21 September 2018

My Father Died Today

by Mary Fernando

My father died today and I am left here, with my keyboard and memories. 


My father was born in Ceylon in the 1930s, but he had no sense of the place or time he landed on this planet. He was always immersed in books -philosophy, the classics and his beloved biology- and he had little regard for the social norms that were simply invisible to him.

My father got his PhD in Biology at Oxford University, at Christ Church College, in the 1950s. When my son asked him about Oxford, my father - one of the few non-whites there - did not comment on the prestige of Oxford, or the lack of diversity. That was not my father’s style. He was unfailing honest, so he talked about what mattered to him: how, as a poor student, he was able to buy so many of his beloved books at second hand stores and how he had his first sexual relationship there. Yes. That is what he said. That sealed the deal for my son - he was going to university.

My father was born into a wealthy family, one of a long line of doctors and scientists. Growing up in Ceylon, a country with a rigid social stratification, he had a servant whom he chatted with and respected. My father took him on collecting trips and was amazed at his fine mind. We knew him only as ‘Dr. Johnson’ because that is what my father called him. Whenever we returned to Ceylon, Dr Johnson would accompany my father on his collecting trips and lectures.  It was not until I was older that I realized that Dr Johnson was not a professor and he was different than the famous scientists that I often met. Dr. Johnson had no qualifications - not even a high school diploma - and as an adult I found out that my father had given him some family land, helped him build a house and sent him money every month to allow him to educate his children and live a life of ideas. ‘Social justice’ wasn't in my father’s vocabulary - he just did what he felt was right. Whether he was sitting with Maasai in the plains of Africa, or world famous scientists in the halls of a university, he was the same - it was people that he loved and he remained blind to the differences that others saw.

He fell in love with my mother, and stayed in love with her for 62 years. In my mother he found someone as oblivious of norms as he was: she was an MD/PhD with a passion for Parasitology. My father - with his eyes on science -  missed the chauvinistic memos of the 1950s. In my mother he saw a mind that he thought was finer than his. He supported her through her career. He also felt he was a better cook, so he cooked for her all his life, leaving her free to do her work. He supported and fought for many women in science in his lifetime - it was their minds, not their sex, that he focused on and championed.



He took our family around the world, through Africa, South East Asia, the Americas and Europe. He felt at home wherever he was, as long as he could talk bugs and fish, eat good food and share stories and laughter.

Deeply moved by democracy and fairness, my father had no tolerance for political despots. I know this not from what he said but from what he did. He took our family - often at young ages - through dangerous countries in search of fish and bugs. He faced men with machine guns and machetes with equal calm. He had a job to do and we simply went with him. Nothing speaks of his boldness as well as when he was in Singapore, on his way to the Philippines. We were not with him but called to tell him that the Philippines was in the middle of a coup. He said: If I stopped my work for every coup, I would never get anything done. My father felt strongly that political despots, dictators, and even civil war, were transient. Science, that careful, meticulous work of men and women around the world, that is what would endure and he would do his small part to contribute. Looking back - he was right. The despots are now dead or overthrown. The work of the men and women of science has lived on.

My father’s sense of fairness, and his support of my mother, occasionally made his life miserable. We were traveling during his sabbatical year, were in Malaysia, and my mother asked my father to bring some samples from chickens when he visited Burma (now Myanmar). In my father’s mind, if you took anything you paid. So, he offered to pay to collect chicken feces - chicken shit -in an isolated village.  As he was depositing samples into carefully labeled bottles of formaldehyde, he looked up to see many villagers, all carry bags, some of them in various states of degeneration, all filled to the brim with various animal feces. The word must have gone around the village that there was an odd man paying for shit. My father could see how poor these people were and so he did what few people would do - he left with his biological van filled with shit and his wallet empty. He told us this story over a meal, coupled with laughter.

Oddly, for a man of science, one thing my father would never accept is the death of people he cared about. He refused to go to any funeral. Ever. He simply could not bear it.

My father taught me to eat a good meal with people I care about and find a good book to read - every day of my life. He taught me to find every person, in every country, as comfortable as home. He understood - ahead of his time - that the world is a very small place. He taught me that chauvinism and racism are to be ignored in the face of larger, more important pursuits.

Unlike my father, I do go to funerals and I will go to my father’s funeral - my second this year. Why? Because my father - literally - gave me the world.

20 September 2018

Fun & Games With Victorian English Slang

by Brian Thornton

My friend Michael recently had a birthday. He chose to celebrate it by hosting an open house, insisting on no gifts; he just wanted our good company.

So, of course I brought him a gift.

And I ought to have known that his "no gifts" dictum only ran one way, because he had two in hand to give to us: a novel for my wife and a book of Victorian English slang for me, the guy who writes stuff set during the Victorian era (mid-to-late 19th century, for those of you playing at home.).

And I'm here to share the wealth: or at least some highlights! Today's entry will mine the listings for A, B, and C.

All of the phrases and their definitions below are taken from Passing English of the Victorian Era: A Dictionary of Heterodox English, Slang and Phrase, by British mystery writer (and creator of one the first female detectives) James Redding Ware (1832–1909, wrote under the pseudonym Andrew Forrester). As nearly as I can tell, this compendium was compiled over many years. It was first published shortly after his death in 1909. Many of the passages contained herein would be a natural fit in such contemporary satirical works as Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary (1911).

Warning: STRANGE (and off-color, inappropriate, and, and, and...) STUFF AHEAD. Some of this makes the entries at urbandictionary.com seem straightforward!

Acknowledge the Corn: Adroit confession of minor offence to intensify the denial of the major offence: e.g., 'Sir, I believe you are after my wife–and you certainly pocketed my meerschaum last Sunday evening at 10.30.' To which the answer might be: 'Well, I acknowledge the corn–I took the pipe by incident, so to speak; but as to Mrs. H., I'm as innocent as the skipping lamb.' Said to arise from an ordinary horse-lifting case in the West of the U.S.A. The victim was accused of stealing four horses from one point and four feeds of corn from another for the said four horses. 'I acknowledge the corn,' said the sufferer–but legend says he was lynched in spite of the admission.

