent, trying to bolster his firms that in financial terms had become hollow shells, some worth fractional pennies on the dollar. His indebtedness to Swedish banks alone totaled half of that nation's entire gold reserve. In other countries, his debt was incalculable.

Snuff Said

In March 1932, Kreuger sailed for Europe from the US for the last time. On 12 March, two days before Kreuger was to meet with Riksbank's chairman, his personal maid found him dead in his Paris apartments, apparently shot through the heart. The French Sûreté concluded he'd committed suicide.

But not everyone believed it. Kreuger's brother Torsten contended Ivar's death wasn't suicide, but murder, noting a number of curious anomalies. Three decades later when documents became public, the mystery thickened along with certainty his death was a homicide, possibly by Soviet assassin Leon Birthschansky, thereby spawning numerous theories in articles and books.

The economic devastation following Kreuger's death and revelations his business practices had gone so bad resulted in the financial press giving the fallout his name, the Kreuger Crash, further fueling the now worldwide Great Depression.

The financial world portrayed Kreuger playing with other peoples' monies in a global Ponzi scheme. Some, more thoughtful and suspicious, challenged that notion, noting the man was a positive influence offsetting the rise of the far left and the far right, the demons of Stalin and Hitler. In that light, political forces of evil paid assassins to remove Kreuger from the world stage and then rewarded his complicit competitors like the Wallenbergs, allowing them to raid and gut his companies. Of course it's possible both contentions are true.

Enduring Flame

Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand
Kreuger's such a fascinating character, multiple authors claimed him as a subject, the most recent book coming out just three years ago. Movie makers and playwrights couldn't resist the topic either. And here we turn to another famous Russian author who wrote about the Swedish Match, Али́са Зино́вьевна Розенба́ум– Alisa Zinóvyevna Rosenbaum. You know her as Ayn Rand.

Ayn Rand used Kreuger as a model for the character Björn Faulkner in her 1935 play set as a courtroom drama murder mystery, Night of January 16th. The play is notable for selecting members of the audience as jury members, who decide the verdict resulting in different endings, depending upon the jury's decision.

Thus we end like we began with another great author of Russian origin writing about the same product from the same company, but an entirely different crime. The drama is matchless.

21 September 2013

A motley crew—and proud of it!

by Elizabeth Zelvin

SleuthSayers celebrated its second anniversary this week, and we were all asked to write something appropriate to the occasion. The topic that popped into my mind and wouldn’t go away was what a fascinating and diverse bunch of people my blog brothers and blog sisters are.

Elizabeth, Dale, David, RT
I had already been blogging weekly for five years on a group blog when Leigh Lundin, at the suggestion of editor Janet Hutchings of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, invited me to join the roster of “crime writers and crime fighters” that was rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the popular Criminal Brief blog. My blog sisters over at Poe’s Deadly Daughters are not exactly all of a kind as people or as mystery writers. However, we are all women, all novelists, and all write within a certain range of mystery fiction along the spectrum from cozy to traditional to medieval noir. Our readers, too, as far as we can tell, fall mainly in the category of mystery-reading women of a certain age.

So for me, part of the appeal of SleuthSayers was that it offered collegiality with short story writers, law enforcement and military professionals, and guys. I’d have been even more eager to sign up if I’d known that, like me, several of my new blog buddies were musicians, singers, and songwriters. And it’s not just that the profiles of my fellow bloggers were different from those of my fellow Deadly Daughters and most of the other bloggers I knew. I had no idea how widely the subject matter of the posts themselves would range and how different the whole flavor of SleuthSayers would be from anything I’d read before.

One of the topics I found the most mindblowing and unexpected was Dixon Hill on explosives and how to use them. Dix swears the information he posted is not detailed enough to make your own minefield in your least favorite neighbor’s backyard. But he said enough to make me nervous. Very few folks in my usual circles can say, as Dix did, “Now, I’ve fired all sorts of weapons,” and list a paragraph’s worth from sniper rifles to machine guns (“I can dance with one of these pretty well”) to light anti-tank weapons (“not reloadable, whatever you saw in that Dirty Harry movie”)—and follow it up with “I’ve used them in the desert, the jungle, the African bush, …the ocean, on the beach after swimming…in rain, snow and ice storms, and probably in more places than I care to remember!”

Now, I’ve been in a lot of these places, including the desert—Timbuctoo, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited—and the African bush, when I spent two years in the Peace Corps in Côte d’Ivoire. And I’ve just spent the summer riding the waves on an ocean beach in the Hamptons. But no weapons were involved. There was a period in my youth when I had a certain number of friends who owned copies of The Anarchist Cookbook. But as far as I know, none of them ever tried any of the recipes. It was more a harmless kind of showing off, like getting a tattoo today.

