30 September 2015

Popcorn Proverbs 3

by Robert Lopresti

Once again I am offering a few words of wisdom from movies in our genre.  Your job is to identify the films in question.  Because I want to make life as easy as possible for you, they are in alphabetical order by the titles of the movie.  Only one of the posters you see is from a quoted movie.  Oh, extra credit: two of the movies are based on books by the same author, featuring the same character, and by pure coincidence, they fall together alphabetically.  Can you spot them?  Answers next Wednesday.

1. Your mother mates out of season.

2. Get off my lawn!

3. You can tell, you can really tell. You must be physic!  

4. Forget it Nick... it's Sandford.

5. -There's no sacrifice too great for a chance at immortality.
-Yes sir.

6. -I got a hot date.
-Yeah?  Who is she and what did you arrest her for?

7. My name? If you knew that, you'd be as clever as me.
8. -We makin' trouble for someone?
Which kind?
-The forever kind.  

9. You're nobody till somebody shoots you.   

10. Yeah, it's always heartwarming to see a prejudice defeated by a deeper prejudice.

11.  My old man used to say to me, probably the only thing we ever really agreed on, was that whoever has the money has the power. You might wanna jot that down in your book. It's something you're gonna need to remember.

12. I'm the girl they rush home from.

13. I think all those stories about you being dead are true. You're just too thick-headed to admit it. 

14. -How do you sleep at night?
-I don't drink coffee after seven. 

15. -I want to see my daughter.
-I don't think that would be a good idea.
-Why wouldn't that be a good idea?
-Because we hardly dared to look ourselves.

16. Do I ice her?  Do I marry her?

17. I'll catch up with you guys.  I forgot my bullets. 

18. No, I do not want that in the house. That is my car gun. My house gun is already in the house. Now, put that back in the glove compartment, and don't let me catch you fooling with my guns again. 

19. -Is life always this hard, or is it just when you're a kid?
-Always like this. 

20.  Well, if the woman up there is Mrs. Bates... who's that woman buried out in Greenlawn Cemetery? 

21. You'll never see one dollar of this money, because no ransom will ever be paid for my son. Not one dime, not one penny. Instead, I'm offering this money as a reward on your head. Dead or alive, it doesn't matter.

22. Go ahead. Jump. He never loved you, so why go on living? Jump and it will all be over... 

23. Natural law. Sons are put on this earth to trouble their fathers.

24. - You ever kill anybody?
 - I hurt somebody's feelings once. 

25. -Where you going?
-To the Lincoln Memorial.
-It's closed.  It won't be open for another hour.
-I don't understand.
-He's an old man.  He needs his sleep.

29 September 2015

Bouchercon Anthony Award Short Story Countdown

I’m turning over my post today to the Anthony Short Story Nominees Blog Tour. (Try saying that ten times quickly.)

The five Anthony nominees in the Short Story category are Craig Faustus Buck, Barb Goffman, John Shepphird, our own Art Taylor...and me, Paul D. Marks. I’m honored to be among these people and their terrific stories.

I want to thank everyone who voted for us in the first round. And if you’re eligible to vote, people attending Bouchercon can vote at the convention until 1pm Saturday.

I hope you’ll take the time to read all five of the stories and vote. All are available free here – just click the link and scroll down: http://bouchercon2015.org/2015-anthony-award-nominees/

But even if you’re not eligible to vote, I hope you’ll take the time to read the stories. I think you’ll enjoy them and maybe get turned onto some new writers, whose Bios are at the end of this post.
So without further ado, here’s our question and responses:


“The suggestion frequently comes up, ‘You should write a novel about these characters!’ Could you see writing more about the characters in your story, or does this story say everything that needs to be said?”


Craig Faustus Buck: “Honeymoon Sweet” (Murder at the Beach: The Bouchercon Anthology 2014, edited by Dana Cameron; Down & Out)

My stories are character-driven, so the fact that a particular plot comes to a conclusion means nothing in terms of my continuing interest in a character unless he or she happens to die. If a character catches my fancy, I’ll put that person in another situation in another work just to assuage my curiosity.

A case in point is my short story “Dead End” (a 2014 Anthony nominee), which starred Johno Beltran, an LAPD detective who got hungry after an all-night murder investigation and stopped home for a leftover meatloaf sandwich on his way to deliver evidence to the crime lab. This miniscule lapse of judgment was leveraged by wily lawyers into an orgy of evidence tampering that resulted in a psycho killer going free. We first meet Johno four years later, his life a shambles, living out of his car, valet parking for a living. The story takes off one night when the murderer drives up to Johno’s valet stand in a $100k BMW.

I loved Johno, and though the story resolved with an ironic twist, his fate remained up in the air. I hungered to know what happened next, so I wrote a novella called Psycho Logic to find out. I still love this guy, so I see a novel, or maybe even a series, in his future.

I feel the same way about the characters in my current Anthony nominated short story “Honeymoon Sweet.” Two newly-wedded low-life thieves break into a beach house for their honeymoon and the owner shows up unexpectedly. I’ll definitely revisit a few of these characters in some future iteration. A short story can only scrape the surface of a character, but if done well, it can scrape deeply enough to make the writer, and hopefully the reader, crave more.


Barb Goffman Cleaned-up version cropped2Barb Goffman: “The Shadow Knows” (Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley; Wildside Press)

I haven’t contemplated writing more about Gus, my main character in “The Shadow Knows.” Gus is a grumpy, blue-collar guy who works his job to earn enough money to come home to watch the game, eat his weekend breakfasts at the diner, and hang out with his friends in northern Vermont. It’s a simple, quiet life, and it suits him. Characters who continue from one story to another or who grow into main characters in a novel tend to be cops or private eyes or amateur sleuths, people who face crime, find offenders, and try to achieve justice. That’s not Gus. He’s no sleuth. He’s just a normal, superstitious guy who has an extraordinary experience born from his hatred of long winters.