Adam and Eve's togs: Nakedness.

Afternoonified: Smart.

Agreeable Rattle: (ab. 1840) A chattering young man.

Alderman hung in Chains: A fat turkey decked with garlands of sausages.

Alls: Waste pot at public houses.

Blue Pig: (Maine, U.S.A.). Whisky. Maine is a temperance state, therefore liquor has to be asked under various strange names, which have generally been satirically distinguished by a strange contradiction in their component parts, as in this instance. The phrase common in Liverpool.

Bob, Harry and Dick: (Rhyming, 1868) Sick–disguised way of admitting a crushed condition, the morn following a heavy drink. (See Micky.)

Bohemian Bungery: (Strand District) Public-house patronized by struggling authors. Bohemian having been introduced by Murger for a fighting author, artist, or musician, and the tea-pot brigade having dubbed a licensed victualler a bung, from that adjunct of a beer barrel–this phrase became one of the results of time. The Nell Gwynne was once a Bohemian Bungery.

Boiled Owl: (People's) Drunk–as a boiled owl. Here there is no common sense whatever, nor fun, wit, nor anything but absurdity. Probably another instance of a common name being changed to common or even uncommon word. May be drunk as Abel Doyle–which would suggest an Irish origin like many incomprehensible proverbs too completely Anglicized.
    It is a well-known fact in natural history that a parrot is the only bird which can sing after partaking of wines, spirits or beer; for it is now universally agreed by all scientific men who have investigated the subject that the expression, 'Drunk as a boiled owl' is a gross libel upon a highly respectable teetotal bird which, even in its unboiled state, drinks nothing stronger than rain-water. –D.T. 12th December, 1892.

Boko: (Common) A huge nose. Corruption of 'beaucoup', the 'o' being national and preferred to the French 'ou'.

Boko-smasher: (Street) For elucidation of this elegant occupation see Boko.

Bone: (London, 1882) A thin man. Hence–'The bone has made a remark.' (Surrey Pantomime, London, 1882)

Bone-shaker: (Youths, 1870 on) The earliest bicycle–which tried to break bones incessantly.

Cart: (Peoples' 18th cent.) A metaphor for the gallows–to which terminal its victims were jolted in a cart. Still heard in provincial places–'You be on'y fit for the cart'–doubtless now used without the least idea of its original meaning. In London the cart tavelled, only too often, several miles from Newgate to Tyburn Tree, whose site was that of the Marble Arch in Hyde Park. Used by all the dramatists in the last century.

Castor: (Street) A hat. Of course from the first hats being made from the fur of the castor, or beaver; passed down to the streets, where any hat is called a castor. Superseded by Gossamer.

Casualty: (Peoples') A black eye. From the first Soudan War, when slight injuries were cabled under this head.

Cat: (Thieves') Woman in general, and a bad one in particular. Suggested probably by her smoothness, the uncertainty of her temper, and the certainty of her claws.

Chamber of Horrors: (Soc) The name of the corridor or repository in which Messrs Christie (King Street, St James's) locate the valueless pictures that are sent to them from all parts of the world as supposed genuine old masters; sent, as a rule, with directions to sell at certain prices most preposterously fixed very high. Phrase borrowed from Madame Tussaud's wax-work, where this chamber is coloured black, and filled with effigies of murderers.

Chapper: (L. London) To drink.

Chestnut: (Amer. Eng.) An old joke offered as new. Brought to England officially in 1886 by A. Daly's Company at the Strand Theatre in 'A Night Off', where the heroine tells the hero the  play was found in an 'old chest'–to which he replies, 'Very old–chestnut!'

More 'chestnuts' in two weeks!

19 September 2018

Lost in the Stacks for 41 Years, Part 2

My published works.  Photo by Tamara Belts
by Robert Lopresti

This is my second column celebrating my retirement by reviewing high and lowlights of my career as a librarian.

My third professional job was at a university.  I was still a government documents librarian.  One day an older community member wandered into my department.

"So you get federal documents here."

"That's right."

"Do you have classified publications?"

I laughed.  "I can barely get them to send us tax forms."
                                                         


But let's talk about something they did send us.  One day David, my assistant,  placed one newly-arrived publication on my desk, as opposed to the usual location.

I figured out why pretty quickly.  A the bottom of the cover it said: FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT USE ONLY.  There are certain kind of publications that are not supposed to be sent to depositories, and that is one of them.

What's disturbing is that we are thousands of miles from the GPO.  Many libraries must have received that publication before we did, but David was the first to spot the problem.  Hmm.

The publication was about an organization that does not approve of certain activities and allegedly had a habit of blowing up buildings in which those activities took place.  This publication explained to law enforcement officials the methods these people had allegedly been using.

This was before email so I called the GPO.  "You didn't mean to send us that publication."

"Why not?"

"Because it's full of diagrams of explosive devices.  It's basically a manual for bombmakers."

"We'll get back to you."

Later that day they did.  "You're right.  Destroy it."  Now, I should explain that any publication the federal government sends for free to a depository library remains federal property.  They can demand it back or tell us to shred it if they want.  (What they can't do, minus a court order, is ask who has read it. Librarians are fussy about that.)

So  I destroyed the publication.

A few days later I got a letter from GPO, addressed to all depository libraries.  It said that the publication was sent by mistake and we should return it immediately.

Back to the phone.  "You told me to destroy it.  How am I supposed to return it?"

"We'll get back to you."

They did.  "Send us a letter explaining how you destroyed it."

I was sorely tempted to say "I used the method shown on page seven."  But who needs that kind of trouble?

