31 March 2014

Edits and Editing

Jan Grape Okay, class. You've all heard this before but it's good to remind ourselves over and over about the joys of editing. I used to hate to edit, because it seemed so tedious but once I realized how much better reading my story or book will be with good editing, I hopped on the band wagon.

I've been reading books for an award to be given later on this year. I'm the chair of the committee and there are two other people on the committee with me. We each will read a book, not the same book at the same time, but we need to winnow the pile down and pick our nominees and our winner. In the back and forth e-mails we are sending each other, one big thing has been discussed back and forth. The need for some good editing. It not too easy to edit your own work, but I've found one thing that helps me is to put that mss in the file cabinet for at least a day or two. A week is even better and three weeks is excellent. Let the story jell. Work on something new, and take your mind totally off your work in progress (WIP).

If possible get someone to give the WPI a read for you and I don't mean your mother or brother or even your critique group. Let someone you trust that has been published read and critique for you. And it's very important if you don't have an editor at your publishing house. If it's a small press and they just don't have enough people to go around, you might consider hiring someone to edit for you. It could be that a friend who has some experience, has been published and especially in your genre will look at your book without charge. If so, that's great. Take them to lunch or at least promise them a copy of the book when it is published.

There are also a number of editing services. But like with anything, some are good and some not so good. Some may be too expensive for you. Check with organizations like Sisters-in-Crime. You don't have to be female to join. We call them Brothers-in-Crime. Check with Mystery Writers of America. Here in Texas we have a large national and international writing organization called Writers League of Texas. All will have listings of editing, critiquing services.

Several years ago before I was published I checked with the major university in my home town with the creative writing department. I found a professor who was willing to read and critique my WIP. He charge a fairly substantial fee. I didn't have much extra money at the time, but I wanted the mss to be in the best possible shape. Unfortunately, he wasn't that familiar with the mystery genre, he leaned way over to literary fiction. He wanted to know the theme of my book. The motivations of each character. He thought the dialogue was too informal. In other words, he was too much of a professor for me. And his help was no help for me.

A short time later, I attended a writing conference in Houston, with editors, agents, and a handful of published writers . All were willing to read and critique, I believe the first fifty pages of your WIP at no charge other than the conference fee. Mine was being read by a New York agent. He was fairly well known in the business. I walked into the room where I was to have a private talk with him. The first thing he said was, "I don't like your characters and I don't like your setting." I was flabbergasted and crushed. I said, "Okay, but how's my writing." "Oh your writing is fine," he said, "but I just don't care for your book." I was supposed to have a fifteen minute meeting with him and this all took about two minutes. I walked out, went straight to my room and cried.

A few minutes later, my roommate walked in and she was crying. Her critique had been by one of the semi-famous authors and what he actually done was a line edit but it was like he wanted her to change so much, she felt like he didn't like her book. He destroyed her. He gave her the full fifteen minutes but they had been quite rough. After she got over her initial shock and we looked at what he had done, we realized his line editing was very good, it's just we were still babies in the writing game and didn't understand what had been done. I, on the other hand, could find no redeeming words for my visit with the agent. I did realize later that opinions were very subjective in this writing game. I received rejections that said, the characters weren't strong enough. The next editor who read the very same mss said my characters were wonderful but the plot sucked.

Several other attendees had similar complaints and we all reported what had happened to the organizers. It was decided from that time forward, we would pay the critiquers a nominal fee. That way they didn't feel like they were working for nothing, the conference had paid their way to Houston, paid their room and meals but they obviously felt put upon. It did seem to make a difference. I think the fee might have been twenty-five dollars for a 15 minute meeting. They could schedule as many as they felt they could handle over the two day conference.

One of the neatest stories I heard during a Southwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America was from a man who was a best selling author of True Crime and a number of fiction books and stories by the name of Clark Howard. Even some of his stories were made into movies. When he was in college in the mid-west, near Chicago, he took a creative writing class. The students were to write a story, turn it in, the teacher made copies for everyone and passed them around. The whole class was to critique the story in class. When they got to his story, the whole class ripped it to shreds. Whatever one person said, the next person piled it on. About that time the class was over and Clark said, "I didn't have the nerve to tell them I'd just sold that story for five hundred dollars. He left and never went back to that class. (I don't remember if he'd sold it to Ellery Queen or Hitchcock magazine.) I told him I would have walked back into class the next time they met and tell them he'd sold the story and then say "Neener, neener," and then walk out.

I do think it's  important to get your WIP in the best shape possible before you let anyone publish it. Most writers I know, say their first reader is their spouse. And sometimes that works very well. My late husband, Elmer, was my first reader and he caught things like the correct description of a gun. Or the way a building or house looked or was constructed. Or my description of a car or motorcycle. Anything mechanical or along those lines he was an expert. And often if a scene or a plot line made good sense. But he had no idea if the dialogue was stilted or sounded natural. He had no idea if I wrote a run-on sentence or an incomplete sentence. So I always had to have another writer read and let me know about sentence or scene structure or punctuation. I was fortunate in the early years I had a wonderful critique group. There were only four of us. Susan Rogers Cooper, Barbara Burnet Smith and Jeff Abbott. Susan had published three or four novels and I had published two or three short stories and a handful of magazine articles. But Barbara and Jeff were not published  We did help each other and Barb and Jeff were soon published.

Tell yourself the story first. Let the creative side work it's magic, write the whole mss. Of course most of us edit the previous day's work before we continue the new day.  Before long it will be finished. Then set it aside to cool off. Wait as long as you can to take the story up again and let the editor side of your brain read and edit and edit and edit. But don't forget to stop and let it go. You can keep messing around with it and in time you'll think it's got to be perfect. Once you've done some rewriting and let someone edit for you then send that WIP to your agent or editor and keep your finger crossed. Before you know it you'll be holding your book in you hands. You'll open it up and start reading and find 10 mistakes that you or someone should have caught. But that's okay, you'll get better editing on the next book.

All right, class dismissed. Stay warm if you're still in winter. April is here and warm weather is coming. I guarantee you.

30 March 2014

Slow Death by Disuse

by Louis Willis

The main task of the semicolon is to mark a break that is stronger than a comma but not as final as a full stop. It’s used between two main clauses that balance each other and are too closely linked to be made into separate sentences. 
Oxford Dictionaries.