That said, Gus does show a courageous streak in his story. He believes his town’s groundhog controls the local weather, and he decides it’s time someone takes action to stop the groundhog from causing long winter and after long winter, and that someone should be him. Then he formulates a secret plan to get rid of the groundhog, and he’s determined to achieve it, no matter the delays he faces, no matter the problems it causes him. That tenacious part of Gus’s personality, along with his courage, could serve him well if he were to find himself in another interesting situation. Not to mention, it’s fun to write about Gus’s grumpy side. So will there be more Gus stories? I have nothing planned, but I guess I should never say never. Gus just might come up in his next adventure, and I would be happy to write it.


JohnShepphirdAuthorJohn Shepphird: “Of Dogs & Deceit” (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Nov 2014)

I write (and read) crime fiction because I prefer to explore characters with inherent flaws, especially with my protagonists. And for me, the most memorable are the imperfect. Traditionally they’re passionate and persuasive. They’re human. Will they overcome their demons before it all comes to a crashing end? I don’t know. Climb on for the ride, that’s the fun.

My aesthetic has always been a solid structure with a well-crafted escalation, but characters come first. The rest is the craft of the storyteller. Any character in conflict can be interesting, and for me flawed characters are even more so. The unpredictability keeps me turning pages. We all have a degree of blemish so we can relate. When a crossroad arrives and the characters have to make a decision -- the path they choose is what defines them.

Live and read vicariously. I prefer vintage pulp. Find your wheelhouse.


"Art Taylor"Art Taylor: “The Odds Are Against Us” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Nov. 2014)

To my mind, a short story should ideally be a complete statement, total on its own terms, while also hint at other life experiences and a larger world beyond the immediate pages: incorporating small details that suggest bigger aspects of character, plot, setting, etc.

With “The Odds Are Against Us,” I like to think that this single evening’s conversation and the narrator’s short walk afterwards—the immediate story—give a reader everything he or she needs to understand a larger story, one that both stretches back to these character’s formative childhood years and looks ahead into the aftermath of the decisions being made—and provides enough about the society in which they operate to understand the true stakes at the core of the story’s title. A full experience, I hope, representing some of the most crucial aspects/moments of these character’s larger stories.

That said, however, I could certainly imagine exploring the “what next” for the narrator—actually diving into that “aftermath” I mentioned, because clearly further conflicts lie ahead. No plans to do this yet, but as with how my story “Rearview Mirror” (complete in itself) ultimately grew into my new book, On the Road with Del & Louise, I wouldn’t rule anything out.


Paul_D_Marks_bio_pic -- CCWC-croppedPaul D. Marks: “Howling at the Moon” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Nov. 2014)

Every story, whether a short story or a novel, should be complete in itself and should be able to stand on its own. But that doesn’t mean that the character in the story can’t go on to other adventures. Chandler’s Marlowe got his start in several short stories and though unnamed in those early stories that character did go on to become Philip Marlowe.

Darrell Wood, the character in my story “Howling at the Moon,” seemed to complete his mission at the end of that story. I thought that I probably wouldn’t revisit him again. But having read the story, many people have asked to see more of him. So, even though I wasn’t considering it, I’m thinking about it now.

Bobby Saxon is a character who was in three published stories and I actually did write a novel featuring that character. I’m polishing it now and hope to have it on the market soon. I also just sold a story to Ellery Queen called “Ghosts of Bunker Hill.” And I truly love the character in that one and definitely can see him in a novel.

It goes the other way too, you can have a character in a novel who you want to have a certain adventure, but that adventure isn’t worthy of a full length novel, so they can end up in a short story and then maybe a novel again or maybe even a movie. Our characters come alive and have lives of their own in some ways, so who knows where they’ll end up.


Author Bios:

Craig Faustus Buck’s debut noir novel Go Down Hard was published May 5, 2015 (Brash Books). His short story “Honeymoon Suite” is currently nominated for both Anthony and Macavity Awards (free at tinyurl.com/CFBPlanB). He lives in LA, where noir was born, and is president of MWA SoCal. http://craigfaustusbuck.com/

Barb Goffman is the author of Don’t Get Mad, Get Even (Wildside Press 2013). This book won the Silver Falchion Award for best single-author short-story collection of 2013. Barb also won the 2013 Macavity Award for best short story of 2012, and she’s been nominated fifteen times for national crime-writing awards, including the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. Barb runs a freelance editing and proofreading service focusing on crime and general fiction. Learn more about her writing at www.BarbGoffman.com

Paul D. Marks is the author of the Shamus Award-Winning mystery-thriller White Heat. Publishers Weekly calls White Heat a “taut crime yarn.” His story “Howling at the Moon” (EQMM 11/14) is short-listed for both the 2015 Anthony and Macavity Awards for Best Short Story. Vortex, a noir-thriller novella, is Paul’s latest release. Midwest Review calls Vortex: “…a nonstop staccato action noir.” He also co-edited the anthology Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea (Down & Out Books). www.PaulDMarks.com

John Shepphird is a Shamus Award winning author and writer/director of TV movies. In addition to his private eye series in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, look for his James M. Cain inspired The Shill and its sequel Kill the Shill (released Sept. 15th) available from Down & Out Books. Visit www.johnshepphird.com

Art Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories. His short fiction has won two Agatha Awards, a Macavity, and three consecutive Derringer Awards, among other honors. He writes frequently on crime fiction for both The Washington Post and Mystery Scene. www.ArtTaylorWriter.com


And now for the usual shameless BSP:

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00019]Vortex: My new Noir Mystery-Thriller novella out now.