               

I have lost track of how many offices I had in this library.  At least eight.  At one point my desk was in an open area.  A fellow employee told me that as a supervisor I needed an enclosed office.  "In case you need to yell at someone."

The view from my last office.

And speaking of moving, I supervised the shifting of the 200,000 government publications at least five times.  On the day we finished one move we had the windows open and a squirrel hopped in.  He went straight to the A 13's: the publications of the Forest Service.  "Boy," I thought, "if only the students could find their way as easily as you!"



I wish like hell I could tell you the exact day this happened.  It was one of the most significant dates in my career.  I was at the reference desk and a man asked "Do you have the German railroad timetables?"

"Wow," I said.  "No.  The best I can do is give you the phone number for the German consulate in Seattle.  But wait!  There's something brand new called the World Wide Web and we can access it from this computer."

Google didn't exist yet.  I think I went to Altavista.  He typed in the words German railroad timetables, in German.

And boom, there they were, your choice of English and German.  Up-to-date and free.

"Okay," I said.  "Right now, this moment, my job just changed completely."

And it had.  For example, my library no longer has a reference desk because people don't come with easy questions anymore, the kind Google can answer.  Now we specialize in helping with longer research projects.  But students still need help.



A student had been asked to find out everything she could about someone - anyone - who lived in our county in 1880.  I took her to the microfilm reels for the 1880 census, showed her how to use them and went back to my desk.

Soon she reappeared with a question: "What's a demimonde?"

I knew the answer but, following the old rule,  I took her to a dictionary to check that it indeed meant prostitute.

She had found an entire building full of demimondes: a brothel.  She was thrilled.

I told this to another librarian who nodded gravely.  "In Seattle they called them seamstresses."


Most of the librarians served as liaisons for academic departments.  Among other things, that meant teaching sessions on library resources.  I had recently taken that role for a new subject when I was strolling across campus and a professor saw me.  His eyes lit up.  "Rob!  Looking forward to your teaching my class tomorrow!"

"Me too!" I assured him.  Then I rushed back to my office and checked my calendar.  No mention of a class.  Had I reserved a classroom?  No.

So who was this professor who was expecting me?  I knew some of the profs in that department by sight, but not all.  This was before the time when you could find a picture of everyone in the world by going to the Web.  (I especially like LudditeHermitGallery.com)  I narrowed it down to about four.

I called the department secretary (if department secretaries ever went on strike at any university, the place would collapse within a day).  "You gotta help me," I begged.

Between us we figured out it had to be Professor X.  I sent him a grovelling apology.  Which class was I supposed to be teaching, and what did he want me to cover?

He wrote back with his own apology.  He had gotten me confused with a different Rob.

Whew.





In my city we only get measurable snow in about half the winters.  1996 was one of them.  Woke up one December morning to well over a foot of white stuff. My city didn't own a snowplow.

I normally bike to work; that wasn't going to happen. Driving was out and the buses weren't running.  So I walked the three miles.

All the way I had my headphones on and the disk jockey kept listing an ever longer list of closures.  I should explain that back then the university seemed to take a perverse pleasure in staying open whatever the conditions were.  They always sent out po-faced statements urging personnel to decide for themselves if it was safe to come to work, but they wouldn't close (so workers who didn't show up wouldn't get paid).

So I am almost finished with my two-hour trudge and am starting up the hill to the campus proper when the DJ says: "Here are the closings."  Dramatic pause.  "The university is open.  That's it.  Everything else in town is closed.  When the world ends the school paper will be the only place that reports it because the university will refuse to close."

The boss bought pizza for everyone who showed up.  (And someone actually drove out to pick it up.)  The next day the university closed and the DJ bragged that he shamed them into it.


                                                     

One day a young woman told me she was having trouble finding sources for a paper.  I had developed a quick technique for finding out how far a researcher had gotten and I applied it.

"Have you tried Database X?"

"No."

"Have you tried Database Y?"

"No."

"Have you tried Database Z?"

She burst into tears and ran out of the room.  I couldn't coax her back.

I never used that technique again.

                                          

One of our regular patrons was a Vietnam vet who was having trouble with the VA.  As he told the story he wanted to receive disability payments because his time over there drove him crazy.  The VA's defense was - again, according to him -- that he was already crazy when the army drafted him.  Not a great argument.

A member of the public is welcome to use our collection and anyone could borrow our federal publications, if they showed ID.  This veteran wanted to borrow some but he refused to show his ID because he thought the VA might be tracking what books he read.

I told him that didn't match my experience of reality but I respected his right to his own.  Nonetheless, he couldn't borrow the documents.

He used them, over several years.  I don't know how his case turned out but he started taking better care of himself and bringing in fellow vets whom he helped use the docs.  I counted that as a win.

                          

The worst and the best: someone stole more than 600 pages out of our old Congressional Serial Set volumes.  After more than a year and a half of sleuthing by various people at our university we got the evidence that led to the thief's conviction.  You can read all about it here and here.



One day I picked up the book on Occupations from the 1920 Census and read about "Peculiar occupations for women."  The introduction explained that census takers had reported women in a lot of occupations that women obviously could not have been working in, like masons and plasterers.  And so, the census bosses explained solemnly,  the records were carefully examined and if they could figure out what the mistake was they corrected it.  Or should I say if they figured out what the "mistake" was they "corrected" it.  And how many female pioneers in their fields were erased from history?

Years later, that led to my first nonfiction book.



One night I took my family to the best ice cream parlor in town.  The young man behind the counter said: "Last year you helped me with a research paper.  Not only did I get an A but the teacher kept it to use as an example.  Your ice cream is on me."

The super chocolate tasted particularly sweet that night.


 Back in January I taught a workshop on library resources and, as usual, handed out a quick feedback form.  One student wrote: "You introduced me to subjects I didn't even know to ask about."

My pleasure, friend. 


I would like to end by saying something I have not said in forty-one years on the job: Shhhhh!









