30 November 2015

Scandal in the Bahamas

I just got back from a wonderful vacation, a cruise to Key West and the Bahamas. As any writer would, the first leg was a quick trip to the Hemingway House. Met a few six-toed cats and got the grand tour. His work was always a little too “a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do” for my taste, but there's no denying he was bigger than life. I was on the trip with a friend I've had since we were in our teens, and on the second leg we stopped in Freeport and took a tour on a guided bus. There were ten other people on the bus, and at the end, one young woman said, “Let's meet tomorrow in Nassau!” So eight of us did. Have no idea what happened to the other four.
I'm the first to admit that I'm not great at self-promotion. When I started in this biz, I thought the whole idea was to sit at my desk and write. And, of course, cash the checks when they came pouring in. I had no idea I had to go out there and sell myself.

After twenty-seven years in this business, I'm still not very good at it. So, of course, I never mentioned what I did for a living to anyone on the cruise. Some people talked about what they did – one owned a hair salon, one an event center – but I saw no reason to bring it up.

But of course my friend, who has been a supporter for all these many years, decided it was her job to do so. The other six on our tour of Nassau were very excited about the entire thing, and basically wrote a book for me.

So if you ever see the title SCANDAL IN THE BAHAMAS, know that I was not alone in the writing of it. And when the movie version comes out, the premier will be in the Bahamas, of course, and we're all going to meet there for the reunion.

So there was some alcohol involved in all this. Come on, it was a vacation!

29 November 2015

Ellery Queen in the Village of Good and Evil

by Dale C. Andrews (with much help from Kurt Sercu)
Escaping the glare and grime of summer in Manhattan, Ellery Queen, the celebrated novelist and gentleman detective, arrives in the small New England town of Wrightsville looking for a quiet place to write a new book . . . . 
                                       Playbill from Calamity Town 
                                       A theatrical presentation by Joseph Goodrich 
                                       New Dramatists New York City read-through
                                       January 29, 2013 
[Ellery's] exploits [in] Wrightsville [are always] likely to be the signal for the commission of one or more murders. 
                                        Julian Symons, 
                                        Bloody Murder (From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel: A History) 
[The book] is a story of an actual murder . . . . The cast includes . . . the author himself, transplanted temporarily from the Upper West Side to Savannah's gossipy historic quarter.. . . [T]he murder happens in the middle of the book.
                                        John Berendt, 
                                        describing his best seller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil                                                       September 28, 1997 interview 

     I am writing this on board Amtrak’s Auto Train, heading home to Washington, D.C. And that seems only appropriate. Just over ten years ago I was excitedly preparing to leave by train for New York City to attend the Ellery Queen Centenary Symposium hosted by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Kurt Sercu, proprietor of the seminal Ellery Queen website, Ellery Queen: a Website on Deduction, had flown to Washington, D.C. from his native Belgium so that we could take the train up to New York together. So excitement was in the air -- I had known Kurt for some years on-line, but given the distances between the District of Columbia and Bruges, the Belgian city where Kurt and his wife Martine reside, we had (understandably) never met in person before that trip to the symposium.

Kurt Sercu and me -- a photo pastiche
       In anticipation of the trip I joined in on a discussion thread among those who intended to attend that was unfolding on the old Readers’ Forum that EQMM and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery magazines used to co-host. You know -- the online forum that, according to the EQMM website, has been “unavailable while we continue to address technical issues” for something like the last 7 years!

       Just before leaving for the train station I checked the thread one last time and found a question posed to Kurt and me by Doug Greene, well known to all of us as the brains (as well as brawn) behind Crippen & Landru, the preeminent publisher of all things mystery. Doug’s question was this: In the Ellery Queen novels we generally encounter Ellery feverishly working on his latest novel while he is also solving the mystery at hand. So, what were the books Ellery was writing? Were they other actual, i.e. published, Ellery Queen mysteries, or were these, perhaps, fictional references to works that do not, in fact, exist? 

Doug Greene, proprietor of Crippen & Landru
       At first blush I was surprised by the question. The issue had almost never occurred to me. To the extent that I had thought of it at all it seemed to me that Ellery must have been working on one of his actual novels, either previously or subsequently published, while he solved the mystery presented in the book I was then reading. This would pre-suppose that Ellery solved a mystery, wrote it up as a novel, and then moved on to solve the next mystery.

       But, as with all things Ellery Queen, the answer, on reflection, is not all that easy. Melodie Campbell's article yesterday focused on authors whose protagonist is modeled after themselves. Well, suffice it to say that things can get particularly complicated -- at times even surreal -- when the author’s name on the spine of the book and the detective solving the case between the covers are one and the same. In any event, I continued to ponder Doug’s question over the last ten years. 

       And as I pondered it became evident that no one answer is apparent. Ellery is often in the midst of writing a novel while he is solving a mystery, but rarely, if ever, are any clues given as to what novel our friend is in fact writing at the time. In fact, the Queen library contains very few references that even tie the various books together. There are, of course, shared characters -- Ellery, the Inspector, Sergeant Velie, Dr. Prouty, Djuna (early on), Nikki Porter (later) and Paula Paris (in Hollywood). Recurring characters are also and even more prevalent in the Wrightsville mysteries
-- Chief Dakin, and later Chief Anselm Newby, town gossip Emmeline DuPré, newspaper editor Frank Lloyd, to name a few. 

       While rarer, there are also instances where the Queen mysteries refer to earlier works -- The Finishing Stroke, for example, references The Roman Hat Mystery. And Last Woman in his Life begins precisely (same day, same locale) where the earlier Face to Face leaves off. Similarly, the Wrightsville books at times refer to previous mysteries solved by Ellery in that “calamitous” town. But these references, while tying books together, usually tell us nothing concerning the novels Ellery was working on while solving the depicted mystery. 

       In the 1975 NBC Ellery Queen series there are scattered references to Ellery Queen mysteries that do not in fact exist -- "The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party" episode, for example, references a non-existent Queen mystery entitled The Adventure of the Alabaster Apple, and "The Adventure of the Lover’s Leap" episode involves an equally non-existent Queen opus of the same name. But, again, all of these references, even those in the TV episodes drafted by others, are, in each instance, to already completed works, not to the works in progress, novels that Ellery is depicted as struggling to complete while he is also grappling with the mystery at hand. 