“...a nonstop staccato action noir... Vortex lives up to its name, quickly creating a maelstrom of action and purpose to draw readers into a whirlpool of intrigue and mystery... but be forewarned: once picked up, it’s nearly impossible to put down before the end.” —D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

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28 September 2015

Changes Are a Coming--Part 1

Jan Grapeby Jan Grape

I seem to have a hard time coming up with articles lately. I  suspect I'm growing older and lazier. Been thete and said that. But don't think I'm senile yet. But aren't we the last to know? I've  been racking my brain pan all week and the only thing I thought of that remotely might be a reasonble subject was to write about the changes in publishing. There have been many changes since I first began trying to get a book published. Back in the early days we had to send our manuscripts to New York City by Pony Express.

 Oh, okay, I'm  not that old but some days it rather feels that way. However, we did have to send the mss in printed on white printer paper, double spaced, one inch margins all around.  we had to write a sparkling letter to an agent or an editor hoping our query caught their attention. Most agents and a few editors would read unsolicited manuscripts. You packaged everything all up and included a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope.) One of the best ways to keep your mss neat and make the return easier was to put it in a printer paper box, slide that into a very large mail envelope, being sure to include another SASE envelope with enough postage for the return.

I had an electric typewriter at the time and wasn't a very good or fast typist. I did have a friend or two who would type the mss for me but I couldn't ask them to do the work for free. I generally paid something. You also had to have more than one copy. What if your precious book got lost in the mail? So you went to a copy shop and ran off two extra copies. Fairly high price for such  and I certainly didn't  have much spare money in my purse. Then the postage itself wasn't cheap and you had to include enough in the SASE to get your copy back, all the time hoping the editor didn't mess up that copy so badly that you couldn't  send it out again immediately.

Every aspiring writer back then thought there was some big magic secret to getting published. I was at a writer's conference in Houston sponsored by a Houston University and a woman who was a big time editor for a major publishing house told us of talking to a writer's  group and someone asked why she wouldn't tell the secret of getting published. She told us how she made a big deal out of it. Saying we absolutely could not ever tell anyone the secret. She made sure all the doors to the room were closed and no one was lurking outside. Then she told us what she told that other group. When you put the postage on the envelope to mail the mss to NY. You must put the stamps on upside down. Everyone laughed but she told us over 50 percent of all mss that came in that summer had the stamps on upside down.

You also didn't  dare query more than one agent or editor at a time. They really frowned on such hubris. They could keep your mss for weeks or months only then, send you a form rejection slip. However, if they did like your book and had started the process of convincing the purchasing board and tried to offer you a contract only to discover you had just accepted a contract from one of their crosstown rivals. In which case, you're name would forever be mud with that editor and maybe with the rival editor. So you suffered and when you began getting rejection after rejection you realized you could paper the bathroom wall with rejections slips.

As we all know changes were coming and things were going to be easier.
Tune in next time for some wonderful remarks from my friend and fellow mystery writer, Noreen Ayers.

27 September 2015

Queen's Quorum

[T]he only rule … I know, [for writers] is that they write and they write some more and then they write still more and they keep on writing …
                                                          Frederic Dannay 
                                                          Carroll College, Waukesha, Wisconsin 
                                                          17 April 1979 
                                                          Quoted in My Life with Ellery Queen 
                                                           by Rose Koppel Dannay 
 [A] pastiche is a serious and sincere imitation in the exact manner of the original author.
                                                          Frederic Dannay (writing as Ellery Queen) 
A picnic is more than eating a meal, it is a pleasurable sate of mind.
                                                          DeeDee Stovel
                                                          Picnic: 125 Recipes with 29 Seasonal Menus

Josh Pachter, Francis (Mike) Nevins
and Yours Truly (animation courtesy of Google+!)
      Last week, with the marriage of our younger son Colin just behind us, we waved good-by to family guests, turned on our heels, sorted out the guest room, and welcomed Francis (Mike) Nevins into our home for a three day visit. I first met Mike, an emeritus professor at St. Louis University Law School, author and scholar of all things Ellery Queen, back in 2005 at the Ellery Queen Centennial symposium hosted by EQMM. Since that time we have shared a few meals together, but never a prolonged visit. This time Mike was passing through Washington, D.C. enroute to Massachusetts to attend a memorial service for Rose Koppel Dannay, the third (and last) wife of Frederic Dannay, whom we all know as one-half of the Ellery Queen writing duo. 

       In his own blog First You Write, Mike has summed up the importance of Rose Dannay’s influence on Frederic Dannay succinctly: “It’s not going too far to say that Rose saved Fred’s life.” Dannay’s second wife had just died when he met Rose. Mike writes that at that meeting Rose found a broken man winding down his life, and Mike concludes that “[t]hat is what Rose saved him from.” Their marriage endured until his death, over the Labor Day weekend of 1982, at age 76.  

       In her later years Rose Dannay penned a memoir, originally privately published, entitled My Life with Ellery Queen chronicling her years with Dannay. The slim volume necessarily offers little insight into the early years of Ellery Queen, or into the life of Manfred B. Lee, the other half of the Queen duo, since Lee was gone by the time Rose entered Dannay’s life. But the book, which I read during Mike’s visit, is nonetheless a rich narrative of Dannay’s final years. And -- lucky us -- while the book has long been unavailable to the general public, within days all of that will change when it is re-issued together with a new (and lengthy) introduction written by Mike. 

       But enough of the past (well, sort of). One of the great things about the on-line age in which we live is the ease with which we can each reach out and connect with those whose interests we share. Those of us who are still Ellery Queen fans may be few in number, but among us the interest in Queen runs deep. And Mike’s short swing through Washington, D.C. afforded an opportunity for three of us to spend a great evening together in my backyard. 

       I knew of Josh Pachter before last week but we had never met, even though he lives in nearby Herndon, Virginia and teaches communications and human studies at equally nearby Northern Virginia Community College (where he is also an Assistant Dean). Josh is, however, an old friend of Mike’s and that proved the only catalyst needed in order to complete a "three musketeer" gathering. All three of us have not only read and studied the works of Ellery Queen, we have also each contributed our own works featuring, or inspired by Ellery. 