In his article “Has Modern Life Killed the Semicolon?” on the Slate website, Paul Collins relates a brief history of the semicolon:

       The semicolon has a remarkable lineage: Ancient Greeks used it as a question mark; and after classical scholar and master printer Aldus Manutius revived it in a 1494 set, semicolons slowly spread across Europe. Though London first saw semicolons appear in a 1568 chess guide, Shakespeare grew up in an era that still scarcely recognized them; some of his Folio typesetters in 1623, though, were clearly converts.  

Collins notes that the advent of the telegraph in 1850 might have “radically” changed language use because punctuation marks cost the same rate as words ($5.00). As far the semicolon, his perusal of “telegraph manuals reveals that Morse code is to the semicolon what weedkiller is to the dandelion.” He never quite says that in these modern times the Internet is killing the semicolon but strongly implies that it is. He believes, nevertheless, that “semicolons serve a unique function,...” but fails to say what that function is.
Matthew Kassel believes the semicolon isn’t dying but is “the perfect punctuation for the digital age.” In his "The Semicolon Is the Perfect Punctuation for the Digital Age" article on the New York Observer web site, Kassel argues “that the semicolon is...perfectly suitable for text messaging, instant messaging and online correspondence via Facebook and other social networks, where disparate ideas roam free and ‘unexpected juxtapositions’ are the norm.” He felt “compelled” to defend the semicolon because he “often uses semicolons in digital communication and [has] encountered some unexpected pushback.” Further, for him “the semicolon’s breezy informality… captures the unstructured, colloquial nature of digital correspondence more so than any other punctuation mark out there.” I didn’t find a whole lot of semicolons in his articles on the Observer site, and I couldn’t access his Twitter account, which was probably due to my unstructured, colloquial nature. 
The goal of communications on the social networks is to get the message out as quickly as possible and don’t bother about those little pesky things called punctuation marks. Way back in 1999, one writer, Amy Harmon, in an article "Internet Changes Language" published in the New York Times on February 20 noted that “Although judgments vary, what seems clear so far is that the Internet has propelled the traditionally deliberate pace of language evolution to higher speeds.” 
The semicolon doesn’t lend itself to the speed Twitter and Facebook requires because it insists on a brief pause to allow the reader to think. Readers who, like me, sometimes want, not just dip into an article, story, or essay, but to savor it, would, in these times of instant gratification, miss the semicolon. I have faith, though I don’t know if it is “the perfect punctuation for the Digital Age” as Kassel suggests, that its demise is not imminent. 
To you semicolon; may you live forever.

29 March 2014

Pride and Preachiness

by John M. Floyd

Life isn't always fair. You might be paying close attention, listening hard to every word the teacher's saying, but when Doofus Jones in the desk behind yours decides to smack you in the head with a spitball and you turn to him and make a rude and socially improper gesture, that's the one moment the teacher chooses to look in your direction. We all know that. It's the Night Watchman Syndrome: close your eyes for a two-minute nap and your supervisor always shows up to check on you. I think it was Johnny Carson who said that if life were fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead.

But occasionally all your stars seem to line up, and good things happen.

Ego trip

Last Sunday afternoon I drove into town to a chain bookstore, one that features a vast supply of magazines. As I was standing there at the rack reading a story in an issue of Asimov's, one of the bookstore staff saw me and came over to chat. (Like all writers, I try to meet and get to know the employees in local bookstores. Most of them have the job security of an assistant football coach, but while they're there they can be the best friends a writer can have, both during and between booksignings. They're also a lot of fun. How could you not like someone who chooses to work among all those books every day?)

A quick note: there's something about Blatant Self-Promotion that makes most of us uncomfortable. For an author, some measure of BSP is acceptable and even expected, and I realize that. But it still makes you feel like a combination of telemarketer, TV evangelist, insurance salesman, and Amway representative, so I avoid it whenever I can. Because of that reluctance, it's great to be presented now and then with an opportunity to showcase your writing without bringing it up yourself. It's the feeling a comedian probably gets when he's handed a straight line. The SP without the B.

What happened in my case was that the aforementioned store employee--Andrew--walked up and said to me, "Still writing a lot?"

"Always," I said. "You selling a lot?"

"You write 'em, we'll sell 'em," he said, grinning. He pointed to the magazine in my hand. "Anything of yours in there?"

"Nope. I think you have to be smart to write science fiction."

Another grin. "You've had some stories in Alfred Hitchcock though, right?"

Well, since you asked . . .

"I have one in the current issue," I answered, proudly nodding toward the May 2014 AHMM. "A couple of my writer friends are in there too."

Andrew looked at the cover, saw my name, and his eyes widened. "Awesome," he said. I saw him glance around idly at some of the other mystery magazines.

I kept quiet, hoping he'd notice the one in the next rack.

He didn't, so I helpfully told him that I have a story in the new issue of The Strand Magazine as well. Even more helpfully, I pointed to it.

"Whoa," he said. "You're on the cover there, too."

I smiled (I hope) modestly. What I didn't bother to tell him--just an oversight, of course--was that it was the first time I'd EVER had my name on the covers of two big magazines at the same time. I also didn't tell him that I figured it would never happen again. Some things don't need to be mentioned, right?

"Hey, you're movin' up in the world," he said. He sounded impressed, so I made sure to keep my left side turned away from him; tucked under my left arm were three copies of that February-May 2014 issue of The Strand. Somehow I doubted that a real writer would drive twelve miles to town to buy extra copies of an issue containing his story, to give to his mother and sister.

Andrew and I made smalltalk for a while longer, then said our goodbyes and wished each other well. Afterward, cheapskate that I am, I went back to reading the Asimov's story, which turned out to be excellent. Most of them are.

These sci-fi writers might be smart, I remember thinking, but nobody could feel better than I was feeling at that moment. Everyone likes to be patted on the head, and my confidence had received a pleasant little jump-start. I had managed to brag without preaching, to self-promote without being too selfish, to feel important without acting important. At least I hoped I had.

Excuse me, ma'am--want to buy my book?

A few questions, here. How do you handle the tricky issue of author BSP? Nobody wants the two extremes: one is to sit there like a bullfrog and never contact or say anything to anyone, and the other is to act like the yammering salesman who pesters customers until they want to carve his tongue out with a dull knife. So what do you do? Seek the middle ground? Very few of us are lucky enough to attract fans and potential readers without expending some kind of marketing effort, and even fewer are comfortable crowing about our literary achievements from the rooftops. How little BSP is too little? How much is too much?