       Ellery Queen novels do, at times, refer to other cases solved by Ellery that have not appeared in print -- such as the reference in Ten Days Wonder to “the case of the spastic bryologist, in which Ellery made the definitive deduction -- from a dried mass of sphagnum no larger than his thumbnail
-- and reached into the surgery of one of New York’s most respectable hospitals to save a life and blast a reputation . . . .” Nowhere is that mystery set forth in published form. And Ten Days’ Wonder also contains a reference to “the case of Adelina Monquieux, [Ellery’s] remarkable solution of which cannot be revealed before 1972.” That mystery was never recorded in a Queen work, though it did provide the premise for Francis Nevin’s 1972 Ellery Queen pastiche “Open Letter to Survivors.” (In "Open Letter" Ellery is working on a novel that clearly is "Cat of Many Tails," but this does not progress our analysis here since the story was written by Mike Nevins, not by Dannay and Lee!)

       Similarly The French Powder Mystery and The Dutch Shoe Mystery mention, respectively, the Kingsley Arms Murder and The Murder of the Marionettes, and Dutch Shoe goes so far as to state that the latter mystery was recounted in a manuscript authored by Ellery. But none of these mysteries is in fact the basis of an Ellery Queen manuscript. Moreover, these references, again, are all to mysteries, or manuscripts, already completed, not to novels that are in the process of being drafted. 

       In an email exchange I had with Joe Goodrich, author of the theatrical version of Ellery Queen’s Calamity Town, Joe mentioned that from various clues in Ten Days’ Wonder one could conclude that the novel Ellery toiled on during the course of solving that mystery might well have been Cat of Many Tails, actually published two years later. But other than that one possible example, and it is premised on fairly obscure clues, there is nothing that directly answers Doug Greene’s question. 

       Nothing that directly answers. But what about indirectly? 

       After first despairing that there is no good answer to Doug’s question, I took another look at Calamity Town. And when I did so it struck me that this mystery’s structure is remarkably similar to John Berendt’s “true crime” bestseller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The quote at the head of this article really says it all. 

        In Garden of Good and Evil the author, John Berendt, is a character in his own story. Berendt uproots himself from his hometown (New York City) to another locale (there, Savannah) for the sole purpose of secluding himself while writing a book about the characters that populate that locale. Berendt's tale purports to be written in real time, but the narration begins before the story itself has transpired.  Then, in mid-book, a murder takes place. And the murder -- seemingly unanticipated at the beginning of the book -- becomes the book’s backbone by mid-narrative. So, the surreal aspect of the book is that it’s narrative, based on actual events, begins before the crucial events of the story have even occurred. In other words, the book that John Berendt is “writing” during the narrative of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is in fact Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. And he is writing this as the story unfolds.
       With that in mind, and being careful, as always, to stear clear of “spoilers,” let's compare Calamity Town to Garden of Good and Evil.

       First, and most obvious, we are confronted with one of the stranger quirks of the Ellery Queen mysteries.  Ellery, like John Berendt, is both the author and the protagonist.  Each tale opens with the arrival of the author, in our case our friend Mr. Queen, in a town where the author intends to stay for a prolonged period. Thus, Calamity Town opens with Ellery disembarking from the train in Wrightsville. He immediately seeks rental accommodations and is asked: 
"[W]hat kind of work are you planning, . . ?” 
“A novel," said Ellery faintly. "A novel of particular sort, laid in a typical small city . . . ."
       Ellery then, like John Berendt, settles in, and waits for events to occur. And for Ellery that wait is not without a degree of impatience. When, at first, town life in Wrightsville proceeds without incident, that is, without murder, this coincides with grumblings on Ellery’s part that his novel is progressing slowly. Thus, a ways into the book we encounter the following: 
So Mr. Queen decided he had been an imaginative fool and that [any mystery in the town] was buried beyond resurrection. He began to make plans to invent a crime in his novel, since life was so uncooperative. And, because he liked all the characters, he was very glad.
       This, in itself, is an interesting (and doubtless tongue-in-cheek) aside by Ellery. There have been a lot of jokes over the years to the effect that if you value your life you shouldn’t hang around with Ellery Queen since someone in his immediate ambit always ends up murdered. And here we have it --  the proof: Ellery expects a murder in Wrightsville. And, while grumpy, he is also heartened since he likes the folks he has encountered in Wrightsville.   Important to our current analysis is the fact, then, that like John Berendt Ellery purports to be writing his book in anticipation of a murder happening. Also like Berendt he is not disappointed. 

Wrightsville as depicted in the front-piece of Calamity Town
       There are other similar references. Like this one, for example: 
"It’s a queer thing," grumbled Ellery, " . . . Something’s been annoying me for weeks. Flying around in my skull.  Can’t catch it… I thought it might be a fact—something trivial—that I’d overlooked. You know, I… well, I based my novel on you people—the facts, the events, the interrelationships. So everything’s in my notes that’s happened." He shook his head. "But I can’t put my finger on it.” 
       And finally, when the mystery of Calamity Town is ultimately solved, eo instante the novel Ellery has been drafting is also completed.  Listen to Ellery when he returns, to Wrightsville, in the final pages of Calamity Town
“But tell me! What brings you back to Wrightsville? It must be us—couldn’t be anyone else! How’s the novel!”
"Oh, grand! Ellery, you never let me read a word of it. How does it end?” 
“That,” said Mr. Queen, “is one of my reasons for coming back to Wrightsville.” 
       So, if you are reading either Calamity Town or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and someone wanders over and poses that question Doug Greene asked Kurt and me ten years ago, specifically what is the book the author purports to be writing at the same time he is telling his story, the answer in each case is the same. Surreal as it may seem, the book each author was writing is the book that you are reading! 

 *     *     *    *     *     *     *     * 

        This winter is a great occasion to re-visit Calamity Town, Ellery Queen’s first Wrightsville tale and one of Ellery's greatest mysteries. As recounted earlier in the article and in previous posts, Joe Goodrich is the author of the new theatrical version of Calamity Town.

       The play had a public reading in New York in 2013, was first produced in 2014 in preview in Claremont, New Hampshire (a town that in all likelihood provided the model for Wrightsville) under the staging hand of Arthur Vidro.

       It will now have its official world premiere this coming January 23 through February 21 at the Vertigo Theatre in Calgary, Canada. If you are anywhere near Calgary, try to catch it. I only wish I could!

28 November 2015

I’m Not My Protagonist! Oh, wait a minute…

My college Crafting a Novel students often hear me say, “You can’t make every character sound like yourself.” And it’s true. Most beginning novelists (at least the ones in my class) write themselves into their books. The star of the book – the protagonist - sounds and looks an awful lot like the writer himself. Has the same likes, dislikes, and insecurities. But is of course, more heroic.

In fact, we come slamming up against the famous saying, “Write what you know.”

And some know themselves pretty well. (Others, not at all, but I digress…)

A protagonist who is a barely veiled, idealist version of yourself? We’ll allow you that for your first book. But if an author persists in writing the same protagonist over and over again, in every book and series they write, things get pretty stale.