       Josh had his first short story published in EQMM at the tender age of 16, and has authored several Ellery Queen parodies, including "E.Q. Griffen Earns His Name" (EQMM December 1968), "E.Q. Griffen's Second Case" (EQMM May 1970) and "The German Cologne Mystery," co-written with Jon L. Breen and featuring Celery Green and his father, Inspector Wretched Green, (EQMM September/October 2005). Josh hints that he is working on yet another E.Q. Griffen story and hopes to share it with the reading world in 2018, the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of his first E.Q. Griffen escapade. His most recent work is the short-story collection The Tree of Life (Wildside Press, 2015), available in paperback and (as The Mahboob Chaudri Mystery Megapack) in e-book format

       Mike Nevins has authored four novels, many short stories, and a number of non-fiction works offering up his take on mysteries and mystery writers. He has edited countless mystery anthologies and has won two Edgar awards, one for Royal Bloodlines, his first biography of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, and the second for First You Dream, Then You Die, focusing on the literature of Cornell Woolrich. And Mike is also famous, among other things, for his seminal Ellery Queen pastiche, “Open Letter to Survivors,” (EQMM May, 1972), which spins its narrative riff from the following passage that appears in Ellery Queen’s Ten Days’ Wonder: “. . . there was the case of Adelina Monquieux, [Ellery’s] remarkable solution of which cannot be revealed before 1972 . . . .” In addition to his upcoming introduction included in the newly re-published Dannay biography referenced above, Mike’s next work, They Called the Shots, a retrospective on Hollywood directors he has known, will be published by Ramble House within the next few weeks. Among his most recent works is the 2013 retrospective Ellery Queen -- The Art of Detection, an updated and definitive companion piece to Royal Bloodlines. 

Kurt Sercu and me last year
(doing a pictorial "one-off" of the cover of
Mike Nevin's The Art of Detection)
       Completing the trio assembled in my backyard on that Tuesday evening was, well, me. Accomplishments? Well, not all that many. But the Ellery Queen pastiches that I have authored include “The Book Case” (EQMM May, 2007), written in collaboration with my good friend Kurt Sercu, proprietor of Ellery Queen, a Website on Deduction, and featuring an elderly Ellery pulled from retirement to solve one last case involving many characters from earlier Queen novels, including principally the 1967 mystery Face to Face, “The Mad Hatter’s Riddle” (EQMM September/October, 2009), where characters from the 1938 Queen novel The Four of Hearts, reunite for the filming of an episode of the 1975 NBC Ellery Queen television series, and “Literally Dead” (EQMM December 2013), featuring a return, once again, to Wrightsville. 

       So the dinner cast was set and the evening was predictably great.

       But let’s be greedy. Who else could have been added to make that back yard dinner even better? Well my list of wished-for attendees would include the following: 

       Kurt Sercu, my friend, erstwhile collaborator and the proprietor of the aforementioned Ellery Queen website where, incidentally, you can read about all of the actual attendees in Kurt’s section discussing Ellery Queen pastiches and parodies. Kurt, who I first met on the internet in 2002, has three times made the trip across the pond from his native Belgium and knows my backyard well. Had he been here this time he could have shared stories with Josh in Flemish -- among his other accomplishments, Josh is fluent and has frequently translated mysteries from Dutch to English. 

Joseph Goodrich
       Joe Goodrich, author of Blood Relations, the collection of the 1940s correspondence between Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, and also the author of the play Calamity Town, which had a sneak preview for two days in Claremont, New Hampshire in 2013 and will have its official world premier at the Vertigo Theatre, Calgary, Canada next year.  (It will play there from January 23 through February 21, 2016.)

Douglas Greene
       Doug Greene, professor emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University, Ellery Queen scholar, proprietor of Crippin and  Landru publications, and publisher of both The Tragedy of Errors, collecting previously unpublished Queen stories and essays, and featuring the outline of what would have been the final Ellery Queen mystery, and The Adventure of the Murdered Moths and Other Radio Mysteries, a 2005 collection of previously-unpublished Ellery Queen radio plays. Doug just had a birthday, so we would have added a cake to the menu!

Jon L. Breen
       John L. Breen, emeritus book review editor for EQMM, who has twice been awarded the Edgar Allan Poe Award, first in 1982 for What About Murder?: A Guide to Books About Mystery and Detective Fiction, and then in 1985, for Novel Verdicts: A Guide to Courtroom Fiction. He has written several novels and over 100 short stories, including several Ellery Queen pastiches and parodies, one of which, “The Adventure of the Disoriented Detective,” is available on Kurt’s website and another of which, “The German Cologne Mystery,” (see above) was co-authored with Josh. 

Arthur Vidro
       Arthur Vidro, yet another Queen scholar, author and publisher of (Give Me That) Old-Time Detection (a wonderful periodical dependably offering up Ellery Queen nuggets).  Arthur was the director of the first presentation of Joe Goodrich’s theatrical version of Calamity Town, and appeared in the production in a supporting role.  He is also the literary detective who (to my mind) has definitively established that Ellery Queen’s Wrightsville is modeled after Arthur’s hometown -- Claremont, New Hampshire.  Arthur has his own short Queen pastiche on-line on the EQMM website.  It can be read here.

Jeffrey A. Marks
       Each of these folks I have had the honor to meet and get to know in person over the years. And to the list I would add at least one more Ellery Queen expert and aficionado -- mystery writer and biographer Jeffrey A. Marks, an author who, thus far, I have met only on the internet. In addition to his many works, including his mystery series featuring Ulysses S. Grant, Jeff has penned biographies of famous mystery writers including Earl Stanley Gardner and Anthony Boucher.  His latest project?  Well, in the next year -- or perhaps a bit more -- Jeff will be releasing his new, and I will bet definitive, biography of the lives of Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee.   (Working title -- The American Detective Story.)