Last Sunday, I'm pleased to say, those troublesome questions and doubts didn't come up. In fact I decided to stick around and read another free Asimov's story before paying for my magazines and heading home.

Actually, I was hoping someone else might stop by to say hello . . .

28 March 2014

Crime Cruise-Cartagena

by R.T. Lawton

Harbor with skyline of new Cartagena
Cartagena was the second port of call for our cruise ship. Even though I came as a tourist, I left the badge I usually carry in my billfold at home. Probably wouldn't do to inadvertently become involved in a situation and have that gold shield come to light. Back when the Medellin and Cali cartels were in full swing, some of our guys got kidnapped and shot in Colombia. Plus South America likes tourist money, but they are wary of U.S. citizens in-country who could appear to be there in an unofficial capacity. So why take the risk? I'm on vacation.

The Tour

These days, Cartagena is a large commercial shipping port, a carryover from the early years when it was a Spanish stronghold during their conquest of South America. Founded in 1533 on the site of an Indian village by the name of Calamar, the conquistadors used this port to gather much of their gold looted from the natives and then shipped this treasure to Spain.
Casa de Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Our tour bus met us at the pier and drove through some of the poorer parts of the city en route to our first destination. All of the side-by-side, squeezed together residences and small businesses had metal grill work over their doors and windows. It's not there just for decoration. At one spot, a large open gate provided a quick glimpse of an old man in shorts, no shirt, working on a dilapidated car, but then most commercial port areas are life in reality, not scenic attractions.

At some point, our route also took us past the Casa de Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Marquez is a famous South American author of several novels, some of which are in the mystery genre. Though not a mystery, one of the novels he was famous for in North America was Love in the Time of Cholera.

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
First stop is the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, built from blocks of stone and blocks of faded red coral. This is one impressive fortress constructed on a hill overlooking the harbor and the old city. With its long sloping ramps, drawbridge, high walls, multiple levels, dark and winding interior tunnels dug out of solid rock, multitude of cannons and crisscrossing fields of fire, this fort was a formidable obstacle to any Old World enemy assaulting from land or by sea. And the view from the top is breath taking, even if you aren't already winded by all the stairs or other climbing to get there.

Walls around old city
Next, the bus takes us to the old walled city where we walk on the ancient walls that once guarded this part of the city from pirates. Here, the walls are much lower than the fort, but have lots of cannon ports to repel an enemy. From the walls, we descend a ramp into the old city streets and enter the calle where parts of Romancing the Stone were filmed. Second story balconies, much like the ones in the French Quarter of New Orleans, are covered with bright Bougainvillaea hanging from wooden boxes. The tour guide says these house owners get a break on their property taxes for maintaining the decorative flowers. On the narrow street below the balconies, vendors with limited English abilities besiege us with offers to sell bottled pop, water or beer from tubs of ice. Others hawk t-shirts and trinkets.

Romancing the Stone street as seen from old city walls
Our walking tour leads us through a naval museum with models of the harbor, forts and walled city as they were centuries ago, a beautiful cathedral and the Palacio de la Inquisicion. A gallows and several instuments of torture are displayed in the palace's courtyard. Didn't do to be other than a faithful Catholic in those days.

On the way back to the ship, our bus stops at a small, two-level, open air shopping mall where one can buy emeralds, Colombian coffee or souvenirs. If you take a photo of one of the colorfully dressed, female fruit vendors, be sure to give her a couple of dollars, else she will track you down and make loud demands for money. There are signs on the street requiring those two dollars for any photo taken of her.

Fruit vendor
The Crime

All the gold plunder coming overland from Peru to Cartagena soon came to the attention of Caribbean pirates and privateers. French pirate Robert Baal was the first to attack the city in 1544. In 1559, Martin Cote (French) followed suit. Twenty-four years later, the English buccaneer John Hawkins decided it was his turn, but Cartagena's new cannons drove him off. In 1572, Francis Drake (English) sacked the city and pillaged its treasure, to include the city's bells. Baron de Pontis (French) occupied the city for two months in 1697, and English admiral Edward Vernon tried his luck in 1741, but didn't succeed. Seems pirates were a plague on the population back then.

In more recent years, home grown drug cartels brought money, violence and corruption to the country. Mother ships out of Cartagena sailed north with their holds packed with drugs for the U.S. market, but then everyone is familiar with Pablo Escobar and his kind. Our tour guide spoke of him and the cartels as not being a problem to Cartagena anymore. Maybe so, in which case we can talk of smaller crimes.

Old cathedral with crypt in foreground
Glen David Short, a freelance writer based in Cartagena wrote an article concerning advice for the tourist, 25 things you should be wary of in Cartagena. Here's a few.

1) Never, ever change money on the streets. Unlike other South American countries, there is no black market, and it is not safe or recommended. Getting short-changed or handed fake bills, or having your wallet snatched from your hands in broad daylight are common scams. Cartagena has plenty of banks and casa de cambios. Many large hotels and emerald shops will change dollars, and most businesses accept US dollar bills.

3. Don't walk on the wall at night. Despite the romantic vistas and the fact that scores of locals and lovers do, it is a known haunt of thieves and assaults on women have been reported.

7. It might sound obvious, but don't walk around flashing expensive cameras, jewelry, wads of money, etc. Places like beaches, outside banks and the area around the clock tower are favored pickpocket haunts. Thieves have been known to follow people from banks for up to half a day before they strike. Remember there are tens of thousands of desplazados, or displaced people in Cartagena who have fled the problems in the interior of Colombia. Many of these people work for a salary of $2 a day. Be wary of pushy street vendors who wave t-shirts and other objects in your face: often it is a foil or distraction so an accomplice can relieve you of your handbag or camera. Leave your "fanny pack" or zippered money pouch at home-they are sure to attract a thief.

Fort looking at new Cartagena over harbor
10. Swat up on emeralds before you buy. There are many very good dealers, but caveat emptor. You probably won't get green glass, but you might pay more than you should. When ordering custom pieces, make sure that it is the full price you are handing over, not a deposit. Many shops use the word "bono" instead of the word "deposito" to confuse tourists. When the customer returns to pick up the piece they are then told they have only paid for materials, and the full price including labor is usually double.