So that prompted me to look at my own series to see what I had done. Ten books in now, I held my breath.

The Character I wish I was

I started the Land’s End Fantasy Trilogy when I was dearly in need of escape. My mother was dying. I remember looking at her hospital bedroom wall, and thinking, ‘if I could walk through that wall into another world right now, I would.’ That’s how the first of the series, Rowena Through the Wall, came about. I started writing it in the hospital.

Rowena isn’t me. She is the ‘me I wish I was,’ at least at that difficult time. I wrote the character I wanted to be. She’s prettier than me, more generous than I am, and in the end, more courageous. I was dealing with the issue of courage at that time. Courage to face what was coming and what was inevitable. I wonder how many readers of that series would nod their heads, hearing me say that now?

The ‘Me’ my Mother Wanted Me to Be

Next I grabbed A Purse to Die For off my shelves, a book I co-wrote with Cynthia St-Pierre. This book is in a different genre – it’s amateur detective, or classic mystery. The second book in the series, A Killer Necklace, has just come out.

The protagonist is a fashion diva – a television personality from the Weather Network. She’s drop-dead pretty, and always put together.

I am not. Spending more than ten minutes on my long hair is an impossible chore for me. You won’t find high heels in my closet. I like clothes, but am not a slave to fashion.

But my mother was. My mother was a fashion diva until the day she died. We’re pretty sure she was the longest subscriber to Vogue magazine, ever. Mom dressed me in designer clothes all my childhood. She was delighted when I did a little modeling as a young woman.

I never quite came up to her standard of fashionista though. “Put on some lipstick,” she would say.
“You look like a ghost!”

Looking at the series now, I can see that the main character is the ‘me my mother wanted me to be.’ It was, in a way, my tribute to her. Wish she could have been here when the first book was published.

The Closest I get to Me

So where am I in all my books? That’s easy.

I’m The Goddaughter. Sort of. In this wacky crime caper series, the protagonist is a mob goddaughter, who doesn’t want to be one.

I’m half Sicilian. I had a Sicilian godfather. I had to wait until certain people died in the family before I wrote this series.

In Gina Gallo, the ambivalence is there. ‘You’re supposed to love and support your family. But what if your family is this one?” Gina says this in every book of the series. Those words came directly from my mouth.

This book is meant to be laugh out loud funny. I let loose with my own wit, and shook off the inhibitions. Not that I’m very inhibited normally. But in The Goddaughter series, you get the real me peeking out. Not idealized. Not always upstanding. Sometimes just looking for a way out of a real mess, possibly of my own creation. But kind of fun to be with, I think.

So that brings us back to the beginning. One of the delightful things about being an author is allowing yourself to ‘become’ a character other than yourself, as you write. Fitting yourself into their skin, so to speak. As you write more, this becomes more fun, and more of a goal. I LOVE putting myself into the mind of a killer in a short story, if only for a little while. It’s a kick to ‘pretend’ to be someone else, by writing their story.

Let’s be honest: who needs drugs, if you’re an author? THIS is the ultimate escape.

Do you relish creating characters and living their lives through your fiction?

On Amazon

27 November 2015

Black Friday Interview with Christopher Irvin

In true bumbling fashion, when I first met Christopher Irvin in person at Bouchercon back in October, I asked him, "So do you write too?" Clearly I should've looked more closely at his name tag first, but at least I can blame the general Bouchercon blur for my stumbly faux pas.
He does indeed write—and terrifically well, as I'd already known at the time. And if you haven't yet discovered it yourself, you're in for a treat.  

Christopher Irvin is the author of two novellas—Burn Cards and Federales—and of short stories that have appeared in publications including ThugLit, Beat to a Pulp, All Due Respect, Plots With Guns, Spinetingler, Needle, and Shotgun Honey, among many other journals and anthologies. In May 2015, Keith Rawson at LitReactor named Christopher one of "5 Crime Short Story Writers You Should Be Reading Right Now"—noting that "Irvin’s tone is lightening fast, hard hitting, and leaves the reader breathless and shocked with the sudden and realistic portrayal of violence."

Earlier this month saw the publication of Christopher's first short story collection, Safe Inside the Violence, which has already been earning high praise from various corners. At My Bookish Ways, Angel Luis Colón wrote, "Irvin has a knack displaying the desolation of crime—that near soul-shattering silence and loneliness that comes with the dark places people can end up." At LitReactor, Dean Fetzer wrote, "Irvin has mastered the noir short story, that’s plain." And Paul Tremblay wrote, "A fine collection of crime stories told from the point of view of regular people, forgotten people, and their painfully human decisions are a roadmap to their inexorable Hell."

I'll add myself that it's a terrific collection and a surprising one in many ways—both in terms of where simmering violence might burst out into the world and in how that inner turmoil might manifest itself in more subtle ways. I'm pleased that Christopher agreed to a quick interview about the collection and his work in general—and here on Black Friday and with Small Business Saturday ahead, I also want to call attention to a terrific "Buy Local" promotion underway right now: Purchase a copy of Safe Inside the Violence from an independent bookseller before the end of the month and Christopher will send you for free a limited-edition chapbook featuring four additional stories and artwork by Joe DellaGatta. Details on the deal can be found here.

In the meantime, hope you enjoy here my chat with Christopher Irvin on his fine work.

Art Taylor: So many of the stories in Safe Inside the Violence present characters who—whatever surface they present to the world—hide inner lives, inner turmoil, troubles which may or may not spill outside for others to see. I hesitate to ask that simple question about which comes first for you—characters, situation, plot—but I am curious what drives your storytelling in that direction generally.

Christopher Irvin
Christopher Irvin: Thanks so much for the opportunity, Art. For better or worse, character and situation drive my storytelling, often playing off one another in their development. For example, I wrote "Napoleon of the North End" with the publication Plots With Guns in mind (accepted and published in their final issue, Fall 2014). I approached it with the situation of A) a gun has to be present in the story, and B) recent news of a series of sexual assaults in the North End of Boston in which a white male had groped several women and run off. The police arrested a suspect—even releasing his name—only to come out later that they had the wrong guy. It was prominent in the news for several weeks, though I don't recall what came of it in the end. Anyway, the idea of the garbage collector came next, partially out of trying to use the gun without firing it, or using it “as a gun,” and from his character the rest of the story fleshed out. In another case, "Nor'easter," I had a depressing idea of a man who works as a mall Santa during the holidays, but who is separated from his family. He gets to experience the Christmas/holiday joy around him—and he loves it—but he's lacking that deep personal connection. Again, the situation and character built off each other until threads of plot revealed themselves and I went from there. That's probably where I get some of my “slow burn” style. Plot takes a while for me to develop and feel comfortable in.