       Now THAT would have been a party!

(Most of the links and some of the graphics, above, are courtesy of Kurt's website Ellery Queen -- A Website on Deduction.  Always worth a visit, folks!)

26 September 2015

The Joy of Story (in which our intrepid Bad Girl steps out on a serious limb for a change)

by Melodie Campbell

Don’t Lecture - Entertain Me!

This post is meant to raise discussion. Please chime in!

Who doesn’t love a good story? Something that takes you out of yourself and lets you live another life for a little while. You can do me no greater honour than to call me a great storyteller.

A while ago, I was asked to comment on the purpose of crime fiction, for the inaugural issue of Noir Magazine. Should fiction always contain a moral message? Specifically, should crime fiction?

My instant answer: No! The main purpose of crime fiction should be to Entertain, and nothing should come before that.

Why? We have countless other venues that preach morality. Religions seek to teach us how to behave. Every day we are bombarded by newspapers, radio and other nonfiction outlets, that expose us to the ‘evil’ of greedy politicians, nasty world despots and out of control celebrities.

If fiction – and crime fiction in particular – was required to follow a moral code, we would miss so much. If the good guy always won – if the bad guy always got caught – wouldn’t that make crime fiction lamentably predictable?

Does that mean crime fiction can’t teach us something? Of course it can! Put me in the mind of a serial killer for a few hours. Let me know what it feels like to experience the overwhelming greed of a con artist. Dress me up as a torch singer, with a black heart and a gun in her stocking.

Let me discover something about how other people think, if only for a little while. Because isn’t that the wonderful thing about all great literature? The best literature takes us completely out of ourselves and forces us to view the world from a different perspective. If done well enough, that experience changes us.

In my own fiction, I strive to make that happen.

And I challenge you to do the same. Make me walk in another person's shoes for a few hours. But above all else, entertain me. Don’t preach at me, even from a distance. I don’t want it from my fiction.

Just tell me a damn good story, thank you. Take me out of the real world for a few hours.

That’s the joy of story.

Ever wondered what it would be like to walk in the shoes of a mob goddaughter? Check out the award-winning Goddaughter series below:

When I was a girl, my favorite movie was The Pink Panther.
Great-uncle Franco owned a movie theatre in town. He had a knock-off reel. We’d beg him to play that film on the big screen. I probably saw it thirty times. It became an obsession with me.
When other girls dressed up for Halloween as Princesses, I was decked out in head-to-toe black. With a mask.
“Girls can’t be cat-burglars,” my cousin Paulo told me.
“Yeah?” I yelled back. “What about Mad Magda?”
“She’s not real,” Paulo sneered. “She’s just a legend, like Santa Claus. Only boys are burglars.”
This obviously did some serious damage. Because of course, I had to prove him wrong, even if it took me twenty years to do it.


25 September 2015

The Tovrea Murder

By Dixon Hill

In my last post, I wrote about the robbery of one Tovrea wife: Della Tovrea, wife of E.A. Tovrea, who lived in the Tovrea Mansion in Phoenix.

Della died from illness in 1969, but another Tovrea wife would be murdered while in her sleep.

Jeanne and Ed Tovrea
This week, my story concerns the murder of Jeanne Tovrea, who married E.A. Tovrea's son, Edward Tovrea.

E.A. was long dead by this time, of course.  And his son Edward had already fought in a war, been married, had children and divorced before he met Arkansas-born Jeanne Gunter, a pretty woman who had taken a job as a cocktail waitress when she first arrived in The Valley but had marshalled her forces and become a successful realtor by the time she met Edward.  

The two were married about a year later, in 1973, and all seemed perfect from the outside: the couple enjoyed connubial bliss, while Valley society welcomed Jeanne with open arms and found her a person who fit right into the social set.

But, the kids weren't happy.  Edward Tovrea Jr., better known as "Hap," and his sisters, Georgia and Priscilla, considered their father's new wife to be a gold-digger who belonged behind the counter at a cocktail lounge, rather than hobnobbing with their dad.

The PV home
Roughly a decade after Ed Sr. married Jeanne, his health began to decline.  Friends say that she was with him constantly until he died in 1983.  Hap and his sisters each received $200,000 upon their father's death.  This was distributed in $1,500 monthly payments to each adult child.  But, Hap and his sisters were unhappy that their father had left the bulk of his $8 million estate -- including an expensive home in Paradise Valley (not the Tovrea Mansion in Phoenix), as well as an expensive art collection -- to a woman they considered a gold-digger.  A woman who continued her high-society life after what others termed "a suitable period of mourning" their father's death.
Jeanne was shot in this bed.

Around 7:00 pm on April Fools Day of 1988, Jeanne spoke with her sister by phone, explaining that she had been preparing invitations for a society party she planned to host.  Six hours later, she would be dead: shot in the head five times while she lay in bed.  It looked to police as if she had been shot while sleeping; there were no signs of struggle.

Entry Point

Interestingly, the killer had entered through a kitchen window -- touted as the one point that permitted an intruder to disarm the alarm system on entry.  Evidence then indicated he made a beeline straight to Jeanne's bedroom, as if he were familiar with the house. Though her costume jewelry had been strewn about the bedroom, and Jeanne's purse with her credit cards and ID was missing, expensive jewelry in the next room lay undisturbed.  That undisturbed jewelry, and one other indication marred the look of an inside job: the killer had evidently tripped the burglar alarm on exit, when he opened the Arcadia door to make his escape.

The Prints on the Window

Added to this, among the finger prints found at the scene, 18 prints had been left by a single individual, including some on the kitchen window where the killer had entered.  Those prints did not match anyone in the family, or any known associates of Jeanne.