18 September 2018

Put Some Feeling Into It

by Barb Goffman

Authors often hear the advice to write what you know. The advice is usually offered to make sure the author gets plot details right. You wouldn't want to write a story about a police officer if you know nothing about police procedure. You wouldn't want to write about skydiving if you know nothing about the sport. Getting details wrong annoys readers who knows those details. And you don't want that. You want readers to turn pages without noticing, to be enveloped by the story, not disengaged by errant details.

The beauty of such a predicament is you can find out what you need to know. You can interview police officers. You can go on ride-alongs. You can watch skydivers. You even could jump out of a plane. (The emphasis here is on you. I would not jump out of a plane for any amount of money. I like it when my stomach isn't six feet below the rest of my body.) Ultimately you can learn the information you need to provide a true reflection of whatever it is you choose to write about.

But correct plot details will only get you so far. If you want to write a story that readers love, you need to write characters that are real, and that means characters that react like real people do. This is what readers are talking about when they say they don't like two-dimensional characters. They don't want to read about someone who's all good or all evil. After a while, such characters become predictable and boring. Readers want to see the shades of gray. They want to see characters acting like real people do, with all the emotion that entails.

And the good part about all this? You don't need to interview people or go on ride-alongs to get these details right, though you can. (And is there a "right"? More on that below.) To get emotions and emotional reactions right, all you need are two things: a good imagination--which I hope you have if you're a writer--and you need the special sauce of solid writing, empathy.

First imagination: A good imagination will enable you to understand, to truly picture, whatever scenario you're writing about. And I don't mean to simply imagine the setting. I mean imagine who your character is in relation to the conflict in which you are placing him or her in that setting. You could write a setup involving an avalanche, for instance. A character who is an expert rock-climber would react differently to it than one who is a first-timer.

Now once you've got your characters established and your setup and conflict imagined, empathy enters the picture. You may have never been in an avalanche, but can you imagine how someone in that situation might be feeling? I hope so. Dig deep if you have to. Not everyone will react the same way, even first-timers. But react they will in some way. Some will be terrified. Some will be practical. Some might even be invigorated. If you truly know your characters, you should be able to empathize with each one and understand how he or she would react to different situations in thoughts, words, and actions. Showing those thoughts and how they impact the dialogue and actions is what brings the character truly to life.

That brings me to the question I asked above. Can you get emotions wrong? Not if you make them seem realistic. Not if you let the reader understand where the character is coming from. Show a character whose mother just died and he merely shrugs, and your reader might think the character is one-dimensional. They might have a gut reaction that no one would act that way. But if you show the conflict in the character's head, letting the reader understand why he's shrugging, then that action can become believable. And the character is suddenly real.

I dug deep, trying to make my characters real, when I wrote my newest short story, "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast," which came out last week in this year's Bouchercon anthology, Florida Happens. My main character's husband has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. I've never been in that position, but I've watched friends and family dealing with a parent with such a diagnosis. So I've seen what the reactions can be. But even if I hadn't had this experience, I could imagine it. A character could be horrified, saddened, determined to do the right thing, or some or all of those things at onceor have some other reaction. If you can empathize with who your character is, you can understand how he would react to the situation he finds himself in. And then you need to show it in thoughts and dialogue, as well as actions.

In my pot roast story, my main character, Bev, becomes determined to care for her husband, Charles, in their home, despite that her doctor recommends otherwise. If I had just had Bev decide to care for Charles at home by herself without showing her reasoning, some readers might have gotten aggravated with Bev (or with me), thinking that Bev is reacting unrealistically or stupidly. But I do show Bev's thoughts in the story:

"I was determined to care for Charles in our home for as long as I could. He was my husband. My love. I owed him that."


Four simple sentences, but suddenly Bev's actions make sense. They are believable because the reader can understand where Bev is coming from.

There are a number of other things that happen in the story that might be hard to believe if you didn't understand where the characters were coming from. That's true for most fiction, books and movies.

In Gone With The Wind (not sure why this particular movie came to mind, but here it is), when Scarlet helps Melanie give birth, it might seem unbelievable considering how selfish Scarlet is and how much it must bother her that Melanie is giving birth to Ashley's son, but she does help. And the reader/viewer buys Scarlet's actions because the reader/viewer understands that Scarlet is doing it for a selfish reason, to look good for Ashley, but also for some non-selfish reasons: despite her best intentions, Scarlet has come to care for Melanie and some small bit of conscience is trying to push its way to her surface.


In Casablanca, Rick hated Ilsa for leaving him in Paris. He didn't know why she did it. But once he learned her reasons, he could understand because he could empathize with her. And suddenly she wasn't two-dimensional to him or to the viewer. And that made the story all the more interesting.

So if you want to create characters that readers want to follow, characters that readers love, get to know your characters well and then imagine how each of them would react to the events of your story and then show those reactions. It's the reactions that bring the characters to life. It's the reactions that make them real.

Authors, have you had a book or story that particularly resonated with you or with readers because you created a character that felt particularly real? What was it? And what was it about the character that stood out?

And readers, have you read any books or stories that affected you especially and unexpectedly because the characters felt so true to life? What was one and why?

And finally, if you want to read more about Bev and Charles, you can buy Florida Happens in ebook or trade paperback. Here's a link to the Amazon version. And here's a little more about the story:

"The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" is about aging with dignity. Bev and Charles live in a retirement community near the Everglades. Their home looks out on a lake in which an alligator named Romeo lives. The couple has always loved watching Romeo. But now Charles has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and Romeo has become a source of stress. And these two don't need more stress. When Bev gets injured, she hires an aide to help care for combative Charles. But then items start to go missing, and Bev doesn't know who she can depend on. A friend suggests the aide isn't trustworthy, but Bev begins to wonder if the real person she can't trust is herself.