How does setting inform your work—Boston particularly?

I used to say setting is everything, and I still mean that in some ways. It should be critical to a story—otherwise, why are you setting it there? I love small details—not the first things you see, but maybe the second, third or fourth that really makes a setting unique and come alive. Instead of pointing out the cobblestones around Faneuil Hall, point out how “newer” brick paths run alongside them and how people will stay on those to avoid tripping or scuffing their shoes on the uneven stones. I've lived in Boston for six years, but I feel like I've only recently been able to write about it. Whitey Bulger, North End Mafia, the “Boston accent” (don't get me started on the “pahk the cah” tourism)—these are classic Boston that have been done to death, and honestly don't interest me as a writer or a reader. I think this is part of why it took me so long to write about the city. The parts I've grown to know, Jamaica Plain, especially, are now on the forefront of my mind. It's a “new” Boston—post-Whitey, post-Big Dig. A newer, more gentrified Boston. That's the Boston I know and identify with, that interests me. I'm sure in another decade it will have transformed even more.

I mentioned that I moved away from the “setting is everything.” It's become much more of a situation, or at least in the way I think about it. How characters interact with their environment, what about the setting adds to their story, what's important to them, etc.

Safe Inside the Violence carries the subtitle Crime Stories, but I don’t think I’d categorize a story like “Digging Deep” that way—even as it brims over with constant tension, the threat of trouble. What constitutes a “crime story” for you? And more generally, how does genre—the expectations of genre—impact your writing?

This is a tough one. There is a great sense of melancholy in my favorite crime stories—perhaps a sense of inevitability, but not without hope. Underdogs I love to root for even though I know they'll stumble and fall eventually. In some ways this feeling, or perhaps a focus on it, has pushed me from the genre definition of crime—a focus on criminal acts—to what? Literary crime? Dark literary fiction? I'm not entirely sure, but it is where I want to be—at least today. I wrote the four new stories in the collection ("Digging Deep," "Imaginary Drugs," "Lupe's Lemon Elixir," and "Safe Inside the Violence") all without a crime publication in mind, and they all turned out in this vein. I was pretty anxious as a kid and I think that comes out in my work, even more so now that I'm aware of it. That's what I'm interested in more than the crime—how people exist in situations that rub up against crime, what their fears/anxieties are, how they make it through the day. As confident as I may seem with the direction of my writing, “genre expectations” do weigh on my mind. When a reviewer praises these stories as being different, I take that as a huge compliment—but is it what people want to read? I hope so. I hope the emphasis on quiet moments, or quiet crimes, is something people can relate to/empathize with and be interested in delving into further. Maybe even want to read a full novel of one day.

You have two children now. How has fatherhood changed your writing—both the process of writing and the content of your work?

Fatherhood has really opened my eyes to the portrayal of children in stories, especially violence and uncertainty. Situations, perhaps more so in movies—take Tom Cruise's character in Minority Report, whose son is kidnapped right in front of him—which did little for me before, really strike me now. Again, going back to that anxiety, the worst-case fears of a father, loss of control/powerlessness. That's really on display in "Union Man," the first story that really incorporated my feelings as a father—my “coming of age” fatherhood story. I wrote it when my son, George, was about six months old. He's three now, and I have a second son, Freddie, who's approaching the four-month mark. In terms of process, I need to be more focused than ever with the number of projects and ideas I have going, but I started getting up in the morning to write before work about a year before George was born, so at least I had that down. One less adjustment. It's an adventure.

A more general question about short story collections: Several of these stories have been previously published elsewhere, several are new to the collection, and other stories that have been published elsewhere didn’t make it into the book; how do you determine what’s in, what’s not, and what guides you generally in determining the contents and order of a collection like this?

For this collection it really came down to theme/similarities (threads of family throughout) which I didn't realize until I began to seriously compile a list of stories. It wasn't until I had ARCs that I noticed the through line of anxiety. It's been eye opening to see what notes readers pick up on. Doing interviews like this—forced reflection—has been incredible. I'm a much more intelligent writer, much more aware now, than even six months ago. Some stories that hit the theme were left out because they'd been published too recently in other books, others because they were too short and I wanted to keep the number of stories in the low teens. I read an articleby Richard Thomas (on LitReactor, I think) a while back about how he arranged one of his collections. His use of “tent pole” stories to structure the beginning, middle, and end stuck with me. Other than that, just making sure that the first stories set expectations which carried through to the end. I hope I was successful in choosing the arrangement. I thought hard on it for months, going through several iterations, even up to the last minute.

In addition to the story collection here, you’ve published two novellas, Burn Cards and Federales—short-form storytelling still, though at the longer end of the spectrum. [Note to Chris: I’ll link each.] What is it about the novella, the short story, the flash that attracts you more than a full-length, full-fledged novel? And what are the biggest challenges about writing short versus writing long?

I love short stories, especially dark/weird speculative fiction where you can get away with lack of explanation. For me, as a reader, I enjoy being able to finish something and reflect on what I've just read—the way it leaves me feeling, or a story's ability to stick with me for days, or even years. Short fiction, in general, has stuck with me much more than novels. I think it's because of the focus on the moment, where novels can wander. Not to say that's bad, it's just different. I often find myself wanting to just finish novels—even those I'm enjoying—partially because my “to-read” stack is so huge but also because I've already taken away the style/characters, the 'feel' of the book that's either going to stick with me or not, regardless of the end. It's rare that I'm so captivated by a novel, but it happens all the time with short fiction. Perhaps, because of the short length, there's the mystery of the gaps. What we don't see that can be equally or more powerful than what we do.

Challenges? Uncertainty in where I'll end up. Is it even a story? Does this matter? My few longer works are driven much more by outlines, but I fly by my gut and a loose outline or series of moments on short fiction. Much more subconscious, while I'm making more conscious decisions—especially in terms of plot—on longer works. I've questioned everything—process, style, etc.—on almost every story I've written this year. The farther I stray from “crime,” the more I question my sanity.

Looking at your other work, you’ve also written in collaboration with graphic artists, including Charred Kraken and Expatriate. How is that work an extension of your prose writing, and to what degree is it a significant break?

In a lot of ways, writing comics seems easier than writing prose. For one, I'm much faster at it (I can write about an issue a week). It's much more of a conscious process—like solving a puzzle. Take a five- or six-issue arc, break that overall story down by issue, then down my page, and again by panel. I love this organizational bit, which I do entirely by hand. I really enjoy writing by hand. I start every story by hand, but usually transition to my laptop after several pages—once I have a feel for the tone/direction. So it's fun to do an entire draft by hand when working on comics.