11. The same goes for Cuban cigars. The ones sold on the street are of dubious origin and freshness. If in doubt, buy from one of the stores. You'll pay more, but you will be getting the real thing.

Old Clock Tower (left), Cathedral (center) & large plaza (right)
19. Carry a photocopy of your passport on your person, but not your actual passport. It is actually illegal to walk the streets in Colombia without I.D., but a photocopy will suffice in 90% of situations. Don't give your passport to anyone who doesn't produce convincing I.D. themselves.

All in all, we enjoyed Cartagena for its historical value, beautiful cathedrals and panoramic views from the fort. Other than being swamped by vendors, we had no problems. In our minds, this is not a sun and water vacation destination, but we would gladly return in order to tour other places in Cartagena that we didn't have time for on this trip.

See you in two weeks in the Panama Canal. Did you know that big ditch actually runs north and south rather than east and west?

27 March 2014


by Eve Fisher

File:Number 12.JPG
"Number 12 Looks Just Like You"
One of the things about living in a small rural town is that pretty much everyone looks alike.  When I first moved up here, I wrote to my friends back east and said, "There are two ethnic types in this town, and I'm one of them."  Exaggerated, but close.  In a town of 90% Norwegian/German/Dutch/Swedish/Danish with blond hair and blue eyes, let's just say that I stand out a bit.  But you know, I think I'd rather stand out that look like everyone else.  There was an old Twilight Zone show called "Number 12 Looks Just Like You", where everyone picks one of a handful of faces...  well, I have sat many times in groups where there are three or four people who looked so much alike it was hard to say who was who.  Between large families, intermarriage among cousins, etc., it happens. I don't know what they think about it - but I'm not sure I'd like it.

But perhaps I feel a little uneasy because they're all in the same town.  I've run into look-alikes before: there's a cousin who looks just like Bob Bainborough (Dalton on The Red Green Show).  There's a guy here in town who looks like Kenny Rogers used to before his plastic surgery.  I ran into a guy at the pen recently who looked remarkably like Axl Rose.  Years ago I was working at a 7-11 in Georgia, and a guy who looked like Lee Majors (6 Million Dollar Man) tried to pick me up.

Of course, there's more to it than looks.  Or is there?  If someone looks like someone else, do you expect them to behave like that person?  Sometimes, yes.   And if they act like someone else...  well.  Miss Marple was always watching people, and thinking how so-and-so had a weak chin, or a direct stare, or a nervous twitch, and from there reminisce about someone back in St. Mary Meade who did something bad, or were on the receiving end of the same...  and history would repeat itself.  And I think she was (largely) right.

I do this all the time.  I know a meth twitch when I see one.  (Along with the skin sores and bad teeth.)  And there's also the liar's look:  Agatha Christie nailed it, the person who looks you straight in the eye without wavering. But if you look at their neck/chin/shoulders, they're braced and ready for someone to ask them questions...

We've all heard the person who tells you the story of his/her life at such speed and length that it takes you a while to put together the complexity of it and realize that it never could have happened.  They're lying about at least half of it, if not all of it, which would indicate that they are untrustworthy about other things as well.

There's the guy (sorry to be sexist, but these are mostly young men) who's always bragging about how tough he is, and you know, know, know that down deep he is scared s--tless.  Which also means, he is very dangerous, but mostly because when he is pushed up against a wall, he will either (1) run at the wrong time, leaving whoever's around in danger or (2) react violently, but in such an inexpert way that whoever's around is more apt to be injured than the source of danger.  I get away from these guys as quickly as I can. Thankfully, these days I usually only run into them in controlled environments.

The super-complimentary, women or men, sloshing sugar all over the place, are always, always, always up to something.  If nothing else, they're trying to be your friend without giving anything but compliments.

And, of course, the classic predator:  attentive, adhesive, encircling, gradually eliminating anyone and anything else but themselves, until they and they alone are the only person in their victim's life.

They might not all look alike, but they act alike...  Every time...

26 March 2014

The Man Who Kept The Secrets

by David Edgerley Gates

Richard Helms was the Director of Central Intelligence from 1966 to 1973, which makes him the longest-serving DCI in CIA history. He was also the first DCI to be appointed from the ranks, a career intelligence professional. Previous DCI's had been, in effect, political appointees, recruited from outside the Agency. Helms was DCI for Viet Nam, the Six-Day War, the overthrow of Salvador Allende, and Watergate---which is just the highlight reel. In other words, he knew where the bodies were buried.

He joined OSS during the war, and when CIA was established, in 1947, Helms came on board, one of the generation that included Larry Houston and James Angleton. These three guys, over the next twenty-five years, might be said to be CIA's institutional memory. They certainly shepherded, and shaped, the Agency and its legacy.

Helms is the only one who wrote a memoir, though, published after his death. It's too bad Houston and Angleton chose not to, it would have been interesting to contrast and compare, but keeping confidences was a habit of mind. They were secret men.

Memoirs of the spy community are a peculiar genre, and not always to be trusted. The most famous example is Kim Philby's MY SILENT WAR, written under KGB discipline, if not actually dictated by them. Philby settles a lot of scores, and spreads active disinformation. His book might best be seen as one last deception. Then, for instance, there's former CIA director William Colby's HONORABLE MEN, which is self-serving in the extreme, if not outright fabrication. The thing about the Helms book is that although he leaves much unsaid, what he does say is frank and transparent. (It helps, of course, to know the background, to fill in the blanks.) Helms doesn't give up operational details, or sources and methods, but he gives a solid flavor to the life, and his sense of duty.

One of the more disputed tangles in CIA's archive is the Golitsin-Nosenko controversy, which embroiled James Angleton's shop, the office of
Counterintelligence, in the hunt for a double agent---shades of Kim Philby. The best explanation of this very convoluted story is Thomas Powers' excellent book, THE MAN WHO KEPT THE SECRETS. It's also the subject of Edward Jay Epstein's LEGEND, and David Martin's WILDERNESS OF MIRRORS (an expression attributed to Angleton). Helms covers Operation FOXTROT, the codename for Nosenko's defection, in just under seven pages, and doesn't assign it that much importance, his main point being that FOXTROT didn't tear the Agency apart, which is the premise of the Martin book. Helms goes out of his way to rehabilitate Angleton, whose forced resignation by Colby created a few lifetimes of bad blood.