17 September 2018

Who Wrote It?

by Steve Liskow

When an anonymous "senior administration official" published an op ed in the New York Times two weeks ago, he (or possibly they ) set off another firestorm in the current presidency. Countless articles and online posts have tried to identify the author(s) and the suspects range from Mike Pence to Dan Coates to Steve Bannon, and one even suggests Trump wrote it himself, which I seriously doubt.

Hand-writing analysis has been with us for even longer than the "forensic linguistics" that people are using to identify this writer. But there are stumbling blocks to the approach in this case. It's a small sample and we don't have anything else we can compare it to. We need another article on a similar subject of about the same length by each of the 100 (I love that!) suspects to make a meaningful decision.

The experts look at how certain words are used, how a writer punctuates and uses paragraphs, and many other clues. The good ones claim the science is almost as solid as DNA, but that may be pushing it. More than one expert has pointed out that we don't know how much the Times altered words, phrasing or punctuation to bring the piece in line with its own style guides.

In any case, while there are writers who had a distinctive and usually recognizable style, such as Hemingway and Faulkner, both of whom had contests involving people writing a pastiche of their work, there are others who change style and voice often. Laura Lippman comes to mind. Some writers have been identified even when they use a pseudonym. Patrick Juola, presently at Duquesne University, used forensic linguistics to prove that J. K. Rowling wrote The Cuckoo's Calling, even though the name on the book cover was Robert Galbraith. Gary Taylor boosted his reputation as a Shakespearean by identifying an unattributed (and not very good) poem to the Bard.

When I was still directing plays, I had a reputation as a minor-league expert on Shakespeare. I have read most of the plays several times, acted in a dozen of them, and directed still others. While teaching, I assigned fourteen different plays at one time or another.
 In 1990, Charles Hamilton published a text that he claimed was Shakespeare's lost play Cardenio, basing his conclusion on handwriting analysis, which is problematic because authorities argue over which of several samples really is Shakespeare's hand--if any of those samples we have really is his own. Hamilton said The Second Maiden's Tragedy, credited to Thomas Middleton, was really the text of Cardenio, possibly co-authored by Shakespeare and John Fletcher.

I read the play and disagreed. Thomas Middleton wrote a play called The Witch, which Shakespeare borrowed heavily from for the witch scenes in Macbeth. Shakespeare and Fletcher collaborated near the end of Shakespeare's career, and Cardenio--inspired by a section of Don Quixote, which was published in English in 1612--didn't fit what Shakespeare was producing at that point. I say this as someone who devoured John Barton's and Cicely Berry's books on how Shakespeare used language because they helped me direct. So does the First Folio.

Cardenio was supposedly written between The Tempest and All Is True (Henry VIII), just after The Winter's Tale and Cymbeline.  I've acted in and directed separate productions of The Winter's Tale (about 20 years apart) and participated in two productions of The Tempest. Compared to them, the language in Cardenio is clumsy and immature. The cast is much smaller than in any of Shakespeare's other plays (remember, bit players often played several roles), and the structure is even more truncated than Macbeth, which is complete but always feels like something's been cut. Even on his own, John Fletcher was better than this. So was Kit Marlowe. So were the Earl of Oxford, the Earl of Derby and Francis Bacon.


Truthfully, the authorship is fine topic for yet another graduate thesis, but I don't care who wrote the plays as long as good directors and actors continue to perform them for the rest of us.

Same with the New York Times op ed.

I don't care as much about who wrote the piece as I do about the admission that the White House staff is undermining Trump's actions out of self-interest instead of taking the appropriate steps to invoke the 25th Amendment for the Greater Good.

16 September 2018

Truth in Advertising 1

by Leigh Lundin

Craig’s List
In an unusual local ad, a young lady offered men’s shaving services for free, beards and mustaches not included. Curious, I queried the offerer, who politely wrote back.
    She’s an Orlando UCF student. Her privates shaving service really is free– not even tips allowed. Her clients are mannerly, and she finds her hobby challenging, entertaining, and stimulating.
    Maybe it’s just me, but why not? I can’t pinpoint why, but her avocation oddly charmed me. Surely a romance author or French film-maker could find an offbeat story here.
I ended up with a couple of vehicles I didn’t need and decided to sell them through Craig’s List. They were flawed and I made that as clear as possible. It occurred to me both had a criminal element behind them, hence today’s article.

Craig’s List and Small Crimes

Craig’s List has become an international institution, represented in seventy or so countries. Oddly, the US has the most restrictions. Although CL has helped federal authorities solve crimes, state and local prosecutors threatened lawsuits against the enterprise, claiming its personals facilitated prostitution. Politicians further surmised it could encourage pedophilia, citing approximately the same proof found in Alex Jones’ favorite pizza parlour. Sorry, boys and girls, Craig bent to political pressure and shuttered its personals section.

But today’s column (and next week’s) is about cars and petty crimes.

1. Mercedes 450SL

Restoring a forty-year-old sports car started out as a project until other matters intervened. Needing the garage for other things, I parked it in front, whereupon a local kid vandalized it, as described in the following ad copy.

Turns out, after I placed the ad, the State of Florida couldn’t locate all its records, including chain of ownership. It further appeared a woman from Canfield, Ohio may have forged signatures on its title. The DMV is still working out this unexpected wrinkle. In the meantime, I ran this ad and, like a good writer, I told its story.

CL Orlando > for sale > cars & trucks > by owner…

1978 Mercedes 450SL

1978 Mercedes Benz 450SL make:
model:
year:
VIN:
condition:
cylinders:
drive:
fuel:
paint:
size:
title:
trans:
type:
Mercedes
450SL
1978
107044…︎

pathetic
4.5L V-8
RWD
gasoline
blue
sports
?
auto
roadster
conv

A charming teen miscreant vandalized my 1978 Mercedes 450SL. Neighbors explained I’m not allowed to dismember the little shìt, so I’m selling my poor car for the highest offer.