More plans in that direction ahead, or what’s next for Christopher Irvin?

I have quite a few projects at various stages (mostly comics) and a novel that's due for a full rewrite. The novel is my priority for the winter months (it's sat for close to a year.) Between the novellas and the short story collection, it's become a bit of a monkey on my back. I want to prove to myself that I can complete a novel that reaches, or exceeds, the level of my short fiction.

25 November 2015

The Trail of Tears

by Brian Thornton

 A few years back I wrote a book called The Book of Bastards. The following piece on the Trail of Tears was originally intended for that book, but since it centered around a specific incident, rather than around the actions of an individual, it didn't really work thematically. Lately there's been a lot of talk amongst a number of individuals campaigning for the U.S. presidency about registering Muslims, limiting immigration, and basically treating an ethnic and religious minority as second class citizens. 

We've been here before.  

In light of these emerging and troubling facts, I've decided to include my piece on the scar of Cherokee Removal here, since it's about settlers' interactions with Native Americans, and I a descendant of both white southern settlers and displaced Cherokees, am thankful this holiday notions such as "Indian Removal" quite rightly seem unspeakably barbaric to our modern sensibilities.

 Here's hoping they always will. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you and all of yours!

So imagine that you’re a member of one of the tribes of Native Americans that lived in the eastern part of North America when European settlers first landed. Further imagine that instead of fighting the encroaching Europeans, you embraced their technological advances, their way of life, their concepts of God, even of having your own alphabet.

What if, in other words, you did what few if any other tribes tried to do: you tried to straddle a middle ground between your own indigenous culture while adopting what you and the other members of your tribe judged to be the best aspects of European culture? Surely the Europeans, especially those so eager to convert the “heathens” native to the continent, would be pleased and accept you and be impressed by your efforts to both become part of the new country they were building and yet still not lose the distinctiveness of your native traditions, right?

Not if you were the Cherokee Indians of North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.
Cherokee Chief John Ross

The Cherokees did it all: they dressed like the whites, they farmed like the whites, lived in frame clapboard houses like the whites, even bought and owned black slaves to help them bring in cash crops like the whites.

And in the end, none of it mattered.


Because the Cherokees had the bad grace to live on land where gold was discovered in the late 1820s. After that it was only a matter of time before the Cherokees, as had their neighbors the Creeks, Choctaws and Chickasaws before them, were pushed off their land.

Chief Justice John Marshall, who wrote the majority opinion
But the Cherokees had learned much in their study of the ins and outs of white culture. Like any good American who felt they were being treated unfairly, they got lawyers and filed law suits. When the state of Georgia tried to force a cession treaty on them where they “voluntarily” surrendered their lands in the southern Appalachian Mountains, the Cherokees sued. The case, known as Worcester v. Georgia, contested the sovereignty of an individual state with regard to either policing or parceling out Cherokee land, which by treaty right was considered sovereign territory.

This was tied up in court for years, until the Supreme Court heard the case and in 1832 ruled against the state and established as settled law the matter of whether Indians had legal rights to both occupy and control their own land. Several other court victories reinforcing the legal rights of Indians to their treaty lands followed.

Can't take him off of the twenty dollar bill quick enough!
In the end it was all for naught. The United States government is separated into three branches, and while the court system has every obligation to rule on and establish the laws, it is the job of the Legislative branch (Congress) to make appropriate laws in the first place, and of the Executive to enforce said laws. Neither the Congress nor the President (in this case Andrew Jackson, a man who initially made his reputation fighting tribes such as the Creek Confederacy as a general of Tennessee volunteer troops) lifted a finger to halt Cherokee removal.

Jackson is reputed to have said: “Mr. [U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice] Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.” He said no such thing. Instead he noted that “the decision of the Supreme Court has fell still born, and they find that they cannot coerce Georgia to yield to its mandate.”

The end result was the forced removal of most of the Cherokee Nation from their ancestral lands beginning in 1838 (some residual tribal members still live in the region, including a group living on a special reservation in western North Carolina). The route these two large groups of Cherokees followed westward through Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri into what is now Oklahoma became known in the Cherokee language as “nu na hi du na tlo hi lu i,” which translates as “the Trail Where They Cried.”

More than 4,000 of the 13,000 Cherokees who made the journey perished on the trail; some were infected with smallpox picked up from used blankets that were given to them by a Tennessee sanatorium that had recently suffered an outbreak of this disease against which the Indians had no immunity.

Truly a dark and ignoble chapter in the history of this country–one that continues to be a cautionary tale for successive generations to this very day.

Kinda puts the likes of Donald Trump and his "Muslim Registration" notions into a crystal clear light, doesn't it? Can't say it couldn't happen here, after all.

Because it happened before.

And we all know that "registration" is usually just the first step down a slippery slope toward what in the future will likely be branded a "cautionary tale."

Food for thought.

Happy Thanksgiving.

America First

Couple of things led to this week's musing. After my speculations about the Duke of Windsor's political sympathies. Eve Fisher suggested John Gunther's INSIDE EUROPE (1938) for a good picture of the rise of fascism, and then she wrote wrote a column about anarchist history - how none of it develops in a vacuum. This was followed by Jan Grape's piece on terrorism, and then there was Donald Trump's widely-reported prescription for a register of Syrian refugees, and bringing back waterboarding. It doesn't matter what you or I think of Trump, or what we think about torture, for that matter, or immigration policy, or radical salafist Islam. Certainly there's a debate to be had about national security, but that's another conversation. Right now, let's talk about the hysteria index. This doesn't exist in a vacuum, either, or outside historical context.

We've got a long track record in this country of what Harry Truman once called Creeping Meatballism. Examples go back to the Know-Nothings, a nativist, anti-Catholic political party of the 1850's. One constant is fear of the Other, as in the captive narratives that were popular after the Deerfield Raid in 1704, white women and children carried off by Indians, and much the same sentiment as No Irish Need Apply or the Chinese Exclusion Act or Jim Crow laws, or various incarnations of the Red Scare. It boils down to marketing skills, and the lowest common denominator.

Charles Lindbergh got famous three times. First, for his solo flight across the Atlantic, then when his son was kidnapped, and last, for his active engagement with the America First Committee, established in 1940 to keep the U.S. out of any European war. Although there was plenty of isolationist feeling in the country, or at least a strong bent toward neutrality, in the end America First damaged Lindbergh's reputation and later legacy, because he was not only an admirer of Germany and an apologist for Hitler's rearmament policies, but he ascribed support for the war to the Jewish influence. This echoed the anti-Semitism of the more notorious America Firsters - one, Laura Ingalls (not the LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE writer) went to jail for sedition after Pearl Harbor, because she'd taken money from Nazi spymasters.