As investigators worked the case, they also discovered that Jeanne had evidently been the victim of a stalker during the final weeks of her life.  She had been contacted by a certain Gordon Phillips, who claimed he was a freelancer for Time-Life and wanted to interview her, about her late husband's POW experiences, for Time magazine.

Ed senior had spent time as a POW during the Second World War, and was known as a bit of a hero because of this.  When Jeanne had Phillips checked out, however, she learned that Time-Life had no Gordon Phillips working for them, nor had they engaged anyone to interview her about such a story.

When "Phillips" called again, she told him she could not help him with the story.  This didn't keep him from pestering her with phone calls, though.  When she didn't answer his calls, he began leaving messages, including one the police heard on her answering machine: "Yes, Jeanne, this is Gordon Phillips, and I have some information for you."

During this time, Jeanne also told friends that she caught glimpses of a strange man when she went out.  She would spot him at a fund raiser, or on the street.  He seemed to be dogging her footsteps.

Police tried to find a connection between the man calling himself Gordon Phillips, those 18 unknown finger prints, and the murder.  They wouldn't make the connection until 1988, however.

In two weeks, I'll let you know what they found out.

Until then: WE MISS YOU, R.T.!
(Miss you sorely and hope all is well, buddy.)

24 September 2015

Death Comes at the Beginning

by Eve Fisher

This may be the earliest murder in history:  a 430,000 year old Neanderthal skull with a hole in it - yes, someone bashed him in the head with a blunt instrument:


Yes, murder has been around since the dawn of time.  I've always thought it's appropriate that practically the second story in Genesis is Cain killing Abel.  But, to be fair, the above Neanderthal is about the only Paleolithic murder victim that's been found.  Perhaps it's because there were so few people that you could always move on rather than kill them.  (It's estimated that half a million years ago there were around a million homo sapiens, including Neanderthals and Denisovians, on the planet.  Now THAT'S elbow room.)  Then again, maybe we just haven't found the evidence.  After half a million years, there's not a whole lot of evidence left.

"Homo neanderthalensis adult male - head model - Smithsonian Museum of Natural History - 2012-05-17" by Tim Evanson - http://www.flickr.com/photos/23165290@N00/7283199754/. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Homo_neanderthalensis_adult_male_-_head_model_-_Smithsonian_Museum_of_Natural_History_-_2012-05-17.jpg#/media/File:Homo_neanderthalensis_adult_male_-_head_model_-_Smithsonian_Museum_of_Natural_History_-_2012-05-17.jpg
But murder certainly picked up during the Mesolithic Era (around 20,000-5,000 BCE).  First of all, by now there were perhaps 5 million humans on the planet, and they were all Cro-Magnon, i.e., us. Neanderthals and Denisovians had both gone extinct, and while there is significant evidence that we interbred (I did the genome test and am happy to report that I am 3% Neanderthal and 3.7% Denisovian), the fact that two flourishing subspecies (at least) had vanished is also a good sign that there was some serious killing going on.

And it didn't stop there.  In fact, humans got better at it.  For example:

Sometime around 21,000 BCE, along the Nile, at a place called Jebel Sahaba (300 km south of Wadi Kubbaniya), a young man had 2 blades in his pelvis and a broken right arm.  Who knows why?  Who knows whodunnit?  And between 13,000-11,000 BCE, in the same area, 59 people were buried in a graveyard.  Of them, 24 had been murdered, with multiple arrowpoints and severe cut-marks on their bones and skulls. (Steven Mithen, After the Ice:  A Global Human History 20,000-5,000 BC. p. 452)

Sometime around 12,000 BCE, in Gough's Cave in Cheddar Gorge, England, a frightening number of people were butchered to death, and then (possibly) eaten.  (Mithin, pp. 110-111)

7 year old child's skull
showing blunt-force trauma
In 2006 in Germany, a mass grave was discovered, dating back to 7,000 BCE, of 26 adults and children, all killed by arrow wounds or blows to the head. In the 1980s, a number of similar mass graves were found in Talheim, Germany, and Asparn, Austria. There were no female skeletons, which archaeologists believe prove that the women were taken captive while all the men and children were murdered.

And in a place called Skateholm, Sweden, the cemeteries from 5,000 BCE show people who fought - a lot.  Four individuals who survived depressed skull fractures (i.e., someone hit them hard enough to leave a dent); flint arrowheads embedded here or there; some who'd lost an eye or had a cheekbone/nose caved in.  And quite a few who died of their wounds.  Most of the head wounds came from "blows to the front and left side - the outcome of face-to-face combat with a right-handed opponent."  (Mithen, p. 175)

Probably the most famous murder victim of this time period was Otzi the Ice Man - found September 21, 1991, by German tourists up in the Otztai Alps (hence his name) - who lived and died some 5,300 years ago.  http://www.iceman.it/en/photo-archive 
Otzi is one of the best preserved bodies ever found.  He was lactose intolerant, high levels of copper and arsenic in his hair, related to Southern Europeans, had cavities and tattoos, and wore waterproof, warm clothing of leather stuffed with grass.  His last meals were of chamois meat, red deer, and herb bread. He also had an arrowhead in his shoulder, bruises on his hands and wrists and chest, and a bad blow to the head, which is what killed him.  In other words, he was murdered.