Specs
Body: 2-seater cabriolet designed by Friedrich Geiger. Engine: 4.52 litre 90° V-8 with Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection. Suspension: independent double wishbone diagonal-pivot swing axle Speed: rated 210kmph, in excess of 130mph. At 100kmph, the machine tachs at a mere 2865rpm. Overall: sexy.

The roadster can be switched from a hardtop to convertible. Both hard and soft tops come with this vehicle. The paint code is Gentian Blue.

Note
It needs a lot of work. CL has no ‘rough’ option, so to be fair, I’m telling you it’s rough. I rebuilt the engine, so retorque head-bolts. I’ve tried to document the damage, mainly smashed windows and shredded tires.

If you always wanted a classic Mercedes sports machine and love tinkering on motorcars, now is your chance. Save back enough cash to sand, repaint, and fix the damn windows and tires, then make me an offer I can't refuse. Hey, I might need the money for bail if I catch that little window-smashing sod.


Can’t get more forthright than that, can I? Next week, I sell a dumb drug dealer’s SUV.

15 September 2018

Life's Great Mysteries


by John M. Floyd



I recently attended an annual literary conference held on the grounds of the State Capitol Building here in Jackson, Mississippi. It was fun as always, but I'm especially glad I went because it wound up serving as my replacement for Bouchercon this year. (I underwent abdominal surgery earlier this summer, and though I'm recovering well, I opted at the last minute not to make the long road-trip to St. Petersburg. In doing so, I missed out on (1) participating in a short-story panel, (2) signing with fellow contributors to the B'con anthology, (3) receiving in person an award during the Opening Ceremonies, and (4) visiting with a legion of old friends--but, under the circumstances, I think it was the right decision. And I thank you again, Michael Bracken, for agreeing to stand in for me and accept my award in my absence.)


Instead of B'con, I ended up driving about a hundredth of that distance a few weeks ago to take part in our fourth annual Mississippi Book Festival. Almost ten thousand readers and writers braved the heat and humidity and intermittent thunderstorms to attend, and about three-fourths of those folks attended the more than forty panel discussions held throughout the day. Guests included Salman Rushdie, Karl Rove, Greg Iles, Richard Ford, and Jon Meacham.

I was on two panels, one of them "Southern Writers on Writing," because I'd contributed an essay to an anthology of the same name, and the other "Life's Great Mysteries," which I also moderated. It's this second panel I'd like to talk about today, because my three fellow panelists were indeed great mystery authors, and wrote three of the most interesting and entertaining crime novels I've read in a long time.

The first, Michael Kardos, is the author of Bluff (Mysterious Press), a thriller that Kardos has described as "a heist book disguised as a poker book disguised as a magic novel." It's the story of disgraced magician and card-trick prodigy Natalie Webb, who's been reduced to performing for local festivals and birthday parties and lives alone with her pigeons and stacks of overdue bills. She teams up with another cardsharp to try to win a fortune in a high-stakes poker game with a group of Jersey big-shots, an operation which of course doesn't go as planned. Kardos, who has also written two other novels, a short-story collection, and a textbook on writing, is an associate professor of English and the co-director of the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.

The second panelist was William Boyle, author of The Lonely Witness (Pegasus Books). Though not a sequel, this novel features as its protagonist a character introduced in Boyle's book Gravesend (which was also covered in one of Thomas Pluck's SleuthSayers columns)--and both stories are set in the depressing but fascinating Gravesend neighborhood of Brooklyn. A truly "literary" mystery, this novel features former convicts, wanna-be gangsters, almost-forgotten classmates, Italian and Russian mobsters, and working-class people struggling to survive. Boyle, whose work has been compared to that of Elmore Leonard, George Pelecanos, and Dennis Lehane, is also the author of the novel Everything Is Broken and the short-story collection Death Don't Have No Mercy. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi.

The third panelist, Stephen Mack Jones, discussed his novel August Snow (Soho Crime), which is the first in a series featuring Snow as an ex-Detroit police officer who--after being ushered out of the force for blowing the whistle on department corruption--returns to Detroit to try to prove his worth as a member of the community. The author has described this book as a novel of second chances--for Snow, for some of his drug-dealer acquaintances, and ultimately for the battered and crumbling neighborhoods of his hometown. A Detroit native himself, Stephen Mack Jones is a poet and a playwright, and was awarded the prestigious Hammett Prize by the International Associaton of Crime Writers. His work has also been nominated for the Shamus Award, the Nero Award, and the Strand Magazine Critics Award for Best First Novel.


Two of these three novelists--Mike Kardos and Bill Boyle--I already knew; Stephen Mack Jones I'd not met before. All three made my moderating job easy and kept the audience interested throughout.

I encourage you to try their books--you won't be disappointed.





14 September 2018

Spies and Secret Agents

by O'Neil De Noux

The subject of the latest MYSTERY READER'S JOURNAL, the Journal of Mystery Readers International (Vol 34, No 2, Summer 2018) is SPIES AND SECRET AGENTS. It features articles by a number of writers, including me. I thought I'd share the gist of my article here on SleuthSayers.

Secret Agent Superheros

When I realized I would never play centerfield for the New York Yankees (too small, too slow, no athletic ability) I turned to books and decided I'd be a south seas adventurer or maybe an archaeologist. Then I stumbled across Ian Fleming, Len Deighton, John Le Carré, Adam Hall and others, which began a life-long fascination with secret agents. I wanted to be one. That did not turn out for me either. Ever hear of a 5'6" leading-man secret agent? I'm not cool or suave, not multilingual. Hell, I'm barely lingual.


Michael Caine as my all-time favorite spy – Harry Palmer (from THE IPCRESS FILE)

I became a police officer instead, an intelligence analyst and a homicide detective before becoming a private investigator. Along the way I found my true calling to be a writer. I wrote about what I knew – police and private eye stories before penning historical novels (I have a history degree).