Joe McCarthy might seem a little obvious, and more than a little below the salt, which is why he was written off as a blowhard at first, but there was nothing ridiculous about him, not if you got tarred with the Commie brush. The blacklist was used to settle a lot of scores, and nobody's motives were pure, so you wonder how come it provoked so much fevered melodrama. What gets lost, or eroded over time, is the actual experience people lived through, the climate of paranoia and lynch law. That's why survivors on both sides of the quarrel still hold a grudge.  

Generally speaking, I'd guess you could make a pretty good case that this kind of phenomenon arises in times of uncertainty. As a friend of mine once remarked, people don't have much tolerance for ambiguity. The more complicated and intractable the problem, the more likely it appears to encourage simple-minded posturing and wishful thinking. "The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter," Spade says, which holds true for any unserious argument.

The world, which seems to lie before us like a land of dreams, is in fact an increasingly ambiguous and treacherous place, and we don't have too many navigational aids. Is there any such animal as True North? I can't say. The difficulty with taking refuge or comfort in
certitude, is that the goalposts are gonna move. There's no sure thing. Orthodoxy is snake oil. The received wisdom is a high-mileage trade-in with too many previous owners. The evidence of your own senses is open to question. It depends what's in the drinking water. In other words, we've got a trust issue. Somebody comes down from the mountaintop, you have reason to wonder whether the air up there's too thin to breathe.

We prefer to imagine it's all those other guys who are so gullible, and open to suggestion. Truth is, there's probably a closet jihadi in each of us - not in the literal sense, the Islamist moral midgets, but in the sense that each of us harbors a need to be protected, inside the mouth of the cave, safe from predators. Told it's okay. Better perhaps to know too little than too much, and not to be challenged by a world that doesn't conform to our hermetic comforts. The jihadi is sealed off, at a remove. I'm sure there's a psychological term for it. Inversion? It's reassuring, and self-contained. It feeds off its own inner heat, it has no outside frame of reference.

We're talking, I believe, about a defense mechanism. A reaction to uncertainty and confusion, and the loss of confidence. An arrested mania, a retreat. Why not call it a pathology? There's a fascinating book called EXTRAORDINARY POPULAR DELUSIONS AND THE MADNESS OF CROWDS. We might reflect on this, in our fortress mentality. These are uneasy times. They conjure up bafflement.


24 November 2015

Don't Buy This Book

Birth smells.

That’s the opening line to my upcoming medical thriller, Stockholm Syndrome.

An agent’s assistant said it made her want to vomit. She forced herself to read the first chapter and still wanted to puke. So the agent sent his regrets.

Stephen Campbell, who interviewed me for Crimefiction.fm*, had a more measured reaction. “It’s interesting,” he said. “I never thought about how birth would smell, but of course you’re right.”

As a doctor, I should note that birth smells aren’t the worst. Most parents are unaware of them, because they stay at the “office end” (head of the bed) instead of the “business end” (delivering the baby), plus 99 percent of the time, they’re ecstatic about their healthy newborn, not sniffing for overtones of amniotic fluid.

But as a writer, I tell you exactly what I think. That means the average person may not be able to handle Stockholm Syndrome.

Is that a problem? Maybe. As the Indian teacher Chanakya pointed out BCE, “A person should not be too honest. Straight trees are cut first and honest people are screwed first.”

On the other hand, we have to take risks with our work if we want to create lasting excellence, as Edgar-nominated author Kris Rusch/Nelscott pointed out here

My advance medical readers reacted to Stockholm Syndrome like this:

From: Dr. Greg Smith
Subject: Hope Sze's triumphant return
Message: The best yet, I think. Dang thing kept me up til 3:30--been a while since a book did that.

Tracy VanDalen Bradley, Respiratory Therapist: I finished it in three days. You can’t read just one chapter.

Dr. Paul Irwin: God, you write great. Your mind/thought process is at least as peculiar as mine.

But can the non-medical reader handle a book about a hostage-taking on an obstetrics ward?
New York Times bestseller Dave Farland wrote, “I was completely hooked--an intriguing and introspective thriller.”
Author of The Freshman Murders and reknown computer scientist Gerald Weinberg posted an advance review on Kobo:
Here's a book that's easy to read, but hard to review.
It's a page-turner, thrilling while sensitive, super-serious while witty, and gutsy while insightful.
So why so difficult to review?
In the first place, I want to give my reader information about the story, but I don't want to give
anything away. No spoilers.
More than that, however, it makes me feel like an appraiser of fine property confronted with an
item for which there is nothing comparable. It's simply unlike anything else I've ever read.

Stockholm Syndrome. Not for the faint of heart or stomach. It may garner a lot of one-star reviews. Those used to really bother me, but a) I stopped reading them, and b) now I think they’re kind of funny. Like the ones for Susanna Moore's In the Cut, where more than one reader said they threw the book in the garbage because they didn’t want anyone else subjected to it.

If you want to decide for yourself about my book, I’ve posted the first chapters on my website, and you can enter the Goodreads Giveaway here.

I’m having a Facebook party December 1st  at 7-8 p.m. EST, with party favours, but foolishly set it as a private party, so friend me and message me if you want an invite here.

On December 6th, I’ll have a party at our local library in Cornwall. Theme: Swedish, for Stockholm. We’re going to wear blue and yellow and drink glögg.

Will anyone buy Stockholm Syndrome? Or will they just run away screaming?

*That interview will air December 2nd.

23 November 2015

Know Your Terrorist

Most of us are still reeling over the mass murders in Paris and in Mali this week. I'm upset by the Americans of all nationalities and religions and races wanting to close our borders and keeping anyone who is Muslim from entering especially refugees from Syria. But I don't think this forum is a place to get too political because we talk about mysteries and writing.
However, a friend of mine named Sharan Newman is a mystery writer who writes historical mysteries usually set in Medieval Times. She also writes non-fiction books. She researches her books meticulously and when I read anything she has written I feel I can understand and also trust her research is as true as possible. She has written several articles on Know Your Terrorist. One she had written this week caught my eye and I asked if I could use it for my blog. She agreed. Then in trying to locate that article, she found one she had written earlier and I think is more informative. So following is a wonderful article on the known terror groups who are in our immediate headlines and does a lot to explain who is who.