It's a good demonstration of Helms' method. Don't gossip. Don't show off at somebody else's expense. Basically, be a gent. He obviously doesn't respect Colby much, but he stops of actually calling him a liar. The same is true of Nixon, even though Helms acknowledges Nixon's paranoia, and Nixon more or less stabbed Helms in the back, but Helms doesn't grudge Nixon his successes. This is, however, a place in the story where it turns dark. Nixon instructs Helms, in no uncertain terms, to get rid of Allende in Chile, and keep a lid on it. This leads to big trouble for Helms, later on, because his testimony in front of the Senate, touching on Allende and Chile, is clearly shown to be untrue. He was keeping the president's confidence, but under pressure, Helms pled to a misdemeanor charge in federal court, of being careless with the facts.

This speaks to one of the major themes in both the Powers and in Helms' own story, silence and duty, namely that the DCI only has one consumer, the
president, and you only serve one president at a time. Helms isn't circumspect about this at all, and makes no apology for it. He has no reason to. We can argue about the function of the intelligence community, and whether or not the national security apparatus had overreached itself, but Larry Houston once remarked, in private conversation, that he never thought their intentions were dishonest. Helms was a principled guy. He kept faith. It cost him.

25 March 2014

My First Farewell Post

This post ends my year and my career as a regular contributor to the SleuthSayers blog, though I'll be available to pinch-hit whenever one of the group needs a break.  I'd like to thank Leigh Lundin and Robert Lopresti for giving me this opportunity and for their patience while I learned (but never mastered) the software.  I'd also like to thank the other writers on the blog for their encouragement and comments, especially Dale C. Andrews, with whom I've shared Tuesdays (and the daunting job of preparing the retrospective posts for SleuthSayers' second anniversary).  I hope to actually meet Dale someday, maybe at a baseball game. 
In place of blogging, I'm going to be devoting more time to promoting a new book, The Quiet Woman, which will be published by Five Star in June.  It's quite a departure for me, as it's my first stand-alone mystery and my first comic/romantic/supernatural one, at least in book form.  (I now see some of my Alfred Hitchcock stories as baby steps in that direction.) I'll write more about The Quiet Woman closer to its release, if my replacement will relinquish a Tuesday.  That replacement, incidentally, is David Dean, a man who needs no introduction to regular SleuthSayers readers, since he's the writer I replaced one year ago.  He's spent that year working on a new book, about which I hope he'll write in this space.

I'm sorry that so few of my twenty-odd posts had to do with mystery writing and that so many were about old movies and forgotten actors and authors, though many of my favorite posts by other contributors have also wandered far in the subject matter field.  Many of these favorites have been magazine quality, in my opinion, both in terms of writing and word count.  The latter I attribute to good time management, something at which I've never excelled, as the following account of my approach to blog writing, inspired by Eve Fisher's recent Robert Benchley post, will demonstrate.

As near as I can reconstruct, my two-week blog-writing cycle has gone something like this.

Through the miracle of Blogger.com, my column appears on a Tuesday.  All is right with the world.  I can hold my head up in any gathering of productive human beings, though I can't remember the last time I attended such a gathering.  This happy glow stays with me until Thursday, when it's eclipsed by the bright rays of the approaching weekend.

Sometime during that weekend, I panic, until a quick check of my desk calendar confirms that the looming Tuesday belongs to Dale Andrews.  Sure enough, Dale's column appears as if by magic on the appointed day.  It might even give me an idea for a post of my own.  If it doesn't, no problem.  I have a week to work one out.

A week being much more time than I need, I don't actually use the whole thing.  That would be wasteful.  In fact, I spend so much of my week not being wasteful that, before I know it, another weekend arrives.  Sometime late on Sunday, I wonder, idly, what Dale will write about this week.  Maybe he's traveling down south again.  He seems to travel more than John Kerry.  That's the life, escaping the cold snow for the warm sand and trading juncos for sanderlings.  I can almost hear the waves. . .

I awake in a cold sweat with the realization that the approaching Tuesday, whose skirmishers are even now topping the nearest hill, is my Tuesday.  To arms!  To arms! 

Okay, maybe that isn't exactly how my average fortnight has gone, but it's close enough that just recounting it has caused my heart to race.  When it settles down, I'll get to work on a new book, following Mr. Dean's example.  In the meantime, thanks very much for visiting.

24 March 2014

That Bobble-Head

by Fran Rizer

Aeden, now fourteen
Recently Aeden, my fourteen-year-old grandson, discovered Edgar Allan Poe.  When I picked him up from school, he immediately began telling me about this "cool" story he'd read about a man who walled up his nemesis. 

When I asked, "The Cask of Amontillado?" he informed me that I'd pronounced "Amontillado" incorrectly as it was "an Italian word with the the 'l' sound silent." (Leigh, does the fourteen-year-old in your life right now just love to "correct" you?)

I informed him, "Edgar Allan Poe grew up in the South– Richmond, Virginia– and probably pronounced the 'l' just as I did."  Then I recommended that he read "The Tell-Tale Heart," and teased him he could pronounce those "l"s however he liked. Since the story is long out of copyright, it was possible to pull up the entire text on the computer.  We went from there to BaM, where I bought him the almost 2,000-page Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe.  I drew stars by the titles of stories and poems I think best.  An avid reader when he was young (self-taught at age three), Aeden has been into other hobbies for the past couple of years.  I'm pleased to say he's back to reading for pleasure and has asked, "Who else of those old people wrote such good stuff?

Virginia Clemm Poe
Poe's first wife was only 13 and he was
27, but the marriage was happy until her'
death from tuberculosis.
Aeden is not the first young person I've known who became interested in literature because of Edgar Allan Poe. Years ago, I taught a fifth-grader who had no interest in much of anything.  Not yet twelve-years-old, he was with a gang and in school only because Youthful Offenders required him to be there.  One morning he met me with a tattered copy of an old book.  After explaining that he'd found it while helping clean out his recently deceased grandmother's house, he said, "I want you to read this poem."
It was "The Raven."  Then he asked, "Do you have any more poems by this man?"  He later asked me if it were true that Poe married his thirteen-year-old cousin, which he did.