The secret agent lingered in my mind, tapping my shoulder, asking when it would his turn. So, I created two secret agents and gave them a little help – superhuman powers – and let them loose in 1936, in a world on the brink of war.

So far I've had two novels published in the series:

LUCIFER'S TIGER (Big Kiss Productions 2017) introduces American agent Lucifer LeRoux in search of a mysterious stone only to run into a group of trigger-happy Japanese and Nazi agents and an alluring brunette who needs rescuing. Or does she? The audacious brunette is Catrin Allaway and like Luce, she has hidden powers and the chase in on as Japanese spies and German thugs pursue the American secret agents. Against a backdrop of exotic locales – from a giant casino in Macao, aboard ship through the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca into the Bay of Bengal to India and to the Arabian Sea to battle Nazi SS troops and evil scientists. Enmeshed in a struggle between good and evil, the two Americans are drawn to one another on a lush, tropical island. What diabolical plan do Nazi scientists have for tigers? The perilous adventure becomes a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse in the realm of the ultimate predator – the tiger.



LUCIFER'S FALCON (Big Kiss Productions 2018). It is still 1936 and newlyweds Luce and Catrin are on a mission to rescue two men from two European castles. From the coast of Spain to the French Riviera to a high castle in snowy Bavaria, the American agents tangle with Spanish fascists, Nazi fanatics and monstrous men with superhuman powers. Can Catrin and Luce pull off the rescues and make it out alive to continue their honeymoon? With the unexpected aid of a rapacious falcon, they just may get out alive.

In creating these larger-than-life secret agents, I made them Advanced Humans whose ancestors evolved differently than regular people. It also gave me the opportunity to create superhuman villians. It is great fun to write and for a little while, I get to be a secret agent.

I'll save y'all the trouble. I know I'm a mess. My writing's all over the place. My brain just works that way.

That's it for now.

http://www.oneildenoux.com



13 September 2018

Politically Profitable Predators

by Eve Fisher
“We have people coming into the country or trying to come in, we're stopping a lot of them, but we're taking people out of the country. You wouldn't believe how bad these people are.  These aren't people. These are animals." President Trump, May 16, 2018 (USA Today)
"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people." Candidate Trump, June 16, 2015
"Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on. According to Pew Research, among others, there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population." Candidate Trump, written statement, December 7, 2015. (Source)
And no, I'm not using this as a segue way into criticism of our current President.  What I want to talk about is how various peoples have been made into politically profitable predators in American history.  From Native Americans to Blacks to Mexicans to Irish to Italians to Asians to Blacks to Native Americans and back to Mexicans to...  fill in the blank.  And the question always is, Who's next?

Native Americans, of course, have always considered a problem.  Back in 1702, Cotton Mather wrote of the Native Americans:
Cotton Mather.jpg"The Natives of the Country now Possessed by the New-Englanders, had been forlorn and wretched Heathen ever since their first herding there; and tho' we know not When or How those Indians first became Inhabitants of this mighty Continent, yet we may guess that probably the Devil decoy'd those miserable Salvages [sic] hither, in hopes that the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ would never come here to destroy or disturb his Absolute Empire over them." (The New English History), Book III, p. 190 (1702)
Ignoring, of course, the fact that the Native Americans actually fed the original settlers from England and taught them how to plant maize, squash, and other New World foodstuffs... Without their help, the original settlers would not have survived.  Ingratitude, thy name is Mather.

Then there's this 1803 painting by American painter John Vanderlyn - Death of Jane McCrae - well, it's obvious what this tells us about the horrors of Native Americans in early America.  The story behind this is classic propaganda, classic use of the death of a beautiful white woman to justify whatever comes next.  There were two versions of the story:

(1) Jane (who was a Loyalist in the American Revolution) was on her way to meet with her fiance at the British camp at Ticonderoga, escorted by two Native American warriors.  (Remember that at this time the British were hiring Native Americans to fight on their side.)  The two got into a fight over how much they'd be paid for delivering her safely. So one of them killed and scalped her.

(2) Jane McCrea was killed by a bullet fired by pursuing Americans.  19th century historian James Phinney Baxter supported this version of events in his 1887 history of Burgoyne's campaign, saying that there was an exhumation of her body which showed she died of bullet wounds, and had no tomahawk wounds.

Guess which one got the most press?  The first version, of course.  It got spread around in newspapers, pamphlets, and letters.  British General Burgoyne wrote a letter to American general Horatio Gates, complaining about ill-treatment of British POWs. Gates' response was widely reprinted:
"That the savages of America should in their warfare mangle and scalp the unhappy prisoners who fall into their hands is neither new nor extraordinary; but that the famous Lieutenant General Burgoyne, in whom the fine gentleman is united with the soldier and the scholar, should hire the savages of America to scalp europeans and the descendants of europeans, nay more, that he should pay a price for each scalp so barbarously taken, is more than will be believed in England. [...] Miss McCrae, a young lady lovely to the sight, of virtuous character and amiable disposition, engaged to be married to an officer of your army, was [...] carried into the woods, and there scalped and mangled in the most shocking manner..."  (Wikipedia)
It also entered American legend thanks to James Fennimore Cooper, who used it in 1826's The Last of the Mohicans.  

And let's talk about Andrew Jackson, who launched the Indian Removals of the 1830s:  
"Humanity has often wept over the fate of the aborigines of this country and philanthropy has long been busily employed in devising means to avert it, but its progress has never for a moment been arrested, and one by one have many powerful tribes disappeared from the earth.… But true philanthropy reconciles the mind to these vicissitudes as it does to the extinction of one generation to make room for another.… Philanthropy could not wish to see this continent restored to the condition in which it was found by our forefathers. What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms, embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute, occupied by more than 12,000,000 happy people, and filled with all the blessings of liberty, civilization, and religion?"
In other words, we want the land, so they've got to go.  And then, to justify it, consider the American Westerns, both in penny dreadfuls, novels, and movies:  until 1970's Little Big Man, most of them are all about chasing down and killing all the "savages" John Wayne and his buddies could find.  