Know Your Terrorist

The recent tragic events in France have made it clear that most of us are a little vague on the different terrorist groups operating in the world today. Even the terrorists there weren’t sure who they were working for. When I realized that even they were confused, it seemed like a good idea to give a simplistic explanation of the major non-governmental terrorists so that the next time someone takes you hostage and says that they are from the Broccoli Liberation front, you can explain to them why they should kill you for another reason, rather than to free oppressed broccoli.

Here are the most active free-lance groups. In my next essay, I'll consider the governmental and corporate terrorist organizations that have created the more openly violent cadres.

As the link below and all the news reports seem to agree, Boko Haram, operating in Northeastern Nigeria, is the most brutal and least comprehensible of the active terrorists. They love mayhem, murder and rape and don’t seem to be making any ideological demands apart from a fuzzy connection to Islam. Originally a non-violent group that protested oppression by the Nigerian government, it grew to oppose any form of what it considers Western influence. This is why even Muslim children are killed or kidnapped at western-style schools. They say they are Islamic but, as with another group, ISIS/DAESH, they are imagining a mythical Islamic past. Actually, I think they are also imagining a mythical Africa derived from western films seasoned with Lord of the Flies.

For connected topics see: Nigerian Army, Nigerian Government, International Oil Cartels, Koch Brothers. A more academic explanation is here:

This is not the oldest group but one of the most visible. It began in the late 1980s in the wake of the years of Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. “With Soviet forces withdrawing …, the idea of a global jihad suddenly seems possible, and al Qaeda, literally “the Base,” is born. “We used to call the training camp al Qaeda,” bin Laden would later recall. “And the name stayed.”´ [sic] (http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/03/17/al-qaeda-core-a-short-history) Doesn’t that sound cozy?

Al-Qaeda was founded by Osama bin-Laden, born in 1957 to a Syrian mother and Yemeni father. The senior bin-Laden was a self-made millionaire contractor who became the major builder for the Saudi Arabian monarchy. PBS Frontline has posted a fascinating biography, written by one of bin-Laden’s followers, portraying him as a pious young man who was doing contracting in Afghanistan when the invasion of Kuwait began: “While he was expecting some call to mobilize his men and equipment he heard the news which transferred his life completely. The Americans are coming. He always describes that as a shocking moment. He felt depressed and thought that maneuvers had to change. Instead of writing to the king or approaching other members of the royal family, he started lobbying through religious scholars and Muslim activists.”  [sic]


Al-Qaeda was born because of the American support of the Saudis and vice-versa. Osama was considered a terrorist by the Saudis and, under him, A-Qaeda organized mutual support with the Taliban. “The leader of Taliban Mulla Omer was keen to meet Osama. He met him early 1997 after two TV interviews, Channel 4 and CNN.[!?] Mulla Omer expressed respect and admiration but requested him to have low profile…. Bin Laden noticed that the driving force in Taliban were Ulema (religious scholars). He made very good links with them and lobbied specifically for the subject of American forces in the Arabian Peninsula. He was able to extract a fatwah signed by some 40 scholars in Afghanistan sanctioning the use of all means to expel the American forces from the Peninsula. The issue of that fatwah was an asset to him inside Taliban domain. He felt that Ulema were at his back and he could go high profile after long silence.” (ibid)

“His relation with Taliban would best be understood if Taliban themselves are understood properly. First of all Taliban are not simply another Afghan faction supported by Pakistan. Taliban are sincere to their beliefs, a religiously committed group unspoiled by political tactics. They would never bargain with what they see as matters of principle. Bin Laden for them is a saint. He is a symbol of sacrifice for the sake of jihad. They see him as very rich Arab from the Holy Land who gave up his wealth and luxury to fight for the sake of his brother Muslims in Afghanistan.” (ibid)

I wish there were more such biographies.  It is essential for us to comprehend the rationale of the many people who support the terrorists. One problem we have is understanding why these terrorist leaders are so protected. If you read the whole article, it continues explaining why the Taliban and Osama were so revered. The author doesn’t mention bombings, murder, or the oppression of women and minorities, of course.

Even before Osama bin-Laden was killed, his grip on Al-Qaeda was slipping. Other groups in the Sudan, Nigeria and Syria, were not looking to them for leadership. Many, such as ISIS and Boko Haram, do not have a firm theological base other than, West and Jews = bad; our Islam = good.
See Taliban, George W. Bush, Oil Cartels

Of the Muslim-associated terrorist groups, this is the most interesting to me because, unlike the others, there is a medieval flavor about it. Sadly, as I mentioned above, they don’t seem to have any historians among them, so that the caliphate they plan is drawn from fantasy. They do appear to have some serious and competent Muslim scholars in their ranks, but they haven’t made it clear what school of Shari’a law they are working from. Of course, few people outside of fundamentalist Islam know that there is more than one branch. Have you ever noticed how many problems occur because no one thought to consult an expert in history?

ISIS grew from the Syrian al-Qaeda sector as a result of the Syrian civil war. The reasons for that war, beyond the Arab Spring, have been minutely dissected without any consensus. Suffice to say that ISIS is the richest and best-organized of the Islamist groups operating today. As with the first two groups, they succeeded because a dictator or other person in power was tormenting a minority group and they were able to come in and fill a vacuum. In this case, they began as rebels against the government of Bashir al Assad, which is not only dictatorial but heretical in their eyes. They state that they have set up is an Islamist Caliphate. The last Caliphate in the area was defeated by the Ottoman Empire over 600 years ago so the blueprint is rather old. Both the Abbasid and Umayyad Caliphates in the 8th through 11th centuries tended to be fairly easy going about minorities, even Islamic ones. I believe that, like Boko Haram, ISIS has been taken over by the psychopathic wing of the party. Their treatment of the Yazidi is an example of this. It’s not likely that their Caliphate will resemble the ancient ones.

Much has been made of the foreign volunteers coming to fight for ISIS. Some of these fighters arriving from other countries are devout Muslims who may be horrified by what they find. Indications are that others come in a spirit of adventure or from a feeling of failure at home. But too many recruits have come because they love having power and not having any rules of behavior. For historians out there, think French Revolution.

There are many other terrorist groups that have no religious attachments. Most of these are political or territorial. ETA, or Basque liberation, has been attempting to find a peaceful solution recently as has the socialist FARC, in Columbia. Greece has the far-right Golden Dawn; Ireland, the reformed Sinn Fein. All of these have used violence and terrorism in their quest to achieve their goals.
There have been many explanations for the success of the recent Islamist terrorists. Some say that it is a relic of European colonialism. Others that the terrorists are a reaction to oppressive governments and cultures of corruption and bribery at every level. Well, I don’t think any of these things helped. Certainly, many of the most violent groups are fighting against leaders who have ignored and oppressed sections of the society.