I won't bore you with a long report on Poe, his life, and his works.
If you want to know more than you do, check out the life section of the Poe Museum webpage.  https:www.poemuseum.org/life.php

Remembered for his lyrical poems and short stories, he also wrote numerous critiques and newspaper articles as well as one novel. MWA uses bobble-heads of Poe are most likely because he is credited with inventing the modern detective story, but he also was an innovator of the science fiction tale.  What might he have done if he'd lived past forty?

As some of you know, I love jokes and cartoons.  I can't move forward without sharing these with you:
From what I've read, Poe received his fair share of
rejections except when he edited the publication. 
Sadly, Poe probably felt like this much of the time as
he had financial problems his entire adult llife.

Poe isn't my real topic for today. I'm sharing my goals in writing.

Recently, I've been running in circles so far as what I want to write. I'm still tweaking my horror novel; I'm half through a thriller; and I'm sixty pages into a new cozy series.  For the first time in about twenty years, I wrote a poem last week.  I've been doing some soul-searching, and I don't know what the heck I want to do.  No, I have no illusions that any of my writings will ever become as well-known or as lasting as Poe's. 

But--I've determined what my writing goal is.  I'd like to write something that would have that kind of impact on a reader.  It doesn't have to sell for a lot of money nor be remembered over a hundred years. I'd just like to have a reader want to read more after reading one of my efforts.

Perhaps I already have that with Callie's repeat readers, but I need to do something new and worthwhile, not necessarily children's literature, but good enough to inspire a young person to read more.

What's your writing goal?

Until we meet again, take care of… you.

23 March 2014

How Writers Write

by Leigh Lundin

More than one author admits to writing in bed, flat on one's back, some in pajamas, others stark naked. While admitting nothing, my thanks goes to a loyal reader who sent me the following by Australian filmmaker and cartoonist, Ethan Waghorn, who uses the internet name 'Atrumentis'.

Time for Bed © Ethan Waghorn
© Ethan Waghorn

Atrumentis' work appears on 9gag.com and his web site, ChewingFat.co. (Images are the property of the artist and are therein internally hotlinked.)

22 March 2014

Folk Music and Murder Ballads

by Elizabeth Zelvin

Folk music is not exactly trendy nowadays. There's not much call for it on the club circuit and fewer and fewer radio stations give it more than an hour a week, if that. But in some circles, there’s still interest in traditional music and nostalgia for the heyday of its popularization in America in the 1960s. Of particular interest to mystery lovers is the subgenre of murder ballads, which began centuries ago in England and Scotland, was brought to America and preserved in the Appalachians, added to by modern songwriters, and still sung with great relish by today’s aficionados of traditional music.

I was introduced to folk music in the late 1940s, when Oscar Brand, the “shoeless troubadour,” had a radio show on WNYC and Appalachian ballad singer Jean Ritchie was his frequent guest. (I saw them perform, both in their eighties and still singing up a storm, as recently as 2003.)
In the early 1950s, I went to a “progressive” summer camp, where I heard the legendary Pete Seeger, already a hero in those circles as the successor to Woody Guthrie, long before the Weavers burst onto the scene. In high school, I was already one of those kids who partied by sitting on the floor with our guitars rather than going to dances or drinking in cars.

I was a college freshman the year Joan Baez’s first album came out. She sang the true crime song, “Mary Hamilton,” in that one—well, maybe an apocryphal true crime song, in which one of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting gets pregnant by the king (one of the Stuarts, reign unspecified), gets rid of the newborn by sending it out to sea in a little boat, and gets hanged for it.
The second album included “The Silkie,” a ballad from the Orkneys of which I already knew and sang a more traditional version: the legend of the seal turned human (to which I added a serial killer twist in a short story many years later), and “Banks of the Ohio,” one of many in which a man kills his pregnant girlfriend so he won’t have to marry her. (Others are “Pretty Polly” and “Down in a Willow Garden.”) On the third album was “Pretty Boy Floyd,” a true-crime song about a bank robber who may or may not have had Robin Hood-like ideals. (The song says yes: “As through this world I’ve wandered, I’ve met many kinds of men/Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen.” The 2009 movie Public Enemies showed a different side of Floyd.) On the same album was “Matty Groves,” about a man who sleeps with a lord’s wife and gets killed when the husband catches them in bed together. The Irish group Planxty had a version I like even better, in which the doomed lover is “Little Musgrave.”

Somebody is always dying in folk music and its contemporary counterparts as modern songwriters continue the tradition. One of my favorites is “Long Black Veil,” written in 1959 and performed by everybody from Johnny Cash to the Chieftains. That one’s a paranormal murder mystery with a twist: the first person protagonist tells the story from beyond the grave, having been hanged for a crime he didn’t commit with an alibi he couldn’t use: he was “in the bed of my best friend’s wife.” In the 2000 film, The Songcatcher, a collector of Appalachian ballads in 1907 finds the local folks playing out the themes of true love betrayed and two-timing husbands murdered as well as singing the ballads brought over from England and Scotland two hundred years before. In my folksinging days, my mother always used to say, “Can’t you sing something cheerful?” She didn’t live to see me a published mystery writer (she’d have been 105 when the first book came out), but if she had, no doubt she would have asked, “Why does somebody have to be murdered?”

21 March 2014

How the Horses Have It

Here on SleuthSayers, we’ve often discussed the impact of crime on the lives of victims and their families. This article deals directly with that impact—in this case, the impact childhood sexual assault has on its victims years after they reach adulthood, at which point these adults choose to be called what they now truly are: Survivors of childhood sexual assault.

I have chosen to write, this week, about Itahoba Horse, an upcoming program designed to facilitate and foster personal healing for these survivors.

In the interests of full disclosure, I want to make it clear that the founder of Tapestry Institute—the non-profit organization partnering with the WINGS Foundation to present the Itahoba Horse program—is my sister, Dawn Adams Ph.D. But, the reader should also be aware that my sister and I do not always agree on things.

While I spent ten years working for military intelligence and Special Forces, for instance, she earned her doctorate at the University of California Berkley. Consequently, politics is just one area in which our views are worlds apart. It has also been my experience, however, that her views and ideas for assisting people, in manners consistent with those planned-for in the upcoming Itahoba Horse program, have proven remarkably astute and effective in the past. And, further, the approach used in the program is probably of great interest to both readers and writers.