The truth is, the catalogue of skeletal remains from Mesolithic Europe shows that up to 44% of the skulls showed signs of "trauma" (i.e., blows) (Mithin, p. 534).  For a fascinating article on how prevalent murder, war, and even cannibalism were, see British Archaeology Issue No. 52, April 2000 - http://www.archaeologyuk.org/ba/ba52/ba52feat.html

So why so much killing during the Mesolithic Era?  The Mesolithic was when the old, Paleolithic hunter-gatherer cultures were "transitioning" into agricultural societies.  The population increase was dramatic - as I said, by now there are 5 million people on the planet, and, as the transition into agriculture gets going, they are living more densely than ever before, crowded along a few fertile river valleys.  That leads to a rich possibility of reasons for murder and warfare:

Two female murder victims from Teviec, France
dated 6740-5680 BCE

  • Fear and Property:  increasing clashes between traditional hunter-gatherer cultures (who were losing their hunting grounds and traditions at a frightening pace) and the new farmers (who were taking it all away from the hunter-gatherers).  And let's not forget that the hunter-gatherers might steal from the farmers, and the farmers might drift off and hunt on hunter-gatherer lands.  Which would lead to
  • Honor killings:  the usual suspects:  thefts, slights, insults, jealousy, anger, pride.  Which would lead to
  • Tribal feuds:  one death leads to another, until it's tribe v. tribe, and, as population increases, war erupts.
And, of course, there's just good old fashioned personality conflicts.  For all we know, Otzi was a complete SOB whom everybody hated, and when they got a chance to make sure he'd never come back, well, they took it.

Now personally, I don't believe in the African Genesis theory of human origins:  I don't believe we were bred from savage carnivorous apes on the savannah.  But I do believe, as Barry Hughart put it in Bridge of Birds, that we have "a flaw in our character."  And that flaw makes it increasingly difficult, as we live in ever closer quarters, to share our toys, our food, our stuff.  A while back, AARP published a map of the "state of well-being" - and the rankings were easy to figure out once you realized that the top ten states, where people felt best about their lives, etc., were all the least-populated.  Check it out:
Well-Being Index by State (Map), 2014

Once again, elbow room.  Of which, by the way, we've been steadily running out of since the Industrial Revolution:

1,000,000 BCE - World Population around 125,000
500,000 BCE - World Population around 1 million
10,000 BCE - World Population around 5 million
3,500 BCE - World Population around 10 million
1,000 BCE - World Population around 50 million
500 BCE - World Population around 100 million
1 CE - World Population around 300 million (*current US population is 318.9 million)
1600 CE - World Population around 500 million (half a billion)
1820 - World Population around 1 billion
1925 - World Population around 2 billion
1961 - World Population around 3 billion
1974 - World Population around 4 billion
1987 - World Population around 5 billion
1999 - World Population around 6 billion
2015 - World Population around 7.3 billion and counting

Something to think about.

Meanwhile, thinking about that 430,000 year old murder victim, what on earth was the deal with that?  It certainly wasn't a lack of elbow room.  Maybe it wasn't murder, maybe it was an accident. Someone clumsy with a large rock.  Maybe it was a case of jealousy.  Or maybe he was simply the worst SOB of his day, and his cave mates decided they just couldn't stand him anymore.  But it is proof that, even if time travel is invented, there is no time to go back to where everything was peaceful, sweet, innocent of all violent death and murder.  Nostalgia isn't what it's cracked up to be.

23 September 2015

Feeding the Inner Wolf

I had an odd insight at the supermarket the other day, watching a guy use the motorized shopping cart. He was a double-wide, for sure, carrying enough extra weight for it to be an obvious handicap, with tree-stump calves and thick ankles that probably indicated diabetes - but all of this beside the point. It got me thinking. He never set out to be that fat guy, he didn't do it by choice. It almost certainly had more to do with genetics, environment, the luck of the draw. We have a tendency to look at people with physical problems, obesity, rotten teeth, or bad skin, and hold them responsible, as if it were a moral failure.

I began to wonder about the corollary. What about people with glowing skin and great smiles and a body by Botticelli who turn out to be misshapen, or damaged underneath, but without visible injury? Perhaps some crippling trauma, or maybe no explanation at all. Maybe they're just plain ugly at heart.

There's a scene in John Crowley's novel LITTLE, BIG, where you encounter a crazy old drunk on the subway - or at least he seems like a crazy old drunk - and he's staggering up and down the cars, talking to himself. "I met the woof the other night, out back the churchyard. He didn't look like no woof, look like a man, but I knew him for who he was. He were hairy on the inside." The werewolf of folklore is known as Turnskins, a shape-shifter, wearing human covering as a disguise.

So, begging the question, Are there monsters? Some of us would say no, that it's nurture, or the lack of. I'd lean toward yes, though, the argument that it's nature, that evil is somehow innate, and not learned behavior. In other words, we can simply be hardwired the wrong way.

Do we come to the Manichean view that Absolute Good and Absolute Evil exist, as opposites? "Why, this is Hell, nor am I out of it," Mephistopheles says, meaning he lives in the absence of God. But why shouldn't evil exist, without respect to virtue? Why do we imagine salvation is our reward for avoiding sin, when sin might prove to be its own reward? Bad isn't necessarily good taking a dive.

There was a time - the early days of the Church, say - when the world was seen as the earthly battlefield between the forces of light and dark, a struggle manifest, the war for men's souls. The stake was literal, not a metaphor. You could burn, your fatty tissue popping in the fire, and given the cooking time, it must have felt like an eternity. Then we have the misreading of Freud, as if a plausible explanation serves us as an excuse, or a note from teacher. ("Did you like Mr. Clutter?" "Why, yes, I did - right up to the moment I cut his throat.") Just supposing, however, that we don't see the dark silhouetted against the light, that there isn't any contrast, that the dark doesn't cast a shadow. It isn't the absence of God, or moral weight, or empathy, or some other frame of reference. Evil sufficient to the day. It stands on its own.

We're the ones who need help. We invent a mechanism that tells us the good is thrown on the scales with the bad, and they counterbalance. The one is necessary for the other. Yes, for dramatic tension in a fiction, a narrative, which is a construct, using familiar conventions. Not so much, we begin to think, in life. What if what goes around don't come around no more?