Meanwhile, there have been constant waves of immigration, and constant opposition to each and every wave:
WW1 propaganda
anti-Hun poster

In 1775, before the United States had gained its independence, Benjamin Franklin warned against the destructive forces of German immigration: 
“A Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them and will never adopt our Language or Customs any more than they can acquire our Complexion." (Source)  
Who knew that Germans were so alien?  Before WW1?  

There were the Irish, presented as drunk gorillas who should be banned
from immigrating to the US and once here, should certainly never be employed:  

             

Do you notice a theme here?  Comparing various groups / people to apes?  Or other animals?

Meanwhile, there were also the Italians, who were also seen as subhuman, either importers of anarchism or - of course - the Mafia.  Did you know that the largest lynching in the United States was in New Orleans, and the victims were Italians?  A popular police chief named Hennessey (Irish) was shot on his way home, and when he was asked, dying, who did it, he gasped, "Dagoes".  So they rounded up the usual suspects, 11 Italians, and tried them - and there was a mistrial!  So the mob went wild, and started killing people...  No one was ever tried.  And, in language that is tragically familiar, a NYT editorial called the victims “desperate ruffians and murderers. These sneaking and cowardly Sicilians, the descendants of bandits and assassins…are to us a pest without mitigations.” Read the rest at the History Channel.  

But at least they weren't Chinese:

For a long time China was known as the Yellow Peril.  The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, prohibiting all immigration of  Chinese laborers, was followed up by massacres (Rock Springs, 1885, Hells Canyon 1887), and a general stereotyping of Chinese (and other Orientals) as apes, lesser men, primitives, children, madmen, and beings who possessed special powers, and who commonly kidnapped white women into white slavery, opium addiction, and eventually murdered them.  (Wikipedia)

Besides propaganda posters like the one to the left, white slavery was presented as a hideously common peril for white women in stories by Frank Norris (author of McTeague), Sax Rohmer (whose Chinese villain Fu Manchu threatened the world and its white women from 1913-1959) and True Confessions.  All of this propaganda was the basis for a series of American Immigration Acts that barred almost any Asian immigration of any kind to America until the 1960s.  Women had to be protected from the evil Orientals, and the only way to do that was to ban them entirely.
NOTE:  This is why both the 1960s movie and musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, and an impossibly bad movie from the 1980s, Angel III:  The Final Chapter, could STILL use white slavery by opium-smoking Asians as a major menace to the heroine(s).  
Birth of a Nation theatrical poster.jpgOf course, even the Chinese didn't / don't make such fearsome villains as blacks, going back to D. W. Griffiths' 1915 Birth of a Nation, (first titled The Klansman, BTW).  In that movie, Elsie (played by Lillian Gish) is saved by the KKK from the lustful mulatto Lynch (who came up with that name?), while the virginal white young Flora is forced to leap to her death to avoid being raped by a "freedman".  (Sounds like a rip-off of Last of the Mohicans to me, but then again, if it works with one ethnic group it'll work with any, I suppose.  Apes and other animals, you know.)  "There is no doubt that Birth of a Nation played no small part in winning wide public acceptance" for the KKK, and that throughout the film "African Americans are portrayed as brutish, lazy, morally degenerate, and dangerous." (History.com)  It was the perfect movie to reinforce the need for Jim Crow laws everywhere across the South, not to mention the holocaust of lynching.  And, as late as the 1970s, David Duke used the film to recruit members to the KKK.

Fast forward to the 1980s and Willie Horton.  Horton was released on a weekend furlough in June, 1986, and didn't come back.  In April, 1987, he raped a white woman.  In October, 1987 he was arrested and sentenced to 2 life sentences.  In 1988, Republican Presidential candidate George H. W. Bush's campaign put out the "Willie Horton" ad against Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis (who had been Governor of Massachusetts at the time, but was not the founder of the furlough program) to prove that Dukakis was weak on crime, i.e., would not protect [white] women.  It played into the stereotype that black men were big, ugly, dumb, violent, and dangerous, so let's stay super tough on crime.  It worked.  But I, for one, don't believe that anyone in the Bush campaign believed they were protecting women:  they were winning an election.

     HortonWillie.jpg

Sounds familiar to me.



P.S.  In case you're wondering about antisemitism, the long, long, long history of antisemitism in America begins with Peter Stuvaysant, the last Director-General of New Amsterdam.  During the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant issued General Order No. 11 expelling Jews from areas under his control in western Tennessee, "as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled …within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order."  Lincoln rescinded the order ASAP, but.  Discrimination against Jews was standard and the cartoons and jokes horrific.  Watch Gregory Peck in Gentleman's Agreement some time, which was extremely controversial when it came out in 1947, because it exposed the standard discrimination against Jews in employment, education, housing, travel, restaurants, clubs, etc. 

A short list of famous antisemites includes:  Charles Coughlin, Louis Farrakhan, Henry Ford, FDR (never forget he turned away the ship carrying 907 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany), Joe Kennedy, Sr. (read his correspondence with Viscountess Astor), General Patton ("lower than animals"), Richard Nixon, Billy Graham (he's on the Nixon tapes saying things like "This [Jewish] stranglehold has got to be broken or the country's going down the drain", and when Nixon mentioned that Graham was a friend of the Jews, Graham replied "But they don't know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country."[72]), and, of course, almost every troll on Breitbart and every white supremacist site you can stomach.  Some of them showed up for the Charlottesville, VA, August 11, 2017, "Unite the Right" rally, where they carried tiki torches while chanting Nazi and white supremacist slogans, including "White lives matter" and "Jews will not replace us."   

The depressing thing about humanity is that you have to educate each and every generation to be moral, compassionate, tolerant, kind, decent...  And obviously, we have a lot of work to do.