Itahoba Horse Program

The Lone Ranger whistles and his horse, Silver, comes galloping up so the masked man can jump on horseback and get away.

Is this sort of behavior natural to a horse? Is it natural for a person?

Perhaps more germane: If Silver was busily interacting with several other equine friends at the moment the Lone Ranger whistled, would he still be so quick to respond? Or would Silver behave differently when he was part of a de facto herd?

What does this have to do with adults faced with the ongoing trauma resulting from sexual assault they suffered during childhood?

Quite a bit, perhaps. (And, no I’m not accusing the Lone Ranger or his horse of anything. They’re just a couple of handy examples.)

This spring and summer in Fort Lupton, Colorado, adult survivors of Childhood Sexual Assault (CSA) will examine remarkably similar, but much more personal questions as they participate in the Itahoba Horse program.

“Itahoba” is a Choctaw word meaning “connected,” and the program is designed to provide an exploration and strengthening of significant connections—of many kinds—as participants engage with horses in a very special way.

This idea of connection can be extremely important in the lives of CSA survivors, many of whom feel a sense of social or personal isolation due to the stigma inflicted by trauma suffered at a young age. This sense of isolation can be further aggravated if trusted adults were involved in the abuse, or if they failed to believe the child was actually victimized—particularly in those instances in which children were mistakenly (or dishonestly) told that what they reported to a trusted adult never actually happened.

Itahoba Horse is a product of cooperation between two non-profit organizations—WINGS Foundation, which provides counseling and support for adult survivors of childhood sexual assault; and Tapestry Institute, which integrates different ways of knowing, learning about, and responding to the natural world.

Stacy Sheridan, MA, LPC; Program Director & Clinical Supervisor of WINGS Foundation, Inc. says: "I am thrilled to announce WINGS' partnership with Tapestry Institute! As a clinician and program director for WINGS, I consider equine work to be one of the most effective and transformational approaches to healing. I have seen firsthand the power of a horse's presence as they invite a level of vulnerability, intuition, and trust that many of our survivors simply cannot experience with another human at this point in their healing journey. It is for these reasons and many more that I am thrilled to begin referring our survivors to Tapestry and look forward to the transformational healing they will experience through this partnership."

Tapestry Institute’s main focus is the examination and integration of different ways of knowing, learning about, and responding to the natural world. The institute’s objective is to understand how we, as individuals, construct a certain view of the world, including the factors that influence us to create and maintain deeply held beliefs. This, in turn, allows a constructive rearrangement and integration of these factors, permitting people to realize a deeper understanding of the world around us and our place in it.

To illustrate how this plays out in programs such as Itahoba Horse, I’d point to a difference in viewpoints between my wife and myself. We see colors and cars differently.

My wife can name somewhere between five and fifty colors, all of which—to me—go simply by the single name “purple.”

Conversely, when I say, “Wow! Check out that Corvette!” her reply usually runs along the lines of, “You mean the blue car?”

I love classic cars. For instance, I love old Mustangs, the older Corvettes with the tubular headlights, and the early Stingrays (which I prefer). To my wife, however, all cars boil down to: redcar, bluecar, whitecar, etc. She sees no difference between a blue 1963 Stingray, and a blue 2014 Mazda—except that the Mazda is newer.

When we first met, I owned a white 1964½ Mustang. On our first date, I asked, “So, what do you think of the car?”

She shrugged. “It’s okay.”

“OKAY? It’s a ‘64½ Mustang!”

“Well. Yeah. I guess it is kind of old. Isn’t it?”

“OLD!?! It’s a Mustang.”

“Well … I mean, it’s older than I am.”

“Oh, my God! How old are you?”

To me, I was driving a classic—a Mustang from the first production year. A car to be truly proud of. To her, I was driving an old white car.

I have no interest in learning about fifty shades of purple; my wife has no interest in learning about classic cars. The truth, however, is that we’d both probably benefit by learning what the other knows. I’d gain a better understanding of color nuance, while my wife might come to understand why I love to run my hands along the fender of a classic car, to pop the hood and work on the engine in order to more fully “grock” what I see as a living, breathing, metal sculpture of energy in motion.

It reminds me of how my appreciation for Jackson Pollock’s work was planted and grew within my heart and mind in a single hour. Upon first viewing a Jackson Pollock, I thought: “Hmmm. I suspect this artist downed a lot of beer, then somebody pulled a fast one and started swapping mugs of brightly-colored paint in on him. When he got bed spins, he barfed the paint all over the canvas.”

I was seeing only the static, physical presentation of dead paint on stretched canvas. One hour in my college Modern Art class changed all that. I saw a short film of the man painting on glass, another of him dueling with the canvas, saw how he attacked it. Saw the concentration on his face as he worked to impart energy to the work.

Today, I love a good Jackson Pollock. To me, he’s accomplished a nearly impossible feat: He’s captured energy in motion via a two-dimensional static media. He’s taken what I loved about my ‘64½ Mustang, and fastened it into canvas and paint.

When looking at a Jackson Pollock, I sometimes think of the way physicists shoot electrons and other sub-atomic particles at a screen, watching for the way the screen “lights up” to map the particle’s path. A Jackson Pollock looks, to me, like a snap-shot of the electron screen being struck by thousands of sub-atomic particles, some of which shoot through leaving just a speck or spot, while others shatter on impact, splashing themselves across the screen. It’s beautiful, terrifying, and filled with trapped frenetic energy.

Because of what I learned in that art class, I've now come to know Jackson Pollock’s work in a much deeper and far more fulfilling way. I’m sure my wife and I would both experience similar fulfillment if we decided to learn about color and cars. At Tapestry, however, the manner of learning and knowing is not so much about color vs. cars—though their approach is applicable in that arena—as it is about “Western World View” and “Indigenous World View.”

People naturally learn in many different ways. Everyone uses intuition sometimes, or information gained from insight. People learn from story, whether in books or movies or even visual art. They also learn by thinking and analyzing and reflecting on information. They learn from spiritual experiences, too, whether in a church service or a powerful moment spent in a forest, alone. And they learn through experience, “proprioceptively”—You can’t just EXPLAIN how to shoot a firearm properly, for instance; a person has to actually DO it to learn the skill. Someone may understand exactly how a rifle works, but s/he cannot learn to shoot it well, without loading ammo and firing rounds down-range. People need the physical experience to learn.