After much consideration, it seems to me that we and much of the media are looking at the problem from the wrong direction. We see the horrific actions of ISIS and Boko Haram, but these are distracting us from much more widespread and pernicious terrorism.

As I was working on this, I began to realize that, while we are busy trying to stop murderers, rapists and torturers, the people who are really responsible for their actions are thousands of miles away, moving pieces on metaphorical chess boards.
I do think it's fantastic to know quite a number of mystery writers, especially when you know one who has already done the huge amount of research that you thought you were going to have to do.

Thank you, Sharan, for allowing me to use your hard work here. Sharan is off to spend a month is Paris, doing research and although some folks ask if she might rethink going to France now, she reminds everyone...if we stay home and hide, the terrorists win. We can't let them rule our lives.

22 November 2015

Long Shots

© MGM and Kotaku
By happy happenstance, I found myself in conversation with our resident filmologist John Floyd discussing the single-camera, continuous tracking shot that opens Spectre. This phrase, ‘single-camera, continuous tracking shot’ or SCCS, refers to using one camera only to follow the action even as it moves uninterruptedly, sometimes over relatively great distances. (The 5½-minute tracking shot of the beach landing in Atonement stretched over a quarter of a mile.) Such a technique gives a sweeping sense of place and an immediacy of time.

Sure, your cousin Jenny shoots with a single camera all the time with her cell phone. Great Uncle Spassky did it before her with his compact video recorder. Of course he forgot he left the camera on during that inglorious argument during Louise’s wedding and Jennifer’s phone was confiscated by Old Mrs. Henpecker in English class after she documented Tonya Thurible really wasn’t wearing undies. But to be sure, they weren’t making epics to be shown at international film festivals, let alone your local Cineplex.

Plot Shots

You may have heard variations of single-camera, continuous tracking shot in connection with last year’s acclaimed Birdman. Virtually the entire movie appeared as one uninterrupted shot.

    Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu …

Iñárritu used a number of extremely clever cinematic tricks to fool the eye, visual sleight-of-hand, sneaky editing, and a smidgen of digital magic. He learned from a master.

I’d love to word-playfully tie Birdman in with The Birds, but my target is a different movie entirely, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948). Candidly, I appreciate it more as a film study than a film story. Hitch innovated two things: For the first time, he filmed in color. And, for the first time in a major movie, he elevated to an art form single-camera shooting…

… including cheating.

At least five times, Hitchcock used a fade-to-black technique, standard in films with cut scenes, but here the lens loomed close to the back of an actor’s dark jacket and when it pulled back and swung right, the audience found itself viewing a newly set-up scene without realizing it.

As mentioned last week, the opening scene in Spectre uses a fast-moving, single shot technique, and like Rope and Birdman, they cheated as well when entering and leaving the hotel room, and again when the building collapses. The hotel suite was on a sound stage not in Mexico, but London. We can forgive them for that.

On the Move

Quentin Tarantino’s often flawed story-telling enchants me less than his film techniques. Kill Bill was no exception and here the show became fascinating. As continuous filming moved about the building, stagehands rushed to remove and replace walls and lay in a camera ramp on the fly. That is old-fashioned movie magic.

Tarantino’s efforts sometimes remind me of Japanese martial arts epics. Kung-fu cameras love long tracking sequences, the bigger the better. While the action may appear cartoonish, the cameraman– and the audience– get a workout. On at least one epic, filming stopped so they could replace an exhausted cameraman.

In The Shining, Stanley Kubrick employed the recently invented Steadicam. Kubrick and the camera’s inventor, Garrett Brown, continued developing and refining the Steadicam and its potential. The result was one of The Shining’s most famous scenes featuring the plastic tricycle. A camera, mounted mere centimetres above the floor, followed little Danny as he pedaled his Big Wheels trike through the hotel hallways.

My favorite example is Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil, made in 1958, a decade after Hitchcock’s Rope. I rarely watch movies more than once, but I’ve studied that opening sequence many times.

Rope, like Rear Window, was largely shot within a single room, but Touch of Evil sweeps through a city, even from one country to another. Welles had a reputation for blowing budgets and schedules, not to mention cars. When studio execs heard Welles spent an entire day rehearsing the opening shot, they rocketed someone off to give him hell. But Welles had fooled the studio. That one amazing shot put him days ahead of his shooting schedule.

I rewatched it after seeing Spectre. Clearly, Touch of Evil majorly influenced Spectre’s director, Sam Mendes.

Lest you think this type of immersive camera work is reserved for the big screen, season one episode four of True Detective contains a heart-thumping scene where Rusty Cohle, embedded with white supremacist bikers in a black, gang-ridden, crack house neighborhood, tries to get himself and an uncooperative neo-nazi out alive, while protecting innocents, especially a black child. Look for a possible cut in a black screen when the camera swoops up to frame a helicopter and then drops to pick up Cohle again.

It seems directors of our crime genres love single-camera, continuous tracking shot. I’ve mentioned several examples, and you can find others documented here and here and here. But single-camera shooting is showing up another place without a crime in sight… music videos.

Droning On

Take, for example, the group OK Go, known for continuous single-camera shoots as well as loyal fans in North America and Japan who participate in their intricate videos.

They came to my attention through ‘This Too Shall Pass’, known as the Rube Goldberg vid. (A Rube Goldberg Machine is the equivalent of a Heath Robinson Contraption in the UK and eine Was-passiert-dann-Maschine or Nonsens-Maschine in Germany. Australia’s Bruce Petty inventions came much later.) Watch the video; you won’t be disappointed.

Most of OK Go’s videos feature single camera shots, but in this intriguing video, they use a drone. The result is … uplifting.

How Girls Do It or Saving the Best for Last

Not sure how I stumbled upon it, but I’ve watched ‘The Voice Within’ fifteen or twenty times. It’s fun studying the old theatre, trying to figure out how the crew accomplished the camera work while unwrapping power cables as they moved around. (And Christina Aguilera doesn’t look exactly awful either.)

And that’s it for now. Some movie examples like The Player I haven’t seen and I didn’t include Gravity in my list because so much CGI was involved. Other than Kill Bill, my examples have shortchanged martial arts movies, not because they’re terrible, but because I’m less familiar with the genre.

Feel free to chime in. What are your favorites? Let us hear from you.

Our friend ABA sent in a pair of articles relating to last week’s article about James Bond and Spectre. Thanks, ABA!

Notes specific to Spectre
For example, the movie-making wrecked some £24-million in cars, about $36-million dollars. The entire film cost £250-million or about $380-million.

Notes about Bond movies
For example, both Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino wanted to direct Bond films. Whew! 007 might just have dodged a bullet there.