The colleague whose posts probably come the closest to what I’m used to are those by my Saturday blog buddy (we alternate), brilliant and prolific short story writer John Floyd. John’s the only one of the gang I knew before joining SleuthSayers. I had a story in an anthology he edited for Wolfmont Press. He’s a crackerjack editor with a keen ear for language and an eye for what makes a story work. And I’m not just saying that because he accepted “Death Will Trim Your Tree” for The Gift of Murder without changing so much as a comma. (Not that that isn’t one of the reasons I love him, along with his delicious Southern drawl and what a true gentleman he is.) We both post about writing, among other things. We both love movies, but we barely have a favorite in common. (Okay, John, Blazing Saddles and In Bruges are probably on my long list, and I bet you enjoyed Seven Psychopaths, as I did.)

I could go on about every one of my fellow SleuthSayers, but (unlike some of y’all) I like to keep my posts below 800 words. Reading and being one of them/you/us is a helluva ride, and I’m in for another year!

20 September 2013

Happy Anni-Verthday!

SleuthSayers has hit the end of Year Two, and, over the past couple of weeks, there's been a lot of talk about our blog’s second birthday.

While, at times, our blog may seem to be a sort of online coffee house—Surely I'm not the only one to hit my morning caffeine (and in my case nicotine) when perusing SS after firing-up my computer at the start of each day!—today I'd like to look a bit more deeply into our blog than that.

Birthday or WHAT?

One thing I’ve noticed, however, is that some of us refer to the occasion as a Birthday, while others call it an Anniversary. For my part, I think we need a cake that looks more like this one, at this year’s annual office party.

To my way of thinking, birthdays are about individuals (excepting twins, triplets, etc., of course). And, while there’s an individual entity here: the blog, itself. It seems to me that this entity is the creation of several writers working in concert. Thus, though the blog may be an individual—of and in itself—that entity is also the interwoven, or perhaps “patchwork,” composite of many individuals working together.

And it seems to me that, when individuals come together, collaborating in intimate, or semi-intimate ways—as the writers who produce SleuthSayers have done for the past two years—the thing I’d like to celebrate may be less the birthday of that entity we call the blog, and rather more the anniversary of the writers’ creative collaboration.

Thus, the birthday wish at the top of my blog probably should be replaced with something more akin to this. Or, another illustration referring to an anniversary of writers who came together to breath life into our new digital entity: SleuthSayers.

Of Digital Offspring DNA

Perhaps the photo of the champagne flutes, flowers and cupcake aren’t what you envision when thinking of an anniversary. Perhaps some of our number think of an anniversary in terms like this:

While, for others, the term calls up a vision similar to this one... 

This one...

Or, this one. 
I sometimes think we're more like this.
Notice how the crazy guy seems to be jerking her arm?
That's a bit different than pulling her leg IMHO.

The more disturbed among us may even envision a scene similar to this one
(Which rather scares the willies out of me, with it's "decapitatedness" to be frank!)

It may certainly be argued, we are far more than “a pair” or “a couple”, so why not an anniversary photo similar to this one?

Perhaps this is what we should envision.  They just seem so mysterious to me --
Clothes retro, but shiny clean . . . as they stand where they don't seem to belong.

How about a photo similar to each, all, or none of these?

My resounding answer is: YES! 

All these, and many more, may be the way that writers and readers who contribute to our digital offspring individually conceive of the word “anniversary.” Which, I believe, is one of the greatest strengths of our collaborative effort. 

After all, a diversified gene pool is a critically important asset for any healthy brainchild. And, at SleuthSayers, our collective phsycho-verbo-experiential gene pool is delightfully vast and varied.

But … Kids Aren’t Clones 

As a parent, one thing I’ve learned is that children not only seem to be born their own individual personalities, but also that these sometimes rather alien personality traits often challenge good parents to extend themselves in previously unexplored directions.

Part of our blog entity’s character is that it encourages those who have—before this time—probably concentrated on primarily, or even only, the written word, to expand into other means of self-expression through the use of photographs, sound files, digital film clips, and other media not normally available for access through books or magazines.

Our blog: We are it, and it is us.
Thus, through our brainchild blog, we accomplish interdependent interaction.

While we transform the blog through the results of each writer and contributing-reader bringing his/her own baggage to work on it, the blog creates an impact on each of us through the exercise of its own transmogrifying digital DNA.

As the blog is transformed, it transforms us—its writers and readers. We are not the same people we would be, without the blog.

And, thus, I am confronted by the idea that—though I began this blog on a birthday note, then changed that note to one of an anniversary celebration—the final idea has (it’s just my luck!) come around full-circle. We find the blog writers and readers are an inherent component of the blog entity, just as the blog’s entity has become (and continues to magnify in proportion) its writers and readers.

Birthdays may seem to be reserved for individuals, while anniversaries may be more applicable to joint ventures.

However, at SleuthSayers:  Contributors (joint venture participants) and offspring (the birthday individual) evidently continue to meld into one. Thus it would seem that Birthday and Anniversary needs come to be conjoined in the phrase:

Happy Anni-Verthday!

To my fellow SleuthSayers:
Readers, Writers and Digital Tikes
ONE in ALL   &   ALL in ONE!

P.S.  This is a photo of Velma after last year's office party.
I found her near the exit, and -- after taking the photo-- got Leigh to pour her into a cab.
See you in two weeks!