I believe that, if you think about it, you’ll agree: people really do learn in all these different ways. I’m reminded, in fact, of some recent reading I've done, in which law enforcement personnel stated that many victims seemed to intuitively “know” that they were about to be preyed upon. The idea is that nature has endowed us with ancient predator-prey receptors that signal red flags when we have unknowingly walked into a dangerous situation. As one of the law enforcement writers put it: “Anyone who has ever felt the hairs standing up on the back of his neck knows what I’m talking about here.” 

Contemporary Western culture tends to recognize and validate only the analytical and mental methods of learning and knowing. We've all felt the hairs go up on the backs of our necks, however, so we know the other methods are out there.

These methods, though, tend to be devalued by contemporary education. Our schools are full of how to learn through reading, writing, and analysis. Yet, there is little to no instruction on how to access, assess, or evaluate and use information acquired through art, story, intuition, spiritual insight, proprioception, and so on. Tapestry’s goal is to help people learn to do just that.

To do so, Tapestry taps into a non-Western world view—specifically, that of “Indigenous World View.”

My sister has embraced her Choctaw heritage much more deeply than I have. Through that embrace she has come to understand the contemporary world view of Choctaw Indians and other indigenous peoples, as well as the ancient beliefs that informed this world view. Tapestry then integrates the ways of knowing inherent in BOTH Western World View AND Indigenous World View to access more ways of learning and knowing. They then teach others how to access, assess and evaluate the information gleaned from these additional ways of knowing and learning, in order to give students a deeper knowledge of the world around them and their places in it.

This plays a large role in the Itahoba Horse project, and in helping adult survivors of CSA to realize new ways to connect not only with the natural world, but also with loved ones.

Program leaders are quick to point out that Itahoba Horse is not standard equine-assisted therapy. “We’re providing people with a different method to connect in a natural way—one that is both ancient and modern,” said Dr. Dawn Adams of Tapestry. “As a paleontologist who has taught biology at major universities, I know that all living things are quite literally connected to one another and to their physical environment. But our connection to nature runs more deeply than the genetic and ecological connections science recognizes. The word itahoba expresses this level of connection, which includes aspects that are not accessible through a strictly materialistic view of reality, as well as the biological and physical connections between ourselves and the world around us. Our program is designed to help people open the doors to both kinds of connection, using horses as facilitators who help mentor the process. Our experience has been: once this door is opened, the person who has made that connection with nature suddenly discovers she is also connected more fully with her own self as well as with coworkers, family members, and society as a whole.”

Itahoba Horse leaders are hesitant to provide too many program details, concerned that participants may read about certain objectives before having experienced the work that would help them come to a full and deep understanding of those objectives.

Program leaders did, however, consent to share that the first step in the program is to institute an understanding of “mindfulness” in each participant. In this context, “mindfulness” means: “Having a mindset focused in the present moment, not considering the past or future, which helps participants examine their actions in the present without judgment.”

This is important because, for a CSA survivor, examining him/herself without judgment may not be an easy thing to do.

As with many Itahoba activities, the first session appears deceptively simple on the surface. Participants will be broken into groups of four, and each group will be assigned a horse, which comes with a volunteer who is well-versed in both the concept of mindfulness and requisite horsemanship skills (some are also CSA survivors). After basic instruction and practice in mindfulness, participants will be given brushes, and asked to brush their horses “mindfully.” Afterward, they will be quizzed about what thoughts and feelings arose as they brushed their horses’ coats.

According to Jo Belasco, Itahoba Horse Program Leader, who has a degree in Psychology, and conducts national seminars and clinics for fearful horseback riders: “The common thoughts people share often include: ‘I am probably not doing this right. I’m always inept.’ ‘This horse is too skinny. I wonder if someone harmed it in the past.’ ‘Stupid horse! Why do you keep doing that; it makes it hard to brush you.’ Or even something as innocuous as, ‘I wonder what’s going on at work. I hope things don’t go to hell today, leaving me with a nightmare in the office tomorrow.’

“They are not in the present moment,” Belasco points out. “Consequently, they’re often making judgments of themselves and others—sometimes even judging the horses. Emotions often accompany these thoughts: despair, fear, anxiety, things like that. So, we do it again after looking at what they tell us they thought and felt. We practice until their minds begin to still. Once they experience being wholly in the moment, without judgment—even for a few minutes—they begin to understand the freeing power of this practice. Believe me: people who have experienced despair, fear or anxiety for years or even decades find it very refreshing to experience even a few minutes without those feelings.” 

As the sessions progress, participants will be asked to perform tasks of increasing difficulty with their assigned horses, always encouraged to practice mindfulness while they do so. Of course, as the problems mount, this can be a difficult mindset to maintain. Itahoba Horse volunteers, however, are there to assist and encourage, helping participants remain fully in the present without judging themselves, their horses, or other people. One goal, over time, is to enable participants to control their focus, leading them to connect more deeply with the horses they’re working with, and with the people around them.

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to the writers among us that the institute has identified “story” —whether mythological, religious, or simply entertaining in nature—as a major factor in creating deeply held personal and cultural beliefs. In other words: we learn from the stories we read, hear, or see acted-out.

Story has also informed the lives of CSA survivors, often in negative ways. Some survivors, as children, were told stories such as: “This is our special secret; you must never tell anyone, or bad things will happen to you.” “She couldn’t have done that to you; you must be wrong!” “If he did that to you, you must have done something to make him act that way. What did you do?” These are stories, when repeatedly told to a young child, undoubtedly erect a strong infrastructure informing his/her deeply-held system of adult beliefs—about the world, and about themselves.

As Itahoba Horse participants connect with horses and people during the program, they will also be challenged to examine stories that inform beliefs we, as individuals and as a society, hold about the nature and behavior of horses, people, and victims of sexual assault. To say more might be to endanger the success of the program in some survivors’ lives, so I’ll stop here—though I will hint that this is where the Lone Ranger and Silver ride into the equation.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so the first session of Itahoba Horse is scheduled to be held April 12th. Subsequent sessions will be held on May 17th, and June 28th.

For those wishing to learn more about WINGS Foundation , or Tapestry Institute , I made their names clickable in this paragraph.

Tapestry is in search of further funding to underwrite Itahoba Horse and possibly expand the program. Those wishing to donate, may do so by following this link. HERE See you in two weeks! --Dixon