We appear conditioned to this idea of opposition: action, reaction, synthesis. I read a book one time about what the author described as The Bicameral Mind. The short version is Right Brain/Left Brain, but there's more to it than that. There was a long period in our development when we heard voices - the voices of the gods, perhaps? - but for a far longer period than our present psychological state, the accepted diagnosis or perceived reality, which has probably only obtained for about the last three thousand years, sake of argument, where such Voices signal mental illness, or at least the gateway to a less rational or linear world.

Presupposing the unspoken or the unseen, is the notion of duality functional? It seems like an enabling device, a comforting alibi. Rooted, as may be, in the bicameral mind, our physiology, the left a mirror of the right. This doesn't mean any of it has objective reality.

We might say, then, that evil exists for its own purposes. Not the opposite of good, but a force with no counterweight or equivalency. Thomas Pynchon, in THE CRYING OF LOT 49, says of Rapunzel, waiting rescue, what if the tower is everywhere, and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic? During the Middle Ages, many people thought the Black Death was evidence of God's abandonment, Not, we remark, a visitation of His disapproval - rather, a sign God had simply given up on us. But the disease vector of plague is a bacillus answering to its own necessities, unconcerned with the host bodies. We flatter ourselves, if we imagine we're any higher on the food chain, or that there's malice aforethought. In this sense, evil bears us no ill will. It's not retribution, and perhaps that's what makes it harder to bear. Evil is indifferent.

22 September 2015

Envy and Writing: Real-Life Noir

On September 10th, Sleuthsayer Eve Fisher described her story “Presumed Guilty,” published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Detective that I am, I deduced that it was the cover story.

I thought, Hmm. Not only have I never cracked the pages of AHMM, I’ve only received one slightly personalized rejection to date. Usually it’s just a straight bounce.

I could’ve gotten envious of Eve. Seethed about Eve. In fact, years ago, I might have done exactly that.

At my book club last month, we did a round table and each picked which deadly sin personified us. I chose both anger and envy. I’m also an enormous glutton—people are always astonished how much I eat and ask where I pack it away—but I don’t feel guilty about loving food. I have, however, blown up at people and swallowed a lot of bile and worked hard to change both these traits.

First, dictionary time.
  • Envy means you want what someone else has, whether it’s a fat bank account or the perfect family.
  • Jealousy means you’re afraid of losing what you’ve got, so you monitor your pretty young mistress to make sure she doesn’t take up with her dashing co-worker.

I bring this up for two reasons. I think writers are particularly susceptible to envy because there’s no clear path, so it feels like everyone else is always getting ahead.
“[A] woman with three poems in [Poetry Magazine] had been born two years after me, which was enough to ruin my day—and I didn’t even desire to write poetry. The notion of people my age or younger having written books, some of them quite good books, was more than upsetting. I did not precisely want them to die, but, wondering why they hadn’t the simple courtesy to allow my achievements to be recognized first, I wanted them, somehow, stopped. The moral of this little story, I believe, is that it is difficult to be ambitious without also being envious.”—Joseph Epstin, Envy

Edgar-nominated writer Kris Rusch/Nelscott told me, "In writing, there is no hierarchy, which is really strange.  It's the only profession I know where we don't compete against each other. We compete against ourselves--trying to outdo ourselves.  That's because each writers' career is different.  No one career is the same as another.  So we're always comparing apples and broccoli."

Still, when Kris asked for suggestions about topics for her Freelancer’s Survival Guide, I asked her to write about jealousy. She initially said no. But eventually she did write about it, and it was so popular that it became a two-part article.

“First, let me be clear about the reasons I initially declined to cover this topic.  I think jealousy is one of the most destructive emotions in the world.  I think you can attribute more horrible things to jealousy than you can to most other emotions, including anger. I see nothing positive about jealousy. I’ve watched it ruin friendships, marriages, and professional relationships. I’ve watched it destroy careers.  I know of cases where jealousy has led to actual physical harm, including murder.” http://kriswrites.com/2010/01/14/freelancers-survival-guide-professional-jealousy/

To my surprise, the follow-up article was called “Surviving Other People’s Jealousy.” 
I don’t think I ever harmed anyone, just gnashed my teeth a bit. And no one had envied me, as far as I knew, since I was such a newbie.

I needed more advice. Luckily, bestselling author Jennifer Crusie had me in mind for this: http://jennycrusie.com/for-writers/essays/green-is-not-your-color-professional-jealousy-and-the-professional-writer/

You’re human…Wallow in it...For five minutes. That’s all you get, five minutes to be seethingly, teeth-achingly bitter.
Then think about what the person did to get what she got….
Then take that analysis of what she did and see if you can apply it to your career. Whatever it was that she did, it obviously worked. 

I noticed a common recipe for success: hard work. I could do that.

Jennifer Crusie again:
Bette Midler said, “The hardest thing about being successful is finding somebody to be happy for you.” The one thing that I have noticed about all the successful people I know is that their circle of friends gets smaller and smaller…..

Well, that’s no good.
While I threw myself into writing, mostly toiling in isolation but occasionally selling a story, I slowly, slowly relinquished my grip on envy and admired my writing friends.

Here’s one Cinderella ending. My name appears in the latest AHMM. No, I didn’t get to write the cover story. But Ken Wishnia’s Trace Evidence guest editorial appears on the cover, and the entire third paragraph describes my appearance in Jewish Noir

And thanks to our generous “You don’t have to be Jewish to write Jewish Noir” policy, I also got to collaborate with writers like Canadian author Melissa Yi, who was a joy to work with. She sent me two stories for consideration, and I ended up replying with a carefully worded email explaining that I liked the first half of the first story and the second half of the second story, and asked if she would be willing to combine the two stories along these lines to create a totally new story. That’s asking a lot, but not only was she willing to do it, after revising the two stories into one, she ended up adding a new section that gave her story “Blood Diamonds” a crack-of-the-whip sting of an ending that will linger in your mind for long after you’ve read it.

May we all live and write happily ever after.